Archive for September, 2009

Woodhaven’s Political Tsunami

September 21, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to the Great Recession. In the years leading up to the economic meltdown that began in the summer of 2007 housing prices in Woodhaven, as well as in many other Queens communities, were growing at double digit annual rates. Opportunistic investors snatched up units and sold them, often within two years. Woodhaven rivaled the New York Stock Exchange in making profits for investors. It was so appealing that people who weren’t creditworthy enough to borrow from a loan-shark were swarming mortgage corporations and banks to take out exotic loans just to cash in.

Then one day, as Don McLean said, the music died. Those left holding properties in Woodhaven who had no intention of staying were now left with no market to sell into and a home that was worth 80% of the mortgage they held against it. The situation was not an appealing one and foreclosure rates began to accelerate as mortgage rates were reset higher and higher.

In circumstances like this the limited resources of civic organizations like the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) are not enough to address such a large and growing problem. Public funding to our volunteer organization, less than the actual taxes I pay, is minimal. Deterioration of community, thanks to the transient nature of the recent wave of homeowners, has negatively impacted the WRBA’s paid member list. It is at times like these that our community turns to our elected representatives for help.

Unfortunately, Woodhaven has experienced a political tsunami over the past two years that has impaired our ability to prevent funding reductions and to impact the public discourse of issues affecting our community. Following the resignation of Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R) of the 30th Council District in April 2008 under allegations of sexual misconduct we were then represented by Anthony Como (R) after a June 2008 special election. In November of 2008 our current Councilwoman, Elizabeth Crowley (D), was elected over Como to finish the remainder of the term, but she must defend her seat this coming November.

In the 32nd Council District there was a special election in February of 2009 to fill the seat vacated by Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. (D) who defeated Serphin R. Maltese (R) for the 15th District Senate seat. Addabbo’s Council seat was won by Eric Ulrich (R) who will also have to defend it in a hard fought contest against Frank Galluscio (D) this November.

As I mentioned, Addabbo defeated Maltese for the 15th District seat. But to add another level of political uncertainty to representation in Woodhaven, a few months ago Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D) from the 38th District resigned after pleading guilty to influence peddling charges. After yet another special election Mike Miller (D) was elected just days ago to represent the district until Seminerio’s term runs out after the election in November of 2010.

Now I know you need a scoring card to keep track of these changes but the simple fact is that at the most inopportune of economic times Woodhaven has had no stable representation at the city or state level for close to two years. While our current representatives, as a whole, have shown keen interest in addressing issues that impact Woodhaven, the reality is that some of their attentions need to be diverted to re-election efforts. In addition, stub remainder terms force representatives to plant shallow roots until the political uncertainty has passed. And finally, these more junior representatives receive less of the funding pie as more senior members push their way to the front of the line. Case in point being that at the peak of the economic crisis impacting Woodhaven the Assembly stripped Seminerio’s funding measures as punishment and doled them out to other members.

All these uncertainties have had a major impact on the finances of the WRBA and our colleagues over at the Richmond Hill Block Association (RHBA). Volunteer civic organizations have played an important role in our country since its meager beginning. For the taxpayer it’s some of the best money spent because it helps support hundreds of eyes and ears in a much more cost effective way than by adding to the municipal payroll. Let’s just hope that once the political climate settles down that our elected representatives re-commit to properly funding community civics like the WRBA and RHBA.

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Looking At Woodhaven

September 7, 2009

We all see Woodhaven in our daily travels. Whether that be on walks to Jamaica Avenue to shop or strolls with the dog to stretch our collective legs. It’s easy to take notice of things that seem out of place or new. It’s programmed into our internal mechanisms. The new store that just opened or the longtime favorite that just closed down. There’s the new family that recently moved on the block. The person or persons too causally walking down a street where you know they don’t live. We all do it.

But this Labor Day my wife and I took a page out of Ed Wendell of ProjectWoodhaven.com’s book and hit the streets of Woodhaven with a camera in search of unique but recognizable photo opportunities. You know, the ones you say “that’s cool and I’ve seen it somewhere before”. Now we tend to like film rather than silicon but after today I can see the benefits of a nice digital SLR.

If the truth needs to be told, we were looking for shots that would look great framed and in any of our neighborhood homes. Pictures that would be a daily reminder of the uniqueness that is our community or would conjure up memories for those who may have left but still hold a place in their hearts for Woodhaven.

So we loaded a 24 shot roll of 400 speed Fuji Film into the Canon and hit the streets with only a vague idea of where we would go. The task made all the more difficult because, in our mind’s eye, so much has changed in Woodhaven that hardly an alumni of 11421 would remember it.

As we turned off of Atlantic Avenue onto 85th Street we thought why not take a picture of St. Thomas The Apostle Church. We’ve all seen pictures of STA with the telephone and electric lines draped across the front but we wanted to capture something different. We had left the house with only the 70-210mm optical zoom lens (eat your heart out mid-range digital camera folks!) so we were limited in our ability to frame the shot. So off we went to the corner of 88th Street and 88th Avenue to expand the range. And there it was, a great shot limited to just the steeple and cupola. Same church but a different interpretation.

Time and again we approached memorable and new landmarks that just looked so different when you actually had to stop and see them through focused eyes (or lenses). All in all we were quite happy with all 24 of the pictures we had taken. Unfortunately, film needs to be developed, so we will not have them for a few days. But rest assured we will post them when the CD comes back with the prints.

So next time you’re dashing to shopping or taking care of canine business, slow down and absorb some of your surroundings. You’ll be surprised what you might see and you’ll appreciate it all the more.