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Markowitz's valedictory on Lehrer, with a defense of Atlantic Yards and a dig at bike lanes

Yesterday's Brian Lehrer Show featured a valedictory for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, as the 12-year veteran got to celebrate his victories, with some supportive callers.

Still, Markowitz's verve quickly curdled into pique when he offered a few choice words for Atlantic Yards opponents and some frothing about bike lanes.

The segment was titled Marty Markowitz on the Rise of Brooklyn and, on the show page, illustrated with the four tweets below right.

It was broadcast, not so fortunately for Markowitz, right after an interview with Andrea Elliott, the New York Times journalist who wrote a five-part series, "Invisible Child," about a homeless 11-year-old and her family, who live in a Fort Greene shelter, in a deeply divided neighborhood.

Changing Brooklyn

Where, asked Lehrer, would Markowitz begin when describing how Brooklyn has changed?

Markowitz cited neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Windsor Terrace, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Prospect Heights, and Crown Heights, all in the north and central west areas of the borough.

"We've become a mecca for the creative young professionals across America, refugees from Manhattan, growing ethnic groups, everyone from French to Australian," Markowitz said, oddly citing First World immigrants. He then mentioned the metropolitan area's "fastest growing Chinese community" and that "we remain the lesbian capital of New York City and the northeast." (Though that population has shifted from places like Park Slope to less-costly neighborhoods like Bushwick.)

Lehrer noted that the mayor's office had tweeted that "Brooklyn has become the quintessential urban success story" and that Markowitz deserves special credit.

"I would say, there's no question that in a significant portion of Brooklyn, it is a success story," he said, noting that the success, "sadly, is not carrying everyone in the borough" He said he'd "tried my best" to get Samsung and Apple to move a manufacturing facility to Brooklyn. (Though Brooklyn is not exactly a placed noted for high-tech manufacturing.)

Lehrer invited tweets, questions, and stories about Markowitz, such as where people encountered him: "was it one of his light-saber wielding graduation speeches?"

Claiming credit

He asked Markowitz, "What credit, in all modesty, can you claim?... because Brooklyn is shaped by so many huge forces, from globalization to regional real estate trends... how do you think you were able to contribute to that, in an office without that much, on-paper political power?"

Markowitz's response began by politely saluting "the incredible leaders" of civic, faith, and other organizations.

"I'm often described as a cheerleader," he said. "Some say that to demean my role. But the truth of the matter is, any elected official... I see one of the major parts of the job is being a cheerleader, lifting spirits, making folks feel better about who they are, where they are, where they reside."

"There is no question that, in terms of my contributions, I promised... that, even though the Borough President job certainly is not the most important governmentally... by the way, a better city government would happen if they restored some of the governance roles to the Borough Presidents, with a fixed budget, and a greater land use role," he continued.

Putting Brooklyn on the map

"But what I did was, I used the Borough Presidency to put Brooklyn on the map," Markowitz said. " We started out very aggressively with tourism, pitching magazines around the country, around the world, about the miracle of Brooklyn. I went after a national team, You know I took eight years of I don't know what to say... email... allows people to hide and say the worst possible things... I fought that battle, because I knew that having a national sports team in Brooklyn and an arena would turn the page in a positive way, for Brooklyn's present and future."

He also cited the Brooklyn Book Festival, the largest in northeast and third largest in America, and "the great concert series" he sponsors, both--unmentioned--relying on private contributions. "I was able to help build thousands and thousands of units of affordable housing," he said, a curious claim, given how little he's devoted funds from his capital budget.

"You'd be surprised how meager the budgets are for Borough Presidents," he said, "but through it all, I knew what a gem Brooklyn was, and all I needed to do was polish it, and that's what I did."

Listener comments

Lehrer read some listener comments: "massive gentrification pricing former residents out," "I wore a tuxedo to an Arcade Fire concert in Bushwick" and "12 years ago, I bribed friends to visit me in the Slope/Prospect Heights. Now even Manhattanites come to Brooklyn for social life."

