Thursday, September 27, 2018

Senator Gillibrand on Brett Kavanaugh

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ghosts of Tammany Hall

I've blogged over the years about the once mighty Tammany Hall, the political machine that ruled NYC for over 100 years.

Ostensibly just the Manhattan Democratic Committee (located in the aforementioned "hall"), Tammany ruled the city and state of New York with nearly unbreakable power from the early/mid-19th century well unto the 20th century (Tammany was just a local party committee the same way Tony Soprano was just a "waste management consultant"). But the Great Depression and reform politicians killed it, and the power of the political machine waned. 

But not completely.

Today, no one machine rules the city or state. But local machines, local county committees in highly Democratic or Republican counties, still have enormous power in who gets elected to city and  county councils as well as the state legislature. The machines still rack up the money, endorsements, and turn-out operations behind preferred candidates -- and usually win. They operate quietly, behind the scenes, and their power is enormous -- they decide who the voters get to vote for, and all of us live under the policy decisions those machine-backed candidates/elected officials make. People with that kind of power are the godfathers, the ghosts in the machine of our  city and our lives.

For example, Marcos Crespo. Who's he? He's a State Assemblyman from the Bronx and heads the Bronx Democratic Committee. His power over the borough and the city is huge -- and most of us don't know who he is. 

But we may be seeing the twilight of the machine. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez defeated the machine boss of Queens in the Democratic primary in June. The IDC State Sentors overwhelming lost their primaries in NYC to non-machine candidates. And now a reform city councilman is running for District Attorney. The machines can't stop these candidates or stop the voters from voting for non-machine backed candidates.

More and more, the political machine is becoming a quaint relic of another time and another NYC.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"Around the Town in 26 Hours and 36 Minutes"

In 1974 a very brave Daily News reporter took a marathon ride across the NYC subway system -- and wrote about the entire journey.

Reprinted here for the first time anywhere, go back in time and take the trip of a lifetime around a very different NYC.

New York Sunday News March 31, 1974 

The Lefferts Blvd. Station at four in the morning could be the loneliest place in New York. Or maybe just the coldest. Wind blows across the elevated tracks. I look out the train – suspended here – waiting for the return runs to Manhattan. Outside the night is dark except for some metal lamps on the deserted platform. Bare light bulbs form little circles of heat in the cold air. I am absolutely alone. Reflected in the train windows are its baby-blue walls splashed magenta and orange with graffiti. Beyond them I can see the black tops of trees, the low buildings of Queens stretching west toward Brooklyn. Far off, a yellow glow indicates Manhattan. Shivering, I cross to the open door and step out onto the platform. It is very still. A quarter moon hangs over Ozone Park, where all sensible people are asleep.

It might be warmer below near the token booth. Perhaps there is even a candy machine. But if the train should suddenly pull away…? No, I decide. Even if there is a machine, it won’t be working. There are some 6,600 vending machines in the New York Subway System. I know of four that work. The Interborough News Co. owes me eighty-five cents. Dear Sirs … I begin composing a letter in my head – then stop. If I give the locations of all the stations where I lost coins yesterday, they’ll think I’m mad. Some of those stations are 50 miles apart!

It seems to me that I have been here an eternity. I look at my watch: 20 minutes. This wait could ruin my chance at the world record. It stands at 21 hours and 8 minutes.

The first subway riding record – traveling the entire system of routes for a single fare – was set October 27, 1904: IRT Opening Day. The subway, an historic 9.1 miles, extended from City Hall to Grand Central, turning west across 42nd Street to Times Square, and then up Broadway to 145th St. After an official opening trip by city dignitaries – with Mayor McClellan holding a silver controller – followed by several hours of invitational rides, the subway was opened to the public at 7 p.m. 111,881 passengers paid a nickel each to ride that day. Scheduled time for an express was 26 minutes; the local took 46. Although those early riders were conscious of making history, it is doubtful that they had any thoughts of setting track records. It was just too simple.

The new subway generated appendages almost yearly. It reached Brooklyn via tunnel in 1908. The success of the IRT encouraged more construction. The Brooklyn Rapid Transit (after 1923, the BMT) began operations in August 1913, and the city-operated IND was opened Sept. 10, 1932. Under the dual contracts by which the city had financed construction of the privately operated IRT and BMT, it had also retained the right to purchase them. In 1940 both were acquired for $326,248,000. The three lines were unified under city control on June 12 of that year.

