Island Medal of Honor: Share The Pride
Last Saturday night, we
took a trip to Ellis Island.
Allison, Lil and her
mom, Phyllis, accompanied me to the 2003 Ellis Island Medal of Honor
It sounds pretty heavy
duty, but at first I was not overwhelmed about the honor nor taken with
the pomp and circumstance that seemed to surround this prestigious medal.
I was grateful to be one of the group of a little more than a hundred
selected out of the ten thousand nominees for the medal. I was grateful to
my friend who had nominated me.
But, I wasn’t
planning to write about the evening or the medal because, believe it or
not, I’m a bit uncomfortable telling about my awards or achievements.
But the evening, the
medal and the very moving ceremony was not at all about me — I’m not
even sure why I was one of the impressive group of honorees from across
the country. It was, in fact, a story about our borough.
The Ellis Island Medal
of Honor – like the Island and Museum – is a tribute to immigration in
our country — the spirit embodied most dynamically in Queens, New York.
“Today we honor a
distinguished group of Americans. Each of them represent the very essence
of the American way of life, having greatly contributed to our national
identity while preserving the distinct values and heritage of their
ancestors,” the program opened.
“The Ellis Island
Medals of Honor have been aptly named, for the Island is a symbol of the
diversity of our nation’s people — a people whose genius, culture,
artistry and thought have joined to form a single mosaic of many cultures
and ancestral backgrounds. It is from this diversity that the United
States is still a beacon of hope for so many, and the greatest democracy
the world has ever known,” and although I may have had a personal
disconnect or distance with the words, I found comfort and pride in being
there for Queens.
“So,” the intro
concluded, “this day is a celebration of not only the outstanding
accomplishments of the Medalists, but also an acknowledgement of the
spirit, hard work, and values of our ancestors . . . those who took the
‘American Dream’ from just a hope, and made it a reality.”
Yes, it was a little
stiff and I was a bit overwhelmed to be among the group which included the
CEO of Walmart, the President of NBC, 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace,
NJ Guv Jim McGreevy and Director Martin Scorcese.
There were more down to
earth celebs among the group: Olympic superstar gymnast Mary Lou Retten,
entertainer Ben Vereen, musician Michael Bolton, Guardian Angel Curtis
Sliwa, actors Dennis Leary and Tony Lo Bianco, others — some names
you’d know and others whose credentials were awe inspiring.
But Queens, at the
vortex of American immigration, was well represented. I chatted with
Appellate Court Justice Joe Golia, road on the ferry with former interim
Queens and York College Prez Russ Hotzler, met Fort Totten Commander Major
General Richard Colt, and never made it over to say hello to Howard Lee,
publisher of the Chinese World Journal.
Congressman Joe Crowely
and wife, and Mary and Joe Mattone were in the audience.
Although the evening
was long, they orchestrated it well. We started at a private reception for
medalists where I got to chat with old friend John Castimatidis, vice
chairman of NECO (National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations) the
foundation that runs the show and is dedicated to paying homage to the
immigrant experience. Omni-present longtime New Yorker Bill Fugazy chairs
This was followed by a
ferry ride past the Statue of Liberty along with Russ Hotzler’s tour
from afar of Governor’s Island — hopefully the site of his next CUNY
institution. We disembarked amidst military hoohahs and ethnic celebrants
and were lined up in a great hall for a processional to the gigantic tent
that would house the evening’s ceremony.
As we marched into the
tent and towards the stage, I saw Allison, Lil and Phyllis who was already
in tears — Holocaust survivors are understandably, more easily moved by
the Ellis Island experience.
Watching the color
guard — the most formal presentation of the flag I’ve ever seen –
sitting on the stage as my fellow medalists were called to the podium;
receiving my medal; hearing the speeches; the entertainment highlighted by
the 89th Airborne’s Glee Club, and the evening’s message made this not
normally patriotic person proud to be an American.
But it made me prouder
to tell my fellow medalists that I publish the largest paper in Queens
County, the most ethnically diverse place on earth. We were celebrating
Share the pride.
Mayor Mike Re-Elected
Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s popularity is
rapidly waning. The polls have him at an all time very low, low. What’s
a politician to do?
It’s really rather simple. Mayor Mike
need only pay attention to the messages around him and listen to what the
people are saying.
The message is clear: don’t touch the
cops and back off on the firehouse nonsense. Eleven million dollars and
you’re risking lives? C’mon Mike listen to the firefighter
commercials. We can regain your popularity.
Oh, you know my personal priority.
Don’t cut education. Restore those school building cuts to the capital
budget and make sure the new Department of Education has every cent it
needs to live up to its difficult mandate.
Oh, and also the libraries. They’re
important too. So restore their funding.
Some Council members have placed a high importance on the
zoos. You were just going to close two. Let’s restore them.
And drop that ridiculous cut in garbage
pick-ups. Queens can’t live with a once a week schedule. It’s
And Mr. Mayor, the City’s hospital
system must be preserved, please don’t take any funds from healthcare.
The AAA and the thousands of drivers
they represent probably would be upset without full funding to maintain
our streets and roads.
And don’t mess with the AARP and the
seniors — they vote — you can’t touch senior centers.
And Mike, the City depends on its rich
cultural heritage to attract tourists, so leave the museums and cultural
Don’t even think of cutting back on
public programs for the less fortunate. It would be political suicide for
a billionaire to cut programs for the most needy.
Mike, I’m not sure what’s left, but
as you evaluate each of the remaining potential cuts, remember to listen
to the special interest groups. These groups are potent. They organize
election time. So tread gently on any remaining budget cutbacks.
Perhaps Mike, we should look at
The normal everyday guy is carrying too
large a burden already; don’t add to the average person’s problems.
By now, you have discovered that
increasing taxes is a fiasco. The public doesn’t buy it. That 18+
percent property tax hike started your problems. Those others were pure
political suicide. You can’t raise taxes.
We call them “revenue enhancers.”
We’ll develop “new revenue streams.”
But Mike, don’t go near Wall Street
with those enhancers; they’re in trouble enough already.
And the business climate just won’t
allow you to find any new revenue streams there. The economic conditions
preclude increasing the burden on business – big or small.
Those increased fines – parking,
sanitation, etc. – just don’t do anyone any good. They hurt big
business, small business and the guy in the street.
So, Mike find some other way.
It’s quite simple, the people merely
want you to work your business magic for them without them ever having to
pay the piper.
And when you’re done with that, you
can come up with a cure for cancer.
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@queenspress.com