Addabbo’s Job Fair Returns to Resorts World

By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

State Senator Joseph Addabbo held his annual job fair at Resorts World Casino on Friday, with over 60 vendors looking to hire. 

The Queens Chamber of Commerce worked in partnership with Addabbo’s office and Resorts World, sourcing vendors and promoting the event. Industries tabling around the room ranged from government agencies like the Department of Transportation to nonprofits to banking, finance and realty.

“I love this event,” Addabbo said. “I think the best opportunity for an elected official is to find either their constituents, or anyone, a job—and especially post-pandemic, when people are struggling to provide for themselves or their family.”

“When we’re planning this, the theme or the focus is whoever walks in that door, no matter what their background is or what their skill level is, they should be able to find a job today,” he continued. “So managerial, secretarial, high-end, low-end—doesn’t matter.”

Resorts World themselves were looking to recruit, with a table set up alongside the dozens of others in the banquet hall. 

“We’re very excited to host it—kind of on-turf advantage,” Resorts World Recruiter Kelly McGuire said. “We’re [hiring] for admin positions, management positions, casino-specific, IT, hotel, kind of everything we have to offer.” 

McGuire said job fairs like this one are “lifesaving” as a recruiter. 

“You get to kind of speak face to face, I get to understand the application process better as a recruiter,” she said. “It’s good to kind of understand what everyone’s going through, what they’re looking for, the challenges that are out there.”

McGuire and colleague.

Carly Fitz-Henley, Real Estate Specialist at New York’s Department of Transportation, also appreciated the event. 

“It kind of gets our name out there,” Fitz-Henley said. “You know, people only see the construction that’s happening, and the congestion because of the construction. But when we sit down and explain why we’re doing certain projects, they have more knowledge of what our role is.”

Addabbo said that hosting such a large job fair had inspired his decision to sponsor a different kind of event, as well. 

“You’ll see the diverse people here, young and all that—but we do a separate senior job fair in the spring. Because seniors said to me, ‘we like your job fairs, but we feel intimidated by the 20- and 30-somethings. So out of this, we do our senior-only—it’s much smaller—job fair in the Spring.” 

By 11 am, approximately 100 job-seekers had come to peruse the recruiting tables. The event began an hour earlier, at 10 am.

Still, Addabbo said he wasn’t quite satisfied with the turnout. 

“We used to do this here, and we used to have the line around the block,” the Senator said. “It’s so disheartening to see fewer people show up to job fairs because a lot of people want to stay home, a lot of people want to work remotely. But I will not stop doing this…if I can help even five people, it’s worth it.”


Thanksgiving Turkeys Abound at Borough Hall

By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

Stop & Shop’s Turkey Express project joined together with the nonprofit Food Bank for New York City to offload and distribute free turkeys to all who stopped by on Thursday, Nov. 16. Queens Deputy Borough President, Ebony Young, joined the gathering to show the office’s support. 

In the back parking lot of Queens Borough Hall, around 20 Stop & Shop associates unloaded heaps of turkeys in reusable shopping bags from a truck, while Elmhurst Hospital workers set up a vaccine station closeby. Young explained that the Borough President’s office aimed to include vaccinations in as many of their events as possible. 

“We’re in the midst of Fall, coming up on to Winter, we find a lot of colds and flus,” Young said. “So getting your COVID-19 vaccination shot is imperative.”

Deputy BP Ebony Young speaks to attendees. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

Stop & Shop donated a total of 2,500 turkeys to the New York City Food Bank, which will continue distributing them through local community partners. During Thursday’s give-out, 500 turkeys were up for grabs, though only 42 were snagged by 1:30 PM.

At least 10.9 percent of Queens residents are food insecure, according to the Food Bank for New York City. 

“There’s pockets [of food insecurity] all over,” Young said of the borough. “Far Rockaway, Jamaica. We’ve got Queensbridge, which is the largest public housing in the United States of America. You’ve got pockets on Roosevelt Avenue, around Corona, Elmhurst area. There’s some areas in Flushing. So, I mean, there’s pockets all over. The borough president tried to look at having this in a central enough location where people could come and gather and join this year.”

Janais Robinson, Vice President of Institutional Giving and Partnerships at the Food Bank for New York City, said that the work of combating food insecurity in Queens is year-round. 

Queens residents lined up to receive turkeys. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

“The Queens community is one of our communities where we distribute a lot of food throughout the course of the year,” Robinson said. “But we certainly wanted to make sure that we supported them during the holiday season.” 

Young spoke to the small crowd about the event. “What’s so great about the Food Bank of New York City is that they don’t only give at this time, they give at all times. And we’re very excited that they’re out here to feed the people on an ongoing basis, 12 months throughout the year, but specifically at this time to give away turkeys so people feel appreciated.”

Robinson said she appreciates the experience of working events like this one. 

“You see how grateful people are to get the support,” she said. “You really learn about the need when you’re out here at these events, and the gratitude is beyond.”