"I love that," Markowitz muttered.

Warren in South Midwood called to salute Markowitz's "unending enthusiasm and energy... he brought people together by tons of events. One thing you could always depend on is the fact that Marty would show up... and that brought people out."

"I had a lot of years to think about being Borough president... By the age of 16, I knew I wanted to be Borough President," Markowitz said, citing a visit to Borough Hall.

Markowitz grew up in poverty in Crown Heights and Sheepshead Bay, relying on Social Security survivor benefits. "But the poverty of today is nothing like we face... we faced poverty in our pocketbooks... we knew there was a better day and hope. And so many of these people  have no hope. We still have not turned the corner... Once you have self-respect, you will be successful."

Policy questions

Lehrer asked Markowitz if he wanted to comment on the Bloomberg administration's removal of the Advantage subsidy program, cited in the ongoing massive New York Times series on homelessness, focusing on a child in a Fort Greene shelter.

Markowitz kind of danced around the subject, saying poor people don't have much voice. "Having said that, the focus has to be jobs jobs jobs jobs. I'm talking about a failure that we have not confronted: we can't live on information technology jobs only.... people need jobs now, and we need manufacturing back... we've got to adjust city policy... and put these folks back to work."

Lehrer was slightly skeptical about bringing back large scale manufacturing to help people in places like Brownsville and East New York.

"Absolutely," Markowitz said, citing land grants, employment credits, energy assistance, and the capacity to move goods and change designs quickly, as well as "an eager workforce."

Lehrer asked Markowitz if he wanted the job, Commissioner of the Mayor's Office for International Affairs, and to rename it "Ambassador for New York City," a position that's been mentioned by Public Advocate-elect Letitia James and Council Member David Greenfield.

"There's only one ambassador of New York City, and the title is mayor," Markowitz said. "But yes, I would be interested in that type of position."

Michael Albert, owner of the Surreal Juice Company, also a pop artist, who sells to wares to Fairway, called. "Mr. Markowitz was very importantly involved in bringing Fairway to Brooklyn, which I think is a great institution that enhanced the whole Brooklyn and Red Hook experience, and the fact that it was destroyed during Sandy and then rebuilt was an incredible project that I know he made happen."

"There was a time when national retailers, when you said Brooklyn, they said what?; now they say when," Markowitz commented.

Another caller, Alan, asked Markowitz what he thinks about changing financial burden for supporting existing and new transit, "by something like a benefit zone assessment around train stations to reflect the value of transit to the buildings close to the stations... Would he support that?"

Markowitz didn't quite answer, saying he would support an increased role in state and federal funding for transit. "Something you're discussing is certainly worthy of serious review."

Lehrer said the caller was suggesting it should come more from developers who build around transit stations. "Y'know, developers are called upon," Markowitz said, "for instance, the esplanades to maintain and enhance the waterfront.. everything's a trade-off, everything's a balance. If you're going to impose additional burdens on developers, there has to be something that they expect back."

Atlantic Yards

"You do have your critics," Lehrer said at about 23:30, citing how critics now say, "Look no affordable housing... Are you disappointed in how it's working out?"

"Bunk," Markowitz replied combatively. "Bunk. Let me spell it again. B-U-N-K. Bunk. The truth is that, the recession hit, how about seven or eight years of lawsuits that prevented anything from being done at that location." (Actually, by 2010, they were free and clear, but it took some three years to break ground on the first tower.)

"I can tell you from get-go, Forest City Ratner, from the beginning, absolutely, made a commitment to be able provide those 2250 affordable apartments for this project," he said, ignoring how Forest City extended the deadline from ten to 25 years. "There's been financial infusions coming in, and I have no doubt the housing will be built on an expedited basis."

"When," asked Lehrer.

The first building will be finished next year, Markowitz said. "Understand this, they want those buildings to go  up, because that's where the profit is, to get those buildings up."

