Thursday, January 31, 2008

Marty Markowitz Signed Cast For Sale on Ebay

You decide if it's goodwill or creepy self-promotion.

The Brooklyn Paper's
editor-in-chief Gersh Kuntzman has put up for sale on Ebay the cast he recently had removed after breaking his ankle in January. The selling point (it's up to $22.51) is that the cast is signed by none other than the Borough President himself, Marty Markowitz, whose John Hancock is widely known to be of inestimable value.

All proceeds from the auction will go to Markowitz's Camp Brooklyn charity.

Park Slope "Book Nerd" Blogger Wins Library Prize

Congratulations to Jessica Stockton-Bagnulo of Park Slope on winning the Brooklyn Public Library's 4th Annual Power Up! business-plan competition. Devotees of Brooklyn blogs may recognize Stockton-Bagnulo as the literary lion behind The Written Nerd, the self-proclaimed "confessions of an independent bookseller and unrepentant book nerd".

As the top prize winner in the competition, Stockton-Bagnulo will receive $15,000 toward starting her dream business: an independent bookstore. She's now looking for investors to join her as she scouts Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Windsor Terrace, and Clinton Hill for possible locations. Any takers? It's more than a worthy cause. We need more independent bookstores in our borough.

A complete list of the competition's winners and more information on Power Up! is available here.

An Optimistic Interview with Chris Owens on Brooklyn Politics

After The Optimist interviewed former Congressman Major Owens this past weekend, I seized the opportunity to get his son Chris Owens on camera to discuss the current state of Brooklyn politics.

Chris is as well-informed about the subject as anyone, having spent the past several decades as a community advocate in Brooklyn and a leader in local politics. A former candidate for City Council and U.S. Congress, most recently, Chris has been nominated to become the President of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID) - one of the borough's most influential political clubs.

I spoke with Chris about the future of the Kings County Democratic Party, the 2009 City Council race, his own political aspirations, and what Brooklynites can do to ensure their voice is heard in government.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

WANTED Posters in Williamsburg

Last night, as I was walking down N. 6th St. in Williamsburg, I noticed a woman veiled in the shadows cast by a scaffold at the corner of Wythe. Though I could not discern her features, it was clear her gaze was fixed nervously upon a sign stapled to the plywood boards that enclosed the construction site before her. It was a sudden, eerie moment, the kind that reminds the late night wanderer he has taken a wrong turn on a dark street, and wound up isolated and vulnerable.

Drawing closer, I was able to make out the cause of her concern. In bold, intimidating letters boomed the headline "WANTED" above a drawing on the fugitive to fear.

Perhaps it was only now that the woman heard my approaching footsteps, for she suddenly turned to look over her shoulder at me before scurrying off down Wythe.

I continued toward the sign, compelled now to discover what menace could be so terrifying to our neighborhood that the police bothered to plaster his mugshot even in an unsavory alcove. Was this where the monster lurked? Finally, the fine print came into focus and I learned what had drawn me into harm's way:

An ad! And for a video game, no less. The latest installment in the enormously popular Grand Theft Auto series, in which the player takes on the role of a psychopathic criminal with the goal of unleashing as much mayhem as possible upon his city.

Sound uplifting? According to the WANTED poster issued by the "City of Liberty", the game's protagonist is of Eastern European descent and "wanted for questioning in connection with a shooting at a nightclub in the Hove Beach area of Broker". In line with the type of justice the game advocates, the poster advises that the criminal - who you embody - be shot on sight.

As it so happens, I am teaching advertising for the first time this semester, and so from a professional standpoint I can understand the savvy of an ad like this one. But at what point does a guerilla marketing campaign go too far? Surely, terrorizing the public has to be that bar.

Part of creating an effective ad entails zeroing in on the demographic you want to win for your customers. What type of person is Grand Theft Auto trying to appeal to with fake Wanted posters plastered in the darkest corners of our City? Probably not the type of person you would want to meet if you ended up lured to one of its posters alone at night.

The Latest Primary News on Barack Obama

Are the stars aligning for Barack Obama? I wrote last Sunday that the only way Obama had a chance of overtaking Clinton for the nomination was if Edwards dropped out of the race and threw his support behind Obama.

The far more unlikely half of that hypothetical scenario happened this afternoon.

The Latest Primary News on John Edwards

Once again, as he has done on so many other occasions throughout the course of this campaign, John Edwards inspired my optimism by doing the right thing. Prior to this campaign, it was as nearly as unfathomable to me that a woman or a black man would become President, as it was for a candidate whose stated primary objectives were to help the poor and break up America's corporate oligarchy.

The fact is that Edwards' message was so threatening that the mainstream media - which, as it so happens, is owned by the very same corporations Edwards was railing against - made sure to ignore his candidacy long before it bothered silencing Dennis Kucinich.

Hopefully, Edwards will be able to leverage his impassioned supporters across the country (10%-20% of Democrats in all the states left to vote) to ensure that Clinton or Obama will pick up the mantle of his fight for the common man, as they both promised today to do.

I didn't think that Edwards would drop out of the race before Super Tuesday, even though I knew he should. I took Edwards at his word when he stubbornly insisted before South Carolina that he was going to push through to the Convention. But now I see that his bravado was a valiant final attempt to convince Democrats he still believed he would win, so that voters wouldn't feel like they would be squandering their vote on him.

By withdrawing from the race today, Edwards keeps his dignity while preserving the integrity of his message. In other words, he acted in a way consistent with what he has preached. Even The Optimist is taken by surprise when a politician proves so genuinely virtuous.

Edwards isn't right for either Clinton or Obama's running mates, but he would make a fine Attorney General for either Administration. Of course, the likelihood of that happening depends on who he decides to endorse, if anyone. I don't know about him going for Obama, but I can't imagine Edwards coming out for Hillary and I'm not so sure his supporters would switch over to her even if he did.

The Latest Primary News on Hillary Clinton

This bit in The Times' story on Edwards surprised me:

"Since the New Hampshire primary, Mrs. Clinton has reached out to Mr. Edwards aggressively, through telephone calls and private meetings. Mr. Obama has spent far less time courting Mr. Edwards, according to people familiar with the talks."

Clandestine, "private meetings"? I'd love to know what Hillary was offering (or might still have on the table). I had only considered the reasons why Obama would court Edwards' campaign to concede, but it was foolish of me to think Hillary would not be so shrewd as to try the same power play. After all - and it probably would have occurred to me if I had spent a moment to think about it - Hillary definitely knows Edwards much better than Obama, especially since Obama and Edwards' time in the Senate didn't overlap.

Not only has Hillary served alongside Edwards, but the Clintons played a much larger role in stumping for the Kerry-Edwards campaign than they did for Gore-Lieberman (because Al tried to distance himself from Bill). For some reason I had assumed that Edwards felt the same cold indifference to the Clintons as he did for John Kerry, but maybe he and Clinton have a friendship behind the scenes that made her think Edwards would favor her as his second choice.

What has already been decided between the candidates, if anything? Those with the answer to that question know if Hillary spent today scrambling or smiling.

The Lastest Primary News On Rudy Giuliani

The media committed a grave injustice by allowing Rudy Giuliani to sell us on the preposterous premise that his all-or-nothing Florida bid could rightfully be called a "strategy". As soon as the American public finally caught on to what "America's Mayor" did as our Mayor, Giuliani took such a precipitous tumble in the polls that he saw he had no chance in any of the early battleground states.

But Rudy prefers not to play, than to lose (as he showed in the first over-hyped, never-to-be Clinton-Giuliani match-up). That's why all of a sudden he dreamed up the ridiculous, historically-unprecedented strategy of only trying to win in Florida.

That's not a strategy. That's desperation. Stephen Colbert's bid for President was more serious than Giuliani's.

Personally, I'm relieved Giuliani is at last officially out of the race. "President Giuliani" has an even harsher ring to it than "President Bush". It is a credit to the America people's intelligence that they figured out so quickly what Rudy Giuliani is really about.

Rarely, has the Times so found les mots justes to describe someone, as the paper's editorial did in their endorsement of John McCain for the Republican nomination. You know, the spot-on portrait of Rudy as "a narrow, obsessively secretive, vindictive man," who "shamelessly turned the horror of 9/11 into a lucrative business, with a secret client list, then exploited his city’s and the country’s nightmare to promote his presidential campaign."

Yeah, the guy we New Yorkers know.

I read in the Observer New York City Council Minority Leader and committed Giuliani-supporter James Oddo's quote consoling his candidate that "Rudy will have a good life post Florida."

