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Benepe backs Cooper, criticizes Oats’ report

Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe said the 40-year-old Flushing Meadows-Corona Park World's Fair Association, led by Chairman David Oats, had done nothing for the park."To my knowledge, the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park World's Fair Association has not raised funds or actively done anything to improve the park," Benepe said in a statement last Thursday. He contrasted that with a nonprofit organization led by Cooper, called Unisphere Inc.Forest Hills resident David Oats shot back with a 12-page history of his organization, detailing work he said it had accomplished over the past four decades."We could not let your comments go unanswered and the fact that you, as Parks commissioner, would directly attack a group of citizens who are only acting out of a love and passion for this park requires this response," wrote Oats and Greg Godfrey, the organization's president.Benepe's strong defense of Cooper, the assistant commissioner of Flushing Meadows, came after the association released its State of the Park 2007 report on Feb. 5 that called for her ouster. She has held the job for 13 years.Despite the good words of Benepe, the accomplishments of the Unisphere Inc., a nonprofit championed by board member Cooper to benefit Flushing Meadows, were less apparent. It had raised $647,398 over the past three years, according to a Parks spokeswoman, but spent at least $160,000 in 2004 and 2005 for opulent fund-raising parties. Although Unisphere Inc.'s Web site says that a portion of the proceeds from a 2004 fund-raiser had been used to "initiate the preservation of the New York State Pavilion," only $21,000 has been spent on the landmark, Unisphere President Bruce Bendell said. It was used to fix a broken aircraft warning light on the top of the aging structure.And that was allocated in 2006 only after Oats alerted the Federal Aviation Administration to a red signal that was out on the tallest platform of the pavilion. Most of the money that the Unisphere raised remained in the bank, awaiting the right proposal for the pavilion, Bendell said.Reach reporter Adam Pincus by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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