Brooklyn Politics by Erik Engquist

MARTY BLINDSIDED BY LETTER: A letter to the editor in this paper deemed it “political grandstanding” when Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz appeared at the unveiling of the new design for a Commerce Bank branch in Park Slope.

The letter’s author, Paul Heller of the First Street Block Association, which lobbied for the new design, said the only assistance received was “from Greg Atkins, formerly of [Assemblywoman] Joan Millman’s office.”

Note to Heller: Atkins is Markowitz’s chief of staff. Markowitz is responsible for whatever Atkins does in that capacity.

And to accuse Markowitz of grandstanding is absurd. Commerce Bank folks were probably thrilled to have the beep on hand. We suppose that if Heller were the borough president he would have told the bank, “Sorry, I won’t come. I don’t want to be accused of political grandstanding.”


ALBANY’S BILL-WRITING FRENZY: At a recent forum at Brooklyn Law School about legislative gridlock in Albany, ACORN and Working Families Party official Bertha Lewis complained of legislators’ habit of churning out bills that merely collect dust. “Folks can pander by writing out these bills that never go anywhere,” Lewis said.

She might have been talking about State Senator Carl Andrews, who used to send taxpayer-funded mail to constituents proclaiming that he’d written and introduced “over 60 pieces of legislation” in his first six months in office—more than three bills per week.

Lewis, a panelist at the forum, also said, “The Democrats eat their young. And if the young survive and go to Albany, they are raised by wolves.”

E.J. McMahon, a conservative on the panel, said later, “I disagree with Bertha on every issue she raised—except the one about the wolves…And I can assure you it’s true of Republicans, too.”

He explained, “The legislators, they get entrenched and they don’t have to be good.”


DEATH BECOMES THEM: Republican district leader Jim Sutliff had a little fun with the news that eight Conservative Party County Committee candidates were ruled ineligible by the Board of Elections.

“The reason: DEATH,” Sutliff wrote in his e-mailed newsletter, which was headlined, “Conservative Party Candidates. Wanted: Dead or Alive.”

One of the eight candidates had died as long ago as 1996.

“Remember, just because you died almost 10 years ago doesn’t mean that you won’t have a promising political career ahead of you in the Conservative Party,” Sutliff wrote.

The reality, of course, is that this happens all the time. Parties do not keep close track of their county committees, which consist of a thousand or more ordinary folks who almost never have to meet or do much of anything.

But Sutliff dislikes Brooklyn Conservative Party Chairman Jerry Kassar, a supporter of State Senator Marty Golden, who defeated Sutliff in the 2004 Republican primary.


UPON FURTHER REVIEW: To read Councilman Simcha Felder’s press release about Community Board 14’s vote against the proposed Cross Harbor Rail Tunnel, one would think the board was up in arms. “Brooklyn’s Community Board 14 overwhelmingly rejected the project citing concerns of noise, pollution, and vibrations,” Felder wrote.

But a close reading of the board’s explanation of its vote reveals that it resolved only to withhold support for the project until the community’s questions are addressed by the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which was a no-show at the CB 14 meeting.

Felder’s press release said CB 14 Chairman Alvin Berk was “obviously impressed with the turnout at the public hearing,” an apparent reference to tunnel opponents who showed up. But Berk’s letter to the EDC noted that “both project advocates and opponents…were present in considerable numbers.”

That certainly belies Felder’s claim that “from Maspeth to Midwood, New Yorkers are unified against this ill-conceived waste of eight billion taxpayer dollars.”

In the absence of a formal presentation of the plan to increase traffic on the railroad tracks through Borough Park and Midwood, and unanswered questions from residents, CB 14 could hardly have voted to support it. The real test of the board’s opinion will come when the full board hears from the EDC.

Felder insists, “This project would devastate the quality of life of my constituents.” In that case, why doesn’t he object to the elevated subway trains that rumble cacophonously through his district hundreds of times every day?

They make about a thousand times as much noise as two dozen trains on modernized, sound-mitigated railroad tracks would make if the tunnel were built.

Felder notes that residents who live near the el were aware of it before they moved in, whereas no one suspected the LIRR cut would ever be frequently used again. But hey, devastation multiplied by a thousand sounds pretty bad. Surely neighbors of the elevated subway deserve some advocacy. And the el should be torn down.

But wait! you say. What about the greater good of that subway line?

This is the major argument of rail tunnel supporters. Whatever noise, pollution, and vibration are caused by the trains would be far worse if the same quantity of freight arrived by truck.

Perhaps the best way to analyze Felder’s opposition to the rail tunnel is to imagine that it already existed and that people who lived by the tracks before the tunnel was built were indeed bothered. Would Felder argue vociferously to divert the freight from those trains to a million trucks a year?

If so, he’d be the first Brooklyn politician to demand more truck traffic. In fact, tunnel proponents would say he’s already doing exactly that.


FERRIS BEMOANS HYNES PETITION FLAP: A major reason former Assemblyman Joe Ferris got knocked off the ballot against then-Borough President Howard Golden in 1989 is that all the signatures Ferris collected on a joint petition with Brooklyn district attorney candidate Joe Hynes were disqualified when Hynes disavowed the petition.

