‘06 YEAR’S END NEWS REWIND: Everyone was talking about these Stories…

By Thomas Tracy

Those who thought the neighborhoods covered by the Kings Courier were sleepy little communities must have been, well, asleep throughout 2006. It seemed as though every dull day in the nabe was matched with something exciting, from the arrival of a new sports complex coming to town (not Atlantic Yards – the one that that popped up on this side of the borough) to school upheavals to political slugfests to crime lowering, rising and then crashing again. All and all, it was a busy year for the people who live in those little hamlets from Marine Park to Bergen Beach. As we look back, these are the stories that stick out of our collective memory the most: Are We Getting Along? As 2005 drew to a close, some feared that the simmering racial tensions among neighborhood youth were going to reach the boiling point. But by the time baby new year was moving from diapers to short pants, the issue had petered itself out. In March, the five black girls implicated in the headline-grabbing bias attack against a group of white girls from St. Edmund’s School last year were found guilty of hate crime charges in family court. Police alleged that the St. Edmund’s classmates were playing basketball at a Marine Park court when they were set upon by close to 30 Marine Park Junior High School kids allegedly screaming “Black Power,” “Martin Luther King” and calling their victims “White Crackers.” Parents of the victims said that their daughters were beaten, kicked and chased out of the park. At least two teenage victims were taken to the hospital – one for a broken nose and another for a head injury. Cops from the 63rd Precinct arrested the five girls, charging them with assault. Hate crime charges were added later after outraged parents contacted their elected officials, claiming that their children were traumatized by the experience. The trial went on in family court for months, with the defendants claiming that their actions were prompted by snide comments from the St. Edmund’s girls. Attorneys charged that during an argument over who should be using the courts that afternoon, one of the defendants said, “Martin Luther King had a dream.” One of the St. Edmund’s girls retorted with, “Well, too bad it isn’t working,” the attorney charged. The St. Edmund’s girls denied that the statement was made. Ultimately, the five girls were sentenced to community service and sensitivity training. That sentence – instead of being ordered to spend a few months in a juvenile facility – was made at the behest of the victims and their parents. Police said that there were very few bias-related incidents in the area for most of the year. At the beginning of the summer, a handful of teenagers from nearby Gerritsen Beach were arrested for attacking a group of black bicyclists they accused of trespassing in their mostly white, blue-collar neighborhood. Then, over in Sheepshead Bay, another group of youths were arrested for luring a gay man to the Plumb Beach rest stop off the Belt Parkway and then attacking him. Their victim died after being hit by a car as he ran from his attackers onto the highway. Both cases are currently being prosecuted by the Kings County District Attorney’s office. But, as the year came to a close, a group of Midwood youths were arrested for allegedly calling an Arab-American a “terrorist” and then beating him outside a Dunkin’ Donuts on the 1500 block of Avenue M. Police said that the suspects approached the 24-year-old and began shouting at him, calling him a “terrorist motherf—ker.” “You f—ked our country,” they allegedly screamed. “Why are you here?” The suspects allegedly yelled, “Go back to your country” before lunging at the victim, striking him repeatedly in the face and about the body, officials said. According to a criminal complaint filed with the Kings County District Attorney’s office, one of the assailants was armed with a pair of brass knuckles and broke the victim’s nose during the attack. But, despite this horrific tale, local Muslim leaders called for patience and tolerance. At the same time, Jewish leaders are claiming that the entire story hasn’t been told. “We don’t know why [the attack] happened,” said Asghar Choudhri, the president of the Pakistani American Federation of New York who alleged that the teens involved had behavior problems and were considered menaces “in their own community.” “Everyone is very emotional right now, but we’re asking everyone to stay calm and let the D.A.’s office do their job,” Choudhri said. “We don’t think this is the Jewish community’s fault, it’s those kids.” The “H” Stands for Handgun Early in the year, the phrase “problem kids” seemed to be a catchphrase for some in the area, especially for those living around Bergen Beach and Mill Basin, where residents continually complained about the activities of the students from Roy H. Mann Junior High School on East 68th Street. The usual complaints about rowdy pre-teens charging down Avenue N at the chime of the dismissal bell reached a new apex at the end of March, when two sixth-graders were arrested for smuggling a handgun into the school. The gun was recovered and the two students – both 12 years old – were taken into custody after another student saw the gun and contacted the principal’s office. Officials told reporters that the children were not seeking vengeance or had planned on hurting anybody. Rather, the gun was brought to school for “show and tell,” a source said. The two teens were suspended. A 47-year-old Transit Authority worker, who owned the gun, was charged with leaving the