Sunday, March 25, 2007

Growing out of Gotti

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Yellow Hooker believes that all the really romantic moments involve a subtle reminder of one’s own mortality.

The dinner table against the left wall in the dining room of Danzas on 18th Avenue is where Sammy “The Bull” Gravano performed one of his famous hits. If you look on the wall, you can still see the bullet marks. It is also the table where I proposed marriage to my wife.

“The bullet holes might be fitting,” she said. “We still have to run this by my mom.”

Sometimes it is good to know your family lives in a different state.

We made the move from Danville, Pennslyvania to Bensonhurst only one year earlier, and expected a place more like the one depicted by popular culture — meaning we expected wiseguys on every corner, horse heads in every other bed, and, of course, John Gotti pulling strings from the grave.

Five years later, a lot of Starbucks, sushi, and crazy people yelling at me on the N train, but nothing to connect me to the Gottiland that I imagined in my youth — but that was before I got word that the Gottis themselves were making their way to Bay Ridge for a book-signing. I couldn’t resist my chance to see a piece of historic Gottiland and the Gottaniacs who were sure to follow.

I quickly rubbed out the irony of Victoria Gotti signing copies of her Italian cookbook at the same table where her son Frank Agnello Gotti would be signing copies of his diet book.

After all, these were the Gottis.

The word “Gotti” was once synonymous with toughness, blood, and of course Kings County. John Gotti, a.k.a. the Dapper Don, grew up in Sheepshead Bay — a self-made man who went from mobster to boss of the Gambino Crime Family.

His personality quickly made him the national figurehead for mobsters, and soon after, the whole borough. Crowds, including actor Mickey Rourke, would gather outside the courthouse before his conviction in 1991 to lend support.

Since his death five years ago, Gottaniacs have been left with pale substitutes: daughter Victoria and her kids, Carmine, John, and Frank, who had their own reality show, “Growing up Gotti.”

I was excited to meet the living-breathing Brooklyn icons, then my hopes were whacked: The Gottis had canceled “due to an emergency,” said a sad counter worker at BookMark Shoppe on Third Avenue.

But in the end, it didn’t matter. There are, after all, no Gottaniacs in South Brooklyn anymore. Brooklyn has outgrown the Gottis.

“No one cares about them anymore,” my friend’s girlfriend told me, as we stood outside of Vesuvio’s on Third Avenue and 75th Street, devouring a mozzarella and tomato on thin crust.

“Some girls think they are kind of hot, but now almost everyone thinks of them as a complete joke.”

It could be that killers have gone out of vogue, or perhaps we have evolved to the point where we don’t need an icon to worship anymore. Maybe, we just want to eat real Brooklyn pizza at Vesuvio’s, and leave the gold chains and hair gel at home.

At least I know there is one place on earth where a piece of Gottiland still exists.

I called up Danzas to reserve a table for my four-year anniversary, and asked the guy who answered the phone for the table where “Sammy The Bull” made his mark.

“I am not really sure what you are talking about,” the guy answered. “Are you sure you are thinking of the right place.”

On second thought, maybe this is a good time to renew our vows.

The Kitchen Sink
Ran into a Community Board 10 member who believes that new chairman Dean Rasinya is starting his reign on the wrong foot. “He has turned everything upside down and on its head,” the peeved CB10 member told The Stoop. “It is going to be interesting to see how they function.” We think a little change is good, so keep fighting, Dean! …

We love getting takeout from Panda Chinese on 97th Street, especially the sweet and sour chicken lunch special, but it’s sad to say goodbye to Mr. Tang on Third Avenue and 75th Street, which recently lost its lease after 28 years. Thankfully, they will still be available for take-out. …

Overheard at the annual Conservative Party brunch honoring Rep. Peter King: Bob Capano, an aide to Rep. Vito Fossella, trying to convince community activist Craig Eaton to make a run with him to Atlantic City. Don’t worry, Capano did not plan to bet the Medicaid trust fund on 20 black. …

Councilman Vince Gentile secured $13,000 for an independent test of the air quality at the Owls Head sewage treatment plant. …

A source informed us that our Kitchen Sink got a bit clogged last week trying to keep up with those wacky Mirones brothers. It turns out it was Matthew Mirones who decided not to run for another term in the state Assembly, not brother Steve Mirones, who was recognized for his humanitarianism (even though he and his brother both run Arimed, the prosthetics company that got the award). Got that? …

Ridge resident David Scheffler was on hand at last week’s CB10 meeting to videotape the event. He plans on posting the footage online for public consumption. We can see it now: Josephine Beckmann becomes an instant YouTube celebrity!

