Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Vinny's Way: Take Two

Updated! Thank you Genia Gould for the blog rescue!

Unfortunately, the end is not near. In fact, it's just beginning, at Community Board One's monthly meeting, which is expected to stretch well into the night. So, strap in Greenpoint and Williamsburg! Let's get right to it.

6:15 PM: I have never seen this many people here this early. There is not a seat in the house and we are viciously hoarding four seats at Press Row. The front door is jammed and we're way over Fire Safety capacity for the room, which is 180 people. Every twenty seconds someone comes up and asks us, are these seats taken? Yes! Yes, they’re taken! All the South Side activists, Broadway Triangle Community Coalition members, and lots of transportation advocates from Transportation Alternatives, NAG, the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative and God knows where else have flooded the place. That’s because two major items are on the docket for public session tonight: Broadway Triangle and the Kent Avenue bike lane plan. Both are, as CB1's Teresa Toro says, a "tell not an ask." There will be no voting.

There’s an anticipatory buzz in the air tonight too, as board members will choose their new chair for the first time in thirty years. Vincent Abate Junior was elected in 1980 and he has outlasted dozens of councilmembers, state legislators and congressmen, not to mention four mayors. But today is his last official day as Chairperson. A sad day, certainly. I am looking forward to the tributes.

One more round for The Chairman!
6:33 PM: The Chairman reads the roll call and a hush falls over the crowd. The Broadway Triangle renewal plan and The Chairman reads the zoning action, in its entirety. Department of City Planning and Housing officials sit huddled in the corner of the front of the room. They look slightly frightened. One of them is HPD Brooklyn Director, Jack Hammer, who has the best porno name of any city official I have ever heard. Did you know he is also the host of Sexual Jeopardy?

A DCP official barely says once sentence before hundreds of community members stand up and shout “Open Process! Open Process!” The Greenpoint Gazette's Juliet Linderman and I stand on our chairs to get better photos of the crowd while Gerry Esposito slips through the back way and soon a Community Affairs officer from the 90th Precinct come back with him. I see NAG's Peter Gillespie take a swig of beer. Hey Peter, got any more?

6:48 PM: The chanting continues on for fifteen minutes and I spot Marty Needelman, the attorney who is representing the BTCC and an arch rival of Assemblyman Vito Lopez. I ask Marty what happens if the 90th precinct floods the place and arrests everyone."No comment," says Marty.DCP continues to do their presentation, and the muffled sounds of a microphone are barely perceptible above the unified chants of the crowd. Poor Chris Olechowski. He just wants to be chair already. The Chairman doesn’t look happy either. He’s thinking, "I won’t miss this."

6:54 PM: Shut it down! Shut it Down Shut it down! Shut it down!

7:07 PM: More chants, “Let Esteban speak!” Gerry folds down the overhead and stops the presentation. Esteban Duran, a CB 1 member and member of Churches United for Fair Housing starts speaking. The Chair says, "You're out of order." Esteban ignores him. "Thank you so much for coming. They didn’t even want to take questions. We asked people to come here, the city won’t ask their questions. That’s ridiculous! As a community board, we expect to hear answers to questions directed at business owners and people applying for liquor licenses but HPD didn't even stay to take answers from Board members, let alone the public. They are blatantly trying to shove this plan down the communities throat despite their being tremendous opposition."

7:10 PM: Twin chants break out: "Rejected! Rejected! and Open Process! Open Process!" while Congressional liaison Evelyn Cruz, sitting on stage left whispers, "Can you believe this?"Also, does anyone know where Diana Reyna is? And... um... couldn't someone give her a call to let her know what's going on?

7:11 PM: The Chairman ends discussion of the item, HPD and DCP officials slowly file out of the room's back entrance. Yes, even Jack Hammer pulls out of the meeting prematurely. Once the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition members realize that the board has moved on to the next item on the agenda, they left the room to hold an impromptu rally on the steps of the Swinging Sixties Center. I run outside to conduct several interviews for my Broadway Triangle story, and see several Ridgewood Bushwick sympathizers who support the city's current rezoning action. Hey, is that Jan Peterson? I think it is! Hi Jan!