gun where one of the students could find it. While no one was hurt, news of the arrest started a firestorm of complaints against the school and its students that ultimately led to the resignation of Principal Jennifer Canton, who was reassigned to lead a borough public school. Residents and local elected officials charged that Canton had listened to their complaints, had implemented some changes, but never did enough to assuage their concerns. “Good riddance,” said State Senator Carl Kruger, when asked for a comment about Canton’s departure. “Two years ago we had several meetings concerning the lawlessness of the students on Avenue N at dismissal time. From the first dialogue, she [Canton] was not only dismissive, but she chose to take the position that this problem was not her responsibility or concern.” A source close to the school said that the gun incident took place because Canton “allowed an atmosphere to develop where kids felt that they could get away with whatever they wanted.” Principal William Woods took over the school after spring break. By the end of the year, many of the residents who had complained about the “wild Roy H. Mann kids” were singing the praises of the school and Woods, saying that the situation was “much improved.” The Other Atlantic Yards While it wasn’t as grand in scale as the multi-million-dollar mega development and professional basketball arena that was debated to death in downtown Brooklyn, a section of Floyd Bennett Field was set aside for the construction of the Aviator Sports Arena, which officially opened this fall. A sports facility for Floyd Bennett Field had been wanted for years. But, while a 20-year contract between the National Parks Service and Aviator Sports and Recreation had been forged in 2003, no one saw the fruits of their labors until February, as construction crews started building the state-of-the-art complex inside four of the historic airfield’s hangars. The extensive project – a portion of which was paid for with taxpayer dollars — included the creation of basketball courts, three volleyball courts, a 15,500-square-foot gymnastics and dance center, a 15,000-square-foot performance exercise center, two NHL regulation-sized ice rinks, a 35-foot-tall rock-climbing wall as well as two multi-sport outdoor turf fields. A “Best of Brooklyn Hall of Fame” food court, sports bar and corporate meeting and event rooms topped off the project, which developers predicted would “redefine sports and entertainment in the metropolitan New York area.” Most of the taxpayer funding was used to pay for infrastructure costs, said officials. Aviator Sports and Recreation paid for the rest of the project, which is expected to generate as much as $5 million a year in revenue. “We are trying to do two things,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner, who helped broker the deal between the National Parks Service and Aviator. “We are trying to reverse literally a generation of neglect, and show real, tangible improvements that people can see, and we are trying to find some innovative way to expand services.” The project does have its drawbacks, however. The largest is that it is very difficult for someone to get to the arena without a car. As of this writing, officials were looking into the possibility of lengthening the bus routes along Flatbush Avenue, which normally end at Kings Plaza, to the sports complex so everyone could use the facility. There was also talk by year’s end of a deal between Aviator Sports and the New York Rangers, who was investigating the purchase of an East Coast Hockey League Team that would play at Floyd Bennett Field. Days of Thunder Departed While Brooklyn welcomed the Aviator Sports Arena with open arms, the same warm reception wasn’t bestowed to film legend Paul Newman, who approached Floyd Bennett Field with the idea of bringing a 10-day, high-octane “Days of Thunder” style Grand Prix racing event to the park. Newman and his partners at North American Motorsport Events had hoped to bring the New York Memorial Grand Prix, a feature race of the Champ Car World Series, to Floyd Bennett Field. The race, which would be held annually as part of a three-day racing event, would bring an estimated 65,000 people to the field. But the National Parks Service shot the tires out from underneath the controversial plan this past summer, stating that the park was created for recreation, not races. “The National Park Service is not opposed to Grand Prix or Champ Car racing, however, it is not appropriate to have a race of this type in a National Park Service area because it is not compatible with the purposes for which Gateway…was established,” wrote Barry Sullivan, the general superintendent of Gateway National Recreation Area, citing that “there are many questions about the impact this activity might have on park resources and the surrounding community.” Racing advocates were appealing the decision by year’s end. The Fast, The Furious, The Dollar Vans A year-end recap for Marine Park, Mill Basin and Flatlands wouldn’t be complete without a short segue into a constant neighborhood problem – dollar vans. By no means was 2006 a complaint-free year when it came to the illegal dollar vans that pick up and drop off shoppers at Kings Plaza. While the 63rd Precinct was busy rounding up and towing away dollar vans without proper paperwork or insurance, residents living around Kings Plaza, fed up with having the ramshackle transports rumbling along their streets, took drastic steps to stop them from passing their homes. Residents of East 52nd Street between Avenues T and U petitioned the Police Department