of these accomplishments as being mine.”
“nothing they call me to my face”
Favorite issue: Waterfront development
a trial lawyer working in Manhattan, Stephen Cooper knows how to make
his point. Whether or not the stenographer and reporters can keep up
is another question. Through his years in the courtroom and fighting
for thoughtful development of western Queens, Cooper has become accustomed
to slowing his speech so various note-takers can catch up. What hasn’t
slowed, though, is his effort to preserve historic houses in Sunnyside,
and to keep the East River waterfront from morphing into an eyesore.
When asked about his greatest achievement, Cooper dipped back all
the way to 1974, “when I got the preservation designation in
Sunnyside Gardens.” The 77-acre community is located between
43rd and 49th Streets, and 39th Avenue and Skillman Avenue. It shares
with Gramercy Park the distinction of being one of the City’s
only private parks.
Construction on the area was completed in 1928, and residents signed
a 40-year agreement not to make alterations and preserve the courtyard.
The agreements expired in the late 1960s.
At the time, Cooper was a student upset by the changes he saw there.
“Back in the 70s, when I was in law school, I saw people fencing
in their gardens, which were supposed to be open courtyards. The only
way to stop it was to get a preservation designation.”
When Cooper crosses the East River and returns home, he conjures the
image of a man more at ease in a dimly lit artists café than
a high powered Manhattan lawyer. Cooper’s thin beard, dungarees
and blazer have become his trademark. For 20 years, Cooper has been
a member of Community Board 2, and is going on his 14th year as it’s
first Vice Chairman.
Cooper was asked to fill in as CB2 chairman for six month while his
predecessor, Joe Conley, and the local councilman resolved their differences.
Conley credited Cooper with keeping things running smoothly and effectively
“when we were having the turmoil on the community board.”
When it comes to the exploitation of the East River waterfront, Cooper’s
outrage may seem subdued. On most nights, his frustration over the
presence of the giant Pepsi neon sign in Long Island City is no louder
than the fizz of his freshly opened Coca-Cola can. Cooper sips the
suds of Pepsi’s main rival in what he concedes is a little protest
of commercialism gone too far.
Disputing its citywide recognition, Cooper said the Pepsi sign obstructs
part of Queens’ most valuable real estate for the sake of “the
people who live on the Upper East Side. The only ones who know about
it are the people who live in Beakman Tower by the United Nations,
and the people around 59th Street.”
“We’re talking about a 10 million square foot development.
We’ve been trying to exercise community control over there.”
“He’s been a valuable component of our community,”
said Joe Conley, who has worked with Cooper for nearly two decades.
“He’s a good partner to work with.” When asked what
makes Cooper so effective, Conley said, “I think it’s
his training [as a lawyer] and the fact that he has a good understanding
of community issues.” Conley said Cooper combines the benefits
of “being a resident of the area, with an analytic approach.”
don’t know their history, they should go out and learn about
don’t know their history, they should go out and learn
about their history.”
Crater is the chairperson and sole board member for the Greater
Jamaica Development Corporation’s (GJDC) Beautification Committee.
He is always speed-walking somewhere, never without his briefcase,
and he will turn any topic into a history lesson.
Crater is known for fighting with the Long Island Railroad (LIRR)
and government-run organizations about cleaning up the Downtown
Jamaica area. He recently confronted the LIRR about the graffiti
covering the railroad bridges and station, and according to Crater,
they finally admitted it is their responsibility to clean up the
Crater also started a publication called “The New York Page,”
a newspaper he said he created to cover issues that everyone else
is too scared to deal with. The paper prints when Crater gets
around to it. He said he might print one before the November presidential
elections if the paper is in high demand.
Crater has never entered a GJDC Downtown Committee meeting without
a problem to discuss, and before anyone can address his concerns,
he is on to the next one, without stopping to take a breath.
He avoids sitting down at meetings because he knows he is going
to get riled up, so you will catch him pacing up and down the
Jamaica Market Harvest Room until the meeting is over.
Crater is also known for his active involvement in the community,
especially with the Greater Allen Cathedral of New York, the church
he has been a member of since he moved to the area.
Without a car, Crater finds it hard to be punctual when it comes
to getting to meetings, but no matter how late he arrives, Crater
ensures that his words will be heard, and when he is on time,
no one can take away his microphone.
At the February Downtown Committee meeting, Crater was asked to
give an overview of what the Beautification Committee was doing.
