Dromm Delivers Safer Pedestrian Crossing for 37th Avenue

David Sargent, Joseph Ricevuto, Jacqueline Sung, and NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm cross 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights.

David Sargent, Joseph Ricevuto, Jacqueline Sung, and NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm cross 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights.

Jackson Heights, NY – NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm was successful in securing a new traffic safety measure called Leading Pedestrian Intervals, which gives walkers a head start before cars get the light to make turns across the crosswalk, along 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights. Pedestrians will now have an additional seven seconds to cross the street without any vehicular movement.

In February, more than 150 concerned residents packed the Jackson Heights Jewish Center for a pedestrian safety town hall meeting in the wake of the death of 67-year-old Henry Boimel, a resident of 35th Avenue, who was struck and killed by an Uber driver while crossing 37th Avenue at 76th Street. The meeting was organized by Dromm and featured NYPD officers from the 115th Precinct, representatives from the Queens District Attorney, and officials from the city’s Department of Transportation.

Dromm listened to his constituents about the need for a safer 37th Avenue which is burdened by tremendous congestion and conflicts between vehicles turning and residents walking. Following the event, Dromm wrote the DOT to demand the implementation of the traffic safety measure called Leading Pedestrian Intervals. In response, the NYC Department of Transportation started implementing the measure in the past two weeks. Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) typically gives pedestrians a 7 second head start when entering an intersection with a corresponding green signal in the same direction of travel. LPIs enhance the visibility of pedestrians in the intersection and reinforce their right-of-way over turning vehicles, especially in locations with a history of conflict.

Street co-named in honor of Jax Hgts civic leader Mary Vavruska

By Bill Parry

Originally published by the Times Ledger on September 23, 2016

Councilman Daniel Dromm (c) joins elected officials and the family of community leader Mary Vavruska as a setion of 34th Avenue is co-named in her honor.

Council Member Daniel Dromm (c) joins elected officials and the family of community leader Mary Vavruska as a setion of 34th Avenue is co-named in her honor.

The life and legacy of longtime Jackson Heights civic leader Mary Vavruska was celebrated last Saturday with a street co-naming in her honor. The stretch of 34th Avenue between 93rd and 94th streets was christened “Mary Varuska Way” in memory of the former Community Board 3 chairwoman, who died in July 2015 at the age of 83.

“This co-naming commemorates the life of Mary Vavruska, who was a beloved member of the Jackson Heights community,” City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said. “Vavruska dedicated so much of her life to improving Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and Corona. As a Council member and fellow community activist, I had the privilege of working closely with her on a number of projects. I was always inspired by her selflessness and determination to get the job done.”

Vavruska served as head of CB3 during a period of tremendous neighborhood change, Dromm said. She was instrumental in the establishment of the 115th Precinct on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights and the Louis Armstrong middle school on Junction Boulevard.

“Mary Vavruska was a passionate community leader who dedicated her life to Jackson Heights, and whom I was very lucky to know,” Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (East Elmhurst) said. “She loved this community, and naming a portion of 34th Avenue after her is a way for us to not only honor her legacy, but ensure that the mark she left on Jackson Heights is never forgotten.”

In addition to her five decades of service to the community, Vavruska also served as the president of the Brulene Cooperative apartments and advocated for the well-being of the Jackson Heights Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. She received a bachelor’s degree in Economics from NYU and retired from Equitable Life as a vice president of internal auditing.

She was also president of TCE Systems, a family-owned telecommunications company. As chairwoman of CB3 she oversaw the approval of the Delta Terminal and LaGuardia Airport as well as the Marriott Hotel, safeguarding jobs for community residents.

“Mary Vavruska was very active in our community, and a clear proof of that is that her footprints are all over Jackson Heights, from the current location of the 115th Police Precinct to IS 227 and a terminal at LaGuardia Airport,” state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said. “With the corner of 93rd Street and 34th Avenue co-named the Mary Vavruska Way, future generations will learn about the legacy she left behind, especially when it comes to fighting for education and social matters.”

Read more here.

Jax Heights celebrates official co-naming of Diversity Plaza

By Bill Parry

Originally published by the Times Ledger on May 30, 2016

Councilman Daniel Dromm celebrates the official co-naming of Diversity Plaza with Public Advocate Letitia James and civic leaders.

Councilman Daniel Dromm celebrates the official co-naming of Diversity Plaza with Public Advocate Letitia James and civic leaders.

