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Drag Queens in public schools prompts Council infighting

Queens Councilwoman Vickie Paladino continues to draw criticism from local elected officials over a series of opinionated tweets directed against the “Drag Queen Story Hour” program. The new program, which according to a story published by The New York Post reportedly cost taxpayers more than $200,000 to fund, invites cross-dressing performers to read to local school children in New York City.

In her comments online, the Councilwoman refers to the program as an act of “child grooming” and “sexualization” in the schools. Paladino would later clarify her statement by claiming that it is part of the “political, social, and cultural indoctrination of impressionable young children, often without parental consent,” calling it both “unacceptable and inappropriate.”

In response, several members of the city council fired back calling her commentary “homophobic” and “hateful.”

In a recent interview with Pix11 News, City Councilman Erik Bottcher said that her comparison was completely off base. “A groomer is a child molester,” Bottcher explains. “To compare my community to child molesters is totally unacceptable.”

Paladino, however, argued that her commentary was intended to shed light on the spending priorities of the city administration, however, due to how it was presented online, was viewed by colleagues as a personal attack.

As a result, Paladino found herself in hot water, while several Democratic city officials fired back with statements of their own, condemning her over “bigoted comments” regarding the program—-which is intended to promote the acceptance of queer youth in schools—-and calling for her to be formally censored and stripped of her committee assignments.

“This type of hatred shouldn’t be tolerated from anyone, especially another elected official,” Councilwoman Lynn Schulman tweeted in response. “As a proud lesbian member of the New York City Council from Queens and a funder of Drag Queens Story Hour I am saddened and angry that a colleague would be threatened by the teaching of tolerance in our schools.”

Openly gay City Councilman Chi Ossé also fired back on Twitter, stating that as chairman of the Committee on Cultural affairs he condemns the bigoted remarks made in regards to the nonprofit program which teaches acceptance to the City’s youth.

“NYC is a safe haven where our queer community is welcomed and loved,” Ossé said in his response.

Co-chairs of the LGBTQIA+ Caucus Councilwoman Crystal Hudson and Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán also admonished the statements made by Paladino, reiterating that the program is a “wonderful, wholesome, and vital program” that invites children to see themselves as unique individuals with the right to be whoever they want. “It shows queer youth and their peers alike that each of our existence is valid — that we all belong.”

In response to the outpour of complaints against her, Paladino issued a statement on Friday, reaffirming that her stance was strictly in opposition to the use of taxpayer dollars and that her statements were not intended as a personal attack or accusation against anyone.

“At a time when there has been a dramatic increase in the crime rate in New York City and a large number of New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet by living paycheck to paycheck, I would like to make one thing very clear: I am NOT apologizing or retracting my statement against using taxpayer dollars to fund Drag Queen Story Hour in our public schools,” Paladino said in an official statement.

Paladino maintained that her stance was made on behalf of her constituents in Queens, several of whom she said are concerned over the propagation of gender confusion and adult entertainment in public schools.

Paladino added that she was appalled by the reaction of her colleagues considering the vast number of issues currently facing our city, including homelessness, housing, mental health, public safety, and food shortages.

“Let me be clear – I fully support adults making their own free decision about who they are and how to express themselves… but I do NOT condone exposing little children to inappropriate narratives that encourage gender radicalism,” Paladino said in her statement.

While this is a new program for public schools, Drag Queen Story Hour has been featured at public libraries since 2017.

Councilwoman Julie Won recently attended one of the many Drag Story Hour events at the Queens Public Library in Woodside as a show of support to the LGBTQ+ community.

“This is a wonderful program that teaches children about inclusion and the history of the LGBTQ community,” Won said in her tweet. “As long as I am in council, I will continue to support programs like DSH to build communities that are inclusive and loving to all forms of self expression.”

Paladino still feels there is still much to be discussed. In her statement, she concludes by extending the opportunity for open dialogue with any of her fellow Council members who wish to take her up on the offer.

Wild West shootout in Maspeth

By Daniel Offner
[email protected]

Gunfire erupted in the early morning on Saturday, June 11, at the intersection of Grand Avenue and 58th Avenue in Maspeth, sending people scrambling for their lives. Police responded and made an arrest, recovering a firearm from the scene.

The incident occurred at approximately 6 a.m., when a man, who was described as disheveled with ripped clothing, reportedly walked into Pat’s Service Station on Rust Street. Witnesses said he was robbed of his wallet and cellphone and asked to use the phone at the station.

Kevin Coyne of Pat’s Service Station said that a man walked in with scratches all over his face claiming he just got beat up and mugged. “A couple of minutes later I heard shots,” he told The Queens Ledger.

