Friday, January 27, 2006


Marty's State of the Borough: Atlantic Yards gets less push than last year

Is Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz backing away from the Atlantic Yards arena-cum-skyscrapers project? No, but maybe. If you see him at public meetings regarding the project, he maintains his enthusiastic support. But at last night's State of the Borough Address, held at Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene, Markowitz gave Atlantic Yards far less attention than in his 2005 and 2004 addresses. (Photo of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Marty's wife Jamie, and Borough President by Kathryn Kirk, from

That's reading the tea leaves, of course, but that's all we have. A State of the Borough Address is many things--a chance for fellow politicians to pay homage, a shout-out to various neighborhoods and ethnic groups, a recounting of achievements, and a chance to honor those who've "done Brooklyn proud." (A particular favorite last night was Keith Beauchamp, the filmmaker whose documentary helped reopen the investigation of the murder of Emmett Till.)

But it's also a chance to lay out goals, and in his previous addresses, excerpted below, Markowitz devoted several paragraphs to the Atlantic Yards project. Last night he gave it part of a sentence--plus the prominent closing segment in a post-speech video. Maybe that's because some of the previously stated goals--such as 10,000 permanent jobs--have fallen by the wayside, or maybe it's because he didn't want to remind people of potentially ruinous traffic. Maybe it's that there are more changes to come, like a new design from architect Frank Gehry. Or maybe it's simply that we're still waiting for a Draft Envirornmental Impact Statement from the Empire State Development Corporation.

Marty got to Atlantic Yards in the middle of his address. "Maybe it's an obsession with realizing Brooklyn's promise, or maybe it goes back to my childhood, but everything I do has the same objective. Fulfilling government’s core duties of providing affordable housing, quality health care, public safety, and a sound education for all — and making Brooklynites proud of our home town," he said. "I pushed for two of the largest affordable housing initiatives in New York City history with the Greenpoint-Williamsburg re-zoning and the Atlantic Yards project — and it is worth the agita and mishegas, because I’m confident it’s good for these neighborhoods, and good for Brooklyn."

That was it--no mention of jobs, or the controversial Community Benefits Agreement, or the concerns of local residents, references he made last year. (Interestingly, the press release touted the Greenpoint-Williamsburg and Atlantic Yards as "economic development.)

By contrast, in his inaugural address yesterday, Mayor Mike Bloomberg was effusive: In Brooklyn, construction workers will put shovels in the ground at Atlantic Yards, the most exciting housing, commercial, and sports development in Brooklyn’s history.

Bloomberg, swearing in Markowitz last night, said in Brooklyn, "Standing together, we'll cheer for the Nets."

The video and the heckler

Near the end of Marty's address, a video featured six disparate people congratulating the Borough President. Among them: Yvette Jarvis, the Brooklynite who is now a City Councilor in Athens, Greece; Gavin McLoed (of The Love Boat), on behalf of Princess Cruises; the captain of the Queen Mary II, scheduled to dock in Brooklyn; a couple of seniors from Red Hook hailing the new Ikea; and beach volleyball star Holly McPeak, whose pro tour will stop in Coney Island in August.

Finally, after a montage of basketball action, Vince Carter of the New Jersey Nets declared, "I want to congratulate Marty on his reelection, and we look forward to having you sit at center court when we get to Brooklyn." Then came a quick shot of Marty holding a Nets jersey.

The audience was quite enthusiastic about the Nets, but the ending of that segment, and the resumption of Markowitz's speech, was interrupted, at least for one section of the audience, by Schellie Hagan of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, which has long opposed the Atlantic Yards project. She had periodically heckled Markowitz during his speech by shouting, "What about eminent domain? What about Prospect Heights?," and she upped the volume when the Nets were mentioned. One fellow attendee angrily urged her to shut up, and a squad of auxiliary police officers approached. Hagan and her sister Patti Hagan, who had also participated in some heckling, agreed to be quiet, and soon left the building, as Markowitz's portion had finished.

Unmentioned power brokers

Among those in the VIP section of the audience: Forest City Ratner president Bruce Ratner and VP Jim Stuckey. Neither Ratner nor any of the other powerful developers in Brooklyn--Joseph Sitt of Thor Equities, David Walentas of Two Trees Management, and Shaya Boymelgreen of Leviev Boymelgreen--were mentioned in the speech, though they, more so than the many Brooklynites hailed by Markowitz, are Brooklyn's power brokers. (I don't know if those other three developers were present.)

Brooklyn touches

It was the first State of the Borough I've attended in person and, while the speech has some formulaic inclusiveness, it's hard not to be impressed by the diversity of Brooklyn. (That can lead to unintended consequences: the table with kosher food was near the entrance, and the crowds were so thick that many non-Jews lined up for the kosher food, despite the protests of the servers.)

And Marty's people know how to put on a show. The program opened with songs from the multiethnic Brooklyn Youth Chorus Academy and an invocation from a Borscht Belt-y rabbi. Then Marty entered, in the midst of the Brooklyn "Steppers" Marching Band. (Photo by Kathryn Kirk, from

As he spoke, a giant postcard saying "Greetings From Brooklyn, NY" was projected on screen. After a reference to the "Leaving Brooklyn, Fuhgeddaboudit" sign Marty managed to get placed on Brooklyn roads, he announced a new sign for the Jackie Robinson Parkway: "Welcome, Brooklyn's in the House." No wonder Bloomberg hailed Marty as Brooklyn's "the best salesman" Brooklyn's ever had and Senator Hillary Clinton called him "the most enthusiastic cheerleader for any community in the U.S."

