Thursday, November 30, 2017

Who Will be City Council Speaker?

Now that the municipal elections are over, it's time for the newly elected and re-elected members of the City Council to choose their leader, the Speaker. 

There are currently eight people vying for the job and, for whatever reason, they're all men. After the mayor, this is the most powerful job in city government, since the Speaker decides which legislation gets voted on in the Council. 

Like a Papal Conclave in the College of Cardinals, the Speaker's election falls into the hands of a small elite club where they choose, mostly behind closed doors, which one of them gets the top gig. Let's hope they choose wisely -- our city's future depends on it. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Consolidation & Andrew Haswell Green

If you want more info about how NYC consolidated in 1898, go the Bowery Boys website and download their great podcast episode about how it happened.

In essence, it comes down to one man: the father of consolidation, the one who got the ball rolling, is someone who most New Yorkers probably have never heard of: Andrew Haswell Green. And yet, if we seek his monument, look around us.

A 19th century lawyer, Green became parks commissioner and, like Robert Moses a century later,  was also a city-planning Svengali: he created the Museum of the Metropolitan Art, designed Columbus Circle, financed the creation of the New York Public Library, and facilitated the creation of Central, Riverside, Morningside, and Fort Washington Parks. Eventually he was appointed by the New York State Legislature to design a plan for consolidation and, although he didn't over "the final product", Green's efforts created the template.

His vision for the political, physical, recreational, and cultural life of NYC is the city we live in today. 

Greater Gotham: A Discussion

Interesting discussion with author Mike Wallace on his nearly twenty-years in the making sequel to his 1998 book Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize). 

His new book, Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919, covers the first two decades after NYC consolidated into the five boroughs, struggling to find its identity as a massive, sprawling city. In this period, NYC transformed into a financial capital, survived the First World War, and saw the rise of Prohibition. 

Fascinating tidbit: why did NYC become the big, sometimes illogically-constructed city of five disparate counties? 

The reason: the harbor. In the late 19th century, NYC and the City of Brooklyn were competing over control of the harbor and this was diminishing the economic clout of the region and assisting the rise of that Midwestern city called Chicago. So as not to be overtaken as the nation's premier city, as well as its financial center, NYC and Brooklyn decided to put aside their differences and get together -- bringing Staten Island and Queens along for the ride (the Bronx was already part of NYC) which also had claims to the harbor. 

The result is the city we live in today. But, as this new book and discussion show, there were birthing pains and it took decades for NYC to realize itself as a functioning five-borough empire.

In many ways NYC is still an empire, a collection of different towns and villages and whole cities that make it like nowhere else in the world. That's what has and will forever make NYC fascinating. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Recreational marijuana is now legal in eight states. Most are out west (like Colorado, California, and Nevada) and the closest state with legal weed to NYC is Massachusetts.

But that's set to change: the newly-elected Democratic governor of New Jersey has said that he will sign a legal weed bill if the legislature passes one -- and the legislature seems poised to do it. So we may very well have legal weed right across the Hudson River within the year. 

The reasons for legal weed are clear: it's safer and less addictive than legal tobacco and alcohol, it will generate massive amounts of tax revenue which will fund the government without raising other taxes, it will vastly reduce the number of arrests that will decrease the cost and increase the efficiency of our criminal justice system, it will give jobs to weed farmers, it will put dispensaries in business, and young people and minorities will no longer have their lives ruined just because they want to toke and got busted.

Only someone with a dishonest, mean-spirited agenda could oppose legal weed. Besides, how do you outlaw a plant?

Hopefully, if and when it happens in New Jersey, the usually New York State legislature will get its act together and legalize recreational pot ASAP. I can't imagine that New York City and State politicians will want to see all that business and revenue go to New Jersey and not here. A two-thirds majority of New Yorkers want  their weed legal -- so let's go ahead and do it! 

