Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The (British) Empire Strikes Back

On the edge of Wall Street lies a small church that seems like an oddity amongst the glass skyscrapers of wealth and power around it.

But make no mistake: Trinity Church is one of the wealthiest, most powerful institutions in all of NYC. It owns office buildings, historic properties, and several cemetaries where people like Alexander Hamilton, Ed Koch and even my own father are buried. It may say it's a church but it's really a real estate beomoth.

Since it's a church, it's assets and revenues are murky. Unless I'm mistaken, they don't pay any tax and there's little of the transparancy you get from a public comany. A recent lawsuit has, however, revealed that Trinity Church's real estate assests are currently valued at around $2 billion and it draws in revenues of almost $160 million a year. Faith has its rewards, apparently.

Here is what is most scandalous: even though this church is so wealthy, little of its wealth goes to the poor. In fact, almost none of it does. It spends millions of dollars of year in "communication" and six-figure salaries for its executives. This has caused some rifts amongst its congregants, who feel more of its money should be going to those in need. Needless to say (ha ha), their complaints are being dismissed.

Here is also what's most fascinating: do you know how Trinity Church got so wealthy? Thank Queen Anne. In 1705, when our city was still very much under the rule of the British, the queen gave this church almost 300 acres of land in lower Manhattan. Over the centuries, Trinity sold off most of the land and invested it in real estate. Pretty smart.

And a pretty good example of how the past and the present merge and how, more than two hundred years since we cast off the British empire, a vestige of the empire still lives in NYC.

Who keeps us safe?

For those of us in NYC, the recent Boston bombings renewed the awful memories of 9/11/2011. Even though it was "fortunately" a much smaller event, 3 people died and over 100 people were injured. It reminds us of how just a tiny handful of lunatics (in the case of Boston, only two) can scare the daylights out of a major city and a country of over 300 million people.

It also begs the question: who keeps us safe?

Who are the men and women of law enforcement and the judicial system tasked with protecting us?

They are, like all of us, only human. Sometimes they suceed, sometimes they fail. When they succeed, we don't notice it, and we take their success for granted. When they fail, we get angry
-- because people die or are injured-- and we demand answers.

Meet Kristy Kottis. She is in charge of the FBI in NYC. She's amazing. A law enforcement professional through and through, for last several years she has been proactive in guarding against terrorism in our town. As you might imagine, this is a herculean task, but as this long article shows, she's just the woman for the job. Can't think of a man who could do better. Our city is lucky to have her. 

Sadly, this is not the case of Elizabeth Ledder. Who's she you ask?

A little history: if you're a New Yorker of a certain age, you may recall the 1989 Central Park Jogger case where a young woman was raped and beaten in said park on an April Sunday night. Five young black men were convicted and served more than a decade in jail before it was revealed that they were totally innocent (they were only let out of jail when DNA evidence indicated that they were innocent and someone else confessed to the crime). As a recent PBS documentary shows, the Manhattan DA Elizabeth Lederer, who prosecuted the case, coerced false confessions and committed grevious malpractice. And yet, when this was revealed, nothing happened to her. She wasn't disbarred or censured by the New York State bar. In fact, she still works in the DA's office and even teaches law at Columbia Law School.

Can you freakin' believe that?

Ms. Lederer is an example of the worst of the judicial system. As dishonest, probably racist prosecutor who destroyed the lives of five young men and sadly has suffered no punishment for her criminal failure. If you think this is outrageous, please join me in signing the following petition demanding that Columbia Law fire Ms. Ledere. Frankly, she should be disbarred too.

So there you have it, the good and the bad of law enforcement. It also shows you the great power that people who put people in jail weild. Sometimes they are good and succeed, and our lives are made immeasurably better for it. But when they fail, or are malicious, the price of destruction we pay is incalculable.

Who keeps us safe? is a question we should always be asking. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mapping Manhattan

If you like to doodle, and you like Manhattan, you might like this.

Real Estate War!

Now that Manhattan has become an exclusive enclave of the very rich and the very poor, the middle class is being pushed across the bridges and tunnels and into the other four boroughs of NYC.

And most of them are heading into Brooklyn and Queens.

Out of the 8 millions souls in this town, approximately 5 million of them live in these two boroughs. Both have about 2.5 million. Needless to say, this has made real estate in in Brooklyn and Queens very valuable. 

And it's a war! 

