Robbery pattern plagues Ridgewood, Bushwick

Perps targeting intoxicated people, police say

By Jessica Meditz

Deputy Inspector Kevin Coleman, Commanding Officer of the 104th Pct., discussed the robbery pattern at the last 104th Pct. Community Council meeting. (Photo: @104PCC, Twitter).

As the 104th Precinct prepares for what 2023 will bring, its Ridgewood sector still faces a problem carried over from 2022 – a strong-armed robbery pattern.

At the most recent 104th Precinct Community Council meeting, Deputy Inspector Kevin Coleman, Commanding Officer of the 104, told attendees that the series of robberies spans from the end of November, and consists of about 13 incidents.

They’ve taken place within the confines of both the 104th Precinct in Ridgewood and 83rd Precinct in Bushwick, in the vicinity of Fairview Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue, Hart Street and Putnam Avenue.

“This is happening on the midnight shift, really between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.,” Coleman said at the meeting. “People coming out of bars are kind of being targeted, and there’s two or three guys that approach someone from behind and either punch them or put them in a headlock, and then take their wallet, phone, or belongings.”

The 104th Precinct has been working closely with the 83rd Precinct to combat this issue, including setting up cameras to obtain footage of the perpetrators and deploying officers in the robbery zone.

“We have four brand new police officers in field training, and as of [this] week, we’re getting five new officers from this new class that just graduated,” Coleman said in an interview. “They’re out there visible, there’s foot posts out there with them, and they’re a component of the resources I’m putting in Ridgewood to address the problem.”

Coleman added that spreading awareness to locals is an important part of this action plan, and that the 104’s Crime Prevention Officer has visited nearby bars and other establishments to make them aware.

He also wants people in the community to be aware of their surroundings while they’re out late at night, whether it be for nightlife reasons, or simply coming home late from work.

“If you’re going out at night, you should travel with a group of people to ensure that everyone gets home safely, because all of our victims have been alone,” Coleman said. “I’d recommend, as always, to watch your consumption of drinking…because of the robbery pattern we’re concerned about people walking home. If you’re having a lot to drink, that can be dangerous for yourself, but you could also become the victim of a robbery.”

At the 104th Precinct Community Council meeting, he said that the precinct has a person of interest, and hopes to make an arrest as soon as possible.

$21.3M in federal funds secured for Queens projects

Platform to be extended, elevators to be added at LIRR station in Forest Hills; largest project of the bunch

By Jessica Meditz

The Long Island Rail Road station in Forest Hills is the most expensive project of the bunch, with $7 million allocated. (Photo: Michael Perlman)

Just before Christmas, it was announced that over $21.3 million in federal funds were allocated for 15 critical projects across Queens.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens), New York’s senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, secured the funds in the new 2023 government spending package that passed the House and Senate late last month, and has now been signed into law by President Joe Biden.

Meng obtained a total of $21,317,066 in federal money for the projects, all of which meet many urgent needs throughout Queens.

The largest portion of the funding will go toward upgrades for the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station in Forest Hills – approximately $7 million.

Improvements to the station will include the installation of new elevators and the extension the platform length to accommodate more train cars.

Today, the Forest Hills LIRR station accommodates only six of the 12 train cars, meaning that when a train stops at that station, only the first six cars are able to open their doors. The planned extension will be able to accommodate all 12 cars.

Additionally, the implementation of elevators will make the Forest Hills LIRR station fully accessible, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

“The MTA is fully committed to make the entire system accessible, not just subways but the LIRR and Metro-North too,” MTA Chief Accessibility Officer Quemuel Arroyo said in a statement. “With these new elevators spread throughout the subway system and across Long Island, a large number of riders with disabilities, customers with children in strollers and visitors with luggage will benefit from an easier way to access mass transit.”

An MTA spokesperson said that the station’s accessibility upgrades are still in the design phase, and that more information can be shared when there’s a timeline for construction.

The allocated federal funds will also benefit other Queens cornerstones, including Queens College, borough hospitals, local nonprofits and small businesses.

