Thursday, April 30, 2009

On the bus to Albany


6 Things for Bushwickers to Watch in Albany

The Albany Death Star, otherwise known as Empire State Plaza, the complex of state buildings that rule your life. — Photos by Aaron Short

Last Tuesday, I hitched a ride to Albany with a busload of Orthodox Jews to check in on the State Legislature to see what they were up to as their session winds down over the next two months. Turns out there’s a lot. From vacancy decontrol to extending abuse statute of limitations to fixing the MTA, state legislators have their hands full this spring. Reporting how Albany politicking relates to everyday life in Bushwick can be complicated, so sit back and let BushwickBK break down Six Important Things to keep an eye on this legislative session.

Read on at:

New Column!

From the Greenpoint Gazette:

Short Takes - Can Parks Connect New and Old Residents?

When Luis Garden Acosta, the venerable founder of El Puente, looks across the street onto the multi-lane expressway that has bisected the Williamsburg community for fifty years, he sees hope.
From the enclosed concrete park at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge to a stretch of city-owned storage facilities on Broadway and Kent Avenue, Acosta envisions pockets of parkland throughout the South Side for children who play by the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, or spend their time cooped up in their apartments. Williamsburg already has one of the highest child and adult asthma rates in the city, as well as high rates of obesity and stress, which Acosta blames on the lack of adequate park space, away from truck routes and roadways expending exhaust on nearby playgrounds.
“We don’t need the waterfront to be a huge storage bin for city supplies and equipment,” said Acosta. “Our waterfront is necessary for the well being of the residents of this community and using the waterfront for a storage facility is bordering on immorality.”
Christine Holowacz of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Alliance and Neighbors Allied for Good Growth has similar concerns for parks in Greenpoint, urging elected leaders and city officials for new recreational space on 65 Commercial Street, the end of Manhattan Avenue, and along Newtown Creek.
“We’re surrounded by water and we have no access to it,” said Holowacz. “The amount of people here has grown tremendously yet the park space has not.”
Advocating for more park space throughout North Brooklyn is an issue that multiple community groups are beginning to take up. Last Wednesday, Open Space Alliance and El Puente hosted a forum for residents to share their open space and parks-related ideas with other community members. OSA volunteers distributed flyers throughout the neighborhood in both English and Spanish, and publicized it at several events leading up to the meeting. It was a small gathering but well-represented with community leaders from El Puente, Town Square, United Jewish Organization, Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, Churches United for Fair Housing, Community Board One, and OSA in attendance.
The meeting came about after Councilwoman Diana Reyna spoke with Parks Department officials about reaching out to existing North Side community groups advocating for open space. One of Reyna’s most ambitious plans is to construct a plaza over Rodney Street, effectively decking the BQE in order to provide a new city park on the South Side. At a Community Board One meeting earlier this year, Open Space Alliance’s Stephanie Thayer approached Esteban Duran, a CB 1 member, former Reyna staff member, and South Side resident active with Churches United for Fair Housing. Duran embraced the idea of open space advocacy and called El Puente to set a date for the parks forum.
“The biggest thing to keep in mind is that parks are not a luxury,” said Duran. “It’s an issue that everyone can get involved in. Parks are the extension of people’s houses. It’s their front yard and their back yard.”
While much of the local news media last month jumped on the announcement that summer concerts will be shifting from McCarren Park Pool to the East River State Park, the cross-collaboration of groups from the North Side and the South Side is the bigger story. Parks advocacy could have the unintended consequence of creating common ground among long time Spanish and Hasidic residents with diverse newcomers looking for ways to get involved in their community.
Acosta recognizes this, but he sees this work along the waterfront as arising from a strong desire to reclaim the local environment and as a way to bring Spanish, Polish, Hasidic, and young professional residents together to engage in activism. He believes it can be done because it has happened before. In 1994, Hasidic and Spanish communities along with then-councilman Ken Fisher worked together to fight the City on the proposed location of a $450 million trash incinerator. It is a victory Acosta remembers all too well.
“We all have the self-interest of improving the air we breathe and the earth we walk on,” said Acosta. “El Puente means ‘The Bridge’ and we want to create a natural bridge for people regardless of color, class, or age group.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Breaking News on Kent Avenue Bike Lanes

From the Greenpoint Gazette blog...

Parking to be restored on Kent Avenue!