"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"

Looking forward to seeing this: it's a new Amazon show about a female stand up comic in 1950s NYC. This is the era that produced Joan Rivers who the titular character is apparently based on. I've seen posters for it in the subway so it's sparked my curiosity. Hope it's good!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Making NYC Radio Great Again

92.3 FM, the old K-Rock, which years ago abandoned rock music to become a pop station, is now a rock station once again

Sadly it won't be a resurrected K-Rock, instead calling itself Alt 92.3 and playing "alternative" rock. Back in the day, it used to be classic rock (until 1996), then became "modern" rock and then, after Howard Stern left, it became a short-lived "hot talk" station before becoming a modern rock station once more and then, finally, a pop station. It changed its call letters to WAMP and completely abandoned it's rock'n'roll identity -- until now. 

I guess K-Rock is gone for good but at least a great frequency is rightfully returned to its place in the NYC cultural firmament. 

*In 1996, when K-Rock flipped from classic to modern rock, Howard Stern was the first DJ:

Free Melania!

If you love trashy gossip -- and there's nothing trashier and more gossip-prone than the vile man currently "serving" as POTUS -- then you must read this exhaustive profile on his wife, Melania.

It's a perfect example of how getting what you want can sometimes backfire -- horribly.

The Slovenian-born former model married her husband in 2005, thinking that she had signed up for a life of luxury and ease. She got the luxury but ease is a little hard to attain when married to a world-famous narcissist. However, when that world-famous narcissist becomes president, the ease vanishes -- and now Melania is living a life she hates with a husband she hates as an against-her-will First Lady.

It's gotta suck. She traded one gilded cage (Trump Tower) for another (The White House). But at least the former one was located in NYC and not DC and she had her privacy (apparently there's always a Secret Service agent located outside whatever room she's in. That must get stifling). 

I worked in DC one summer many years ago and have visited many times and, let me tell you, it's like living in a post office. It's a bland, boring city that revolves around its one industry. As a kid I found DC fascinating -- the nation's capital -- but three months there cured me of that fascination.

Apparently the POTUS and FLOTUS live separate lives and a divorce has been rumored. I'm quite sure, out a sense of propriety, Melanie won't file as long as Donald is president. But as soon as he loses his office (the sooner than better!) I won't be shocked if he then quickly loses her.        

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ya'll go to Times Square now! Ya' hear?

How much is NYC changing? Here's one example of a change that's coming ... or, alternatively, a'comin': the Grand Old Opry, that venerable institution of country music and favorite of the Grand Old Party, is opening its first satellite in, you guessed it, NYC. 

Specifically, Times Square.

Next week the Nashville-based music mecca will open a restaurant/music hall in the former den of satan that is geared towards, you guessed it, tourists. A place created by outsiders for outsiders.

The world of The Deuce has never seemed more distant. 

I know ... I know ... we're not supposed to say we don't like this. We New Yorkers, after all, pride ourselves on our cultural diversity, we all started out as outsiders, and a honky tonk from Nashville setting up shop here is diversity ... sorta. To say you don't want the Grand Old Opry in NYC is ... elitist ... snobby ... looking down on the "good solid folks" of the South -- ya' know, God's Country. 

And hey, that Dolly Parton is sumpin'! She wrote that song from The Bodyguard after all, sung beautiful and made famous by one of ... those people (who's now deceased). 

So let's welcome the Grand Old Opry to NYC! 

But ... really? Really? The Grand Old Opry in NYC? Why here? Why not Vegas? Why not Hollywood? Those places seem more appropriate.

As if the fact that Trump is from NYC weren't bad enough! 

If this new Opry-land succeeds here than you'll know NYC has really changed. But if it fails, perhaps our city's spirit hasn't been totally bleached.

That said, the great 1975 movie Nashville, directed by Robert Altman, has many scenes at the Grand Old Opry -- and one of the greatest opening credit sequences of all time. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Downton Abbey in NYC

Everyone's favorite British TV show went off the air almost two years ago but now you can re-live Downton Abbey in NYC.

I'm sure mega-fan P-Diddy would approve. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

The MTA: Decline and Fail

In the first chapter of his legendary biography of NYC master builder Robert Moses, Robert Caro quotes Sophocles: "One must wait until evening/To see how splendid the day has been."