I'm sure he'll be far better off than a lot of Americans, but is this really true? As far as I can tell, Rudy's campaign for Presidency was calamitous for him. Had he not run, he would have been a revered king-maker for the Republican field and, if he had played his cards right, a front runner for a Vice Presidential nomination. Instead, his political career is over, his businesses have been exposed for profiteering, he's been tied to criminals, his mystique has evaporated, and he's been shown to be one of the country's worst family men.

I'm not so sure that Rudy's future will be as bright as Councilman Oddo imagines.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Typographer Discovers Brooklyn's Letter Perfect

Over the last year, typographer Paul Shaw took a wonderful walking tour crisscrossing Brooklyn's neighborhoods from Williamsburg to Bensonhurst in search of the letters that spell out our daily lives. In so doing, he has unearthed an aesthetic bounty of fonts that reflect in their diversity the history, eccentricity, wit, and wisdom of our borough.

Often his study illuminates the artistry of a building or storefront that has unjustly lost its luster simply because it has grown familiar to us - as I experienced when I came across the letters that form La Taqueria (my beloved Mexican eatery at 72 7th Ave.) in Shaw's section on Park Slope. It is this quality that makes Shaw's article from AIGA's Journal of Design delightful reading for all Brooklynites, even those who ordinarily wouldn't think to marvel at typefaces.

Shaw's article is available here, along with a treasure trove of photographs illustrating his striking observations.

Brooklyn Heights Arsenal Sported Nerf Football Pipe Bomb

As you can read here in the Gothamist, the story of Ivaylo Ivanov, admitted serial racist and alleged aspiring terrorist, keeps getting more unnerving and bizarre.

Who would have thought that all this was going on in a famed AIDS researcher's duplex on Remsen Street?

Monday, January 28, 2008

An Optimistic (On Camera!) Interview with Major Owens about Barack Obama

Up until now, you’ve only experienced Brooklyn Optimism in word. But starting today, this blog is expanding to spread optimism to the eyes and ears of Brooklynites like you by featuring all-original documentary news shorts about the borough.

This first segment is An Optimistic Interview with former Brooklyn Congressman Major Owens about why he has chosen to support Barack Obama’s candidacy for President. The Optimist caught up with Congressman Owens the morning of the South Carolina Primary (before we knew the winner) at Medgar Evers College, where he has just begun teaching as an adjunct professor.

Congressman Owens has stayed vigorously involved in community activism since he retired from office in 2007 after 24 years of representing one of Brooklyn's most racially and economically diverse districts. The only professional librarian ever elected to Congress, Major Owens has also recently completed a book for which he is seeking a publisher. It's called The Peacock Elite: An Intimate Case Study of the Congressional Black Caucus and its Impact on National Politics.

Owens' former seat, now occupied by Rep. Yvette Clarke, has its own special place in the history of the Congressional Black Caucus. Before Owens, it was occupied by one of the founding members of the Caucus, Shirley Chisholm, who in 1972 became the first black woman to run for President of the United States. She garnered an impressive 152 delegates, but ultimately lost the Democratic Primary to South Dakota Senator George McGovern.

Later that day, I seized the moment to interview Rep. Owens’ son, Chris Owens, about the state of Brooklyn politics today. I’ll be debuting that interview later this week on

Idiotarod 2008: The Idiocy and the Ecstasy

The results of this year's Idiotarod are in and the winner was not Mitt Romney. That coveted honor went to Team Danger Zone, whose dramatic path to the gold was assiduously detailed in real-time by The Gothamist.

Reactions to this year's race from borough residents ranged from amusement at the event's inanity to outrage over the garbage it left behind. Nonetheless, the shameless spectacle of it all made the race choice fare for Brooklyn's photographers. Among the talented who stooped to turning their lens on the Idiotarod were Adrian Kinloch, who snapped the portrait above as part of a gallery of images on his Brit in Brooklyn blog, and Jake Dobkin on his fabulous photoblog Bluejake.

Those who think the intrepid competitors in Idiotarod MMVIII will never make anything of themselves need only turn to Mark Twain's insight to be chastened: “Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

An Optimistic Interview with Park Slope's "Murder" Blogger Paul LaRosa

Just because The Optimist looks on the bright side of life doesn’t mean he stays clear of the dark side of Brooklyn. As soon as I first read about the concept behind Park Slope author Paul LaRosa’s new blog, I became curious about what kind of man had decided to write a daily chronicle of all of New York City’s murders.

It turns out that Paul LaRosa, the writer of The Murder Book 2008 blog, is a family man with a wife and two college-aged kids, who goes to the dentist – manifestly not the loner holed up in a room wallpapered with obituaries circled madly in red ink that I first imagined. But despite his seeming so nice and being just like you and me, LaRosa does have an obsession – or at least a fascination – with murder. A former Daily News reporter, LaRosa is the author of two true crime books revolving around murder (Tacoma Confidential: A True Story of Murder, Suicide, and a Police Chief’s Secret Life and Nightmare in Napa) with a third on the way.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul by email this week, making him my first interview, er… victim here at

THE BROOKLYN OPTIMIST: What possessed you to want to write a blog chronicling New York City's murders?

PAUL LAROSA: I do a lot of work about murder, frankly, being a TV producer for "48 Hours Mystery" and a true crime author. In fact, my most recent book - due out at the end of March - is about the NYC murder of dancer Catherine Woods. It's called Death of a Dream. Because of my work, someone suggested I read The L.A. Times Homicide Report, which is that paper's attempt to chronicle every murder in L.A. I was thinking someone ought to do that here. It was already 12/31/07 and so I thought, well, why don't I do it? So I did.

OPTIMIST: Isn't this a pretty morbid undertaking?

LAROSA: Yes, no doubt about that. But I am fascinated by the reasons people murder - love, lust, money, jealousy - it's all very biblical. What's depressing is when someone is killed - and a fair number of NYC murders fall into this category - because of a stupid argument or someone looked at someone the wrong way. There's nothing fascinating about that… and it shows the need for gun control. These murders would have been fistfights (maybe knife fights) a couple of generations ago.

OPTIMIST: New York City had 494 murders in 2007 - the lowest number we have suffered in more than 40 years - earning it praise from some as "the nation's safest big city". Nonetheless, many visitors to your site certainly won't be able to help themselves from assessing New York as a very violent place. Do you think that this is an appropriate time in our City's history to begin a project like the The Murder Book 2008?

LAROSA: Well, 494 souls are 494 souls any way you look at it. Do most of us feel safe? Yes. But there are neighborhoods in Brooklyn and The Bronx where this is just not so. I also think it's important to look at who is being killed (the majority by far are blacks and Latinos) and where the killings are taking place. Who would feel equally as safe if the 494 murders were mainly whites who lived in Manhattan?

OPTIMIST: How does Brooklyn compare to the other boroughs in terms of murder?

LAROSA: There are parts of Brooklyn where the murder rate went up last year and more cops have been assigned. We'll see what happens as the year goes on.

OPTIMIST: Since you are only recording murders that have been reported by the City's three largest newspapers [the Times, News, and Post], are there many murders that you miss?

LAROSA: Again, that's one of my questions. Are there dozens or a hundred or so murders that are just considered too inconsequential to report? Already, I have to look really hard at the papers to find some that you think would have garnered more coverage. To take one example, why is it that when a 69-year-old black grandmother is sexually assaulted and murdered in Harlem the story gets so little ink? Yet, we're still reading about the mugging of a 101-year-old white woman last year? No one has been arrested yet for the Harlem murder which, by the way, means a sexual killer is on the loose up there.

OPTIMIST: Do you think that keeping a daily numerical tally of victims could reduce the significance of these individuals' deaths to statistics?

LAROSA: I think just the opposite. I'm highlighting every murder victim I can find in a more or less equal way.

OPTIMIST: What do you think on mornings when you open the papers and you don't find any murders?

LAROSA: It's a great day!

OPTIMIST: Finally, you and I both started our blogs on the first day of this year. Where in The Murder Book 2008 can I find cause for optimism?

LAROSA: I hope for even fewer murders this year than last. And when you see where the vast majority of these murders are taking place, at least some people will take solace in the fact that they'll never go to Mott Haven or Far Rockaway or even a Chelsea night spot.

[BREAKING NEWS: Just before this interview was posted The Optimist received a last-minute email from Paul LaRosa calling my attention to a new blog he has just begun, apparently in an attempt to even out his karma. It’s called Here Is New York and purports itself to be “a record of all the good, curious & quirky aspects of living in New York from a NYC native”.]

