Brooklyn Politics by Erik Engquist

MAG MUSES ON MARTY, RATNER: In a lengthy profile on Borough President Marty Markowitz, The New Yorker summarized the prospects of Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards proposal this way:

“Neighborhood opposition to the project has ranged from anger at the suggestion that the state may invoke powers of eminent domain to the argument that a privately owned real-estate development is not the best use of the land, a large chunk of which is owned by the M.T.A., and will alter the character of the neighborhood. But the right of the gentrifying class to preserve its property values in blocks close to the arena is not one around which much mass support can be rallied in Brooklyn.”

The writer, Rebecca Mead, later drove past the Atlantic Yards site with Markowitz. She wrote:

“‘Just take a look at what’s coming down,’ Markowitz said. ‘I want you to look at this and tell me in any manner, shape, or form that this has historical significance.’

“On the block where we were, there were a few warehouses and row houses looking shabby and forlorn, as if they had resigned themselves to their fate. ‘You can see this is gorgeous—just a beautiful sight,’ Markowitz said, with undisguised sarcasm.”


OUR NOISE IS GOOD NOISE: Mayor Mike Bloomberg received a sustained ovation when he announced at an event hosted by Councilman Simcha Felder in Borough Park that six blocks of 37th Street between 12th and 14th avenues would be rezoned for residential development, allowing the construction of hundreds of housing units.

And this is odd—Felder’s crowd did not whine about the noise, trucks, and other inconveniences such construction would being, despite having issued those same complaints about plans to modernize the railroad trench through the neighborhood.

The difference, of course, is that the housing would mostly benefit Borough Park, whereas the rail project would help the city at large.

Incidentally, Bloomberg’s announcement makes it certain that Felder will endorse him for reelection. Whether there was an explicit deal or not, we cannot say (insiders suspect there was), but very little in Brooklyn politics happens by accident.


YVETTE PLAYS RACE CARD: How casually does Councilwoman Yvette Clarke throw out allegations of racism?

Consider this sentence from Clarke’s April 28 press release:

“I am calling upon the city’s Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection to finally begin the process of much-needed road repair to Linden Boulevard. There is no reasonable explanation for the lack of service for a major commercial traffic thoroughfare other than that the majority of residents are people of color, whose needs this administration has conveniently ignored.”

We got the impression Clarke believes DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall (wife of Senator Chuck Schumer), a Park Slope resident, sits around a table with her deputies and says, “No need to fix Linden Boulevard—it’s mostly black people who live there.”

When we inquired with Clarke’s spokesman, he backed off a bit, telling us the councilwoman is not alleging such overt racism.

“Councilmember Clarke cannot speak to the conscious thoughts of individuals, but it is apparent that the city’s administration has been challenged in seeing that municipal services are equally applied to all communities throughout this city,” e-mailed her spokesman, Rance Huff. “Not only do we have the example of commercial traffic and road repair on Linden Boulevard, but there are numerous other examples of environmental racism throughout this city, such as the placement of transit bus depots primarily in communities of color.”

The statement went on to suggest that white neighborhoods had faster snow removal last winter. “Councilmember Clarke feels that there have been continued examples such as this that makes it appear that certain communities are given priority over others.”


PETERS, HYNES ENGAGE: News of the arrest of an alleged rapist stemming from DNA testing of 32-year-old evidence prompted the Manhattan district attorney to call for an end to the statute of limitations for rape cases.

That prompted a press release from Brooklyn D.A. candidate Mark Peters criticizing the incumbent, Joe Hynes, for not coming up with the idea first.

In a statement, Peters said: “Once again, Mr. Hynes is sitting on his hands while other district attorneys are being proactive. His lack of interest in pursuing new ideas to improve Brooklyn, is similar to his lack of interest in seeking out and prosecuting corruption in our borough.”

