Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sister Souljah in Bay Ridge?

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

The best thing about the 1960s, at least according to this columnist, was that they ended before he was born. Despite all the oft-repeated flowery nostalgia, I always envisioned it to be a particularly anti-intellectual decade: heavy on chanting and marching and light on reasoned discourse.

Now the ’60s are back, at least in Bay Ridge, as a new anti-war group calling itself “Bay Ridge Neighbors for Peace” has seemingly dusted off the old tie-dyed playbook and have targeted Rep. Vito Fossella (R–Bay Ridge) for his support of the war in Iraq. But while these activists succeeded in living up to the worst of my stereotype, one pol transcended the chants — call it Bay Ridge’s very own Sister Souljah moment.

You remember Sister Souljah, of course. It was back during the 1992 presidential campaign when the rapper indicated that she didn’t have a problem with black-on-white violence. At the time, many politicos had trouble condemning the comment — mostly because they were afraid to appear insensitive to the black community. But then-candidate Bill Clinton waited until he was speaking before an African-American audience to rebuke the rapper. The move helped Clinton position himself in the center, and also show white voters that he was not, like other Democratic candidates, willing to betray his principles to please a minority community.

Cut to the present. Lefty lawyer Steve Harrison was invited by the Bay Ridge Neighbors for Peace to attend their anti-war rally at Fossella’s Bay Ridge office. Like the group, Harrison is very much opposed to the War in Iraq (in fact, linking Fossella to the Bush-led war was a major part of Harrison’s 2006 campaign — and may have played a role in getting him an impressive 42 percent of the vote).

The group brought signs and T-shirts calling the president a terrorist-minded, baby killing, Satanic SOB. That’s fine, I suppose. Free speech allows us all to attack our leaders, the pope, or even Tom Glavine (make that especially Tom Glavine).

But when one of the organizers of the protest berated two police officers, Harrison couldn’t hold his tongue.

“Those police officers, I know them personally, and I don’t want this group to alienate them,” said a visibly angry Harrison. “Everything they have ever done in this community is appropriate and what they deserve is a thank you.”

The moment lasted all of one minute before Harrison moved on to his stump speech, which (unlike the Dems running for president) called for an immediate end to the war and used all the usual anti-war hyperbole in condemning his opponent and the current administration.

But it was Harrison’s “Sister Souljah moment” that stood out. A reach? Perhaps, but unlike Clinton’s attack on the rapper, at least Harrison’s “moment” wasn’t pre-scripted. And that made it even more effective, because it showed that Harrison is a stand-up guy.

He may not have gotten this columnist’s endorsement (chalk it up to a difference in world views), but the move shows that Steve Harrison has a backbone, which is refreshing in this current political climate. Matthew Lysiak is a writer who lives in Bay Ridge.

The Kitchen Sink
Mike Long’s Conservative Party won’t announce a presidential endorsement until someone becomes the nominee. And Long claims to be leaving the door open to native son Rudy Giuliani, but the odds of Rudy winning over the conservatives are between slim and none. The party is leaning towards Fred Thompson, who is the guest at the party’s fall reception on Oct. 15 at the Sheraton in Manhattan. …

Vito goes green: Rep. Vito Fossella (R–Bay Ridge) recently pushed local officials to plant nine new trees and six new shrubs on Dahlgren Place to help reduce air and noise pollution for residents living near the 92nd Street exit ramp off the Verrazano Bridge. …

Sen. Marty Golden will be hosting an Oct. 23 luncheon at the Bay Ridge Manor to honor Col. Tracey Nicholson, Commander of the Fort Hamilton army base, for her recent designation as a 2007 New York State Senate Woman of Distinction.

Hike in Verrazano toll bridges politics

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

This politically fractured community has finally found a common cause — everyone is united in opposition to a toll increase on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

The rare showing of political hand-holding comes as Republicans and Democrats both blasted the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for calling for a one-dollar toll hike in next year’s budget.

Assemblywoman Janele Hyer-Spencer (D–Bay Ridge) says the move is downright troll-like.

“These hikes are an unfair burden on our families and I stand poised to fight this proposal,” said Hyer-Spencer.

Hyer-Spencer said she’ll send out a petition for residents to fill out and mail back to her office.

“I will personally carry these names with me to the MTA hearings in November where I will make your voices heard,” said Hyer Spencer.

But her voice may not be loud enough to budge the MTA.

That’s because the agency has proposed only two scenarios to avoid a budget shortfall — and both proposals involve raising the toll.

Rep. Vito Fossella (R–Bay Ridge) called on the MTA to go back to the drawing board.