Friday, January 25, 2008

More Hopefuls Crowd DeBlasio's Council Seat

The Brooklyn Paper reports today that two more candidates have jumped into the 2009 race to replace term-limited Councilman Bill DeBlasio. Lawyer and local blogger Gary Reilly, 33, and Bob Zuckerman, 47, executive director of the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, join Brad Lander, Josh Skaller, and Craig Hammerman, the three candidates who had previously announced their intentions to run for the Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens seat.

Neither Reilly, nor Zuckerman have previously run for office, though both are involved in local activism to some degree. Zuckerman is a member of Community Board 6 (CB6) and was recently nominated to become president of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats (IND) political club. Reilly, the youngest candidate in the (currently) five-man field, is a member of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association. Zuckerman has not yet filed the official paperwork necessary to become a candidate and be eligible for City matching funds. Reilly reports on his blog Brooklyn Streets, Carroll Gardens that he has filed, but not yet begun raising money.

According to the Paper, of the three candidates already in the race, Brad Lander, the director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, has raised the most money to date with $63,015. Josh Skaller, president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID), is second with $30,234. CB6 district manager Craig Hammerman has not yet filed with the Board of Elections.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The 475 Kent Catastrophe

The Gowanus Lounge has provided excellent coverage of the suffering the residents of 475 Kent Avenue in South Williamsburg have had to endure since they were forcibly evacuated from their homes by City officials earlier this week because of a whole host of building violations at 475 which were potentially jeopardizing their lives.

Since the tenants of 475 Kent were ordered from their homes this past Sunday on a particularly cold night, The Gowanus Lounge has reported the dramatic travails from the point of view of the affected tenants, including a filmmaker named Phillip Anderson who hid out in his apartment with his dog while cops went down the building's hallways pounding on its doors to make sure the residents complied.

In part, GL's insights can be attributed to the proactive stand the residents of 475 Kent have taken in bringing the case of their mistreatment to the public. They have had a website going all week to share information with the media and local elected officials, as well as with one another. The site's message board has helped coordinate the roughly 150 residents of 475 Kent, who as of this evening's latest news will all likely have to empty their apartments this weekend in a mass move without any inkling of when, if ever, they will be allowed to return.

Though Councilman David Yassky, who represent the districts in which 475 Kent stands, has made public statements in support of the displaced tenants, a number of the building's residents appear unsatisfied with the response of their local elected officials. GL quotes one resident's post on the 475 Kent website who argues:

"we need to start a coordinated effort to pressure our electeds to take this issue on. i am very encouraged by councilman yassky's statement from last night. now we need to get assemblyman lentol and our state senator, marty connor, who is facing a well financed primary fight, involved as well. one side note: connor is being challenged by a man named dan squadron. he's young, but he's pretty sharp. if he decides to make an issue out of this, which is a very smart thing for him to do, connor will absolutely have to address it as well."

As residents consult with lawyers to weigh their legal options, it will be interesting to see what will be the political ramifications, if any, of 475 Kent's mistreatment. Will Daniel Squadron try to assail State Senator Martin Connor's dedication to his constituents by accusing Connor of indifference to 475's struggle?

The Optimist hopes that our elected officials will be above such divisive political posturing and instead use their clout to ensure the residents of 475 can get back into their homes as soon as it is safely possible for them to do so.

Idiotarod MMVIII

Brooklyn's premiere sporting event has returned! This weekend in a monumental meeting of mind and mettle, the world's most celebrated athletes will take to the streets of our borough for The Idiotarod.

For those who don't know the history of this prestigious race, The Idiotarod is the ferocious Spartan struggle that has spawned knock-off contests around the world, like some sled race in Alaska featuring guys too cold to spell "Idiotarod" correctly.

But though often imitiated, The Idiotarod itself exceeds all comparison. As the tournament's website so eloquently reminds us, instead of sleds as their chariots, its gladiators ride in shopping carts, and instead of dogs pulling them, people do, and instead of Alaska, it's New York.

As to which heroic men and women will emerge from this Saturday's melee enshrined forever in the stars - like last year's triumphant Colonel Angus team - no one knows.

Mirabile dictu
, it could even be you.

For the mere cost of money and your dignity, you can enter the race up until and including (and even after, if you like) the very day of the contest, January 26th.

This year The Idiotarod defies the tired parameters of other marathons by starting not in just one possible location, but four: the water taxi stands respectively in DUMBO, Williamsburg, and Long Island City, as well as India Street in Greenpoint.

All you need is your cart, your compatriots, and your courage. And $40.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What's Going On

Here are some of the stories The Optimist has been reading today:

A.O. Scott has a fine appraisal today of former Boerum Hill resident Heath Ledger's short, but admirable career.

The Brownstoner blog, which was highlighted in the Times' initial story about Ledger's death for coverage of the time the actor spent living in Brooklyn, has an article about Councilman David Yassky's proposed bill that would require gas companies to gradually blend biodiesel fuel into the heating oil they provide.

"Much of Downtown Brooklyn Is Going Out of Business". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle's headline tells the whole disheartening story.

The Brooklyn Paper has a striking sneak peek image of artist Olafur Eliasson's "New York City Waterfalls", "which will send water cascading from under the Brooklyn Bridge and from three free-standing scaffolds in New York Harbor".

And finally, Time Out New York's poll this week asks its readers what they think about the Pacific Standard bar in Boerum Hill's "frequent drinker program" that rewards hardcore barflies with prizes for being, uh, hardcore barflies. Since the URL listed in the magazine doesn't take to the right poll, here are the verbatim answers proposed by TONY to the question of whether the promotion is genius or "what".

a) No! It's rewarding people for alcohol abuse - this is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
b) Hells yeah! It's no worse than credit cards offering points for high-interest borrowing.
c) It's okay as long as the bar offers free car service.
d) I'm too drunk to care.

The Optimist hopes you didn't automatically leap (or stumble) at option "d".

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bobby Fischer and Me

Though I never met him, nor saw him in person, my life will forever be inextricably entwined with Bobby Fischer's.

Like any kid in America who embraced chess in the 60s, my father's interest in the game was largely stoked by the international renown Fischer won through his successes over the board. Not only was he an astounding prodigy, who like Tiger Woods grew up to dominate the sport, by the summer of 1972 Fischer had been elevated to iconic status by our government and our media - a stirring symbol of America's inevitable victory over the Soviets in the Cold War. A boy from Brooklyn had taken on the Russians at their own National Pastime and put them to shame, wrestling away the World Championship from the U.S.S.R. for the first time since 1937.

Instantly following the World Championship, Fischer cemented his legend by disappearing like J.D. Salinger, never playing a single game to defend his crown. Soon after, the exponential growth in popularity chess enjoyed in America during Fischer's meteoric career waned, and the game returned to relative obscurity.

But many of those whose lives Fischer touched in that era never forgot their love of chess. When I was only 2 1/2 years old, my father taught me how to play the game and I took to it, primarily, at that time, because the pieces tasted good. But, almost immediately, my affection and aptitude for the game grew and by the age of six I was already competing in tournaments.

Fischer was always an essential part of my career. From the beginning, I studied his games in awe, marveling at his moves as if they were Michael Jordan's. And then, of course, as every talented American scholastic player experienced, there was always someone who would inappropriately compare myself or my rivals to the Great One himself. In chess, there was no escaping Bobby Fischer.

Though I never ascended anywhere near Fischer's heights, the game was kind to me. By the time I retired in my teens, I had won multiple New York City and State scholastic titles, captured the National Junior High School chess championship, and even had the privilege of representing the United States in the 1990 World student championships - a tournament that was captured artfully on film by director Lynn Hamrick in her PBS documentary "Chess Kids".

But just as my career was winding down, I again crossed paths with Fischer's specter. In 1993, Paramount Pictures released the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer", and though the movie wasn't so successful as to inspire the pandemonium that Fischer himself had once wrought, it did spark the most mainstream interest in the game since the movie's namesake disappeared.

Through no doing on my own, I found myself a side note to the excitement. The movie had been based on a non-fiction book by Fred Waitzkin, not about Fischer, but about his son, Josh, and his successes as a young player. I was a close friend of Josh's and his teammate at The Dalton School in Manhattan and, as a result, I wound up a character in the book, and eventually as the character "Morgan" in the film, portrayed by the actor Hal Scardino.

While I was by no means central to the movie, my character's part in the picture's denouement was enough to win me a degree of notoriety in the chess world, and even now from time to time I get asked about the film from its many fans. More often than not when the subject arises, the first question I am asked is, "So, you knew Bobby Fischer?"

