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Murray Playground Dog Run Closed for Soil Contamination

The dog run at Murray Playground has been closed since the afternoon of Feb. 14 after the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation discovered high levels of contaminants in the soil, including lead and arsenic. In a statement to the Queens Ledger, a spokesperson for NYC Parks said other areas of the park are also being closed until the department is confident they are uncontaminated.

“The safety of our park patrons is always our top priority, and we moved quickly to close the dog run at Murray Playground as soon as we found signs of potential soil contamination,” the statement said. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have also fenced off open grass areas at the park while we conduct further testing.”

According to the spokesperson, paved and covered parts of the park — including the playground — do not pose a risk of contamination.

“As the playground space is covered with pavement and a play surface, there is no pathway for exposure, and this portion of the park remains open,” the statement said. “The duration of the dog run closure is yet to be determined.”

Council Member Julie Won said she is working with the Parks Department to keep constituents updated on the soil testing process and a timeline for the park’s reopening to the public.

“On February 21, I sent a letter to NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue requesting that Parks provide an updated timeline for soil retesting and that all areas where children have contact with contaminated soil be fenced off,” Won said in a public statement. “As a mother, the safety of your children is my top priority. We will continue to provide information on a timeline for soil retesting once we receive a response from Parks.”


Five Astoria Bars to Get Your Boozy Frozen Fix

By ET Rodriguez

It’s getting hot out there and, in some cases, unseasonably so. June 2 saw a high of 87 degrees – the hottest it has ever been on that day in 10 years – and people are desperate to find ways to chill out.
Some opt for the beach, others for a pool and if you’re like me, you reach for a cold drink, press it against your sweating forehead, take a sip and let the frigidness cool you from the inside out.
In that spirit, here are five funky bars in Astoria to walk, skip and hop to so that you can indulge in the inebriation of summer.


Ninos AQ

35-01 Ditmars Blvd.
Opens at 5pm p.m. during the week, 11:30 a.m. on weekends.

Family owned and operated Italian Restaurant, Ninos AQ, has become one of the most popular restaurants in Astoria over the last few years.

Their Craft Cocktail Program is curated by brother Michael Vendome, and includes fun and unique cocktails such as the Spicy Watermelon Margarita, Agave Old Fashioned, Double Rum Negroni, Passionfruit Martini, Spicy Espresso Martini, Junglebird, and many more…

For the Summer, Ninos AQ has brought back their Frose and Frozen Aperol Spritz, and you can enjoy both under palm trees at Ninos AQ’s tropical outdoor dining experience.

Reservations are suggested.


The Highwater

34-20 Broadway
Opens at 4:30 p.m. during the week, 10 a.m. on weekends, closed Mondays.

Awash with shades of teal and aquatic themes, The Highwater is the only tiki bar in Astoria, according to general manager, Emily Coffin. Their drinks are carefully crafted using house-made juices and syrups, curated by their beverage director.
On Memorial Day, they unveiled their brand-new, wooden outdoor dining area that feels like a piece of a tropical resort right in the concrete jungle. Not one for beverages of the alcoholic persuasion? That’s ok because The Highwater also offers a tasty variety of dry cocktails, like The Rose of Sharon – a hibiscus tea Arnold Palmer sweetened with orgeat or the Not Your Baby – pomegranate juice, cinnamon syrup and muddled jalapeño, a riff on a spicy Margarita.
The tiki theme also permeates the food menu with coconut and mango flavor profiles. They even serve Loco Moco – a staple dish of Hawaii.
“Tiki is about escapism, whatever that means to you,” said Coffin. “It’s always summer here, it’s always a vacation.” Come grab a piña colada, drop in, drop out and sail away.


Sek’end Sun

32-11 Broadway
Open at 5 p.m. on weekdays, 11 a.m. on weekends.