Ryan Rios (left) and colleagues. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

Ryan Rios, Compliance and Ethics Officer for Stop & Shop, was among those unpacking and handing out turkeys. He said he volunteers at the event every year. 

“It’s a lot of behind the scenes work to get everything organized and everything set up,” Rios said. “But once we’re here, we’re 100 percent full steam ahead and just ready to serve the community.” 

Stop & Shop and Food Bank employees break down boxes. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt


Borough Hall Celebrates Diwali

By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

Borough Hall held a Diwali celebration in the evening of Nov. 8, with multiple musical and dance performances, speeches from elected officials, and the awarding of honors to individuals and organizations in the local Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist communities. 

The night began with the lighting of a Diya, a clay lamp lit with oil that is used during Diwali and holds deep symbolic meanings: protection, prosperity, purity and goodness, enlightenment, wisdom and the dispelling of darkness. 

One of the honorees was Pandit Dam Hardowar, the leader of multiple community nonprofits and the Archaya (religious leader and teacher) of Shri Surya Narayan, a Mandir (Hindu Temple) established both in Jamaica, Queens and in Florida. He spoke about the meaning of the Diya, and the holiday overall, to the crowd. 

The National Children Cultural Foundation performs. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

“The Diya is a symbol of selflessness. It burns [from] itself to give light to my neighbor,” Hardowar said. “The Diya sacrifices itself so that you can have light…there is darkness in this world. There is lot of selfishness in this world. And Diwali must remind us that this darkness must be eradicated once and for all.”

Assemblymember Edward Braunstein spoke as well, celebrating that Diwali would become an official school holiday in New York City starting in 2024. 

“It’s gonna be real for me when I look up there [on the calendar] and it says ‘Diwali: no school,’” Braunstein said. “And I’ll have the opportunity to sit down with my sons and my daughter and talk to them about what our neighbors celebrate.” 

Five more honorees were recognized during the event: Sabita Das, Swami Ji Harish Chander Puri, Padma Likha Mangar, the Gujarati Samaj of New York and the Sri Sri Krishna Balaram Mandir.

BP Donovan poses with children from the National Children Cultural Foundation. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

While addressing the crowd, Borough President Donovan Richards emphasized the importance of reporting hate crimes.

“Our communities, for the most part, do a lot of underreporting—partially because we’re scared of our citizenship status. But I want to reassure you that we did a lot of work when I chaired the Public Safety Committee in the City Council to ensure that the New York City Police Department would not be cooperating with ICE,” the Borough President said. “We want everybody to feel safe when they walk the streets.”

Two hate crimes against Sikh men in Queens have made headlines in the past month—one attack aboard an MTA bus in Richmond Hill that left the victim with substantial injuries, and one assault after a minor fender bender that took the victim’s life. In both cases, attackers made comments about the victim’s turbans. 

Fahmida Kazi, Community Associate with the Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services, enjoyed attending the event with her colleagues. 

“The night was really fun,” Kazi said. “It was my first Diwali experience, and I got to learn a lot about the holiday. I’m really excited that it’s now a school holiday so people from other cultures have the time to learn and be exposed to [it].”

Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt


Veterans Day Parade Returns to Middle Village

By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

The Queens Veterans Day Parade took place on a chilly Sunday in Middle Village, with plenty of local groups marching down Metropolitan Avenue sporting red, white and blue.  

Participants included Christ the King’s marching band, the NYPD marching band, Kiwanis of Glendale, Glendale Post 104 American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32, and more. The parade ended at Christ the King High School, where a ceremony honoring Veterans took place in the auditorium. 

The parade’s Grand Marshall was Sgt. Brendan Gibbons, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served for over four years and is active in the Queens military community. At the ceremony, Jon Kablack, a member of the NYPD 104th Precinct Community Council and a disabled veteran, was awarded the Anthony G. Pace Patriot Award.

Girl Scouts march down Metropolitan Ave.

Several elected officials spoke at the ceremony, expressing their support, gratitude, and admiration for veterans. State Senator Joseph Addabbo said to the crowd that he believes “every day is Veterans Day.” 

“Our veterans have not only served our country, but they continue to serve in our communities. They’re out there in the parades. They’re in our schools. They’re on our local community boards. They’re helping other veterans enhance their lives. And I thank them for each and every part of that—giving back, still,” Addabbo said. “But I also thank them personally for educating me as an elected official on what we still have to do as elected officials to help our veterans each and every day.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams spoke about his work in passing a law to prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of veteran status during his time in City Council. “During that process I heard the stories and felt the pain of veterans who lacked services and felt there was nowhere they could go, no one they could turn to,” Williams said. 

A ceremony was held in Christ the King High School’s auditorium.

State Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar also highlighted policy work, mentioning her ongoing efforts to render housing, higher education, and mental health care more accessible to veterans. She then argued for a broader cultural shift. 

