Monday, April 18, 2005

Clownshoe Blues

Via Steve Gilliard, a delightful profile of Brooklyn Borough President Marty "Why Do You Want To Demolish Our Local, You Insubstantial Buffoon?" Markowitz in the New Yorker. The article asks whether Marty's clownish exterior belies a deadly serious and impassioned drive to improve Brooklyn, or whether he's just a clown, the sort of cheery hack to which the Borough President job is best suited.

Let's take the clown thesis first:

during his first few weeks in office, he called Peter O’Malley, the son of Walter O’Malley, who had moved the Dodgers to California in the nineteen-fifties. “I heard that the team was up for sale, and I said, ‘Mr. O’Malley, it would be great for your family name and everything if you would consider moving the L.A. Dodgers back to Brooklyn,’ ” Markowitz says. “I must tell you, that conversation was very brief.”

That's right, Marty draws a salary of $135,000 per year to drool into a telephone like this. This is the sort of thing that a 12-year old writes letters about in his spare time. In the 1950s. Then there is the series of idiotic pronouncements at public events, and the fact that few professional politicians take him seriously. But we do admit that he's a much more earnest, and much less narrowly interested in the concerns of white Brooklyn than we first surmised.

The clown-with-an-agenda argument is based on the idea that it was Marty who first approached Bruce Ratner with the idea of buying the New Jersey Nets and moving them to Brooklyn. So, Marty is apparently blissfully unaware of anyone, outside of Forest City Ratner, with flipping great wodges of cash to lay down in support of his adolescent fantasies. Myopically wedded to the idea of a self-sufficient Borough, he turns to the man that ruined its downtown, and has had a pretty good stab at doing the same to the Atlantic Terminals area, and asks if he would like to finish the job.

So, we'll buy the clown-with-an-agenda ticket, but we still think he's horribly out of his depth. Marty ran for office in part by distancing himself from the Brooklyn democratic machine, and he probably got in because the majority of democratic voters thought he would be a servicable tourism promoter. A $5 million budget does not allow you much in the way of dodgy patronage opportunities. Clarence Norman for instance, had little interest in the job, and managed to run things nicely from inside the Democratic party.

But buzzing around poor Marty's brain is this mythical 1950s Brooklyn, all Juniors, Tom's Restaurant and, of course, Ebbets Field. And feeding this obession has gone from photo-ops at restaurants to vandalising entire neighborhoods. And he's found a way to make himself, er, useful, thanks to the Olympics making his project marginally more relevant.

Mr. Gilliard allowed Markowitz' own words to make the case for the prosecution, noting merely that minorities rarely see much in the way of a goldrush off the back of these projects. We'd add that some perfectly lovely three-storey buildings have been going up the other side of Atlantic, and been filling up with some perfectly lovely low-income families. Trashing some, admittedly rather shabby, rowhouses to make way for high-rise condominiums makes no sense as a development strategy. If you would like this kind of existence, then please move to some utterly ridiculous glass-plated thing in Manhattan.

Marty probably bemoans the fact that most of modern-day Brooklyn, even the rich people, define their borough by what it isn't, and what Manhattan is. Marty is probably only dimly aware that the vast majority of decent new clubs are in Brooklyn, or that most interesting artists have set up shop here. Which isn't to say that this is the only acceptable outcome in development, just that waving your new "skyscraper" over the East River, is an ugly and pointless use of public money.

Better, in other words, to work out a way of making sure that all Brooklyn residents find a way of tapping into the money sloshing into the borough as Manhattann overspill, than to spend hundreds of millions on creating jobs selling pretzels to basketball fans from Long Island, and as doormen at condo complexes of doubtful value. Marty, unfortunately, is so stuck in this childhood boys-own adventure he can conceive of no other solution.

The Blues? We just picked up the last Soledad Brothers album at Academy Records, and it's fine.

[UPDATE: Welcome, No Land Grab readers. There are a few posts about stadiums tucked between reviews of attack ads and metal posting. We approach the subject as a fan of small business, particularly the small bar business on 6th and Dean. But we do have a bit of experience following construction financing. Anyway, enjoy.]


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