7:30 PM Inside, The Chairman has moved elections to the front of the agenda and Chair candidates Chris Olechowski and Mieszko Kalita read their statements. Let's start with Mieszko.

I came to Greenpoint straight from the airport. It was 1984, a year later, I got married on a church on Eagle Street. For the last 21 years, one month and six days, together with my wife Beata, we have been running a delicatessen on Manhattan Ave named in her honor. Their neighbors have eaten more breakfasts at my store than in their own homes.There are children whose lunches are made more often by me than by their parents. Running the deli gives me an opportunity to get insights from people who live in the neighborhood. They feel comfortable and safe to chat with my wife and me about things that matter to them. Consequently I know what is going on in the community from man and woman who come to have breakfast or pick up lunch for their kids, those who consider our store a place to do their daily grocery shopping, all of whom care deeply about their neighborhood. I listen to their concerns about bus service, schools, construction noise, train service, and other matters, that directly affect them on a daily basis. It has made me think about how to take their concerns, get them heard by the right people and resolve them.While Greenpoint makes up a large part of this board, it is only one of the diverse neighborhoods that make up Greenpoint-Williamsburg, one of the most diverse in New York. In my eight years on the board I have listened carefully to the concerns not just of my neighbors in Greenpoint but throughout the district. Each neighborhood is unique and distinct but our concerns are quite similar. We want better schools, less crime, fewer bars, less noise, better roads, and transportation, more affordable housing. While the role of the Board is advisory, I have learned just how much valuable and lasting work has been done by our members to improve our quality of life.The community board may not be patrolling the streets, but our voices and our actions help serve and protect the community, I also know from my work on the Parks committee that our community is consistently getting cheated by the city. For example the parks that were promised by the City in the 2005 rezoning negotiations are not being built even though the hundreds if not thousands of condos are. Another thing that is not being built is affordable housing. We worked hard on the rezoning in 2005, but our follow-up has not been effective. There are some issues I strongly believe that the community board can work to change. But in order to win victories for this community we have to work more efficient, we have to work together and we have to speak with a strong and firm voice.I hope my vision for the future of this community is similar to yours. This is a great board with many very hard working volunteers and dedicated staff. We have accomplished a lot by working together. We can do so much more if we have a clear set of goals. I would be honored to be elected chairman and work with such a diverse and devoted group of people.

Ok, now, here's Chris' statement, which he also emailed out to board members earlier this week.

I think of the times spent with friends at McCarren Park Pool or playing soccer on the grassless field. Unlike today, Greenpoint and Williamsburg were barely on anyone’s radar screen, just one of New York’s unique multiethnic neighborhoods walled-in by heavy industry and pollution, but times changed.By 1990 I became permanently settled here, married with two children. From the time on Greenpoint and Williamsburg was the community that I not only lived in but worked in, first as a director of refugee assistance ant the polish and Slavic center and finally over the last sixteen years as Director of PSC Community Services, which services over 700 Medicaid eligible patients most of them residing in our area. I was good at developing and expanding these community programs but I felt that it was not enough. While running this growing agency and raising a family, I still managed to earn a masters degree in public administration from Columbia University. About the same time, I was appointed to our community board. This was when I began to really embrace Greenpoint and Williamsburg. I was not only part of it physically, not only employed in it, but by becoming a community board member I was absorbed into the world of active volunteerism.My full involvement would not have been complete until I participated in our community efforts such as fighting the power plant, which threatened our waterfront or joining the offshoot of that struggle, the Greenpoint waterfront association of parks and planning, where I was exposed to other community leaders and their expert recommendations on issues of open space and parkland. When I chaired rezoning task force for CB1 I could appreciate the diversity of ideas and skills that so many community organizers and residents brought to the table. It wasn’t long before I was appointed CB liaison to the mayor’s community advisory board, which I regularly attend while serving as chair of the waterfront committee.I have always realized the great potential of Greenpoint and Williamsburg and I am extremely proud to serve its constituency as someone who can lead with a sense of fairness and integrity. Thank you for your consideration in voting for me as your next chairman.

