Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas In Hollis - 25th Anniversary

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gotta NOT love these New Yorkers

Election 2012 was one of the biggest progressive victories in American politics since the LBJ landslide of 1964. Americans not only re-elected its first black Democratic president, increased the Democratic majority in the US Senate, and reduced the Republican majority in the US House, but Democrats gained state legislatures, and liberal ballot initiatives -- pot legalization, marriage equality, tax increases to fund education -- passed in a number of states. 

It was a great progressive victory.

This included New York State. Obama won the state, our junior senator was re-elected in a record landslide, Democrats gained congressional seats, and also won control of the New York State Senate.

For decades, literally, through gerrymandering, Republicans maintained control of the state senate. They cut a deal with the Assembly Democrats to draw district lines where the Republicans had a virtually unbreakable lock on the state senate while Democrats had a similar lock on the state assembly. It was a sleazy bi-partisan disgrace and it kept our state government dysfunctional and, more importantly, our laws behind the times. 

But times changed. 

New York is more liberal and Democratic today. The Republican party is all but finished here. It hasn't won a state-wide race since 2002 when Governor Pataki won his last term. We haven't had a Republican senator or Attorney General since 1998 or a Republican comptroller since 1993. The New York State Congressional Delegation is overwhelmingly Democratic and our few Republican Congresspeople are way more liberal than Republican congresspeople from the rest of the country. The one last bastion of Republican power in this state was the State Senate and, despite gerrymandering the hell out of it, the Democratic tidal wave broke through in 2012 and Democrats won control of the chamber -- 33 to 30.

Until they didn't.

Last week, six so-called Democratic State Senators broke away from the Democratic caucus and agreed to create a "coalition" with the Republicans. These means that even though voters in this state went the polls and voted for a Democratic state senate, six "Democrats" cut a deal with the GOP to keep that party in power while also getting some power for themselves. 

Banana Republic time in Albany. 

This cabal -- sorry, coalition -- is absolutely breathtaking in its arrogance, venality, and dishonesty. It is undemocratic and wrong. Voters voted one way and the people they elected decided to go the other way. These six people presented themselves as Democrats, got the party to nominate them, got people to donate to and vote for their campaigns as Democrats -- and then gave power of the state senate to Republicans. Wow.

Of course, the leaders of this "coalition" see it differently. They talk about the glories of "bipartisanship" and "reform" and "putting politics aside" -- all a bunch of cynical, dishonest crap. They don't mean a word of it. They have put together a complicated, idiotic "power sharing" agreement where they will share control of the state senate and its agenda. They claim they will pursue progressive legislation like hiking the minimum wage and campaign finance reform. 

Well, if they want a progressive agenda, why not create a progressive caucus in the state senate? It defies logic because, of course, there is no logic there. Only greed and power.

The GOP and these six "Democrats" have warped the desires of the New York State electorate and continued the corrupt practices of Albany. They are unfit to serve. This is an attempt by a dying political party and six state senators to cling to power that the people of this state do not want them to have. Sick.

Let's hope that one day they will pay a heavy price for this.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting 2012

Gotta Love New Yorkers

Great story today about a conductor of the Queens College Aarron Copeland School of Music. His name is Maurice Press, he's 82 years old, and has been working as a conductor and a teacher for over 60 years. These are the kind of NYC characters I love -- and whose company I could only hope to aspire to.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

How Obama Won NYC

In the presidential election just past, it probably goes without saying that President Obama swept the vote here. In fact, "swept" is an understatement -- he got 81% of the vote, close to Soviet levels.

Romney got 18%. Ouch.

If Obama was running for mayor of NYC, he would have won the biggest landslide in city history.

So what were the demos of Obama's NYC win? This article tells the story.

Obama won every borough. He won every precinct in Manhattan except one. He did very well in Brooklyn, naturally, except in areas with high Orthodox Jewish populations. He did well in Queens but his margin in white neighborhoods was small and, perhaps not surprisingly, he did much better in black neighborhoods. In Staten Island, easily the most conservative borough, Obama won 50%-49%. And in the Bronx he got an an astonishing 91% of the vote.

Obama will never be on the ballot again but NYC can take pride that it sent him back to the White House for four more years. 

Along with Ohio. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Classic Mr NYC

Now that winter is coming -- WINTER IS COMING -- it's nice to start thinking warm thoughts. And there's nothing warmer than a Turkish bath.

This clip from 2008 about the Russian & Turkish Baths should do the trick.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Truman Capote Reads From Breakfast At Tiffany's April 7, 1963.

Truman the Great

In America and NYC, no one united the worlds of literature and celebrity better than Truman Capote. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, he was a true American icon, a character of his media age, famous for his flamboyant personality as much as for his writings.

A poor boy from Alabama, he came to NYC as a young man and made good. He impressed literary agents and authors with his writings and quickly established a career. But he was beloved for himself as much as for his work. He appeared on talk shows, was seen at all the movie and art gallery openings and fancy parties in town; he knew everyone worth knowing, he was king of toute le monde. In 1966, he threw what has become one of the most legendary parties in town, the Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel that is still talked about to this day.