Crater stood up, moved away from the table and started interrogating
board members of the GJDC. “When do you plan on starting
construction on the Airport Village? There’s all this talk
but no action.”
When board members tried to quiet Crater down, he ignored the
requests and insisted that the people of Southeast Queens deserve
to know what’s going on. Although Crater did not get his
questions answered, he said that he never forgets what happens
at the meetings, and the subjects will come up again.
Crater works hand in hand with GJDC to develop Downtown Jamaica.
Although he is the only member on the Beautification Committee,
Crater says he stays in touch with the organization to keep them
aware of his progress. The Downtown Committee also sent Crater
to meet with the Borough President to discuss ways of demolishing
graffiti in the borough.
Although Crater provokes the members of the Downtown Committee
about the progress the organization is making with the redevelopment
of Southeast Queens, he said he supports them in their efforts
to rebuild the community, he just wishes there was a time frame
as to when the work would be done.
–Raynelle Cerica Bull
just got really tired of looking at dirt.”
Favorite Issue: Community Preservation
It takes more than brains and brawn to accomplish
the evolution of a community. It takes guts, whimsy, a gift of gab
and the patience of Job to get things done when you are dealing with
city agencies and it doesn’t hurt to be a little “out
“People can say whatever they want about the way we get things
done,” said George Delis, Community Board 1 district manager.
“The fact is, we get things done.”
Delis, who is known for his adventurous remarks and his ability
to stand out from the crowd, offered a list of his greatest achievements.
“Convincing my wife to marry me,” he said.
On a more serious note, he included the development of the Astoria
Museum of the Moving Image (he wrote the first proposal with CB1
member Sam Roberts, who came up with the museum concepts.) Athens
Square Park, the creation of the Broadway Merchants Association,
the Mt. Cambell Senior Housing Project, the Queens Plaza Business
Association and the 30th Avenue Business Association also topped
Delis’ list of greatest accomplishments.
But Socrates Sculptural Park might just be his most impressive.
“Mayor Koch planned to develop a site on the waterfront for
industrial use,” Delis said. “I met with him and pitched
an idea for a cultural project at the site.” Today the site
is known as the Socrates Sculpture Park.
Delis holds separate from the rest of his achievements, his work
in establishing the Greater Astoria Historical Society.
“It was essential to the future of the community to establish
a place where people can go to learn about the past,” he said.
The man isn’t afraid to get down and dirty to accomplish what
needs to be done in the community.
Several years ago, Delis “got tired” of looking at a
patch of dirt that sat outside a Queens Library Branch on 31st Street
in Astoria. So he bought some rose bushes, “greenery”
and planted them along with flowers that bloom each year. He bought
garden tools, hoses and the rest to tend to the garden.
“I just got really tired of looking at dirt,” he said.
It’s the kind of act Delis is known for, and the kind of thing
he doesn’t talk about.
Most Outrageous Act
Delis didn’t hesitate to describe his 1998 run for the New
York State Senate as his most outrageous act.
“It was a sincere bid to discuss many issues that had been
ignored,” Delis said. “And it was done without the support
of the Queens Democratic organization.”
‘I’m not sorry I did it,” he said. “And
thinking back, I’m not sorry I didn’t win.” Delis
said the run didn’t hurt him politically, or at work. But
he realizes now that he can be “very effective, even more
so,” at getting things done from the community board level.
CB1 Assistant District Manager Lucill Hartmann has been working
along side Delis for 27 years, since the fall of 1977, when the
boards were established citywide.
“It’s never dull,” Hartmann said. “Working
with George is never dull. The man is full of surprises,”
Hartmann left CB1 for four years in the lat 1980s, to work out of
the Mayor’s Community Assistance Unit in Manhattan. But she
couldn’t stay away, she wanted to return to work with Delis.
“I love my job,” she said. “And working with George,
I can honestly say that, with rare exception, haven’t ever
woke up dreading coming to work. George is George. You gotta love
have many irons in the fire …
let’s put it that way.”
Kew Gardens Hills
Favorite Issue: Regulation of growth throughout the borough
Dolan is one of those civic activists who wears the proverbial “many
hats” throughout the area. She spends her days helping seniors
and youths through her work with the Forest Hills Action House,
she’s head of the Kew Garden Hills Civic Association, part
of the borough’s zoning task force, a member of Community
Board 8 and is executive vice president of the Queens Civic Congress.
She also founded the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy in
her spare time. It’s not uncommon for those who know Dolan,
when asked to describe her, to say, “she’s everywhere.”