“We need to instill patriotism into our young people, and into our entire community. This auditorium should be filled,” Rajkumar said. “And I will not stop until the auditorium is packed. Everyone should be coming to honor our veterans.”

Borough President Donovan Richards also spoke, expressing his gratitude. “The reason that my colleagues can stand up here is because there is someone who went out to serve this country who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us,” he said. 

Richards also announced some international travel plans. 

“Tomorrow, I’ll be heading out to the Middle East,” Richards said. “And I was in Ukraine right before the war. That’s why I talk about ‘freedom isn’t free:’ we can look at history and look at what’s happening now, around the nation, around the world—and certainly, that should give us a deep understanding that we are blessed to be American citizens, no matter what the challenges are.”


Community Board 5 Gives Thumbs Down to Pot Shops

By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

Community Board 5 held its full-board meeting on Nov. 8 with a particularly large audience. 

Including 40 board members, the meeting drew over 100 attendees to Christ the King High School’s cafeteria. Many were no doubt there for one reason above all else: the board’s official recommendation on whether cannabis dispensaries should be able to open at three locations in the districts. 

The board’s Liquor License and Cannabis Committee met publicly on Nov. 1 to hear from the applicants for cannabis licenses hoping to open up shop, and unanimously voted to oppose the opening of cannabis stores in all three locations in their committee report. The board’s task at the full meeting was to vote “for” or “against” the Cannabis Committee’s report, solidifying CB5’s recommendation to the state (which has the ultimate say on whether the hopeful vendors will receive a license). 

Seven community members came to mic during the public forum section of the meeting to vehemently express their opposition to the potential applicants, and urged the board to vote to oppose them as well. 

District Manager Gary Giordano made his own comments on the locations as he explained the topic to the crowd ahead of voting time. 

“These locations are ridiculous. The 64-01 Grand Avenue is one long block from St. Stan’s. I think technically it’s a little bit over 500 feet,” Giordano said to the crowd. “The site at 63-09 Flushing Avenue, from what we can see, is less than 500 feet. 

Brian Whalen, the applicant for both of these locations, fought through a long back-and-forth with community members at the Committee’s Nov. 1 meeting. 

“The two proposals for the same location at 70-24 Myrtle Avenue next to McDonald’s—there’s the Redeemer Lutheran School, it’s now a public charter high school with ninth graders in it. I believe that is way less than 500 feet from the site,” Giordano continued. Masood Weish, an applicant for this location, also presented at the Nov. 1 meeting. 

Giordano added that there had been three potential applicants for a site at 56-40 Myrtle Avenue who had all withdrawn and who had never consulted with the property owner about whether they could rent the space in the first place. “This system is a real problem,” Giordano said. “[Board member] Ted Renz called me and said the property owner is opposed to having a cannabis shop at that location,” he added, to applause from the crowd. 

“These people upset the community,” Giordano said. “You all are out here spending your time with regard to this, many of you came to the public meeting we had here, the committee members have to work with regard to these ridiculous selections and we have to put our recommendations together.”

“As the district manager of this community board for more than three decades, I ask you to vote against these ridiculous locations,” he said, to more applause. 

Patrick Trinchesey brought the committee’s report to the board for a vote. 70-24 Myrtle Avenue was up first: the committee unanimously recommended an opposition due to the location’s proximity to Forte Prep, which Trinchesy said “was definitely under 500 feet” away. 

The board voted in favor of the committee’s statements. 

64-01 Grand Avenue and 63-09 Flushing Avenue were up next, voted on as a joint item. Trinchesy cited the locations’ proximity to St. Stan’s as the reason for opposition to the two locations. The board voted again, with only one member voting against the committee’s recommendation and all others in favor; applause and cheers filled the room once again. 


Ravenswood: What’s Next?

By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

When Governor Hochul announced last month that Long Island City’s Ravenswood power plant had been selected to receive investment towards developing an offshore wind farm, Claudia Coger’s phone began ringing off the hook. 

“I got so many calls from people, you know, ‘we got it, we got it!’” laughed Coger. “I was ecstatic about it.” 

Coger, an 88-year-old resident of Astoria houses, former Tenants Association president and lifelong activist, admits she might have heard “a little whisper” of the news before it was made official to the public. She has been heavily involved with the process of advocating for a cleaner Ravenswood, working with Rise Light & Power, the company which owns the power plant, to create a shared vision of how a wind-powered Ravenswood could engage and benefit her community. 

Flanked by multiple NYCHA campuses—Astoria, Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses—the Ravenswood power plant has been in operation since the early 1960s, marking the skyline with its three towering smoke stacks and emitting pollution that gave the neighborhood the nickname of “asthma alley.” Rates of asthma are higher among the public housing residents near Ravenswood than in the rest of Queens. 

Ravenswood holds over 20 percent of the city’s generating capacity. Its transformation will involve building a wind farm in the Atlantic, 54 miles from the shore, connected to the plant through underwater cables, to replace one out of three of the plant’s fossil fuel generators. 