Truman Capote was also gay, an blatant out of the closet homosexual at a time when that was illegal in most of the country. Plus he was a quote machine, saying hilarious things like "Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act."

Imagine if Capote were alive today and had a Twitter account!

Capote was as entertaining as his work.

And what work he did! He published famous novels and novellas like The Grass Harp and Breakfast at Tiffany's (giving Audrey Hepburn her most famous role in the movie version). He also wrote In Cold Blood, a brilliant non-fiction work about murders in Kansas, that is viewed as his greatest book.  He wrote lots of short stories at a time when they were regularly published in magazines. He worked hard and partied hard, an inexhaustible human being.

Then, in 1975, it all fell apart.

Selections of a novel he was working on called Answered Prayers were published, satirizing some of the most famous people in New York society. Suddenly Capote, the very heart and soul of NYC society, was shunned, ridiculed, ostracized. He was no longer invited to the dinner parties of the rich and powerful, banished by his friends -- instead, he started doing lots of cocaine and hanging out at Studio 54. He wrote less. His health suffered and, in 1984, he died at the age of 60.

He didn't even get a third act. The story of how this happened is chronicled in this month's Vanity Fair and is a must read.

However, in many ways, Truman Capote has had the last laugh. His work and his legacy is secure. In Cold Blood has been voted one of the greatest works of non-fiction in the 20th century. His books have been turned into movies in the last several years. And he himself has been portrayed in movies like Capote (winning Phillip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar) and Infamous. There was also a stage play about twenty years ago called Tru, about the last years of his life.

It's sad that he didn't live longer and produce more work. But for all his wildness, Truman Capote gave this city and this country's literature gifts that will forever endure.

P.S. Capote allegedly got the title for Breakfast at Tiffany's when, after having picked up a young gay sailor from out of town, Capote asked him the next morning where he'd like to go to breakfast. The sailor, who knew little about NYC, allegedly said "Let's get breakfast at Tiffany's." And that was that.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

David Durk, RIP

In the early 1970s, the NYPD had become a notorious, brazenly corrupt institution that everyone in the city feared.

Politicians, the public, even honest cops themselves, dared not speak truth to power to expose the maggots that was eating away at the world's greatest law enforcement organization. 

Until some people did.

You may have heard of Frank Serpico who blew the whistle on police corruption and was rewarded with a great 1973 movie starring Al Pacino called ... Serpico

But he didn't act alone. 

David Durk helped him and together the two braved exposing the corruption that led to the formation of the Knapp Commission. In many ways, he was even more responsible for it than Serpico.

Together, they saved the city.

David Durk died last week and the city should take a moment to remember and everything he did for it.  

TLC's Extreme Cougar Wives - First Look

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Waterfront NYC

Since NYC is a city of islands, needless to say its waterfront is an integral part of its identity.

Our waterfront has been a huge part of our history -- from the time that Dutch pilgrims landed here, to Revolutionary War which was fought on our city's shores and in our harbor, to the presence of the Statue of Liberty, to the time when our city became a world capital.

Of course, our waterfront has also been a controversial part of our city's history, particularly since Robert Moses did so much to separate us from it.

Hurricane Sandy showed us some of the problems that our waterfront contains and, in its wake, our waterfront's history is in much dispute. 

Apropos of that, you must listen to this segment from WNYC about the history and future of the city's waterfront. What will it look like as we rebuild from Sandy? It's a matter of huge debate that our future mayor will have to deal with. 

I hope that we can rebuild the homes on the Rockaways and Breezy Point but that they are built stronger and more storm proof. Also, if storm blocks need to be built in the harbor, then they should be. Protecting our city's waterfront is a vital issue to our future -- and it's something we must get right. 

President Obama Promises to Rebuild on 2nd Visit to Sandy-Damaged Area

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bravo, America Part II

Considering that it was a week ago, I realize that I'm a little late to the victory party, but here goes: November 6, 2012 may very well be remembered as the day that America finally became a progressive nation. 

For real, this time.

Not only did we re-elect President Obama, our first black POTUS, but progressive candidates made gains in the house and senate and on the state level. Most interestingly, marriage equality and pot legalization passed in several states -- unusual acts of compassion and common sense that have been mostly lacking in our history. This election came down to "We're all in this together" vs. "You're on your own" -- and "together" won.

For the last four years, the Republican party and reactionary forces in this country did everything they could to destroy President Obama and impose their hard-right, mean-spirited agenda on us. They made it very clear that their only goal was not doing anything to help improve the country but to deny Obama a second term. They failed.

They failed spectacularly. Oh man, oh man, did they fail!

They spent literally billions of dollars to beat Obama and his supporters -- and instead Obama and his supporters beat them (and with a lot less money too).

These people could have done a lot more good if they had donated that money to charity or spent it to educate, house and clothe poor people. Instead, they just spent it on TV ads.

Hell, they should have just lit it on fire! Metaphorically, that's exactly what they did.