They include $2 million for The City of New York’s District 6 Open Restaurants Dining Kits, $2 million for the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (Met Council), over $1.4 million for Queens College’s Small Business Development Initiative,  $1 million for New York City Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst for the renovation of its Infectious Diseases Clinic, $1 million for the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Legal Desk support program, $1 million for Long Island Jewish Forest Hills’ establishment of Robotic Assisted Orthopedic Surgery, $1 million for the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (Met Council), $1 million for Commonpoint Queens, $800,000 for LIFE Camp, Inc., $750,000 for 100 Suits for 100 Men, $750,000 for Churches United for Fair Housing, $750,000 for Queens College’s Colden Auditorium, $551,210 for DOROT (which serves older adults) and $250,000 La Jornada Food Pantry.

“As I’ve said, Queens deserves its fair share, and I’m thrilled to bring back more money for critical projects here in our borough,” Meng said in a statement.

“I am especially pleased that I was able to secure more than double the amount of what I obtained in last year’s government spending bill. I am always honored and proud to fight for Queens and I’ll never stop working to ensure that our communities have the resources they need. I thank the President for signing the new spending bill into law, and look forward to this more than $21.3 million benefiting our borough, and the neighborhoods I represent, for many years to come.”

The money that Meng secured is allocated under Congress’ Community Project Funding.

In last year’s government spending bill, Meng obtained nearly $10 million for projects throughout her district.

Queens Botanical Garden receives historic donation

$8 million provided for outreach and educational programming

By Alicia Venter

The Queens Botanical Garden is receiving a historic $8 million donation to fund their programming and outreach efforts in the coming years.

Jamaica-based non-profit Joan N. and Norman Bluestone Foundation donated the $8 million, an amount that Queens Botanical Garden Executive Director Evie Hantzopoulos believes to be one of the largest donations given to any cultural organization in Queens.

With this donation, the Queens Botanical Garden plans to strategize the programming and educational services that will be provided to a variety of different Queens residents.

“One of the things that I’ve observed and I believe in is how much potential this garden has,” Hantzopoulos said. “It’s already considered such an important resource and space for the community here in Flushing and in Queens. Through this very generous gift that we are going to receive, it’s going to open up a bunch of opportunities for us to serve.”

The Queens Botanical Garden is set to receive an upgrade in the next few years, as the city is funding a new educational building to replace its current outdated center. This donation will allow there to be no time wasted once these doors are opened, as the donation will primarily serve to fund this location’s programming.

Though they are currently “at the mercy of the city” for its completion, Hantzopoulos shared that the new education center, which will be named after the Joan N. and Norman Bluestone Foundation, is set to be completed two years after its groundbreaking. The date of the groundbreaking is currently unconfirmed, but a press release stated it would take place this summer.

“We will be able to expand our capacity to serve New York City school children through tours, through workshops and through educational programs. We will be able to do some adult education as well,” Hantzopoulos said. “I think what’s really wonderful is that not only do we have this new building but we will also be able to staff and operate it. From day one that the building opens, we will be able to serve all the guests who come.”

The garden does currently have an education building, though outdated, and they will be developing and piloting new programming with the funding while the construction of the new building is underway.

Hantzopoulos told the Leader-Observer that the funding will directly benefit

underrepresented areas in Queens — specifically Jamaica and the Rockaways as requested by the donors.

“The Bluestone family… wanted to give something back to those communities as well. Through this gift, we will be doing some extra special outreach to those communities.”

The Queens Botanical Garden will work with the community within public schools, Hantzopoulos shared, in order to promote sustainability and present the opportunities they provide. They are looking at the engagement of communities who haven’t been coming to the garden as much as others, Hantzopoulos said.

The goal, with this funding, is simple to Hantzopoulos.

“Our hope is that we are going to reach more people,” she said.

The garden, she explained, is on the cutting edge of environmentally sustainable practices. They are completely organic, with strategies to not waste water and composting on site, continually working to manage their resources and reduce their carbon footprint. They were the first publicly funded LEED platinum certified building in New York City in 2007, and had the first publicly accessible green roof in the city, Hantzopoulos explained.

“This is the way our city needs to go in order to become more energy efficient, manage our resources better and mitigate the impacts of climate change,” Hantzopoulos said. “In addition to bringing more people to the  garden… we also want to continue leading the way in terms of environmental sustainability as we face the existential crisis of climate change.”

The Joan N. and Norman Bluestone Foundation was formed in 2022 to foster the education of disadvantaged children and young adults in New York City. Joan was a longtime volunteer and donor at the Queens Botanical Garden, serving on its Board of Directors for many years, and she died in 2020.

