Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Council Candidate Steve Levin: Bored by Nydia, Unenthused by Reform

Though the Optimist used his post yesterday to sneak over the Pulaski Bridge from his home in Greenpoint and weigh in on Queens politics, rest assured, dear readers, that doesn't mean he has stopped paying attention to the important affairs of his own community.

Quite to the contrary, the Optimist has been keeping careful watch on the Council race to succeed David Yassky. That's why David Michaelson's account of this weekend's Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID) Annual Dinner was of particular interest to him.

The following is an excerpt from Michaelson's (a.k.a. Mole333) account of the event, in which he describes Council candidate Steve Levin's reaction to our Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez's speech about the excitment of the new Obama Administration. If you've never heard Levin's name, you may have nonetheless seen him joined at the hip to his boss Vito Lopez. Personally, every time I see Levin, who is in his late 20s, he strikes me as a person who has sacrificed his youth to the cold, calculating cynicism of old age. I'll let you decide for yourself. Here's Mole:

An interesting side note was that Steve Levin, Vito Lopez's candidate for the 33rd City Council district (where I have endorsed Jo Anne Simon) was in attendence. I was across the room from him during Nydia's speech on helping small businesses and on the thrill of being a Democat with Obama as President. I was struck at how bored and unenthusiastic he seemed on these subjects. I had heard that, despite being Vito Lopez's pick for the seat, he was a nice, decent guy. Yet there he was looking like a teenager someone had dragged to a political event, bored and surly. He would pointedly not clap or clap sarcastically while everyone else was enthusiastically applauding Nydia and Obama. What was up with him?

Then I realized. It was the fact that he WAS Vito Lopez's kid, and Vito Lopez HATES Nydia Velazquez. You'd think Levin would prefer, at a reform Democrat event like CBID's dinner, to show he is NOT so intimately linked to the corrupt Vito Lopez, but instead he chose to emphasize that Vito's petty grudges are his petty grudges.

Either that or he just had indigestion. But the impression he made was not a good one at a moment when the rest of the crowd was quite enthusiastic as progressives and as Democrats.

Monday, March 23, 2009

McLaughlin, Monserrate and Seminerio: Where's the Outrage?

This morning I read a quote in the union newspaper The Chief that made me mad:

"Brian McLaughlin was a colleague and a close friend," said United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, "and this is a sad day for him, his family, and the labor movement."

For those of you who don't know Brian McLaughlin, he is the former Queens Assemblyman and New York City AFL-CIO Central Labor Council President, who plead guilty on March 7th to federal racketeering charges, so that instead of facing 30+ years in prison, he'll likely only end up with 8 to 10.

McLaughlin's crimes were particularly despicable. He ripped off $2.2 million from union members and City taxpayers to spend on stuff like a luxury house on Long Island, a Mercedes Benz, and country club fees. He even plundered money from a Little League set up for the children of union members. To quote the same Chief article, when McLaughlin learned that one of his corrupt confederates had spent $2,800 on equipment for the kids rather than stealing it all, McLaughlin lashed out: "[A]ll that fucking money he's fucking spending on other stuff, that ain't his money ... that's mine."

Nice guy, huh?

You'd think so from the tone of Randi Weingarten's aforementioned quote in The Chief. Weingarten makes it sound like McLaughlin was a good person who somehow lost his way and carelessly fell into bilking Little Leaguers. I wonder if she would publicly express the same messianic compassion for Bernard Madoff.

Now, the intention of this post is not to criticize Weingarten. She is merely representative of a political power structure that hardly ever breaks rank to criticize its members, even when they are deserving of our utmost scorn and contempt.

How bad does an elected official have to be to provoke criticism from their colleagues? These days it seems like that there's no crime a politician can commit that is so heinous that their party's leaders bother to condemn them.

Take Congressman Joe Crowley, the head of the Queens Democratic Party. Crowley was one of the Congressmen who expressed moral outrage last week at A.I.G. execs for receiving millions in bonuses. Surely, if Crowley could muster so much anger over legal bonuses, he must have blown his top when he learned his longtime friend Brian McLaughlin had admitted to stealing over two million bucks from innocent people.

What was Crowley's comment on McLaughlin's crimes? Over two weeks after McLaughlin's guilty plea, he still hasn't made one. (And why hasn't the press demanded one?)

But then again, neither has any other elected official from Queens. Or any Citywide politician, for that matter. What about the candidates for Mayor, Comptroller, or the ombudsman of the people, Public Advocate? Not a word.