BREAKING NEWS (Greenpoint and Williamsburg):

According to Government Officials, DOT is currently working with local electeds and community members to come up with a plan for the oh-so-controversial Kent Avenue bike lanes that suits motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and businesses alike. Apparently, the two-way bike lane will stay put, while parking will, in fact, be restored. More details to come. The GOs say the plan isn't finalized yet. We should expect this to go public in the next couple of weeks so stay tuned.

Swine Flu Quarantined at Brooklyn Kitchen

Photo by Juliet Linderman
"The key to defeating swine flu zombies is by removing the head or destroying the brain."

From dissecting pigs with butcher blogger Tom Mylan (he butchers like an editor), to sorting out a hit and run homicide, to enjoying the Weezer-like sounds of the Blue Album Group ( in a concert raising money for NAG's North Brooklyn Story Project, it's just another day in Greenpoint. As NAG's Lacey Tauber said, 'They sound better than actual Weezer" before grooving along to 'Only in Dreams'. Everyone got nostalgic for high school and I've slowly begun to realize that the planning for my 10-year high school reunion is probably going to end up on my desk in the next couple of weeks. Thanks a lot E.O. Smith class of 1999.

The big developing story today is what's going on with the Kent Avenue bike lanes in Williamsburg. Businesses are opposed to it but Congresswoman Velazquez is pushing it. We're trying to find out what's going on and dispel a lot of rumors about whether a lane will be stripped to provide for adequate parking for local businesses or if some other agreement has been worked out. Will post as soon as it is confirmed.

Steve Levin is feeling under the weather today. Don't worry, he definitely does not have swine flu. We checked. But please, somebody get him some chicken soup stat! Hey Tom Mylan, know any good chicken soup recipes?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sweet Dreams are Made of Thies

"Wait a minute. Guys, did we forget to call David Yassky?"

City Council candidate Evan Thies threw another fundraiser with Recession All-Star Norm Brodsky, his lovely wife Elaine, and about thirty local residents, Monday night, at CitiStorage (Kent and North 11th Street), which featured spectacular views of the Manhattan Skyline at dusk. The romantic mood kicked up a full notch as a DEP sludge tank slowly ambled by the Manhattan side of the East River.

This is the type of event where everybody is looking for something. I've known about this fundraiser for a while, but I still wanted to go to see Thies refine his stump speech and see who else showed up. It was the usual crowd of community leaders like MetroEnergy's Paul Pullo, right, (who spontaneously combusted before the speeches took place), attorney and interfaith leader Adam Perlmutter, the irrepressible Community Board 1 member and historic preservationist Ward Dennis (follow him on twitter!), CB1 member Heather Roslund, documentary filmmaker and CB1 member Dewey Thompson, and rock star mom Jane Pool. Jane had the only breaking news of the night. It involves Conan O'Brien. We can't talk about it. Jane also got in a fistfight with Henry Rollins of, yes, Black Flag, something like twenty years ago. Go ahead, ask him about it. He'll show you the scar.

Thies has been holding interviews with Working Families Party members and hopes to receive their endorsement in the coming weeks. He is also looking towards the support of other political clubs in Greenpoint and Williamsburg such as the Seneca Club, Smolenski Democratic Club, and New Kings Democrats, now that CBID endorsed Jo Anne Simon and IND will likely follow suit. Of course, the most important thing is adding more volunteers to the campaign and Thies is moving to do that as well. Most political observers believe it's critical for Thies to gain some momentum in the spring, before Mad Men calls him back for a new season. If you thought season two was intense, wait until season three!

Meanwhile, Jo Anne Simon had this to say about the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling (aka Ninja v. Pirate) that favored Mayor Michael Bloomberg's move to run for a third term:

“I am disappointed that the courts did not side with the people today, but with politics as usual. For any elected official, it is of the utmost importance to respect the public’s trust and stay true to the will of the people that they represent. I am running for city council so that our communities can have a seat at the table once more and to give them a meaningful voice as to how their government should operate. As a City Councilwoman, I will work tirelessly for a government that our communities can trust and one that will reflect their values and interests.”

Monday, April 27, 2009

Love is in the air?

"So we're in agreement, the wedding will take place next Spring, but only if we can get the permits for East River State Park."

