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Whitestone faces a civic war

Whitestone’s civic leaders are clashing and local politicians are taking sides.

The Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Association will likely soon be facing new competition from the Welcome to Whitestone Commercial and Residential Civic Association proposed last month by Devon O’Connor, founder of the year-old Welcome to Whitestone community group.

The possibility of a new game in town has instigated divisive reactions by Whitestone’s local legislators and its other, smaller civic, the Malba Gardens Civic Association, which was reactivated several years ago by Al Centola after more than a decade of inactivity.

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) has said he supports the creation of any new groups that will advocate for his constituents, while state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has argued emphatically that the creation of a new civic would divide Whitestone.

“It’s unfortunate there will be another civic that is in competition with the Taxpayers,” Avella said earlier this month.

Marlene Cody, a vice president for the Taxpayers, and Avella did not return repeated requests for comment.

Avella ruffled O’Connor’s feathers earlier this month when he contended that the 20-year-old may find himself in legal trouble by raising money for the Welcome to Whitestone community group while it is still under consideration for official nonprofit status, according to Avella spokesman Ed Fleming and O’Connor.

“Tony Avella told my grandparents that someone should look into Devon’s finances, that maybe [I] was doing the organization wrong,” O’Connor said. “I haven’t done anything wrong, my lawyer says I haven’t done anything wrong, so I have no idea what the problem is.”

O’Connor said he wants to start the civic to help the community, which he says is not being fully represented by the Taxpayers.

“To say the Taxpayers represent the community, I’m not saying they don’t, but I’m not saying they do either,” he said. “A lot of people I’ve spoken to don’t even know who the Taxpayers are.”

Cody has not commented publicly on the new civic, but she has taken a chilly tone toward Centola’s group. Both O’Connor and Centola have expressed dissatisfaction with the efficacy of the Taxpayers.

An e-mail Cody sent Centola May 11 about a community issue revealed a new contempt for the community, according to Centola.

“We received your e-mail. You are not a member of our civic. If our members have questions, they can contact us,” the e-mail began before failing´╗┐ to respond to his concerns.

Centola believes that the group feels it is under assault by new blood.

“They’ve had a lock with the politicians and now there are other groups making a stink and mixing things up and they’re worried,” Centola said. “Anything that’s going to come out for the betterment of the community and is going to open dialogue and discussion I think is good. The Whitestone Taxpayers have had a stranglehold on the community for too long, and they’ve become complacent.”

O’Connor and Centola planned to meet Tuesday to discuss ways they can work together.

Halloran said he supports the creation of new civics.

“We want to preserve and protect the neighborhoods, but at the same time we need to represent the small-business owners in the community,” Halloran said. “It’s a big enough community, there certainly could be more than one civic association here.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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