Though she’s always willing to put herself in the face of
policy makers in the name of affecting change on various issues,
perhaps her greatest contribution to the community is what she’s
done on her own. She said her greatest achievement over the years
was to successfully complete the rezoning project of about half
of Kew Garden Hills.
“It was the best thing we could do to preserve the physical
character of our neighborhood. Absolutely the best thing. The
biggest issue facing this borough and this city is the unheeded
growth in our neighborhoods.”
If “persistence” is a word often used to describe
a person, in some cases it can be a nice way of avoiding the other
four-letter “P-word,” which is “pest.”
Her peers and colleagues say she falls somewhere in between, and
simply settled on the word “outspoken.” But in a good
way. She’ll go to bat for her community regardless of who
she has to reach to get it done. And in matters of public safety,
parks and playgrounds, libraries and sanitation in her area, city
council members, assemblymen and even members of Congress can
expect a visit - or at least a phone call or three - from Dolan.
“I’d agree that I’m persistent,” she said.
“That’s what you have to be to get things done. I’ve
been able to take my message all the way to the mayor’s
office on a few occasions and that’s hard to do. If I have
to be a pest, so be it.”
Most Outrageous Act
Though she said the farthest she’s ever had to go while
pushing for change is to storm the mayor’s office, Councilman
David Weprin said she’s willing to do whatever it takes
to get her point across - even if it means tailing him around
“I don’t remember the issue,” he said with a
laugh, “but I remember one time having her follow me from
speaking engagement to speaking engagement one day just to be
able to talk to me about whatever it was at the time. You’ve
got to respect her enthusiasm and her perseverance. She’s
practical enough that she can’t always get what she wants,
but she wants about 90 percent of it!”
If Community Characters are an exclusive club, one should certainly
understand one another. Fellow Character Corey Bearak (see page
10), who sits along side Dolan as co-executive vice president
of the Queens Civic Congress, says Dolan may be persistent, but
she’s not selfish.
“I’ve never once seen her do anything she does for
her own good,” he said. “Everything she does is with
the greater good of her community in mind. She’s very aware
of the needs in her community and she’s a strong advocate
- a forceful advocate - for them. She’s certainly not afraid
to speak out.”
understand that there is a caravan of brothers led by Minister
Brother Khalid Muhammad who armed themselves and decided that
they are going to visit Greenville, Texas to see if they could
put a stop to the church burnings there.”
Favorite Issue: African American Rights
Dopson is a member of the Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive
to African People (CEMOTAP), an organization that seeks out the
injustices towards black people in America to rectify the source
of the inequality. She is one of the first people contacted to
march during protests, and is known by many as the spokesperson
Whenever there is an event or development taking place in the
community that Dopson feels could reflect negatively on blacks,
she is one of the first to put a wrench in the plans.
She has established a name for herself among the police and community
leaders, as a community loud mouth. Once Dopson gets wind of a
project that may be “disrespectful” or inappropriate
for Southeast Queens, she rallies the troops and the protesting
Dopson’s involvement with CEMOTAP has earned her slots on
radio shows and quotes in various daily newspapers, where she
gets to promote her goals for the Africa-inspired organization.
Dopson is known for her outrageous comments, and if there is
a CEMOTAP press conference, it is more than likely that she
will be the individual selected to speak on behalf of whatever
issue is being discussed.
Like Rev. Charles Norris, Dopson likes to ensure that pro-black
community development will happen sooner than later, and the
best way to invoke change is to be seen and heard.
Dopson was recently involved in protesting against the naming
of the new Jamaica Police Athletic League (PAL) after a white
police officer that died in Southeast Queens. According to Dopson,
“The center is a very important addition to the community
but I don’t feel the children should have to enter a community
center named for something they had nothing to do with.”
She felt that naming the center after a white police officer
was disrespectful, especially since deceased black police officers
from the community have nothing named after them.
Dopson also organized an ad hoc, Friends Against Queen Catherine,
when her and Norris rallied against the erection of a statue
to honor a person who they felt benefited from the slave trade.
Dopson has worked with fellow community activists like Rev.
Norris, whose office has her number pretty much on speed dial,
and A. U. Hogan to empower blacks in Southeast Queens.
Dopson is not what you would call a friend of the NYPD, especially
after she protested against displaying one of their slain brethren’s
names on a PAL Center. Although Dopson strives for the advancement
of Southeast Queens, her strategies may be a little extreme
for elected officials, as there are usually none at her press
conferences or protests.
— Raynelle Cerica Bull
greatest success was probably one of
our failures… redistricting.”