Now Obama is not a perfect president (no president is) but look at his record: he pulled American out of its worst recession since the Great Depression, saved the auto industry, helped millions more people get health care, got us out of two badly run wars, and killed the world's worst terrorist. Pretty good record. Mitt Romney and his Republican allies, instead, wanted to take us back to the bad old days of President George W. Bush, and America -- correctly, smartly -- said no to that.

Romney will be fine, however. He has hundreds of millions of dollars, a pretty wife, 5 sons, and 18 grandchildren to console him. Besides, he'll be getting his own planet someday so missing out on the presidency isn't that bad.

As for the rest of the Republicans, they're doing some "soul searching" which would make sense only if they had souls. If they had souls, maybe they wouldn't be so nasty ("legitimate rapes" etc.) and would have won. I shed no tears nor have any sympathy for them. They're feeling pain right now and they richly deserve it.

Second terms have been historically problematic, and I'm sure Obama will have his troubles over the next four years. But however rough it gets, just remember what we were spared.

Here in NYC, meanwhile, I feel that this election shows that NYC and the rest of America are developing more of a kinship. This was a victory for urban America as much as anything else. Speaking for New Yorkers (if I may), I think we're just happy to no longer be foreigners in our own country. More and more, as this election showed, the country is more like NYC and less like Texas.

Our new slogan should be, "NYC -- We are America!"

Love it or leave it.
Four years ago I shared my thoughts on the election of Barack Obama to the presidency which were typically brilliant.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sandy in NYC: The Aftermath Conclusion

It's been almost two weeks since Hurricane Sandy hit NYC and the city is still reeling. However, we're getting ourselves back together, piece by piece, one step at a time.

For the people whose homes were destroyed, however, or who had family members perish in the storm, their lives will never be the same. I hope our city and its leaders will still remember and help these people long after Sandy has receded from the headlines.

Meanwhile, the city is doing everything it can. Mayor Bloomberg has announced a Rapid Repairs program that will work with construction companies to help people fix their homes very quickly. This is a great thing.

If you want to hear more of the personal stories about the aftermath of this storm, this story is heartbreaking and heartwarming.

The city still has a long way to go. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Still Here!!

Big apologies for the lack of blogging lately, life has been busy -- dealing with fallout from the hurricane combined with jury duty combined with raising an 10 month+ old daughter has left Mr NYC a 'lil busy and a 'lil tired.

Needless to say, there's lots to blog about -- the aftermath of Sandy, the election, other stuff -- so I hope to get on it today and tomorrow.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bloomberg Endorses Obama

No, really,

He really, really did,

Read it here.

NY1 to the Rescue!

Here in NYC, as Sandy came and went, the thing that got a lot of us New Yorkers through it was NY1.

For those of you outside NYC, you probably have no idea what NY1 is. It's a local cable channel, basically our CNN, an all-news station focused completely on the goings on in town. 

In a city that's flashy, glamorous, and exciting, NY1 is in many ways the attentive, quiet, and very responsible older parent who keeps its crazy offspring in check. You watch NY1 for information, not entertainment -- and it's the last of a dying breed of news channels that cares about news and not nonsense.

During the storm and its aftermath, the coverage on NY1 has been outstanding. All New Yorkers should give the station their thanks -- and, thankfully, NY1 is also getting it's due.

Sandy in NYC: The Aftermath V

Sandy in NYC: The Aftermath IV

The fallout of Hurricane Sandy, of course, has a human toll. You can read some of the human stories, here and here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sandy in NYC: The Aftermath III

Sandy in NYC: The Aftermath II

Subway service is coming back although large parts of it are still out, as this maps shows.

Sandy in NYC: The Aftermath

Well, Sandy is gone but her ravages remain.

NYC was hit by one of the worst storms in its history. Hundreds of thousands are without power, the subways are out, homes have been destroyed, trees are scattered everywhere, and chaos reigns.

But not really -- not the chaos part anyway.

The city is slowly but surely getting back together. Trees are being removed, the subways are being pumped out, people are getting shelter, and power is being restored gradually. It's tough but the city is surviving.

I must say, I'm very impressed with how well the state, city and federal governments have responded to this. Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Cuomo and President Obama have been outstanding in providing help and relief from this huge storm.

Right now the chattering classes are talking about how this storm shouldn't be politicized but forgive me if I go ahead an politicize it right now. This storm shows why Willard Mitt Romney and his sleazy sidekick Paul Ryan must not be elected president and vice-president next week and why it's more urgent than ever that Barack Obama and Joe Biden be returned to the White House for four more years.  

First, this storm is a result of global warming. Don't believe me? Check this out. 

Second, what we saw in President Obama's response was that of a leader who cares about the people he serves and believes that government has a role to provide relief. His FEMA is not stocked with hacks and incompetents like Bush's was. Even Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, is praising Obama's leadership. As for Romney? He's actually said that he doesn't believe the federal government has a role in disaster relief! I kid you not! So if Romney had been president the last four years Osama Bin Laden would still be alive, the American motor industry would be dead, and the federal government would be AWOL form this awful storm. Thank God he's not president now -- and let's hope to god he won't be president the next time a disaster hits NYC or anywhere else in America. 

It's a risk we can't take.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Crane Dangles at West 57th Street

Check out the live feed here.