Love was indeed in the air in McCarren Park in Greenpoint as residents, hipsters, a local karate youth league, kite-flying kids, hipster residents, softball players, this guy who looked like a young Malcolm Gladwell, and respective community leaders (above), enjoyed summer-like weather all weekend long. Every single square inch of McCarren Park was occupied by sunbathers taking advantage of temperatures in the upper 80s. Meanwhile handmade kites soared in the air above cerulean skies in a scene reminiscent of a Monet painting.

Indoors, Neighbors Allied for Good Growth threw an affordable housing conference keynoted by Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. The highlight was a film emceed by St. Nicholas' Neighborhood NPC Alison Cordero that showed community activism in Cooper Park, and other Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods. The other highlight was the spread, which included a plate of donuts from Peter Pan Bakery. Overall, I give the NAG Affordable Housing Conference 3 out of 4 donut plates.

Unfortunately, not everything was sunshine and kisses in Greenpoint this weekend, as two criminals turned the neighborhood into Grand Theft Auto IV, wrecking several vehicles in a hit-and-run. One homicide, possibly two. Khristina Narizhnaya and Juliet Linderman break the story on the Greenpoint Gazette blog (that's, so check that out as more information becomes known. Thank goodness I didn't go outside to get lunch today.

Photo by Khristina Narizhnaya
"Honey, remember I parked on the green sedan!"

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Short List (Now with anonymous commenting!)

Assemblyman Joe Lentol is a ROCK-efeller Drug Law STAR

...A look into the week that was and what lies ahead.

Tasty bits of coverage on the 33rd District City Council race leads off The Short List this week, as the candidates snoozed their way through the CBID/ IND forum on Monday. Jo Anne Simon picked up the CBID endorsement (Josh Skaller from the 39 picked one up to) last night. We've got Brooklyn Heights Blog Sarah Portlock with the wrap, Gersh Kuntzman's Politicrasher with the Op-Ed take, Mole333's take from The Daily Gotham, and a video round up from the Politicker. Thies is holding a fundraiser Monday night and we hear he may finally get a body man. He could use one. Also Doug Biviano's family, above, reminds me of a real life version of The Incredibles.
"Of course I have a secret identity. I don't know a single superhero who doesn't. Who wants the pressure of being super all the time? "

Looks like Vito is weighing in on the Kent Avenue bike lanes issue. But then again maybe not. Of course its the Sabbath, so we won't know for sure for a couple of days. Tracking.

Earth Day, sponsored by Town Square, (Earth Day in McCarren Park that is) was a pretty interesting event last Sunday. Lots of local vendors, multiple candidates milling about and one band played for FOUR HOURS. For FREE. Plus, I ate an apple from MetroEnergy, which had a row of biofuel samples displayed on their table. One of them was definitely scotch.

The Greenpoint Gazette Staff won Greenpoint Trivia Night, sponsored by the Nassau Avenue Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Good job Linderman. This is the kind of event where "What is Teresa Toro?" is the answer to half the questions.

Early notes about the Gubernatorial race: I had a conversation with an attorney who attended a fundraiser for Governor David Paterson at the Harvard Club in midtown. A small group of protesters commandeered the sidewalk outside. Inside, attorneys were talking with each other about Paterson's chances for re-election. Spoiler alert! They weren't good.
"Once they smell blood, the press begins circling, and they're circling around him," the attorney said, explaining the Governor's sub-Nixonian approval ratings. "The bad news is he did to himself."

And finally, NAG's Affordable Housing Forum is all day tomorrow (Saturday) at Boricua College. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez is scheduled to speak at 11:30 AM. She's back from Mexico after spending Spring Break with the President. Looking good Nydia!

New Column!

This week's column from the Greenpoint Gazette is about what happens when you visit the Department of Labor's Brooklyn Office to get job counseling and unemployment benefits assistance. After I wrote the piece I noticed that the Fort Green Local also wrote a piece about it. Well, um, read that one too.