Two days before unification, Herman Rinke, a curious and still indefatigable electric railroad enthusiast, decided to tour the existing system for a single five-cent fare. He had no thought of setting a record. With unification, the IRT-operated 9th Ave. El was scheduled for demolition. His trip was a 25-hour sentimental gesture. It turned out to be the first recorded try. Since that day, 66 people have ridden the entire system in 24 recorded trips. These records are kept in an unofficial file at the TA Public Relations Dept. No one knows how may kids have done it just for fun. The 1961 subway map cited the example of a Flushing youth who had ridden all the routes in 25 hours and 36 minutes for a single token. The TA’s aim may have been to point out the scope or convenience of the subway, but that record – set Jan. 25, 1957, by Jerome Moses, 16 – instead seemed to invite competition. During the 1960s, subway derbies became a fad with urban students; 11 of them were completed during the peak years of 1966 and 1967. On April Fools Day of 1966, the M.I.T. Rapid Transit Club began a highly publicized ride. They had used a computer to route their attempt and informed the newspapers. On April 2, they were feeling foolish by 1 hour and 1 minute. And Geoffrey Arnold, who had held the 24 hour, 56 minute record since 1963 when he was 17, remarked “Pacific St. was a ridiculous place to start.” That June, nine boy scouts from Troop 290 in Queens further shamed the computer by logging 23 hours and 18 minutes. And on Aug. 3, 1967, 16-year-old James Law, with six buddies, rode from 168th St., Jamaica to Pelham Bay Park in 22 hours 11½ minutes; a time cited in the current Guinness Book of World Records.

When the Bronx Third Ave. El was closed in August 1973, subway route mileage was diminished 5.5 miles. On Oct. 8, Mayer Wiesen, 35, and Charles Emerson set a “modern record,” riding over 230.8 route miles, changing trains many times, and passing through the 462 operating stations, in 21 hours and 8 minutes. A record which looks as if it will stand unless I get out of the Lefferts Blvd. Station.

At 8 yesterday morning, I am just starting out, entering the 168th St. terminus of the Jamaica spur, an old elevated line taken over and extended by the BMT. The 1893 span between Alabama Ave. and Cypress Hills may be the oldest el track still in continuous use. The train I board is one of the oldest also: rolling stock built in the mid- 1930s. Sixty-watt bulbs light the cars. Hanging down from the ceiling are fans with black blades. I make my way to the front car, intending to ride looking out the window next to the motorman’s cab, but a handsome black kid, about 13, has got there first. He stands, hands in his pockets, nose to the glass, alert, ready to “drive the train.” At 8:03 we head toward Manhattan – looking down long streets of old houses, over expressways clogged with morning traffic, rattling past Cypress Hills Cemetery where miles of tombstones cast small, neat shadows in the early light. At Broadway-Myrtle, I change to the M train, yoyo-ing up and back to cover the Myrtle Line – past houses whose third-story windows, with pulled blinds, are often no more than six feet from the train.

9:15. Manhattan comes into view from the Williamsburg Bridge. The huge building blocks that pile its shore jut powerfully at the sky. Below, the East River is gray. It is a postcard approach. The train “zooms-in” like a 1940s movie – so familiar that I almost expect to see titles flash across. No matter. The Manhattan skyline still makes me gasp.

10:00. I am changing trains in Brooklyn when I see the kid from the Jamaica el again. We grin in recognition. “Hey,” I shout, “Are you doing the system too?” As the train doors shut, I see him nod. He swings off to Coney Island, while I race up in search of the Astoria train. On the DeKalb overpass I spot a snack bar and buy a Coke for breakfast. Aside from some coins in my jeans, a notebook and map, I have decided not to carry anything – sort of an urban Camp Fire Girl.

11:12 – En route to Flushing on a blue World’s Fair train. To my left Shea Stadium passes; while off to the right lies Flushing Meadow. The ribbed Unisphere and skeletal towers of the ’64 Fair rear up out of the flat landscape – fossilized like dinosaurs.

12:05. Returning to Manhattan, I change at Jackson Heights for the newer IND. On the underpass is a Nedicks – coffee and a hot dog – breakfast is shaping up. I am wiping mustard off my fingers when I reach the underground Roosevelt Ave. platform. On May 2, 1970, this was the site of the first subway fatality due to collision or derailment, in 42 years; two GG trains collided during evening rush hour, killing two passengers and injuring 71.

1:55. The F train to Coney Island is one of the new, longer R-44 models: pristine and elegant, with seats of muted orange and yellow. Panels of fake wood are set into its walls and fluorescent lights line the ceiling. Just before the doors close, a chime sounds – rather like the Avon doorbell. The advertising cards, color transparencies lit from behind, glow. These are the poshest cars to travel the subways since No. 3344, “The Mineola,” rolled through in 1904. No. 3344 was the private coach of financier and IRT organizer August Belmont. His car had real wood, mahogany, with velvet-draped picture windows so that guests could enjoy the flashing signals while white-coated stewards broiled steaks in the galley and served iced champagne. Above them, Empire ceilings arched, pale green and gilt; the washroom windows were stained glass. If one cares to make a comparison, the Mineola can be found in the Branford Trolley Museum at East Haven, Connecticut.

I am about to succumb to the quiet style of these long, air-conditioned cars, when I notice that the doors between them are kept locked. Existing subway tunnels were built for 60-foot cars, more the size, if not the d├ęcor, of the Mineola. These new, 75-foot units do not mesh properly on curves; the space between cars becomes dangerous. Motormen, conductors, and presumably transit police, have keys, but New Yorkers are naturally leery. Many feel that being trapped in one car could become a risky situation.