When a stretch of 37th Road between 73rd and 74th streets in Jackson Heights was closed off to vehicular traffic in 2011 in the interest of public safety, business owners initially objected. Many of them turned out last Saturday as elected officials joined civic leaders and city officials to officially co-name the northeast corner of Diversity Plaza in a ceremony that coincided with World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, which was designated by the United Nations in 2002.

“Diversity Plaza has truly become a gathering point for Jackson Heights and Elmhurst residents,” City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said. “The plaza serves as a town square, concert stage, festival space and café year round. There is always something exciting taking place here.”

Dromm worked closely with the city Department of Transportation and community organizations to manage, maintain and enhance the plaza since it was closed to increase pedestrian safety and decrease congestion in the area. The plaza has become home to a variety of festivals and cultural events throughout the year and it serves as a central gathering point for immigrant communities when disaster strikes in their home countries.

“Diversity Plaza has been a mainstay of Jackson Heights—one of the most diverse neighborhoods in one of the most diverse cities on earth—for years,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “From providing a central space for community members to hold vigils and seek support from their neighbors in difficult times, to cultural festivals in the summer, Diversity Plaza will represent something powerful for this city and this community for years to come.”

The mayor noted that over 150 languages are spoken by the residents of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst. Borough President Melinda Katz called it a hub for free speech, while Public Advocate Letitia James hailed the plazaas a “safe and accepting place for New Yorkers of all religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations and genders” to gather without fear of bigotry or hatred.

“Not only does Diversity Plaza provide much-needed open space, it also reminds us how lucky we are to live in this borough,” state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) said. “The melting pot that is our borough is demonstrated all around this plaza. For example, we have Bangladeshi clothing shops along 73rd Street, Colombian bakeries on 37th Avenue and Korean BBQ on Roosevelt Avenue. Together, they all culminate right here on Diversity Plaza.”

Now that the name is official, the plaza is set for a makeover.

In 2012, Dromm allocated $500,000 for capital reconstruction that will feature a raised street bed and new lighting as well as planters and trees. Construction is set to start later this year with completion in late 2017.

Vita Coco, a coconut water company, has signed on as a sponsor of the plaza and will be funding additional cleaning and horticultural services for a full year as well as programming for the community. The space is also receiving support from the DOT in the form of funding for programming, day to day operations and maintenance and technical assistance for plaza managers.

“Since it opened, Diversity Plaza has become the beating and bustling heart of Jackson Heights,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said. “With 53 plazas currently open to the public citywide and more on the way, Diversity Plaza has set the bar high on what communities can do to creatively transform their neighborhood public spaces.”

Read more here.

Hillary Clinton, at Jackson Diner in Jackson Heights, meets with politicians, community leaders

By Jamie Reysen

Originally published by amNY on April 11, 2016


Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton talks with patrons as she visits the Jackson Diner on April 11, 2016, in Queens. (Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Theodorakis)

Presidential contender Hillary Clinton on Monday visited Jackson Diner, Jackson Heights’ oldest Indian restaurant, where she met with elected Queens officials and a culturally diverse group of community leaders to discuss discimination and diversity.

Clinton slammed Queens native Donald Trump, remarking that while he may be from the most diverse county in the world, he doesn’t seem to respect diversity.

The Democratic candidate said that the Republican front-runner’s words are “hurting our country” and “potentially undermining the safety of our people.”

“I have been speaking out against Trump and I will continue to speak out against him,” she said.

Clinton sat beside Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens), who told her that “folks here know what it’s like to be discriminated against.” He said that community members from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Indonesia were among those in attendance.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, state Sen. Jose Peralta, state Assemblyman Francisco Moya, Councilman Danny Dromm and state Assemblyman Michael denDekker, were also on hand for the campaign stop.

Clinton didn’t eat anything at the restaurant (no one at her table did), but she did drink a glass of water as she took questions and heard comments from community members in attendance.

The Democratic front-runner stopped to take questions from reporters before heading out. She told reporters that Trump’s “rhetoric, his divisiveness, his incitement … is absolutely unacceptable and needs to be called out.”

She also spoke about her Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders, remarking that she’s looking forward to a “lively” debate on Thursday in Brooklyn.

“Under the bright spotlights and scrutiny here in New York, Sen. Sanders has had trouble answering questions” on how he’d deal with the banks and how he’d approach foreign policy, she said.

When asked about her focus on both Trump and Sanders, she said, “I think I can both walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Read more here.

