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The Civic Scene

Chris Pendergast and fellow sufferers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease — are taking their annual motorized wheelchair ride between Montauk and Manhattan to raise awareness about the disease. I have met the man and his fellow sufferers when they stopped at St. John's University's parking lot during their annual ride.

A few years ago, I was contacted by Queens historian Jeff Gottlieb and asked to come to a ceremony on a Saturday to give the Ride a big send-off. A number of civic association leaders, legislators and people from St. John's and the community came. When they left, there was a caravan of wheelchairs and vans with a police escort and truck with a big sign telling about ALS.

Pendergast was an elementary school teacher and one of his students was the Martin Van Buren High School coordinator of student affairs, so he brought a number of students. When his teacher transferred to the Science HS at York College, he brought the student government students from there.

In 1993, Pendergast learned he had Lou Gehrig's disease. There is no cure; life expectancy is usually five years. Pendergast wonders why he still lives 15 years later. Perhaps it is willpower. Eleven years ago, he decided to drive his motorized wheelchair from Yankee Stadium to Washington, D.C., to lobby for Medicare HealthPlus money for research for a cure. He did this for two years, then decided on the annual Ride for Life between Montauk and Manhattan. He has built it into an annual event.

In past years, a few photos I sent to the weekly papers were printed. This year, on May 4, the New York Times printed a large article: "A Latter-Day Gherig Fights to Be Heard." This is progress in the awareness campaign. Pendergast's Web site is www.rideforlife.com.

When I see the many rides and walks which raise money and awareness for various diseases, I wonder why our government leaders cannot provide enough money for research and treatment to help people who have diseases. Devastating diseases not only affect the sufferer, but family and friends, which have a debilitating and negative affect on society as a whole.

Healthy people and happy families are productive members of society. It is interesting to see the different people who take part in these walks or rides because they have a friend or family member afflicted or just empathize.

Since 1998, the site has raised $3 million and provides the latest news and information, helps families with money for respite time, gives grants to families of those who are terminally ill, helps patients obtain mobility and supports a clinic at Stoney Brook University. As for a cure, there is talk of stem cell research.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: The city held a number of Earth Day activities on April 22. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and philanthropist David Rockefeller pledged to plant trees, then planted a few themselves. Actress Bette Midler planted trees. Old-style light bulbs were replaced with new energy saving bulbs on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials explained that a loaded bus keeps 40 pollution-emitting cars off the road.

But the next day, the Daily News printed an article showing where the city had lights on at night in city-owned buildings. Police and School Construction Authority headquarters and the Municipal Building were three places where lights blazed in the night beyond the need for a few workers to be busy at night. Also, I sometimes see buses idling for several minutes at a time.

I often read that a builder has torn down healthy trees so they can build bigger and lay down more concrete and bricks. Any trees they might plant cannot measure up to the trees they cut down. The City Council has just passed a law limiting the amount of grass that can be paved over around houses.

This is good, but I worry about how this rule will be enforced. I worry if builders still file plans for my neighborhood and list the area as R2 when we were changed to R2A two years ago. Officials from the city Department of Buildings tell me they know the neighborhood is R2A, but the psychological effect of a builder listing R2 is bad.

Enforcement is necessary with swift and publicized punishment for anyone breaking zoning or ecology laws.

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