Basically, real estate prices in Brooklyn are surging while prices in Queens have lagged. The reason is simple: Brooklyn has become cool, hip, trendy. Places like Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights, and Park Slope have attracted rich residents and celebrities and this has had an effect in raising rents and home prices all across the boroughs. Even Williamsburg, that traditional working class neighborhood, has gotten expensive.

Queens is more complicated. It doesn't have any hip neighborhoods. It doesn't have gorgeous brownstones or beautiful parks like Prospect Park (Flushing Meadows park can't compete -- people just go there to go to Citi Field). While it has magnets like the airports, ball fields, and some great museums, it's not a place you go to stroll the streets and just hang. Also, unlike Brooklyn, which is nearly 100% urban, vast parts of Queens are suburban and don't have access to subway lines. (I should know -- I now live in a Queens suburb and take the LIRR, not the MTA, to work.) It's just a very different place.

But I predict that will change. Astoria and LIC are drawing more people to them. They are getting gentrified. Also, prices in Brooklyn will eventually cause the middle class and new immigrants to NYC to look elsewhere. 

This article gives some insight into the real estate battle between Brooklyn and Queens. It more or less confirms what I've indicated here. But it also shows just how ignorant some real estate writers in NYC is -- the reason the Steinway Mansion in Astoria hasn't sold is because it's in the middle of an industrial area, which the author would have realized if she had gone there. Just another example of how Queens gets short shrift. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The town, it is a'changin'

It's only April, but it feels like some important things have already changed in NYC in 2013. 

And I'm not including my own circumstances, where yours truly and family moved into a new home.

Specifically, it feels like the cultural and political axis of this town has moved a few degrees

Two months ago former Mayor Ed Koch died, and I indicated then that the city would be a different place without him. It seems like his passing was a forerunner:  a number of things -- some notable, some subtle -- have happened in the last few weeks that shows how our city is constantly evolving. 

Let's start with politics. This past week, our city's political scene was rocked when a Democratic State Senator and a Republican City Councilman were arrested for -- ready for this? -- trying to rig the NYC mayoral race.

Truly. Weird.

Apparently the State Senator, Democrat Malcolm Smith, was trying to bribe GOP party bosses in the city to let him on the Republican party ballot for the 2013 Mayor's race. The go-between Smith and these GOP guys was City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Republican. Mr Halloran was willing to help Smith get on the line in exchange for several thousand dollars in bribes.  This plan was so ridiculous that it defies description -- first, that Smith would ever get on the GOP line ahead of Joe Lohata, second, that anyone in NYC would vote for Smith for mayor.  

A couple of years ago I blogged about Mr. Halloran and what an odd duck he is. Apparently I understated the case -- he's an odd criminal duck.  

Too bad Ed Koch is dead. I would like to know his opinion about this "conspiracy" to win his old job.

It's still very early but it looks like the 2013 mayor's race is gonna be one for the history books.

Moving on, our city's cultural life is particularly fascinating right now.

First, this past week, the late great Nora Ephron's last play premiered on Broadway. Called Lucky Man, it marks the debut of legendary actor Tom Hanks playing the legendary New York reporter Mike McClary. McClary was a police reporter who uncovered corruption in the NYPD in 1990s and won himself a Pulitzer Prize in the process (he died on Christmas Day, 1998). Needless to say, he had powerful enemies but in the years since he passed, our city has come to realize that we owe him a debt of gratitude. And, of course, he owe Nora Ephron a debt of gratitude for giving us movies like When Harry Met Sally ... and for being an original New York voice. 

This play is a tribute to a great reporter by a great writer both of whom did so much to make our city a better place. Their pens our now silent forever. They left us too soon.

And, sadly, someone else is leaving us -- the amazing Elaine Stritch. The singer/actress has decided that, at the age of 88, she wants to go live with her family so she's leaving town and going back to Michigan. As she said in a TV interview recently, she gave his city a good 71 years. Mr. Strich originated one of the roles in the musical company and she's appeared in countless movies, musicals, and TV shows -- most recently on 30 Rock and in "A Little Night Music" which I saw her in 2010 and blogged about here.

Goodbye Elaine. This city won't be the same without you. 

But not everything is sadness. Not everyone is leaving NYC. In fact, something very big is coming into town.

"From 30 Rock in midtown Manhattan, it's 'The Tonight Show' with Jimmy Fallon!"

