The Queens Courier

Charter Revision Meeting in Queens


The City Charter Revision Commission convened at Queens Borough Hall for a public meeting recently and focused on whether the public advocate and borough presidents should be guaranteed independent budgets.

The commission also discussed issues regarding the structure of the City Council and how to appropriately respond to the matter of nonpartisan elections.

Borough president Helen Marshall testified at the meeting on Wednesday, July 28 and strongly urged the city to protect and expand the powers of borough presidents.

“[There is an] absolute need to give the independently-elected borough presidents guaranteed, base-line budgets,” said Marshall. “Currently, we do not have adequate resources to meet our charter-mandated duties, which include the oversight of some city services. This year, the borough presidents suffered bigger budget cuts, in terms of percentage, than any other city agency.”

Marshall also expressed her support for three four-year terms for all city officials and her opposition to nonpartisan elections.

In response, Mark Page, director of the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, remained firm about the city’s position on the impending issue of independent budgets.

“I think the basic principle of government is to allocate resources among competing needs,” said Page, noting that the main goal is “getting the best value out of public dollars.” The director also stressed that budgetary allocation must be a “two-way negotiated process” in which the city must utilize its funds in response to changing needs rather than distribute them in fixed amounts.

“The borough presidents have a defined responsibility,” Page continued. “They don’t have an entitlement to a level of funding.”

Following Page’s testimony, commissioner Anthony Perez Cassino discussed several issues pertaining to the City Council’s expenditures. In addition to advocating for a full-time council, the commissioner recommended slashing pay raises for committee chairmanships and addressing the “unfair” distribution of member items.

“We’ve talked a lot here about a representative democracy, and I think most of us agree with that. But there are areas that are really about self-dealing. They don’t go to a representative democracy,” said Cassino.

The commission also discussed commissioner Carlo Scissura’s proposal to “refocus” the role of the borough presidents and public advocate in certain sections of the charter. Due to time constraints, the issue of nonpartisan elections was briefly addressed.

The meeting concluded with public testimony given by representatives of local and community organizations. Members of the Queens Civic Congress strongly expressed their disapproval of nonpartisan elections and voiced their support for community boards and borough presidents.

“Community boards are neighborhoods’ first – and often only – voice at City Hall. The community boards track service delivery; articulate local funding needs and are a key element in defining local development needs and aspirations,” said Patricia Dolan, president of the organization. “The Queens Civic Congress recommends that the Borough Presidents have resources to provide planning assistance to community boards.”

The Queens Courier

‘MY RUN’: Award-winning Film at Vision Fest


On Saturday, June 26, the Vision Fest in Tribeca will be showing the award-winning film “MY RUN,” which was produced by a Flushing native, at 7:30 p.m. at the Tribeca Cinemas.

Winner of the “Best Documentary Award” at the 2009 Mammoth Film Festival and many other awards, “MY RUN” tells the story of Terry Hitchcock, a man who lost his wife to breast cancer and subsequently ran 75 marathons in 75 consecutive days in order to raise awareness about the hardships faced by single-parent families.

The film is narrated by Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton, produced by director Tim VandeSteeg and produced by Mark Castaldo, a native of Flushing.

Castaldo attended P.S. 214 and later Flushing High School. Prior to becoming a producer, he worked at the Playboy Casino in Atlantic City for four years. He later worked as a craps dealer at the Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas for seven years.

It was only a matter of time before he decided to pursue film production in Hollywood.

“Originally, I decided to pursue acting,” Castaldo said. “[But] I felt that maybe my forte was more into producing and more into putting things together, collaborating with people and to get the film off the ground.”

Though he resides in California, Castaldo still remembers the times he spent in Queens. He recalled the years he spent going to the RKO Keith’s Theatre on Main Street and the Quarter Theatre that once occupied Northern Boulevard.

“Growing up, I was always a big movie buff. I was always interested in what moved people and evoking emotions from people. I think being able to tell a story on a screen and being able to evoke something out somebody is something so rewarding to a filmmaker,” he added.

Castaldo credits his years in Queens with helping him in the film business.

“I think growing up in Queens, and just New York in general, you get street savvy. You meet people from all different ethnicities, and I think you get to be a good judge of character,” he said. “In the film business, you need to be a good judge of character because you get to meet all types of people and you need to know who to trust and who you want to work with.”

As an independent film producer and judge for The Academy of Motion Pictures’ prestigious Nicholls Fellowship in screenwriting, Castaldo has spent countless hours at coffee shops, noting that they are important to independent film producers who cannot afford their own office. In fact, his involvement with “MY RUN” first began when he met VandeSteeg at a coffee shop in Los Angeles.

While Castaldo was in a coffee shop reading scripts, VandeSteeg came in and the two started talking. VandeSteeg eventually began talking about a story he had the rights to.

“He was trying to get the film off the ground, and I had just come off making a thriller. My mom had died of cancer, so there was a little personal touch,” Castaldo explained. “When he talked about the message and themes, I was touched as well. We continued to talk and continued to meet, and we decided to collaborate.”

Although he has produced a number of horror and thriller films, Castaldo believes his production of “MY RUN” has been his greatest achievement. Noting that he was particularly inspired by Terry Hitchcock’s “perseverance and heart,” Castaldo said that the main message of the film is “what we can do when a tragedy happens and how we can move on.”

For more information on “MY RUN,” visit Tickets are $12 and available online at