Specifically, Caro wrote about how, in the evening of Moses's life and career, the  disastrous legacy of his transportation projects, housing initiatives, and various public works became clearer and clearer for all to see. It's a reminder that systemic failures take years, even decades, to become apparent and, once they do, they're almost impossible to correct.

This is especially true of the MTA.

This past summer in NYC was one of public transportation meltdown: stalled trains, signal malfunctions, derailments, and on and on. Governor Cuomo declared it an emergency ("the summer of hell!") and ordered massive improvements to the subways and trains. However, this is a Band Aid to a much larger wound. Well, not exactly a wound -- more like a starvation.

For the last twenty-five years, governors and mayors of both political parties have starved the MTA of billions of dollars in funds and much needed structural improvements. The result is the outdated, rickety system that's supposed to serve millions and millions of people every day. 

Why this starvation? Politics, naturally. These governors and mayors favored tax cuts or spending on other projects, including on opulent station makeovers that had nothing to do with improving service. It's a story of misplaced priorities, wasteful spending, and raw, short-term self-interest. 

The MTA is not of the cause of NYC's transportation woes -- it's the victim, as are all the rest of us.

You should read and listen to the authors of this exhaustive report on how the sorry state of the MTA came to be -- only twenty-five years in the making! 

Oh, and the MTA is bringing back "vintage" cars for the holidays -- 'cause, you know, that's worth spending money on! 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"... This has been one of them."

"There are eight million stories in the naked city ..."

If you ever wondered where that famous line comes from, it's from the 1948 movie The Naked City. It's about a murder and the detectives who solve it, a pretty simple story. 

It's a fascinating movie. As the narrator of the film indicates, it was shot in the streets and inside the buildings of NYC. If you want to get a sense of what day-to-day, on-the-street life was like  in the city back in 1948, this movie is a perfect guide. Not only is it a great NYC film but it's also really ahead of it's time: the story is told in a neo-realist, almost documentary style that was revolutionary at the time, and, if you ever wondered how procedurals like Law and Order and it's countless imitators came to be, this movie is the Rosetta Stone. 

Of course, today there are now 8.5 million stories in this town so it's a tad outdated. And talking about NYC stories, here's one more

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Their Stories

If you've seen (probably more likely heard the soundtrack to) the musical Hamilton, then you know the song that concludes it: "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Stories."

We all live, we'll all die, and, if we're lucky, our life stories will be told -- by our children, our families, our friends, anyone who thinks our life story is worth passing on to future generations. No, we won't all have great musicals (like Hamilton) or movies (like Goodfellas) made about us that enshrine us in cultural legend -- but, if we're lucky, someone who thinks we're worthy of being remembered will talk about us. I think about my great-grandmother, dirt-poor immigrant from Ireland who raised eight kids and managed to give them good enough lives that one of them graduated from college and now her grandchildren and great-grandchildren have achieved the American dream. Her story was worth learning for me and, in my opinion, she'll live forever (even though she died in 1959).

There are 8.5 million people in NYC and all them have great stories. We can't know all of them but these two articles, one about an artist, another about a young man killed in the recent Halloween terrorist attack, tell the stories of interesting lives. We should remember them because, in many ways, they were just like us. Their stories were told and, more importantly, will hopefully be remembered.   

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Big Town, Big Time

While I'm not the biggest fan of tabloids in general, the Daily News does have one big virtue: it is truly NYC-focused. More than that, it still practices hyper-local, on-the-ground, beat reporting, covering on what's happening on the streets as much as the halls of power. 

It understands that events, the daily grind (or the news) shapes our city and our lives.

That's why it's really cool that the Daily News has a continuing feature called Big Town, Big Time: An Amazing History of NYC. It is a comprehensive index of some of the most famous and important events in the history of NYC. It's a collection of pivots points and it goes all the way back to the year 1600 to today.

Some of what's covered: how Brooklyn went from its own city to one of the five boroughs, the ticker tape parade for Charles Lindbergh, the Hoovervilles of Central Park -- and the death of former New York Governor and US Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller in 1979. 

