By Phil Corso
It took years for Devon O’Connor to install the large green “Welcome to Whitestone” sign where the Cross Island Parkway meets Francis Lewis Boulevard, and it also took him hours to wipe away the fresh graffiti scrawled across it earlier this week.
O’Connor, who founded the Welcome to Whitestone Commercial and Residential Civic Association, returned from a trip to the beach Monday afternoon to the news that his treasured sign was the latest victim in what he said was an ongoing attack on his community. Red letters were scrawled across the two-year-old sign, which were the last straw for the civic leader.
“Graffiti has been becoming such a big problem for us,” O’Connor said. “It’s bad news.”
The Whitestone civic leader spent three years working to raise the roughly $2,400 it took to make the sign a reality in Whitestone, and he said it was particularly offensive to see it vandalized. But Monday was not the first or likely the last time O’Connor would assemble a team of volunteers to help clean graffiti marks in the community, as he said it has become an almost weekly endeavor.
“It’s everywhere. Every week or so I’m heading out to paint over something else,” he said. “We’re always going out there. We’re not going to tolerate it.”
In the future, O’Connor said he is encouraging his neighbors to be in touch with his civic so he can organize volunteers for cleanups. He also said graffiti removal would be one of the hot topics at his group’s next meeting come September, when he will look into putting together a special neighborhood graffiti watch team.
Chrissy Voskerichian, president of the 109th Precinct Community Council, said she also has become a part-time painter to help combat the street artists in northeast Queens. In fact, the civic leader said she was working with the 109th Precinct to invest nearly $500 into a high-power washer to store away for the recurring vandalism in Whitestone.
“There is more and more, and I think it’s horrible,” Voskerichian said. “It’s a blight on the neighborhood and it gets costly to keep cleaning up.”
Voskerichian said residents and business owners should always photograph the vandalism before cleaning it up so the police can catalogue different patterns of tags.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has been a vocal opponent of graffiti throughout his northeast Queens district and said the problem has been ongoing and growing.
“Graffiti is getting out of control and it is extremely frustrating for me,” Avella said. “It has been getting worse without a concentrated effort to address it. The vandals see if it stays up for a while, and it just gets worse.”
The senator said he established an anti-graffiti group when he served in the City Council through his discretionary funding, which he does not get under his current post. Nonetheless, Avella said graffiti removal and prevention remain a major priority in his office.
“My main focus has been to get funding for an anti-graffiti program in my Senate district,” Avella said. “It has been an ongoing effort year after year.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.