"I think this project will ensure the income diversity of our communities, with a significant portion of those apartments being affordable... I think it's fabulous. I gotta tell you... traffic is moving better than before the arena opened, in my opinion. Secondly, when I go there, occasionally, and see folks that bitterly opposed it, I just sit back and I know I did the right thing."

Bike lanes

"I want to acknowledge comments tagging you as critic of bike lanes, Lehrer said. "Have you warmed to the mayor's approach?"

"I'm not against bicycles," Markowitz responded. "I have the absolute right to raise a question whether or not bicycle lanes should be emphasized as viable alternative transportation mode. I have serious questions about that."

He then rather zealously complained about the attitudes of "zealots."

Advice for his successor

Lehrer asked if Markowitz had any advice for his successor, Eric Adams.

"It's what I tell every elected official," Markowitz said. "For those that you help, they may remember. For those you don't help, they never forget."

Several comments from the web site
art525 from Park Slope
Dear hjs- I live near the PPW bike land and it has made it much more stressful to crtoss the street. Once you cross the car lanes you have to go between the parked cars and pop your head out very carefully to see if there are any bikes coming. And while the car traffic goes in one direction and goes in regular clesuters because of the traffic lights bikes can be coming in either direction at any time....

Charles from Tribeca
By his part in overturning voter mandated term limits, Mr. Markowitz awarded himself a NYC Pension and expensive health insurance for him and his family for Life - paid for by taxpayers. His quote from the NYT “Obviously, I’m being selfish and somewhat self motivated”

10 years of city government service are required for a New York City pension. Mr. Markowitz only had 8 years - his second 4 year term was finished.

In office, Mr. Markowitz was caught accepting illegal gifts and violating fund raising regulations.

dboy dboy
Bikes should definitely be licensed.

However, bicycles don't crap on the environment and induce life-robbing disease. I think we can give cyclists a break on the tax idea. They more than make up for it with their low, clean footprint.

Yes, free, regulated, courteous, law abiding ride.

Milos from Brooklyn
Every time I pass by the ugly brown girders and beams that comprise the behemoth of Barclay Center I am disgusted and shocked all over again. It hijacks the skyline like a mammoth, decrepit rusted-out piece of scaffolding that should have been torn down long ago. Sometimes it reminds me of a shipwreck. The project itself -- MAYBE -- could have been a boon to downtown Brooklyn, but the so-called design of that monstrosity screams DISRESPECT to the community loud and clear.

Markowitz is such an extravagant blowhard that he's a caricature of his own self. Bye bye, Marty.

Daniel Goldstein from brooklyn
the legacy of Marty Markowitz: a former tenant activist who oversaw the displacement of tenants by eminent domain to make way for a basketball arena owned by a Russian oligarch and an affordable housing bait and switch soon to be owned by a Chinese real estate firm. Wonderful!

MikeInBrklyn from Clinton Hill
@ladyjay114 Shea and Citibank stadium stand in the shadow of Willets point (a pretty rough looking area) and have done just fine. Of course, there the people are more yellow than brown. Maybe there in lies the crux of a problem for any advancement for ENY, etc., huh?

paulb from Prospect Heights
It was Marty's cheap shots at cyclists, not his "reasonable" doubts or opposition, that annoyed me. And few argue that 50- and 60-something Bay Ridge and Sheepshead Bay residents who work in midtown and want to drive (not a huge demographic, by the way) shouldn't be allowed to. I just believe right now it's too cheap to do so, and those car owners should pay more for that particular transportation choice.

RJ from prospect hts
Nonsense. Bunk. Any look at FCRatner's history in Boston and elsewhere would have demonstrated from the get-go that they are scam artists. That their projects hurt the communities, that they are profiteers. FCR's "commitment" to affordable housing has been pushed out for 25 years--and his "new infusions" of money came from selling off parts of it--to buy Nassau Coliseum. Not to speed up building affordable housing, but to speed up its profit making.

No changes would have been made in the traffic patterns or any of the other local ameliorations if it hasn't been for those years of lawsuits and advocacy to make sure the eminent domain giveaway didn't give something back.