Rise Light & Power has been poised for some time to invest in this massive transition to renewable energy, as well as in local community organizations providing education and workforce development services. 

The Ravenswood smoke stacks. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

What’s in store for Ravenswood’s neighbors?

“It’s a slew of these investments,” said Costa Constantinides, CEO of the Variety Boys and Girls Club and former City Council member. “There are a number of nonprofits that are getting investment and job placement and job capacity building.”

Rise Light & Power committed an investment of $1.5 million dollars towards the construction of a new teen center at the club, which Constantinides said will serve 16,000 youth and provide a safe space, recreation, and academic and career training resources.

LaGuardia Community College is another recipient of these funds. Attentive Energy One committed $10 million to the college for the purpose of building the proposed “Queens Offshore Wind Training Hub.” The hub is meant to offer both short-term certificate programs and academic degrees relevant to offshore wind development, as well as a business incubation program. 

Attentive Energy One plans to build an Operations and Maintenance Hub directly on-site at Ravenswood—a locus of decent jobs engaging with the many moving parts of capturing wind power and transitioning the plant.  

“Maintaining the infrastructure that’s here, managing the offshore wind facility, keeping a warehouse fully stocked with the spare parts and consumables needed by the offshore wind farm, and then crewing that vessel,” are all different roles that will be anchored to the O&M Hub, Rise Light & Power CEO Clint Plummer said. Building and maintaining the turbines themselves may involve week-long excursions out to sea, he explained.

“We’re basically we bring in a large number of folks, those folks will go on the vessel for a week at a time, go out to the wind farm, come back in, old crew goes off, new crew comes on.”

Attentive Energy One plans to retain and retrain union workers currently at the plant, as well as hiring new workers to expand the team. The potential of a hyperlocal talent pipeline and workforce for this new era of Ravenswood, with well-paying union jobs available to the communities hit the hardest by the plant’s negative health impacts thus far, is exciting for advocates. 

Paul Lipson, a consultant with Barretto Bay, explained that very few residents of Ravenswood, Astoria, or Queensbridge NYCHA Houses are employed by Ravenswood as of now.

“We have this huge potential labor force directly across the street,” Lipson said. “Part of getting this right is this transition has to be about creating opportunity hyperlocally.”

“The goal here is for us to be able to develop a workforce training program so that when other offshore wind projects that use Ravenswood need the workforce, that we have that workforce ready, and that that workforce to the greatest extent possible is coming from the local community,” Plummer said. 

Coger said that she’s spoken with Rise Light leaders about job training programs specifically for residents from the surrounding NYCHA campuses. 

“We haven’t come back to the table just yet,” Coger said. “But we’ll be getting to that, most certainly. If I’m at the table, it most certainly won’t leave the table.”

A timeline

Plummer said that the company is “deep in the process” of finalizing their contracts with NYSERDA at the moment. After they conclude that process, he said, they can begin to flesh out the specifics of a workforce training program. 

Attentive Energy One’s timeline is more or less aligned with the state’s CLCPA deadline for 70 percent renewable energy by 2030. Plummer explained that the project is staring down a “complex regulatory regime,” and laid out the different steps that should unfold over the decade. 

The company has submitted almost all of its major permit applications; the last of them should be submitted by the middle of next year. From that point, it will likely take two years until all permits necessary to build the project are approved. During these years, Plummer said, “there’s going to be a great deal of engineering surveys, community engagement, stakeholder meetings, getting feedback and adapting our construction plans to what we hear from all the project stakeholders.”

This phase should close out by the late end of 2026, at which point Attentive Energy will proceed with the actual construction of the wind farm—they expect this to be a three and a half year process, ending in late 2029 or 2030.

How long until a fully renewable Ravenswood?

Ravenswood currently uses two 400 megawatt generators and one 1000 megawatt generator (each with its own striped smokestack.) Attentive Energy One’s wind farm will hold 1400 MW of generating capacity, and will replace one of the existing 400 MW generators. 

Sid Nathan, Vice President of External Affairs at Rise Light & Power, explained that this wind-powered 1400 MW is what’s necessary to reliably replace 400 MW of capacity in the system due to the intermittency of wind itself. 

“You want to be able to overcompensate with the amount of renewables you’re injecting into the grid,” Nathan said. 

To convert Ravenswood to fully renewable energy, completely removing the disproportionate burden of air pollution on its neighbors, Rise Light & Power would need to secure two more awards like the one they’ve now received from NYSERDA—and see through two more renewable energy development projects at the scale of Attentive Energy One. The state’s goal is to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, setting a de facto deadline. 

Plummer is cautiously hopeful about Ravenswood’s prospects of meeting it. 

“I think to the extent the administration continues with its march on procuring these large scale resources, like offshore wind…I think that can be achievable,” Plummer said. “That’s not entirely in our hands, though, right? Because the only way Attentive Energy is going forward is because we received this award from the state. We put together a team, made a proposal to the state, they ran a competitive process, and we were selected in it. The state has all the institutions, it’s got the infrastructure necessary to undertake additional future procurements like this. And we believe that they will, but until the state actually acts on those—you know, we can’t do it by ourselves.”