The name Sek’end Sun is a phonetic spelling of the word “second” which is a nod to the first bar of owners Derek Vernon and Jay Zimmerman, Basik in Williamsburg opened in 2011. After the success of Basik, they opened Sek’end Sun in Astoria almost 10 years ago and by the looks of the crowd on a late afternoon, they seem to be doing well.
With exposed brick and wood everywhere, the feel is rustic and warm – not to be unmatched by Kat, the bartender. She has a sweet smile and a kind disposition that will make anyone want to spend their money and rightfully so. Their frozen daiquiri is not tainted by artificial syrups, but instead, is a refreshingly tart and balanced frozen take on the traditional Cuban cocktail topped with a few dashes of angostura bitters like it’s served on the small Caribbean island.

Keep in mind that the frozen cocktails rotate and the daiquiri may not be available when you visit, but whatever is on is sure to be good. And if you’re counting your pennies, be sure to stop in on a Wednesday when Happy Hour is from open to close. All day they offer discounted drinks, $2 off all food items, $9 cocktails and $25 bottles of wine.

“Sek’end sun is the place where you can foster local roots,” said bar regular Monica between sips of their slushy daiquiri.

Las Catrinas Mexican Bar & Eatery

Las Catrinas has eight slush machines featuring unique and tasty frozen drinks.

32-02 Broadway
Opens 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. Mon-Thurs., 4 p.m. on Fridays and 1 p.m. on weekends.

This Tulum-inspired restaurant is small but makes up for it with big flavor. The open kitchen doles out some of the best birria tacos with a consommé so clean and savory, you can drink it to the last drop.
The tortillas are hand-made in house and exude a rich corny flavor with a great chew. The tacos lean a little pricier than most, but once you take a bite, you’ll know it’s worth it.
The real attraction however, are the incredibly unique frozen treats – frozen whiskey with charcoal and hibiscus renders a black concoction; frozen mezcal with horchata adds a punch to a classic flavor profile; a frozen espresso martini has deep toasted, chocolatey notes and can replace any dessert or after-dinner drink and the “Sangrita” is a layering of lime margarita and frozen sangria resulting in a striped pattern that is as fun to look at as it is to drink.

Diamond Dogs

34-04 31st Ave.
Opens everyday at 4 p.m.

Diamond Dogs has joined the bandwagon of out-of-the-box frozen drinks, like their Paper Plane.

There is no website and no signage on the outside of Diamond Dogs, but that doesn’t seem to stop people from filling the bar and the backyard space. Looking around, the feel is rugged outdoors meets NYC hipster – the walls are a mix of exposed brick and pink-flowered wallpaper, a deer head hangs on the wall above the bar, guns replace tap handles and old liquor bottles serve as vases for fresh flowers. The bar is cocktail forward with a house barrel-aged Negroni and classic cocktails become frozen. In May, they had a Penicillin, the first week of June, it was a Paper Plane. The Aperol lends a color that is incomparable and the flavor, paired with amaro Nonnino, gives a hint of bubblegum at first, that is then balanced by the bitter flavors of the Italian amaros and makes for a surprisingly perfect drink on a hot summer day.
The bar celebrated their eight-year anniversary in April and if you’re lucky, you can find Astoria- renowned bartender, Patricia Ahn, who has been slinging drinks around the city for a decade.

Pol Position: State lawmakers to decide on Mayoral Control

The debate over mayoral control of New York City public schools remains a hot-button issue in Albany, as the Adams administration continues its push for a four-year extension. Adams has had a lot on his plate–in addition to his efforts to revive New York City following two years of the COVID-19, efforts to increase public safety amid a surge of gun violence nationwide, and efforts to construct affordable housing amid a homelessness crisis, he also found himself confronted with criticism from parents, students, and teachers regarding the mask mandates and COVID vaccination requirements.

But not all was lost. During his tenure, Adams helped restore funding for Gifted & Talented programming, introduced Asian American history into school curriculums, and helped usher a deal with Albany lawmakers to turn on speed cameras 24/7.

