Friday, February 08, 2008

At overstuffed State of the Borough address, AY gets mention but not applause

The State of the Borough Address delivered last night by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz was another marathon extravaganza, invoking a rich mix of issues and places and people contributing to "The Brooklyn Story," and lasting some 70 minutes.

Though Markowitz mentioned Atlantic Yards twice, the project generated not a smidgen of applause from the 2000-plus attendees at the Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal in Red Hook.

Not the Barclays Center arena. Not the affordable housing. (In fact, had some Atlantic Yards opponents been in the audience, the BP would've been heckled for falsely claiming that half the housing would be affordable.)

Do Brooklynites--most of them Markowitz fans, given the ovation he got--not care much about the project he's so fervently promoted?

It's hard to be certain. The crowd was certainly worn out by the time Atlantic Yards was mentioned, well into a speech that clocked at nearly 70 minutes, itself following an hour-long reception and a 75-minute series of introductory announcements and performances. And Markowitz didn't offer any particular verbal flourishes to hasten applause.

Then again, while the crowd didn't applaud the affordable housing at Atlantic Yards or in the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning, there was some applause for Markowitz's support for rent protections for tenants as well as for the president of the tenants' association at Spring Creek, aka Starrett City, who fought a sale of the affordable housing complex.

What Marty said

[Here's the text of the speech.]

Markowitz first mentioned AY after asserting that "Brooklyn deserves a sizzling, modern, mixed-use downtown." He cited growth in "the corridor linking BAM to downtown," then a "revitalized Fulton Mall."

He continued: "Walking or biking up a spruced-up Flatbush Avenue to visit friends living at Atlantic Yards."

"Or going to check out a Brooklyn Nets game at the Barclays Center!"

"(Hey, the Nets may be losing this year, but remember, they're not a Brooklyn team yet.)"

[Punctuation is according to the written text of the speech.]

Later in the speech, he discussed the "crisis" in affordable housing. "That's why any time I can have an impact, I have advocated for the maximum amount of affordable housing to be included in new residential projects," he said.

(I don't think Markowitz has advocated for affordable housing in the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, or whether he's signed on to Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries' effort to push developers into some concessions.)

"In fact, my office pioneered what is now citywide policy. When a developer seeks a zoning change, they must be offered a tax incentive in exchange for making at least 20 percent of the proposed units affordable."

"At Atlantic Yards," he continued, "we celebrate the fact that a Community Benefits Agreement will guarantee that fully one half of those units will be priced below market rates." (Actually, only half of the rental units would be affordable, even though developer Forest City Ratner initially claimed that half of all the housing would be affordable.)

Planning wisely

Early in the speech, Markowitz made the completely plausible point that a balance must be fought between building and preservation: "By guiding growth where it's appropriate--near mass-transit and along major roadways--while continuing to enact historic districting and down-zoning, we can work together to retain the unique ambiance and intimacy for which Brooklyn's neighborhoods are famous, while leaving a more efficient, cleaner, and livable city for future generations."

(Whether that's been followed in Prospect Heights is another question.)

He went on to salute his new appointee on the City Planning Commission, Shirley McRae--"she earned it"--but didn't shy away from praising her predecessor, his longtime political supporter Dolly Williams, for "five years of invaluable service." He left out the part about how Williams resigned last November after paying a fine to resolve conflict-of-interest charges regarding her ownership stake in AY.

The news

A press release from Markowitz's office highlighted three pieces of news sprinkled through the speech. Canarsie High School will be the location for the High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media, to open in the fall, in an effort to get more students of color into the advertising capital of the world.

London-based Grimshaw Architects will design the city's first amphitheater, the Coney Island Center, at Asser Levy/Seaside Park, long home to a summer concert series sponsored by Markowitz since he was a State Senator.

Markowitz also called for the mayor's office to consider a Brooklyn-based board of directors to control and boost the New York Aquarium, which is currently operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which the BP said directs most of its efforts to zoos.

Oh, and what about Markowitz's political ambitions--will he run for mayor? "Too soon to tell" read a closing slide.