At Site of Gay Man’s Murder, a Street Corner Acknowledges Its Past

By David Gonzalez

Originally published by the NY Times on March 20, 2016


A street sign in Jackson Heights, Queens, that commemorates Julio Rivera, who was killed in an attack in July 1990 that authorities later called a hate crime. Credit David Gonzalez/The New York Times

There is little about the intersection of 78th Street and 37th Avenue to distinguish it from any other corner in Jackson Heights. Every day, dozens of parents — from dozens of countries — waiting for their children to be dismissed from school stand beneath a sign declaring the intersection “Julio Rivera Corner.” Many of them likely do not even notice it, yet with those three words, the sign acknowledges a tragic — and ultimately transforming — moment in Queens.

Julio Rivera, a 29-year-old gay man who worked as a bartender, was lured to the schoolyard, steps away from that corner, on July 2, 1990. Three white skinheads who wanted to “reclaim” their neighborhood from gays and homeless people set upon him, bashing his skull with a hammer and finishing him off with a knife. His death might have gone unnoticed if not for a few relatives and gay friends who began to mobilize New York City’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and put pressure on the Police Department, which had assigned the case to a detective who was on vacation.

Mr. Rivera’s killing, which the authorities deemed a hate crime, resulted in a manslaughter conviction against the trio’s ringleader, Daniel Doyle. He testified against his two accomplices, who were convicted of murder. The charges against them were overturned and one of the men pleaded guilty to manslaughter before a retrial; the other, who had jumped bail before the retrial, was killed in Mexico in 2002. Both surviving men have since served their sentences.

Councilman Daniel Dromm, who was a public-school teacher in the neighborhood at the time of the murder, said it spurred him to become more active in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues and take the fight for gay rights out of Manhattan and into immigrant and working-class communities. Two years after the attack, Mr. Dromm, a Democrat, came out publicly when he defended Children of the Rainbow, a citywide curriculum that had been introduced to teach tolerance to youngsters but met with great resistance from the local school district.

“The controversy over Children of the Rainbow, along with the murder of Julio Rivera, was Queens’s Stonewall,” Mr. Dromm said, referring to the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village that is widely seen as a turning point in the fight for gay rights. “It was a call to action. In many ways, it led to numerous other victories.”

That includes the establishment of the neighborhood gay pride parade and a political club that helped push for same-sex marriage in recent years, all of which are featured in “Julio of Jackson Heights,” a documentary by Richard Shpuntoff that had its premiere last week at the Queens World Film Festival.

Mr. Shpuntoff grew up in the area and volunteered to photograph Jackson Heights’ first pride parade in 1993, something he would continue to do for 20 years. He decided to make the documentary as a way to highlight the changes that have swept over the neighborhood since Mr. Rivera’s murder. It is a measure of progress that people at the parade almost take its existence for granted.

“It was amazing that this had become part of the community,” Mr. Shpuntoff said. “But people forgot that when it first happened it was a whole different situation than today, when people march casually. Back then, people were really afraid and no one really knew what would happen at the first parade. There was organization, sacrifice and commitment by a range of people who had formed a coalition around Julio’s murder.”

Peg Fiore, who at the time of the killing was married to Julio’s brother Ted, said the local gay community was, at first, among the family’s few allies. Weeks after the murder, she and Ted participated in a vigil by the playground where Mr. Rivera was killed, a bit unnerved and unsure if anyone would attend. She said her fears were dispelled when she saw scores of people getting off the subway on Roosevelt Avenue to attend.

She said Mr. Rivera — who had moved to Jackson Heights from Manhattan because he felt it was safer there — was “an unlikely hero,” something that the documentary does not shy away from. In the film, a former lover recounted the time Mr. Rivera used cocaine and then disappeared for a month.

“He was full of imperfections,” Ms. Fiore said. “But that’s what I love. He is us. Everyone could relate to him. He was this unlikely hero who has been immortalized.”

Although the police are more responsive these days, Mr. Dromm remains concerned about attacks on transgender people, of which there have been several in recent years. And lest others take for granted how far they have come, he takes part in an annual moment of silence held on the corner that was named for Mr. Rivera.

Events like that remind Ms. Fiore that her brother-in-law’s death was not in vain. She said she has not forgotten the support her family received from the gay community. It is a lesson she hopes others can learn from, especially during a political season in which Donald J. Trump has based his Republican candidacy for president on what she sees as intolerance.

