Friday, April 12, 2013

"How's Brooklyn doin'?" At Markowitz's final State of the Borough address, epic weirdness and a victory lap in a cavernous (and donated) arena

Photo: BP's Office
A Kings County Hunter S. Thompson is needed to fully convey the epic weirdness of Borough President Marty Markowitz's final State of the Borough address-cum-talk-show, held last night at the Barclays Center (which he got for free), and I'm not that guy, because 1) I haven't taken the right drugs and 2) I have very limited time to write.

That said, consider that the tentative schedule sent to press suggested:
  • 5:30 pm: Doors open/pre-show entertainment
  • 6:00 pm: Pre-show begins
  • 6:30 pm (approx): BP Markowitz delivers State of the Borough Address
I figured Markowitz would be done in an hour and I'd get refreshments by 7:30. Hence, I didn't eat, and I didn't even bring an energy bar. Dumb me. Dumb lots of other people who showed up at 5:30.

Markowitz didn't go on until 7 pm and didn't finish his speech until after 9 pm, offering a hybrid performance--a typically overstuffed speech, mentioning the high points of his term and praising oh so many Brooklynites, then, donning a white jacket, a "Brooklyn Tonight" talk show which really did go an hour.

A good fraction of people either walked out or huddled in the corridors, hoping for a first shot at the food and drink. When service actually began, there was a rush for the food.

And, in one of those "only in Brooklyn" scenes, the kosher food cart was inundated by a line of black folk (presumably not keeping a kosher diet), many of them seniors who know that a prepackaged meal is better than crowding a server carrying a small tray of finger food.

The speech, which surely played better on video than in the cavernous, mostly empty Barclays Center, was in some ways upstaged, as the Daily News cover above left suggests, by a hasty, confusing Jay-Z track dissing lots of haters and leading some to conclude he was pissed at the Brooklyn Nets (nah) or simply sliding toward "Donald Trumpiness."

Summarizing it

In the Brooklyn Bureau, Gail Robinson provides a straightforward account of the event, noting Markowitz's prominent praise for arena developer Bruce Ratner, carefully parsed words on schools issues and stop-and-frisk, and observing:
The invitation-only audience, though clearly friendly, was hardly effusive. One of the biggest reactions came for a video showing the new lights on the parachute jump.
That's likely because they were worn out. The Brooklyn Paper focused on Markowitz's comedic aspirations and rightly summarized it as a "victory lap."

By the way, Council Speaker Christine Quinn stopped by early for an intro and unfortunate attempt at a show tune--it surely works better in a cabaret about 1/200th the size--"How do you solve a problem like losing Marty?"

While some deputy mayor/agency head types were there, Mayor Mike Bloomberg didn't show. Surely he wouldn't have lasted.

Here's the Brooklyn Bugle's Storify compilation of tweets/pics. Here's coverage, from NY1, with video.

Henry Stewart in Brooklyn Magazine, writes How Marty Markowitz Transformed Brooklyn, which implies a heck of a lot more agency than actual. (The URL, which suggests a draft title, indicates "Was Marty Markowitz Bad for Brooklyn?")

It's fair to say, as Stewart does, that Markowitz "worked to make Brooklyn a world-class city and then tirelessly sold that image to the world." It's also fair to follow the money, and consider how Markowitz actually operated.

A free arena, and non-profit support

The New York Post reported that the "two-months-late State of the Borough Address [was] paid for with funds from the term-limited official’s Brooklyn-boosting nonprofit," Best of Brooklyn.

The cost--which Post sources estimated at $150,000 to $200,000, far more than the typical $25,000--also could have come from Markowitz's remaining campaign funds, I'd suggest, though the list of acknowledgments in the program (right) points to more recent donations, likely to the nonprofit. Markowitz did spend a bunch of cash on video, and maybe he paid some celebrities like Larry King or Jay Black.

The Post reported:
[BP spokesman John] Hill would not say if the celebs were paid to attend, but Barclays Center honchos provided Markowitz free use of the arena — just as they did Mayor Bloomberg for his State of the City address in February.
...“We are honored to do our civic duty,” arena spokesman Barry Baum said.
Wait a sec. First, Bloomberg only used the arena entrance atrium, not the arena bowl, and surely far fewer Barclays Center staffers were necessary. In either case, it sure sounds like a campaign donation. Remember when Atlantic Yards planners were said to have estimated charging $100,000 just for a graduation ceremony?

Maybe Markowitz's event cost less, but the in-kind donation was easily worth tens of thousands of dollars.

"Brooklyn Tonight"

Photo Brad Lander twitter
The talk show was entertaining, at times, and Markowitz's guests (Steve Hindy, Ayana Mathis, Dale Talde, etc.) were worthy choices, even if the format was just a few orders of magnitude out of sync with the space.