“It is ironic to note that for the luxury of paying this fee, commuters get to sit in unbearable traffic and endless congestion, not to mention endure the consequences of poorly planned maintenance and construction projects that exacerbate an already untenable situation,” he said.

In June, one lane in each direction was closed for a lower-level rehab, a complete removal and reconstruction of the roadway, parapet wall and utilities, and rehabilitation of the steel beneath.

Already, the work has led to congestion that has spilled onto the streets of Bay Ridge.

Fossella fired off a letter to MTA Executive Director Elliot Sander bashing the proposal as untimely punishment on already construction burdened commuters.

“The MTA cannot justify charging motorists $10 or more to cross the span — an amount that would make the Verrazano toll one of the most expensive in the United States,” Fossella added.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will hold a hearing to discuss the tolls at the Brooklyn Marriott (333 Adams St., between Willoughby and Johnson streets in Downtown Brooklyn) on Nov. 5 at 6 pm.

Ridgite tells Bloomy: Ferry on over

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

It’s a landslide: Bay Ridge commuters want a ferry to Manhattan!

More than 1,400 people have now signed Heather McCown’s petition demanding the long-dreamed-about 12-minute ride to from the 69th Street pier to Lower Manhattan, and now she wants to hand the petitions directly to Mayor Bloomberg.

She wouldn’t only be delivering the petitions, but a message: transportation in Bay Ridge stinks.

“Bay Ridge is one of the most underserved neighborhoods in Brooklyn,” said McCown. “Our subway line is grossly inadequate, and the Express Bus service is overcrowded during morning rush hours.”

McCown decided to turn her transportation frustration into a full-scale grass-roots movement.

The multi-tasking activist began circulating the petition in July, despite working full time and taking night classes.

Her crusade faces an uphill climb, since she is looking to succeed where local pols have already fought and failed.

Earlier this year, Councilmen Vince Gentile (D-Bay Ridge) and David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) secured $500,000 to transform the 69th Street pier into a ferry-ready dock. But the Department of Transportation has not spent the money to do the job — and that makes the green-minded Gentile see red.

He faults the Bloomberg administration for ignoring a simple, low-pollution mass-transit alternative for Bay Ridge.

But residents just aren’t taking no for an answer.

“It would absolutely be a nice thing for this community,” said local activist Peter Killen. “People are always looking for alternative routes of transportation.”

Killen was involved in the last attempted resurrection of the pier in 2000, but says he was also shot down by the DOT.

New York Water Taxi, the company that operates “taxi” boats all over the city, is warm to the idea of running boats out of the Bay Ridge.

“We would certainly consider the possibility,” said company rep Robert Pandolfo. “It isn’t too complicated. All the terminal would need is a bumper system and a ramp built into the dock.”

The DOT did not return requests for a comment.

To sign the petition, go to or visit the offices of State Sen. Marty Golden (7403 Fifth Ave., at 74th Street) or Councilman Vince Gentile (8703 Third Ave., at 87th Street).

Dueling pumpkins in Ridge

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Two local Republicans are going pumpkin to pumpkin to see who can host the most festive Halloween celebrations during this scary season.

The festivities kick-off at noon on Oct. 20, at Leif Ericson Park, which is located at 66th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway, where Rep. Vito Fossella will be hosting “Pumpkin Patch in the Park,” which will include live music, pumpkin picking, hayrides and even pony rides.

Not to be outmatched, from 3–8 pm on Halloween night, state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) will host his annual Haunted Halloween Walk and Fair at Owl’s Head Park, which is at 68th Street and Colonial Road. The festival will also include hayrides, face painting, and lots of food and spooky sights.

But Halloween isn’t just for pols, kids, or even humans for that matter. It is also for man’s best friend.

On Sunday, Oct. 28, the Narrows Botanical Garden, which is located near Shore Road and 71st Street, will host its canine costume contest, art show and crafts sale from noon–5 pm. Kids can paint their own pumpkin, listen to music, square dance, go on plant tours, and sample hot cider at the Greenmarket.

But the real attraction of that event will be the famous dog costume contest, where animals big and small will line up to show off their animal disguises in hopes of impressing the judges who award prizes for creativity.

So who’s event is the best? Everyone has his own opinion, but even the organizer of the Botanical Garden’s event says Golden’s party is the one to beat.

“I have been doing events for more than 20-years,” said Chip Cafiero. “Let me tell you, the Halloween Walk at Owl’s Head Park is the best event in Brooklyn.”

Pumpkin Patch in the Park, Leif Ericson Park (66th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway), Oct. 20, noon–5 pm. For information, call (718) 356-8400.

Canine Costume Contest, Art Show and Crafts Sale, Narrows Botanical Garden (Shore Road and 71st Street), Oct. 28, noon– 5 pm. For information, call (718) 748-9848.