According to eyewitnesses, the man then ran off and gunfire erupted.

“This is out of hand. Maspeth is supposed to be a safe place,” one eyewitness to the event said. “Police showed up rather quickly, but nonetheless there are so many guns on the street, what are they going to do?”

While attempting to close the roadway to secure the crime scene, a 67-year-old man driving a 2020 Tesla T2 traveling westbound on Rust Street was directed by officers to stop his vehicle. According to police, the driver inadvertently pressed on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal, causing him to veer right. The car then mounted the sidewalk and proceeded to collide with the rear of an uninvolved and unoccupied truck at the location.

According to eyewitnesses, the car drove underneath the truck and decapitated the driver who is reportedly in critical condition.

Police indicate that the operator of the vehicle is likely to die as a result of sustaining severe head trauma as a result of being pinned inside his vehicle. FDNY personnel were able to extricate the driver and EMS transported him to Health and Hospitals-Elmhurst in critical condition.

Juan Gonzalez, 31, of Brooklyn, was subsequently arrested at the corner of 59th Avenue and 58th Place, around 8 a.m. According to investigators, he allegedly discharged his firearm following a dispute. The firearm was later recovered at the scene.

Gonzalez faces charges of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, criminal use of a firearm, reckless endangerment, criminal possession of a disguised gun, and the possession of a large-capacity ammo feed device, according to a DCPI spokesperson.

Twice in Two Years: Water Main Break Floods Queensbridge Houses

By Daniel Offner

[email protected]

Last week, a water main burst in Long Island City flooded over a dozen cars in the vicinity of Vernon Boulevard and 41st Road in the area surrounding the Queensbridge Houses.

The break occurred around 2 a.m., leaving about 450 customers in the surrounding area without water service as crews excavated to find and patch the source of the leak.

Repairs were completed later that afternoon and water service was restored. Meanwhile, crews continue to work on repairing the roadway.

This is the second time in two years that the main has burst, flooding the entire block surrounding the NYCHA residences. According to CBS 2 New York, the leak originated from a different location along the same main.

Queensbridge residents are again without water as a water main break flooded our neighborhood five feet,” Senate candidate Kristen Gonzalez said in a statement on Twitter. “Our infrastructure is crumbling in the face of a worsening climate crisis. We are not prepared, and Black and brown New Yorkers are paying the price.”

Gonzalez is currently running in the Democratic primary for the New York State Senate seat which represents Long Island City, Astoria, and Greenpoint, against candidates Nomiki Konst and Elizabeth Crowley.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards also tweeted that the flooding outside Queensbridge was “wholly unacceptable.”

“Today’s water main break outside Queensbridge, just 18 months after last year’s break flooded the same area, exemplifies why we need to make massive investments across Queens to upgrade our underground water and sewer utilities,” Richards said, reminding residents that anyone whose vehicle was damaged by the flood can file a claim with the City Comptroller’s office.

Queens Chamber hosts Business Expo

More than 140 local businesses were represented at the Queens Chamber of Commerce annual Queens Business Expo last Wednesday at Citi Field. Some of the businesses in attendance included the New York Daily News, BQE Media, Maspeth Federal Savings Bank, Apple Bank, Queens Community House, W&M Fire Protection, Solace House, Skyline Cruises, Solucore Elevator Solutions, Flushing Bank, Aetna, She Media NY, World Journal, and many more.

The event began with a keynote address by First Deputy Mayor Lorraine Grillo, followed by a panel discussion on the tech industry in Queens featuring Small Business Services Commissioner Kevin Kim, Tech NYC Executive Director Jason Clark, President and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Committee Andrew Kimball, and PropTech Pioneer CSO Bill Staniford.

During the discussion, Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Grech asked “where do you see the development of the tech industry going over the next three to five years?”

Kimball said he has a “glass half full” view that the economy is roaring back after the COVID-19 pandemic. He added that he expects to see progress in some industries including PropTech, BioTech, and Green Tech/Clean Tech.

According to the NYCEDC President/CEO, the green tech industry could help provide over 13,000 new jobs over the next ten years thanks to efforts to get off fossil fuels and purchase agreements for offshore wind power supplies.

During the Expo, attendees were given the opportunity to meet St. John’s University alum and NY Mets star John Franco, who was on the show floor all afternoon, as well as attend educational seminars, take home raffle prizes, and even take a picture with Mr. Met.

There was also a section of the Expo specifically dedicated to the local food industry, where different business owners provided attendees with a taste of their unique cuisine.