His death was a scandal. The official report is that he had a heart-attack while working quietly on his memoirs. The real reason? He was a dirty-old man who was shagging his very young secretary and, uh ... got overwhelmed. The story of how this titanic figure -- one of the richest men in the world, scion of a legendary family, four-term governor, vice-president, you name it -- died while "doin' the nasty" is just too perfect. It also reveals how, once upon a time, the rich and powerful could keep their scandals, it not out of the press, then at least toned down. 

Today? Not so much.  

The times are always changing. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Liz Smith RIP

Back when the world felt like a classier place (it wasn't really, but never mind) part of the reason was because of people like Liz Smith. She was the doyenne, the grand master of NYC gossip. Her brand of gossip wasn't scandalous rumor mongering, attacking or embarrassing people -- it was good old-fashioned "dish". She had the "inside scoop" or "the goods" on what was going on in this town, and she told everybody it first in her column. Before the Internet, before social media, columnists like Liz Smith were real sources of, as you might say, all the rest of the news that was fit to print.

Liz Smith came to NYC from Texas, a young woman who got on a bus with little more than a dream to her name. She could have made it anywhere but she made it here, the classic-up-from-your-bootstraps American dream, and she was the ears and eyes for NYC society for decades and decades. She knew everyone, everyone knew her, she was the pulse of what was going on. Like many a New Yorker, she was itinerant, working for the Daily News, Newsday, and the New York Post, and appearing on TV all the time. She was the brassy dame who could hold her own with any man -- and often got the better of them. 

I loved Liz Smith, what she represented, and what she meant to this town. I wrote about her several times on this blog and you can find those posts hereLiz Smith died yesterday at the age of 94. She was too young in my opinion. Doubtless she was dishing until the end. This city will be lesser place without her and her particular voice. 

Liz Smith loved NYC and NYC loved her.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Mr NYC Just Keeps on Truckin'

It's been a crazy week in NYC and elsewhere. Lots of events -- some happy (like the elections), some sad (more great artists that I admire turning out to be dirty pervs). Lots to look forward to, other things to ... well, not fear exactly but not look forward to. 

Still, we go on. Like K-Billy of Super Sounds of the 70s ... we just keep on truckin'.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Art of the Deal ... Sorta

Once upon a time, roughly 340 years ago, a business and a government got together to do a deal. The English East India Company controlled an island off the coast of Indonesia called Banda or Run -- and the Dutch government wanted it. 


Because it had nutmeg, lots and lots of nutmeg. Nutmeg, and other yummy spices, could only be found here, and they were tres valuable. So much so that the Dutch sent ships to the other side of the world to try to get control of this and other "spice islands", and the British returned the favor by sending ships to take away the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in North America.

Deadlock. Stalemate. So they played let's make a deal.

In 1677, the British gave the Dutch control of Banda (Run) island and the Dutch gave the British control of New Amsterdam, an island otherwise known as Manhattan. 

Yeah ... that happened.

These days, of course, Banda is no longer controlled by the Dutch and Manhattan is no longer controlled by the British. Still, it's amazing to think that what is now the financial and cultural capital of the world was considered less valuable than a small (albeit gorgeous) Polynesian island. Once upon a time, such a world existed. Who thought it would ever change?  

It did, as it always does. But to think, if not for nutmeg -- nutmeg! of all the friggin' things! -- if not for that particular seasoning you can find on your spice rack, Manhattan would probably have remained under Dutch control and the course of American history would have been very different. It's crazy to think about. But of such trivial things are the pivots points of history made.

Oh, that reminds me, if you've ever heard the great song "Instanbul" but They Might Be Giants,  you know the lyric:

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam

Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way

Well, now we know why they changed it: nutmeg.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Election 2017 Wrap-Up

If you want a comprehensive list of last night's NYC election results, the Daily News has a handy resource here.

The up-shot: almost all incumbents were re-elected (and the vast majority are Democrats) at all levels of government -- the one exception is a City Council race out in Queens that's probably going to go into a recount.