8:01 PM: Let's open the polls cause we're onto elections! New board members Solomon Bondo, Karen Nieves, Moshe Kahan, and Chanel Guy- Roper are sworn in. The Chairman can’t resist taking a swipe at the disruptive crowd. "Of all my years on the community board, this had to happen at my last meeting!" All is forgiven, as Gerry presents Vinnie with a plaque for his thirty years of service and the community board members give Vinny a standing ovation.
Black smoke rises from the Swinging Sixties Center

8:05 PM: The Chairman starts the roll call, but this time they collect ballots for the new chair Adam Perlmutter leans over and asks me what the odds are. I have the margin at +3 for Chris. Anyone taking the Over?

8:12 PM: While the votes are being counted in the back room, the board hears an emotional street renaming request. The board already approved Charno Way on Manhattan and Greenpoint Avenues, and this one is a little emotional. It's getting a little misty in here and Teresa is already tearing up a little bit."I always cry during street namings," said Toro. "I just feel so overwhelmed."
Oh shit! You know that this means!

8:21 PM: Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new Chair! By a vote of 27 to 18, Christopher Olechowski is the Chairman Elect of Brooklyn Community Board One! Chris thanks The Chairman Emeritus for his service to the community and Miezsko for his dedication to the community's public safety. What a lovely note to end the meeting on. Public session and we wrap it all up...

8:23 PM: No! Not the last word! Dear God, we're not done at all! I forgot about the bike lanes. Transportation Alternatives activists didn't, and they look pleased when DOT project Alan Ma, project manager of the DOT finally takes the mic. Ma talks about curbside parking, a two-way bike path on the north curb, and one-way northbound traffic on Kent Avenue, which is mostly a rehash of a presentation at last month's 3 hour long transportation committee meeting.

8:24 PM: Shut it down! Shut it down! Shut it down!

8:25 PM: A series of mild interruptions from several residents and business owners on Kent Avenue and North 11th. They're clearly upset about truck traffic being rerouted on their block. They have a valid point, but this is not the place to be making these remarks. Also, their cheers are not as catchy as the United Neighborhood Organizations and Churches United.

8:48 PM: The Chairman motions to end discussion. Motion carries.
We go to reaction from Press Row:
“This is a sh#tshow. Albany is falling apart, CB1 is falling apart. There’s chaos everywhere,” says Linderman.
"This is the most ridiculous meeting I've been to. We've had protests, we've had tears. It's been a roller coaster ride," says Brooklyn Paper's Ben Muessig.
WG News+Arts' Reid Pillifant looks up from his notebook, sighs, and goes back to writing.

8:53 PM: Ward Dennis gives his ULURP report, followed by Evan Thies’ Sanitation report, followed by Teresa Toro's Transportation report. While I step out to do some bike lane-related interviews, Toro asks CB1 to sign a letter to request a study to ask the DOT to review pedestrian and bicycle space on the Pulaski bridge. The board approves. This totally slipped through. NAG's Lacey Tauber, Marin Tockman, and Transportation Alternatives' Kevin Vincent like this a lot. It's been a good night for Transportation Alternatives.

9:12: Miezko gives his report of new liquor licenses. I think he’s calculating how to stage a coup. The licenses are approved. Juliet comes back from doing interviews in the hallway and she looks horrified.
Juliet: I think Guido just called me funny looking.
Me: Guido called you funny looking?
Juliet: He said to (Greenpoint Gazette reporter) Khristina, 'You’re a pretty girl to be in the press. Usually the press is more funny looking.' Then he looked at me. This meeting could not get more surreal.