Short Takes-The Day After the Day You Lost Your Job

When I wake up in the morning, I turn the radio on to listen to two forecasts at the top of the hour. The weather this spring may be sunny, cloudy, or alternately stormy but the economic forecast is pretty consistently bleak.
Each week brings about a new indicator of the region’s economic climate. Brooklyn has a labor force of 1,129,100 able individuals. In March 2009, the Kings County unemployment rate was 8.7 percent, with 97,800 unemployed individuals in the borough, compared with the citywide rate of 8.2 percent. Only the Bronx, at 10.5 percent, has a higher rate. One year ago, it was a different story. Brooklyn had an unemployment rate of 5 percent, with 54,800 unemployed individuals, compared with the citywide rate of 4.6 percent.
At its new headquarters in 10 MetroTech Center just off Fulton Avenue in downtown Brooklyn, counselors see close to 500 unemployed workers each day, almost 2000 per week, all of whom have applied for benefits. When the economy began shedding jobs during one ten-day period in January, the Department of Labor fielded 500,000 calls and had to hire additional staff to keep up with the call volume. So many people tried to claim unemployment benefits online that the Department’s website crashed. Twice.
If these figures appear daunting just listening to the morning news, imagine what it must be like to listen to each individual in Brooklyn who has lost his or her job in the past month. That’s what Antonio Ferreira, photographed above, does every day as a counselor with the New York State Department of Labor.
A seminary educated, former pilot with the 82nd airborne division, Ferreira advises everyone from former pharmaceutical executives with six figure salaries to undocumented immigrants without high school degrees. He speaks Spanish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese and Urdu, interviewing clients about their past work experiences and help them set tangible steps for finding work in the future.
“We can provide a certain amount of comfort by providing them with a service such as rewriting a resume and providing job sites on the Internet,” said Ferreira.
In his observations, Ferreira said the most common emotion newly unemployed individuals express is anger, though often people are depressed and still shocked over their lack of work. Sometimes particularly stressed clients break down into tears or share their life story, including the details leading up to their recent unemployment. If an individual becomes emotional, he refers the client to a professional counselor to provide more of a therapeutic response than Ferreira is trained to give.
“It’s very frustrating to go for a long time without work and if you have no one to reach out to for jobs. It can make even a confident person go down the tubes very easily.”
While some recent economic forecasts claim that there are signs the economic downturn may be ebbing or at least stabilizing, Henry Silverman, right, manager of the Department of Labor’s Services Division and Ferreira’s supervisor, is more pessimistic. He sees no shortage of individuals rushing to MetroTech to utilize their services and neither does the state Department of Labor and Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which extended unemployment benefits to 59 weeks. The weekly benefit allocation for New York City residents is still lower than the amounts in neighboring regions, but the DOL appears to have recognized the crisis and moved quickly to ameliorate it.
“When things are bad, people will go back to school,” said Silverman. “It helps people stay and meet other people. Only looking online for jobs by yourself is no good.”
The Department of Labor sponsors job fares and training workshops throughout the city but there has not been one in Greenpoint or Williamsburg recently. Silverman does not recall the last time there was such an event, though his department has worked with EWVIDCO, an industrial business organization in North Brooklyn, in the past.
“I haven’t been asked to do one but we’re always looking to reach a larger audience and get more employers involved.”
At a recent roundtable in Sheepshead Bay, Congressman Anthony Weiner said that the federal stimulus package is beginning to create construction jobs, and helped offset further layoffs among teachers, police officers, firefighters and health care workers in the city. However, Weiner sees further storms in the region’s fiscal climate.
“I think we’re going to go through a period where we’re going to shed more jobs for a while,” said Weiner.
Better pack an updated resume and an umbrella.


Last night, at around 11 PM, Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats handed out the first major democratic club endorsement of the campaign season to candidates in the 33rd and 39th City Council districts. Josh Skaller, left, picked up the endorsement from the 39th and Jo Anne Simon, right, got the nod for the 33rd. Skaller's endorsement puts him on an even footing with Brad Lander, who was recently endorsed by the Working Families Party. Simon is planning a roll out of endorsements including Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Assemblywoman Joan Millman.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Michael Harris Goes to the Mayor

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, left, reacts to unfavorable criticism in the local press.

At a press conference last week in Governor David Paterson's midtown offices, Mayor Michael Bloomberg lashed out at a disabled reporter whose audio recorder accidentally started playing in the middle of the Mayor's address. The Mayor apologized, but disabled activists have been disappointed with the response and much of the damage has already been done. Clyde Haberman wrote a column about the incident for the Times, many of the dalies mentioned the episode, and it was even picked up overseas. The reporter mentioned in the incident, Michael Harris, a writer for the Examiner, held his own press conference about the issue and was not satisfied by the Mayor's apology.

Let me tell you a little about Michael Harris.

