Braille Challange: A good feel for reading and writing

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At the John F. Kennedy Jr. School — just off Junction Boulvard in Elmhurst — on a rainy Saturday morning, 15 kids give up a perfectly good Saturday to take a test.

The test is the annual Braille Challenge, a national skills competition for blind and visually impaired kids, ranging from third-graders to 12th-graders. It is a long and tense day for the students and their families, not unlike the SATs or the national spelling bee. The competition is a test of focus and skill on the machines, called Perkins Braillers.

The competition is divided into several categories, including the testing reading comprehension, the ability to create charts in braille and to proofread for errors, all under the tyranny of a strict time limit.

BAYSIDE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The winners get the chance to move on to the championships in California, where the top 50 young braillers compete for the national title in June.

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College Point residents demand city fix flooded road

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By Gina Martinez

TimesLedger Newspapers

College Point residents have been treading water for long enough.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) joined residents of Powells Cove Boulevard last Friday to call on the city to finally address a major flooding condition that residents say has plagued the community for over 20 years.

Avella and residents stood on the corner of Powells Cove Blvd. and 126th St. around a large pool of water that amassed from rainfall earlier in the week that had frozen over and showed no signs of going away.

According to residents who have dealt with this issue for years, they expect the floodwaters to stay there well into spring. Avella said he has been working with residents for the last two years to bring the issue to the attention to different city agencies.

Avella said the location has been inspected by multiple city agencies, including the Department of Transportation, which blamed the flooding on a lack of storm sewers at the location, and claimed that the Department of Environmental Protection must address that before DOT can address the road issues.

Over the summer, Avella brought the issues up to the DEP, which said it would open a 90-day investigation of the location — but to this date, neither he nor the residents have heard what that investigation concluded.

A DEP spokesman said that City engineers are still working to determine what upgrades to Powell’s Cove Blvd. may be feasible.

The state senator said he is not sure how the city expects people to live with these conditions and that it was absurd that residents still have to beg for basic services like storm sewers.

“How they allow their residents to live in such a flood-prone area without proper drainage or a sewer is beyond me,” he said at the press conference. “Just because these New Yorkers live at the end of College Point does not mean that you should treat them like they live at the end of the world. These New Yorkers have waited too long. Something needs to be done immediately.”

College Point resident Irina Ngai said that the street has been in this condition for 26 years because the basins are not connected to the New York City sewers.

“This condition persists year-round and in the winter it is like this every day,” she said. “In the winter, when it snows, it floods and turns icy and slippery, in the summertime, there are mosquitoes, it attracts disease, and the debris creates a hazard. The most important thing to do now is to connect the basin to the city sewer to help drain the water. If that was to happen, most of the problems would go away.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

Terrace

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Community comes together to honor boy who died saving friend in Forest Park

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By Gina Martinez

TimesLedger Newspapers

Friends and family celebrated the life of Anthony Perez, the 11-year-old who died saving his friend after he fell into a frozen pond in Forest Park Feb. 6.

Mourners gathered at Glendale’s Walsh-La Bella & Son funeral home Sunday and Monday afternoon to pay their respects to the boy who died from hypothermia.

Anthony and his friend, Juan Umpierrez, 12, were playing on the frozen waters of Strack Pond in Forest Park when Juan fell through the ice, according to police. Anthony rushed to help Juan, fell in himself, and was unable to get out of the freezing water. Police said Juan ran home to call 911 and when the FDNY arrived, firefighters had to break through the ice with their hands so they could get to the area where they knew Anthony would most likely be, then went into the water to get him.

Firefighters tried to revive Anthony once they retrieved his body from the pond but were unable to. He was pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital, police said.

Shortly afterward during a press conference FDNY Deputy Chief George Healy implored parents to make sure their kids know the ice on the lakes and ponds of the city are not safe places to play.

“It won’t support your weight,” he said. “Please stay off the ice. There are signs around all the lakes in the city and we implore you: Tell your children it can have tragic consequences. Again, the ice looks to be safe, it looks to be thick, but the temperature today was well above freezing.”

Immediately after his death, the Glendale community united to honor Anthony, who they have hailed as a hero for his actions. A GoFundMe page has been set up in his honor and has already surpassed its $15,000 goal in less than a week, raising $22,738 and counting as of Monday. The page, set up by a family friend on behalf of Anthony’s mother, asked for friends to help “assist his family with the expenses of burying this sweet boy.”

“On Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 young Anthony Perez became a hero and an angel all in the same day,” the page read. “While helping his friend get out of Strack Pond in Forest Park, Queens, he fell in himself and although Glendale’s brave firefighters pulled him out soon later, it wasn’t soon enough to save this hero’s life.”