9:15 PM: Luis Garden Acosta, Frank Lang, Evelyn Cruz, Michael Rochford, Phil DePaolo, Rob Solano, Barbara Vitell, Leah Archibald, Jeff Mann, Genia Gould, Doug Biviano, St. Nick’s Rolando Guzman, BLS’ Victor Martinez, Evan Thies and Guido are still here. Isn't it past The Chairman Emeritus' bedtime?

9:23 PM: After Karen Leader certifies the vote, we’re into an extremely late-running public session. Let's just do the highlights:

*Tracy Mantrone, a librarian from the Williamsburgh branch talks about how they’re cutting $17 million from the Brooklyn Public Library. I’ve seen this report at CB2 and CB 4 and the librarians are getting around.
*Jane Gabriels of Chez Bushwick gives an update on Capital B whcih held a nonprofit development meeting at Lumehouse yesterday.
* The Newtown Creek Health and Harms Narrative Project announces a meeting on Tuesday June 17 at the Lutheran Church20of the Messiah.
*Jessica Douglas, regional coordinator of Greenmarkets in North Brooklyn Market, says the market is moving in October, because of dmage done to the grass. They will be on Union Street between Driggs and North 12th Street.
*Transportation Alternatives' Wiley Norvell says he thinks the Kent Avenue bike lanes plan is one that can evolve, that the design never reached consensus but that it's a good one and there's room for improvement.

9:46 PM: I have to pull back a little bit and recognize something that's happening during public session. Two Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizen Council staffers read written statements supporting the Broadway Triangle rezoning action, though they are rudely shouted down by the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition members who have stayed this late. BTCC Chair Juan Ramos and Churches United for Fair Housing President Rob Solano also read their statements. Everyone gets cut off after two minutes by The Chairman Emeritus.

Then, it's El Puente's Luis Garden Acosta's turn, who has enough gravitas to not get cut off by the Chairman, even though he exceeds the two minute mark.

"Let me just say, victorious day, we should be celebrating the years and years of a community hero, he has inspired me in many ways, it is sad to see the meeting end like this. You have been wonderful and on behalf of all of El Puente I salute you and your years of service," said Acosta.

10:03 PM: Councilwoman Diana Reyna makes a dramatic entrance. Where the hell was she? Oh right, canvassing. Diana announces that City Hall will be honoring The Chairman Emeritus in City Hall at a time to be determined.

"It’s hard to get him out of his house now. We hope we will be accompanied by all of you. We will serve you in honor as you have served us," says Diana.

She thanks Chris and the community organizers who have been in attendance, and she adds a few thoughts on the Broadway Triangle rezoning plan.

"I want to state for the record, I am not for the city’s plan." [Applause] "I need to make sure that people understand I forced my way into an uninvited meeting. You are represented here by two city council members. Who ever does not want me here can vote me out but you will not throw me out!... I just wanted to state that as a city councilwoman, I am supporting my community first before politics." [More Applause]

District Manager and City Council candidate Gerry Esposito frowns. He's sitting right next to her and he can’t really interrupt her at this point. Not a good night for Gerry. The only good thing that happened for him is that Chris won.

10:15 PM, And just like that we’re done. I run over to interview Mieszko and Chris, while Swinging Sixties Staff clean the room and politely usher everyone out of the building. Teresa, Ward, Mieszko, Heather Roslund, Julie Lawrence, Jaye Foxe, and other board members head over to Royal Oak for the afterparty. Ten minutes later, The Chairman Emeritus departs in a black Cadillac Escalade SUV. You stay classy, Vinny. You will be missed. Goodnight everyone! See you in September!


Anonymous said...

Longest. Post. Ever.

Anonymous said...

Teresa Toro here... I said it was a "tell not an ask."

Tell. Don't ask.

Do not try. Do. Or do not try. There is no trying.

Yes, I definitely think I'm channeling Yoda.

teresa toro said...

Aaron, for that photo of me on my bike, I will kick you 'til you're dead.