Favorite Issue: Redistricting
Dowd doesn’t count the number of years he’s lived
in Ridgewood. After five and a half decades,
he can think of only a handful of years when he didn’t
live in the house his grandfather owned almost a hundred years
ago: two years in graduate school in Pittsburgh; two years in
Colombia as a Peace Corp volunteer, and one year in Puerto Rico.
As a vocal member of the Ridgewood Property
Owner’s Association, his advocacy for the neighborhood,
which sits on the Brooklyn-Queens border, has garnered him a
reputation as someone who won’t hesitate to defend this
sometimes-overlooked corner of the borough.
When asked about his greatest accomplishment, Dowd was silent.
Roaming through the history of the neighborhood he and his
family saw first hand, he settles on a recent battle: one
that he lost and is proud of.
“Our greatest success was probably one of our failures.
We fought very hard against the redistricting of Ridgewood.
We were so vociferous,” he said.
Dowd, referring to the political decision makers who placed
Summerfield Street and portions of Ridgewood in the district
represented by Brooklyn Councilwoman Diana Reyna, said he’s
glad he was able to get under their skin.
Another milestone in Dowd’s activism includes plans
to open a child daycare center in the area, which he said
currently has none. He identified a site for the center near
the Ridgewood library and convinced Wyckoff Heights Medical
Center to operate it.
With thick glasses and a vibrant mane of red hair, Dowd has
an unmistakable presence. With his family’s long history
in the area, the freelance computer specialist is completely
at home in this corner of the borough, now noted for its emerging
Dowd never relents in his mission to get Queens politicians
to bring more resources back to Ridgewood. Recently, when
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the City will transfer the
Ridgewood Reservoir to the Park’s Department, Dowd said
“the only politicians at the ceremony were Brooklyn
politicians, even though the Reservoir is 95 percent in Ridgewood.”
When asked to elaborate why Queens has in effect sliced off
his section of the borough, Dowd spins cloudy stories of backroom
political deals, greed and corruption. Although many of the
accusations have yet to fully surface, Dowd continues pressing
hard to hold those in power accountable to Ridgewood.
After analyzing census data from 2000, the need for a daycare
center was evident to Dowd. With a growth rate of nearly 4
percent in the area, Dowd convinced the community that the
time to act was now. To accelerate the process, Dowd himself
enrolled in a certification program for daycare center operators.
“I was the only male,” Dowd recalled. Reflecting
back on the experience, Dowd simply says, “It was a
— Azi Paybarah
self-taught about it. I didn’t take a class. I read
about zoning law and sought out other people.
I don’t look at it as an issue that is that difficult
to understand, you just have
to get on the bicycle.”
Favorite issue: Zoning Regulations
Brixton Doyle is a one man zoning
Impressed by his independent analysis of the regulations and
loopholes that make McMansions possible in Bayside, the neighborhood
where Doyle moved with his family in 1999, Councilman Tony
Avella invited Doyle into the ongoing zoning reform process
in Northeast Queens. A newcomer to the neighborhood and to
civic activism, Doyle soon set about making his concerns known.
As a professional graphic designer with no training in the
vagaries of zoning law, Doyle immersed himself in the subject
and used his design skills to make easy
to read diagrams of obscure zoning points. His independent
analysis of the new zoning designation created by City Planning
to deal with McMansions—a proposal called R2A—made
him skeptical that cure may be worse than the disease.
Doyle brought his concerns to closed-door meetings with
city officials and public hearings at Community Board 11—and
now, the alleged flaws he has identified in the zoning proposal
have become the top item on the local political agenda.
A longtime Manhattan resident, Doyle threw himself headlong
into civic activism after moving into his Bayside home with
his wife and children.
“It is a nice school district, good neighborhood,
diverse—that’s why we moved,” he said.
But after he arrived in the neighborhood, he saw a dark
cloud on the horizon: huge, non-contextual homes rising
over the old houses.
“You could just feel it in the air that something
was going on,” he recalled. “I studied what
the problem was and realized right away what was happening.
It amounts to abuse of the law.”
He added, “I’m an Irishman, and once I see an
abuse going on I just can’t walk away from it.”
The fight came to Doyle when a house on his block came under
the wrecking ball and an oversized McMansion rose in its
“To see this thing go all the way to the end and be
allowed to happen was really eye opening,” Doyle said.
“This wasn’t something that just happened that
way. We knew the whole time what it would be.”