Dozens of donators left their condolences on the page, many from Anthony’s friends, parents and the staff at his middle school PS 113.

Elizabeth Walter shared her condolences with the Perez family.

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“No words I have can express the sorrow I feel over the loss of such a young great life,” she wrote. “Your bravery and actions speak to me and tell me what a selfless young man you are. For a short time you made the world a better place. Rest In Peace.”

Cornelia Apold, whose son attended school with Anthony, also shared her sympathies with the family.

“We are deeply saddened. Words cannot explain the sorrow and pain we feel for the loss of Anthony,” she wrote. “Marcus has been privileged to know Anthony since first grade. Your family is in our thoughts and prayers. May God give you the strength and comfort needed during this difficult time. Anthony, sweet angel forever in our hearts”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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Jackson Heights gang member sentenced for killing Elmhurst man

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By Bill Parry

TimesLedger Newspapers

A reputed Sureno 13 gang member was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for fatally shooting a 38-year-old Elmhurst man in 2015, the Queens DA said.

Raul Zamora, 33, of Jackson Heights, pleaded guilty last month to shooting Jorge Manzanarez in broad daylight at the intersection of Whitney and Roosevelt avenues on the afternoon of May 5, 2015, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Zamora and Isaac Martinez, 35, along with a third suspect who has avoided arrest, got into a verbal argument with Manzanarez. Zamora then pulled a gun and shot the victim once in the chest, according to the charges. Manzanarez was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center where he died later that day.

BAYSIDE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Zamora pleaded guilty last month to first-degree manslaughter before Queens Supreme Court Judge Deborah Stevens Modica, who last Thursday imposed a sentence of 13.5 years in prison, to be followed by five years of post-release supervision.

“In pleading guilty, the defendant admitted that he intentionally took the life of another person and used a gun to settle a petty dispute,” Brown said. “His actions revealed a total disregard for human life and he must be punished for this senseless killing. The lengthy term of incarceration imposed by the Court today is more than warranted.”

Martinez pleaded guilty last year to second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison and five years of post-release supervision.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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Community, officials celebrate change to bus service route on Cross Bay Boulevard

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By Mark Hallum

TimesLedger Newspapers

Elected officials and a neighborhood grocer celebrated a change to the city Department of Transportation’s Select Bus Service route on Cross Bay Boulevard, which will restore roadside parking during certain hours to quell the negative impact the November launch of the controversial bus lane has had on commerce.

The curbside bus lanes were originally active during rush hour from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but now Cross Bay Boulevard is available for parking all day on Saturday.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), state Assemblywoman Stacy Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Beach) and Rose Chimienti, the owner of the C-Town Supermarket at 107-66 Cross Bay Blvd. spoke about the change at a Feb. 8 news conference in Ozone Park.

“Today really is a perfect snapshot about how government should work. Business owners, residents and others complained to their elected officials about a Select Bus Service that started in November, wanting change, and change occurred,” Addabbo said. “These businesses along this stretch of Cross Bay Boulevard get parking back on a Saturday. It’s big for them. Many of these businesses lost customers, lost money. Without customers there’s no business, without business there’s no jobs.”

Pheffer Amato remarked on the continuing community opposition to the bus lanes which was heated from the day DOT released the proposed plans to revamp Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevard, but she said the situation is moving in a positive direction.

“As community members we all work together, but it’s really the voices of our community that matter,” Pheffer Amato said. “But in a small community like this, our local stores are the heart and soul of our community and it’s important that [customers] can drive up and do their errands on Saturday, not change their routines at the cost of moving forward.”

Chimienti said she would like DOT and elected officials to work on further expanding parking solutions during the evening rush hour when many of her customers are doing grocery shopping on their way home from work, but is happy with relief the time change will bring.

Chimienti claimed she had seen a 10 percent to 15 percent drop in business since the launch of the bus route.

DOT released a statement Monday announcing that with the change to the bus lane timetable, it will be activating traffic enforcement cameras along the corridor to issue violations to motorists who encroach in the newly installed lanes.

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While Addabbo said he recognizes the need for more public transportation and is working to address it, he does not believe it should come at the cost of neighborhood businesses.

Although the bus lane is only freed up on Saturdays south of Liberty Avenue, Addabbo wants to push to make this change along the entire corridor.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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DA’s disparity

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By Rory I. Lancman

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There are many ways that Queens gets the short end of the stick when it comes to city funding, and the allocation of resources to the Queens District Attorney’s Office is no exception.