Mayoral control gives Adams the authority to hire and fire the Schools’ Chancellor along with nine of the 15 members on the Panel for Education Policy. It is a policy that has been around for the last twenty years, and yet despite support from Gov. Hochul, state lawmakers have indicated they may look to reduce the extension to a single year.

According to Chalkbeat, last month, Adams joined Chancellor David Banks for a rally on the steps of City Hall to plead his case with state legislators to continue and grant the administration the authority to oversee the city’s school system.

“The chancellor and I have laid out a bold new vision for our children and for the families that attend our public school system,” Adams said. “This is the first time in history where we have two men who grew up in the public school system with two different experiences — one dealing with a learning disability, another dealing with the Gifted and Talented program.” State Senator John Liu also told Pix11 News that while Adams will likely keep mayoral control, he expects changes to strengthen the ability of parents to give input and could even allow lawmakers to hold Adams accountable over his performance.

“The likely outcome will be a system in which the mayor still has control, and therefore, we can hold him accountable for school success or failure, but a system that also provides a meaningful mechanism to bolster parental input,” Liu, who chairs the Senate’s committee on New York City education, told Chalkbeat in a recent interview. “That is the main issue — that parents feel they have no way to engage, that their suggestions and complaints aren’t even heard.”

Although it seems likely that state lawmakers will approve the revised extension, there are a number of issues facing the nation’s largest school system that still need to be addressed.

One key concern is chronic absenteeism in schools. Thanks largely to the pandemic, the rate of absenteeism over the past year has reached its highest level in over twenty years. Student enrollment is down, class participation is down, and keeping teachers in the City school system has been a struggle.

Another major concern is parent involvement. Several parents are in favor of returning control of city schools to the state in light of recent decisions by the Department of Education Chancellor Banks. The recent dismissal of District 30 Superintendent Philip Composto and District 24 Superintendent Madelene Chan had parents in a frenzy over Adams-controlled DOE, which they feel did not consider the input of parents before making such a major decision. DOE officials have since stated that they plan to allow the Superintendents to reapply for their jobs, despite the likelihood that they will be replaced.

However, some say that the effort of the Adams administration to be more inclusive has been an improvement from years past.
With mayoral control set to expire, New York State lawmakers have until the end of session to decide on Mayoral Control.

One Percent for Parks

Pols, advocates call for historic investments in parks

By Evan Triantafilidis

Elected officials and parks advocates joined forces in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Monday to call for historic investments into the city’s parks.

New York City Councilman Shekar Krishnan unveiled his five-point plan to bring new public green spaces to NYC, which includes funding the Parks Department with $1 billion in annual maintenance, the creation of a Parks Construction Authority and to upgrade playgrounds in every zip code.

Krishnan, who also chairs the council’s Committee on Parks and Rec, said that areas in Queens have some of the least amount of green space in the city. The councilman’s own neighborhood of Jackson Heights, for example, ranks second-to-last in the city when it comes to park space per capita.

“The issue of parks in our city is a social justice issue,” Krishnan said. “It is a public health issue.”

Krishnan and other lawmakers from Queens urged the Mayor to allocate one percent – or $1 billion – of the city’s near $100 billion budget for the upkeep of the city’s parks. Despite signaling his support for a “percent for parks” plan during his campaign, Mayor Eric Adams has only allocated a half-percent, or just short of $500 million, to the department in his first preliminary budget last month.

“This is the one-percent plan that advocates from across our city have been fighting for for so long,” Krishnan said. “We cannot afford any less for our parks.”

Krishnan’s plan also aims to repair a “fundamentally broken capital process” with the creation of a Parks Construction Authority. He compared the concept to the School Construction Authority, which was created in 1988 to take over control of capital projects from the city’s Board of Education.

“We had a school built for the School Construction Authority at a rapid pace with P.S. 398,” Krishnan said. “Whereas Travers Park with the Parks Department took 10 years to build. The difference is clear. We need a capital process that funds our parks that allows building efficiently and makes sure that we can quickly get more green space in our city.”