As anyone who has seen Doyle in action during community
meetings knows, he can be aggressive and outspoken when
highlighting his concern over zoning issues and battling
with city officials, who he routinely blasts for the complacency
and indifference to issues affecting his neighborhood. In
his frustration, Doyle will even paint his opponents as
“The last meeting was highly contentious,” Doyle
admitted. “This was the third time I heard lies coming
form the Department of City Planning, and I didn’t
ask a question. I just told the assembled masses that I
would give my own workshop on zoning after the meeting because
these guys were just a sham.”
“It was a bold step,” he said, “but I’m
just tired of these lies.”
In the end, however, Doyle wants to bring Bayside together
to fight the threat of over-development and the abuse of
zoning laws. He started an electronic headquarters for development
concerns, which can now be e-mailed and tracked by sending
complaints to the Bayside Civic Database at email@example.com.
“The idea is to unify people,” Doyle said. “If
you see something going on, you don’t even have to
be from Bayside, you can write to that address and say,
‘Hey, I need support.’”
often doesn’t share my morning enthusiasm …I’m
a coffee person.
Tom is an orange juice person.”
Favorite issue: Same Sex Marriage
attract, even in same-sex couples like Brendan Fay and Tom
Moulton. The Sunnyside men became one of the first gay couples
to have their relationship recognized by a government when
they exchanged vows in Canada in July 2003. Fay said although
he and Moulton have their differences – “I’m
a coffee person. Tom is an orange juice person” –
they are like any other couple.
Fay is a freelance documentary filmmaker and gay rights
activist, so it’s no surprise that he and Moulton
were at the head of the aisle when Canadian officials said
they’d recognize gay marriages.
Along with organizing the City’s only all-inclusive
St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Sunnyside, Fay has another
place in mind for gay couples looking to march down more
Fay created a website, www.civilmarriagetrail.org, that
helps gay couples here get married in Canada. Fay equates
it with the Underground Railroad. Like slaves, same-sex
couples can “find the freedom the U.S. was unwilling
to offer,” according to the website.
On the site are frequently asked questions about the legalities
of gay Americans getting married north of the border.
The site provides links to the official website of three
Canadian provinces where the ceremony can be performed:
Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.
For Queens residents, that’s good news. New York
State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said that same-sex
marriages should be recognized, but not performed, in
New York State. “[S]ame sex marriages and civil
unions lawfully entered in other jurisdictions outside
the state should be recognized in New York,” Spitzer
wrote in a March 3 press release.
Fay noted though, that along with marriage laws, couples
looking to Canada should also familiarize themselves with
the country’s divorce laws. “It’s a
serious matter,” Fay observed. “One of us
would have to live in Canada for a year (if we wanted)
to get divorced.
Fay is passionate about his advocacy work, and it shows.
Literally. For the parade he organizes, he gets decked
out in a kilt and formal Irish attire. He is usually smiling
ear to ear and his normally rapid speech is accelerated
when he’s on the topic of civil marriage.
It’s hard to imagine Fay not being present during
some rally, protest, meeting roundtable, march or get
together that in any way supports gay couple’s right
to fall in love and say “I do.”
One the most memorable Fay-created moments came earlier
this year, when he got the Mayor of New Paltz, 26-year-old
Jason West, to attend Fay’s St. Patrick’s
Day parade. West at the time was facing charges for illegally
marrying gay couples upstate.
The media frenzy around the parade and West’s appearance
helped draw politicians from across the borough. Among
them were Speaker Gifford Miller and Assemblyman Mike
Gianaris, who took a few steps arm-in-arm, creating an
unforgettable image for Tribune readers.
–Azi Paybarah who took a few steps arm-in-arm, creating
an unforgettable image for Tribune readers.
individual voice has a place and an effect and an impact.”
Nickname: Doctor Blanche
Age: Hint: Felton was in college during World War II
Favorite Horse to Ride: Neighborhood Preservation
Blanche Felton began her community
involvement during World War II when she organized a blood
bank. Sixty years later, a doctorate, decades in medical
research and college teaching, Dr. Blanche is fighting
a different battle but no less persistently and definitely
with the wisdom her experiences have gained her.
Felton helped found the John Golden Park Block Association
in 1983 and has been president ever since. The Association
was started because the residents literally “could
not get out of the neighborhood,” due to the overflow
of parked cars from St. Mary’s Children’s
“We lived on dead end streets. We could not get
our cars out in during the winter because St. Mary’s
was parking its cars on the streets. The streets became
Since the battle began, Felton has been able to persuade
the hospital to meet with the community and address its
concerns every six weeks. The hospital has dropped its
large expansion plans and agreed to follow zoning regulations
and control excess water from its facilities.
