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Juniper Park Civic denies opposing ‘Nam memorial

Juniper Park Civic Association...

By Ayala Ben-Yehuda

A Middle Village civic leader whom a Queens veterans’ leader had accused of blocking a Vietnam memorial in Juniper Valley Park said this week he had never opposed the tribute wall and only had a minor say in the matter.

Juniper Park Civic Association President Bob Holden, whose civic group represents hundreds of homeowners in Maspeth and Middle Village, lashed out at Pat Toro, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Queens Chapter 32.

“He is confused, misinformed or there is something tragically wrong with him,” said Holden of Toro.

The veterans’ leader had recently accused Holden, whom he had never met, of effectively blocking the veterans’ proposal for a 262-foot-long, half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall to be put up in Juniper Valley Park on Oct. 2 - 9.

The memorial is now headed for Cunningham Park, a relocation Toro said was the result of Holden’s concerns over trucks riding on the ballfields at Juniper Park, security and the park’s staying open 24 hours.

But Holden, Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) and Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano said this week that neither Holden nor the community board had opposed the memorial. Both Holden and the veterans’ leader had discussed the memorial with the councilman and community board manager.

Calling the tribute “a beautiful thing,” Holden said, “I was not against the memorial. The Juniper Park Civic Association was never against the memorial.”

“This is not a Juniper Park Civic issue,” said Holden, explaining that a permit for the memorial was under the community board’s jurisdiction. He said he was not contacted for weeks after it went to the community board.

“We are not a city agency,” he said. “We have no approval or disapproval process.”

Holden said his only involvement in the issue came in the form of a question and a suggestion posed in discussions with Giordano and Gallagher.

The question, he said, was whether it was necessary to bring in the wall using a tractor-trailer, given that the proposed memorial site was on the Juniper Park ballfields, which had recently been redone.

The suggestion was that perhaps the memorial, instead of being located on the ballfields, be put up instead on another portion of Juniper Valley Park known as the Pullis Farm Cemetery, which Holden called “a nice kind of reflective area. I thought it would be a perfect setting so I suggested that.”

When Holden was told by Gallagher that the panels could be carried in by hand, “I said fine,” Holden recalled.

The civic leader said he had no issues with security or the park’s staying open 24 hours.

“He’s got an ax to grind against the civic association or against me,” he said.

Toro countered, “I don’t have an ax to grind against anything.”

But when Toro met with Gallagher and Giordano, he said “it turns out the first person they call in front of me is Holden. He obviously wields some kind of power.”

Toro disputed Holden’s assertion that the civic association did not hold sway over the issuance of park permits.

“I was told by people in the Parks Department that before they okay the permits they okay it with the association that runs the park and the community board,” he said, although he could not remember who told him that.

Toro said the civic group had not invited him to a meeting and he criticized the slow pace of responses from the board and Gallagher’s office.

Gallagher said Cunningham Park was much larger than Juniper Valley Park and unlike the Middle Village site had its own administrator who could process the application without going before the community board there.

“Had we had more time, the moving wall would have been in Juniper Valley Park. I just think everybody wanted a little bit more information,” said Gallagher.

“I don’t think at any time did anyone oppose having the moving wall in Juniper Valley Park.”

Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano said Holden never expressed opposition nor did anyone on the board’s parks committee, which heard the issue at a Feb. 23 meeting.

Time was of the essence for the veterans because they needed to sign a contract for the wall’s use, which was in high demand all over the country.

“This is, in my opinion, pretty much an issue of their time line and us not communicating well enough,” said Giordano.

Gallagher said he was sorry that the focus of the issue “has been on bickering back and forth and laying blame.”

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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