No, I did not. Nor did I even ever see him in person, when he finally surfaced twenty years later.

Those who loved and admired the great grandmaster, who know how this second chapter in the Fischer saga - when he was found, so to speak - played out until his death, cannot help but feel embarrassment or contempt for the man. Personally, having heard countless tales of his lifetime of lunacy, I am inclined toward the former judgment. But it was never the man that inspired us, it was his genius.

Reading through Fischer's obituary on Friday morning, I suddenly realized something about myself. Of all the people in the world I've never met, I am hard-pressed to think of anyone who has had a greater impact upon my life than him.

Brooklyn's Bloggers Are The Best

The Optimist had the great pleasure today of attending the January 2008 edition of the Brooklyn Blogade, a monthly meet-up of our borough's bloggers and their fans. The brunch was an inspiring, congenial affair held at the delicious Frank White Cafe + Gallery and kindly hosted by Robin Lesterhead of Clinton Hill Blog (pictured above, seated on the chair).

It was a treat for The Optimist to meet in person so many of the talented scribes whose blogs I regularly visit. Among this month's lofty participants were Louise Crawford, whose Only The Blog Knows Brooklyn is the blog of record in our borough (just Google "Brooklyn blog" and you'll see what I mean), Adrian Kinloch of Brit in Brooklyn, and Olivia Lane, Jason Das, and Patrick Kwan of SuperVegan.

Not only did the Optimist have the thrill of putting faces to his favorite blogs, he even had the staggeringly good fortune of winning the event's raffle, taking home a hi-tech Cuisinart coffee machine that made his fiancée very happy.

Thanks again to Robin and the Frank White crew for everything.

If you want to jump on board the Brooklyn Blogade bandwagon like The Optimist did (and got free stuff for doing so!), the group's next meet-up will be on Sunday, February 10th. Eleanor Traubman of Creative Times will be our host. Check out her blog or stay tuned to this one for more information as it becomes available.

Obama's Last Stand

Though the contest was less trumpeted than South Carolina's primary next Saturday, Hillary Clinton's victory in Nevada yesterday virtually secured her the Democratic nomination for President. Not only does Barack Obama now have to score a resounding victory in South Carolina to stay alive, come Tsunami Tuesday on February 5th he has to upset Hillary either in the Clinton-stronghold of California or on her home turf in New York - a distinct unlikelihood given the extent to which Hillary has out-campaigned him in both states.

The Optimist sees only one final move for Barack before the sun sets on his exhilarating effort. Obama's last chance is to offer John Edwards whatever he wants - even the Vice Presidency - to immediately withdraw from the race and throw his unequivocal support behind Obama's candidacy. It is only through combining their coalitions that Obama has a chance to loosen Hillary's grip on the nomination. And even then, it will be an uphill battle.

Edwards would be wise to take such a deal, though he is unlikely to do so. He has obstinately vowed to stay in the race until the convention, despite faring increasingly worse in each successive state he has competed. South Carolina will be the final nail in his coffin.

If Edwards is truly serious about enacting his critical anti-corporate, populist agenda, he must get into a position of substantive power in the Cabinet. He must not squander the last leverage he possesses to do so by sticking it out through Tsunami Tuesday, just for the sake of pride. If he does so, he will end Obama's campaign on the same day he ends his own.

And then, all the sound and fury will have signified nothing, and Clinton and McCain will square off in November just as everyone predicted they would in 2006.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Spare a Quarter for Senator Connor?

The Optimist reported earlier this week State Senator Martin Connor bemoaning that he would have to spend $300K-$400K to stave off a challenge from Daniel Squadron.

Well, he better get fund-raising.

Campaign finance reports show that young Squadron is dramatically out fund-raising the incumbent, having raised $199,296 by the end of 2007. Connor, on the other hand, had a closing balance of -$38,217.60. That's "-" as in negative.

According to a 2006 article in the Observer, Connor complained that the negative figure is owing to an accounting glitch perpetrated by the computers at the Board of Elections. When The Optimist spoke to Connor's consultant Evan Stavisky today for comment, his campaign stuck to the story, even though a year and a half has passed since the alleged problems first surfaced.

Stavisky said that in actuality the campaign's records demonstrate that the Senator's bank account is in the black but, owing to a software error, the numbers have been tabulated incorrectly by the Board of Elections. Asked if the Board of Elections was incorrect in denying an error on their end, Stavisky challenged the logic of their figures. "[State Sen. Connor] clearly does not have negative money in the bank," argued Stavisky. "You can’t have a negative amount of money in the bank."

When The Optimist protested that he personally has had negative money in the bank on several occasions, Stavisky responded, "Not for two years."

Stavisky explained that Connor would rectify the incongruence in the accounting numbers by starting a new committee to receive money for his campaign and eliminating the old one.

Asked how much money the Senator did have on hand, Stavisky admitted that it was "less than $5,000". Nonetheless, Connor has no immediate plans to start fund-raising. Stavisky said that Connor was concentrating on his legislative work and wouldn't start dealing with "politics" until the new Senate session is farther underway.

Despite the late start, Stavisky is confident that the Senator will not be penniless by the time of the primary: "Unlike his opponent two years ago and his opponent now, Senator Connor did not inherit a great deal of money, but when the time comes he will raise the money that he needs to successfully defend his seat."

As for Squadron, his records list 352 contributors to his campaign, including a number of big-money donors. By the Optimist's count, 12 of Squadron's donors gave him $6,000, the maximum amount an individual can give to a State Senate primary campaign. Among those with deep pockets were Democratic mega-donor S. Donald Sussman, a resident of the Virgin Islands; Alice Rosenwald, daughter of Julius Rosenwald, the renowned Jewish philanthropist and president of Sears, Roebuck and Co.; and Judy Wilpon, wife of New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon - who also handed over $3,500, bringing their family total to $9,500.

Despite the largess Squadron has enjoyed so far, The Optimist advises his readers not to put too much stake in these numbers so far in advance of the September 9th, 2008 primary. This year marks Connor's 30th year in the Senate and a formidable incumbent of his tenure is always a force to be reckoned with.

The Optimist has little doubt that Connor will find as much money as he thinks he needs to battle Squadron.

The Optimist Reports on "Protest for Parks"

Wow. There's so much to report, it's hard to know where to start.

Last night, over 80 concerned community members crowded into the ballroom of The Polish National Home (a.k.a. Warsaw) on Driggs Ave. for an epic, 2-hour presentation from The Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks & Planning (GWAPP) on the status of all of the current and planned green spaces in the neighborhood.

The good news is there's a ton of them. The not-so-good news is that in nearly every case, Greenpointers are going to have to fight for them.

However, as my fellow attendee blog goddess Miss Heather expressed this morning, there is a lot of cause for enthusiasm, and I left the meeting feeling even more optimistic than usual. GWAPP and their fellow acronyms NAG (Neighbors Against Garbage), BGI (Brooklyn Greenway Initiative), and OSA (Open Space Alliance) have a whole host of exciting plans to spread trees and parks across the community on a scope far more ambitious than I anticipated.

Since The Optimist took ten sprawling pages of notes on the thunderous succession of presentations last night, I think it's best if I don't barrage you with all of the information in one single tome, but I will fill you in on some of the highlights.

The Optimist was most exhilarated by BGI's efforts to create a sweeping, multi-use green recreation space that would extend continuously along the waterfront from Greenpoint all the way to the Verrazano Bridge in Bay Ridge - much like the park that now extends the length of the West Side in Manhattan.

No less impressive are plans for Bushwick Creek Inlet Park, which would stretch from Kent Avenue to the East River and from N. 9th St. to a little past Quay St. where The Greenpoint Monitor Museum now stands.

But not all of the town hall concentrated on parks envisioned for the future. There were in-depth presentations on the $50 million dollar, PlaNYC-financed renovations slated for McCarren Park as well as on the little-known Newtown Creek Nature Walk along the waterfront just north of the Pulaski bridge.

The Optimist will follow up in detail about these park plans and many others over the coming days, including what you can do specifically to help them materialize, but in the interim he urges his readers to contact GWAPP immediately to get involved in their extraordinary efforts on behalf of Brooklyn.

The State of the City

Let's forget for a moment all the hype about Bloomberg for President and concentrate on his current job. Yesterday, Mayor Mike delivered his annual State of the City Address and in The Optimist's opinion it was a good one. Usually addresses of this ilk from the President, Governor, etc. are fluffy pie-in-the-sky promise fests, punctuated by ovations to a few commoners the incumbent dredged up to co-opt the glory of their actual achievements.