“There are people who don’t understand the danger of hating another group simply because they are different from you,” she said. “There are people out there feeling this, and that’s frightening. We can’t get comfortable.”

Read more here.

‘In Jackson Heights’ settles into run at Museum of Moving Image

By Merle Exit

Originally published by the TimesLedger on January 15, 2016



Photo Courtesy of TimesLedger


Frederick Wiseman was a no-show at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards Jan. 5.

When Susan Sarandon, born in Jackson Heights, presented the award for best non-fiction film for Wiseman’s latest “In Jackson Heights,” the director was in Europe, shooting his next movie.

However, City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who appears in the highly acclaimed project, was in attendance to do the accepting.

“I was extremely honored to be asked to accept the award for this documentary,” Dromm said. “I was very pleased to receive the award from Susan Sarandon. As Ms. Sarandon and I both stated at the event, ‘In Jackson Heights’ has a lesson of tolerance and acceptance to teach to the rest of the world. What an honor it was to be among so many important people.”

What makes this epic three-hour documentary different from most is noticeable within its first 10 minutes.

There is not any narrator, or anyone being interviewed. Wiseman simply takes his camera and travels around the area as if he is just dropping in, with everyone seemingly oblivious to the fact that being filmed is not something that happens to them every day.

Dromm calls Jackson Heights “the most diversified community in the whole world. We have 167 languages spoken here.”

In fact, so many languages are spoken in the film, that English subtitles are provided.

“There are communities of people from every country in South and Central America as well as large groups of people from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Nepal and Tibet,” Wiseman said in a statement. “They live together with the descendants of earlier immigrants to America — Italian, Jewish and Irish. The area is a true American melting pot reminiscent of the Lower East Side of New York City at the end of the 19th century.”

Those many languages are just one example of the wide variety of people and cultures who appear in the film. From Muslims praying and teaching, to Latino groups, East Indians, seniors and the largest LGBT community in Queens, the film examines the many sides of the neighborhood, as well as the issues that concern them.

Those issues, however, are not simply a Jackson Heights topic but one that much of America deals with.

There is no “town hall” here. In fact, it appears that the local Jewish Center is the largest gathering venue, particularly for seniors and the LGBT population.

A gay Latino bartender, Julio Rivera, was the victim of a brutal hate crime in 1991. It could have been brushed off by the police if the neighborhood hadn’t taken active steps to address this as a community.

Another issue involves a transgender Latina who launches a boycott of a Greek-owned pizzeria that she believes is guilty of discriminating against her and her transgender friends.

You may want to turn away when chickens at a live-poultry farm have their throats slit. You will hear the Muslim workers doing solemn prayers for the lives that are about to be taken. Business Improvement Districts become a hot topic as the livelihoods of Latino neighborhood residents are threatened by the effects of gentrification, with real-estate mongers buying out long-time “Mom and Pop” storefronts. Priced out of areas such as Long Island City, they see Jackson Heights appearing to be the next “trendy” neighborhood.

The immigrant experience is one of the largest topics of the movie. We become a part of a meeting held by a group called Make the Road, NY as its leader asks for someone to talk about their experiences of crossing the border. Celia, a middle-aged Mexican illegal immigrant, shares an approximately 10-minute-long narrative about how her daughter was abandoned in the desert by the coyotes, guides who help people cross the border, with the promise of helping her. If not for two “acts of God,” she says her daughter would have died in the desert. One of those acts involved a blinding white light in a hazy horizon; the other a sudden rainfall.

“In Jackson Heights” also has a less serious side, showing us concerts in the street, people playing instruments in a Laundromat as well as other uncommon venues, and the cheering or non-cheering of Latino groups as they watch soccer games.

“The Jackson Heights depicted in the film is a large part of the Jackson Heights that I know and love and is the Jackson Heights that people travel from around the world to visit,” Dromm said. “Jackson Heights is hot.”

If you go:

“In Jackson Heights”

When: Through Jan. 31

Where: Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35th Ave., Astoria

Cost: $12/adults, $9/seniors and students, $6/children

Contact: (718) 777-6888

Website: www.movingimage.us


Read more here.

Find Out Who Dresses Wink the Penguin, Jackson Heights’ Mascot, on Saturday

By Katie Honan

Originally published by DNAinfo on January 4, 2016, 5:01pm

JACKSON HEIGHTS — For years, it’s been a bit of a mystery who dresses up the bronze penguin statue at the ElmJack Malls on 75th Street and 37th Road.