Markowitz even nailed one great joke; after shticking about artisanal mayonnaise and declaring that artisanal was a synonym for "expensive," he posited that running for mayor was "too artisanal."

But even Larry King and Jimmy Kimmel on tape were a bit much. As was NY1 anchor Pat Kiernan presenting several Markowitz headlines, several of them unflattering (even if wife Jamie, cause of a $20,000 fine for Markowitz accepting free travel, looked good, the BP stressed).

That was followed by Markowitz on video explaining just what to do with tabloid newspapers, notably the antagonistic Post: let his pet parakeet do his business.

"Marty the Magnificent"--photo: BP's office
The "Marty the Magnificent" segment--a takeoff on Johnny Carson's "Carnac the Magnificent"--had the seer pronouncing, among other things, that 2057 would be "the date the last Atlantic Yards lawsuit was settle."

And the "top ten reasons to love Marty," read by "Brooklyn Tonight" co-host and TalkStoop host Cat Greenleaf (in Brooklyn Nets jersey shirt), well, they include summer concerts, "Brooklyn" pins, "Lighten Up Brooklyn" crusade, those highway signs, and the Brooklyn!! "newspaper."


Eric Adams and Markowitz; photo BP's office
Whatever the virtues and flaws of heir apparent BP Sen. Eric Adams--who appeared in a pre-planned segment giving Markowitz the hook--it's hard to imagine Adams (or anyone) being that self-indulgent.

As Markowitz said in closing, "if I made you prouder to be a Brooklynite, if I improved your lives in Brooklyn even just a little, and if I put a smile on your face, the I accomplished everything I set out to do."

That's because no one really knows what he did or could have done; Markowitz showed a rendering of the planned renovation of Child's Restaurant in Coney Island into a summer concert hall.

It looks impressive, but does a memorial to Markowitz's singular achievement merit $48 million in capital funds or could such money be used, say, to improve libraries.

Instead, we got a highlight reel, done cleverly, inserting Markowitz into some classic Brooklyn movies.

The arena as venue and symbol

The Barclays Center was an understandable choice for the speech--it represents the single most profound change under Markowitz's tenure and is home to the professional team (and, soon, teams) he believes make Brooklyn big league.

But the venue choice backfired somewhat, as well. While Bloomberg confined his State of the City address to the arena's capacious entry hall, Markowitz invited a few thousand people to sit in the arena proper. But the arena holds more than 18,000 people, and had to be cut off--only a few sections in the lower bowl were open.

So, even with the scoreboard and video screens, the venue was way too big for the speech, the shtick, and, especially the talk show--all of which would have fit far better in previous spaces like the Brooklyn College auditorium or the Park Slope Armory.

Markowitz offered effusive praise for the arena and team, including ""Cousin Brucie," his term for developer Bruce Ratner, but his statement, "This is the house that Bruce built" fell flat" with the crowd.

Neither Ratner nor arena CEO Brett Yormark, also the recipient of effusive praise, attended the event. Nor was anyone from Forest City Ratner to accept public thanks for the freebie. Were they all just indisposed? Or did they not want to call attention to it? Either way, it was a bit disrespectful: why can't Marty get some love back?

He did get provoke chauvinistic cheers when, anticipating the Nets' playoff run and their chosen them,  he said,"I only want to see Brooklynites wearing black! We're gonna blackout Brooklyn! Anyone caught wearing orange and blue will be guilty of treason!" [exclamation points in the script]

As it happened, the motif for the cover of the program was in orange and blue.

The bigger picture

There was bigger applause for Markowitz's statement about a planned food incubator in Crown Heights, plans for Coney Island to reopen, and the principal of a technology high school (also in Crown Heights).

"How's Brooklyn doin'?" he asked rhetorically several times. The answer, almost always, was very, very good: creative capital, culinary destination, college center, high-tech hub.

All true, yet so incomplete, just as Markowitz claimed the "Barclays Center has created 2,000 jobs." (More than 1900 are part-time, without benefits.) He did acknowledge that he couldn't do everything, and he had to leave something for his successor.

Brooklyn's doing well, in many cases for reasons beyond Markowitz. How much Markowitz used his powers to improve people's lives, as opposed to putting smiles on their faces, immortalizing himself, and going to bat for some favored developers, will remain in question.

Bonus: 30 seconds of Marty

During a "break" in the talk show, what did Markowitz do? He played his (entertaining) 30-second campaign commercial from 2005. If only the entire evening could have been that concise.

Markowitz: "Overture" from The New Media Firm on Vimeo.

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