Sadly, this is an all-too-familiar silence. Not one politician stood up to condemn disgraced Queens Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio either when he was arrested last September for allegedly using a dummy consulting firm to take $500,000 in payoffs from people seeking his favor in Albany. According to the indictment, Seminerio, a 30-year incumbent, was caught on tape explaining the rationale for his scheme: “I was doing favors for these sons-of-bitches there, you know, they were—they were making thousands. ‘Screw you, from now on, you know, I’m a consultant.’”

Even State Senator Hiram Monserrate has escaped public reproach from his colleagues. Monserrate, who recently leapt from the City Council to the Senate, made the front page of every paper in the city in December when he was arrested for allegedly slashing his girlfriend with a broken glass during a fight. The incident wasn't the first blow to the beleaguered State Senator from Queens. Monserrate was already embroiled in an investigation into a highly dubious nonprofit he directed $250,000 in City money to called Libre, which was run by Julissa Ferreras, his former chief of staff and successor to his Council seat.

How did Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith punish Monserrate, who was indicted this morning on felony assault charges? By throwing him a fundraiser last week!

What did the Working Families Party do to chastise Ferreras for her role in Libre? They endorsed her bid for City Council.

The fact that our politicians, for one reason or another, have collectively decided that it is either inappropriate or, worse, inexpedient to denounce their colleagues-turned-criminals is morally repugnant. When politicians ignore the profound injury done to society when the public trust is violated, they minimize this most serious of crimes in the eyes of the people and send a tacit message to other corrupt elected officials not to worry because their party will be behind them no matter what.

They also perpetuate an environment where district attorneys feel no pressure to investigate their fellow electeds. The whole system becomes a polite détente, governed by the cynical principle that one hand whitewashes the other.

This system works just fine for party insiders and our elected officials, but it damns the rest of us to endure a government stripped of accountability, transparency, and courage.

Another Great Event: Brooklyn Food Conference 2009

If you're as concerned about what you and your loved ones eat as your friendly neighborhood (vegetarian) Optimist, you should check out the Brooklyn Food Conference for FREE on May 2nd, 2009 at John Jay High School and PS 231 at 237 7th Avenue in Park Slope.

It sounds like a great event. Here's what the release says:

Food issues hit home for all of Brooklyn–from school lunches or the rise in diabetes, escalating food costs, immigration or farmers markets, local food challenges and delights, food touches us all. Come join us to learn from experts and our neighbors about all the ways our Food System affects us and how you can get involved.

The conference is co-sponsored by the Park Slope Food Coop, World Hunger Year, Brooklyn Rescue Mission, Caribbean Women’s Health Association, and Brooklyn’s Bounty.

Start the day with a New Orleans-style parade featuring massive puppets! Then participate in workshops, food demos, and kids’ activities, and enjoy lunch, dinner, and a dance. The conference will be FREE to all participants.

Meet well-known activists and writers like Dan Barber, executive chef and owner of Blue Hill Restaurant, Anna Lappé, author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, Raj Patel author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and LaDonna Redmond, head of the Institute of Community Resource Development in Chicago.

Partners include over 50 organizations, including Just Food, CAMBA, Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger, Center for the Urban Environment, Children’s Aid Society, Garden of Union, Grassroots Netroots Alliance, New York Coalition Against Hunger, East New York Farms, Restaurant Opportunity Center, United Food and Commercial Workers.

To register for the conference, click here.

Blogfest 2009: On Your Marks, Get Set, Blog!

Find out why Brooklyn is the bloggiest place in America at the Fourth Annual Brooklyn Blogfest on May 7, 2009 7 p.m. at powerHouse Arena in DUMBO.

Brooklyn Blogfest 2009 is an exciting, idea-filled event for bloggers, blog readers and the blog curious where you will find: Insight. Advice. Inspiration. Resources.

Here's your chance to meet your favorite bloggers (like the Optimist!); learn about blogging; be inspired to blog.

"Where better to take the pulse of this rapidly growing community of writers, thinkers and observers than the Brooklyn Blogfest?" ~ Sewell Chan, The New York Times

This year's event will take place on May 7, 2009 at 7 p.m. at the powerHouse Arena in DUMBO.

WHY WE BLOG will be the theme of a high-profile panel discussion. This year Brooklyn Blogfest introduces BLOGS-OF-A-FEATHER, special small-group sessions, where you can connect with other bloggers who share your interests.

Once again, there will a VIDEO TRIBUTE TO BROOKLYN'S PHOTO BLOGGERS and the annual SHOUT-OUT: a chance to share your blog with the world!

Whether you live to blog, blog to live or are just curious about this thing called blogging, you won't want to miss Brooklyn Blogfest 2009: the best Blogfest yet.