The Queens DA’s office is home to just over 300 assistant district attorneys, or ADAs — significantly fewer than Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, which each employ more than 500 ADAs. In this year’s budget process, the City Council’s Committee on the Justice System, which I chair and oversees the district attorneys, will be asking the city to fairly fund the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

QUEENS THEATRE

If the disparity was due to lower crime rates or number of cases, that would be one thing, but there is no public safety rationale to explain why Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx all have far more prosecutors than Queens. In fact, an analysis of total arrests by borough shows that in 2017 Queens had nearly as many felony arrests as Manhattan and the Bronx, and that there were more than 36,000 misdemeanor arrests in Queens alone. Prosecutors have a vital job in our community. They help keep us safe, while ensuring that the justice system is fair and equitable for all.

This discrepancy leaves Queens ADAs overstretched, overworked, and maintaining caseloads far larger than their counterparts in other DA’s offices. In 2017, the average ADA in Queens was handling 179 total cases, far exceeding the combined average caseload of 131 cases for ADAs in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. With staff stretched so thin, it makes it more difficult to invest time in resource intensive investigations or quickly respond to emerging threats, like the opioid epidemic. An office as successful as the Queens DA’s Human Trafficking Unit should be staffed by more than one prosecutor.

Overloaded ADAs can have real consequences in the courtroom. Burdened by massive caseloads, prosecutors can struggle to put the appropriate preparation and time into each case. Simply put, there is not enough time in the day for each ADA to manage so many cases. Fewer cases could allow prosecutors more time to think creatively about the best ways to seek justice for victims and prevent defendants from reoffending. It is not about locking more people up. An overwhelmed prosecutor has less time to listen, less time to consider and less time to seek out effective alternatives.

The solution to the headcount disparity is obvious — the Queens DA needs greater city funding to close the gap and staff up appropriately. If we ask our prosecutors to do too much with too little, we may not like the result.

This guest editorial was written by Council Member Rory I. Lancman (Hillcrest)

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Report: Queens Museum heads misled Board of Trustees

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By Gina Martinez

TimesLedger Newspapers

A new report has determined that former Queens Museum director Laura Raicovich and deputy director David Strauss used poor judgement and knowingly misled the board when they cancelled a historic recreation of the 1947 vote that established the state of Israel last August.

Raicovich resigned as the museum’s director on Jan. 26 after having served in that capacity for three years. In that time, she generated some controversy by being politically outspoken.

Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Flushing) and Assemblyman Mike Simanowitz (D-Flushing) called for her resignation after the museum announced it was canceling a re-enactment of the vote to partition Palestine to form Israel on the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel.

The legislators called on the NYC Human Rights Commission to investigate Raicovich’s decision as a violation of Title 8 of the city’s Administrative Code, also known as the City Human Rights Law.

Lancman claimed that the decision by the museum, a public accommodation, had represented a discriminatory refusal to provide full and equal enjoyment of its services based on religion and national origin, both protected classes under the law, as well as an unlawful boycott.

A few hours later, Queens Museum said the event was back on and in November the museum hosted the event, which UN ambassadors, Jewish leaders and Vice President Mike Pence attended.

Law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman issued a report of its findings after a three-month investigation following the cancellation.

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The report said Raicovich “showed immediate hostility to hosting the event at the museum” and felt that Vice President Mike Pence’s involvement was “problematic for the museum.”

The report also noted that Raicovich never disclosed her involvement as an editor of the 2017 book ”Assuming Boycott,” even though the book prominently identifies her as director of the museum and includes a foreword she co-wrote that states the goals discussed in the book are “complemented by programs, exhibitions and educational initiatives” at the museum. The book supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, or BDS, a controversial movement that calls for a boycott of Israel.

The report went on to say that Raicovich and Strauss “misled” the board and “otherwise failed to comport themselves with the standards consistent with their positions.”

The director and deputy director were both offered the opportunity to resign. Raicovich resigned and Strauss was terminated by the board, according to the report.

The report concluded that because the museum had inadequate written policies and procedures, the board was reliant on the information it received from Raicovich and Strauss in making its decision regarding the event.

“Based on the findings of this investigation, we have recommended that the Board review and improve its policies and procedures in an effort to avoid similar distractions in the future, so that the museum can focus on its mission and the community,” the report said.

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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New York Mets: Biggest Spring Training storylines

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By Zach Gewelb

TimesLedger Newspapers

Pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training marks the official start of the 2018 baseball season. Every team has its storylines, but let’s take a look at some of the more important narratives for the Mets as the team embarks on its 2018 journey.

Health

The most important part of Spring Training for the Mets — and every other club — is to make sure the players stay healthy throughout the pre-season to ensure a complete roster is ready to go for the regular season.

With the Mets, however, that’s easier said than done. The team has had their fair share of injury problems the last few years, and 2017 was no different. The Mets dealt with a plethora of health issues last season, specifically to their pitchers. Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Seth Lugo and Noah Syndergaard each missed significant time last year, and that can’t happen again if the Metsies are going to compete this season.