God to pols: Thou shalt destroy the Green Church

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

A prominent Bay Ridge church sided with a controversial plan to tear down the historic “Green Church” this week — and for good reason: the cash-strapped church is about to suffer the same fate.

The Brooklyn Paper has learned that Our Saviors Lutheran Church, on 80th Street, will soon be put on the block — just like the 100-year-old Bay Ridge United Methodist Church that locals are in a last-ditch mission to save from the wrecking ball.

“We are likely finalizing a deal this spring that would involve tearing down our church and building a new structure that will provide senior housing, in addition to a space for us to worship,” said Lutheran’s pastor, Rev. Craig Miller.

Miller and his congregants believes they are spending too much on their 80-year old church building, and not enough on the community beyond its walls.

The 141-member church has experienced a 19-percent decline in baptized membership since 1999.

Over the same seven-year stretch, operating expenses have risen from $145,090 to $723,534, according to the church’s budget.

“We are currently spending 50 percent of our resources on maintaining the structure, and we would like to have that number around 15 percent,” Rev. Miller said.

In light of his own church’s predicament, Miller has argued that Bay Ridge United Methodist, whose stately cathedral has graced the corner of Ovington and Fourth avenues for a century, should be allowed to sell its building, too.

Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) has led the local effort to prevent that from happening, but Miller warned him that by intervening in the business of a private church, he isn’t respecting their private ownership rights.

“I was greatly disappointed to hear you … presume to tell a congregation how to interpret its mission,” said Miller, who attended Gentile’s “emergency meeting” last week to preserve the the so-called Green Church.

“[No one] should presume to enforce on them our own interpretation of mission, let alone to dictate how they should use their resources to carry out that mission.

“To tell the church that the preservation of their deteriorating building is the core of their mission is to inject an inappropriate political influence into the affairs of the church,” Miller added.

That wasn’t all that was coming from Lutheran’s pulpit, as Miller lambasted community leaders who had their chance to save the church, but had other priorities when it mattered most.

“I heard several voices describe the Church as an important part of the Bay Ridge community,” Miller continued. “Yet in the years in which the [church] sought the help of the community to repair the clock tower, [it was] unable to gather the support needed.”

Last week’s “emergency meeting” was sparked by the pending sale of the church for $12 million.

Gentile is still pushing for a deal that would create 87 units of subsidized housing on the church campus while generating $300,000 in revenue annually to pay for upkeep of the church building itself.

Gentile denied the motives Rev. Miller ascribed to him.

“We firmly recognize their private property rights,” a Gentile aide said. “It is their church and they can do what they want with it, but our job is to also recognize that the community has an interest, too, and all we are looking to do is come up with a plan that works for everyone.”

Gentile better hope so, because according to Rev. Miller — God is on Lutheran’s side.

“The Church of Jesus Christ is called together by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news to the people God has created in all the world,” Miller said. “At no time in all of the Bible does Christ give to the church a command to build structures and preserve them for all of time.”

No tenderness on this Hurst block

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Finding a parking spot is never easy in Brooklyn, but one unfortunate block of Bensonhurst residents has been facing a “perfect storm” of parking perils.

“Everyone on our block is upset,” said resident Kelly Guerrieri. “I would think the parking situation on the block was a joke, if I wasn’t the one who had to live it.”

No joke, but it is a little confusing.

First, residents who live on 66th Street between 12th and 13th avenues have four fire hydrants and nine residential driveways to deal with. Add to that a bus stop on the southern side of 13th Avenue between 66th and 67th streets, where parking is restricted from 7 am to 4 pm, and residents are left feeling like they are getting the squeeze.

But that was a virtual parking paradise before what happened next.

In February, a new bus stop appeared on the block to accommodate the 72 students attending a disabled children’s school. The bus stop also restricts parking from 7 am-4 pm.

“As a teacher myself, I obviously have nothing against children getting to school,” Guerrieri said. “But at what point is enough enough? I wish someone could tell me why the bus once comes once in the morning and once in the afternoon, but parking is prohibited all day long?”

Guerrieri and several residents of the beleaguered block took the issue of the rogue bus stops to Community Board 10 last week, but their plight was met with little sympathy.

