The River Crossed...
By TAMARA HARTMAN
This week Queens began a new year with shouts of jubilation, tears of relief and thoughts of the people missing from our midst. On Sept. 11, the Queens Tribune began the news day that would change everything with a simple cell phone call.
From her car on the Verrazano Bridge, the Tribunes art director called to tell the newsroom something had hit one of the Twin Towers.
The first few hours after that call were a muddled mix of moving forward with the business of a newsroom and trying to understand what was happening to the City. By noon, all other business was thrown aside as the mornings events began to reach out into the lives and homes of Queens.
"From the front lines of disaster, suvivors . . . walked the Queensboro Bridge throughout Sept. 11. Some cradled children. Others held hands. And many, finally at a safe distance, paused to look back at the massive smoke cloud where the Twin Towers once stood."
That was the opening image for the Tribune story of the slow, sad march we witnessed so many make from Manhattan to the safety of Queens. A Tribune reporter described the scene as a menagerie of shock and support. Some tried to comprehend what they had witnessed. Others had watched on their televisions in Queens and had a more complete view, so they walked out to and onto the bridge from the Queens side to offer comfort. No one could explain it but everyone had the need to share their story and compare it with other New Yorkers stories to piece together something logical.
In the newsroom, most phone calls were made on cell phones that only worked part of the time, but every conversation began with "are you alright? Is everyone alright?" Then we shared our story of that morning, and it became permissible to talk about the rest of life, deadlines, comments and call back numbers.
The hometown lines between boroughs evaporated and without anyone noticing, a proud borough of Queens became part of the swelling pride of New Yorkers.
Though ambulances rushed past the Tribunes windows and down the closed Long Island Expressway almost every half hour during the afternoon and evening of Sept. 11, by the papers first deadline on Sept. 12, the numbers were disheartening.
The "vast majority" of the patients coming into Queens hospitals were "walk-ins" . . . they had walked home from Manhattan and decided they should see a doctor.
The Tribune reported, "Elmhurst Hospital, 37; Flushing Hospital, 9; Jamaica Hospital, 49; Mary Immaculate, 25; New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens, 30; North Shore Hospital at Forest Hills, 27; Queens Hospital Center, 1."
But the numbers of Queens residents ready and waiting to help was miraculous. Thousands flooded the waiting areas of Elmhurst Hospital and waited for hours for the chance to give blood. The volume of people wanting to donate overwhelmed the abilities of Queens hospitals and some volunteers were sent home and asked to report the next day.
Three doctors from Jamaica Hospital reported back to Queens from what would come to be known just as "ground zero" at noon on deadline day. They had been stationed at the foot of what was the Twin Towers. Doctor Reginald Hughes told the Tribune, "We didnt encounter many survivors." He described the scene as "very horrifying" and said they mostly treated rescue workers for "post traumatic stress disorder and shock" from the devastation of the scene and the number of bodies. Doctor Alice Kolasa remembered the police borrowing additional body bags from their Jamaica Hospital mobile unit.
Every hour from noon until midnight, the editor checked in with the "command centers" at the Queens hospitals. Rufus King park had been cleared out for helicopters to transport victims to Queens. Borough President Claire Shulman formerly a nurse had toured the hospitals and told the Trib they were ready, but she was worried about whether or not the Queens morgue could handle the flow.
All reporters were on alert to report to hospitals that were active.
At midnight, the Trib editor stopped calling, and called the sleeping assistant editor instead. The message was one of disbelief that wouldnt sink in until the next day. "Theyre all dead," was all there was to report.
Then the Trib editor shut out the lights for the night, locked up the back door, and walked through the parking lot under a Queens sky free of airplanes for the first night that she could ever remember.
It began with Fire Department First Deputy Commissioner William Feehan.
By the time the Tribune went to press on Sept. 12, his was the only name the paper knew for sure . . . the only neighbor cofirmed dead in the attack on the Twin Towers. But the names of the missing started flooding in immediately.
Even as emails reached the newsroom and cell phones reached out all searching for answers to where everyone was and how everyone was, already there were readers contacting the Tribune looking for assistance.
By the second week of coverage, there were more names than the paper could handle. Firefighters from Rescue 4 were among the first to be found in the debris. They also found Elmhurst pastry chef Norberto Hernandez who had been working at Windows on the World, Emergency Service Unit 10 Officer Brian McDonnell, Police Officer Paul Talty and Officer Thomas Langone. By Sept. 18, Bayside resident Alphonse Niedermayers body hadnt been found, but his family decided to hold a memorial mass.
