By Michael V. Cusenza
We need only turn to the opening dozen words of one of humanity’s greatest literary achievements for a succinct, yet profoundly accurate, description of the past 52 weeks in the southern swath of the World’s Borough.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
However, this not “A Tale of Two Cities,” but rather the most memorable stories from 2017 in south Queens.
We began this past year on a high note: Karina’s alleged killer confessed his barbaric crime to cops.
Who can forget the look on Chanel Lewis’ face as he was escorted out of the 107th Precinct in early February, and that bulky bulletproof vest conspicuously hidden beneath his sweater? The 21-year-old East New York resident was arrested and charged with the murder of beloved Howard Beach native Karina Vetrano, 30, as she jogged alone on a Spring Creek Park trail near her home in August 2016. A borough grand jury in April returned a 13-count indictment charging Lewis with murder and sexual abuse in Vetrano’s strangulation death. He is in jail awaiting trial next year.
In July, the City Police Department this week launched its Neighborhood Policing Program in the 106th Precinct. Neighborhood Policing divides precincts into four or five fully staffed sectors that correspond, as much as possible, to the boundaries of actual existing neighborhoods. Sector officers assigned to these sectors work the same neighborhoods on the same shifts, increasing their familiarity with the local residents and local problems.
Captain Brian Bohannon, commanding officer of the 106, told The Forum that his Neighborhood Policing plan features one Coordination Sergeant and 10 Neighborhood Coordination Officers.
“This is a great day for the NYPD and the community,” City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said at a rollout celebration at Russo’s on the Bay. “We’re constantly hearing about how the police need to respect the community. But around here the community respects the police.”
In October, Ulrich’s close friend Joann Ariola, longtime civic president and borough GOP district leader, was elected chairwoman of the Queens County Republican Party. Ariola told The Forum that she was both “honored and humbled to have been given the support of people I have worked with and admired over the last two decades.”
Speaking of elections, on Nov. 7, after an entertaining race, Ulrich cruised to victory over Democratic challenger Mike Scala to earn his third and final term representing the 32nd District on the City Council.
“What a great victory tonight,” Ulrich said at his Election Night party in Howard Beach. “A tremendous win—not just for myself, but for this district.”
Tracy Catapano-Fox notched her own tremendous—and historic—win on Nov. 7. The Howard Beach native and resident was elected to City Civil Court bench.
“You know, you have a dream and you dream for a long time and you work hard and you try to make it happen and when it comes true you just can’t believe it,” Catapano-Fox noted at her swearing-in ceremony earlier this month.
Days later, and after many months of full-throated opposition from south Queens communities, on Nov. 12 the City still launched Select Bus Service along the Woodhaven-Cross Bay corridor to disastrous early returns. Not even two months in and local leaders are telling City Hall “We told you so.”
The plan undoubtedly has affected all stakeholders: riders, motorists, and the owners of the small businesses that dot either side of both thoroughfares.
“In addition to the potentially disastrous effect of SBS on local businesses, I am also seeing greater vehicular congestion and am concerned for the safety of pedestrians waiting on medians between traffic lanes,” said State Sen. Joe Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach). “We need to continue urging the city to better address all of these vital issues.”
By Michael V. Cusenza