The IND Coney Island line becomes elevated for a brief span entering Brooklyn; the highest point in the system, 87.5 feet above street level, is at the Smith and Ninth St. Station. Here the view is open in all directions: back toward postcard Manhattan, out into the harbor. Little automobiles crawl over the arched expressway ahead; below, the Gowanus Canal and Red Hook. Too soon, we are underground.

At Church St. the line ramps upward again, joining the 1919 BMT el track at Ditmas Ave., where it emerges and begins the long approach to the ocean. Coney Island, cold and closed, decorates our passage. Orange and green spokes of the Wonder Wheel circle blue sky; flags and bits of banner blow. A deserted but honky tonk air prevails. We pass the roller coaster, webbed and delicate in the afternoon light. The air is bracing.

2:54. The Brighton Line heads back to Manhattan, for a while paralleling the sea. Short views down streets end in ocean. The pastel acres of Brighton Beach Baths stretch, patterned, toward the sand. We stop at Sheepshead Bay before heading northwest, traveling over the old ground level tracks of the 1890s Brighton Railroad, widened in 1907 to cut through the tree-hung backyards of Victorian mansions facing Buckingham Road.

3:15. At the Prospect Park Station hundreds of high school kids mill, going home. Cops range the platform and one accompanies us onto the Franklin Shuttle. The kids are wonderfully natty; boys and girls stride aboard wearing platform shoes that defy balance, pants with big bells, hats, lots of jewelry, elaborate hair-dos. While I am aware that teenagers in groups are responsible for a fair amount of subway crime, I cannot imagine this stylish group doing anything to muss their clothes. Subway history is full of accounts of rampage and vandalism. Two days after the 1904 opening, eight youths armed with buckshot blowers boarded the new subway at 145th St. and proceeded to shoot out the electric lights while doing gymnastic stunts on the straps. Two were arrested at 96th St., the rest escaped. But this was not the first subway crime. That occurred opening night. During the crowded ride north from Brooklyn Bridge Station, someone lifted the $500 diamond stickpin that had been holding down the tie of Harry Barret of W. 46th St. When he reached Grand Central, his necktie was flapping.

3:50. The return shuttle is almost empty. As it approaches Prospect Park again, we pass near Empire Blvd. In November of 1918 it was still called Malbone St. The name was changed after the Brighton Beach Special, jammed with evening rush hour passengers, failed to make a curve at the tunnel there. Five wooden cars, taken over from the old Brooklyn Union Railroad, were dashed to bits, and passengers thrown rapidly along the tunnel walls, literally had their faces rubbed away. Ninety-seven lost their lives, 150 were injured, and for days the accident drove World War I right off the front pages, When motorman Edward A. Luciano gave himself up, he was found to have had only two hours of instruction before being given the controller at Park Row in Manhattan. Earlier that morning – before motormen walked out in a dispute over unionization – Luciano had been a yard switchman. His promotion was sudden – this was his first run. He was acquitted, and the union made its point.

5:02. I am picking up a few stray miles under Rockefeller Center when evening rush hour begins. While I know the total 3.8 million daily subway riders cannot all be taking the D train tonight – it feels as if they are. Jammed shoulder to shoulder, passengers have nowhere to look but up. Above our heads, “Miss Subways” stares out of her poster, giving us a strained smile, “hoping to do some modeling.” Since 1941, when the contest began, over 200 New York working girls have become “Miss Subways.” In the early years, a new face showed up every month. Currently, two winners, out of six finalists, are chosen every eight months by passenger vote. Miss Subways receives a $40.00 charm bracelet dangling silver tokens, and her picture decorates the 6,700 subway cards for a three-month period. I ride standing all the way to 205th St., Bronx. Sheer endurance does not win a girl the title.

6:10. At 168th St. and Broadway, I change trains again, and descend into the IRT on a hot automated elevator to ride the Seventh Ave. local to Van Cortlandt Park. The ride is through the deepest section of track in the whole system: 180 feet below street level at the 191st St. and St. Nicholas Ave. station.             

7:00. Moving under Harlem on the No. 3, a rather splashy train with big graffiti – mustard yellow and pink predominate. Despite $10 million spent to remove graffiti and 1,562 arrests in 1972, the TA is losing the “spray can war.” I read off the names: Supreme King 219, Snake II, Lopez 138, and amuse myself trying to think up my own subway logo – in case graffiti should become legal. Outside the stations pass, dingy, written all over. Two Black Muslims move in and out of the strap-hangers selling Mohammed Speaks. On this line, I am a “token white” – the pun lifts my spirits.

8:02. TA police range the E. 180th St., Bronx platform where the No. 2 pauses. One boards, walkie-talkie mumbling at his waist. He will be riding until 4 a.m. Since May of 1965, a uniformed transit patrolman has been assigned to every train during these hours.