Coger is excited about what’s to come for future generations in her community, especially considering that youth have already been involved in rallies and other events promoting a renewable Ravenwood. 

“This is something that will move on with history,” she said. “It won’t stop just with the seniors.”

She expressed deep gratitude for Rise Light & Power’s engagement in the community.

“I’m 88 years old, and I’ve seen a lot of different things in my life where we had to stand outside of the fence while decisions were being made for our lives,” Coger said. “But this has us included. And I think that is so important.”


Up in Smoke: CB5 Weed Meeting Gets Heated

By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

Things got heated at Community Board 5’s Liquor License and Cannabis Committee meeting on Nov. 1. 

Two applicants for cannabis licenses in Maspeth and Glendale came to the meeting to introduce themselves, receive feedback and attempt to make their case for why they should be approved by the Board. Community members didn’t take kindly to either. Nearly fifty people attended the Community Board’s Cannabis Committee meeting, held at Christ the King High School in Middle Village.

The first to present, Masood Weish, had filed an application for 70-24 Myrtle Ave in Glendale. The second, Bryan Whalen, applied for 64-01 Grand Ave and for 63-09 Flushing Avenue in Maspeth, though the meeting focused on the Grand Ave location. Both Maspeth spots were previously Valley National Bank locations. 

Much of the controversy throughout the evening’s proceedings surrounded these locations’ distances from local schools and churches. Ultimately, the committee voted to not approve either applicant. 

Applications for the general population to obtain a cannabis license opened up in early October, setting loose the floodgates on community boards across the city tasked with reviewing hopeful merchants’ applications before the state’s Office of Cannabis Management makes the ultimate decision. While areas like Maspeth have relatively few applications in comparison to boards in downtown Manhattan fielding over 20, Community Board leaders still say the brand-new process has been overwhelming. 

The night began with the board informing the crowd that all applicants for 56-40 Myrtle Avenue had withdrawn. Next, the mic was turned over to Weish. 

The meeting took place in Christ the King High School’s cafeteria.

Weish told the crowd that he was primarily involved in real estate and in the Edible Arrangement franchise, but was driven to get involved in the cannabis industry after his son started using marijuana acquired from unregulated smoke shops at age 18. 

“He was consuming and taking stuff that was really unlicensed, moldy, all kinds of pesticides,” Weish said, explaining that it might him realize that state-regulated cannabis stores were an important option. 

Weish went on to say that because the products he would sell are relatively expensive, as opposed to the cheap prices some unregulated stores peddle, his store would not bring in any “bad traffic of people.”

“I believe in my heart that it’s a great thing that the city is doing this. There’s no way of stopping this anyway,” Weish said. “I’m next to the McDonalds and a gas station. When you look at the neighborhood where I’m at, there’s a lot of stores closing…by us coming to the area, it’s going to bring all the businesses foot traffic.” 

Weish said that the other applicant for this location had withdrawn, and that he had plans to sign the lease on the location that day, after the meeting concluded. 

When asked about advertising, Weish said “my understanding was that we’re not allowed to advertise. I believe the city of New York just does it with emails, and that’s it.”

Then, the first back-and-forth of the night about distance requirements began. When asked by a committee member about distance to “the school,” Weish asserted that it was over 500 feet—the minimum requirement. 

“We did different ways of measuring it. It’s over 500,” Weish said. A few attendees from the public in the crowd called out, saying “It’s not over [500].” 

A board member asked which school Weish was thinking of. “I’m not sure the name of the school,” he said, “but I know it’s on 69th street.” 

“I think you’re measuring to P.S 91 and not considering the fact that Redeemer Lutheran is closer,” the board member said. “If it’s not 500 feet, it makes this application void. But you have to be conscious that there is a school there, and your measurement is to 91, not to Redeemer Lutheran.”

“Okay, if it is, then we wouldn’t accept it,” Weish said. 

“It’s 497 feet,” someone called out from the crowd. 

After a couple additional questions, the meeting shifted to Whalen and the proposed Maspeth locations. He went to great lengths to emphasize his connections to Maspeth. 

“My wife attended this very cafeteria in this school,” Whalen said. “We owned a house for 16 years at 78-36 68th road in Maspeth. We also lived on Dry Harbor road. My wife is originally from Ridgewood…We have strong ties to the community.”

Whalen explained that although his family did not partake in cannabis recreationally, his wife used it medicinally to treat her Lupus symptoms. 

He then shifted his focus to security, telling the crowd that his store would feature armed security guards and a “scanner test” like one might see in an airport. He also said the store would strictly enforce rules against double-parking, lock up all products in a safe and ensure that no one under 21 entered the store. 

Whalen said that according to several different online map softwares, his store would be 608 feet away from the closest school. 

