Monday, March 30, 2009

From Williamsburg to Albany

I am currently staying in a large David Lynchian room at an Econo-Lodge on the outskirts of Albany. Why am I here? Business. Why am I really here? Lord knows. Just one of those unusual weekends that takes me from a United Jewish Organization legislative breakfast on Rutledge Street to a meeting with a roomful of Bushwick artists with a Rockefeller Foundaiton grant trying to maintain a permanent community on Morgan Avenue to hitching a ride with the Greenpoint Gazette up I-87 to visit Joe Lentol, Marty Dilan, and Vito Lopez in their home away from home.

Unfortunately we picked a Monday night to stay over. Everything is closed and there is very little to do here, but the Gazette is trying our hardest to blog the scene. I'm just happy to have some time to get some work done, and the state capitol reminds me of Hartford, CT, my home away from home. The legislative office building has the ambience of an airport hangar with less hospitality and for some reason it feels like we're in Canada. I've been calling the state troopers money and asking where we have to change currencies. Highlights for today include two of the reporters saw Assemblyman Lopez eating a roast beef sandwich but were too shy to say hello and wandering into one of Albany's two gay bars which had extremely normal names like the Waterworks Tavern. There's no double entendre there. Just a small neon rainbow sign in the window with the word Pride! flashing beneath it.

Tomorrow is a hearings day so the schedule is packed, plus lunch with Joe Lentol and his staff. Meanwhile, which of the following looks like he's about to get hoisted into the air while the crowd dances the hora below?
A. Steve Levin

B. Daniel Squadron

Thursday, March 26, 2009

New Column!

New Column with the Greenpoint Gazette!:

Notes: My photo looks like a combination of Jeremy Irons in Lolita and Adrien Brody on a bender. We may need a redo.

Short Takes: Where are the environmental activists?

Laura Hofmann is getting tired. She has just sent out an email blast to a number of public officials, community leaders and reporters about refuse that has been washing up on the steps of the Newtown Creek Nature Walk and an oily film that has blanketed sections of the waterway.
A mother of six and grandmother of three, Hofmann is a constant presence at community meetings throughout the neighborhood, including the Newtown Creek Alliance, Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee, Open Space Alliance, Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, Community Board One’s Transportation and Environment Committees and full board meetings. Whenever there is an environmental forum about toxic soil contaminants in Greenpoint, or a press conference urging the EPA to add Newtown Creek to the federal Superfund list, Hofmann is there. The problem is that few other people are.
“Where are the young environmental activists?” Hofmann asked, just after a public information forum on the state’s efforts to clean up chlorinated solvents in late February. “I see the same people going to these meetings. We need help.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Trucks in Trouble

City residents are up in arms about proposed transit hikes, which are likely to be approved by the MTA tomorrow, though two local concerns festering for years dominated the discussion at CB1's transportation committee meeting Tuesday night.

Led by the efficacious Community Board One member Teresa Toro, Transportation meetings are among the most well-attended committee meetings in the borough. And for good reason. Last night's meeting featured two presentations by the Department of Transportation concerning truck traffic on local streets and Transportation Alternatives about a redesign of the Pulaski Bridge. Both presentations were short but detailed.
Transalt wants Brooklyn CB1 to work with CB2 in Queens to support their plan allocating more space for pedestrians and cyclists, possibly by adding a cycling lane on one of the traffic lanes. A letter is in the works, as is a pedestrian walk campaign in May. The Queens Desk has more about it here.
The DOT is looking to crack down on large trucks and trailers driving through local streets and add more visable signage to indicate through streets and local streets. Residents pointed out some key streets in Greenpoint where trucks were abusing traffic laws, including a grocery store on Beadel Street and reiterated their concerns at the meeting. Greg Hanlon of The Courier will have a more in depth article about this on Friday.
The remarkable thing about the meeting was the responsiveness of the DOT to very specific transportation concerns local residents brought to the meeting. Though these transit concerns are prevalent throughout Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods, DOT officials knew the issues being discussed and detailed how they would seek solutions. How they respond over the coming months, with the help of enforcement from the 94th and 90th Precincts will be interesting, but this is a good sign.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Brooklyn Courier Life Paper

I got a call from the Times' Greg Beyer earlier this week for this article appearing in the Sunday Times tomorrow. Greg usually writes about intriguing outer-borough stories for the City Section, including this well-trafficked semi-obituary for the iconic Bob Guskind. Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, has some interesting opinions too about the Brooklyn Paper buyout on March 10, but it looks like his thoughts are cut off in the piece.