Norman was a founding member of The Bluestone Organization, a Queens-based real estate company — he died in 2011.

The Queens Botanical Garden is located on 39 acres of city land at the northeast corner of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Group criticizes DOT rollout in Ridgewood

Residents hope for pedestrian ramp at Stanhope & Fairview

By Jessica Meditz

As of Dec. 1, the troublesome intersection near Grover Cleveland Park in Ridgewood, where a man was killed in 2019, has brand new crosswalks and stop signs.

After spending the better part of 2022 fighting for these safety signals and pleading with the Department of Transportation (DOT), Ridgewood residents Nicole Galpern and Becca Kauffman have achieved their “Crosswalk Fantasy” at Stanhope Street and Fairview Avenue.

The duo co-founded Crosswalk Fantasy Committee in response to the man’s death and a public unease about the lack of safety in that intersection.

It wasn’t much longer after their celebrations, which included a “Party at the Crosswalk,” lots of signage and high visibility workwear fashion statements, that a local civic group pointed out what they saw was missing: a pedestrian ramp.

Juniper Park Civic Association took to Twitter on Saturday, Jan. 7 to point out the omitted part of the job and call on Councilman Robert Holden to take action.

“Kind of weird to see supposed safety advocates ‘proclaim a crosswalk fantasy realized’ when there’s no pedestrian ramp here. Half-assed @NYC_DOT jobs should never be celebrated,” the group tweeted. “@BobHoldenNYC hopefully will see that the job gets done.”

Juniper Park Civic Association took to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction with the incomplete project.

During their communication process with the DOT, Galpern and Kauffman turned to local leaders to help spearhead their efforts, including Holden and Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5 – both of whom penned letters of support for the implementation of crosswalks and stop signs at the intersection.

Daniel Kurzyna, Holden’s chief of staff, said that from his recollection, he does not remember the topic of a pedestrian ramp coming up explicitly, but only because he thinks it’s a given that a ramp should be installed, also.

“Naturally, when a crosswalk is installed, it should be paired with a pedestrian ramp…We’ll be reaching out to the DOT about this,” he said.”

Galpern and Kauffman told the Queens Ledger that they asked the DOT for a “redesign of the intersection,” which should have included the pedestrian ramp.

“We’d be thrilled if [Holden] sent the DOT a letter of support for a pedestrian ramp,” they said.

Pedestrian ramps are a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and the DOT says on their webpage that “any alteration triggers the obligation to provide ADA-compliant ramps to the maximum extent feasible.”

Despite some pushback from Twitter user, @BushridgeBrigad, who accused JPCA of mocking the Crosswalk Fantasy Committee, the civic association maintains that its criticism is of the DOT for not completing the job.

Christina Wilkinson, JPCA secretary, said she takes issue with the Committee’s signage that was left up weeks after their “Party at the Crosswalk.”

“It should be noted that bolting laminated signs to public property and flyers on poles is illegal, could result in Sanitation fines and illegal postering makes it harder for community groups to maintain the cleanliness of the neighborhood,” she said.

In another Twitter reply, JPCA argued that it’s a positive thing that more safety measures were implemented, but “no community minded group posts illegal signage bragging about a routine civic request being fulfilled.”

Kurzyna assures that Holden is committed to ensuring the safety of those in the area.

Our office is actively reaching out to the DOT to inquire about the progress of installing pedestrian ramps at Stanhope Street and Fairview Avenue,” he said. “The installation of crosswalks at this location was an important step forward, and we will continue advocating for better measures that keep our community safe.”

Shootings decreased in Queens and Brooklyn: police

By Matthew Fischetti

Police Commish Keechant Sewell at an unrelated press conference in September. (Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

Citywide shootings have decreased due to drops in Queens and Brooklyn, according to the most recent data from the NYPD.

Recent data compiled by the NYPD shows that in the month of December, citywide shooting decreased by 31.8 percent (101 vs 148) with some of the most significant reductions occurring in Queens and Kings counties.

Comparing data from Decmber 2021 and December 2022, new COMPSTAT numbers show that overall crime decreased by 11.6 percent with drops in murder, rape, robberies, burglary and grand larcenies all seeing decreases. Felony Assault and Grand Larceny Auto, two of the seven major crime indicies,  increased compared to the same time last year. Throughout 2022, overall crime was up with a high of 22.4 percent compared to 2021 (126,537 to 103,388) while citywide murders dropped by 11.3 percent (433 to 488).