I run into Michael every so often in City Hall or at New York State Young Democrats events where he is an active leader with the disability and Jewish caucuses. I met Michael maybe three years ago at a Young Democrats of America convention in Philadelphia. At a bar in Center City that had several steps in its lobby and no ramp, several of us lifted Michael up, over the steps and grabbed his wheelchair too so he could join the crowd and mingle. In an industry where knowing people is currency, Michael knows everyone. And for someone his age, he has the best rolodex in town.

This became abundantly clear at a Manhattan Young Democrats Purim Party shortly after that YDA convention in 2006. Michael had been working with the Kerry campaign doing advance work, if I recall correctly, and they took a liking to him. More to the point, Senator Kerry took a liking to him and gave him his cell phone number. Michael told several of us in the room that he had met former president Gerald Ford recently and Ford had called him asking him to help set up an event in the city. On his cell phone number.

I immediately took it upon myself to try to convince Michael that we should prank call Gerald Ford. An opportunity like this only happens once in maybe twenty years after all. Michael said, "No, we can't do that, those numbers are for emergencies. We can never use them, ever!" and I said, "but Michael, you're not going to put together an event for him, you don't even like him. Plus he's probably going to be dead in a couple of years anyway. Do it. It's f#cking Purim."

What happened? You'll have to ask Michael.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Fascinatingly normal debate tonight in the 33rd District, hosted by Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats and Independent Neighborhood Democrats. To update everyone, there are now seven candidates in the race, as environmental engineer and Brooklyn Heights resident Doug Biviano made his first public appearance in the campaign. The highlight may have been Biviano's adorable children swinging from their mom near the end of the debate or finally meeting Evan Thies' lovely wife for the first time. I embarassed myself in front of both of them. I will not elaborate. At least the Kens (Ken Diamondstone and Ken Baer) were in good spirits. They need a theme song.

(Edited: I forgot. The third highlight was Biviano's near-Yogi Berra collection of one-liners, my favorite of which addressed eminent domain, "You have to set the language, it’s all about the language, I want to be a leader in setting the language." There's also the statement about the community forum led by State Senator Daniel Squadron, "Dan really hit Democracy out of the park with that one." Maybe it's more of a half Yogi.)

Isaac Abraham, the Hasidic Al Sharpton figure in this race, tried desparately to make things interesting, but not even he could succeed in stirring a murmur through the polite crowd. Welcome to the BH, yo! That's how we do it in the BH! Listen politely! Not even a couple of Brooklyn Bridge Park or Atlantic Yards jabs could shake up this soporific crowd.

I'm being too harsh. Diamondstone tried to rustle a few feathers with a short diatribe against the Kings County Machine (which would be a great name for a band), while Evan Theis and Jo Anne Simon sharpened their responses and likely solidified support within their camps. An Independent Neighborhood Democrats member, this is Simon's home turf, and she mostly played it safe, shining in questions on educational and reform. Thies, the second youngest in the race, showed an impressive grasp of policy may have gained a few supporters, but he needs to build a volunteer base as friends of Simon, Baer, and Diamondstone handed out flyers at the begining of the debate. The one candidate with the most to gain, Steve Levin, skipped out on this one, attending two events in Park Slope and one in Greenpoint (that would be Gazette Publisher Jeff Mann's 40th birthday). Here's betting the next time one of these events occurs, it'll be a lot more entertaining. Allright. Off to bed.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hope Gardens Springs Eternal

Ahhh Mondays. Triple deadlines (labor column, piece on the Louis Armstrong Museum's new visitors center, and an MTA budget story) plus the first campaign forum of the year for the 33rd District tonight, plus a likely trip to Albany tomorrow. Will have more info on the forum and what it means later this week. In the meantime, check out this running diary last week I wrote for Community Board Four (at right) at

Bushwick Community Board ‘Live’: April 09

April meeting superstar Raul Rubio dazzles his audience with PowerPoint

Tune in every month for Aaron Short’s report from CB4, the Bushwick Community Board’s monthly meeting. Check out last month’s minutes.

It’s that time of the month again in Bushwick. In honor of Passover, I put a brisket in the oven at 5:30 PM and walked over to the Hope Gardens Community Center to determine whether the meeting would be Brisket Worthy. By the time I come back home, will my brisket be fork tender? There’s only one way to find out… and that’s through another running diary of the Community Board Four meeting!