Though Bloomberg's address did follow this cookie-cutter format, there is ample reason for New Yorkers to believe he intends to do most of what he proclaimed. His proposals for improvements in law enforcement, public health, education, and the streamlining of government are ambitious, but also manageable and consistent with his policies throughout the course of his administration. Of course, there are particular proposals to take issue with - The Optimist is particularly opposed to the Mayor's plan to take DNA samples from anyone who is arrested - but on a whole his plans seem sensible and forward-thinking.

I was especially pleased that the overarching theme of Bloomberg's address was immigration. The Mayor decried the "xenophobia" that has been part of the stump speech for all the Republican candidates this year - a condemnation quickly interpreted by political pundits as a tacit push for Bloomberg's own presidential aspirations. But immigration is for New Yorkers, first and foremost, a local issue. Living in what is arguably the most diverse place on Earth, we New Yorkers understand intuitively that immigration is, as Bloomberg put it, the "energy" of our City - just as it has been since the founding of New Amsterdam. It is incumbent upon all of us to make sure that in the spirit of true liberty, we continue to embrace the past, present, and future generations of immigrants that arrive upon our shores not just looking to create better lives for themselves, but, in so doing, to make all of our lives better.

By almost all accounts, Bloomberg has been a fine Mayor of New York, who has made good on the lion's share of the often robust promises he has made. It is on the strength of his having done so that he has won over almost all of his early critics (myself included), even persuading many of them to vote for him last time around (as I did).

That being said, The Optimist doesn't want Bloomberg to be President, because I am a progressive Democrat, who believes strongly in the principles advanced by a number of our potential nominees. But I also doesn't want Bloomberg to be President, because I want to keep him focused on continuing to make New York an even greater city.

Last night's "Protest for Parks" town hall meeting spoke volumes about the importance of Bloomberg to this city. In almost every instance, the representatives of The Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks & Planning stressed that their proposed park initiatives had to break ground while Bloomberg was still in office, because of his exceptional support for green spaces. Each member of GWAPP took turns warning us that there was no telling what would happen to these important projects once someone else becomes Mayor.

It's a... Brooklyn!

It appears that David Beckham and Posh Spice might be making an impression on America after all. Less than a year after the soccer giant arrived in the U.S. with their 8-year-old son Brooklyn in tow, Stateside parents have embraced the name "Brooklyn" for their newborns. The Brooklyn Paper reports this week that has ranked "Brooklyn" as the 43rd most popular name in the country for tots.

Though the piece doesn't specify whether "Brooklyn" is being applied more favorably to boys or girls, The Optimist thinks it is a fine name for either sex. He hopes, however, that the Beckhams do not hold too much sway over America's appellations. One of their other sons' name is Romeo. Cheesy!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Politicians Should Park Like Everybody Else

Though they are loathe to admit it publicly, politicians love perks. From their beloved Council club pins to calling their favorite celebrities to testify before them, our elected officials often indulge in every opportunity to set themselves apart from the common man - except, of course, around election time.

One of their favorite treasures is specialized license plates. These plates let other drivers know there's someone important on board, deter cops from ticketing their cars, and even grant politicians VIP parking spaces in some places. Today, after a rash of negative media, "Beep, Beep" Marty Markowitz withdrew his egregious contention that he had special authorization to park his SUV on the sidewalk outside of Borough Hall - as he had gotten into the habit of doing - and moved his car off of Joralemon Street.

The Optimist wonders why politicians have special parking permits and vanity plates in the first place. Do they respond to emergencies like firefighter, police, EMT, or even doctors? When was the last time an Assemblymember weaved through traffic to come to their constituents' rescue?

I contend that the perk of being a politician is that they get to represent the people. We place in them our trust to speak on our behalf for the betterment of our City, our State, and our Country. And we pay them enough for the privilege of doing so that they should be able to afford putting their car in a lot.

A few months ago, I saw Councilman DeBlasio on the subway taking the train to City Hall. His straphanging should be an example to his colleagues, just as Mayor Bloomberg's was to New Yorkers when he first took office.

But if politicians insist on driving, they should have to park like the rest of us and circle the block until they find a space.

Victories for Vito

Just when you thought Don Vito was out, he keeps pulling himself back in.

2008 has been a good year so far for Kings County Democratic Chairman Vito Lopez. First, Governor Spitzer, who used to rail against machine politics before the machines humbled him, went out of his way in his State of the State Address "to thank Assemblymember Vito Lopez for his career of leadership on the issue of affordable housing."

Then this week, the Gov went one better and ponied up the patronage, filling three out of the four vacancies in the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division with Brooklyn justices. Of course, the U.S. Supreme Court could have struck down New York's backward, boss-driven way of selecting judges based on the orthodoxy of their allegiance to the party machines, but yesterday the Court unanimously ruled in favor of our State's systemic cronyism.

Everybody's favorite Justice (everybody, that is, who eats babies) Antonin Scalia wrote in the court's decision, "Party conventions, with their attendant ‘smoke-filled rooms’ and domination by party leaders, have long been an accepted manner of selecting party candidates." Justice John Paul Stevens quoted Thurgood Marshall in a concurring opinion: "The Constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws." That much is for certain.

It is no surprise that this lawsuit originated in Brooklyn, since, as mole333 reminds us at The Daily Gotham, our borough's system of picking judges has long been marred by scandal. Now, with the Supreme Court validating this process, there may be no end in sight for this corruption unless our elected officials defy their party leaders and enact legislation changing the system. Even The Optimist has trouble being optimistic about the likelihood of this happening.

But back to Vito. Not only has Lopez won over Spitzer of late, he also has achieved some hard fought victories over his rival, Bronx Democratic Leader Jose Rivera, blocking some of Rivera's handpicked nominees from scoring choice City jobs.

Vito's recent success has him giddy. Today in the Observer, Lopez declares, "Brooklyn is back."

Yeah, but to what? The days of Clarence Norman?

Go Green Clean!

The Optimist is always looking for ways to do his little part to save the environment. He called ConEd and switched over to green energy (you should too!). Last year, he dusted off his bike and started riding for the first time since his teens. And this holiday season, he tried to give eco-friendly gifts to anyone he thought would appreciate them.

So, The Optimist was excited when he discovered Green Clean Cleaners on Nassau Ave. down the street from his new apartment in Greenpoint. Green Clean is a dry cleaning and laundry store that uses exclusively all-natural, organic products. The family-owned business, operated by Helen Gold and her son Toni Haddad, has been in Brooklyn for 32 years, but they only switched over to green two years ago when they bought the building that houses their current location.

The reason for the change was simple. As Helen explained to me, the synthetic cleaning products were "killing us", and she and her family just couldn't endure the physical harm of using them any more. Her son, Toni, even claims to have developed asthma as a result of the chemicals to which he was constantly exposed.

But for the Haddad family, the idea of going green has grown far beyond just concerns for their health and that of their clients. When they decided to become eco-friendly, they decided to go all the way. They opted for recycled hangars and plastic wraps for the dry-cleaned clothes. They even went so far as to build the interior of the store from reclaimed items and did the same in renovating the apartments they now rent out upstairs from Green Clean.

And the family's work isn't done yet. They are in the process of figuring out how they can install solar-powered panels to the roof of their location, so they can run the entire building on clean, renewable energy. Hopefully, they'll inspire their neighbors to do the same.

The Optimist is pleased to support an environmentally-conscious business like Green Clean. If you know of other like-minded businesses in the borough, please email me so I can champion them as a customer and as a consumer advocate.

Green Clean Cleaners is located at 155 Nassau Ave. between Newell and Diamond Streets. They offer pick-up and drop-off service, as well as tailoring. To reach them, call (718) 349-1358.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Polish "Macbeth" Usurps St. Ann's Warehouse

Even since The Optimist stumbled across this haunting still for TR Warszawa's production of "Macbeth", I have been intrigued to see what the Polish theater company had in store for St. Ann's Warehouse. But after reading in the Times yesterday that director Grzegorz Jarzyna's massive, multimedia rendition of the Bard's classic work will spill outdoors to the mysterious pre-Civil War era tobacco warehouse across the street from St. Ann's in DUMBO, The Optimist has become positively spellbound. I will be one embittered blogger if I miss out on tickets for the Polish-language performance when they finally materialize out of the fog for the show's still-to-be-announced June run.