Then there was a list of the missing that stretched out in disbelief. Among the missing were James Parham of Jackson Heights and Anthony Savas of Astoria who had been working for the Port Authority; Local 3 electrician Thomas Ashton, Commonwealth Cricket League Captain Nezam Hafiz, Elevator Operator Steven Strauss of Flushing, Cantor Fitzgeralds Joseph Eacobacci of Fresh Meadows, Coronas Anthony Luparello had called his wife from the 101st floor of Tower Two, Rescue 4 Firefighter Terrence Farrell, Richmond Hills Paula Morales. Reporters were instructed to ask family members as much information as possible and include contact numbers if the family wanted it. The reporters were to deal with each missing person story as if the person could be found tomorrow, until such times as their families viewed it otherwise.
And the Tribune received an email from Lyn Rodriguez looking for cousins David Tiru and Frankie Irizarry who had stayed with her through a church exchange program. And Liz Monroe of Virigina emailed her search for information about "the man I love" and his brother, Jess and Jeff Vulton.
The Queens field of dreams Shea Stadium was transformed overnight into a command post for "doing something," "organizing," and "trying to help." Borough Hall volunteers rolled up their sleeves to package donations to be ferried or bussed to Manhattan. There were daily updates from Claire Shulmans office on what was needed, and nightly a handful of calls from local residents trying to find out who they could give to and how they could help. Reporters were issued a basic fact sheet of emergency numbers, donation needs and help lines so that anyone could answer the phone and pass along the word.
Neighbors of every age and race volunteered, donated and then lit a candle and marched through the streets to prove that Queens was mourning, but not afraid.
The Tribune reached out to the Muslim community of Queens and began a long process of education on the faith and discovered just how much the paper needed to learn about the Afghanistan piece of the world, its history and culture. And the borough, which had in a heart beat turned away from its differences to pull together as a vital piece of the City, began to turn out in a procession of mourning. Funerals became a daily item on the Borough Presidents calendar as she vowed to make each one in Queens and the flow of names started to overwhelm the newsroom.
It has been said that life will never be the same after Sept. 11, 2001. . . it is a simple statement that carries so much truth. The Tribune has captured images of national guardsmen carrying M16s in our airports and bravely masked civilians opening the Queens mail. There have been memorials and fundraisers. Mourning and stories of incredible courage. And Queens Borough Hall became a center for victim information and a site from which to begin the process declaring the missing legally gone.
Each week we have set aside space for these Queens stories not only as an official record but also in hopes that the sharing of information will lead to some greater understanding and a shared comfort.
But this overwhelming news story has a life of its own that doesnt close in the span of a newspaper or a year and isnt contained in one borough or one City. We have reported on terrible sorrow, but also amazing courage, strength of character and ability to survive, unify, preservere, and begin to rebuild with courage . . . that was news from Queens 2001.
The following names have appeared in the pages of the Tribune since Sept. 11 as Queens victims of the terrorism attack. We have told their stories where we could and in some cases have only a name to list and a neighborhood to mention. We ask that anyone with additional information on these victims or additional names to add to our memorial list please contact the Queens Tribune by fax at 357-9417, through email at: email@example.com or by phone 357-7400.
By ANGELA MONTEFINISE
In a year that will forever be clouded by the darkness of the destruction of the World Trade Center, term limits turned a new light on the world of politics and public service and built an entirely new Queens Council delegation from the emptied seats of City Hall.
With almost every major municipal office up-for-grabs, candidates battled for the offices of mayor, public advocate, comptroller, and City Council in 35 districts, including all 14 Queens seats. With entirely new political players elected in November, City government is witnessing a new beginning in 2002 while it faces the challenges of rebuilding and moving forward.
Queens politics in 2001 were filled with firsts, including the first Asian in the City Council, the first African American Queens Borough President, the first Green Party primary in the City Council, and the first City Council elected under the Term Limits Law.
Queens Borough President Claire Shulman left office after 15 years at the helm and each of the 14 Queens City Councilmembers left after a decade or more of service.
2001 also featured a sobering check of political priorities, when the original New York City Primary, scheduled for Sept. 11, was postponed by the tragic events of that day. As the mighty Towers crumbled and smoke billowed over Queens from lower Manhattan, every politician regardless of party, race or creed stopped their campaigning, put aside their hand shaking and vote tallies, and tried to comprehend what it would all mean.
One of the major political battles of 2001 actually began in 1993, when the people of New York City voted overwhelmingly to create term limits for the offices of mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and city council, something the people voted for again in an alternate form in 1996.
Under the referendum, councilmembers would only be allowed to stay in office for a maximum of two consecutive four-year terms . . . a foreign concept to the now out-going Queens councilmembers, some of whom were originally elected in the 1970s.
