By Alex Ginsberg
After nine years as president of the 105th Precinct community council and six more as a member of its board, Sheila Pecoraro – a fixture of civic and community affairs in southeast Queens – announced her resignation this month, citing personal reasons.
Those who worked with Pecoraro recalled a tireless fighter who was effective in raising funds for the precinct and tenacious in the fight to maintain staffing levels.
“She was a great leader,” said Rose Funderburk, first vice president of the community council. “She got things for the precinct that were needed. She worked very hard. It's unfortunate that she can't continue her performance.”
Community Affairs Officer Pete Dwyer, who has known Pecoraro for 11 years, said the people in uniform also appreciated her efforts.
“I thought Sheila always had primarily the interests of the community in mind and secondarily the police of the 105,” he said. “She had their best interest at heart at all items.”
Funderburk, who will act as president until the organization can select a new leader, announced Pecoraro's retirement at the March 26 meeting of the precinct community council.
In an interview last week Pecoraro, 62, said she “needed a break” and had been thinking about resigning for the past year. Even in retirement, however, Pecoraro continued to slam the slow but steady reduction of manpower in the precinct – an issue she has made a theme of her tenure as president. She said highly visible security efforts around the city were giving ordinary citizens the wrong impression.
“The boroughs aren't seeing that,” she said. “Only Manhattan is seeing more cops, and they have to come from somewhere. If you're losing people to demonstrations and people visiting the city, it's lowering your numbers in each precinct.”
Pecoraro said that the number of officers assigned to the precinct had fallen to below 200, after a high of about 260 seven years ago.
Dwyer said that while it was true that levels had fallen below 200 in recent years, the current level had since risen to 210.
Funderburk, first vice president of the council, said the fight against staffing cuts reached a climax six years ago when Pecoraro organized a picketing effort to protest a reduction in community policing. She said those cuts were felt keenly by residents of the 105th precinct, because while the precinct's area is among the largest in the city, its staffing levels are among the lowest. But the picketing effort failed to stop the cuts and in the end “annoyed some people inside the building.”
Pecoraro recalled the incident with some frustration.
“It was like a slow death,” she said. “Everybody you spoke to said, 'we're trying,' and slowly but surely everything disintegrated.”
Even one of Pecoraro's proudest accomplishments – raising $7,500 for 15 bicycles to be used by patrol officers – has caused her some heartache. The bicycles never saw much service, she said, because the precinct staffing levels fell to the point where there weren't enough officers to use them.
“That's really aggravating,” she said. “To see them not being used, after you've poured your sweat and guts into it … it hurts, it really hurts.”
Dwyer said that while staffing reductions were one reason why the bicycles were seeing less use, there were also a number of other factors – such as cold weather and the lengthy training involved.
“They were used tremendously, but in recent years some of the bike guys were not there any more,” he said. “They rode them as often as they could, and they were very instrumental in bringing down crime in this precinct.”
Pecoraro, who has lived in Rosedale since 1966, came to the community council following many years of involvement in local education. She served on the District 29 school board from 1989 to 1993, on the board of Springfield Gardens High School for 10 years, including four as president, and on the board of JHS 231 for six years, including one as president. Funderburk said that Pecoraro's long experience in civic matters had proved useful on the community council.
“She had a lot of input with a lot of powerful people,” Funderburk said. “She was very good with the politicians, with organizations. Because she was on the school board, she's met a lot of people along the way, and a lot of people appreciated what she had done.”
Among the more noteworthy incidents in Pecoraro's many years of community involvement, she said, was the time she and a group of protesters spent nine days inside the Rosedale library in 1975 to protest a plan to close it.
“That's activism,” she said. “These people protesting now don't know what it is.”
Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.