For more information, visit

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Short List

Bubbe 1 to Bubbe 2: "Zuch a nice young man, but can he fix our televion sets?"

One of these days, we're going to have a slow week in the neighborhood. Unfortunately it will be Thanksgiving. Until then, it's time for The Short List!: A look at the week that went by and what is heading our way in the days that follow. This week's Short List is brought to you by Rep. Anthony Weiner's visit to The Council Center for Senior Citizens. See above.

The biggest story this week was not the grand opening of Yankee Stadium (despite what Greenpoint Gazette publisher Jeff Mann says), nor was it Governor Paterson's introduction of a Same Sex marriage bill although it's close, or even the Times cutting it's City Section and threatening to close the Boston Globe (Emily Rooney has the commentary), which is extremely depressing. It was the installation of New York's new Archbishop, Timothy Dolan. The new Archbishop has a lot on his seder plate from same sex marriage, to dwindling church attendance, Catholic school closings, the continuing immigration crisis, the heavy demand on emergency food services, fewer priests in the seminary, and those pesky statue of limitations bills. Hopefully he's looking at the bright side of life.

Back in Brooklyn, an eventful Community Board One meeting witnessed a presentation on adding a cycling lane to the Pulaski Bridge, a downzoning vote, a small fuss about Williamsburg Walks, and... well... people were still a bit woozy from those passover bonfires. It's like I was back at summer camp in the Catskills!

In environmental news, NCMC's Mathy Stanislaus is heading to the EPA soon... probably..., Earth Day is coming to McCarren Park with Town Square Alliance on Sunday from 11 AM to 4 PM, and a highly charged meeting in Carroll Gardens regarding Superfund designation for the Gowanus Canal in which Mayor Bloomberg's staff announced the mayor was opposing the move. Brooklyn Paper ace Mike McLaughlin has a good write up of the debate here. The Times has the developer angle and an updated blog post. Nydia couldn't wait to get out of there fast enough. Hope you're having fun with Barack on Spring Break!

And finally, Monday night marks the beginning of the 33rd City Council campaign forums/ debates/ beauty pageant with a candidates forum sponsored by Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats and Independent Neighborhood Democrats at St. Francis College at 180 Remsen Street. It's at 7 PM.

After that, stop by the Mark Bar (1025 Manhattan Avenue) around 8PM for Greenpoint Trivia Night, sponsored by The Greenpoint Library Friends Group. Gazette Publisher Jeff Mann is celebrating his 39th? 58th? 14th? birthday there. We've got some trivia for you. Which candidate has the best silhouette in North Brooklyn? Hint: he's on the right.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New Column!

Earth Day themed column from the Greenpoint Gazette!