Memo from NYC

As this presidential campaign reaches its penultimate days, Mr NYC has been looking at election nights past. Thanks to the glories of YouTube, you can look back at history being made, as presidents are elected and, in the case of the below clip, unelected.

We looked at 1972, the night the soon-to-be-disgraced Richard Nixon won a second term as president. This clip is fascinating for a few reasons: 1) Nixon carried New York state, one of only three times after WWII that a Republican carried the Empire State; 2) there's a short interview with John Ehrlichman, a top Nixon aide, who laughed off the Watergate story as something that would soon be coming to an end; and 3) a brand new senator from Delaware is elected, a very young Joseph Biden who is, of course, the current vice-president and will be on the ballot again a week from tomorrow.

Then we looked at 1996, the night that Bill Clinton won a second term. This clip is also fascinating because you see Donald Rumsfeld, one of the worst people on the planet, talking about how Bob Dole is still planning to win the presidential election -- even after he's lost. Shortly thereafter you see Clinton's brother Roger pondering his sister-in-law's possible political future -- and, of course, we know that Hillary would eventually become a senator from New York and eventually the secretary of state.

Now we take our final look at election nights past -- 1976. This was the night that former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter defeated President Gerald Ford. Ford had become president only two years earlier after Nixon had resigned in disgrace because of Watergate -- the same story that John Ehrlichman had previously laughed off. Ford was the first incumbent president since Herbert Hoover in 1932 -- forty-four years! -- to lose. This clip is interesting because apparently, at this moment, Ford was fast asleep in the White House and didn't even know that he was out of a job. It's also interesting because there was some controversy about ballots being cast in New York that the Ford campaign was making some noise about having re-counted. This never happened, obviously, and the controversy died quickly. Carter became president in 1977 and lost re-election to Ronald Reagan in 1980.

And, of course, there's 2008, and this clip literally speaks for itself.

Now we look to the future. A week from tomorrow the country will be voting for president and, it goes without saying, that we must re-elect President Obama. The idea of Willard Romney as president is horrifying: he will destroy Medicare and Social Security, strip women of their reproductive freedom, probably start another war in the Middle East, and implement anti-union, ant-worker laws. His ridiculous tax policies will only make the deficit worse, and he will re-introduce the a level of government secrecy that is practically fascistic. 

If you liked George W Bush, you'll love Willard Romney.  

Of course, Willard doesn't want you to associate him with Bush -- who wants to be associated with the one of the worst presidents in American history? Willard would have you believe that, even though both he and Bush are Republicans, that they have very little in common.

Don't believe it.

As this article smartly indicates, Willard is running very much in Bush's shadow. Bush haunts him. Bush overwhelms him. And this isn't surprising. After all, Willard is basically promising to restore the Bush policies that did so much to damage this country while trying to distance himself from the man. It's a tightrope to the White House that Willard deserves to fall off of. Bush and Willard are two peas in the same political pod and that's why it's vital that Obama win. 

Why would this country want to go back to the horror that it's only now digging itself out of? 

Obama has restored the economy, saved the auto industry, endorsed gay marriage and repealed "Dont Ask Don't Tell", appointed two smart women to the Supreme Court, signed the pay equality bill, enacted historic health care reform, and ended the stupid war in Iraq.

And yes, he killed Osama Bin Laden.

That's a good record, worthy of a second term. Willard isn't worthy of a first. 

Let's hope America makes the right decision next week and that this will be an election night we can look back fondly at. 

Is It Fair?

One of the great glories of NYC is its public parks system.

For almost two centuries, this city has wisely invested in creating millions of acres of green space for its people -- starting from the days of Olmstead to Moses to the present day. Without our parks, NYC would be uninhabitable and, thanks to our parks, millions of our city's residents have some place to find refuge from the urban jungle.

Our parks are part of what make NYC truly great.

But in the last couple of decades, our parks have almost become representations of the great socioeconomic divide in our city. While there are parks big and small in every borough, all officially under the auspices of the city's parks department, some parks located in wealthy neighborhoods have created private foundations that help to augment only their parks. They help to beautify and maintain them, build playgrounds and plant trees and such, and make them stunning. That's great, but the result is that many other parks in poorer parts of the city do not get the same TLC and are allowed to drift while the big rich parks become better than ever.

Such is the case this week of the billionaire John Paulson who recently gave $100 million to the Central Park Conservancy. This eye-popping, historic donation goes only to improvements in Central Park and Central Park alone -- and not to the any of the other several hundred parks across the city. This gift is both amazing and grotesque at the same time.

Now I love Central Park as much as anyone and have enough great memories of it to last a lifetime. It's truly an amazing, beautiful place and has a special place in the heart of all New Yorkers. But it's hardly a park without enough money, it's certainly not in any state of decay, and it's really doesn't need even more money to be improved. On the other hand, go to any park in the Bronx or Queens or Staten Island and you'll parks that need a lot of work. 

Ever been to Flushing Park, Mr. Paulson? That's a park that needs A LOT of work and is also frequented by probably as many people as Central Park. Believe me, $100 million in Flushing Park would create wonders. Couldn't you send your money there?