For more information and to register online go to brooklynblogfest.com.

To find out about sponsorship opportunities for Brooklyn Blogfest, contact Louise Crawford (e: louise_crawford@yahoo.com, c: 718-288-4290).

The Details:

Fourth Annual Brooklyn Blogfest
May 7, 2009
Doors open at 7 p.m.
powerHouse Arena
37 Main Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Admission: $10. ($5 for students and seniors)

Brooklyn Blogfest After-Party
Galapagos Art Space
16 Main Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
(right across the street from powerHouse Arena)
Cash bar and refreshments

Brooklyn Blogfest 2009

Insight. Advice. Inspiration. Resources.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Although this video has its charms, I actually posted it, so you could appreciate some of the hilarious comments about it on Queens Crap. Enjoy!

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Brooklyn's Newest Blog: A Short Story

In honor of Bob Guskind, who often used The Gowanus Lounge to recognize Brooklyn's newest blogs, I want to take a moment to introduce our borough's newest blogger: Aaron Short.

Aaron's blog, A Short Story, is less than 12 hours old, but he's already been prolific, posting more articles today than some of us get down in a week - or even a month. It's no surprise to the Optimist that Mr. Short is approaching his new media prodigiously. If his name sounds familiar, that's because up until recently, Aaron was one of the star reporters for the Courier-Life chain of newspapers. If you've been to any type of community event in Greenpoint or Williamsburg in the last year, you've seen Aaron and his notepad. The man is ubiquitous.

So, just as Bob once welcomed me to cyberspace, I now extend the same warm greetings to Aaron Short. The Optimist expects many great things from Mr. Short, especially now that he's free from the shackles of print.

Don't Let Our Stimulus Money Go To Atlantic Yards!

Paying out $165 million in bonuses to those criminals at A.I.G. was enough of a kick in the ass this week. Don't let our tax dollars go to bailing out Bruce Rat-ner too.

Sign this petition to let Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg know that we refuse to give one penny of our stimulus money to Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project:


Monday, March 16, 2009

INSTANT UPDATE: The Dreary Future of Brooklyn's Newspapers

Less than 24 hours after the Optimist reported that out of the nine cities in America that still can claim competing newspapers that Seattle, Tucson, and Detroit were barely holding on, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has announced that tomorrow's paper will be its last in print.

According to the Times, the Post-Intelligencer will publish exclusively on the Web in the future, making it "by far" America's largest newspaper to stop its presses and move online. The paper is cutting its staff dramatically from 165 reporters to 20 and will "resemble a local Huffington Post more than a traditional newspaper."

See, I wasn't being alarmist! Newspaper lovers, we're going the way of the dinosaurs. If we don't support Brooklyn's newspapers, they'll all be gone in a matter of years.

They'd already all be dead if it weren't for legal notices.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Greenpoint Newspapers: Don't Take Competition For Granted

Now that the Greenpoint Courier has gone the way of the New York Sun, the Optimist wanted to take the opportunity to recognize his neighborhood's two remaining newspapers: The Greenpoint Gazette and The Greenpoint Star.

The Optimist is a regular reader of both these papers and even coughs up 35 cents to buy the Star each week at his corner deli, even though getting it for free doesn't require inordinate ingenuity. As a former weekly newspaper editor, I enjoy these local papers, even though by the time they hit the stands, I've generally read all of their stories on blogs like New York Shitty, Greenpointers, and Brooklyn 11211.

The Gazette, which is Greenpoint's only independently owned newspaper, features fine reporting from Juliet Linderman, Khristina Narizhnaya, and Adriane Quinlan and generally makes up for what it lacks in breaking news with sober and thoughtful analysis.

The Greenpoint Star is the neighborhood edition of the Queens Ledger / Brooklyn Star chain of newspapers that cover Brooklyn and Queens. While the Star and Gazette tend to cover a lot of the same stories, the Star's Jeffrey Harmatz and Dan Bush admirably distinguish their paper to the point that I find it worthwhile to read both our neighborhood's weeklies.

I should note that I have not known either of these papers to do much in the way of investigative reporting - which is sad given how ripe the politicians and environmental issues in this neighborhood are for probing - but I attribute this deficiency less to a lack of skill or desire on the part of their reporters, than to the heavy load that their writers and editors must shoulder producing a weekly newspaper with a tiny staff.

The reason I have taken this post to praise my two local newspapers is because I want both of them to exist long into the future, and never go the way of the Courier. In Brooklyn, where we have enjoyed rich competition among our local papers for generations, it is easy to take for granted that there will always be rival papers to educate us.