St. Ann's won't be the only Brooklyn cultural institution staging "Macbeth" in the coming months. From February 12th to March 22nd, English-actor-extraordinaire-turned-Enterprise-Captain Patrick Stewart will assume the title role at BAM, under the direction of
Rupert Goold. Apparently, Canarsie's Councilman Lew Fidler is psyched.

Tickets are on sale for BAM's "Macbeth" here.

Josh Skaller Raising Dough to Replace DeBlasio

Renowned progressive blogger mole333 has been plugging hard to raise funds for his friend Josh Skaller's 2009 City Council campaign to replace Bill DeBlasio in the 39th District. Having already hosted a fundraiser at his apartment, mole333 (a.k.a. David Michaelson) is now pushing the next Skaller event, which will be held on January 27th.

Skaller is President of Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID), one of the borough's most potent political clubs, as well as a board member and field director for Democracy for New York City, the local chapter of the national PAC that grew out of Howard Dean's failed 2004 presidential run. Based on these connections, Skaller should be in the thick of the race for DeBlasio's seat, which covers much of Park Slope, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens, but the field is shaping up to be a dense one.

Already there are two other declared candidates: longtime Community Board 6 district manager and New York City Hall of Famer (not for sports!) Craig Hammerman and Brad Lander, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development and former executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee.

Lander, like Skaller, is new to running for office, but Hammerman ran against DeBlasio in 2001. He'll have to hope to fare better than last time when he finished 6th out of 6 (ouch!) in the Democratic primary. For the record, I think the election results that year went DeBlasio in 1st, then Steven Banks, then you, then your dog, then your dog's brother's third cousin, twice removed, and then Craig Hammerman.

The Optimist doesn't have any word yet on any Hammerman or Lander fundraisers, but if you want to go to Skaller's, here's the nitty-gritty, compliments of mole333:

Host: Wayne Brooks
Location: Wayne's apartment
262 Court Street #2/Butler Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231 US
When: Sunday, January 27, 3:00PM
Phone: 347-645-0581

High Noon for Billyburg Bank Tower

After over a year of showing the same time, the Williamsburg Savings Bank's monumental clock gets going again at noon today. The resumed motion coincides with move-in day for the recently converted tower's new condo owners.

The Optimist is happy the borough's tallest building is back ticking. He had far two many brainless moments in 2007 wondering if it was just him or was the Tower's clock stopped.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Recycle a Bicycle

DUMBO NYC had pictures yesterday from the re-opening ceremony of Recycle-A-Bicycle. The Brooklyn branch of the not-for-profit organization has set up shop at a new location at 35 Pearl Street (@ Plymouth St.) in DUMBO. In addition to rejuvenating bikes otherwise bound for the scrapyard, Recycle-A-Bicycle runs programs encouraging cycling, particularly among children.

For more information on how you can donate your old bike or buy a recycled one, check out Recycle-A-Bicycle's website.

Greenpoint Book Swap

Speaking of the Greenpoint library, head librarian Mel Gooch and her team have organized a Book Swap for this Saturday, January 19th between 3 and 4:30 PM. Readers of all ages are invited to the Greenpoint Library at 107 Norman Ave. to trade books they are finished with for new literary delights.

All books for exchange must be in good condition and books of all languages are welcome. There will also be a free raffle for a Brooklyn Public Library tote bag.

For more information, call 718-349-8504. For a listing of other special events, including classes, at any of Brooklyn's pubic libraries, check out the BPL's website.

A Better Home For Books

While I've certainly picked up my share of books left out on stoops over the years, there is a better way for Brooklynites to dispose of their used and unwanted books. Today, The Optimist took a shopping bag full of books over to the Greenpoint branch of the Brooklyn Public Library to donate them to his neighbors, hoping that they would get as much enjoyment out of them as he had.

I had never made a donation to the library before - since, as a writer, it pains me to part with books - so I didn't know what to expect. Fortunately, I was informed by a librarian at the front desk that my books fit the criteria for acceptable donations and that my gift was even tax deductible, if that had been my motivation.

Rather than trashing your books or abandoning them to chance and the elements, The Optimist encourages his readers to bring them over to their local library. According to a handout I received at the Greenpoint branch, Brooklyn's public libraries accepts some materials in good physical condition, including hardcover and paperback books, videos and DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, and children's books.

They do not accept encyclopedias; directories, almanacs or yearbooks; Reader's Digest condensed books; computer, health or finance books, and textbooks more than three years old; single issues of magazines and other periodicals; and, sadly, records.

To locate your local branch, check out the Brooklyn Public Library's website here.

Kuntzman Keeps Racking Up Kudos

Gersh Kuntzman has been named "Editor of the Year" by the Suburban Newspapers of America (SNA) for his work helming The Brooklyn Paper. It's been a good year for Gersh and our local Paper. In August, The Brooklyn Paper was named SNA's "Newspaper of the Year" and a month later the Independent Free Papers of America awarded Kuntzman and the Paper's Senior Editor Vince DiMiceli its top prize for editorial writing.

Congratulations to the editor and his team! The Optimist hopes these awards make up for all the time Gersh had to spend in Brooklyn, Iowa during the caucus.

Squadron To Challenge Connor

In yesterday's Daily News, State Senator Martin Connor bemoaned the fact that once again he's not going to be running unopposed for his seat in the 25th District. Connor, who overcame Ken Diamondstone in the 2006 primary, thinks it a shame that he'll have to spend $300K-$400K defending his seat against a Democrat when he could be better allocating his war chest helping longtime incumbent Democrats like himself fend off Republican hopefuls.

Connor deserves commendation for his selfless party loyalty.

Though Diamondstone has not yet announced whether he will make another bid at defiling the democratic process by, well, participating in it, Connor already has a fresh upstart to contend with this time around. The obstinate candidate is Chuck Schumer protegee Daniel Squadron, a political neophyte whose claim to fame to date is co-authoring Senator Schumer's recent book Positively American: Winning Back the Middle Class Majority One Family at a Time.

Squadron's going to have to win over middle class families to his candidacy at a slightly faster pace than his book aims to do if he wants to make any significant showing in the race, but he has already demonstrated that he has a legitimate following - at least among donors. The Carroll Gardens resident has banked more than $200,000 since November without accepting contributions from PACs, corporations, or lobbyists.

According to the News, Connor was quick to write off Squadron, who is 28. "It's nice that he wants to get involved. But he's a kid," said Connor, 62, author of no books.

The 29-year-old Brooklyn Optimist wonders if Squadron ends up with $400K instead of $200K in his ample coffers whether Connor will start him as an "infant".

The Optimist is Back!

So, what did I miss?

Let's see. Since I left on Wednesday, Bush went to Israel for the first time in his presidency (which is just as staggering as it sounds) and announced that by the end of his visit he wanted to make significant progress in the Middle East peace process. As of 6 p.m. this evening, that doesn't seem to have happened yet, but stay tuned for hourly updates.

What else? The FDA approved cloned meat and dairy (again), thus making as good an argument for vegetarianism as any.

Oh, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy met, dated, and apparently married supermodel and professional paramour Carla Bruni.

Yeah, it's been quite a week. The Optimist even got engaged to his lovely, longtime girlfriend.

But now I'm back in Greenpoint and ready to catch you up on the latest about all-things Brooklyn. If there's anything about our borough I missed in my absence, please fill me in at

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Optimist is on Vacation

The City never sleeps, but The Optimist needs to from time to time, so I'll be on a vacation until January 14th. I wish I could hit pause on the borough until then, but since apparently I can't, The Optimist will work overtime next week to catch you up on all that was missed in my absence.

I'll let you know on Monday if I had any Mayor Mike sightings in Bermuda. From what I understand, he owns that island too.

Williamsburg/Greenpoint "Protest for Parks"

Think all of our neighborhood's park and recreation spaces are being gobbled up by rampant, recklessly-conceived development? Well, you're not alone.

The Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks & Planning is hosting a town hall meeting on January 17th at 7 p.m. to strategize and coordinate how Greenpoint and Williamsburg residents can strike back against North Brooklyn's developers and the City officials that have given them carte blanche to realize their plans. The main topic of the event will be, in the words of the GWAPP's website, "WHERE THE HECK IS ALL THE OPEN SPACE WE WERE PROMISED IN THE REZONING?" (the capital letters are their emphasis).

In case you can't make it to the meeting at Warsaw, a.k.a. The Polish National Home, which is located at 261 Driggs Ave., you can still support GWAPP with a contribution. GWAPP is a 501(c)(3), meaning that all donations are tax-deductible.

Blog On You Crazy Democrats

The New York State Democratic Committee has a new, and I'm sure, highly objective and highly informative blog. They already have 13 friends according to the site's counter.