If it were an article primarily about Newscorp and their business decisions, it would have been written by Tim Arango and gone in the Business Section. Instead, the article is about the future of the Brooklyn Paper and what it means for local print journalism. The New York Observer printed another piece about the deal, sparked by the Weintrob's sale, though oddly, no one from Courier Life is quoted or even referenced.

My old publisher is optimistic that the chain of papers will survive, whatever form they take. The hyper-local news at the Courier and the Brooklyn paper do probably will, but they must figure out how to be relevant online in order to continue to grow. That will be the real challenge, consolidation or not. I just hope Newscorp moves away from the sentiments expressed by Arlene Morgan, an associate dean at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism at the end of this article, quoted below:

Small papers have ''a very low end on production costs, and the rate of return is very high,'' she said. ''Neighborhood advertising is a big draw, it's more important than content, and it's going to help their bottom line overall.''

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Run for CEC!

Every so often, a volunteer position opens up that allows individuals to bring wholesale change to their communities. If you are a parent in New York City, one of those options has opened up, and the deadline to register for your local Community Education Council is midnight March 19. That's tonight! Register here at

Grassroots Initiative's Jeff Merritt is partnering with the Department of Education to recruit and train CEC candidates. Meetings are once a month, and often discuss a variety of local public school issues from new school construction to budgetary concerns and school oversight.

I have attended CEC 14 (Williamsburg and Greenpoint) and CEC 32 (Bushwick) meetings before and they are well worth being on. Youth activists in Bushwick are pushing a school safety campaign, which will be important to watch in the coming year, and there's that education funding the stimulus package is going to provide New York City. So, what are you waiting for already? Register!

Live from Hope Gardens...

...It's Community Board Four!

Ok, maybe I’m a little more excited than the other people in the room here tonight, but it’s the first time I’ve been back to a Community Board meeting in Bushwick in almost a year. Covering this meeting was one of my first assignments as a reporter, and it’s a great place to hear about everything that is going on in Bushwick. So, to bring the enthusiasm to residents who couldn’t be here last night, I’ve decided to write another running diary.

6:30 PM (6:00 PM Bushwick Time): Each CB4 meeting occurs on the third Wednesday of every month at 6 PM, but we are on Bushwick Time so the meeting technically starts on 6:30. Board members, residents, and representatives from local elected officials are scattered around twenty round tables in the community room at the Hope Gardens Community Center (195 Linden Street). BushwickBK contributors Anna D’Agrosa and Kevin Regan, and Arts in Bushwick Operations Director Laura Braslow have commandeered a corner table. They’re chatting about SITE Fest. Also sitting with them is Chris Henderson, Moviehouse founder and Capital B representative, mostly to update several arts groups with community board activities. He was at the CB1 meeting last night with Jonah Bokaer, Director of Chez Bushwick, and they are making the rounds.

6:47 PM: CB4 Chair Julie Dent calls the meeting to order as members finish helping themselves to a delicious buffet of chicken and broccoli stir fry and pork sausage. Dent yields the floor to Andrew Ingelsby, a Community Relations representative with the MTA, who leads a presentation about a new flood mitigation system near the Jefferson Street stop where a lot of development is taking place.

A woman who lives on Wyckoff Avenue asks the first question about street mitigation near Northeast Kingdom. She’s worried about liability issues and that new bars coming into the block will lead to the area becoming more of a hangout for drunk revelers. That is, beyond the Northeast Kingdom Sunday brunch crowd. D’Agrosa furrows her brown and folds her arms into her blue track suit. Regan continues eating.

7:08 PM: Now two attorneys hop up to join Inglesby for the Q and A period to specifically address the design of several benches. They sense a problem. Deborah Brown, right, a Bushwick-based painter and CB4 member, said the design is “pretty ugly” but is surprised by the uniformly negative reactions from her board members. She believes the Department Cultural Affairs should run a competition for Bushwick artists to design the benches and I bet metalworking artist Ty Tripoli could put something interesting together.

7:35 Whitted begins the roll call for the meeting. Representatives from the offices of Borough President Marty Markowitz, City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, State Senator Martin Dilan, Assemblyman William Boylan, Congressman Ed Towns, and Councilwoman Diana Reyna, identify themselves. Evelyn Cruz, a liaison with Congresswoman Velazquez, looks over in my direction as Julie Dent reads the minutes, points to me and whispers, “I want to talk to you!” Uh oh.

8:00 PM: A rep from Sen. Martin Dilan’s office talks about the State Senate’s MTA budget vote that transportation advocacy groups are not happy about. Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith has had a tough time rounding up votes and the Senate Republicans haven’t broken ranks. Dilan, Chair of the Senate’s Transportation Committee, was not optimistic that the MTA plan would pass and had floated other ideas. That was last week. This week, the Governor rejected the Senate bill calling for the East River bridge tolls that Dilan has opposed and the MTA is threatening major service reductions and fare hikes as early as next week.