New York’s bravest also pulled 7,135 guns off the street last year , a 27-year high for gun arrests. The seven major crime index also increased

“This work was reflected in the year-over-year declines we saw in the hundreds of fewer shooting incidents, shooting victims, and murders in 2022 – and our neighborhoods are safer because of it. As we turn the calendar over, the NYPD is confident about the future of our department, our city, and all the people we serve. Our team is in place, and we are stepping forward to meet and overcome any challenges we may face in 2023 and beyond,” Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said in a statement.

In a January 5 press conference, Hizzoner defended the number stating that he didnt get better results due to Albany not following his agenda.

“Well, I think the commissioner and I, we have both made it clear what our thoughts are in that area. But I think it would be a grave danger if we believe that’s the magic bullet,” Mayor Adams said in response to a question regarding establishing dangerousness standards in setting bail.

“I’ve stated it over and over again, the bottlenecking of the criminal justice system, the failure to put trials in place in an expeditious manner, the recidivism of people carrying crimes over and over again. I’m going to return to Albany this year to add onto the success we’ve had last year, to talk about things like how do we look at recidivism, the numbers chief has pointed out,” he continued. “”There’s a small number of New Yorkers that are repeat offenders and our focus is to lean into those areas we agree on. And I’m looking forward to the conversation I’m going to have with the leaders of Albany as we talk about these issues.”

Queens Centers for Progress to present 27th annual ‘Evening of Fine Food’

By Stephanie Meditz

Evening of Fine Food is an opportunity for individuals and businesses alike to enjoy fine dining, entertainment and networking.

On Feb. 28, Queens Centers for Progress (QCP) will host its 27th annual “Evening of Fine Food” at Terrace on the Park in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. 

Evening of Fine Food offers fine dining, networking and entertainment to garner support and raise funds for QCP’s efforts to help individuals in the borough with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

“We’ve been around for 72 years…and this is the 27th anniversary of the event,” Wendy Gennaro, QCP director of development, said. “Basically, all of the proceeds go to the organization, so outside of the expenses, 100 percent of what we raise at this event goes to support our programs here in Queens.” 

QCP’s programs promote independence and community engagement for children and adults with developmental disabilities. 

Local restaurants like Bourbon Street and Austin’s Ale House have attended Evening of Fine Food since it began. 

“On the restaurant side, we have some very loyal restaurants that come back every year. They’ve been through the ringer over the past few years, but they still show up, which is amazing,” Gennaro said. 

QCP also has longtime sponsors who offer financial support every year, including Veronica Tsang, Gerald Caliendo Architects, Resorts World NYC and Grubhub. 

“What we love most is when we honor people and they keep coming back. We’ve been very blessed in that way,” she added.

Each Evening of Fine Food celebration recognizes various movers and shakers who contribute to the wellbeing, culture and community of Queens, referred to as “Chefs of the Year.”

Frank Wu, president of Queens College, is one of this year’s honorees. 

“I am as excited to be [a] chef for the QCP Evening of Fine Food as I am to live in the world’s borough where every culture is represented by its cuisine,” Wu said in a statement.

Brett Swanson, community affairs and social impact at Grubhub, will also be honored at the event. 

At Grubhub, Swanson focuses on food insecurity and restaurant revitalizations. 

“Because he does what he does, he impacts so many people in the borough. They are always handing out meals to people in communities…and not only do they feed people in the community, but they also support local businesses by using food from the local businesses to feed people. He’s just a great example of what someone can do for people in the community.” 

He feels extremely grateful to be honored in this way and to support QCP’s overall mission.

“QCP’s work has changed the lives of so many, and I am incredibly proud to be aligned with such an amazing group,” Swanson said in a statement. “Cheers to many more years to come.”

Although QCP typically honors individual people, it will honor The Leadership Team at Stop & Shop this year. 

This year, Queens Centers for Progress will honor Stop & Shop for its promotion of QCP’s Supported Employment Program for individuals with developmental disabilities.

“Stop & Shop has hired hundreds of our individuals to work in their stores throughout Queens and they’re a great employment partner to us,” Gennaro said. “What they do for our individuals by employing them is give them a sense of pride, a place to go to work every day where they thrive, earn an income and are out in the community. We’re all about inclusion and integration into the community, so they really help us in that way by doing these hires.”