My Primary Thought About New Hampshire

It's certainly a sobering day for the borough's Obama and Edwards supporters, but The Optimist has a silver lining even for those downtrodden souls. First, as Edwards pointed out in his concession speech yesterday, less than 1% of the nation's electorate has voted so far, which means that ultimately New Hampshire could be just as insignificant (or important) as Iowa. Jusk ask former N.H. primary-winners Paul Tsongas, Gary Hart, and this past week's flashback favorite, Edmund Muskie.

My second point might be hard to swallow for some of you, but is just as important to internalize. New York hasn't elected one of its own as President since F.D.R. One needs only to read any of the scads of stories about local elected officials who have been trailing Hillary around the country as part of her arsenal to understand how much our state has staked upon the success of her campaign.

Unlike Bush, who seemed afraid to visit The Big Apple before 9/11, Bill Clinton hooked up New York throughout his two terms in office. His pro-NYC policies - not Giuliani's (as he likes to pretend) - were the overriding impetus for the unbridled prosperity our City experienced in the 90s. There is no reason to think that Hillary won't reinvigorate this largesse.

As our Senator, Hillary has brought home the bacon for New York. If she becomes our President, New York will be first in line to feast.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Marty for Mayor?

The Brownstoner comments today on the News' article handicapping Borough President Marty Markowitz's chances were he to make a run for Mayor. The Brownstoner reports that some critics of "Brooklyn's cheerleader" think that Markowitz won't be taken seriously in a Citywide race.

The Optimist also questions if Marty is ready for a position of real significance. Although Borough President is an impressive sounding title, since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Board of Estimate in 1989, the position has been neutered to a largely symbolic (and, some say, irrelevant) one.

It's one thing to run feel-good, photo-op initiatives. It's quite another to govern America's largest and most important city.

The Finger Building Gets Thumbs Up

The Gowanus Lounge has the latest on the Williamsburg Finger Building saga and it doesn't look good for the neighborhood. Shame on the Bureau of Standards and Appeals for flipping Brooklynites the bird and letting this unsightly development at 144 N. 8th Street march on. Neighborhood activist Phil DePaolo maintains that the fight is not over against developer Mendel Brach and architect Robert Scarano, but prospects look bleak.

Steve Harrison vs. Domenic Recchia for Congress

Kudos to Daniel Millstone at The Daily Gotham for calling Steve Harrison and Domenic Recchia on to the mat to clarify (sound-bite free) their positions on the issues for their Democratic primary showdown to challenge Congressman Vito Fossella for his seat in the 13th District. Millstone reminds us that we should be less concerned with fundraising and political affiliations than what the candidates would do if they got into office.

Both candidates are in for an uphill battle, but it is imperative that one of these guys succeeds in silencing the conservatives on Staten Island who keep Fossella in office to do the Republicans' bidding.

DeBlasio vs. Barron: Round 1

Elizabeth Benjamin at the News had an article in her blog yesterday about the first dust-up in the race for Brooklyn Borough President in 2009. It seems that one of Councilman Bill DeBlasio's supporters, Rabbi Joseph Stamm, accused DeBlasio's only announced opponent, cantankerous Councilman Charles Barron of being anti-semitic to raise funds for DeBlasio's campaign. Though DeBlasio came with the usual yada-yada denials about not condoning the Rabbi's invite, Barron predictably used the opportunity to skewer DeBlasio and get his candidacy in the paper.

DeBlasio, who managed Hillary Clinton's successful bid for Senate in 2000, should know better. Doesn't he understand that the only way to run against a savvy media-manipulator like Barron is to pretend he doesn't exist?

Gowanus Lounge Groundswell

Speaking of blogs, I want to thank Bob over at The Gowanus Lounge for helping to introduce The Brooklyn Optimist to the good people of our borough. If you are not already among the cognoscenti who depend upon The Gowanus Lounge, it is the preeminent location to learn the essentials of Brooklyn real estate. It should be daily reading for all of the Optimist's fellow optimists.

Don't worry. The Lounge smells far better than anything you might except with the name Gowanus in the title.

Brooklyn Blog Bonanza

Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn is spreading the word about the next Brooklyn Blogade, which has been put together by Robin Lesterhead of Clinton Hill Blog. The monthly meet-up brings together borough bloggers, blog readers and would-be-bloggers for a morning of blogorama. This time the bonanza involves Belgian waffles.

January's blockade is set for the 20th at 11 a.m. at the Frank White Cafe + Gallery at 936 Atlantic Avenue. RSVP by January 11th to to participate.

The Optimist will be there. So should you.

Ilad at Pete's Candy Store

Optimist reader Scott Clark of Richmond, Virginia wrote in to notify me that his band Ilad is playing at Pete's Candy Store in Williamsburg on February 3rd. The band is on tour promoting their new album "National Flags" from Syjip Records. If you've never heard Ilad, check out their video for the song "Holy Wars" at the band's site. It's an energizing, politically-charged introduction to their music.

The gig on the 3rd starts at 8 p.m. Matty Charles is opening and Ilad comes on at 9:30. Pete's Candy Store, which, true to its name is a converted candy store, is located at 709 Lorimer Street between Richardson and Frost, near the B.Q.E. For a schedule of all the venue's events, check out Pete's website.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Public Advocate 2009: The Race Is On

Once upon a time it seemed ridiculous to discuss potential Presidential candidates years before the party primaries, but nowadays candidates are even launching into the City's local races two years in advance. The reason why so many candidates are announcing so early this time around is threefold:

1) They want more time to raise money,
2) There's a lot of term-limited elected officials worried they'll be out of work and a gang of new/oldcomers looking for jobs, and
3) They think that by jumping into the race early they'll stake a credible claim to the position.

The first two reasons make sense to The Optimist, but the third strikes me as faulty, since no one except for the most maniacal political junkies (like yours truly) pays any attention to who is running for local offices until a few weeks before the election - if ever.

But, hey, since everyone else is doing it, The Optimist thought he'd throw his two cents into the race. Feel free to ignore this post and check back with me in 18 months when you start to care.

The question on many people's minds last night at the Norman Siegel fundraiser was what made him think he could win the race for Public Advocate after already being defeated twice for the job - especially since the last time out against Betsy Gotbaum he fell 20,000 votes short. His answer was that he could build upon the coalition of voters he put together in the past and since he would likely be the only non-elected official seeking the office on the Democratic side (Guardian Angels' founder Curtis Sliwa has expressed interest in running as a Republican), the other candidates would split their constituencies, thus letting Siegel slip past them.

In addition, Siegel, who confesses to having been an unenthusiastic fundraiser in the past, is determined to bulk up his coffers this time. With the help of 6 to 1 matching funds, his goal is to bring in $2.5 million (the fundraising cap for Public Advocate is $3.85 million), primarily to spend on television and radio ads.

The Optimist thinks it likely that Siegel will reach his fundraising goal, but I am not as certain if he can hold onto the bulk of voters who supported him in the past. Since in the last election Siegel was Gotbaum's only credible opponent, it is unclear how many of the votes he received were pro-Norman or anti-Betsy. We shall see.

But Siegel has other obstacles too in the form of a host of better known - though not necessarily better qualified - prospective candidates for Public Advocate. Queens Councilman (and media darling) Eric Gioia is already off and running. According to a recent Observer article, Gioia had raised almost a million dollars as of July, thus positioning himself, for the time being, as a frontrunner for the job.

Among the other big(ish) names rumored to be in the hunt are Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson, Queens Councilman John Liu, and State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, who perhaps has the most well-known name of all. Except for maybe Sliwa.

Expect some of these guys to drop out and others to take their place as the far-off primary inches closer. Any way you look at it, though, the field is bound to be full. Too many politicians will calculate the Public Advocate's job as a stepping stone to Mayor.

Norman Siegel Fundraiser Recap Part II

Just as exciting for The Optimist as being introduced to the candidate at yesterday's fundraiser for Norman Siegel in Brooklyn Heights was meeting many of the borough's political advocates that The Optimist has admired from afar.

First, there was David Michaelson (a.k.a. mole333), Managing Editor of the national progressive blog Culture Kitchen, whose own blog Mole's Progressive Democrat - which overlaps with his work on the Daily Gotham - was one of The Optimist's chief inspirations when he decided to venture into the blogosphere. Michaelson, who had his cute 3-year-old son Jacob in tow at the event, co-hosted the fundraiser with his wife Joy Romanski, the Corresponding Secretary of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, a political club which meets in Park Slope.