8:08 PM: The colorful Austen Martinez arrives. Martinez, who can pass for a young Andy Garcia, is wearing a brown fleece hoodie with a black down vest and a snazzy brown hat. Before Laura Braslow joined the board last year, Martinez was the youngest member of CB4 by about twenty years. Reading of committee reports begins and the meeting begins to trudge along like Braslow’s blue Honda Civic.

8:17 PM: Four police officers, who have been sitting at a side table, got up and left the room. They’ve had a busy day. Seven hours earlier, a shooting occurred at a fast food restaurant on Knickerbocker Avenue near Troutman Street. According to Francisco Mercado, Diana Reyna’s liaison, three men entered the restaurant and shot up the place, injuring one. Cameras at the restaurant recorded the scene and police officers are still investigating.

8:19 PM: Mercado also mentions that Engine 271 on Himrod Street between St. Nicholas and Wyckoff may be in jeopardy of closing. Just last night, two fires broke out in Bushwick and Ladder 271 was closed overnight, after 6 PM. Its hours have been reduced since January 17. Tom Murphy, who supervises fire stations in Bushwick, is sitting behind Braslow and he isn’t happy. He said that the city will likely try to redistribute these firefighters throughout the city. The Community Board protested loudly two months ago when night hours were reduced and should be fuming if the city is indeed moving to close the station.

8:26 PM: We’re into announcements. To further pile onto the MTA tonight, the B25 line is being eliminated. Community Board Five is going to put out a petition to try to save the bus line. This looks like a job for Pass Kontrol!

8:47 PM: Mercado mentions a tenants rights conference Reyna will be hosting in South Bushwick house and Cruz talks about the effects of the stimulus package, particularly education funding. There’s also a Street Fair in the works on April 25th and Maria Hernandez Park that will benefit Trees Not Trash and the Brooklyn Public Library’s Bushwick Branch. Email for more information.

8:56 PM: Well, that’s it! Second roll call and we’re out of here. I hitch a ride in the Civic and head back home. There’s no easy way to end one of these things, so here’s some Sharon Jones. Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Let's Get Contextual... part two.

7:25 PM: And we're at standing room only. Maritza Davila, a candidate for city council in the 34th district, has just left. She brushed by Will Florentino, a staff liaison with Davila's opponent, Diana Reyna, the incumbent councilmember, who takes her seat. Gerald Esposito, pictured above, right, is the third candidate in the race. He's raised nearly $80,000 in the race. The new campaign finance board numbers are out this week.

7:35 PM: Frank Lang, Housing Director of St. Nichloas Neighborhood NPC, spoke to support hte plan but said they will monitor the ULURP process. Lang is easily the tallest person in the room. I'm trying to start a rumor that he was Chris Mullin's backup with St. Johns in the early 1980s.

Frank Lang's Final Four picks: Frank is going with Connecticut and Memphis, though they are both in the same bracket. Lang's colleague, Alison Cordero will be rooting for North Carolina because a relative of hers went there.

7:46 PM: Steve Lenard of City Planning hands the mike over to the Department of Housing and Preservation Development to talk about affordable housing options in the new rezoning. HPD discusses the technical aspects of housing units and new residential construction building in the rezoning. Rami Metal, constituent liaison with Councilmember David Yassky says that this is a moot point. The more significant issue for the neighborhood right now is what to do with all those empty units in condominiums built during the 2005 rezoning. Metal insists a much larger plan is being worked on to handle that and Speaker Quinn in her State of the City address alluded to this with few details.
Rami Metal's Final Four picks: Louisville, Pitt, UConn and Oklahoma

8:00 PM: Ward Dennis, CB1 Executive Committee member announces the election for Financial Treasury Secretary and Esposito circles around with the ballots while the HPD official takes questions. Shannon Lanier with Brooklyn News 12 conducts interviews one-by-one with a handful of community board members including Tish Cianciotta and Heather Roslund. The Greenpoint Gazette's Juliet Linderman has finally found a seat while Publisher Jeff Mann hovers behind the new staffers.

The votes are collected and the two candidates for Treasurer secretary are Karen Leader and Heather Roslund. Residents begin to flee for the exits. Straw poll in the press row is 6 for Heather and 1 for Karen.

8:12 PM: Rami Metal gives a short presentation about the festering problem of the MTA bus lot on 65 Commerical Street. I have covered this for several months, and the continuing delays are depressing. David Yassky's office seems to be ratcheting up the pressure on the city and the MTA to sell the bus lot and its air rights and make way for a park on the river. It is a beautiful site with a view that could one day hold small concerts. Currently the plans call for a soccer field, which is also badly needed.