10:30. I stand in the first car, face pressed against the glass, speeding through a dark, underground world, the lighted coach behind me forgotten, as the black tunnel comes on. Tracks in perspective lines rush, disappearing under my feet, crossing, converging ahead. Signal lights change: yellow – “proceed with reduced speed,” green over yellow – “on diverging track.” Express lines mount, as local tracks sink in the dark. In the distance, tiny orange lights flicker above the tracks, then disappear where track-men carrying lanterns dive into the sidings. Now the square, metal-pillared cut rounds into a tube; we approach the old, 1908, Battery-Joralemon tunnel. Green lights signal us through. I make myself useful peering intently at the dark curved walls, checking for leaks.

1:12. The Wilson Ave. station on the Canarsie line is a narrow, double-decked curiosity: one track occupies each level – the eastbound track emerges, briefly elevated, traveling above the underground westbound span. We pass the deserted platform in half light. It faces – a single track away – the Cemetery of the Evergreens. No one in his right mind would get off at Wilson Ave. at 1:12 in the morning. No one did.

2:30. The A train heads out over the waters of Jamaica Bay, leaving behind the huge glow of JFK that arc-lights the eastern sky. I have made the Rockaway Round Robin on schedule and can relax. Only between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. is it possible to cover the entire Rockaway peninsula on a single train. This 19th century summer beach resort was linked to the L.I.R.R. until 1956, when service was transferred to the IND. The train moves further out across the vast, dark bay. Only feet below on either side, water laps the narrow trestle. Far out, a crescent of lights veers gently inward on the long railroad stem. Beyond that brilliant curve, the ocean pounds. For miles around the night is black and cold, the water deep. A strange place for a New York subway train.

4:00. And farewell to Lefferts Blvd.

5:30. Waits are long now. The work trains move slowly underground through nearly empty stations, picking up trash and cleaning out tunnels. The New York bars have closed, and some standees on the Hoyt St. platform bear witness to this fact. A heavy black woman joins me; she walks as if her feet hurt, and I suspect she has just got off work. The trains always take a while at this hour, she tells me. We stand together on the platform, unacknowledged sisters, re-enforcing each other. In 1907, the Hudson Tubes were still running Women Only Cars with guards aboard to insure protection. I guess we have come a long way.

At 6:26 the sun rises over Greenwood Cemetery where I am passing, for the second time, over an elderly bit of track known as the Culver Shuttle; 1.1 miles still bear tribute to Andrew Culver, who built a steam railroad to Coney Island that passed over this site in the 1880s.

7:00 – Coney Island for the second time in two days! Crossing the Stillwell Terminal overpass, I go by the employees cafeteria and smell breakfast. On the Sea Beach Line, morning rush hour is just beginning. This is the third rush hour I have ridden through without leaving the subway. The poignancy of that situation might be enough to make one who has dined off Zagnut bars, peanuts, and Lucy Ellen orange slices for two days, get a cramp. I try not to think of hot coffee.

8:10. Changing trains at Union Square I am especially careful, warned by history. The first subway passenger accident occurred here Opening Day, 1904. A Miss Sadie Lawson, 26, of Jersey City, who had been riding north and south for several hours, fell getting off the southbound train and broke her hip. I grab a metal strap and hang on tightly all the way to 42nd St. 

8:25. Times Square. The 42nd St. shuttle contains 2,700 feet of original 1904 IRT track, now isolated. In 1928, the second worst accident in New York subway history happened just south of here on the Seventh Ave. line. A defective switch broke as the ninth car of a 10-car theater rush-hour train was passing over it. The rear wheels switched to a diverging track and the ninth car, running suddenly at right angles to the others, was sheared in two by the steel pillars between tracks. This mechanical “crack the whip” killed 18 passengers and injured 100.

9:30. The Lexington Ave. Express emerges into bright sunlight just before the old Yankee Stadium. Once, under a glaring blue sky, its lacy wood trim gleamed white like decorative icing – a great hollow cake with a short right field. Now, under the ungentle touch of the renovators, the place is growing unrecognizable. At the Woodlawn terminus, the leaves have lost their Fall colors, but on the golf course below, lucky men tee off across rolling fairways. It is a splendid day for riding elevated trains.

10:39. Pelham Bay Park. I have made the trip – on 67 different trains – in only 26 hours and 36 minutes. 26 hours and 36 minutes! The thought that I may be the first woman to complete the ride does not console me at all. But the sun is shining. And I have my logo: Ms. Subways 114.
You can read this essay and other great ones just like it in How the Camp Fire Girls Won World War II by Rebecca Morris. 

Also, read more 1970s subways coverage from the Village Voice here

Friday, September 21, 2018

Local Reporting in Winter

Newspapers are under attack -- and not just from the orange buffoon in the White House.

They're under attack from major forces, both technological and economic, from the Internet wiping out paid-for print publications and destroying classified ad revenue, to wealthy owners buying up newspapers and either turning them into vanity vehicles or shuttering them completely. Never before have newspapers been in such perilous decline.