“My wife has reached out to six different organizations including the school down on Grand Avenue, and we want to be an active part of the community and have feedback from the community,” he said. 

Catherine Mangone, Principal of St. Stan’s, said after the meeting that contrary to Whalen’s statements while presenting to the board, “there was no effort made to speak to us or anyone at my school.”

Whalen addresses the Committee.

The first question from the committee recentered the discussion on distance regulations. 

“Why would you put it so close to St. Stan’s and Martin Luther? What made you choose that location?” committee member Maryann Lattanzio asked. 

Whalen said that he attempted to stay as far away from schools as possible, but that locations available were “few and far between” due to what he said was, “larger corporations monopolizing commercial spots.” He switched gears to argue that opening a legal cannabis store would ultimately improve safety in the community and decrease students’ access to the drug. 

“The greatest potential here for not having our kids [consume it] is once, you know, all these cartels and what not who’re shipping it in and they bring the gun violence in—once it’s a legal shop, you’ll deteriorate their input financially, you’ll choke them off at the at the money supply. And so anybody can buy pot…if they’re gonna do it, they’re gonna do it. The kids, though, will be unable to buy at the legal places.” 

CB5’s Cannabis Committee Chairman Patrick Trinchese spoke next, listing out the many religious and educational institutions that the location was close to, though not too close by law. 

“I just think with all of that surrounding it, it’s just a rough location to put it in,” he said.

He then asked Whalen if he had moved away from the area, to which Whalen replied “No, I live in Forest Hills. 68th Avenue.” 

“Why in Maspeth?” Trinchese asked. “Why us?”

“Maspeth, again, is my home,” Whalen said. “No it’s not!” multiple people yelled from the crowd. 

After speaking at length about the importance of legal establishments and the difficulty of finding available locations, Whalen emphasized again that “if it’s legal, the kids won’t have access to it.”

Lattanzio responded “I’m not so sure about that,” while laughter and sarcastic comments came from the public. 

Later, Whalen was asked how he would ensure that customers wouldn’t walk over to St. Stan’s after purchasing cannabis and smoke in front of the school. Whalen said that as smoking cannabis on the street is illegal, that would be a “police issue”—to yet another bout of loud heckling from the crowd. He added that he could enforce OCM’s regulations if something happened within reach of the store’s external security cameras. 

The committee opened the floor to public comments. Mike LoCascio, a resident of Maspeth,  testified first.

“You don’t know me too well. I can rally troops. You don’t want to open that store there,” LoCascio said, to applause from the audience. “I don’t mean to sound out of control, but you guys know what happened with the homeless shelter. I will rally the troops like nobody’s ever seen. Not a single person will walk in that store ever, I promise.”

Charlie Vavruska gave a passionate speech. “Any society that doesn’t protect children will soon face demise,” he shouted. 

Vavruska giving an impassioned speech.

Elizabeth De la Cruz raised concerns about the proximity of the first store to the McDonalds, where she often takes her two-year-old grandson and sees many young kids hanging out. “Like the other speakers, I beg of you,” she said, addressing the board, “Do not accept this application. We have small children.” 

After public comments concluded, the committee voted swiftly to not approve either application. 

The committee is set to report to the full board at its monthly meeting on Nov. 8, at Christ The King High School. That night the Community Board will vote on whether to approve or not approve the applications in their recommendation to the State. Ultimately, the final decision about the shops lies in the state’s hands. 

Bay Terrace to Get Facelift

By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

Cord Meyer announced a major investment in Bay Terrace Shopping Center with celebratory speeches and a ribbon cutting on Oct. 25. Several of Cord Meyer’s leadership spoke at the event, as well as Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and City Councilperson Vickie Paladino.

A crowd of about thirty attendees gathered in the shopping center’s parking lot to celebrate the plans.

“It’s about the future of not only the shopping center, but the future of the neighborhood,” Cord Meyer Vice President and Bay Terrace Project Lead Joe Forgione said to the crowd.

Forgione said that the renovations will include improving pedestrian walkways, building outdoor seating areas, prioritizing dining and recreational spaces and improving the connection between the upper and lower levels of the mall.

Richards celebrated the investment as a way to increase jobs in the area, and as part of a wider upturn in economic development in the borough. “I’m so proud of where we’re headed in Queens County,” Richards said to the crowd. “And this is certainly more of an indication of how much more growth is coming—how we are really thinking strategically about how do we grow our economy.”

Paladino spoke affectionately about Cord Meyer to the crowd, identifying herself as part of the “Cord Meyer family.”

“You’re talking sixty years ago—so I’m just a little older than that,” she said, recalling the shopping center’s past. “I remember coming here when it was just a simple bowling alley, and we had a few shoe stores, and whatever. But it was just small. We watched this grow, and we watched Cord Meyer turn this into a destination.”

Speakers throughout the event made reference to Cord Meyer’s over 100-year-long history in Queens as a developer. Forgione reminded the crowd that “entire neighborhoods,” such as Elmhurst and Forest Hills, had been built by the corporation.