Sheldon from Brooklyn
Unlike the NIMBY'S.

I had no problem with having the Barclays Center where it is. I just didn't believe in the stealing of land to do it, plus I knew Ratner wasn't going to go of his way to build "affordable housing" once he got his stadium, so I wasn't shocked.

My father in law is 72 and he bikes 5 miles 3 or 4 times a week
This guy needs to open his mind.


Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights
Markowitz's endorsement of Atlantic Yards and the sell-off and shrinkage f the Brooklyn Public libraries both represent a sell-off the of the public realm for the benefit of real estate developers.

Markowitz may be taking a lot of contributions to his "entertainment charities" from those same real estate developers, but the current Brooklyn vogue is due to what has grown up organically in Brooklyn because such real estate redevelopment did not succeed in destroying it, rather than what was handed off to developers like Ratner.

The Ratner/Prokhorov "Barclays" arena a success? It is just a glittering pile of pirate plunder seized from the taxpayers and others in the community. $750,000 in subsidy for two Streisand Concerts? Think what would have happened if that kind of money were spent on libraries? Meanwhile, we tore down most of the Atlantic Yards site evicting thriving development and existing affordable housing that will never be replaced, and now those empty parking lots are the real blight as opposed to what was there before.

There was probably a time when Brooklyn, living in the shadows of Manhattan, needed the boosterism of Marty Markowitz. Now it needs less "development", less gentrification, and the preservation of human scale that made it attractive to folks who wanted to live in a city, but see the sky at the same time. Only affordable boroughs are Staten Island, pockets of Queens and Bronx.

MikeInBrklyn from Clinton Hill
Notice that all the area that change have been brought to are in the downtown area? It would be interesting to hear people from outskirt areas take on the Markowitz era.

Susie from Kensington 
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and was in BK during 9/11, watching the towers fall from the roof of my building. A year later when we had the blackout, I was in manhattan and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge to get home. It was a very scary and emotional time, all of us remembering the attack of a year before, unable to contact loved ones, and unsure what was going on. As I crossed the bridge, Marty was standing on the Brooklyn side with a bullhorn shouting "welcome home, Brooklyn!" I burst into relieved, happy, comforted tears.
I don't agree with all of Marty's choices, but that was a real New York moment that I will always remember with fondness. Thank you.

BK from Hoboken
@ Dorothy-
I find your comment very arrogant. People who move into a neighborhood during gentrification are incapable of forming a "true community"? This is ironic, since many of the old timers think the newcomers are elitist, yet your comment is an elitist viewpoint indeed. I find this ironic view where I live as well (Hoboken having undergone gentrification in the last decade).

RJ from prospect hts
In other words, giveaways to big corporations, like Forest City Ratner. Markowitz has pushed workjing people out of downtown Brooklyn by pricing it out without regard for those who have created lives there. He's ignored the outer parts of the borough, he's allowed the MTA to curtail transit in the outer parts of the borough and used development money solely to bring the wealthy in; business development money hasn't been spent in the outer parts of the borough so people don't have to commute 2 hours by buses and trains.

I went to a so-called community meeting on the Atlantic Yards. And the jovial Mary went on at length about how open he was to new and creative ideas he was for the space. As long as it had an arena. And mass amounts of retail (not far from the densely business-filled Fulton Mall). And lots and lots of dense housing--oh, yeah, with some of it being affordable.

Right. "Open to ideas." Only his ideas.

Robert from NYC
He should run for Mayor. (Nothing against De Blasio he was my choice.) But good to know there is a Marty Markowitz around maybe for next time?! Wish his enthusiasm and ideas rubbed off on Bloomberg.
Good for you and I hope it's at least 99 years!

