CARVING UP WOODHAVEN
Angst Over Latest Redistricting Plan
In a reversal from its first draft, the final proposal for the realignment of City Council districts divides Woodhaven among two lawmakers, attendees learned at the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) meeting last Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
Redistricting goes awry
Alexander Blenkinsopp, the WRBA’s communications director, expressed disappointment in the final map of the city’s 51 Council Districts proposed by the Independent Districting Commission released last Friday, Nov. 16, as it abandoned a concept in the first draft to leave almost all of Woodhaven within one district.
“The first draft looked pretty good,” Blenkinsopp said, explaining that the rough draft called for the vast majority of the neighborhood to be included in the 30th City Council District, which is represented by Elizabeth Crowley. The community is currently divided between the 30th and the 32nd Council districts, with the latter represented by Eric Ulrich.
Presently, Crowley’s district covers an area south and west of Park Lane South, Forest Parkway, Jamaica Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard, while Ulrich’s district includes the areas north and east of that boundary.
Crowley and Ulrich had both made statements advising that the redistricting commission should work to keep Woodhaven united within one district, Blenkinsopp stated. The WRBA submitted testimony to the commission echoing the same sentiments and also favored the first draft proposal.
“We were hopeful that they would listen to us, but they decided to do the opposite,” Blenkinsopp said of the final draft proposed by the commission.
The commission’s final vision for Woodhaven would put the area north and west of Forest Parkway, 80th Street and Rockaway Boulevard in Crowley’s 30th District, and the remainder of the community would fall within Ulrich’s 32nd District. The only exception was the Forest Park Co-Ops, which Blenkinsopp said would be in Crowley’s district.
“I guess it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, because Woodhaven is already split, but they did it in the worst possible way,” he explained. “Now most of the people who are currently represented by Council Member Crowley will be represented by Council Member Ulrich, and most of the people who are currently represented by Council Member Ulrich will be represented by Council Member Crowley.”
“So both Council members are going to be representing significant chunks of woodhaven which they have never represented before,” Blenkinsopp added. He went on to note that the commission “ignored our testimony.”
“They ignored all the arguments we set forth. And they ignored the basic logic that we heard both of our City Council members get behind about the importance of unifying the community,” he stated.
Blenkinsopp hoped that Crowley and Ulrich, along with the rest of the City Council, would vote against the final draft when it comes up for a vote.
‘A tremendous effort’
Ed Wendell, president of the WRBA, offered praise to all those who contributed clothes, food and other supplies to the victims of Hurricane Sandy through a number of donation drives held by the organization at their Jamaica Avenue office.
After Sandy blew through New York City on Oct. 29 and decimated coastal communities, Wendell noted, the WRBA put out a call through social media for essential items to be donated at their headquarters toward the relief and recovery effort.
“It was just overwhelming the amount of caring that we saw,” he said, noting that Woodhaven residents dropped off scores of bags full of clothing, enough to fill the hallway of the civic group’s office several times over.
Despite the post-storm gas shortage, the WRBA arranged for the transportation of the items to Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel and the Rockaways, each of which were devastated by Sandy’s wind and storm surge.
The WRBA also collected more than $2,900 in cash from local residents, and the proceeds are being used to purchase other materials needed for storm victims, Wendell added.
“It was a tremendous effort,” he said, explaining that the outpouring of generosity “proved what I’ve always believed: that the residents of this community have a big heart and are very caring of their neighbors.”
Blenkinsopp added that the WRBA also collected over 120 flashlights during its “flashlight vigil” at the Forest Parkway Plaza on Nov. 9 for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. The location of the vigil was rather symbolic, he observed, as it was the site of the community’s Christmas tree, which was knocked down by the hurricane.
“It was sad, but noteworthy that we came together at the same spot to try to help others pick themselves up,” Blenkinsopp said. “Woodhaven took a beating ... but we fared a whole lot better than our neighbors to the south of us.”
Some of the financial contributions made to the WRBA’s disaster relief fund—created online via Paypal— were made by residents from as far away as “halfway across the country,” he added.
Assemblyman Mike Miller elaborated on the overall relief effort across Queens, noting that his Woodhaven district office was filled up and emptied “more than 20 times” with items donated by the public. He singled out a number of other organizations which donated a great deal toward assisting storm victims, including the Kiwanis Club of Glendale, which prepared and served hot meals in Hamilton Beach on two consecutive weekends; and Zum Stammtisch restaurant in Glendale, which donated between 30 to 40 trays of food.
“I’m proud to be a part of you guys who went above and beyond,” Miller said.
Rudy Giuliani, a spokesperson for City Council Member Eric Ulrich, offered thanks on behalf of the legislator for all those who have provided assistance. He noted that Sandy left “two-thirds” of Ulrich’s City Council District “under water.”
Preparing for the worst
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Wendell led a brainstorming session among attendees regarding the potential disasters Woodhaven could face, the types of disruptions that may result and how the civic association can communicate with its members and offer relief.
Members debated about the methods of communicating with one another in the event a disaster knocks out phone and Internet service. One suggested idea was to have members create handmade fliers that could be posted on a network of community bulletin boards in public areas. Establishing a simple walkie-talkie radio network was another possible solution.
Others at the meeting expressed interest about using generators. Wendell suggested that the civic group may invite experts to a future meeting to explain how the devices work and the costs involved. He also noted that the organization would also consider expanding its block captain program to ensure there are more eyes and ears to report problems and inform neighbors.
A Christmas gift for Aktion Club
Wendell presented a $500 check from the WRBA to the Glendale Kiwanis Club for the Forest Park Aktion Club’s annual Christmas party. The Aktion Club, originally formed by the Glendale Kiwanis, assists developmentally disabled adults.
On hand to accept the WRBA’s donation was Glendale Kiwanis President Len Licata, who invited all to join the Aktion Club for their party on Saturday, Dec. 8 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
Miller, who founded the Aktion Club seven years ago while a member of the Glendale Kiwanis, stated that it was “the best thing I did,” adding that the party is greatly appreciated by the developmentally disabled adults who enjoy it and talk about it almost every day.
The next Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association meeting is scheduled to take place on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 1 p.m. at the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps, located at 78-15 Jamaica Ave. For more information, visit www.woodhaven-nyc.org.