Well, it was a good night for the status quo. Status quo is usually a pejorative but, if the status quo is low crime and improving schools, it's hard to argue that it's bad. Of course, the status quo also includes massive income inequality and the challenge of affordability, and that needs to change.

Mayor De Blasio promises it will, as he stated in his victory speech. He also wants to tax millionaires to improve transportation but that probably won't happen. We shall see.

Here's the real loser of this election: the NYC tabloids. Once upon a time tabloids like the Post and the Daily News were powerful enough to elect and defeat mayors. In 1977, the Post endorsed Ed Koch and he credited it with his election; in 1993, the constant negative coverage of David Dinkins certainly contributed to his defeat. Newspapers used to be so ubiquitous, their power so absolute, they made politicians quake and could sway elections.

No more. 

It's a new world. The decline of newspapers and tabloids and the rise of the Internet and social media have voided their power. We can go above and around them. Every single day for the last four years the NYC tabloids (mainly the Post, the News, and the Observer) have blasted Mayor De Blasio with relentless negative coverage. They've gone after everything, calling him a communist, an idiot, corrupt; criticizing his family, his punctuality, even his eating habits; smearing him with lies and half-truths and all sorts of nasty headlines, day after day. The tabloids did EVERYTHING they could to whip up an atmosphere of crises in this city and drag down the mayor's popularity, leading to his defeat. 

They tried. They tried hard. And they failed.

As the president would say, Bigly. 

The tabloids are now officially irrelevant. 

De Blasio won a landslide in spite of the tabloids and the negative coverage. The people are smart and they ignore the loudest voices in the room. There are otherwise to get the truth out. The nonsense the tabloids spewed about the city being in crises, about rampant corruption, about all sorts of mean nasty stuff, were at odds with the reality of a city that's thriving more than ever.

The truth will out or, in this case, win. Bigly. So what comes next? We have four years to find out.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Election Night Live Blog

9:00 PM - Okay, here we go! Polls are closed and now we await the results ...

9:11 PM - Right now De Blasio has a 40+ lead but with only 2% of precincts reporting.

9:26 PM - NY1 calls election for Mayor De Blasio, first Democratic to win a second term since Ed Koch in 1981.

9:30 PM - Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Tish James both re-elected. Expect their rivalry for 2021 to begin ... now ... 

9:36 PM - City Council incumbents all ahead in their races or already declared winners. 

9:41 PM - There will be one more very important election in NYC after tonight -- for City Council Speaker. Who will it be? We'll find out in January when the newly-elected Council takes office.

9:44 PM - Manhattan DA Cy Vance re-elected (he had no opponent).

9:57 PM - Nicole Malliotakis, GOP candidate for mayor, is conceding. She talks about conitnuing to "fight" for what she believes in. Problem is, she doesn't appear to believe in anything. Unless I'm mistaken, she didn't congratulate De Blasio in her speech which is totally classless.

10:09 PM - Mayor De Blasio is being introduced by his wife at victory celebration.

10:16 PM - De Blasio giving his victory speech, saying that the people who predicted doom when he was elected four years ago were wrong.

10:28 PM - Well, that's it. The status quo rules. And in this case, that's a good thing. 

The 59th Street Bridge

Taking a pause from the political happenings of today, I thought it would be nice to simply appreciate the beauty of NYC -- specifically, the romantic allure that is the 59th Street Bridge (otherwise known as the Queensborough Bridge or the Ed Koch Queensborough Bridge. Whatevs). 

F. Scott Fitzgerald memorialized it in The Great Gatsby, Woody Allen did so again in Manhattan, and Simon & Garfunkel wrote one of their greatest songs about it. 'Enuff said. 

NYC Past/Future in Real Time

Four years ago I did a live Election Night Live Blog and followed it up with a Memo to the Mayor-Elect. If you want to revisit the moment De Blasio was elected mayor and the various expectations/beliefs/hopes/fears it resulted in, these are interesting trips down memory lane.

But we move forward. Tonight I plan/hope to do another Election Night Live Blog so "tune in"! 

NYC Poll Locator

If you're planning to vote in NYC today but don't know which poll site to go to, here's the NYC Poll Locator for your convenience. Just plug in your address and it'll tell you where to go (assuming, of  course, you're already registered to vote). 