That said, online news outlets are stepping into the breach, and some big name legacy papers  (The New York Times, The Washington Post, for example) have done a good job monetizing and re-inventing themselves online.

But what's really being lost is super-local coverage, and high-quality "guerrilla" or "underground" journalism -- the kinds that the Village Voice produced. This kind of in-depth, on-the-ground, in-the-streets, down-the-back-alley reporting is vanishing -- and online coverage isn't replacing it.

NYC has always had great super local papers in every borough but, even though they still exist and have strong web presences, they have virtually no staff and money to do in-depth reporting. As this lengthy article points out, Brooklyn is a borough of 2.5 million people, bigger than most American cities, and the papers and news outlets that exist there have minute staffs and budgets, unable to cover the plethora of stories and controversies that occur in Brooklyn every day.

Reporting is not the same as writing, it's hard work -- interviewing people, looking over documents, making calls, piecing details together, etc. As much as I love blogging and aggregating and commentary, these things can't replace the importance and power -- not to mention  the democratic necessity -- of shoe-leather reporting. 

One such reporter was a guy named John Wilcock who was the ultimate New York "underground" journalist who did brilliant trailblazing work back in the 1960s and 1970s (he recently died at the age of 91. He was a journeyman reporter, a shoe-leather pioneer, and we'll probably never the likes of him or the papers he wrote for ever again.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Arthur Mitchell, RIP

As someone who once moonlighted in the world of professional ballet, trust me, it's a brutal business. You have to be great in order to get into any ballet company, let alone the New York City Ballet -- simply being "good" or even "very good" doesn't cut it. Greatness is a minimal job requirement.

And imagine being a black ballet dancer in what is one of the most lily white of artistic endeavours? And imagine entering that world as a black man more than sixty years ago?

Arthur Mitchell did it. 

A kid from Harlem born in 1934, Arthur's talent for dance brought him downtown to the High School for the Performing Arts and eventually the School of American Ballet -- and then, finally, to the New York City Ballet in 1958. He rose to become a principal dancer in 1962 -- meaning his talent was great on top of great. At least that's what his boss, the legendary George Balanchine, thought. 

Later in life, Arthur Mitchell founded the Dance Theater of Harlem and was a cultural ambassador. Not only was he a great dancer but he was also an entreprenaur and a teacher. He died yesterday at the age of 84. 

Mitchel was a legend, a trailblazer, a barrier breaker, often called the "Jackie Robinson of ballet". He made his profession and city a better place. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Florence Hits the NYC Subway

By the way, if you want to see a great NYC set mostly in the subway, check out the original 1974 movie The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (ignore the remake). 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Au Revoir Henri Bendel

In his famous love song "You're the Top", Cole Porter famously has a man and woman sing compliments to each other by comparing themselves to high-end consumer items or things of great value or various l'objects d'amour. You know the song, it goes,

You're the top! You're the colliseum!
You're the top!  You're the Louvre museum
You're a melody from a symphony by Straus ...

and then,

You're a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeare sonnet,
You're Mickey Mouse!

"Bendel bonnets" refer to fancy hats made by Henri Bedel, the upscale Fifth Avenue department store. To call Henri Bendel a NYC institution is an understatement -- it's over 120 years old, it was the first American retailer for Coco Chanel, Andy Warhol was an in-house illustrator, it invented the idea of a "store-within-a-store" where merchandisers could set up shop, and it also was the first department store to develop it own fragrances and fashion shows.

Henri Bendel basically invented the modern day department store as we know it, and the history of American fashion and retailing would be very different without it.

And now it's gone.

Henri Bendel, both the flaship store on Fifth Avenue and all its outlets, are closing up and going out of business. A vital piece of New York and American history, an amazing legacy, is no more. Even the luxurious world of Fifth Avenue fashion isn't safe from the scourge of corporate shenanigans.

This is a loss for our city that can never be replaced.

Oh, but don't worry, the Playboy Club is back because, you know, in this day and age, that's what we really need! Maybe Henri Bendel will resurrect itself one day (after all, it remains valuable brand name) but it'll never be the same. You can't recreate something like that ever again. 

Interesting note: Henri Bendel, the man who founded the store back in 1895, wasn't French. He was from Louisiana and came here as a young man. And depite being a Fifth Avenue institution, the first Henri Bendel store had a more funky origin -- it opened in Greenwich Village. Amazing to think, Henri Bendel is actually older than Greater NYC! 

Au revoir Henri Bendel. You served this city well. 

"Mrs Maisel" Rocks the Emmys!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Central Park: What Might Have Been (And Thankfully Wasn't)

Here's what Central Park looks like:

Here's what Central Park might have looked like:

Read all about why it didn't here. Can you imagine?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Primary Wrap-Up: History in the Making

Yesterday was primary day in New York for all state-level offices -- and it was historic.