Seven of those long-term Queens politicians argued openly against term-limits, claiming that they would leave the government in the hands of incapable and inexperienced newcomers and create chaos. This chaos would be especially strong in Queens, they claimed, where all 14 Queens councilmembers would be term-limited out at once. The seven - District 20 Democrat Julia Harrison, District 21 Democrat Helen Marshall, District 25 Democrat John Sabini, District 26 Democrat Walter McCaffrey, District 27 Democrat Thomas White, Jr., District 31 Democrat Juanita Watkins and District 32 Republican Al Stabile - joined 15 other members of the City Council to support a bill introduced on March 8 in the City Councils Government Operations Committee that would repeal the referendum, even though the public voted for it twice.
The term limits controversy was a much-discussed topic for Tribune publisher Michael Schenkler in his weekly column "Not For Publication," which was filled with vile words for the seven councilmembers participating in the "term limits coup." Schenkler, who believed the seven councilmembers were operating with self-serving motives, called the seven "bottom-feeding, public-sucking scum," on March 1, and "self-serving jokers" in his Feb 15 column.
On Feb. 15, the Tribune in a highly unusual move used its front page to illustrate its editorial depicting a "wanted poster" with the seven councilmembers faces. Inside, the news story entitled, "The Borough on the Brink of Term Limits" gave the councilmembers their voice. Sabini said, "I am doing this because I think term limits are bad for Queens. Its bad public policy." White also said, "Women, blacks, and Latinos have reached a position of power in the City Council, maybe even dominance. Now that its our turn, the rules change in the middle of the game."
But the Tribunes stance on the importance of the issue was clear. The paper was not going to let the vote of the people be thrown out without a fight, and on March 8, the Councils Government Operations Committee killed the bill by a vote of 5-4.
With the term limits repeal a failure, hundreds of Queens candidates filed with the New York City Board of Elections to run for one of the boroughs many vacant positions in 2001.
Through July 17, 107 candidates filed for one of Queens 14 City Council seats, while Councilmembers Helen Marshall, Sheldon Leffler and Al Stabile filed to run for Queens Borough President. One-time Board of Education member Carol Gresser also filed for the position. Citywide, Council speaker Peter Vallone and City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, both from Queens, threw their hats into the mayoral race.
In addition, over 100 candidates in Queens filed for matching funds with the Campaign Finance Board, an agency that keeps newcomers competitive by providing $4 for every $1 a candidate raises.
Although the Board of Elections cut down the number of Queens council candidates to 80 after hearing filing objections on Aug. 1 and 2, the races in Queens and the rest of the City were still fiercely competitive.
In a marathon of interviews, the Tribune invited all candidates participating in a September Primary elections to the papers Fresh Meadows office in August, where Schenkler interviewed all of them. Articles on each of the interviews were printed in the paper, giving Queens residents an in-depth look at their leadership choices. The paper also put together a voters guide with biographies and photos submitted by candidates.
On Aug. 30, the Trib made its Citywide endorsements, and on Sept. 6, its council endorsements. The cover of the Nov. 1 issue asked people to vote, and the final ballot was printed for all readers to examine.
Everything was set. Everyone was ready. It was time for the Primary.
At 9 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 11, the polls opened for the Primary. Campaign volunteers distributed literature, candidates shook hands, and voters pulled levers. Everything seemed normal. And then the planes hit.
By 10 a.m., the New York State Board of Elections faxed all media outlets this message: "Pursuant to the Governors authority, todays Primary election has been suspended until further notice."
The Primary was suspended until Sept. 25, when less enthusiastic candidates took to the streets again. This time, additional numbers of police officers watched every polling place.
But that day came and went without any problems. Both Queens candidates were knocked out of the mayoral race, while Fernando Ferrer and Mark Green were stuck in a run-off election. Green eventually won on Oct. 11. Helen Marshall won the Democratic nomination for Queens Borough President, taking her one step closer to becoming the first African American to hold the office. District 21 Council Candidate Hiram Monserrate, unopposed in the General election, beat his two Primary opponents, making him the first ever Hispanic member of the Council in Queens.
The General election was scheduled for Nov. 6. The Tribune put endorsements in the Nov. 1 paper. And while the City mourned and tried to get back to normal, Queens was prepared to make quiet history.
On Dec. 27, Democrat John Liu raised his right hand in front of a supportive crowd of about 100 people at Flushing Library on Main Street and became the first Asian member of the City Council. Liu defeated his opponents in the Nov. 6 election, and during his inauguration, was praised for his ability to break the ethnic barrier.
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