The Optimist was also pleased to make the acquaintance of Ken Diamonstone, who is still considering whether to make another upstart bid to unseat the long-entrenched incumbent for his State Senate seat in the 25th District. Diamonstone, who garnered the endorsement of The New York Times and a host of heavyweights in his 2006 bid, was edged out by Connor in the Democratic primary by a miniscule 59 votes in Brooklyn (although he was trounced in the Manhattan portion of the district by over 2000).

Also in attendance at the event were Charlotte Phillips, Chairperson of Brooklyn for Peace, political activist for Democracy for New York City and rumored Queens City Council candidate Dan Jacoby, and the delightful Olga "Pete" Valentine, an off-and-on resident of the same house on Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights for 80 years.

Last but not least was community leader Marjorie Gersten, who graciously opened her wonderful apartment for the fundraiser. Seeing Gersten's apartment was reason enough to attend her superbly organized event.

Norman Siegel Fundraiser Recap

Yesterday evening, The Optimist headed over to Marjorie Gersten's lovely Brooklyn Heights apartment for one of the first fundraisers of Norman Siegel's 2009 Public Advocate bid. For those of you who don't know, Siegel is the former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and now a lawyer in private practice specializing in representing community activist organizations. He ran unsuccessfully in both 2000 and 2004 for Pubic Advocate, both times losing to the current, term-limited officeholder Betsy Gotbaum.

Though The Optimist did make a donation to the campaign, my attendance at the event in no way indicates that Siegel necessarily will get either my vote (as he did in the last two elections) or my endorsement. I went to learn more about Siegel's platform and to see what kind of a crowd would rally to support his candidacy this time around.

As it happens, though the turnout for the event was strong, I ended up engaged in a rather lengthy tete-a-tete with the candidate himself before his somewhat lawyerly, long-winded speech began. Since the Public Advocate presides over the City Council, I asked Siegel to evaluate the current Council as a whole - even though 35 of the body's current 51 members would be out of office after the 2009 elections in which he is competing. The word Siegel used was "unimpressive", which I took to mean "ineffective".

Siegel added that he felt the Public Advocate's parliamentary role in the Council was unnecessary pomp and that the Advocate's time could be better spent fighting for the City, then sitting in a stiff chair in Council chambers (my words). Were he elected, Siegel pledged either to renounce the Public Advocate's role of ceremonially presiding over the Council or to send an emissary in his place to fill the role. After having seen how lost Gotbaum looked in Council chambers, I imagine pretty much anyone could fit the bill. Really, isn't this a job for the Council Speaker anyway?

Although Siegel raised a number of worthy campaign positions, like battling to ban the death penalty in New York State, what most inspired The Optimist was Siegel's plan to use the Public Advocate's position to teach, create, and coordinate grassroots activism in the City on a block-by-block level. The Optimist firmly supports this intention and made a point of saying so during the event's Q&A.

It has become clear to me that though it is unquestionable that the American people must put a Democrat in the White House, regime change is far from enough to reverse the repugnant, regressive agenda enacted by the current Administration. It will not be enough for us to elect a Democrat, pat ourselves on the back, and go back to sleep for another four years. Thanks to Bush, the problems our country must grapple with are so severe that merely reversing his policies is inadequate to regain our standing at home and abroad. Every American will have to take the responsibility upon his or her own shoulders to work with the new President to change our nation's direction from the bottom up. If we do not unite to become an informed, active, and politically-minded nation, we will fall.

And that's coming from an optimist.

There's no question in my mind that Norman Siegel is well capable of being an effective ombudsman for New York City. Moreover, the idea of electing a non-politician to the office seems a sensible one, since the Public Advocate's position was created to serve as a check to the one-note rule that elected officials fall into clinging to safeguard their jobs. But 2009 is still a long way off and The Optimist is open to evaluating all of the candidates for Public Advocate as they emerge and unveil their own plans to make our borough and our City a better place.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Mourning Lt. John Martinson

The Times has a troubling story this morning about the circumstances that led to Lt. John Martinson's death fighting a fire at the Ebbets Field Apartments on Bedford Avenue.

Whenever a firefighter perishes, I am reminded how, day in and day out, the men and women of the FDNY have the most frightening and courageous of jobs in our City. By all accounts, Lt. Martinson was a man well-deserving of the description "hero" that the Mayor bestowed upon him.

Mulchfest is On!

Now is your chance to give your Christmas tree a second life. This weekend, at locations throughout the borough, the Parks Department is offering residents the chance to recycle their Christmas trees by grounding them down into wood chips. That way, instead of winding up in a land fill, the trees can provide the sustenance for a new generation of flora and fauna to take root in Brooklyn.

Mulchfest: 2008 runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on January 5th and 6th. For more information about how you should properly dispose of your Christmas tree, check out Mulchfest's website.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Solution for Borough Hall's Rats

The News also has a story this morning from Elizabeth Hays about a rat infestation on the grounds around Brooklyn Borough Hall. Personally, I think that rather than spraying Joralemon Street with toxic poison, the Parks Department and Borough President Marty Markowitz should run a campaign to promote cat adoption in Brooklyn. For a week, the BP could enclose the grounds around Borough Hall and let homeless cats wander around under the supervision of Animal Care & Control. The cats would get a week out of their cages, the rats would have the fear of God put into them, and passersby could sign up to take home any of the fine feline hunters on prominent display. I guarantee that no exterminator will have greater success ridding Borough Hall of rodents than a throng of cats unleashed.

Lawyers Endorse Yassky for Comptoller

According to political beat reporter Elizabeth Benjamin's blog on The Daily News' site, my councilman David Yassky - and fellow Dalton School alumnus - has wrapped up the support of 80 fellow lawyers in his 2009 bid for comptroller. This is awesome news for Yassky given the high regard in which everyone holds lawyers.

By the way, you too can have the support of 80 lawyers by having malpractice performed upon you or by letting your child eat lead paint.

A New Day for America

Say what you will about the insignificance of Iowa, but I am fired up about the results of last night's caucus. To be perfectly frank, I feared that I would never see an election in my lifetime when a black candidate would win the delegates of a state that is 97% white. The fact that the voters of Iowa were able to see past the color of a candidate's skin and instead judge him based upon the content of his character is a milestone for America.

Now The Optimist is not such an optimist as to conjecture too naively about the degree to which this result will bridge the racial divide that still fragments our nation, but at the same time the significance of Iowa's vote should not be minimized. This past summer I visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which is housed in a building converted from the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated. The Museum is a gut-wrenching reminder of the atrocities that were once commonplace not just in the South, but everywhere in the United States. What is most appalling is that the Museum is not merely a compendium of the past, but a living history of the hatred and injustice that still festers beneath our nation's proud exterior.

But just as it is essential for Americans to never ignore or anesthetize ourselves to these evils, it is essential that we recognize our triumphs when they occur, for if we do not, we risk diminishing the inspirational lessons we can take from them. We have indeed been a nation of "Two Americas" as John Edwards said, but yesterday we took a small step toward becoming one.

What was once unimaginable has happened.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Gift of HOPE

The Optimist and his girlfriend received a lovely letter in the mail today thanking us for our clothing donating to The HOPE Program over the holidays. Signed by the organization's Executive Director Barbara Edwards Delsman and Development Director Rovika Rajkishun, the letter points out how essential professional quality clothing is for poor New Yorkers when applying for jobs.

We discovered The HOPE Program while searching for a local organization to donate the part of our wardrobe that doesn't get adequate rotation to justify closet space. We thought of The Salvation Army, but we preferred a not-for-profit that didn't sell the clothes, but actually gave them to people in need. Moreover, we wanted to give to a group that would help our fellow Brooklynites in particular.

When I dropped off our donation to The HOPE Program's office in downtown Brooklyn, I saw immediately that HOPE does far more than distribute clothing. It has a large, state-of-the-art computer center, which I observed to be in a flurry of use by job seekers. The organization also provides a host of classes, work internships, and emergency grants, among many other services, to those it assists. Even better, HOPE follows up with the individuals it helps for years to make sure that the good it does takes root and flourishes, rather than just providing a temporary solution to a long-term problem.

The Optimist urges all his readers to take a day to clean out their closets and put their excess clothes to better use.

Donations to The HOPE Program can be dropped off during business hours at its office at One Smith Street in downtown Brooklyn. Just look for the buzzer on the left side of the door to enter. If you have any questions, you can contact Barbara Edwards Delsman at (718) 852-9307 ext. 17. The HOPE Program also accepts monetary gifts and volunteers.