The response from Hynes’s office:

“What D.A. in history has been more innovative than D.A. Hynes? We brought the first rape case based on DNA evidence. We started a Domestic Violence Bureau, the first in the nation, now a model for those around the country. Our DTAP program (Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison) was ordered by former mayor Giuliani to be replicated in other D.A.'s offices. We run the only John School in the city. This can go on and on.

“Surely anyone who criticizes Hynes for lack of innovation knows nothing about this office. As for corruption: In the past three years, two Supreme Court justices have been indicted (one has already served his prison term) and the leading political figure in the county [Assemblyman Clarence Norman] is facing four indictments.”


O’HARA APPEALS (AGAIN): Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, disbarred Sunset Park attorney John O’Hara has again appealed his conviction for illegal voting, this time on the basis of selective prosecution.

His previous appeals, which were exhausted at the state and federal levels, asserted his innocence. This one does not deny his guilt but rather argues that he was selectively prosecuted, which could be grounds to erase the felony from his record and perhaps allow him to get his law license back.

O’Hara’s motion, filed April 28 in Brooklyn Supreme Court, is before Judge Abe Gerges, the former City Councilman for Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights. Gerges is regarded as a good judge and not a political hack.

Still, the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes isn’t worried about O’Hara’s motion, which it will not respond to in court before Gerges’s initial ruling. “We don’t think this has much chance of succeeding,” said Hynes spokesman Jerry Schmetterer.

While Hynes does not deny that he pursued O’Hara in part as a favor to Assemblyman Jim Brennan, he can still claim that the case was formally referred to his office by the state Board of Elections. Of course, the complainant in that action was attorney Jack Carroll, Brennan’s close ally—a fact O’Hara only discovered last month.

What’s unusual about O’Hara’s appeal is that it is based on an affidavit from freelance writer Christopher Ketcham, who recorded interviews with most of the principals in O’Hara’s case for a Harper’s Magazine article published last November. Ketcham, formerly of Park Slope, has gone from a chronicler of the case to an active participant in it, which is not exactly encouraged in journalism.

Had Hynes’s people—including John O’Mara, who handled O’Hara’s prosecution for Hynes—known that Ketcham would become so involved in O’Hara’s effort to overturn his conviction, they would not have consented to be interviewed.

One of the arguments O’Hara’s motion makes is the extraordinary lengths Hynes went to investigate him in the mid 1990s, including ordering surveillance of O’Hara’s campaign headquarters, apartment, and mother’s house.

Targeting someone in a unique manner has been disallowed by the courts before. O’Hara was the only New Yorker nailed for illegal voting in the 20th century.

O’Mara, the prosecutor, also told Ketcham that one reason they went after O’Hara was that civil cases had failed to deter him. For example, a civil challenge to O’Hara’s petitions alleging fraud forced him to withdraw from the 1994 Assembly race, yet in 1996 O’Hara ran again and also led a legal effort to overturn the results of the 1996 primary in which Mike Feinberg became the Democratic nominee for surrogate judge of Brooklyn. (O’Hara says the case was deep-sixed when Hynes convened a grand jury against him on illegal voting charges from the early 1990s.)


TIDBITS: One of the activists fighting Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards proposal, Patti Hagan, said Assemblyman Roger Green, a Ratner project supporter, has been doing a spot-on Claude Raines over the last six months or so. “He’s gone into the witness protection program since he got reelected,” Hagan observed. “He doesn’t show up at any kind of meetings or forums on any subject.”

