Estelle Cooper dies amid legal troubles

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When former Assistant Parks Commissioner Estelle Cooper died Saturday, she left behind a history of public service in Queens clouded by legal troubles associated with her tenure as head of a nonprofit that funded upkeep at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Aside from working in the city Parks Department and running the nonprofit, Unisphere Inc., the Whitestone resident had previously been an active member in the Queens Republican Party and was known for throwing yearly fund-raisers for her charity.

But in early 2012, Cooper, who was in her early 80s, resigned from both her posts and over the summer was charged by the Queens district attorney with stealing $50,000 from Unisphere Inc.

At her funeral Monday, her family remembered her contribution to politics as well as civic life in Queens and that Cooper was the first woman to run for the state Senate.

“We will never know anyone who is more inspiring or full of life,” Mike Balsamo, Cooper’s grandson, said in a statement on behalf of the family. “While we mourn the loss of a barrier-breaker, we also celebrate the life of a dedicated public servant and hope that Estelle’s 50-year legacy to civic service offers an example to young people around the world that hard work can truly make dreams come true.”

Elected officials and Republican members remembered Cooper as a bipartisan civic leader. She was a GOP district leader in Forest Hills decades ago, and according to City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), got along with her colleagues across the aisle.

A Queens GOPer who did not want to be named called Cooper “a very bipartisan public leader.”

Queens lawmakers past and present, including former Borough President Claire Shulman, Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) attended the funeral.

Cooper worked hard, according to Weprin, though her indictment cast a shadow over that work.

“We should all be remembered for the good parts of our life and not just things we did wrong,” he said.

Cooper had been scheduled to appear in court in February as part of the criminal court case, but her lawyer, Vito Palmieri, said the case will now be dismissed.

An accountant who looked over Unisphere Inc.’s 2011 books said he noticed Cooper had withdrawn cash from ATMs but could not account for where the money went. The accountant was Phil Ragusa, chairman of the Queens Republican Party, and his records eventually made their way to District Attorney Richard Brown.

Cooper was indicted in July, and her next court appearance was scheduled for Feb. 4, according to court documents.

Cooper’s tenure at the nonprofit’s head had been dogged long before the most recent indictment. A group called the Flushing Meadows Corona Park World’s Fair Association called for her resignation in 2007, citing the fact that while the nonprofit raised considerable cash, it did not spend it on park improvements.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 3:13 am, January 4, 2013
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Reader feedback

gregory lawler from east elmhurst says:
Upkeep of Flushing Meadows???
I say then good riddance to her
I have long felt that it was DISGRACE
that many parts of the park have been left to utter decay.
the fountain is being destroyed by skateboarders because there is never any water in there. why cant we have the fountains functioning? Do only manhattan residents have the right to nice fountains and well maintained parks?and the state of the New York Pavilion is nothing less than a crime.
Jan. 3, 2013, 10:38 am
Joe Papillo from Triniity says:
Peter, I was saddened to hear the passing of your mother. I have a lot of a fond memories of your mother when I was living in Whitestone. Betty and I send you and Eileen our deepest condolences.

joe papillo
Jan. 3, 2013, 6:41 pm
Jerry says:
Hey joe
Garry is right
You have no class
Jan. 4, 2013, 4:35 pm

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