First, the boring, non-historic part: Andrew Cuomo easily won the Democratic nomination for governor, as did his Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul. 

Second (and now the history-making part starts), NYC Public Advocate Tish James won the Democratic nomination for Attorney General -- which makes her the first black woman to win a state-wide primary -- and probably the first black Attorney General in NYS history.

Third, the "Independent Democrats"(or IDC) who caucused with, and gave control, to the State Senate Republicans, suffered huge losses -- of their eight members, six lost. This includes several young women candidates who will make the State Senate -- and thus, the State of New York -- operate much differently starting next year.

Next year, the power in New York State will be more female and less white -- and a lot younger.

Yesterday, a new generation of a new New York came one step closer to achieving lasting change.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Lady in Furs: "You don't need a million to look like a million"

Loved reading this obituary of a woman named Barbara Gould who was a fashion model back in the 1960s and 70s before starting a successful real estate career.

What's notable about her only-in-NYC life is that she starred in the longest running TV commercial in NYC history -- it ran for 14 years.

Here's Barbara's obit and here's the commercial. 

It's interesting the things we do in your life -- and what we get remembered for.

Primary Day

Today is primary date for all New York State elected offices. I'm not making an endorsements but I encourage all party-registered people to vote!

If you wan't more information about voting, here's the Board of Elections website.

New York By the Numbers - 10 Years Later

Ten years ago -- in fact, almost exactly ten years ago, back in September, 2008 -- I blogged about the various "metrics" of life in NYC. They were good! The city was getting wealthier, healthier, and safer. People felt good about the direction of the city, things were looking up -- and this was particularly notable because, at that time, the national economy was crashing and the Great Recession starting. NYC remained, then as now, a source of optimism. 

Now the recession is over and a decade has past. So where is NYC today?

Ten years later, these metrics have only gotten better

Over 4 million New Yorkers have jobs and there are half a million more jobs available.

The murder rate was roughly 400-something in 2008 (already an historic low); now it's 200-something, a super-historic low.

There were 3.3 housing units available in 2008 -- now there are 3.5. Not a huge increase but it's going in the right direction.

Life in NYC is good -- and it's longer!

A lot longer. The truly eye-popping, amazing statistic is that the average life expectancy for New Yorkers has increased by nearly a DECADE in the last 25 years. It used to be around 72.4 years -- now it's 81.1 (the available data is from 1990 to 2015). In the last decade alone, life expectancy has increased by 1.5 years. 

That's incredible!

Can you imagine? New Yorkers can expect to live nearly an entire decade longer than they used to. In the last decade we've added more than a year to our lives! 

It's easy, particularly these days, to wallow in bad news. It's easy to see everything -- and everyone -- that makes the world awful. But then you get information like this and you realize that it's truly a great time to be alive, that things are getting better even if it doesn't seem like it. 

In NYC, anything is possible -- even an extra decade of life. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

NYC: Capital of Shamelessness

One of the things that people both love and loathe about NYC is that we are a city of shameless people. We say what we think, do what we want, and to tell with everybody else. And even when we get in trouble, we go right back out and do it all over again.

People call NYC the capital of the world -- it's really the capital of shamelessness.

Donald Trump is easily the most shameless president we've ever had and, yes, he's from NYC (unfortunately). But his brand of shameless politics -- mean, aggressive, personal -- isn't anything new to New Yorkers. We produced, long before him, shameless politicians like Koch, Giuliani, D'Amato, and others. They were belligerent, loud, offensive -- and every popular until they were weren't. Belligerence is both the good and bad of NYC politics, as this article suggests.

But what if your shamelessness gets you into trouble -- and sends you to jail? Do you think we in NYC get "reformed" or "corrected" by being laid so low? No! Take, for example, this "madam" who ran an escort ring, went to jail for it, got out, do it all over again, went to jail again -- and has no regrets. That's a degrees of shamelessness even I can't comprehend.

Shamelessness isn't relegated simply to NYC but this town revels in it. And if you think of yourself as a real New Yorker, either your shameless or have reconciled yourself to live amongst the shameless. Either way, it's part of who we are. 

Henry Street Settlement @ 125

People who do bad make lots of noise. Just look at the news.

People who do good usually do it quietly. Just look on the Lower East Side. 

For 125 years the Henry Street Settlement has been going great things.

Founded by a New Yorker named Lillian Wald in 1893, the Henry Street Settlement is a living legacy of its founder and time. Before the New Deal, before the government thought that it had the moral obligation to take care of the less fortunate (at least in some capacity), settlement houses sprang up in the late 19th to serve the needs of their neighborhoods and communities. They were social service agencies before they ever existed. They helped the poor, immigrants, and others to get jobs, get medical care, get care for their children or elderly parents, resolve disputes with their landlords, learn to read and write English, help people negotiate life in this big and confusing city. They were a lifeline to those who desperately needed help and had nowhere else to turn.