See photos below:

Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Grech

Keynote speakers at the 2022 Expo included (L-R) NYC Small Business Services Commissioner Kevin Kim, Tech NYC Executive Director Jason Clark, President and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Committee Andrew Kimball, and PropTech Pioneer CSO Bill Staniford.

Hotlier and President of Century Development Group George Xu, center, with members of his family and staff.

Former NY Mets relief pitcher John Franco

Representatives with Apple Bank

Local chefs showcase their delicious cuisine.

W&M Fire Protection at the Expo

Maspeth Federal Savings at the Queens Business Expo 2022

Entertainment: Paying tribute to Queens icon

By Daniel Offner

[email protected]

Prodigy, one-half of the iconic rap group Mobb Deep, died in June 2017 from complications caused by sickle cell anemia, a disease he battled throughout his entire life. Now, five years since his untimely passing, the late emcee’s estate has finally announced the release of his first posthumous single, “You Will See.”

“Five years ago our family suffered an immense loss,” relatives in charge of the late rapper’s estate said in a release. “The music that Prodigy left behind is extremely precious to all of us. We felt the need and responsibility to hold on to it until we had the proper foundation to complete what he was working on and release it to the world. We hope his fans will enjoy and support our efforts as we move forward with this very personal and emotional process. ‘You Will See’ is a treasure of new music from Prodigy, no doubt indeed.”

Artwork for his new single, “You Will See” available now on all streaming platforms and digital music stores.

He and rapper/producer Havoc first became household names in the mid-90s with the release of their sophomore album, “The Infamous,” which is considered one of the most prolific and influential hip-hop albums of all time. Mobb Deep perfectly encapsulated the everyday struggles of life in the Queensbridge Houses through their music. The album achieved instant commercial success, debuting at No. 15 on the Billboard 200 charts in 1995.

“The Infamous” remains an East Coast hip-hop staple thanks to such timeless classics as “Shook Ones (Part II), “Survival of the Fittest,” and “Temperature’s Rising” to name just a few.

Prodigy left behind a great number of recordings, including the next two chapters of his trilogy “The Hegelian Dialectic,” a highly introspective project which began with the first volume, “The Book of Revelation” wherein he revealed his socially conscious and politically driven reflections.

The forthcoming second installment of the project, entitled “The Book of Heroine,” will be released this summer and focuses more on emotional struggles through examples of personal trials and tribulations with drugs, relationships, and the continuous distractions caused by lust.

The new single, “You Will See,” is the first of three upcoming singles to be released in anticipation of the forthcoming full-length album release. It features soulful vocals and production by Berto Rich, in conjunction with The North Star group, and is available now on all streaming platforms and digital music stores.

LISTEN: “YOU WILL SEE” BY PRODIGY (RAPPER)

Thousands turn out for Queens Pride

Thousands filled the streets in Jackson Heights on Sunday to celebrate the 30th annual Queens Pride Parade and Festival. Having been absent for the last two years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s festivities took the event to a whole new level.

Lasting over two hours, this year’s Queens Pride Parade featured more than 100 different groups, including local activists, LGBTQIA+ organizations, and elected officials.

Mayor Eric Adams helped lead the parade along with Grand Marshalls Adrienne Adams, speaker of the New York City Council, and former City Councilman and parade co-founder, Daniel Dromm.

The event also included representatives from nonprofit organizations such as Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo, the Caribbean Equality Project, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the CUNY LGBTQIA+ Consortium, End Trans Detention, and many more.

It also included several performances by Fogo Azul, The Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps, Gotham Cheer, CitySoul NYC, and City Cheer.

The Queens Pride Parade was founded by Dromm and gay rights activist Maritza Martinez in 1993 to improve the visibility of the LGBTQ community following the death of Julio Rivera, a 29-year-old gay Puerto Rican man who was viciously attacked by three skinheads at the schoolyard near 78th Street and 37th Avenue.

His would become the first gay hate crime to be tried in New York State. The street corner where the attack took place was later renamed “Julio Rivera Corner” as a symbolic gesture honoring his life and memory.

Jackson Heights has been home to one of the largest LGBT communities in the entire City since the 1920s, but when the attack took place in ‘93, activism was largely non-existent in what was at the time a socially conservative borough.

“If it wasn’t for Julio the Queens LGBT movement would not have gotten as far as it has gotten,” Dromm said back in 2015. “Julio did not die in vain. He changed people’s lives.”

Every year, the parade—which spans over a dozen city blocks—concludes the festivities at this historic corner. But Pride doesn’t stop there. The festivities continued long into the night with live music, presentations, food, drinks, and more.

Some of the many colorful costumes worn during the 2022 Pride Parade and Festival.