Last year, QCP created the Claire Shulman Spirit of Community Award in honor of the former borough president who frequented Evening of Fine Food. 

This year’s recipient is Tanya Duhaney, Community Affairs Bureau for NYPD South.

“Tanya is selfless every day of the week,” Gennaro said. “I’ve never seen anyone who’s so busy doing things for everyone else, and she’s just a force in the NYPD, so we’re really excited to be honoring her.” 

Entertainment at Evening of Fine Food will consist of Frank Sinatra cover singer Jim Altamore, casino tables, a silent auction of items donated by the community and a selfie booth. 

Most of the Queens business community attends the event, as do individuals who want to support the cause and influencers from QCP’s partners, such as Yelp. 

“In the past, we’ve had upwards of 700 people attending the event,” Gennaro said. “Over the years, we’ve added entertainment, we’ve added more restaurants, we’ve added more companies with different offerings and expanded our reach by getting more attention on the event so we can get more people to experience it. It’s just grown so much from a small, intimate thing to this exciting, full of energy, networking, food extravaganza.” 

Tickets are available for $135 at

QCP also offers several sponsorship packages ranging from $1,500-$7,500 that include tickets.

Packages over $3,000 include VIP seating and early entry.

“[Evening of Fine Food] affords companies the opportunity to get their name in front of a lot of people,” Gennaro said. “We also have a lot of signage at the event…we really try to give everyone great value for their money between tickets and ads and attention and letting everyone know what an amazing thing they’re doing by sponsoring the event.” 

Vendors interested in donating their food and time to the event can call the QCP office at (718) 380-3000, ext. 324 or visit for more information.

Porcelli: The Other Side of Education (1/12)

CTE Shop Class: Now It’s High-Tech

Schools redefining the mission

By Mike Porcelli

Student success is the mission

Now that we have resolved to make it our mission to end the catastrophe in American education, by ensuring that schools teach: The Skills They Aren’t Teaching but Must, how can we best accomplish this goal? I suggest we begin by redefining the mission of our schools.

The purpose of education must be to prepare students for both successful personal and professional lives, by providing them every possible opportunity to develop their natural talents and abilities to their highest potential, not the production of “graduates,” with no real life or career skills, as has been the case recently.

This process must begin in grade school, by designing practices that allow young students to demonstrate their interests and learning styles.

Everyone who has ever observed toddlers at play, sees how they exhibit what they are interested in, what gets them excited and how they like to explore their world.

In their first school experiences, kids must be allowed the freedom to show how they like to learn and what they want to be taught. Schools must study these indicators and tailor education programs that match each student’s unique characteristics. This is where students can be identified as academic or CTE candidates – or both.

Early in life, children exhibit what sports and hobbies they like to participate in. Schools have always been very good at identifying the physical and other attributes that suggest what sports students are best equipped for. That’s why there are no 300-pound linebackers on the gymnastics team, and why tall students do well in basketball. Schools must use that same logic in guiding students into their best areas of study.

Middle school is the place where students should have the opportunity to expand their areas of interest and explore all possible career fields that might be appropriate for them. Only then can they have the information needed to understand if their natural talents match the requirements of those professions and begin to select the high school program that’s best for them, just as they chose their ideal sports teams.

As I have reiterated many times, high schools must provide both academic and vocational training programs that develop each student’s individual abilities, with the goal of maximizing their personal potential. High schools must abandon their objective of pushing every student they can into the college-debt-trap, which causes half of them to drop out. School “productivity” has been measured by how many students register for college, not how many of them get degrees. This has to end now.

Every school must offer each student the educational experience that best prepares them for future success in higher education, careers and life. Their mission must be to maximize each student’s potential for success in every path they take after high school. The school’s success should be judged on their effectiveness in meeting this goal, not by how many college-bound graduates they produce.

Let’s value quality over quantity and effectiveness rather than productivity.

Judge schools’ success by that standard.

Academic & Trade Education are Two Sides of a Coin. This column explores the impact of CTE programs on students, society, and the economy.

Mike Porcelli: life-long mechanic, adjunct professor, and host of Autolab Radio, is committed to restoring trade education in schools before it’s too late. 

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