Much has changed in the world of social services and philanthropy in the last century, but the Henry Street Settlement endures. It continue serving the Lower East Side and helping its citizens improve their lives (although there are probably less poor people there than back in the day). 

In a city where things change every day, where old institutions vanish all the time, it's great to know that the Henry Street Settlement has stuck around -- and hopefully will for another 125 years. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Monday, September 10, 2018

Bartending Blues

I recently read this interesting profile of Dale DeGroff, considered by toute le monde to be the best living bartender in NYC. He's a legend in the field, a man who can make any cocktail sing, and he's more than just a great mixologist -- he's a beverage innovator, a man who'll take a variety of ingredients and invent a brilliant drink on the fly.

And it got me depressed.

Years ago I took a bartending class -- actually, the bartending class at Columbia University. It was, as you might imagine, a lot of fun, learning how to mix a variety of drinks, how to stock a basic bar, how to shake and stir properly, how to interact with customers. It was great, I loved it ...

... and then I never worked as a bartender. I actually had a good job (still do) and a busy life and a bartending gig just didn't fit in. Besides, I had no idea how I'd get one in the first place!

Still, I adore the mystique of the bartender, the creator of beverage bliss, the temporary friend who makes drinks and conversation, who becomes the recipient of secrets and stories, who sees people at their worst or  their most honest, who becomes, at least for a little while, a port in the storm of life, a helper in a world of hurters (I think I just invented a word). For some reason, I never made this work in my life and it bums me out. 

That's why I envy guys like Dale DeGroff -- they had the courage to go into a tough, not necessarily lucrative field, like bartending and make a big career out of it.

I have, on my bucket list, the goal to one day work as a bartender. And there's lots of bars in this town! So one day, here in the wilds of NYC, you may get a drink served to you by yours truly. I hope it'll be tasty ...

UPDATE: Did you know that, among his many other sins, Donald Trump destroyed the legendary tiki bar Trader Vics and basically destroyed tiki bar culture in NYC? Many of his supporters like to brandish tiki torches when they chant about how much they hate black and Jews. That's some kinf of messed up Jungian synchronicity right there! 

Miss New York is Miss America!

And Miss Michigan is pretty awesome too!

Friday, September 7, 2018

SHSAT Stories

As a parent, I obviously want my kids to get the best education possible. 

In NYC, we have lots of great schools but, when it comes to the public school system, it's a very mixed bag.

Some schools are amazing, better than any private ones, while others are little more than participants in the "school-to-prison-pipeline". Race, class, politics, funding formulas, geography, and so many other factors play into this horribly inequitable, separate but unequal, modern day apartheid educational system we have both in NYC and around the country.

Educational inequality and the myriad controversies of how to end it is one of the great issues of our time.

Because of this system, one escape hatch for families who live in bad school districts is for their kids to take the SHSAT, the entrance exam to the city's prestigious magnet schools like Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, and others. This one test can determine if a kid gets into one of these schools, gets a great education, and is able to get into college while others, who don't, are stuck at lousy schools with environments not conducive to learning and end up with dead-end lives.

These stories from the New York Times chronicle the lives of kids who did (and in some cases) did not get into these schools after they took the SHSAT. All agree, however, that this test is life-changing, and that it's a LOT of pressure to put on a young person. 

Now that Mayor DeBlasio and others want to change the requirements for getting into these schools, which would phase out the SHSAT, debate is ranging between those people who feel their families benefit from the test and those that don't. Obviously, race and culture are clashing and, however it ends, it will have big repercussions on the future of our city. 

"The Deuce" Season 2 Starts 9/9!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Trash Tawkin'

Lifelong New Yorker though I may be, I was taught the golden rule as a child that, if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. At least not in public, and not to people that you don't know. Hold your tongue. Silence is golden -- and deafening. Let people hang themselves with their own words, and don't hang yourself. And on and on and on. 

Talk less, smile more.

Well, in the world of 2018, that golden rule is, as we might say in NYC, kaput.

And here some very dramatic, NYC-related examples:

Take Harry Siegel, the big-time city reporter, who trash talks the current owner of the Village Voice (you know, the guy who just destroyed it). Siegel talks about his encounters with this guy, about how's he's a complete liar. Trash talking, in-the-fray, at its finest.

Then there's the lady who might have been First Lady: Judith Giuliani who is currently in a nasty divorce battle with the ex-mayor. She talks about how he's changed, how he's become a worst man (not that he was ever that good to begin with). The thing about this particular trash talk is that it's less exciting gossip and more like depressing venting. It's sad -- sad trash.

And then there's the man we might call Deep Throat 2 or Deep Wrote -- the anonymous Trump White House official who trash talks the very man he works for in a recently published op-ed. It's amazing, mind-boggling stuff, and it makes you wonder what this country has come to. It's sickening, scary, and fascinating all at once.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of trash talking (perhaps I'm a victim of my breeding) because to me it seems like a lot of wasted energy. Ultimately, what does it achieve unless something tangible comes from it?