The Association hasn’t gone dormant with the success
however; they are successfully demanding better traffic
signage and lights, cleaning up the park, as well as working
with the other civics to oppose the expansion of Grace
Korean Presbyterian Church as the church’s leaders
As part of the Greatest Generation, Felton has gone through
a number of careers since her days as a college volunteer
starting blood banks. She started out in pharmacology,
did a post doctoral fellowship at Mt. Sinai in occupational
safety and health, taught in medical technology, then
in environmental health, and retired as professor emeritus
from Queensborough Community College in 1991. She has
a long history of professional success before her involvement
with the civic association.
“This has been my fifth profession, you can call
it,” she said.
However, amidst her professional career, Felton has always
been involved in community volunteering. She says it was
a habit she picked up from her father, who started a civic
group to assist his neighbors who lost jobs during the
Felton’s most outrageous character trait may be
her inability to get visibly irate. In a neighborhood
where community board meetings should probably be rated
R and the heat in the room rises with each participant’s
agitation, Felton never loses her cool. Her approach is
methodical and cool, as befits a veteran scientist such
“She gets frustrated like everyone else, but I never
saw her lose her temper,” said Councilman Tony Avella.
Avella works with a number of civic associations and has
come across every kind of community activist imaginable.
According to Avella, there is one thing that sets Felton
“I think one of the attributes she has is that she
tries to get everyone to work together and express their
concerns, while at the same time trying to advance he
agenda,” he said. “Blanche is very forceful
in her position and tends to remain consistent. No matter
how long a battle she’s fighting, she doesn’t
putting the agenda in front of officials, by being vocal,
we’ve been recognized.”
Favorite Issue: Over-development
you live in a sleepy residential neighborhood sandwiched
in between two sprawling, fast-expanding institutions
and the Grand Central Parkway. It’s a small, isolated
community with a name few people in the wider borough
are likely to even recognize, lost in the shadows of two
nearby giants: St. John’s University and Queens
How do you go about putting your neighborhood on the map?
How do you get politicians and city officials to stop
and take note?
That was the challenge facing Kevin Forrestal, president
of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association, an enclave
just north of Jamaica. “On both sides, the east
and west sides of the neighborhood, we have two major
institutions that are expanding rapidly and creating some
concerns for the residents,” he said.
After taking over the helm of his civic group in 2000,
and faced with the dual problems of institutional growth
and illegal building conversions, Forrestal adopted
the oldest tactic in the activists’ playbook:
make your voice and the voices of your neighbors heard.
According to Forrestal, it worked. For the first time,
he said, “the Hillcrest neighborhood is looked
at as being there. The needs of the community are recognized
by the elected officials and the press.”
A resident of Hillcrest for the past 28 years, Forrestal
joined the neighborhood as an extension of his natural
interest in politics and community affairs soon after
moving into his home, swiftly earning the rank of vice
president for his dedication.
“I’ve always been active in government and
civil affairs,” he said. “I was a poll watcher
for the Kennedy campaign in the 60s.”
But the role of the civic group became more important
over the years, as St. John’s University has grown
and at times overwhelmed the adjoining neighborhood
with swarms of students. “Since they built the
dormitories, I’ve tried to advocate for the community
with the university,” Forrestal said.
The more recent expansion of the Queens Hospital Center
campus—where the city plans to build a large high
school and several mixed-use facilities, while a private
company seeks to build a retirement home—has made
Forrestal’s professional background as a healthcare
administrator especially useful. He has become an unofficial
liaison, representing the neighborhood on the hospital’s
community advisory board.
Unlike some neighborhood activists, who pride themselves
on outspoken antics and in-you-face tactics, Forrestal
prefers to operate within the bounds of protocol, exuding
an air of calm even when dealing with the frustrations
of a city bureaucracy that often ignores his neighborhood’s
needs. But when a situation becomes particularly dire,
Forrestal noted that he is not afraid to take bold action.
When the city sought to build a baseball stadium on
St. John’s campus to host the minor league affiliate
of the Mets, Forrestal first tried to make local objections
known through normal channels. Once that failed, he
joined several other civic groups in filing a lawsuit
against the city. Who says you can’t fight City
The legal battle went all the way to the State Supreme
Court, and though the baseball field was eventually
built, the civic coalition managed to wrest a string
of concessions from the city.