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Neighbor to Neighbor: Sen. Smith ceremony thrills those at event

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The event was spectacular and, as might be expected, the auditorium was beautifully decorated with a huge arch of red, white, and blue balloons over the stage on which rows of chairs had been placed to accommodate the long list of honored guests anxious to acknowledge and commend Sen. Smith for his accomplishments. I first met Sen. Smith (D-St. Albans) when his political career was still in the early budding stage. He had attended a meeting of the Laurelton Merchants Association, of which I was a member. At that time, he was working with Rev. Floyd H. Flake, who on Jan. 12, just happened to be there for him as master of ceremonies. He started the ceremonies off by inviting some of our friends from the Proctor Hobson VFW to present the colors. Rev. Edward David, senior pastor of the Presbyterian Church of St. Albans, gave the invocation, followed by U.S. Army Spc. Gene Von Mantague, Smith's nephew, who had just returned from service in Iraq, leading all in attendance in the Pledge of Allegiance. Smith's cousin, Charles Lisby, sang the national anthem, followed by one of the soloists from the Allen A.M.E. Cathedral, Ed'rena Miller, whose beautiful, strong voice sang the "Negro National Anthem" and a musical selection just prior to the benediction. U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) read acknowledgements from special guests who were unable to attend. The long list reminded the audience of the Smith has made on one segment or another of the areas where he has worked. There was an even longer list of special guests in attendance who spoke, including Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.), U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), Rev. Al Sharpton, Lt. Gov. David Paterson, and many others, such as Borough President Helen Marshall, who did not speak. Administrative Judge of the Queens Supreme Court Leslie G. Leach called the ceremonial leadership team members to the stage and then performed the swearing-in ceremony. All those folks, as well as Smith, had already been sworn in, but for the sake of public appreciation, the leadership team as well as Smith were again sworn in that night, with Smith receiving the oath from George Bundy Smith, retired judge of the New York State Court of Appeals. Smith's wife introduced him as he was about to make his senatorial address to us and did a superb job. She is an excellent speaker, apparently without any butterflies, and knew her subject well. They had known each other long before their marriage. Malcolm Smith, looking happy and enthusiastic, and as we love to see him, flashing his famous smile, took us back to his youth. As pictures of his mother and father flashed on a big screen in back of him, he told us how important his mother's words had been to him. He said he still lives by those words, and we had the feeling that his children, too, will follow them. There was plenty of family and community pride that night Ð so much so that the friends with whom I went and I couldn't get near him at the quilt-decorated lobby reception that followed. In his address, Smith said he had received the message from the people of the state of New York: They didn't like the way things have been going in Albany and they wanted things to change. Smith, as serious as I have ever seen him, told us he promises us that he will do his best to make those changes. He says he will give us "reform, revitalization, and results." We all certainly wish him well in that and in all things. Maybe someday he will again follow in the footsteps of his friend and mentor, Rev. Floyd H. Flake, and find additional ways to build more of southeast Queens into a beautiful and improved place of harmony for which we can all take pride, even as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have wanted to see it done. The mention of Dr. King brings to mind the approach of Black History Month. This year, the U.S. Post Office plans to hold the local unveiling of the Ella Fitzgerald Stamp on Feb. 2 at the Black Spectrum Theatre at noon. Watch for further details.

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