Happy Election Day!   

Monday, November 6, 2017

NYC Marathon 2017 - Verrazano Bridge Timelapse

Vote Tomorrow

Tomorrow is election day in NYC and New Yorkers will be voting for Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, their City Council members, District Attorneys, and judges.

I'll make this simple -- please vote the straight Democratic ticket. 

This has never been more vital. When a fascist president and political party control all the levers of power at the national level, it's extremely important to fight back by asserting our power here at the local level. 

I know, I know, you're probably thinking that voting a straight party-line is brain dead. "I want to vote for the candidate, not the party," you're probably saying to yourself, "and I want vote for someone I believe in."

That's a lovely idea -- and that's what enough people said back in 2000 and voted for Ralph Nader and we wound up with eight years of President George W. Bush. Then in 2016 such people again voted for gadflies like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson and now we suffering with President Trump.

Enough. Voting is not about your feelings, it's not an act of therapy, it's not a luxury -- it's business, specifically, the business of our city, our state, our nation, and our world. And when you vote for people who can't win for selfish reasons, or if you're one of those people who thinks they're above it all and doesn't vote at all, then we wind up with bad people like Trump and others running our world. And that's bad. 

So please, please, please vote tomorrow and vote Democratic -- it's our only choice.

By the way, if you want more info about how politics works in NYC, listen to WNYC's great segments The People's Guide to Power. You're learn a lot!  

Louis Armstrong in NYC

The legendary jazz musician Louis Armstrong lived in NYC for decades and can you guess where?

Somewhere in Manhattan? Harlem, perhaps, the African-American capital of the USA and a cultural mecca? No.

Brooklyn, that forever funky borough? Nope.

Maybe he had a nice house in Riverdale, up in the Bronx? Wrong again.

Actually he lived in Corona, Queens and you can visit his house there. How cool is that -- and how un-touristy?

Louis Armstrong loved to smoke marijuana and someday we may have legal weed here in NYC. If so, I hope the Louis Armstrong house and museum will open a dispensary in tribute to the great man. 

Oh, What a Twisted Web We Weave ...

... or, at least, a twisted president we made.

By we, I mean New Yorkers. 

Ironically, it may also be New Yorkers who help un-make him (and it can't happen soon enough).

Confused? Well ...

Normally, on this blog, I like to pontificate about stuff but -- and forgive me for using this annoying social media trope -- I'll just "leave it here." Please read the two articles below and think for yourself about the craziness of the times we live here, how we got here, and how, maybe someday sooner rather than later, we might move on to a better place. 

Trump - We Made Him but New York Bloggers Might Defeat Him!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Blue Ribbon @ 25

The quintessential downtown NYC hangout, Blue Ribbon, opened twenty-years ago -- interestingly enough, on the very same night that Bill Clinton was elected president (*sigh*, good times). It's the ultimate nighttime brasserie, 

When it opened Blue Ribbon in 1992, down on Sullivan Street in Soho, it was a different, rougher city and Soho at night was not always the safest place. But Blue Ribbon planted a flag, made an investment in the neighborhood that, in every way, paid off.

Here's a great oral history of Blue Ribbon and it's a great prism to see how food and NYC, and food in NYC, have evolved over the last quarter century. 

NYC Mayor's Debate #2

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

We're New Yorkers

We've been here before. We'll be here again. It's the price we pay for living in the world's greatest city. 

I don't think this young man who came from elsewhere to commit an act of terror in NYC yesterday had any real goal in mind besides terrorizing people. 

And he did. But however many he people he killed or hurt, ultimately he failed -- as did all those who came before him and all those will inevitably come after him. 

They fail because New Yorkers are tough and strong. We've dealt and will deal with much worse.  We don't live in fear. And a moron like this won't change who we are or how we live (the only thing that will change is how he'll live, namely in prison for the rest of his life). 

We go on. We survive. We thrive. It's who we are. It's what we do. We're New Yorkers.

Think this city would be so great if we weren't?