to barricade the Avenue U side of their street, allowing only emergency vehicles. After getting the blessing of Deputy Inspector Kevin McGinn, the commanding officer of the 63rd Precinct, the dollar van problem subsided on East 52nd Street. Instead, the dollar vans re-routed themselves to East 53rd Place. Outraged residents immediately petitioned their local elected officials to get East 53rd Place blocked off as well. The problem was becoming so widespread that City Councilmember Lew Fidler and other elected officials were investigating the possibility of transforming East 52nd Street, East 53rd Place and East 54th Street into dead-end streets, a move that would divert dollar vans farther and farther away from the mall, making them an unfeasible alternative to buses. The city was still evaluating the proposal when a regime change in the 63rd Precinct put the barricade plan in jeopardy. During a Community Board 18 meeting in December, District Manager Dorothy Turano said that Captain Frank Cangiarella, the new commanding officer of the 63rd Precinct, was going to take down the barricades in early January, once the holiday shopping season had concluded. When contacted by the Kings Courier, Cangiarella said that no plans have been made to take down the barricades and that he and his officers were “still reviewing what course of action to take.” At the same time, dollar van drivers received some political clout in the form of Assemblymember Nick Perry, who said that dollar vans were an asset to residents in his district, which encompasses Canarsie and East Flatbush. On at least two occasions last year, Perry charged that he had found fault with how the cops from the 63rd Precinct summons dollar van drivers and seize their vehicles. Perry had also charged that the police had dabbled in fraud, noting on tickets that the van drivers had been seen dropping off and picking up passengers on certain streets when they had not visited that street that day. “They [the cops] are enforcing the law, but at the same time they’re breaking the law,” Perry alleged in February. “When police do not enforce the law lawfully, it threatens everybody.” Deputy Inspector McGinn disputed Perry’s allegations, claiming that everything his officers do is above reproach and by the book. Reaching for the Skies Almost as reviled as illegal dollar van drivers were the developers who spent the year milking everything they could from the area’s upscale zoning before the city stops them. Residents in Midwood were at the forefront of the fight, pushing to have their neighborhood down-zoned. But, the process to re-zone even the smallest swath of streets is a long one. Plans to down-zone Midwood lumbered along throughout the year and did not see any significant conclusion by December. The city, however, said that they were continuing to work on re-zoning parts of Community Board 14 as the year drew to a close. But developers weren’t just focusing their attention on Midwood. They were also looking everywhere else: Mill Basin, Mill Island, Georgetowne and Bergen Beach, where one developer announced that he was planning to turn the old Bergen Beach Yacht Club into luxury waterfront housing. That company, SSJ Development, told this paper in interviews that they were hoping to “change the face of the Brooklyn coastline” by bringing luxury homes to Bergen Beach, Gerritsen Beach and Mill Basin. Their first project was the Yacht Club, which they intend to transform into the Riviera Estates: 10 three-story luxury homes, each with its own boat slip. While most projects of this size are frowned upon, elected officials in Bergen Beach welcomed the project, claiming that it would “maintain the value of existing homes in the area.” Goodbye Seddio, Hello Maisel, Hello Seddio? While most political watchdogs were salivating over the fight for Major Owens 10th Congressional seat – ultimately won by East Flatbush City Councilmember Yvette Clarke – a much mellower political race went through the motions in the 59th Assembly District following the departure of Assemblymember Frank Seddio. In late 2005, Seddio announced that he would be leaving the Assembly to run for a Brooklyn Surrogate Court judgeship that had just opened up. The Democratic leadership of the 59th Assembly District, made up mostly of members of the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club, chose Alan Maisel, a former club president and Seddio’s chief of staff, as his replacement. Maisel easily beat his Republican and Conservative challengers during a special election in February, but found himself on the campaign train just a few months later, this time in a primary against Abraham Levy, a Community Board 18 member and president of the Flatbush Park Jewish Center. Although Levy ran an anti-machine campaign, charging that the Thomas Jefferson Club had handpicked Maisel – who he called Seddio’s “gofer” – to be the new assemblyman, Maisel trounced Levy at the primary, receiving over 72 percent of the vote. After facing two challenges in one year, Maisel doesn’t have to face any more opponents for two more years. But as the year came to a close, more and more people were talking about Seddio. Several rumors were coming out of Seddio’s chambers, alleging that the former assemblyman was bored at his post. According to the rumors — which those close to the judge say are completely baseless — Seddio may retire from the Surrogate Court and possibly again seek a political position closer to his home in Bergen Beach. But, that is a story best kept for 2007. Photos By Paul Martinka

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