Written by Karen Gellender: firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 27 April 2012 00:00
The Birchwood Civic Association had a busy meeting on Tuesday, April 17. In addition to going over the latest developments in the seemingly never-ending Cerro Wire mall battle, the group also heard from Syosset school board candidate Josh Lafazan and honored East Birchwood resident Paul Babakitis.
Babakitis received national attention for his role in subduing out-of-control Jet Blue pilot Clayton Osbon on a JetBlue flight to Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 27. The retired NYPD sergeant directed other passengers to hold down the emotionally disturbed pilot until the co-pilot could land the plane safely. At the meeting, he explained the events of Flight 191 in his own words to the residents assembled at Jackson Elementary School in Jericho and took questions.
“As a passenger, we don’t really think of the safety aspect of it; we assume that we’re safe,” said Babakitis, going on to say that people tend to trust people in uniform. Babakitis said he initially assumed that Osbon was a mentally unstable passenger, not the pilot, and that he could almost feel the vibrations through the plane as Osbon pounded on the door of the cockpit.
“We’re talking about a person who was standing 6’4, 6’5, 250 [pounds]—the type of guy that would be the football coach. The type of guy you’d say, ‘I want him on my side’.” Babakitis went on to imply that Osbon wasn’t necessarily a bad person, but at that time, “he had other things on his mind.”
The sergeant of 22 years said he immediately thought of September 11, 2001 when he saw Osbon become unglued, and became concerned about the safety of the aircraft being compromised, thinking Osbon might have been a terrorist. When he approached Osbon, Babakitis said he could tell from the look in the pilot’s eyes that the man was deranged, and the things Osbon was saying sounded like the ramblings of a religious fanatic.
When Osbon said that everyone on board should “say their prayers”, Babakitis swiftly came to a decision. “When I heard that, I said ‘we’re taking him down now’.” Relying on his police training, Babakitis took charge of the situation and directed several other passengers to help him hold the pilot down until the plane made an emergency landing approximately 15 minutes later. Unfortunately, he noted, the handcuffs that the flight crew gave him were defective, and the task would have been much easier with the proper equipment.
Though Babakitis was critical of JetBlue Airlines for their lax security policies, he only had praise for the staff present on the plane- especially the co-pilot, Jason Dowd, who kept Osbon away from the plane’s controls. “That is the true hero, right there…I wish he was here and I was listening to him, because he made the right choice.”
In response to a question, Babakitis said he would fly JetBlue again- provided they tightened up their security.
After Babakitis had finished speaking, the floor was turned over to Todd Fabricant, chairman of the Cerro Wire Coalition. Fabricant and other members of the CWC brought members of the community up-to-date with the latest in the coalition’s fight against a proposed upscale mall on the property formerly owned by Cerro Wire on Robbins Lane in Syosset, a battle which has now been going on for 18 years. According to the coalition, the Taubman Company LLC is trying to go over the heads of the Town of Oyster Bay officials who keep telling them not to build what the community doesn’t want—using the Cerro situation as a test case to see if they can overcome local opposition for other projects as well.
Fabricant explained that when retailer Neiman Marcus pulled out of Taubman’s project recently, some in the community had taken that as the last nail in the coffin for the controversial mall project, but that is not the case. “They think, well, Neiman Marcus went away so we’re in the clear. Trust me, we are far from the clear, because with the wave of a hand, Andrew Cuomo, if he wants to do it, can do this statewide.”
Fabricant also alleged that Taubman has made major contributions to the Long Island Association, and is now attempting to use the LIA to advance its agenda. He continued to emphasize resident support will be needed in the CWC’s continued fight against the mall- the 350 people who attended the No Mall Here Rally last fall was “Not bad. Not good enough.”
Finally, 18-year-old Syosset School Board candidate Josh Lafazan, Syosset High School senior and founder of the nonprofit Safe Ride Syosset organization, took the floor to familiarize the community with his platform. Lafazan joked that the first time he spoke before the school board, as a second-grader, he was invited; now, the board and administration have been far less welcoming.
“The school district has not let up in their resistance. The real question is, why is the school board so afraid of an 18-year-old running for office?” posed Lafazan, going on to say that his opponents and their supporters have been spreading unfounded rumors about his nonprofit and his intentions if elected to the board. However, he also assured that many Syosset residents are frustrated with the status quo and are prepared to vote for him come May 15.
Lafazan’s proposed changes to the district if elected include implementing a recycling program, changing the board’s policy to accept direct donations, allowing for a line-by-line budget review for residents with specific areas of expertise, and improving traffic control on Southwoods Road. He also stated that he believed Superintendent Carole Hankin is paid too much, and that everyone should sacrifice in these times, including administrators.
The next meeting of the Birchwood Civic Association will be held Tuesday, May 1 at 8:30 p.m. at Jackson Elementary School in Jericho. The main item on the agenda will be discussing the budgets for the Syosset and Jericho school districts. Several of the candidates for the three open seats on the Syosset School Board, including Lafazan, plan to attend; the school board election in Jericho is uncontested this year.