I hope that in the years to come, as Bloomberg's New York becomes a thing of the past, there will be an effort by the private and public sectors to do more -- and invest more money -- in the people and neighborhoods and parks that aren't rich, aren't connected, and aren't all in Manhattan. 

Only then will we truly live up to our city's democratic ideal.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Islanders come to Brooklyn

Starting in 2015, NYC will have not one but two NHL teams.

Recently the New York Islanders announced that they will be abandoning Nassau County and heading to the new Barclay's Center in Brooklyn. Along with the Nets, it will be one of two major league sports teams located in the borough.

So here's the breakdown of sports in NYC (as of 2015)

Yankees in the Bronx.

Rangers and Knicks in Manhattan.

Mets in Queens.

Nets and Islanders in Brooklyn.

Jets and Giants in New Jersey.

So now four of our five boroughs will have big time sports in them. That's pretty amazing. 

Let's hope it helps the local economies. 

Bloomberg in Winter

The mayoralty of Michael Bloomberg is winding to a close, and in about fourteen months this decade-plus experiment in corporate plutocracy government/noblesse oblige will be coming to an end.

So what does Mike himself think about it?

Well, naturally, he thinks he's done a great job.

You should read this long, rambling interview with the man himself to get an insight into the man of the man who has ruled this city for so long. By turns arrogant and intelligent, you get a real sense of how he thinks and what his values are.

Too bad the words "middle class" appear nowhere in the transcript. 

FDR and George Carlin: Getting their due

Was there ever a better president than Franklin Delano Roosevelt? (Well, maybe Lincoln but FDR is probably second).

Was there ever a better comedian than George Carlin? Short answer: no!

These were two great men, two immense figures, who's places in history are burnished like no other.

FDR saved America during the Great Depression and then saved the world during WWII. He gave us Social Security and destroyed Fascism. Pretty amazing.

George Carlin re-invented comedy in the last decades of the 20th century and has influenced generations of comedians ever since. He was also the first host of "Saturday Night Live", launching an important part of television history.

Both deceased (FDR since 1945, Carlin since 2008) both were great men who also happened to be native New Yorkers.

Now the city that claimed them is finally recognizing them.

Recently, on Roosevelt Island, a long planed and overdue memorial to FDR has opened: the Four Freedoms Park was recently commemorated by Mayor Bloomberg and President Clinton and is a fitting, amazing tribute to the man. About ten years ago a memorial to FDR was built in Washington, DC but there was no memorial to him in NYC. Now there is and it's a great thing.

As for George Carlin, he recently got a street named after him. Up in Morningside Heights, the community board recently voted to name West 121st street after the great comedian and the city council should approve it shortly. Yours truly signed a petition to make this happen so it's exciting to see it finally occur. Also, I grew up in the same neighborhood as Carlin so I'm happy about this on a personal level. Naturally, the eternal cynic George Carlin would probably find naming a street after him silly ... so, fitting, the joke is happily on him.

In a world of bad news, it's great to see these two New Yorkers be recognized by this city.

Hurricane Sandy

She's a comin'! If you need to get more info about how this will impact NYC, go to the Office of Emergency Management for more info.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Transit Happenings

Well, here's some rare good news out of the MTA. 

As any NYC resident knows, getting to and from LaGuardia airport is only slightly less painful than getting a cavity filled without Novocaine. There's no direct subway route or "air train" like at JFK so either you're doomed to overpaying for a cab or taking one of the very, very, miserably slow buses that go there.

But that's going to change.

This week the MTA announced the creation of three new super-fast buses to LaGuardia under the designation Select Bus Service -- or SBS. They will have limited stops, curbside payment, and will go to and from currently under served parts of the Bronx and Queens. This should cut down the travel time via bus to LaGuardia significantly and be a lot less costly than a cab.

It's not the same as building a subway line but at least it's something.

Talking about the subway, there was a strange happening underground there this week. One Rick Springfield, 1980s rock star one-hit wonder extraordinaire, was see performing his big hit "Jessie's Girl" with a bunch of folks there. Who would have guessed? As silly a song as it is, it's a great song to belt out when loaded at a karaoke bar (not that I would know) and, of course, it's memorialized in the classic movie "Boogie Nights." 

Only in New York, kids. Or possible LA. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Meet the New Parks Boss

Interesting profile about the new Commissioner for the Department of Parks and Recreation. She's only going to have 15 months on the job and is hoping to make the most of them.

Let's wish her luck. 

The Parks Department may seem like a quiet, not that important city agency but it is, in fact, a small empire. There are over 1700 parks in this city along with 500 community gardens and 14 miles of beaches. There are also a large number of public pools and recreation centers spread out among the five boroughs and all this real estate and personnel add up to a little city in and of itself. Heck, the Parks Department is so big that it even has its own flag!

As important as the mayor is in this town, once you appreciate how big things like the parks and police departments are, as well as the school and library system, you come to realize how powerful the commissioners and heads of these departments are. They are little czars unto themselves and, unlike the mayor, they don't have to be elected to wield power. 

How cool. 