…Brooklyn’s independent screening panel has completed its interviews of candidates for Civil Court judge. The 11 deemed “qualified” were Civil Court Judges Mickey Morganstern and David Schmidt (both seeking reelection), Ingrid Joseph and Housing Court Judge Dawn Jimenez (who both lost primaries last year), Sol Handler, Norma Jennings of Lambda Independent Democrats, South Brooklyn Legal Services board member Theresa Cicotto, Michael Gerstein, Cynthia Boyce, Genine Edwards, and Marty Needelman, chief counsel for Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation…

…Civil Court candidate Richard Velasquez chose not to appear before the independent screening panel, making him ineligible for any help from the Democratic county organization. Velasquez is supported by Assemblymen Vito Lopez and Joe Lentol, State Senator Marty Dilan, and his son Councilman Erik Dilan. His opponent is Marty Needelman. They’ll face off in the Democratic primary in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and part of Bushwick for the seat vacated by Wayne Saitta, who was elevated to Supreme Court…

…Democrats in the House of Representatives needed two more votes to defeat a Republican budget for 2006 that includes $106 billion in tax cuts, $10 billion in Medicaid reductions, and a green light for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But they failed, thanks in part to Rep. Vito Fossella’s vote in favor and Rep. Ed Towns’s absence. For Towns the political implications are nil, but Fossella might be reminded of his pro-drilling vote during his 2006 reelection bid …

…How eager is Adele Cohen to get out of the state Assembly? She’s telling political people that if she doesn’t think she can get one of the two Democratic Supreme Court nominations up for grabs this fall, she’ll consider running in the Democratic primary against Civil Court Judge Mickey Morganstern. The problem there would be rather than sway a plurality of the 42 Democratic district leaders, Cohen would have to win over actual voters, which has been a challenge for her even in her home district of Brighton Beach, Coney Island, and Bay Ridge…

…Sources said Councilman David Weprin of Queens stayed for nearly the duration of Councilman Al Vann’s recent fundraiser. Either Weprin believes he can snag Vann’s support to become Council speaker or he really likes rubber chicken…

…Three candidates were missing from the forum hosted by Independent Neighborhood Democrats for the district attorney race: incumbent Joe Hynes, Sandra Roper, and Braxton Freddie Fenner. Roper had said she would come but told us she backed out because Hynes didn’t come, thereby muting the event’s impact. It’s not clear that Fenner was even invited, as he is not seen as a viable candidate…

…Could this column have had something to do with Borough President Marty Markowitz coming out in favor of gay marriage? When folks at Lambda Independent Democrats, Brooklyn’s gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender club, read in this space about Markowitz welcoming leading homophobe Rabbi Abraham Hecht to Borough Hall, they published it in the Lambda newsletter and started giving Markowitz grief about it. Then Markowitz announced his support for gay marriage, distracting Lambda from its beef about Hecht…

…We e-mailed The New Yorker about its innocuous description of Borough President Marty Markowitz’s brush with the law in the 1980s after we heard a more sinister recollection of the crime from a political activist at the time. At press time, we were waiting for a response from the magazine writer, Rebecca Mead…

Yeruchim Silber has left his post as Jewish liaison for Councilman Bill de Blasio to become vice president for community affairs for Metropolitan Jewish Health Systems. For de Blasio, whose budget didn’t allow him to come close to matching the salary Silber was offered by MJHS, finding a replacement with the same political acumen and ties to the Orthodox community will be extremely difficult. In fact, the councilman won’t even try until January…

…When Joel Klein, the city schools chancellor, called for legislation outlawing sex between teachers and students, did State Senator Carl Kruger gently inform Klein that he’d introduced such a bill in January?

No. Instead, Kruger called Klein “asleep at the switch” and said he’d have known about the bill “if he was even paying the slightest attention.” Kruger gave Klein a grade of F, but Kruger might deserve a similar grade in the category “plays well with others”…

…Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs allocated some discretionary funding to Flatbush Athletics to buy sports equipment for its free pick-up sports program, which runs through July 4. For information, visit or call Dave Herman at 917-664-6664…

…The New York Jets removed Councilman Domenic Recchia’s name from its Web site listing supporters of the West Side stadium plan. Recchia says he’s neutral, Newsday reported……Councilmembers Vinny Gentile and Tracy Boyland announced on April 26 that they’re in favor of building a stadium for the Jets on the West Side.

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