Community activists rallied to show their support for Flushing’s RKO Keith’s theater.
It was the snowiest, coldest winter in recent history. Mother Nature dumped a record 24 inches of snow on us during the Blizzard of ’96. The 36-hour storm blew snowdrifts up to four-feet high in Fresh Meadows and Long Island City….
Fire marshals arrested a 36-year-old homeless drifter, charged in the arson death of Fire Lt. John Clancy. Edwin Smith lit a candle in the basement of an abandoned house in Jamaica, which set off the blaze that claimed Clancy’s life… Homeless men returned to a makeshift shelter in the Flushing Armory, despite a municipal promise that they would never be housed there again….
Borough historians made a last ditch effort to save the crumbling Aquacade. The last remaining piece of the 1939 World’s Fair was set for demolition in the spring…. City Councilwoman Julia Harrison set off a furor with remarks she made about Asian immigrants in a front-page N.Y. Times article. Local pols joined forces to decry the comments. Harrison fought back, describing her colleagues actions as “gang rape.”… A Queens Village elementary school principal was stabbed to death during a struggle with three teens who broke into his home. Ironically, one of the teens was a former student at P.S. 33, where Edward Funk worked….
A State appeals process granted the killer of Kitty Genovese a second chance to ask for a new trial. The Genovese murder rocked New York City in March 1964 and became a national symbol of urban shame, when 38 neighbors told police they saw the murder on Austin Street, but did nothing to help.
Plans were unveiled for a new $1.1 billion International Arrivals Building at JFK Airport… Construction began on the decade-old Queens West project…. The Queens North Task Force settled into a new home at the Flushing Armory. Capt. Michael Doherty became the only NYPD commander to lead his troops out of a castle…The MTA’s infamous E-Z Pass was introduced to irate Queens motorists….
The infamous “Zodiac Killer” was arraigned in Queens. Heriberto Seda was charged with killing three Queens people and injuring a fourth during his four-year reign of terror in the early 1990s… A crew of 500 movie-makers blew up the Unisphere in July, a computer-generated stunt that was part of the movie “Men In Black.”….
Board of Ed President Carol Gresser was ousted in what was called a “mayoral coup” in July… A Paris-bound TWA Boeing 747 left JFK International Airport at about 8:15 p.m. on July 17 with 230 people on board. At 8:45 p.m., they were gone – blown from the skies over Moriches, Long Island, in an aircraft disaster that would rewrite the history of airline crash rescue operations.…
Claims of a scandal continued to plague the Flushing RKO Keith’s Theater. A developer and a contractor faced a probe into charges that they lied about cleaning-up a major oil spill at the site... A Trib feature examined 81-year-old Tony Avena’s battle with MTA officials who wanted to boot Avena’s shoeshine business out of a storefront in Flushing where he had operated for 73 years….
Magic Johnson unleashed plans to build a $5 million movie complex in Jamaica…. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Queens to pay his respects at the gravesite of Grand Rebbe Menachem Schneerson….
A plaque bearing a poem written by Queens-based spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy ruffled feathers when it was placed atthe base of the Statue of Liberty…. City Comptroller Alan Hevesi exposed an $8 million bookkeeping snafu at the Queens Library…New Yorkers approved term limits for City politicos, virtually guaranteeing a new City government by the year 2002….
The Flushing Jewish Center was destroyed in late-night fire in December. Probes blamed the blaze on a cigarette carelessly tossed by a pedestrian….
Matt, after starting the Tribune’s Action Desk with Mike Schenkler, went on to work for Mayor Rudy Giuliani, became Chief Operating Officer for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and is currently a vice president with the New York Jets.
Mike Schenkler was clearly unimpressed. He tugged on his salt-and-pepper beard for a good while before returning to his favorite activity – taking a scalpel to a cub reporter’s fresh copy.
“Okay, kid, just don’t screw this up.”
And so began my tenure as a 20-year old reporter for the Queens Tribune. Schenkler gave me a shot spearheading his new baby in 1996, a column called the Action Desk that would advocate on behalf of Tribune readers. I didn’t know the first thing about writing, but he was willing to let me fake it, so long as I could solve a problem along the way.
The hours were grueling. In the morning, I worked at Community Board 8, in the afternoon I headed over to the Tribune, and then off to night classes at Queens College. Every week, the mail from readers piled up. Schenkler had a paper to run, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he scanned each Action Desk problem that flooded the newsroom.
David Oats was the editor back in those days, a genius who would begin every conversation the same way: “Haaaaay.” I imagine he still does. Dave’s infectious smile and wanton disregard for deadlines inspired and corrupted the newsroom. Sometimes we sat at a computer for hours to pen a series of articles, and with each installment, we rotated our names in the byline, “just like Woodward and Bernstein used to do.” Well that’s what Dave would say, and when you’re 20, it’s easy to believe.
We jetted around the borough in my ’86 Maxima to see the Action Desk problems firsthand. Arverne. South Jamaica. Maspeth. Bayside. There were so many problems I still can’t let them go. Gus Barry from Hamilton Beach who wanted to live in peace without a steel bridge running through his backyard. The accidents along the Van Wyck Expressway near Flushing Meadows Park. The plague of algae at Oakland Lake.
The Tribune won the New York State award for community journalism in the first year of the Action Desk. We didn’t solve every problem of course - there are limits to what a self-righteous newspaper can accomplish. But when we fell short, at least we offered a place to go when no one else would listen.
I’m okay with how life turned out since leaving the Trib. I went on to become Mayor Giuliani’s press secretary, I finished up law school at night, and I even married a wonderful woman, Michele, last December. But the greatest professional pride in my life remains the Action Desk, and the break I was given at the Tribune.
Now I just wish Schenkler would stop calling me “kid.”