But in these divided, partisan, social-media times, trash talking is the only industry in this country that's thriving. 

P.S. Another word for trash talking is "jive talking" just like the Bee Gees told us back in 1977!

Commuter's Lament

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The North & NYC

If you love Game of Thrones like me, then "The North" means something to you. 

The North is the most remote part of Westeros, the seventh kingdom that's far away from the six others in both landscape and spirit. It's a vast place where honor and family mean more than power and conquest. The North is pure, honest, simple. 

And cold! Really friggin' cold! 

It's also a little bit scary -- north of The North is the land of the Night's Watch, wildlings, and white walkers -- dark forces that secretly gather in strength to lay waste to those greedy, thoughtless hedonists below. The power of the North comes from the power of its secrets, its size, and its remoteness.  As one character says, no one will ever send an army into the wastelands of The North only to get swallowed alive.

Back in the real world, the north is similarly "scary" (where do you think the concept of The North in GOT came from?). Places like Alaska, Canada, Siberia, Scotland, Iceland, Greenland, and, obviously, the North Pole, seem, for the majority of people in Earth, like remote, very cold, somewhat scary, largely barren places. The north is the land of icebergs, Eskimos, igloos, hockey, and Sarah Palin (See? Scary!). The north is ... out there ... somewhere ... beyond ... 

Who would go there? Who would want to? What's even there to begin with? 

Most people don't know, don't want to find out, will never go -- and thus the power and mystery of The North endures. It's the land above, looking down at us, quietly judging those below. That's what gives The North in Game of Thrones and on planet Earth its enduring power -- it can never be fully known or understood. 

Here in NYC we have our north -- of sorts. Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood, and the Bronx are, for most New Yorkers -- up there, out of sight and out of mind, places most New Yorkers won't visit unless for specific reasons. I grew up in northern Manhattan, and many people I knew from other parts of town treated me like wild man invader from a scary land.

Of course, more recently, one similar invader named Lin-Manuel Miranda came down from his native Washington Heights to produce a show about another northern Manhattan resident -- Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton and Miranda (and yours truly) are northern New Yorkers, two of whom revolutioned their respective professions (American finance and theater) and one who ... created this blog. 

But, getting back to the subject, there are interesting things happening in northern NYC: first, look at these amazing, delightful pictures of life in Washington Heights. Then, read about a brand new park in the Bronx, in Hunters Point of all places. There is such life, so many wonderful things about the northern part of this city that most New Yorkers probably don't know about.

So go north fellow New Yorkers, and discover a land you probably never appreciated before!

P.S. Here is some great, "north" content to enjoy:

City Charter 2018

This November, while Americans will be going to the polls to -- hopefully! -- engineer a "blue wave", here in NYC something quiet by very important will also be on the ballot: we will voting on whether or not to revise the city charter. 

There will be three amendments to be voted on: reducing campaign contribution limits to candidates for city office, creation of a new "civic engagement" commission, and term limits to community boards.

I plan to vote "yes" on all three amendments -- and encourage all New Yorkers to do the same. These seem like progressive, pro-active, and fair-minded reforms that will improve transparency and participation in the governance of NYC.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Village Voice is No More

The last couple of weeks have been a parade of notable deaths -- Senator John McCain, Aretha Franklin, Robin Leach, and now the Village Voice.

Okay, so the Village Voice wasn't an actual person but, as a newspaper, it was a vibrant, living entity that covered the life of NYC in all its gory glory. It also colored the life of NYC, literally, the free weekly newspaper that any New Yorker could access in its trademark red and blue news boxes. It was part of the "New York alloy" (as Pete Hamill would call it), part of our city's spirit and psyche, and now, after 63 years, it's vanished.

The Village Voice was so many things -- investigative reporting, gossip, arts and culture coverage,  opinion, classified ads (including naughty ones), and lots and lots of info (want to find where the next poetry reading will be or where the newest indie movie was playing? -- the Village Voice would tell you). Obviously the Internet wrecked havoc on much of the Voice's raison d'etre (newspapers like the Voice were the Internet in many ways back in the day) but it had built lively website that was as good a news source as any. And now that's gone too.

What I'll miss most, what will be lost and never replaced, are the incredible writers who came from the Voice -- Wayne Barrett, Tom Robbins, Nat Hentoff, Micheal Musto, and countless others. Since the announcement of its closure, many of its former writers who went onto big careers have been waxing nostalgic about their time there, about how it made them into professional journalists and writers, and how the Voice's end is not only the end of a singular newspaper but the end of the kind of places where great writing can be cultivated. There's no web site, no app, nothing, that can replaced that. And that's the biggest loss of all.

NYC has always been, always prided itself, on being hive of opportunity, a place where people could come to discover and cultivate their talents. With the closure of the Village Voice, a distinct NYC resource like that made it only harder for such new voices to thrive, and it betrays, in its small way, what this city is supposed to be all about.  

Farewell Village Voice. You'll always be part of my NYC spirit.