Thursday, February 02, 2012

State of the Borough: Markowitz's overstuffed tribute to Brooklyn, with only mild enthusiasm for the new arena

Well, maybe next year, once it's open, the Barclays Center will make a bigger splash. As in past years, the diverse crowd at Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's typically overstuffed State of the Borough address was only mildly enthusiastic to mentions of Atlantic Yards and the new arena.

Then again, he brought it up 38 minutes into a speech (full text) that went more than 95 minutes, and that's a lot of speech.

It was a speech without major announcements or major commitments of money, though Markowitz's office had already doled out a series of mini-scoops, none of them on the scale of his past support for, say, the Loews Kings renovation (finally launching) or his legacy amphitheater (stalled) in Coney Island.

The news:
  • Daily News: a high-tech manufacturing plan in Brownsville/E. New York, but only $1 million in seed money (and, I'd say, zero chance to woo Apple from its China supply chain)
  • Daily News: expansion of ferry service to southern Brooklyn
  • Post: $1 million toward renovating the Crown Heights armory, one of three armory boosts
  • Brooklyn Paper: $1.5 million toward 3rd Ward as a food incubator, which might be a kickstart.
The speech will be re-broadcast on Brooklyn Cable Access Network, on February 3 and February 6. Afterward, it will be available for viewing online.

Vintage Marty, today's Brooklyn

As in the past, and perhaps even more so, the State of the Borough, this year delivered at Brooklyn College, was vintage Marty, with the bonus of a video tribute that portrayed Markowitz's years as a nine-year night school student (and student body president) at that Flatbush campus, slender, with dark hair, and vibrant eyes.

While Markowitz did include his share of surprises and stunts--a Barbara Streisand impersonator, WTF? a fake GQ cover picturing himself--he avoided such p.r. miscues as over-demonstrating his loathing of bike lanes or leering at younger women.

And, in recounting his ahead-of-some-constituents embrace of gay marriage--to the point of catering ceremonies at Borough Hall--he leaves a legacy of humanity that should, for many, overshadow the "screamer" underneath.

It was another example of retail politics in a borough so large that retailing takes a lot of time, plus an array of performances and special guests who demonstrated the astonishing diversity of Brooklyn (gay marriage! Hasidic soup kitchen! a couple married 70 years! African-American girls doing classical Greek dance!).

One Brooklyn?

And while the theme of the speech was "one Brooklyn," the borough is very much economically fractured, which is beyond the powers of a Borough President.

In a sign that many elected officials seek Markowitz's blessing if not endorsement, the event featured greetings from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and two leading mayoral candidates, City Council President Christine Quinn and Public Advocate.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Markowitz's halo, such as it is, was MC Carlo Scissura, who shifted from Chief of Staff to Special Advisor to run for Borough President in 2013. Numerous elected officials got salutes from the stage.

Markowitz, apparently unwilling to be written off in the political world, even joshed during the speech about a potential run for mayor, displaying an image of a tattoo regarding his mayoralty during a salute to an entrepreneur who produces removable tattoos.

He even had the grace to josh about how he wished he could remove some unwanted "ink" in the form of bad press regarding fines by the Conflicts of Interest Board.

The arena mention

Just after that "ink" remark, Markowitz transitioned this: "After years of struggle and false starts, 2012 is the year that the Barclays Center will really come to fruition. With the new arena nearly complete, it's clear this area will be the hub of a new city center, creating the jobs in and around the arena that we desperately need."

There was no reaction. It's not at all clear that the area will create jobs "that we desperately need," since most jobs, it seems, will be in the fields of restaurants, entertainment retail, and arena services, which generally don't pay well.

But Markowitz found some applause lines. "For an old-timer like me, it feels like Brooklyn has gone 'Back to the Future' —to the days when Downtown was teeming with nightclubs and dancing halls — when we rocked — and we rolled — our way to the Fox Theatre, the Paramount, and back," he continued, generating some claps from old-timers.

"I can't wait to sit in the arena watching the Brooklyn Nets mop up the floor with the 'Manhattan Knicks,'" he continued, provoking more enthusiasm with a line that always works by appealing to reflexive borough pride.

"And I'm filled with hope that the Nets will get Dwight Howard, someone I really 'look up to!,'" he added, as a photo illustration of the diminutive Markowitz and the itching-to-leave Orlando Magic center appeared on the screen. "In fact, my ultimate dream would be Dwight Howard on the Nets — and Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand on stage."

The Dwight Howard mention didn't do much for a crowd that apparently included relatively few basketball fans. Then again, it didn't have time to sink in. In a rather bizarre interlude, a Streisand impersonator then entered the stage, serenading the crowd and, Babs-like, began shaking hands, as if at a bar mitzvah or wedding, with the diverse group of honored guests on stage.

Markowitz returned to his script: "Events already booked at Barclays include the Ice Capades, the Ringling Brothers Circus, Andrea Bocelli, and a monster truck show."

"I couldn't be prouder that the first show will be Brooklyn's own, the pride of Bed-Stuy, the man who wrote the 'Blueprint' for success, Jay-Z," he said, to some applause. "By the way, we all send our congratulations to Jay-Z and Beyonce on the birth of their daughter, Blue Ivy."

"And I am delighted to say that for one night this October, Barclays will host the first ever NHL game in Brooklyn when the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders meet in a pre-season matchup," he said, to moderate applause for some news that had already leaked. "Of course, if I had it my way," he then said, indicating a graphic with the logo of the Brooklyn Islanders.

More and less enthusiasm

So, what exercised the crowd? A salute to Dr. Roy Hastick, founder, president, and CEO of the Caribbean-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which will get the landmark Erasmus Hall Academy building to serve as the organization's permanent home, with $1 million from Markowitz's office.

By contrast, when Markowitz mentioned his support for casino gambling in Coney Island, there was utter silence.

There was moderate enthusiasm for his call for ferry service and armory renovation.

The biggest claps tended to go to people, to special guests like the chap who lost 230 pounds or the good samaritan who saved a woman who fell on the subway tracks.

Those who've passed

While Markowitz saluted an enormous list of people, including Brooklyn's six Pulitzer Prize winners and array of magazine editors, the somber section came when he recalled those who'd passed in 2011.

They included former Governor Hugh Carey, community activist Murray Adams (father of ESD CEO Kenneth Adams), BargeMusic founder Olga Bloom, and Maimonides Medical Center official Dr. Joseph Cunningham.

Also, he said, "We lost Marie Louis, the Chief Operating Officer of BUILD and an active member of Community Board 8, at much too young an age." A photo of Louis, who was 39, served as a reminder.

Best line

Markowitz recounted the transition of the hot-sheet Golden Gate Motel in Sheepshead Bay to the Brooklyn Amity School, a private school sponsored by Brooklyn's Turkish community: "From illicit fornication to primary education--only in Brooklyn!"

P.S.

A note to future speechwriters: even if you're writing the speech in sections, don't ever use the word "finally" unless you really mean it.

When Markowitz uttered the word "finally" at the 57-minute mark, some in the audience might have gotten their juices ready for the post-event repast, but that was merely a false alarm.

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