Wink the penguin, as it’s known, has been decked out in everything from a Santa suit to a witch costume to a Colombia soccer jersey, becoming a sort of mascot for the neighborhood.

Even the boulder where Wink lives has been decorated in keeping with the season.

On Saturday, the statue — and the woman who’s dedicated her time and energy to dressing him up — will be honored by neighbors with an official ceremony. 

“Come and finally meet this person who dresses Wink for every occasion,” the Facebook invitation says.

“Wink is our town mascot, Wink is fascinating to everybody,” Councilman Danny Dromm said of the gender-bending penguin.

“Wink can be a man or a woman, it depends on what seasons of the year or what holiday.”

The penguin gets dressed up in drag for the annual pride parade, Dromm said.

Wink was first brought to Jackson Heights in 2001, by the city’s then-Parks Commissioner, Henry Stern.

John Sabini, the neighborhood’s former city councilman, was sick of drivers jumping the pedestrian median near his office and he requested some sort of protection, according to a New York Times article at the time.

Sabini provided $412,000 in capital funds to beautify the ElmJack Malls on 75th Street, between 37th Street and 37th Road in Jackson Heights.


Wink couldn’t decide who to root for during the 2014 World Cup. (Facebook)

Stern came up with the penguin idea, saying he was inspired by the neighborhood’s Argentinian community. Magellanic penguins can be found on the South American country’s coast.

The parks boss originally wanted to also install a flamingo at the 37th Avenue side of the mall, but the Parks Department determined its delicate neck would be susceptible to damage, a spokeswoman said.

After nearly 15 years, Wink is the only penguin statue left. His partner was stolen at some point in the mid-2000s, officials said.

Wink himself went missing for a few months in 2009, a day Dromm, whose office is nearby, vividly remembers.

“People came to me screaming, ‘Wink’s gone! Wink’s gone!,” he said.

Six months later the statue was found belly-up near his boulder, but by the time Dromm found a cart to bring it to safety it was gone again.

Wink returned for good a few months later, placed firmly in concrete as mysteriously as when he left.

He’s been a star of the neighborhood ever since.

Read more here.

Frederick Wiseman’s ‘In Jackson Heights’

The filmmaker offers a three-hour cross section of the multicultural neighborhood


A scene from Frederick Wiseman's atmospheric documentary film “In Jackson Heights.” PHOTO: ZIPPORAH FILMS

A scene from Frederick Wiseman’s atmospheric documentary film “In Jackson Heights.” PHOTO: ZIPPORAH FILMS

Unlike many in the documentary field, Frederick Wiseman never makes it a point to be topical.

Yet, “In Jackson Heights,” the 42nd feature from the filmmaker, couldn’t be timelier. The film, which opens Wednesday at Film Forum, is immersed in the experiences and struggles of the many immigrant communities that populate the Queens neighborhood.

“You see the issues,” said Mr. Wiseman, whose film arrives as immigration has flared as a controversial topic in the GOP presidential debates. “Forty percent of the film is in Spanish. A lot of the people you see in the film are undocumented immigrants.”

When he began shooting in spring 2014, Mr. Wiseman, who is 85 years old, wasn’t thinking about the election—or anything else. He was just looking for a good subject to film, and had taken to the neighborhood after a friend gave him an intensive tour.

“It’s probably the most culturally diverse community in the world,” he said. “They speak 167 languages. It’s a bit more like I imagine the Lower East Side was at the turn of the 20th century.”

The filmmaker tracks a cross-section of those cultures over the course of three hours. The camera roves through the streets, venturing into bodegas whose owners fret about gentrification or following a Halal butcher as he slaughters and prepares chickens for market. There is no narrator or voice-over, just a collage of immersive scenes that are meticulously edited with a larger narrative in mind.

“Wiseman’s purist approach to documentary was radical in 1967 and remains just as radical today,” said Thom Powers, artistic director of DOC NYC, the city’s annual documentary showcase, which will present Mr. Wiseman with a lifetime-achievement award this month.

The film spends much time in places such as Make the Road New York, a nonprofit organization that supports Latino and working-class communities, where fledgling New Yorkers learn how to adapt to a new way of life.