“To Cord Meyer, to Matt, to Joe, to Paul, to all of you: welcome, welcome, welcome,” Paladino said. “Bay Terrace is back.”

Elected officials, Cord Meyer leaders, and local stakeholders cut ribbon in celebration.

Framed as a response to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic posed to brick and mortar stores, the project is named “Moving Forward.”

Forgione explained that although the growing popularity of online shopping over recent decades was always a cause for concern, Bay Terrace retained a strong customer base until the pandemic hit. Along with plenty of other brick and mortar shopping centers around the nation, the outdoor mall encountered serious challenges.

“You have nationwide closures of stores, you have bankruptcies to deal with—things beyond our control,” Forgione said. “During the pandemic, the company gave away $7 million in rent relief to try to keep tenants going, and still, we ended up with a significant number of vacancies. So from that, we started to do our due diligence, we started researching what other shopping centers were doing across the country…And from that time, we began conversations with our own tenants [about] what we could do for them.

Making the mall both safer and more social and engaging for pedestrians will be a significant part of the development. Prioritizing sectors which consistently draw in-person customers, like dining and athletic facilities, is a part of this, as well as building more outdoor seating and designated spaces for community events.

“That’s really what’s going to tie up all the loose ends and get the tenants to finally lease the space, Forgione said. “So we’ve always had the interest, but this is going to put us over the top and really bring the shopping center back to what it always was.”

The development of the shopping center will take place in phases, according to a Cord Meyer press release. The first phase will involve a “total redesign” of the now-vacant Victoria’s Secret and Applebee’s locations, including the building of a second floor.

Artist’s rendering of what the new Bay Terrace Shopping Center entrance will look like. Courtesy of Cord Meyer

Paladino called Bay Terrace the “heartbeat” of Bayside, and said that making it more of a social destination would do well for the mental health and safety of young people in the neighborhood.

“Our young people, they are wandering aimlessly a lot of times at night, sometimes getting into trouble,” Paladino said. “But they do come to Bay Terrace, and there’ll be more for them to do here.”

Cord Meyer CEO, Matthew Whalen, closed out the day’s speeches.

“You know what I love about today?” he asked the crowd. “I love trying to speak loudly over the construction noise of jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Whalen expressed his appreciation for Paladino and Richards for coming together to support the development.

“We don’t agree on everything; we agree on a lot of things,” he said. “But their door has always been open to Cord Meyer, and we appreciate that.”

Fall Festivities and Fiber Arts at King Manor

By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

King Manor held their annual Fall Festival on a surprisingly warm, golden Saturday in Jamaica.

The Manor incorporated the second annual Queens Fiber Festival—where artisans specializing in crochet, rug making, yarn dying, and more are invited to set up shop and sell their goods—into their festivities. The Fall Festival also welcomed energy and nonprofit vendors, fiber artisans and entrepreneurs, a crochet workshop, a historic craft beer tasting, tours of the museum, free books, a pumpkin picking station and crafts.

Preserved in the center of a larger park, King Manor is the historic home of Rufus King, a founding father and early anti-slavery advocate. The Manor’s foundation hosts frequent community events, and describes itself as driven by King’s legacy to use education to “promote social change in today’s world.”

In the front yard of the manor, kids swarmed the tables where they were able to craft independently or follow directions to make historic crafts, such as corn husk doll making and Victorian pin making.

Other stations offered free books—many of them courtesy of the Black Resource Network, an organization the Manor partners with—as well as raffle tickets, vendors like Growing Up Green Charter Schools and an affordable pumpkin picking station.

“There’s no pumpkin patch near here,” said Kelsey Brow, Executive Director of King Manor. “So we will have a little one here for our community.”

“There’s a lot of Fall events, but not a whole lot in this community,” Brow continued. “Pretty much everything here is free. The pumpkins are $1 to help support the museum, but everything else is free. Because it’s our mission here to make sure that economic status isn’t the barrier to participation.”

In the backyard, fiber arts vendors—selling largely crochet, but also dyed yarn and related goods—set up their stands in a wide semi-circle to show off their colorful work.

Regina Sawyer, 42, founded the Queens Fiber Festival just last year. “Born and bred” in Queens, she currently lives in Briarwood.

“Last year, I came up with the idea of having a fiber festival in Queens,” she said. “I reached out to the King Manor Museum and asked them if they’d be interested in having an event like this. They said yes…and they asked if it could be incorporated into the Fall Festival. And so we did it for the first time last year and everything just went together seamlessly: like the fall events that were happening for the Fall festival, and for the Fiber Festival, it all just came together really well. So here we are!”

“I thought it’d be a really great idea,” she added, “because there are other fiber festivals in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but nothing in Queens or any of the other boroughs.”