Looking regal. The Imperial Court of New York participates in the 2022 Queens Pride Parade.

Fogo Azul NYC drummers get the crowd moving in the streets during the parade.

Participants with Apicha Community Health Center enjoying the annual Pride Festival.

 

Teacher charged with forcibly touching student

A high school teacher at Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences was arrested by NYPD Police officers with the 107th Precinct last week after allegedly putting his hands on a female student.

Shannon Hall, 31, of Jamaica, has been charged with two counts of forcible touching, endangering the welfare of a child, aggravated harassment, and sexual abuse stemming from allegations he abused two female students, ages 14 and 16.

“As parents, each day we drop our children at school, and entrust their care and custody to teachers, whom we expect to be our surrogates in every regard. It shocks the conscience to believe that a person in a professional capacity, charged with a child’s welfare, would exploit his position of authority and trust, and as alleged, endanger a child’s welfare and engage in aggravated harassment and sexual abuse with students,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a statement to the press.

According to the charges, on May 24 and May 25, Hall allegedly sent inappropriate text messages to a 16-year-old female student, including one that read “I want to be with you,” followed by an apology the next day, explaining that he was drunk the night before.

While in school, Hall allegedly told the 16-year-old victim that he was jealous of her and a male student and that she should look out for him the way that he looks out for her. Later that evening the victim communicated with Hall via text, asking what he had meant. Hall allegedly responded that he wanted to kiss her, smoke with her and have sex with her.

After sending the texts, he allegedly threatened her via text saying that if she showed anyone the messages she would be dead.

In a separate incident, on May 25, Hall was inside his classroom with a 14-year-old student when he allegedly grabbed and squeezed her breast.

Hall was arraigned before Queens Criminal Court Judge Denise Johnson, on June 2, and has been charged with two counts of forcible touching, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, aggravated harassment, and sexual abuse.

Hall has been ordered to return to court on June 28, after press time. If convicted, he faces up to one year in jail and/or $1,000 fine for each of the two individual complaints.

Bayside Attorney runs for Judge

Bayside’s own Karen Lin will be in the running for Queens Civil Court Judge in the upcoming Democratic Primary on June 28.

Lin officially announced her candidacy back in April, kicking off her campaign with a show of support from local elected officials including U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, State Senator John Liu, Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, and District Leader Carol Gresser.

With 25 yeast of legal and courtroom experience, Lin is running to increase representation in the judiciary and to make history as the first East-Asian American woman elected judge in Queens.

“As judges, our job is to serve the people,” Lin said in a statement. “I would love the opportunity to be someone who serves the people of Queens. This is my home, this is the place I love, and these are the streets I know. Representation matters, having people who are diverse on the bench matters.”

Last year, former NYS Assemblywoman and countywide Judge Michele Titus and Judge Laurentina McKetney Butler were elected to the New York State Supreme Court’s 11th Judicial District, leaving behind two open seats for Queens Civil Court Judge. Lin, along with attorney Thomas Oliva, were selected by Queens County Democrats to replace them.

On Monday, May 23, a press conference was held in front of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association to announce U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez’s endorsement of Karen Lin for Queens Civil Court Judge.

“We need judges on the bench that can relate to the people over whom they preside,” Velázquez said during the press conference. “We need diversity on the bench as it is an essential component of a fair and impartial judiciary. Bringing a range of experiences and perspectives allows judges to make better-informed decisions and increases public confidence in their rulings.”

Lin began her career as a civil rights and family law attorney at a small firm, representing families in New York City Family Court and the State Supreme Court. She subsequently left for an opportunity to work for New York State Senator Catherine Abate in lower Manhattan.

From her experience, she gained new insight into the needs of New Yorkers regarding issues such as affordable housing, fair wages, and labor rights, which she hopes to bring to the table if elected to the Queens Civil Court.

“I am deeply honored by Congresswoman Velázquez’s endorsement and support for my civil court race. In the most diverse county of Queens, Asian Americans remain vastly underrepresented in the judiciary,” Lin said in a release. “This is why I’m running. A qualified judiciary is more than just the sum of their professional experience. A judiciary that reflects the community it serves is the most legitimate and effective option. My commitment is and will always be the same: ensuring equal justice under the law for all.”

The Democratic Primary election will be held on June 28.

2022 Election Profile: Assembly Candidate Brent O’Leary

Correction: Eugene Noh does not work as campaign advisor for O’Leary. O’Leary also did not hire Won’s team of field operators in his run for AD37.

Brent O’Leary, one of the founders of the Hunters Pont Civic Association and President of the nonprofit organization Woodside on the Move, announced his bid for the 37th Assembly district seat, currently occupied by outgoing Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan.