”In Jackson Heights” is the 42nd feature by filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, now 85 years old. PHOTO: JOHN EWING

”In Jackson Heights” is the 42nd feature by filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, now 85 years old. PHOTO: JOHN EWING

There, aspiring cabdrivers from Africa and South Asia take notes from a spirited instructor, who uses comical memory tricks to help them for a coming exam. In another session, Hispanic immigrants share their stories, including one woman’s harrowing account of her daughter’s Mexican border crossing.

As with many of Mr. Wiseman’s films that expose the nuts and bolts of American institutions—student life in a Philadelphia high school in 1968’s “High School” or the New York welfare system in 1975’s “Welfare”—his great subject is the civic discourse that flourishes in a democracy.

“You shoot what you see that looks interesting,” said Mr. Wiseman, who filmed “In Jackson Heights” in nine weeks, working with a crew of two over long days. “I’m not interested in making propaganda or didactic films.”

Though he did some advance preparation, the filmmaker connected with most of his subjects and situations by walking around and talking to people. “They probably wondered, ‘This guy with big ears, what does he want to hang around here for?’ ” he said.

That approach has guided the Boston native through five decades of filmmaking, and established him as a pioneer of what has been called cinéma vérité, a label the filmmaker has disparaged as “a pompous French term.”

A scene from Frederick Wiseman’s film “In Jackson Heights,” which paints an impressionistic portrait of one of New York City’s most ethnically diverse neighborhoods. PHOTO: ZIPPORAH FILMS

A scene from Frederick Wiseman’s film “In Jackson Heights,” which paints an impressionistic portrait of one of New York City’s most ethnically diverse neighborhoods. PHOTO: ZIPPORAH FILMS

“They aren’t journalistic,” he said of his films. “It’s not who, what, when, where, why. They’re novelistic. They’re indirect. I’m trying to provide you with enough information…so you feel you’re there and you can make up your own mind what you’re seeing and hearing.”

And the narratives have inspired other art forms. His earliest film, the now-legendary 1967 “Titicut Follies,” is being made into a ballet by Minneapolis choreographer James Sewell.

Turning scenes from the graphic and disturbing documentary about inmates at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater, Mass., into poetic movement may not be as far-fetched as it sounds, said Mr. Wiseman. “The dances are based on ideas and emotions,” he said, describing two elements abundant across his films.

A subject of “In Jackson Heights,” New York City Council Member Daniel Dromm, discovered as much when he saw the completed film.

One scene homes in on a hectic day for his staff members, who navigate phone calls from agitated constituents, some angry about a new local homeless shelter. The camera keys on a staffer who patiently reasons with an aggressive caller, striving to control her exasperation.

Later in the film, the councilman, who is openly gay, commands his own float during the Queens Pride parade, cheered as he strides in a rainbow-colored boa. “It’s the diversity that really drew me to [Jackson Heights], and the freedom to be myself.”

That spirit applies even to tourists. Wandering the street one day, Mr. Wiseman overheard a group of women praying aloud with deep Southern accents. “They were up on a mission to sweep the streets, to clean up Jackson Heights,” he said. The women, part of an Alabama church group, are approached by a passerby who asks for a prayer and shares in a warm embrace.

“That was pure chance,” the filmmaker said.

Read more here.

New York Observer: Mark-Viverito and Queens Officials Hail Obama Immigration Action

By Will Bredderman

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito addresses the crowd as Councilman Daniel Dromm and State Senator Jose Peralta look on (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito addresses the crowd as Councilman Daniel Dromm and State Senator Jose Peralta look on (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Dozens of Hispanic New Yorkers, many still dressed in work clothes, packed into the Jackson Heights, Queens headquarters of activist group Make the Road New York this evening to watch President Barack Obama’s announcement of his executive order for immigration reform on a single flatscreen TV.

Before the president spoke, a succession of local speakers and elected officials addressed the crowd in Spanish, repeatedly using the phrase “noche histórico”–”historic night”–to describe to the occasion: the declaration of Mr. Obama’s plan to allow some four million undocumented immigrants who have resided in the United States for five years to register to avoid deportation and work legally in the country, permitted they have no criminal record. Chants like “Obama, eschucha: estamos en la lucha,” and “sí, se puede”–”Obama, listen: we are in the fight,” and “yes, we can”–broke out several times among the audience.

Local Councilman Daniel Dromm was the first elected official to arrive, and spoke to the crowd in Spanish. He praised the president’s action on the issue over the resistance of the Republican-controlled Congress, but said that it was necessary to provide full amnesty to all of the foreign nationals living in the country.

Read more here.