CB10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann said she checked and found that the new bus stop was legit.

“They were properly registered at the request of the school’s principal,” Beckmann said.

After striking out at the community board, residents said they would seek help from local pols, especially since at least one resident may not be able to afford the current parking predicament much longer.

“I have gotten over $460 in parking violations trying to stay within all these rules,” said resident Rick Fetzke. “I am not sure anyone really understands how much this affects our lives.”

Tickets weren’t the only headache.

“This situation is trying the patience of everyone on our block,” said Guerrieri. “Last Wednesday, one resident smashed another’s head into a windshield over a open parking spot.”

Tickets, smashed heads. Well, at least it can’t get much worse, right? Wrong.

“They are building a new condo on the block,” said resident Patricia DaPice. “We are going to make room for a lot more cars on our block in the very near future.”

Club Shadows fights on

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Club Shadows, the embattled Fourth Avenue nightclub that pleaded not guilty to four violations earlier this year, will get its day in court next month.

“If found guilty, it could mean $10,000 fines for each charge or even a revocation of their liquor license,” said Bill Crowley, a spokesman for the State Liquor Authority. “These are serious charges and the board will make a determination based on the evidence.”

Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) didn’t make any predictions, but did express faith in the agency.

“We are not surprised they pleaded not guilty,” a Gentile aide said. “They will present their evidence and the Liquor Authority will do its job.”

Club Shadows, which is on Fourth Avenue between 90th and 91st streets, got on the community radar screen in November, when a sign featuring the silhouette of a curvy woman was installed. The sign also promised “exotic dancers” at the Nov. 30 opening.

But the strippers never materialized, and the owner insisted it was only a misunderstanding.

But Gentile brought SLA inspectors to the opening, and the agency hit Club Shadows with the four violations — including one for having flies in at least one liquor bottle.

Owner Joseph Domovsky could not be reached for comment.

The State Liquor Authority hearing will be on April 23 at the SLA office (317 Lenox Ave., fourth floor) at 11am.

Register it! Ovington is historic

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Move over Senator, there is a new historic block on the block.

Ovington Avenue, between Third Avenue and Ridge Boulevard, will be included in the State Registry of Historic Places, thanks to a unanimous ruling by the New York State Office of Historic Preservation last week.

“It is important to get the designation because it is a step forward in preserving a piece of our community that is both rare and beautiful,” said Victoria Hofmo, president of the Bay Ridge Conservancy, which fought for Ovington’s protection.

The March 16 designation means that homeowners would still be able to make minor changes to their building, but protects the fa├žades of the gorgeous brownstones that line the block.

Landmark designation also qualifies homeowners for tax deductions and loans.

“Ovington Avenue has a row of double-width brownstones,” Hofmo said. “I don’t think that exists anywhere else in the city.”

Ovington joins Senator Street as the only two Bay Ridge blocks deemed worthy of historic distinction — so far.

Critter Ridder hits Bay Ridge

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Come and get your Critter Ridder!

This is the battle cry from Councilmember Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge), who has again started handing out supplies of “Critter Ridder,” a humane raccoon repellant, “to all residents who are experiencing unwanted visits from raccoons.”

Gentile’s constituents quickly exhausted an earlier supply of the repellant after The Brooklyn Paper mentioned its availability at the Councilman’s office. But the lawmaker bought another supply — this time larger — to ensure that the neighborhood not get caught flat-footed this summer.

“Raccoons took us by surprise last year,” said Gentile spokesman Eric Kuo, who will dole out the “Critter Ridder.”

“This year, we are prepared with an impressive arsenal, but we need people to come down and grab themselves a bottle.”

The “arsenal” consists of 60 bottles, each with a 30-day supply of the “humane, safe, non-toxic” spray, which is made by the Lititz, Pennsylvania-based Havahart Company.

As reported in The Brooklyn Paper, the garbage-eaters have been popping up in a broad belt stretching from Cobble Hill to Prospect Park and down to Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights.

The cuddly (looking) critters are considered wildlife and cannot just be killed (like rats and mice) unless they are obviously rabid (in such cases, they’ll be walking around like drunks, experts said).

Call (718) 748-5200 to pick up your raccoon repellant.

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Welcome to Lysiak's Resource Guide!
Lysiak exposing the lack of security at the Towers pipeline