Among the fiber vendors was Hannah Villanueva (artist name Hannah Via), a Sunnyside resident who crafts colorful, handmade rugs and other tufted goods, working from her studio in Astoria. Villanueva said she appreciated the opportunity to sell her artwork in her own borough. “I usually do events that are, like in Manhattan or Brooklyn, you know, more central to the city,” she said. “It’s been very nice to be outside, kind of more in a community setting out in the park and among greenery.”

Camryn Easley, a Bed-Stuy artist who founded a crochet club for Black women and nonbinary people called “Knot Okay,” said the event was a great way to make sales and foster connections with other artisans.

“I found out about this event last year I attended, and then this year, I’m a vendor. So I feel like that’s really cool to have that full circle moment,” Easley said.

“It’s really nice to appreciate other people’s work and also have them, in turn, come and look at your booth. And there’s people who are, you know, dyeing yarn, and then [you can] talk to them about, you know, ‘if you dye the yarn, and then I can crochet something for it.’ So there’s partnerships that come out of it.”

Meanwhile, through a side entrance to the museum, Forest Hills resident Dan Olson, 70 offered a beer-tasting experience unlike any other. Along with two colleagues from his Astoria-based homebrew club “Brewstoria,” Olson offered tastings of historically accurate beer that Rufus King himself might have once enjoyed.

“The three of us are home brewers—we do this as a hobby, nothing commercial,” Olson explained. “And some of us like to go through original recipes or work with unusual non- beer ingredients.”

Made faithfully from a recipe sourced directly from the King Manor archives, the dark, tangy beer served that day was produced with only ginger, molasses, hops, and yeast, lacking the typical base of grain that we associate with beer.

“The recipe was from here. It’s from around 1815…when you look at it, it looks like the wife of the house, who was also the brewer, probably clipped this out of the local magazine and said, ‘I’ll brew this,’ and kept the recipe,” Olson said.

Olson told the history of beer’s development to visitors, explaining that brewing was the woman of the house’s job until commercial production ramped up in the late 1800s.

Kids, parents, and young people circled around and through the manor throughout the afternoon, enjoying the many activities.

“We really want to have something really friendly and welcoming, showing local artists and diverse people with different racial, ethnic and sexual identities, just making it a really welcoming space for everybody here,” Brow said, “It’s just always a cozy environment in these events, so it’s always happy to see all different people here enjoying themselves.”

New LIRR Head Honcho: Rob Free

By Celia Bernhardt[email protected]

MTA officials celebrated Robert Free’s first full day as Acting President of the LIRR, as well as record high Long Island Railroad performance, at a media roundtable on Thursday, Oct. 19.

Robert Free joined Chair and CEO of the MTA Janno Leiber, Head of Policy and External Affairs John McCarthy, and Acting Chief Customer Officer Shanifah Rieara to facilitate the roundtable at Jamaica Central Control. 

Free, a lifelong Long Island resident, lives with his wife and children in Port Jefferson Station. He’s also a true veteran of the Long Island Railroad. “I’ve been at the Long Island Railroad for over 31 years now,” he said, “starting as a station cleaner, which I’m extremely proud of.”

From there he climbed the ladder, taking on progressively higher-up positions. Just before this new venture as Acting President, he served as Senior Vice President of Operations, where he “deliver[ed] on numerous mega-projects” and oversaw day-to-day operations. 

“All that time, I never imagined that someday I would be leading this incredible agency,” Free said. 

Robert Free on the left. Photo credit: Celia Bernhardt

Free spoke of lofty overall goals for the agency. “We don’t want to just provide train service,” he said. “We want to be world class service that our customers can be proud of.” 

The LIRR’s central goals as an agency will be “safety, reliability, and customer experience,” Free added. “These priorities go hand in hand—as I always say, you can’t have an on time railroad if you don’t have a safe one…Our priorities will also aim to improve the customer experience by continuing to work on things such as having our train schedules meet customer needs, and focusing on the little things as well.”

The Long Island Railroad has been without a permanent president since former president Pillip Eng announced his retirement in February 2022. Since then, Catherine Rinaldi has served as both “interim” president for the LIRR and president of the Metro North. After she announced her retirement from the LIRR world, Free was tapped to take on the job. 

He isn’t guaranteed that position—Leiber said that the MTA still has an obligation to go through a full hiring process with a national search. 

“You don’t just hand people jobs of this importance,” Leiber said, before adding his praise for Free. 

“Rob Free is running the Long Island Railroad. And he’s incredibly qualified to do it, and he has my support. So the fact that I’m going through a process that is normal and expected for a major job of this kind—I don’t want it to be communicated that I don’t have full confidence in Rob Free.”

As he looked back at his career, Free said that he had “absolutely” enjoyed cleaning stations when he started off. 

“It’s been very touching, to be honest with you. Within the organization, people reaching out to me, and how thankful they are and how hopeful they are…I actually even had someone from Metro North reach out to me, a coach cleaner, who told me that I was an inspiration. And I tried to be a very humble man but it’s very touching to me, realizing you have that much of an impact on people’s lives.” 

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