Krishnan also cited the cost of bathrooms at Marcus Garvey Park in Elmhurst reaching about $4 million, and still aren’t fully accessible.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards called Krishnan’s vision, which includes planting 1 million more trees by 2030 and to provide waterfront access for all, an “ambitious” plan.

“This is a borough of parks, from Flushing Meadows, to Alley Pond, Cunningham Park, to Roy Wilkins and beyond,” Richards said. “But for entire communities in Queens, especially in Councilman Krishnan’s district, and in my former district in Southeast Queens, having extensive green space is a dream not a reality.”

“Show us the money. We want $1 billion in this budget now,” he said.

Both Krishnan and Richards spoke to the point on how the pandemic pushed people to outdoor public spaces, calling the green spaces crucial for public health and recreation.

“It’s easy to socially distance in a massive park like Flushing Meadows or Alley Pond Park, but families in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst did not have that luxury,” Richards said. “Not only did they not have anywhere to go with their kids pre-pandemic, they didn’t have safe options to go to during the pandemic. And that’s not only unacceptable, it is insulting.”

Council Members Robert Holden, Linda Lee, Sandra Ung, Mercedes Narcisse and Lincoln Restler all spoke in favor of the five-point plan.

Restler said that a $1 billion investment into the city’s park is exactly what is needed, offering his support for the Parks Construction Authority.

“We need to make sure that our money is going to be well spent, because typically now if you give some money to the Parks Department four years later, for $4 million, you might get one bathroom,” Restler said. “It’s preposterous. The Park Construction Authority is the way to go, modeling on the great work that the School Construction Authority does to actually see our resources delivered for our communities.”

Queens native runs NYC Marathon for a good cause

When the first New York City Marathon took place in 1970, a six-year-old Ceil Witherspoon watched runners cross the Queensboro Bridge from her window in Queensbridge Houses.
In awe of the runners’ dedication, stamina and tenacity, the marathon is something that’s fascinated Witherspoon for her entire life. But at the same time it felt unattainable due to her asthma, limited athletic experience and discouraging comments from others.
This year, Witherspoon went against all odds and achieved her lifelong dream of running in the New York City Marathon.
For some, the normalization of mask wearing during COVID-19 is a hassle, but for Witherspoon it was a blessing in disguise that inspired her to enter.
“Keeping my mask on helped with my asthma because I wasn’t inhaling any of the pollen, dirt or leaves,” she said. “This year, my lungs are completely protected and I got the breathing under control.
“A lot of people don’t know how to properly use a mask and breathe, so I found myself showing them,” she added. “I haven’t had a major asthma attack, I haven’t had to go to the hospital and I’m in perfect shape to do this.”
In addition to teaching people how to breathe again, Witherspoon actively shares her knowledge about food through her work with City Harvest, the city’s largest food rescue organization.
She was one of 75 City Harvest volunteers who ran the marathon with a goal of raising $250,000 to continue the organization’s effort of providing New Yorkers with nutritious food.
Witherspoon works at City Harvest’s Mobile Markets, in which she helps distribute fresh produce and participates in cooking demonstrations to educate visitors about how to utilize the ingredients in beneficial ways.
“One thing I like about City Harvest is that I get to pass on what I know to people,” she said. “Oftentimes when we’re giving away food, people don’t know what to do with it, they’ve never seen it or tried it before. I love telling people how to cook spaghetti squash or yams, plantains or potatoes.
“I’ve always liked to help people, but I’ve never had the outlet to do it,” Witherspoon added. “City Harvest lets me do it.”
Self-described as having zero athletic training in her early years, Witherspoon truly began to build her endurance in 1990 after she was hit by a city cab.
To bounce back from her injury, she walked to her job on 83rd Street in Manhattan from her Long Island City residence every day.
Eventually, she realized she could bike the 3.5-mile distance (where she still works today), which was what sparked her passion for bike riding. Witherspoon combined these two skills to train for the marathon
“I get up at five in the morning, walk the dogs, walk around my neighborhood for a mile or two and repeat it,” she said. “According to how you figure out the mileage, I’ve been biking 10k in a day and walking about 5k in the mornings, so I think I’m pretty good.
“I know I’ve got this,” she added.
And she was right. As one of the last runners of the day, Witherspoon crossed the finish line after 11 hours.
She attributes her achievement to her daily routine , along with the help of a bottle of water, three Life Savers and two Tylenol.
Witherspoon said that she’s had to deal with people underestimating her abilities, suggesting that her knees or body type might prevent her from completing the marathon.
“I’m not the skinniest person in the world, but I have a lot of stamina,” she said. “They don’t see that.
“If someone thinks they can’t do something and has people telling them they can’t, thank them for their opinion, but don’t believe them,” Witherspoon added. “The worst that could happen is you fail.”