But that assumption is no longer consistent with the facts. Recently, True News from ChangeNYC.Org published a remarkable post on the end of the newspaper era. With the recent death of Denver's 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News, only nine cities remain in America with competing local papers, and among the remaining cities, papers in Detroit, Seattle, and Tucson are hobbling on life support. There are even rumors afloat that the New York Daily News could end up publishing exclusively online as early as this summer.

What's this mean for Brooklyn? As we saw by last week's purchase of the Brooklyn Paper by News Corp., many of the papers that do survive will likely fall victim to media consolidation. Others will end up solely on the Web, like the venerable Christian Science Monitor.

Fewer newspapers inherently equal a weaker press. That's why I urge my fellow Greenpointers to pick up the Gazette and the Star. The only people who can keep our newspapers alive are us, their readers and their advertisers. To many of you these papers might not seem like much, but just like with the Greenpoint Courier, we're sure to miss them when they're gone.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Media Consolidation Rocks Brooklyn

Brooklyn Paper Bought By News Corp & Greenpoint Courier Marked For Death

Just when I thought it was a slow news day in Brooklyn, Rupert Murdoch comes along and turns the borough on its head.

Today, Murdoch, who already owns the Brooklyn Courier-Life chain of newspapers, the New York Post, and The Wall Street Journal, gobbled up The Brooklyn Paper too. In an article posted just over an hour ago on the The New York Observer's website, The Brooklyn Paper's editor Gersh Kuntzman declares, "We're very excited."

Good thing Gersh is happy, because Brooklynites I called for quick comment are deeply disturbed at the total media consolidation of New York City's biggest borough - especially since all the papers will now be under the control of the ultra-conversative FOX News baron. "It's likely to put a stanglehold on independent reporting and on the ability for people to find out what's going on in their community and influence it," said Carroll Gardens resident Glenn Kelly.

And it's not just the residents of Brooklyn that are reeling from the sudden bombshell. There's likely to be a dramatic shake-up in both the Courier-Life and Brooklyn Paper newsrooms as News Corp. eliminates overlap between the two papers.

According to one of the Optimist's inside sources, the ax already fell today on some of the Courier-Life's unfortunate staffers and the Greenpoint Courier has been slated for extinction within the next two weeks. The Williamsburg Courier will survive annihilation for the time being because it's a cash cow for advertising, but other local Courier versions might end up on the chopping block.

Dear readers, have the Brooklyn blogs ever been more important? We're the only source of true, independent news left in the borough.

Council Candidate Craig Hammerman Envisions Park Slope Arts Center to Rival P.S. 1

Democratic City Council Candidate Craig Hammerman announced today his plan to bring Brooklyn artists and residents together by creating a mixed-use arts and learning center in Park Slope.

Hammerman’s plan envisions revitalizing the St. Thomas Aquinas School at 4th Avenue and 8th Street, which was closed down in June 2005, as the Aquinas Arts Center, much in the same vein that Long Island City’s P.S. 1 was turned into one of Queens’ hottest attractions and best loved museums.

“The future prosperity of our neighborhoods depends in large part upon supporting the cultural soul of our community,” said Hammerman, who in addition to running for Council in the 39th District, is also the longtime district manager of Community Board 6. “This area needs a non-profit contemporary community arts center that pulls together and showcases the finest our neighborhoods have to offer.”

With an emphasis upon showing the work of Brooklyn artists, the Aquinas Arts Center would enable community residents to discover the extraordinary breadth and diversity of talents exhibited by their neighbors. At the same time, it would continue the proud academic tradition of the former St. Thomas Aquinas School by offering a plethora of arts classes to Brooklynites of all ages.

In unveiling his plan, Hammerman recognized the wonderful and eclectic contribution to the community made by Park Slope cultural beacons like the Brooklyn-Queens Conservatory of Music, Southpaw, and the Brooklyn Lyceum, and he celebrated local artists for their initiative in banding together to create their successful Annual Gowanus Artists Studio Tour (AGAST). Hammerman promised that the Aquinas Arts Center would only enhance the area’s growing cultural community by offering a centerpiece around which artists and art lovers could thrive.

“Since P.S. 1 reopened in 1997, it has become more than a world-renowned tourist destination, it has drawn remarkable artists of all media to live and work in Long Island City,” said Hammerman. “The Aquinas Arts Center will bring the artistic excellence of our community to the world, while bringing the finest artists in the world to our community.”

Hammerman promised that finding the funding to build the Aquinas Arts Center would be a priority of his first term in the City Council. Citing a report from the Center for an Urban Future, Hammerman pointed out that the lack of affordable studio space, which the Aquinas Arts Center would provide free to Brooklynites, is the greatest impediment to the growth and success of New York City’s 150,000 artists.