Most impressive was a witty visual rebuke to the 3/7/2005 New Yorker cover that depicted, as the Daily News described it, "a horrified Adam and Eve exiled from Manhattan by God - into a dark and forbidding Brooklyn." Markowitz defended Brooklyn back then and last night introduced the cover of "The Brooklyner" (Price: Affordable), which showed Adam and Eve strolling peacefully over the Brooklyn Bridge into the borough, beckoned by God.

Also, all attendees were given a booklet containing the more than 1,000 entries submitted in a call for a new Brooklyn slogan. Among them: "Brooklyn is like an everything bagel;" "Brooklyn: Where Life Gets Interesting;" and "Brooklyn: "It's More than a Freakin' Tree."

Past speeches

From Marty's 2005 address:
Meanwhile, new residents, businesses, and cultural institutions — not to mention the upcoming arrival of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets — are increasingly making Brooklyn a true land of opportunity.
Now, I fought hard to get a national sports team to call Brooklyn home.
I know of three things that bring people together like nothing else — music, religion, and sports.
As a boy, I’m happy to say that I was able to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play every summer, just a few blocks from where I lived.
This year, by the way, we mark the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers’ legendary 1955 World Series championship.
I want to tell you what I remember about that time.
After that World Series victory — life as we knew it stopped in the borough of Brooklyn, because for two weeks, there was a non-stop party in the streets.
That was then, and this is now.
The Atlantic Yards Project will include the Nets arena, as well as residential and commercial buildings. Every city in America competes for a national sports team. If you’re lucky, you get a chance like this once in a lifetime.
Brooklyn — now is our time.
I expect Atlantic Yards to result in two things that are vital to Brooklynites — more jobs and more affordable housing. I want to say right now, that I fully understand — and I share the concerns — of local area residents who have spoken out in opposition to this development.
People of good will can differ. And constructive opposition is something I value and cherish — because I honestly believe that, in the end, it makes for a better plan.
The Nets arena — and the Atlantic Yards project — will go forward, but it must work for both Brooklyn and for the community surrounding the arena.
Because people do not move out of Brooklyn today seeking a better life. They move out because they can’t afford the good life we have here.
It is estimated that Atlantic Yards will create about 10,000 permanent new jobs. That is above and beyond the 15,000 construction-related jobs that it will create over the next decade. And we can all be proud that 100 percent of those workers will be union employees.
Under a proposed groundbreaking Community Benefits Agreement, as many as possible of those new jobs will be filled by Brooklyn residents, and I promise you, those jobs will go to those who need them most — particularly low income residents living in public housing nearby.
I believe this project will help give individuals and Brooklyn families the chance they need — and deserve — to break the cycle of poverty, with opportunities to work at jobs that will grow into careers.
I want every Brooklynite to be given the same chance I had.
As someone who grew up in poverty — and who grew up in public housing — I know what an opportunity can mean. And with this project designed by a world class architect, Brooklyn-born Frank Gehry, Atlantic Yards will be an unmistakable statement that the new center of this universe we call New York City has shifted to the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic!

From Marty's 2004 address:
Oh yeah, I almost forgot.
There's one other little project that's coming to Brooklyn.
The borough of Kings is about to get its crown back.
Brooklyn needs this arena because Brooklyn's best -- like the Lincoln High School team -- deserve a place in Brooklyn where they can compete at the highest levels, and watch the stars of the game.
Just as the Dodgers thrilled Brooklynites in the first half of the 20th century, the Nets will be the team that unites us in the 21st.
It's a moment in our history that future generations are going to look back on as a turning point, and they're going to thank us for making it happen!
If everything goes according to plan, in a few years we will bring a new center of life to the heart of this borough.
I want to thank Mayor Bloomberg for his enthusiastic support of this project – it couldn't have happened without you, Mayor. And thank you to Governor Pataki.
I will of course make sure that this is the best possible project for all Brooklynites, including those in the immediate neighborhood. I will do everything in my power to make sure that as few people as possible will be displaced -- that any negative impacts are minimized -- and most importantly that they are treated with dignity and respect.
For 26 years, I have kept my promises to Brooklynites.
And I will keep this one too.
This project must be a great resource for the entire neighborhood -- and for the entire borough.
The world-class arena and surrounding area will be designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry – and will include:
4400 units of new housing – up to half of which will be at below-market rates for middle and moderate income households – which we desperately need.
Many new businesses and stores, which will create thousands of new, much needed jobs.
Six acres of public park land.
And even a skating rink on top of the arena.
And we're going to make sure that those who have missed out on construction and contracting opportunities in the past – especially women and minority owned businesses -- have their rightful place at the starting gate for this project -- and aren't just watching the race.
Above all, the Brooklyn-wide pride for a top basketball team – which is the urban sport – will bring all of our neighborhoods and cultures even closer together.

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