(Here's coverage from the Daily News, which also emphasizes the growth in tourism.)

Brooklyn the brand

An opening video featured an array of multilingual, multicultural Brooklynites, including some adorable kids, proclaiming "I am Brooklyn." Brooklyn has become a brand, Markowitz said, citing national and international press coverage of restaurants, hotels, art, design, and more.

He mentioned an "only in Brooklyn" moment: at the annual "Brooklyn Best" block party at Grand Army Plaza last summer, a fashion show featured Brooklyn designers. At the end of the event, one man in the audience said the show was great, but he felt his fashion sense was not represented. So, as a picture showed, a Lubavitch Hasid paraded down the runway.

In fact, Markowitz near the end of the speech observed how "Brooklyn" has become a popular name for babies--there's no one named "Manhattan," he noted--and saluting a cute two-year-old named Brooklyn Cumberbatch, whose last name suggests a Caribbean heritage.

The entertainment ran the gamut: a Brooklyn College chorus, two modern dance groups, a double dutch troupe, a senior tap dance contingent, and pre-teen punk rockers Care Bears on Fire. Their catchy "Everybody Else" so impressed Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who spoke briefly, that he ad libbed, "If they don't have a record contract yet, I want to be their agent."

Many shout-outs

It's impossible to catalogue all the people and places Markowitz saluted, but here's a partial list: the new LGBT Center; the Carlos Lezama Cultural Center; the Italian Community and Cultural Center; the Kahlil Gibran International Academy; the New York Times Crossword Puzzle Tournament; Dine in Brooklyn Restaurant Week; the Brooklyn Book Festival; Coney Island redevelopment; Ikea; IHOP; Trader Joe's; Noble Drew Ali houses; Atlantic Terrace; Polytechnic University

Also: Dressler/Dumont founder Colin Devlin; Mukhesh Patel and Roberta Gaeta of Hotels Le Blue and Jo-Lee; children's book author Mo Willems; someone in a walrus suit representing the Aquarium's new baby walrus; "green" bakery operators Luigi and Massimo Lo Buglio; Elizabeth Yeampierre of UPROSE, on the PlaNYC task force; Joe Chan of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership; Bill Howell of the Downtown Brooklyn Advisory and Oversight Committee; education advocate Wendy Gilgeous; Brooklyn Public Library Director Dionne Mack-Harvin; animal medium Christine Agro; Elisa Zuritsky, who gave away her wedding dress after it wasn't ready in time; Keith Belvin, who turned in his daughter after seeing her on a video that showed a harassment attack on the subway; and Hassan Askari, the Muslim who intervened in a subway attack on Jewish passengers.

He also saluted some prominent Brooklynites who died in the past year, including developer Harvey Schultz, former Deputy Borough President Jeannette Gadson, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Judy Zuk. A list of some 35 others scrolled on screen, including that of Heath Ledger. And perhaps the most heartfelt applause came for the families of the service members who died in Iraq, as well as local firefighters and a police officer who lost their lives on duty.

A blogger

Near the end of the speech, Markowitz noted that, "as the bloggiest place in America, our guest list wouldn't be complete without a notable blogger." His guest: Louise Crawford of Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, whom he saluted as "the Cindy Adams of Park Slope."

"You should read what they write about me!" Markowitz said of bloggers. "On second thought, maybe you shouldn't." (Indeed.)

1 comment:

  1. A room stuffed with more than 2000 attendees which must have included all of the Borough President’s most enthusiastic and stalwart supporters and none of them wanted to clap for Atlantic Yards! This project is universally disavowed and disfavored. Bloomberg and Doctoroff don’t consider it among their worthwhile accomplishments. See:

    http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2007/12/on-doctoroff-legacy-praise-grudging.html

    http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/archives/2007/12/by_john_desio_t.php

    And others are likewise realizing where they ought to be. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s participation in an open letter to the MTA, covering many parallels concerning Hudson Yards, reveals where Speaker Quinn know doubt knows she should stand on the Atlantic Yards. This project stands to be political death to those politician’s insensate or corrupt enough to continue to associate themselves with it.

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