Hammerman countered the suggestion that the Aquinas Arts Center would be an unnecessary expense by asserting that the Aquinas Arts Center would be a boon to the local economy. “Despite all other economic trends, the creative economy is growing in Brooklyn,” explained Hammerman. “City government has foolishly put all its eggs in the Wall Street and real estate baskets. We must diversify our local economy to insulate ourselves from the volatility of the markets. That means supporting the creative economy and doing a better job at supporting our small, locally-owned commercial businesses and manufacturing industries too.”

The Aquinas Arts Center, which Hammerman hopes to begin constructing as early as 2010, would be conveniently located on the cusp of Park Slope and Gowanus and easily accessible by both the F, N, and R subway lines and the B75, B77, B37, and B63 bus lines.

Craig Hammerman is running to represent Brooklyn’s 39th Council District, which encompasses Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Street, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, and Boro Park.

Time Running Out For Public School Parents to Run for CEC

The deadline for public school parents to register to run for NYC’s Community and Citywide Education Councils (CECs) has been extended until March 19th. In response to an increase in parent interest in the elections, the NYC Department of Education, a slew of City nonprofits, and parent groups across the five boroughs are stepping up their vigorous efforts to recruit candidates.

“We’re asking every New Yorker regardless of whether or not they currently have kids in school to pitch in to get the word out about these elections,” said Jeff S. Merritt, Founder and President of Grassroots Initiative, the New York City-based nonprofit organization partnering with the DOE to help to recruit and to assist CEC candidates.

The CECs, which replaced New York City’s School Boards in 2004, are parental advisory boards – one for each of the City’s 32 school districts – that meet with the district superintendent each month and advise the Department of Education on issues like school zoning and instruction.

Parents can sign up online to run for the CEC in a matter of minutes at powertotheparents.org. This year, the application process has been simplified so that both first-time candidates and current CEC members will have no trouble getting their names on the ballot.

For more information about the elections or how to run for the CEC, log on to powertotheparents.org or call 1-877-NYC-VOTE.

Monday, March 9, 2009

In Memoriam: Bob Guskind

Of all of the events I have missed writing about in the last couple of months, I wanted to make sure I didn't let the sad passing of blogger Bob Guskind go unmentioned.

I only met Bob once in person, but I corresponded with him on occasion by email, including just a few days before he died. It was clear to be by the tone of this last correspondence that he was overwhelmed, but he went out of his way to apologize for any brusqueness I might have misconstrued from the terse response.

I had made no such assumption. Bob was always performing herculean labors of good journalism and I took it as a matter-of course-that he would be too busy for idle chatter. I'm not sure quite when Bob slept, but I presume it was infrequently and when he did, he dreamt in long posts that unraveled the mysteries of Brooklyn for all of us.

When I first considered blogging, I approached Bob and he shared with me many words of advice I have since internalized as second nature. When I did finally make my first post, he praised my early work as "promising and good natured" and shared my blog with his readers.

I am grateful to Bob for his generosity and saddened that Brooklyn will be without his seemingly infinite insights.

Thanks to Chris Kreussling, the Flatbush Gardener, for this wonderful photo of Bob.

Brooklyn's Newest Optimist: Fiona Lucia Pehme

Before I launch back into blogging, I want to thank all of the kind readers who took the time to encourage me to return to my keyboard and once again spread optimism across Brooklyn. Though I am certainly touched at the concern many of you expressed for my well-being, in truth, my hiatus from blogging wasn't the result of any distress, but great happiness.

On December 18th, my wife, Patricia, and I welcomed our first child, Fiona Lucia Pehme, into the world. Since then, we have tried to keep the strain of our busy lives at bay and concentrate as much of our energy as possible on enjoying our daughter.

But now that my darling Fiona has finally decided to take pity upon her parents and sleep through the night, I have resolved to once again conduct myself like a quasi-normal person. Among my top priorities in returning to this state was to return to blogging. There have been simply too many days that have passed when I read or reflected upon something that I longed to write about, and yet let the window of time pass when it would still be relevant.

I can't promise to be as diligent about posting as I once was in my pre-parental days, but I pledge to make extra sure that whatever I do write will be of greater significance to both you and me.

And please keep emailing me at brooklynoptimist@gmail.com to share your thoughts on all things pertaining to our borough and beyond. Your belief in change and your commitment to truth is the lifeblood of the Brooklyn Optimist.

So, without further ado, I present to you Brooklyn's newest optimist, Fiona Pehme, photographed by her proud daddy on Inauguration Day.