Pitching coach Dave Eiland and new manager Mickey Callaway designed a new offseason throwing program for the pitchers to help keep them fresh heading into Spring Training. If that works, and the Mets can keep sluggers Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce healthy, the team should be able to hit the ground running come April.

First Base

The Mets have a competition brewing at first base.

Dominic Smith struggled in his rookie season, and the Amazins have brought in veteran Adrian Gonzalez to battle the lefty slugger for at-bats this season. Gonzalez, who last played with the Dodgers, is on the back nine of his career, but brings a wealth of experience to the club and could help Smith grow into a more balanced and patient hitter.

The Mets should give Smith every chance to win the starting job, but having Gonzalez on the roster is a low-risk, high-reward gamble for the team. Best case scenario, he recaptures some of his old magic and provides a solid bat with an adequate glove at first. Worst case scenario, he helps Smith grow into a better player. It’s a win-win scenario.

Amed Rosario

One of the bigger story lines of the first half of the 2017 season was how long it took for the Mets to give Amed Rosario his MLB debut. He was a consensus top-five prospect in all of baseball and was putting up stellar numbers in Triple-A.

The Mets finally gave in and called Rosario up to Queens Aug. 2, just after the trade deadline. The results were pretty much what you would expect for a 21-year-old getting his first taste of the big leagues: a .248/.271/.665 batting line with four home runs, seven stolen bases and 10 RBI in 46 games.

Rosario was expected to be a big part of the Mets’ future and that’s still the plan. But a strong Spring Training would give Rosario — and the Mets — some much needed confidence heading into the 2018 campaign.

Mickey Callaway

For the first time since 2010, someone other than Terry Collins will come to Port St. Lucie as the manager of the New York Mets. Callaway was hired away from the Cleveland Indians, where he served as the team’s pitching coach under Terry Francona. The move has been universally praised.

Callaway has no managing experience, but is viewed around the industry as being ready for the promotion. As he enters his inaugural Spring Training as a manager, fans and players get their first chance to see how Callaway will run the team.

It may be tough to get a sense as to how he’d manage a regular season game, but we’ll get to see how he handles the team’s bigger personalities like Cespedes, Syndergaard and Harvey. If he can keep them — and everyone else — in line, perhaps the Mets can avoid some of the drama that surrounded the team under Collins.

Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewelb@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4539.

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Flushing parade kicks off Lunar New Year

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By Gina Martinez

TimesLedger Newspapers

The Flushing community is preparing to kick off the Year of the Dog with Lunar New Year celebrations.

Weeks of small celebrations throughout Queens are leading up to the borough’s biggest event to commemorate the new year, Flushing’s Lunar New Year Parade on Saturday.

The Lunar New Year is an important holiday across Southeast and Eastern Asia, where it is celebrated by the Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Koreans and Malaysians. It is meant to mark the start of a new work year with wishes for profits and success.

Festivities include fireworks and firecrackers to see off the old year and welcome in the new, as well as the exchange of red envelopes filled with money — also known as “lucky money” — which are given to ensure luck and safety for the rest of the year.

Flushing, which is home to one of the city’s largest Chinatown neighborhoods, hosts the borough’s biggest parade.

Lunar New Year parades are colorful and festive events, and most celebrations include traditional Chinese dances performed by men and women in costumes. Food is also a huge part of the new year, with dumplings, spring rolls, rice cakes and fish topping the list of offerings.

Flushing’s Lunar New Year Parade will include floats, dancing and traditional Chinese celebrations. This year’s festivities will start with a warm-up reception of coffee and doughnuts hosted by Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce at St. George’s Episcopal Church, located at 135-32 38th Ave., from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. The Chamber’s reception will feature performances by local groups, including a martial arts demonstration by Korea Taekwondo and K-Pop dance and participatory K-Pop Zumba by EPIC 88, as well as a raffle and prize giveaway by Kumon.

The parade will then kick off at 11a.m. at Union Street and 37th Ave.

Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said the Lunar New Year is a time for families to come together, often from across the world, to celebrate and spend time with one another.

“We embrace our good fortunes and look forward to the coming year with a renewed energy and optimism,” he said. “I’d like to invite everyone to come out to the Lunar New Year parade in Flushing this Saturday and enjoy the spirit and culture of our community.”

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) said she looks forward to the annual parade now that the Lunar New Year has been declared a day off from school for kids.

“Lunar New Year is a special time for families to come together to reflect on the blessings of the past and look forward to a fruitful new year,” she said. “The parade is a grand annual tradition that I look forward to participating in each year. For too long, families were forced to decide between allowing their children to miss a day of school or to miss out on festivities. Now, everyone can enjoy these long-standing traditions together without sacrifice.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

Lutheran School of Flushing and Bayside

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