Year in Review: Queens’ top stories from February 2021

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Selvena Brooks-Powers cast her ballot at Pilgrim Church in Arverne on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

As 2021 comes to an end, QNS has compiled a list of the biggest stories, events and people of Queens that grabbed our attention this year.

Here’s a look back at the top stories for the month of February.

City Council District 31 special election decided by ranked-choice voting 

Photo via Getty Images

Queens residents utilized the new ranked-choice voting system as they headed to the polls to vote for their next City Council representative for Council District 31 in southeast Queens. 

The Feb. 23 race was too close to call between Selvena Brooks-Powers and her opponent Pesach Osina. None of the candidates in the race had secured more than 50% of the vote, triggering a ranked-choice voting recount. 

Earlier in the month, residents in Council District 24 also used ranked-choice voting. Councilman James Gennaro received around 60% of the vote during the special election on Feb. 2, negating the need for a second round of counting. The results of the race were certified on Feb. 18 and Gennaro was sworn in to the seat he held from 2001 until 2013 that same day.

City launches campaign to support Black-owned businesses impacted by COVID

File photo by Todd Maisel

As Black-owned businesses in southeast Queens and the rest of the city struggled in the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, the city introduced a new initiative, called Shop Your City: BE NYC, which rolled out during Black History Month. 

The initiative generated attention and support for Black businesses, which was spotlighted on social media, provided resources and encouraged New Yorkers to tag Black-owned businesses they’re supporting using an Instagram template. 

BE NYC was a first-of-its-kind model in a major American city to help address the racial wealth gap, while working to address the needs of struggling Black business owners during the pandemic and beyond. 

State opens new COVID-19 vaccination hub at York College in Jamaica 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Photo by Dean Moses)

As part of the effort to inoculate as many New Yorkers as possible to curb the spread of COVID-19, especially in hard-hit communities of color, the state opened a mass vaccination hub at York College in Jamaica. 

The vaccine site became the largest distribution center in the state, issuing approximately 3,000 shots per day. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had ensured fair and equitable distribution of the vaccine as a priority for communities of color that had suffered the most during the pandemic. 

York College President Berenecea Eanes had thanked Cuomo for “recognizing York as an important resource” to help in the fight against the coronavirus. 

NYC Health Commissioner urges New Yorkers to not be alarmed over new COVID-19 variant 

Screenshot from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press conference

A new strain of the coronavirus became a cause for concern among city officials, who were encouraging New Yorkers to social distance, mask up, wash their hands and get vaccinated when they’re eligible.  

The new strain, known as B1526, was identified by a team of researchers at Caltech and Columbia University. The virus had raised concerns among researchers that it could adversely impact the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. 

However, city Department Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi had said that all current research showed that the available vaccines are effective against different variants. 

Chick-fil-A opens first stand-alone Queens location in Elmhurst

A stand-alone Chick-fil-A opened in Jackson Heights on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Many Queens residents were excited — while others were outraged — about the opening of the borough’s first stand-alone Chick-fil-A, which opened in Elmhurst on Feb. 24. 

Upon its opening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the fast-food chain had announced free Chick-fil-A meals for a year to 100 first responders from the community. The franchise store is owned by Aman Mekonen, who was thrilled about the opening, even during a pandemic that presented a different challenge. 

“We are very cognizant of the fact this was a community that was really hit hard at the beginning of COVID. And I remember just watching that from home and feeling hopeless. And the last thing we want to do is have that happen again,” Mekonen explained.

Police task force busts suspected Ridgewood heroin mill 

Photos via Twitter/@NYPD104Pct

Four Queens residents were busted in a major heroin mill in Ridgewood when a team of DEA special agents, NYPD detectives and New York State Police investigators raided the home. 

Authorities found around 39 kilograms of suspected heroin, 1,000 pills of fentanyl and $200,000 in cash inside the house, located at 63-16 Forest Ave. In addition to the alleged heroin, officers found 26 cellphones, digital scales, sifters, grinders and around 1,000 blue pills with markings similar to pharmaceutically produced oxycodone. 

The suspects were charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance and criminally using drug paraphernalia. 

Police arrest man who allegedly assaulted woman outside Flushing bakery

A Queens man was indicted by a Queens County grand jury on a hate crime on May 10. (Photo via @NYPD109Pct/Twitter)

A Flushing man was apprehended in February for violently shoving a 52-year-old Asian woman to the ground outside of bakery.

The victim had sustained minor injuries and was transported by EMS to NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Hospital in stable condition. 

Following posts on social media to track down the attacker, police had apprehended the man who was charged with assault and harassment, according to the 109th Precinct. The rise of anti-Asian attacks amid the COVID-19 pandemic had prompted local elected officials and the NYPD to denounce the violent unprovoked attacks. 

“We’ve seen attacks against Asians on the rise in NYC and across the country. These latest trends are indeed disturbing. We must speak out and come together to stop the senseless hate,” Councilman Peter Koo said on Twitter.