Nolan, whose district encompasses the Hunters Point, Sunnyside, Woodside, Maspeth, and Ridgewood communities in Western Queens, has held the position since 1984. Following the announcement of her retirement, four local candidates have opted to throw their hats into the ring.

O’Leary, 52, has been working as an attorney for over 25 years. He was formerly a senior associate at White & Case, one of America’s top law firms, where he specialized in business and financial law.

He previously ran for office in the 2021 Democratic primary election, finishing third among 15 candidates in the running for the New York City Council district seat formerly occupied by Jimmy Van Bramer, losing to political newcomer Julie Won.

“My campaign is going to be run much more professionally this time,” O’Leary said, highlighting what he plans on doing differently.

O’Leary said he considers himself to be an “old school” FDR democrat, running a more moderate-leaning campaign than some of his more progressive opponents like Juan Ardila.

“We have different views on how you get things done,” O’Leary said in an exclusive interview with The Queens Ledger, regarding the three other candidates vying for Nolan’s Assembly seat.

A major proponent of his campaign focuses on providing quality paying jobs, providing a safety net for those who cannot afford private health care, providing quality education for district students, and improving public safety within the community.

“I am capable, caring, and committed,” O’Leary said about representing his community in Albany if elected.

O’Leary says that if he is elected to office he would look to address bail reform, establishing criteria for judges to determine whether or not to keep violent criminals behind bars; housing affordability and rent, promoting homeownership as an investment in the community; and education, which he feels should be left up to the decisions of the Mayor and not Albany lawmakers.

Apart from his work with local nonprofit organizations and civic groups, O’Leary has pitched in by coordinating with community churches to organize emergency food pantries and is working closely with the Hour Children program, dedicated to helping children of those incarcerated at Riker’s Island.

In preparation for the upcoming Democratic primary election on June 28th, O’Leary is canvassing door-to-door across the district, sharing his campaign message and speaking with potential constituents about the issues that matter most to their community.

O’Leary will appear on the ballot against candidates Juan Ardila, Johanna Carmona, and Jim McGee. Stay tuned to The Queens Ledger for election coverage and more to come.

From ‘Sex and the City’ to ‘The Kids We Love’

How a local author breaks traditional storytelling with her new kid’s book

Eleni Fuiaxis, a professional model, actress, elementary school teacher, and mother of two from Astoria, can now add published Children’s author to her already expansive resume. Best known for her role as Debbie in the hit HBO series Sex and the City, she hopes to reignite reading and storytelling in schools with a brand new book series designed to help parents and teachers engage and connect with kids.

The first book in the series, “Picky Patrick,” was something she started writing eight years ago as a labor of love. Fuiaxis said that she always enjoyed reading to her kids at night, but would always return home from work exhausted.

“I was so tired by the end of the night,” Fuiaxis said, “I made up these stories for them.”

Her children loved the stories so much that she began to write them down. In fact, her son Zen was so inspired by one of the stories that he asked her if he could make copies of the book to sell to his friends. It was at that moment she became determined to publish them.

“Picky Patrick” hits major book sellers on July 12

But as soon as she found a publisher, everything suddenly came undone. “My marriage fell apart,” she said. “I had no idea what I was doing with myself and my life.”

Fuiaxis said this was when she embarked on a journey of self-discovery. It was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that she decided to become certified to teach.

“The modeling and acting industry were completely annihilated,” she said. “And so many teachers were getting sick, retiring, and walking off the job.”

Feeling compelled to help serve in any way that she can, she quickly found herself thrown into the classroom. “It was intense,” she said. “But I have no regrets. It’s one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done.”

Since the children connected organically with the characters in her book, she decided to add 14 different prompts at the end, to serve as a springboard for deep and meaningful conversations.

“Picky Patrick,” tells the story of an 8-year-old boy who seemingly has it all, but spends all of his time nitpicking and choosing to focus on the negative things.

One day, after reading the book to her class, she said that a student approached her with a dilemma–they accidentally colored outside of the lines. That was when a fellow classmate stood up and said, “remember Picky Patrick… it doesn’t have to be perfect.”

“Kids are literally teaching each other how to self-soothe and problem solve,” she said. “It really connected with them… now, coming out of COVID, they need time to connect more than ever.”

Fuiaxis also said that she has finished three more manuscripts for the collection–“Smelly Nelly,” “Scared Steven,” and “Negative Nathan”–which she plans to release at a future date. Her first book in “The Kids We Love” series, “Picky Patrick,” will be released by Mascot Kids and available at major booksellers on July 12.

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