Heart Broken for Brooklyn from Brooklyn
I'm sadly moving out of Brooklyn this weekend after living here and loving it for 8 years. I found more affordable housing in Washington Heights and am very sad to leave, but I can't afford it any more and definitely can't afford to start a family here. Likewise, I can no longer afford the restaurants, fancy grocery stores and boutique shops. While many "creatives" have flocked here, many have also fled because of the high cost of living.

cat from formerly from Brooklyn
My favorite Marty Markowitz moment is during the black out of summer 2003 (?).
Thousands were marching home from work over the Brooklyn Ridge on the heat and there was Marty with a bull horn waving us on and shouting "Welcome to Brooklyn!"

MikeInBrklyn from Clinton Hill
It is interesting to hear Marty opine about the lack of development in East New York, Cypress Hills, and Bronxville. When presented with one of the best opportunity to put these community on the map and make significant impact on them, via the stadium project, he punted. Placing placing the stadium in the area of the junction (excellent transportation infrastructure) would have shown him as having substantial vision for the borough. So spare me the platitudes.

Dorothy from New York
I agree with your comment that you would like to see manufacturing facility in Brooklyn, as that would provide employment opportunities for those in need.
As a person who was raised in Carroll Gardens in the 50's & 60's, I feel disappointed that my 'old neighborhood' and many other parts of Brooklyn have become so gentrified and unaffordable for lower and middle-class residents who made these areas true communities in earlier decades.
A comment shared with me by a 20-something recent resident struck me as particularly odd - she defined her neighborhood as being a 'real community' because the owners of a (high-priced)restaurant know her name. What is your response to the needs of the lower and middle classes who are being priced out, and is emulating Manhattan something to be proud of?

John Tucker from Rose Water from Park Slope
Marty, thanks for your role in supporting and advancing the great dining scene in BK! John from Rose Water.

lk from Fort Greeene
Markowitz played his part for the destruction of a thriving community with historic buildings that should have been landmarked. In exchange we now have an arena and a blighted area where we use to have a neighborhood. Everything the opposition said has come true but Markowitz never would listen to the thousands who opposed the destruction of a beautiful neighborhood. We have a team owned by a Russian and a proposal by the developer to have the whole development owned by the Chinese government. The arena has done nothing but speed gentrification and force out local owners of businesses. All paid for by taxpayer subsidies.

Credit for the improvements in Brooklyn over the past 12 years can be traced directly to extremely high Manhattan real estate prices. Artists, then yuppies, and now hipsters all made the move across the east river due to rent relief.

Jill from Brooklyn of course
As a 15 year lesbian resident of Brooklyn, 3 cheers to Marty for singling out our contribution to the boro! Lesbians usually get lumped in with the gay community as a whole, it's so refreshing to hear someone recognize as our own group, which has indeed impacted the economy and culture of Brooklyn. And he's right- Brooklyn is the lesbian mecca!

Sheldon from Brooklyn
As a Brooklynite, I thank Marty for all his hard work in promoting Kings County over the years. I remember him greeting us, as we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, during the blackout.

I thank him also, for all those summer concerts, that he has hosted with glee.

It's a shame they botched his final, farewell concert appearance in Coney Island.

Tony from Not Brooklyn Anymore
Marty seems to be turning a blind eye to the large number of people who were priced out of Brooklyn. I used to live there. Now I'm in Queens. The near-in suburbs of Nassau County are teeming with ex-Brooklynites. He's been a champion of a certain kind of socio-economic resident. If you're a white hipster, Marty is your guy.

Cynzanne from Boerum Hill Brooklyn
Highrise development in Brooklyn is killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
Brooklyn is wonderful BECAUSE of it's HUMAN SCALE.
I was born here and these highrises sicken me.
Can't the housing at Atlantic Yards be made more Brooklyn scale?

Steve from Fort Greene
The least ironic thing I can think to say to Mr. Markowitz is to thank him for educating me how hopeless our political system is in his unrelenting support for the awful Atlantic Yards project.

Dick from where else, Brooklyn
Does he have anything to say about the plague of "out-of-state" vehicles that take up valuable street and parking space in Brooklyn and those other boroughs. His office produces an extensive report on this damaging practice and then did nothing to advance a solution that would benefit all New Yorkers even the non-car-owning citizens who did not park on the sidewalk every day.