Short Takes-Living Green in GP

Three weeks ago, Ian Kim opened an eco-friendly dry cleaning business on Manhattan Avenue called GreenHangers. Actually, they are technically wet cleaners utilizing a cleaning technique that involves water chilled below freezing levels and natural detergents instead of toxic hydrocarbon and chlorinated solvents.
“We will provide eco cleaning services to give consumers a choice,” Kim said. “Over eighty percent of the general public does not wish to go against manufacturers direction for cleaning, but we want to give them the option to use this service.”
Green businesses are very popular these days, despite the recession, but eco-cleaners have a particular resonance in Greenpoint. Over two years ago, the Department of Transportation and ExxonMobil discovered the presence of two chlorinated solvent plumes in East Greenpoint and Williamsburg near the end of Meeker Avenue. The plumes were the result of decades of chemical leakages and disposals of dozens of industrial dry cleaning and metalworking facilities, many of which have gone out of business. In the months that followed, the State Department of Environmental Conservation has conduced a series of tests in Greenpoint to determine the location of the plume and the level of toxicity, before adding four sites to the state’s Superfund list.
The most common contaminant found in soil vapor samples is tetrachloroethylene (PERC), a detergent with cancer-causing chemicals used by dry cleaning companies to remove odors from clothing. The State Department of Health has been testing several homes above the Meeker Plumes for vapor intrusion and offered mitigation services if PERC levels are above the state’s minimum standards. Thankfully, few homes have needed the mitigation, but the testing continues.
PERC has been mentioned in the news recently as the Environmental Protection Agency indicated last week it may reconsider whether they will force dry cleaning businesses to eliminate the usage of the chlorinated solvent by the end of the year. States such as California are already pursuing legislation to require dry cleaners to stop using PERC and switch to other ways, such as eco-cleaning, that employ water-based cleaning methods.
Michael Schade, a campaign coordinator with the Center for Health and Environmental Justice, says there are similar groundwater and vapor intrusion problems throughout the city and the Meeker Plume contamination is just the tip of a toxic iceberg.
“The Meeker Avenue Plumes is just a warning sign and there are likely many other contaminated vapor sites because the city and the state environmental agencies have not been conducting thorough testing to identify possible contaminated sites,” said Schade
Getting individual dry cleaning companies to change the chemicals they use will require a combination of political will and consumer choice. Environmental advocacy groups are lobbying the state legislature to adopt more stringent levels of contamination for chemicals such as PERC that are more in line with levels in neighboring states.
“People have to realize that the levels of chemicals due to vapor intrusion may also be in their home from dry cleaning clothes,” said Lenny Siegel, Director of the Center for Public and Environmental Oversight. “If New York State’s Department of Health were to adopt standards reflective of the rest of the country with regard to PERC, many sites in the city would have unacceptable levels of PERC in their indoor and outdoor air.”
In Greenpoint, organizations such as the Newtown Creek Alliance have been working with Assemblyman Joseph Lentol and state officials to hold public information forums for residents about the dangers of the chlorinated solvent plumes, debunking several myths. As more information about PERC is disseminated, Greenpoint residents will be in a position to make more informed choices not only about where they live but what they buy.
“You need political requirements so that there are alternatives available,” Siegel said.
“Once those alternatives are available, people need to seek them to make sure that they are economically viable. There are studies to show that the wet cleaners are economically viable, but that depends on people actually going to them. You want to make sure mom and pop stores don’t go out of business doing this. You won’t succeed in establishing alternatives if there’s a hardship in the business.”
Ian Kim is hoping more local residents seek GreenHangers out and inquire about their wet cleaning process, which will be available in two weeks. For environmental advocates, the choice is an obvious one, but as Earth Day approaches, the state and the federal environmental agencies remain a step behind.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Looking for Easter Eggs with Ward Dennis

6:30 PM Happy Easter and Passover everyone! It's time for another running diary of the monthly Community Board One meetings. I'm blogging live tonight from 211 Ainslie Street, aka the Swinging Sixties Senior Center's common room which is entirely too hot. As of 6:30 PM, the room is crowded, though only two people standing. I just got back from a five hour bus ride from Connecticut and I have a pounding headache. I asked four members if they have any painkillers on them but apparently everyone keeps their Vicodin at home. Press Row is not helpful either. Greg Hanlon says he has Viagra. I think he meant Lipitor. Also, Jeffrey Harmatz shaved his beard.

6:41 PM Meeting is called to order. The first speaker are the owners of The Alligator Lounge. They've taken over Lost and Found Bar in Greenpoint, but they're looking to add outdoor seating to Alligator Lounge I on Metropolitan. Jennifer Hilton trying to ask a question gets politely shouted down by The Chairman she's not a board member. Vinnie is in fine form tonight.
Vinnie "I am the Chairman" Abate is on fire tonight!

6:45 PM Felice Kirby (like the cucumber), Jennifer Hilton, Peter Gillespie, and a half dozen people from People's Firehouse give the first presentation of the night, announcing plans to convert the People's Firehouse to a community center. This has been a long struggle, since the city shut down Engine 212 in 2003. They need $2 million to operate the Northside Town Hall Community and Cultural Center and so far they have commitments of $110,000. Tonight, they're mostly asking for money and the presentation is probably the highlight of the meeting. That and the abnormally large number of young people at the meeting. Are they here from NAG? Or Transportation Alternatives? Are they Evan Theis groupies? A Short Story will get to the bottom of this. We already found out Jo Anne Simon is Catholic.

6:56 PM The Chairman cuts off another People's Firehouse presenter. He's two for two tonight. Press Row is going to miss him.

7:03 PM Ward Dennis gives his report, enthusiastically supporting the contextual rezoning of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Rabbi David Niederman, President of UJO and a community one board member, enters the room. Two weeks ago, the United Jewish Organization had one of the best legislative breakfasts I have ever been to. Great spread. Whitefish, lox, cream cheese with little bits of lox. And grapefruit juice! I got to lift Senator Dan Squadron in a chair and lots of people put envelopes in Steve Levin's suit jacket. Kidding!
Mazel Tov Steve!