Yes, that's right -- after over 40 years, NBC's "Tonight Show" is coming back to NYC with a new host -- the current host of "Late Night" Jimmy Fallon. The show is expected to move here with Mr. Fallon as host in 2014. This is, as Ed Sullivan might have said, really big. After more than 20 years, Jay Leno is out as host and a new generation is taking over TV most legendary talk show. Most important of all, by bringing it to NYC, the "Tonight Show" is rediscovered its roots -- and once again showing that NYC is the cultural capital of America.

So the city is changing -- our politics are getting screwy, some legends are leaving us, and an old legend is coming back. 

Rapidly fadin'

And the first one now

Will later be last

For this town is a'changin'

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Douches Rush In ...

Since I'm not cool, Mr NYC has never really done the city's club scene. 

Oh, I've been to some trendy bars and lounges (usually after being invited by some of the few "beautiful" people that the wife and I know) but, otherwise, the exclusive clubs in this town exclude a wretch like me. 

Which I'm okay with. Really.

The few times that I've ever been to one of these trendy places, I'm always overwhelmed by the douche factor. The guys all wear ugly expensive clothes or $500 blue jeans with holes in them, and the women are all dressed like prostitutes. These places are always overcrowded, the music is always blasting (making conversation impossible), the drinks cost a fortune and aren't that good, and I never get the sense that anyone is really having a good time. 

Especially me.

And since these places are so hot and crowded, there's always this nauseating perfume of sweat in the air -- that should be bottled and called Scent of Douche. These places are just awful

And apparently they are getting violent.

Last year, at one of these clubs that is so exclusive that you either have to be a celebrity or come from a family of billionaires, a bunch of people got into a brawl. This was no small deal. These were very rich people punching each other out and it has now caused lawsuits to be filed and media stories to be written -- like this one from Vanity Fair. It caused the club to close down and is causing ruptures in NYC club life. 

The horror!

When I read this, I couldn't help but laugh. These clubs are just douche magnets and I'm actually not surprised that fights like these break out -- in fact, I'm surprised that they don't break out every night in NYC. Now that I'm married and have a kid, I don't go out much so it's good to know that I'll probably not be in this club -- or any other -- where people are knocking each other out. 

It only goes to show that douches rush in where daddies fear to tread.

Childhood in NYC

This past week, New York magazine had a great special section on Childhood in New York.

This feature has articles about what it was like to grow up in NYC in the past and today, and it has numerous interviews with various famous New Yorkers about what it was like to grow up here -- as well as interviews with kids who are growing up here today.

We think of NYC as many things -- an international capital of culture, media and commerce, a place where immigrants come to realize the American dream of freedom and opportunity, a place where kids from the rest of America come to "make it", and an exciting place just to have fun.

NYC is many things and it can be whatever you want it to be.

And it's also home to 8.2 million people, including several million children. 

I was one of them, and I'm currently raising one of them, so it's great to see what growing up in NYC was like for others.

For me, growing up in NYC meant so many things that it's hard to sum it up easily. But if I had to give one example about what made growing up in NYC so special, it would be this: 

When I was 10, my parents allowed me to start taking the bus to school by myself. I went to school on East 79th street. At the time, I loved to skateboard. So on most mornings, I would get off the M4 bus at 89th street, right in front of the Guggenheim museum, and skate down Fifth Avenue, right past the Metropolitan Museum, and then down to 79th street. 

These were the happiest 15 minutes of my day and, looking back on it, I realize how lucky I was and how special it was to be able to have a little fun before school -- with some of the world's greatest cultural institutions as my backdrop.

Only in NYC.

Mr NYC Lives!

Wow, I can't believe it's been almost TWO MONTHS since I last blogged -- and believe me, it's not because I haven't wanted to.

No, the reason is because I've been moving -- the wife, baby and I have packed up and moved to a house -- a real honest to goodness house! -- in northeast Queens. 

It's been, to say the least, a huge, major, enormous endeavor. Moving from a small apartment to a fairly sizable house is like taking your life, pulling it apart, throwing the pieces into the air, and them trying to catch them and put them together all at once.

Needless to say, it's exhausting -- and sadly has left little time for blogging.

But, as busy as I've been, I've been keeping a keen eye on the happenings in this town. So much has been going on, it's hard to keep up! However, I plan to start blogging about them very, very soon. Like today. Or tomorrow. Or the day after that. But soon, darlings, soon.

Don't fear -- Mr NYC is here!