8:14 PM: Metal makes the announcement that the Greenpoint Courier, the paper where I worked for almost two years before I was laid off last week, has closed. Yes, I'm burying the lead. Then he pulls out a proclamation, people in the room start clapping and I leave my computer to pick up the plaque. I didn't expect this. Getting laid off in connection with a major media buyout has put me slightly in the news. Greg Beyer from the Times called and I'm doing a couple of short interviews with the locals here in North Brooklyn. They're all hovering around the press table as time is running out. Also, it is 85 degrees inside and I'm wearing a blazer.

8:21 PM: For those of you keeping track at home, 22 Karen Leader, 15 for Heather Roslund, a minor upset.

8:35 PM: Phil DePaolo visits the press table as Miezko Kalita, Public Safety Chair of CB1, gives a quick update about new bars getting liquor licenses in the neighborhood. Kalita also talks about sending a letter to the State Liquor Authority chastising the Production Lounge for recent shootings outside Franklin Street (the Gothamist story linked here is an inteview with its colorful owner, Joe). Linderman is giving her picks though she asserts she doesn't know anything about basketball.

Juliet Linderman's Final Four picks: Connecticut, Pitt, Syracuse and Michigan State.

And that's all for now. Committees are wrapping up, chatter has moved inside the room, and people are itching to leave. Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

Tonight's meeting by the numbers:
Running time: 150 minutes
Attendance: 220
Number of people wearing green: 12
Number of people wearing green who look as smashing as Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez's constituent liaison Evelyn Cruz: 0
Number of times Abate interrupted a speaker: 3
City Proclamations given out: 1 (I may have to buy a chain and wear this around like Flava Flav)

Let's Get Contextual... awwwwww yeah

Community Board Meetings in New York City are a bit like town hall meetings in small-town America, only if you split up the city into fifty-nine fiefdoms.
In Brooklyn's Community Board One, which contains most of Williamsburg and Greenpoint and the 94th and 90th police precincts, attendance at monthly meetings is usually very good. The last two meetings, held in the cramped common room of the Swinging Sixties Senior Center (211 Ainslie Street), have been standing room only and have featured hour-long presentations about waterfront public access and design updates for McCarren Park Pool. The smell can best be described as an intoxicating combination of lentil soup and bengay. Tonight a contextual rezoning presentation from the Department of City Planning is first on the docket. Riveting.

Esteban Duran, one-time candidate for city council, gives his final four picks: Connecticut, UNC, Pitt and Michigan State.

6:45 PM: Chairman Abate, 90, calls the meeting to order. Abate will be retiring this June after decades of service. We've got a full house. My former colleague Greg Hanlon has arrived. He's eating a chicken roll from Sal's Pizza, happily extolling a recent article printed in the Sunday Times. Hanlon is strangely clean-shaven. He looks at least ten days younger.

Hanlon's Final Four picks: Connecticut, North Carolina, Duke, and Wake Forest.

6:55 PM: It begins. The DCP's rezoning is for an inland area of Greenpoint and Williamsburg along Metropolitan Avenue and McGuinness Boulevard. The rezoning was mainly proposed to limit the height of future residential development, bringing several blocks into R6, R6A, or R7A. For community activist Phil DePaolo, this comes three years too late. DePaolo, attending the meeting tonight, has made several posts on his listserv about runaway development on Williamsburg's northside and along the waterfront. Now the area is suffering from rampant blight. Development further inland, in the area that the new rezoning will cover, is not likely to proceed at a frenzied pace anytime soon. When it does occur, the new plan will direct more commercial development to commercial streets like Metropolitan and residential development to side streets with shorter buildings. Twenty minutes later, they take questions from members.
The view from Press Row

There's a meeting on St. Patrick's Day

I never thought I would be a blogger, but then again, I believed the Internet was just a fad that would peter out in 2000 after the Millenium bug shut down the world's computers. Now Shaq is twittering. God save us all.

In the meantime, there's news to be written. While Manhattan's Fifth Avenue has shut down, with a tributary of green revelers gushing through its side streets, Brooklyn's Community Board One (Williamsburg and Greenpoint) is holding its monthly meeting at 211 Ainslie Street. What could be more fun than attending such a meeting? How about live blogging it?

Hey, this is kind of fun. The meeting starts at 6:30. Press row sits at 6. Chances CB1 Chair Vinny Abate brings 4 pounds of green dyed cookies from Fortunato Brothers to tide us all over? 300:1.