You can donate to Witherspoon’s cause here.

City vaccine mandate goes into effect

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the Key to NYC vaccination mandate for indoor dining, entertainment and fitness began on August 17. Enforcement will begin, with a multi-agency coalition, on September 13.
“New York City has one mission: defeat the delta variant and build a recovery for all of us,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The Key to NYC sends a powerful message that vaccination will unlock our city’s potential, and we’ll stop at nothing to save lives and keep New Yorkers safe.”
The city will conduct an aggressive outreach and education campaign, including a $10 million multi-platform paid media campaign. This campaign will include radio, TV, digital, social, subway live boards.
Approximately 600 canvassers will be going door to door for affected businesses with the goal of reaching every zip code in the city in the next three weeks.
Indoor entertainment venus affected include movie theaters, music and concert venues, museums and galleries, aquariums and zoos, professional sports arenas, indoor stadiums, convention centers, exhibition halls, performing arts theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, pool and billiard halls, recreational game centers, adult entertainment, and indoor play areas.
Indoor dining establishment affected by the mandate include restaurants, catering halls, hotel banquet rooms, bars, nightclubs, cafeterias, grocery stores with indoor dining, coffee shops, and fast food/quick service with indoor dining
Indoor fitness facilities affected include gyms, fitness centers, fitness classes, pools, indoor studios, and dance studios
Places excluded from this mandate include dining where food is consumed offsite or outdoors only. Businesses that choose to remove indoor seating entirely are not subject to the mandate.
Other exclusions include residential and office buildings, childcare programs, pre-K through grade 12 public and non-public schools and programs, senior centers, churches hosting Sunday potlucks or similar events, community centers, charitable food services, and catering at someone’s home
People excluded from this mandate include children under the age of 12, and anyone entering for a minimum amount of time required for a limited purpose, such as bathroom use or picking up or placing an order.
Other people not required to comply with the mandate include performing artists who do not reside in New York City and are not regularly employed by the entity, professional athletes or members of professional sports teams who do not reside in the city but enter a premises for the purpose of competing, and individuals accompanying performing artists or a sports team or professional athlete as part of their regular employment and who do not reside in New York City.
Contractors who do not reside with in the five boroughs are also excluded.
Each Key to NYC business should consider appropriate reasonable accommodations, mindful of the purposes behind this policy and public health.
There are multiple ways to show proof of vaccination. These include a photo or hard copy of a CDC vaccination card, NYC COVID Safe App, New York State Excelsior App, official vaccine record, or a photo or hard copy of an official vaccination record of a vaccine administered outside the United States.
Affected small businesses with questions can contact the Department of Small Business Services hotline at 888-SBS-4NYC (888-727-4692), 311, or go online at
Penalties for failure to comply after September 13 start at $1,000 and can reach $5,000 for repeated violators.
“The Key to NYC will unlock many of our favorite activities,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. “Vaccination makes every activity safer and this is a common-sense precaution to keep patrons of gyms, restaurants and indoor entertainment healthy.”

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