Espada Era Ends

Pedro Espada, one of the most loathsome men to have ever served in New York City and State government, is finally going to jail. This is a great thing and long overdue.

Some of you may not know who he is and, hopefully, he will be forgotten soon. Espada was a NYC City Councilmen and then a NYS Senator who used his various offices to enrich himself and his family. He also ran a healthcare clinic in the South Bronx that he plundered so that he and his family could live high on the hog.

He became a big figure three years ago when this nominal "Democrat" and another loser State Senator voted to caucus with the State Senate Republicans. This threw the legislature into turmoil for over a month and made the state into a laughingstock (tells you a lot about the Republican party in this state that they'd do business with a criminal like Espada -- they are basically no better than him).

Anyway, Espada was defeated for re-election two years ago and then indicted for fraud. He was found guilty, was trying to appeal but I guess he saw reason and finally agreed to plead guilty. Looks like he'll be in the pokey for a very long time. 

Pedro, we knew you too long and you won't be missed. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tribute to old-school Manhattan Public Access TV!

Classic Mr NYC

About four years ago I blogged about George Plimpton, the great Renaissance Man and NYC icon who died almost ten years ago.

If you'd like, go back and read about a real NYC original. 

Corporate City Redux

Last year I blogged about how NYC is increasingly becoming a corporate city -- a city ruled by and for the very rich. Of course, NYC has always been a "corporate city" since it has long been the capital for corporate America, with many great national and international businesses headquartered here. But there used to be a division between the corporate world in NYC and how the city government was actually run. 

The corporate/private enterprise world didn't control our government, didn't have power over our land-use, our public schools, even our parks. 

But now it does: charter schools are replacing public schools, parks are being run less by the parks department and more by private foundations -- and the city is turning over huge swaths of our public lands to corporations. 

Look at this week's New York magazine for proof. There are two huge articles -- one a huge new super-expensive luxury apartment building (that is primarily for people who don't even really live in NYC) and another on Hudson Yards which will be the biggest, most expensive private development in our city's history. 

This is radical. And totally out of character with NYC's history. 

It's very depressing and scary to think about how this wonderful, great city -- a place where "our poor huddled masses" used to come in search of a better life is being turned into a place where only the rich are welcomed and can survive. It's still a great city, still great place to live but, if we continue down the road of the corporate city, will we still be so?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Christopher Columbus on the Couch

Today is Columbus Day, one of those convenient pre-holiday holidays where people sleep-in, go to bargain sales, clean the apartment, maybe even visit a friend.

Of course, it's also a day where we celebrate the Italian who, on Spanish ships, discovered America.

It used to be a perfunctory aspect of American life that we accepted that Columbus discovered America on the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria in 1492, that he was welcomed by the indigenous people that he found there, and that the story of America began there and then. Of course, it was always a little more complicated than that (like the fact that Americo Vespucci discovered America first) but basically it was an accepted and non-controversial fact of American lore.

Then ... It Got Real.

Twenty-or-so years ago a bunch of people began kvetching that we shouldn't celebrate Columbus because he did unfortunate things like commit genocide against the said indigenous folks, spread diseases, seized their lands -- you know, stuff like that. Suddenly a man who had been dead for centuries -- and was best known as the man responsible for used car sales and parades where lots of smoked sausages were sold -- became very controversial. The PC police yelled that CC was the Devil while the old timers said he was the hero we always knew he was, historical facts be damned. 

Then people realized it was a stupid debate and it died down.

This year, however, things are a 'lil different. Today, as we again "celebrate" Columbus Day, here in NYC,  the statue of the man's likeness in the square that bears his name on 59th street is covered up by ... a living room ... A huge scaffolding containing a living room covers the statue and people are allowed to walk up the stairs and look at the great marble man face to face. 

It's a tad odd but also interesting and re-invents this particular piece of public art -- and maybe the man its celebrates.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Justice Delayed. Justice Denied?

As another presidential election grinds to a close, let's go back to those halcyon days, those days of yore, that lovely memorable time -- the year 2004 -- when another president was running for re-election. That's right, I'm talking about when George W. Bush, without a doubt one of our greatest presidents, was seeking a second term to continue his magnificent work governing this country.

In that year of wonderful peach and prosperity, Bush's Republican party held its convention right here in NYC. It was only three years after some trouble had occurred but obviously the then-POTUS's party didn't want to politicize the event so it was only a mere coincidence that the party held its convention here. 

And when they did, for some totally inexplicable reason that only highly-paid psychiatrists in Austria could figure out, thousands upon thousands of people turned out to protest the convention, the president, his party, and situation in the country in general. They were mad for some reason, and they had the chutzpah to let the world know.

This resulted, naturally, in mass arrests. The NYPD went medieval on the protesters, sending in provocateurs to turn them violet and then caged them in their thousands, beating them up, throwing them into pens unfit for human habitation. No, never the mind the misfits on Wall Street who were quietly plotting to blow up our economy -- these were the people who were arrested. 

And, unsurprisingly, they sued. 

Now, eight years later, justice has been served. No, not on the arrested protesters but on the NYPD.  A US judge has ruled that they were arrested without probable cause, clearly violating their 4th Amendment constitutional rights. 