7:12 PM It's Transportation time with CB1's efficacious Transportation guru, Teresa Toro. Toro gives the rundown about a presentation regarding the redesign of Pulaski Bridge to make it more accessible for pedestrians. She's a little press shy these days, after all the attention she received earlier this year. We'll just link to the stories rather than explain it all over again. Anyway, Teresa's in a good mood. We think. Greg, is Teresa in a good mood? Greg has no comment.

Chris Olechowski
starts talking. He wants to be the next chair when Vinnie retires later this year. He also wants a DOT study about traffic on the Pulaski bridge and some other things. Toro says traffic is not an Act of God. Of course neither is piracy, but this just happened! So what now? Will they send a letter along with Queens Community Board 2? Ahhh, the board sunk the letter. Man overboard!

Somali pirates attempt to speak at the Community Board 1 meeting but are not recognized by Chairman Abate.

7:39 PM CB1 heartthrob Miezsko Kalita gives a brief Public Safety report. New York Shitty had the rundown a few weeks ago. We will be closely monitoring moves from "the stache" as the community board's term comes to a close.

7:49 PM CB1 rising star, Jaye Fox, delivers her first Motion Pictures Committee report. She's trying to get a dialogue going with the city's Department of Film. Fox said that particular areas around the historic district in Greenpoint have been negatively affected, as have areas around the Williamsburg armory in South Wiliamsburg, which have closed down for a period of a couple of months. Local residents are pissed but a rep from Diana Reyna's office says residents in South Williamsburg have not yet reached out to them. Also covered were parking woes, signs on trees and permit fees. It was obviously an introductory meeting, but sounds like they got a lot accomplished.

7:57 PM And we're into Public Session! It needs its own theme music. Hell yeah!

*An announcement about the Brooklyn Food Conference, on May 2 at John Jay High School in Park Slope and PS 321. It's an all-day free conference, cosponsored by the Park Slope Food Co-Op, and they're 2000 people! Starts with a parade and ends with a dinner dance.

*NAG's Lacey Tauber announces a Municipal Arts Society training session day on Saturday May 16, livable neighborhoods program at Hunter College. I went to one held at Pratt last year and it was extremely informative. Check them out at

*A local businesswoman who owns a lingerie store on Bedford Street registers a complaint about Williamsburg Walks. Apparently the pedestrian progam negatively affected sales for local businesses there. Fortunately, half of the Williamsburg Walks planners are in the room right now. Before the next speaker even started, Peter Gillespie of NAG pulled her into the hallway. And shut the door. The Brooklyn Paper's Ben Muessig waits patiently outside for his interview.

*Julia Morrow, super staffer for Open Space Alliance, announces programming in East River State Park and the formation of a new committee and a community meeting to discuss adding park space in the South Side. Community Board One's Esteban Duran and Councilwoman Diana Reyna is also involved. The meeting is on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 6:30 PM at El Puente. In the middle of Julia's presentation, The Chairman shouts down Stephanie Thayer for Lord knows why. He's four for four tonight for those keeping track at home.

*Moses Gates of Greenline gives a short presentation about the process of making the Pulaski Bridge more pedestrian friendly. Transalt videographer Marin Tockman joined him at the CB1 Transportation Committee meeting. They'll be back. This bridge issue isn't going anywhere.

*And finally, Amy Abrams and Ronen Glimer of Artists and Fleas are here to announce they will be opening up an artists flea market in McCarren Park on Saturdays with proceeds going to Artists and Fleas. Open Space Alliance is involved with them too.

8:28 PM Well, that's it. On the right is Ciara McKeown, who is helping Rami Metal with the North Brooklyn Public Art Coalition. I promised Rami a shout out about the new coalition and the India Street Mural project. The submission deadline for the mural proposal is April 24th at 5 PM. Greenpointers is also blogging about their current developments. Call 718-875-5200 extension 14 or email for more information.
McKeown was kind enough to give us her list of favorites at the end of the meeting. They are edited below:
Color: Red
Team: Mets
Pets: None
Neighborhood: Greenpoint
Restaurant: Greenpoint Cafe
Moment in tonight's CB1 meeting: The end. (We couldn't agree more)