Halloween night, Owls Head Park (68th Street and Colonial Road), Oct. 31, 3–8 pm. For information, call (718) 238-6044.

Facing a bleeker future

By Matthew Lysiak | Special to amNew York

It's official: Tommy Hilfiger has arrived on Bleecker Street.

The store, the first of its kind to cater exclusively to women, opened its doors at 375 Bleecker Street on Sept. 28. The hope is that the famous street's trendy image will now rub off on the upscale clothing line -- that is, unless Bleecker's 15 minutes have already expired.

Hilfiger certainly still believes that time isn't up on the Bleecker brand name. "It is a jewel box of a store on a street where people understand and appreciate fashion," Hilfiger said about the opening. "It allows us to live in the heart of creativity."

Shopping at Murray's Cheese Video The addition of Hilfiger only adds to a larger trend of upscale movement. In the past decade, Bleecker Street has become a sought-after destination for high-end merchants such as Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Mulberry and James Perse.

But that heart of creativity, built on the Bohemian revolution of the '60s, has a fading pulse, at least according to author Elizabeth Currid, who in her book "The Warhol Economy," argues that the current transition from artsy to upscale is not only extinguishing the cultural significance of the area, but the health of the local economy, too.

Currid believes that much of the appeal is intrinsically tied to the famous vibe -- and when the vibe suffers, so does the bottom line. "To many, the appeal of the Village was that it was built up by a Bohemian crowd, through music venues, art and culture. But the upscale merchants that now flood the scene will eventually spell the end," said Currid. "When the cost barrier becomes too high and young Bohemians are replaced by young investment bankers, the image that people are currently buying into will no longer exist and Bleecker will become just another homogeneous city street."

Currid chalks it up to the cycles of capitalism. "The trend is a market inevitability, unless super-proactive community leaders intervene to enact aggressive zoning measures and rent caps," said Currid. "It may sound anti-establishment, but sometimes growth can be bad."

Many in the Village, an area with a history of progressive politics, share her sentiments, which live in the memory of one local official. "About three years ago I was walking down Bleecker with my girlfriend when we saw a purse in the window that we liked, but we were shocked when we saw the $1,500 price tag," said District Manager of Community Board 2 Bob Gormley.

"The image of the Village as a poor artist community may still persist with some, but the truth is, that train left the station a long time ago."

But the change may be refreshing to Village icon Andy Warhol, who had his own perspective on the merger of art and business.

"Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art," Warhol said.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bronx realty leaves bad rep behind

By Matthew Lysiak
Special to amNewYork
The Bronx is expanding, so you don’t have to.
At least that’s the motto of New York Sports Club, who
announced last week that they will soon be moving to the Bronx. But the hip Manhattan-centric club’s expansionmay do more than signal a shrinking of waistlines
— it could also mean an acceleration of the merchantchain trend that has been sweeping through the rest of the city may finally be hitting the forgotten borough.
The new athletic club,which is located at 1601 Bronxdale Ave., will open Nov. 1, complete with swimming pool, babysitting, a sauna and a juice bar. But the club is only the most recent example of how commercial real estate developers are beginning to see the borough in a whole new light.
“It may have taken a little longer than the other boroughs,but now big businesses are beginning to see value in the Bronx,” said broker Mark Lilmars, who
deals in commercial rental property near Morris Park. “The borough is in transition
and while it is difficult to generalize such a diverse area, it appears that the
trend is likely to continue.”
That is also good news for coffee lovers. That’s because next month, Starbucks, the unofficial barometer of gentrification, is also taking the Bronx plunge, having recently announced that it will soon open a shop at 235th Street and Johnson Avenue in Riverdale.
Times sure have changed since President Jimmy Carter first visited 30 years
ago this month.
In the 1970s, the Bronx was a buzzword for violence, decay and blight. In casual French “c’est le Bronx” still stands for “what a mess.” A wave of arson
in the South Bronx in the 1960s and 1970s coupled with soaring crime rates kept merchants at arm’s length.
But in the past few years, many chain stores have ignored lingering stereotypes
and have set up shop in the much maligned borough. In the past decade, Home Depots opened in Baychester and Castle Hill, and in 2004, a Target came to Riverdale. Now the community that some outsiders associate with the arson and crime waves of decades past will be serving $5 lattes to go with Pilates and yoga.
While residents view the corporate logos as an uplifting sign that past stigmas
have finally been discarded, they also stoke familiar fears.
“People should know that the Bronx hasn’t been burning for a long time,” said Jonathan Izra, who is a partner at Alliance Car Company and has lived in Morris Park for 19 years. “Big businesses know it’s safe to bring their money to town, just so long as my rent doesn’t go up anymore.”

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