So it only took a decade for some justice to be smacked down. Too bad it took so long.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Barclays Center Officially Opens in Brooklyn

The Warhol Archives

Just a postscript on the previous Andy Warhol entry: I've written a lot about him over the years (which makes sense, since he was the ultimate NYC artist) so you can check out this link that will take you to all the old posts.

"Regarding Warhol" at the Metropolitan Museum

Recently the family and I went to the new exhibit at the Met, Regarding Warhol, an interesting hybrid show of work by the legendary artist and those he influenced.

Andy Warhol was perhaps the most famous American artist of the last fifty years. If anyone defined art in NYC and America in the 1960s and 1970s, it was this Pittsburgh-born transplant who married the avante-garde, almost Dada-esque sensibilities of the counter-culture with the world of commerce and pop culture.
His paintings were of Campbell's soup cans, Marilyn Monroe, and totally unknown people. He was unabashed in making art that people either loved or hated. Besides paintings, he also made movies -- very, very weird movies -- of people sitting at a table doing nothing, or making love, or (as we see in this show) a nearly eight-hour single shot of the Empire State Building. Either you found his work the aesthetic equivalent of a warm hug or a cold slap -- or both. That was the whole point.

Andy Warhol was an artist who became more than just his work -- he became an icon, an idea, an inspiration. And that's the whole point of this exhibit.
Many of the other artists featured in this exhibit are, to be honest, people I never heard of. Except for one -- Jeff Koons -- perhaps the most famous and controversial artist Warhol ever influenced. While the Warhol work is (obviously) great and classic, I honestly found the work of the other artists rather uninteresting and unmemorable. When it comes to Koons' work, I find it less funky than boring and anti-septic. I honestly don't know why his work sells so well.

Still, I would urge you to see this exhibit for two reason. First, it makes you realize what a truly great, revolutionary artist Andy Warhol was and how his work managed to be both of his time and timeless. Second, the exhibit has perhaps the most beautiful ending of any exhibit I've ever gone to anywhere. I won't give it away -- you gotta see it yourself -- but it makes the whole experience worth it.

This exhibit has generated a lot of controversy (like the master himself) so I would recommend reading them here and here.   

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Occupy Wall Street: 1st Anniversary

It's hard to believe but it was only a year ago that Occupy Wall Street -- or OWS, as it became known -- suddenly sprang to life and took over the national psyche.

What OWS was (or is?) is very simple: it was a group of Americans who felt totally shafted by the current economy and wanted to shed light on the enormous income inequality that exists in America today. This was represented by people literally occupying a private/public park in Lower Manhattan day and night. 

They called themselves "the 99%".

Like any social/political movement, OWS immediately caused controversy. Those on the political left praised it as grassroots movement against "the Man." Those on the political right called it basically a movement of, by, and for society's losers. Needless to say, this debate rages on more than a year later.

Yours truly had and has mixed feelings about OWS. The fact that people were able to grab the attention of the public and the media and start a national dialogue on income inequality in this country is a great thing. Before OWS, this issue had never received the widespread attention it deserved and has now gotten. But my problem with OWS, like any "movement", is that its legitimate message can sometimes come off as nothing more than rage, that the messengers themselves don't do themselves any favors by ranting. That's why I've never been a joiner of "movements" -- very often the messengers cannibalize the message. 

Last year, just as OWS was cresting in its public attention, I wrote a blog post about how NYC has become a corporate city and how it doesn't matter who we elect, it is and will probably always be so. Also, one of the things OWS showed is how the "liberal/conservative" schism in this country sort of misses the point: while one side may be socially liberal and the other side socially conservative, both sides are basically corporate and this shafts working and poor Americans no matter what. And how, no matter who we elect, this "corporate state" will only continue to thrive -- here in NYC and everywhere else. 

So I'm pretty sure that, a year from now, no matter if we have a President Romney or still have President Obama, OWS's message will still resonate.  


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Welcome to NYCHALand!

This blog is dedicated to the NYC of our hearts, minds, and souls as much as to the real city of metal, concrete, and pavement.

One of the fun things about this blog is exploring the undiscovered places -- both literal and figurative -- that exist within the city we love. Cities within the city, if you will, that thrive around us, next to us, and in which many of us live too.

But there is one city within NYC that most readers of this blog don't know about, including yours truly. It's a place that almost 92% of New Yorkers -- let alone tourists -- never go to. It's a city that exists in many neighborhoods but is separate from just about all of them. And it certainly doesn't thrive.

It's called NYCHALand -- otherwise known as "the projects", those enclaves of poverty.

NYCHA is short for New York City Housing Authority which runs all of the public housing projects across the five boroughs. It houses over 400,000 people, almost 8% of the entire city's population, but those are just the official figures; unofficially almost 600,000 people live there. 

Think about that for a second: while 8% might not be a huge share of the city's people and 400,000 a small slice of the 8 million plus folks in this town, NYCHALand houses more people than New Orleans or St. Louis. In fact, you could transport the entire population of the state of Wyoming into NYCHALand and still have room left over for more people. It's that big.

The Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, one of the bigger neighborhoods in NYCHALand.
The projects have long been a controversial aspect of American urban policy. Initially they were seen as an improvement over the slums and tenements that used to warehouse the poor, places where people could live in a certain amount of dignity while they worked themselves into the middle class. But it all went wrong: the projects basically became exactly what they were might to replace, and became new warehouses for the poor. Few worked themselves into the middle, instead caught in a cycle of dependency on city housing and services, members of the permanent underclass. The projects became havens for gangs and drug dealers and violence. The sound of gunshots became a daily a occurrence for the young and old alike who lived there. When one thought of the projects, one could only think of menace.

The "projects" became a symbol for everything that was wrong with 20th century compassion.  If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the projects seemed like their final destination.

Many cities in the last decade tore their projects down and developed new housing policies to deal with the poor. But here in NYC, the projects remain. NYCHALand exists today much as it did forty, thirty years ago. Over the last 20 years, people have talked about how NYC has come back, better than ever, from the turbulent time of the 1970s and 1980s. Yet when you go to NYCHALand, it's like stepping into a time machine back to that time in the city's history that so many of us want to forget. 

However, NYCHALand might not be much longer. This long, very informative article from this week's New York magazine tells us about ideas some have to permanently change the landscape of the projects. The costs of maintaining them has ballooned and many are saying that perhaps it's time NYC develop a 21st century housing policy.

But what will that look like? What will happen to the people who, as miserable a place NYCHALand is for most, feel like it's the best home they could hope to have? Will a new housing policy for the poor help or hurt them? 

In the years to come, NYCHALand might became yet another relic of the city's past, a place most of have never gone to and hope never to go to but that will be, for good or for ill, a city within a city that was part of the character of the greatest city in the world.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Robert Kotlowitz RIP

NYC in the 1970s and 1980s was an historically rough place. High crime, rising rents, the fiscal crises, AIDS, Ed Koch -- it was tough. But there was one place that was, for many of us living in this city at that time, a kind of mental and emotional refuge. 

It was Channel 13. 

The programming on this local PBS station at that time was glorious. It brought great high culture to the unwashed masses in NYC. Even though I was watching things like "Sesame Street" and "Mr Roger's Neighborhood" on Channel 13 at the time, there were also programs like "Live from Lincoln Center" that presented performances of ballet, the philharmonic and the opera; long before "Downton Abbey" made it cool again, "Masterpiece Theater" was in its prime with shows like "Upstairs, Downstairs", "I, Claudius" and "The Jewel in the Crown"; there were also great news shows like "The MacNeil/Leher Report", "Bill Moyer's Journal" and "Nature"; and there was comedy too with shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus". I also remember in 1988 Channel 13 had a wonderful series of Saturday nights where they showed old silent movies. And "Brideshead Revisited", the glorious 1981 mini-series that gave the world Jeremy Irons, was the "Downton Abbey" of its day. 

In those down and dirty decades in NYC. Channel 13 was an uplifting and beautiful escape.

The man who made all of it possible -- and who made not only Channel 13 but all of public broadcasting what it is today -- was named Robert Kotlowitz, and he died recently at the age of 87. He had an interesting and unusual background for a TV executive. He was a novelist and magazine editor who was hired at Channel 13 in 1971 basically because he was unemployed and Channel 13 couldn't find anyone else to do the job. It was totally haphazard and accidental but it changed the culture of NYC -- for the better -- and Mr Kotlowitz's legacy lives on.

Thank you, Mr Kotlowitz, for what you did for Channel 13, my family, and NYC back then. Rest in peace.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Billyburg Comes of Age

In NYC, like in all thriving cities, the issue of gentrification is a non-stop debate. 

On the one hand there are those who love it when new people move in and new businesses open in areas that were once blighted or down on their luck. There is nothing better, in their view, of the old being made new again, of a neighborhoods being rediscovered and made livable again. On the other hand, however, there are those who fear that the new arrivals are throwing out the old timers, raising rents and prices across the board, and making it too expenses for residents of modest means to stay in the neighborhoods they love and have lived in for years.

This is one of those urban issues that will never be settled and debated for as long as cities exist.

Take the case of Williamsburg. The small neighborhood on the edge of Brooklyn used to be for decades -- neigh centuries -- an industrial mecca of factories. Then, as the factories closed, they were converted into apartments where artists who were priced out of Manhattan fled to. In the last few years, as the neighborhood became "hip" and "trendy", as the artists made it cool (like Soho before it), the rich people came. They started shelling out big buck to live in huge condos and now the financial squeeze is on the residents of what some have called "the last Bohemia."

It used to be that you could afford to starve in the East Village but that hasn't been true for almost twenty years. For the last decade, people could afford to starve in Williamsburg -- but that, sadly, seems to be coming to an end.

You should listen to this interview last week from WNYC with a man named Robert Anasi who has actually written a book about this very subject -- about how Williamsburg has transformed from industrial pit to Bohemia to wealthy playground. 

It is a cautionary tale about the direction this city is going in -- and everyone should hear it.