We ran into Ferris in Park Slope recently. He insists that Hynes had approved the joint petition. Why, then, did Hynes renounce it, allowing Golden to cruise to victory? Was Hynes repaying Golden for the beep’s late endorsement of Hynes over then-Assemblyman Dan Feldman?

Not according to Councilman Lew Fidler, a Hynes supporter, who said the problem was that a candidate for judge was also on the petition with Ferris and Hynes. Hynes informed the Ferris campaign in writing that he would not share a petition with the judicial candidate, but Ferris’s people circulated the petition anyway, Fidler said.

When those signatures were invalidated, Ferris didn’t have enough to survive a petition challenge, so he withdrew before everyone associated with his petitions could be hauled into court.

Jack Carroll, a Ferris ally, remembers it a bit differently. “To the best of my recollection there was no written notice from Hynes and certainly no such notice was produced in court,” Carroll wrote in an e-mail message.

Ferris, a reform Democrat considered by some to be one of the more principled people in recent Brooklyn politics, remains bitter about Hynes’s action that year.

Ferris eventually tired of Albany and declined to seek reelection. He was succeeded by Jim Brennan, who remains in office. Hynes won the 1989 race and hasn’t been seriously challenged since.


SCHMIDT COULD HIT FAN: A host of candidates will spend this summer wooing voters they’ll never see again if elected.

Such is the bizarre world of Civil Court races, where winners get 10-year terms with $125,000 salaries to preside over small lawsuits and fill in for Supreme Court and Criminal Court judges when needed.

Five Civil Court judgeships are up for grabs. All are “open seats” (i.e., no incumbents) except for one, in which Judge David Schmidt will be seeking reelection.

The inimitable John O’Hara told us Schmidt is particularly vulnerable because the votes from his support base in Borough Park would be overwhelmed by votes from Sunset Park and other neighborhoods in the district.

How did Schmidt get elected in the first place? Extremely low turnout in the year he ran, 1995, allowed Borough Park (where turnout is always good) to contribute a higher percentage of the overall vote than it will this year, when the mayoral and Brooklyn district attorney races will boost turnout greatly.

O’Hara pledges to run someone against Schmidt, who was backed in 1995 by Assemblyman Dov Hikind. O’Hara is upset that when asked whom he would endorse for district attorney, Hikind reportedly said he didn’t know yet, but it wouldn’t be Sandra Roper. Roper is close to O’Hara.

In a world free of politics, O’Hara would target judges based on their own records Schmidt, not those of their past political supporters. Schmidt, for example, has been named an acting Supreme Court judge, indicating the Office of Court Administration thinks highly of him.

By contrast, Margarita Lopez Torres (a cause celebre of reform Democrats when she ran against the machine and won reelection in 2002) remains in Civil Court year after year while less senior judges are promoted.

Councilman Lew Fidler, an attorney who’s never appeared before Judge Schmidt, said, “He’s got a good reputation. Clean, smart, hard working. People consider him to be a good judge.”

Should O’Hara be taken seriously? He wasn’t until 2001, when two candidates he helped recruit ran against candidates backed by the Democratic organization—and won.

Still, Fidler suspects O’Hara recruits candidates so he can charge them $5,000 or $8,000 in consulting fees. But O’Hara has told us he’s never made a cent from politics.

Of the other four races this year, two are for districtwide seats and two for countywide. Why are some judges elected by districts and others by county? That’s the way the system was set up many decades ago, and even though it makes no sense anymore, nobody bothers to change it.

Nor is the system fair, since some parts of the borough get to elect more judges than others, for no apparent reason.

Dear state legislators: perhaps that’s something you could think about during breaks between ribbon-cutting ceremonies.


QUIT RACE, GET JOB: We begin this week with a very simple quiz on Brooklyn politics.

First, the background:

In 2003, Republican Bob Capano wanted to run for City Council against Vinny Gentile, but was persuaded to quit the race to help fellow Republican Rosemarie O’Keefe’s chances. After her 31-vote defeat in the special election, and Pat Russo’s defeat in the general election later that year, Capano started his 2005 campaign early so as not to be pushed out of the race a second time. He raised money far in advance and even quit his job to focus on his campaign.

And then it happened again—Capano had to quit the race because Republican and Conservative party officials agreed to support Russo, and Capano couldn’t win without the Conservative line.

A few weeks later, Capano accepted a job on the staff of Rep. Vito Fossella, a Republican who supports Russo in his race against Gentile.

So now, to the quiz. Capano’s hiring by Fossella was…

(A) pretty lucky

(B) a total coincidence

(C) utterly shocking to political insiders

(D) his reward for quitting the race

(E) Come on. After (D), you’re still looking for the right answer?


RATNERITES ON TISH’S TURF: Bruce Ratner and several Ratnerites invaded Councilwoman Tish James’s turf on the morning of March 30, choosing a Starbucks across from her district office to meet with Daily News columnist Errol Louis.

Louis supports Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development plan while James has helped lead the opposition. So it made for an awkward moment when James herself walked into the coffee shop to find Ratner, Louis, Ratner’s right-hand man Bruce Bender, and Ratner press aide Lupè Todd. Minutes later, the pro-Ratner gang grew when ACORN’s Bertha Lewis and Jon Kest arrived. ACORN backed James’s election in 2003 but supports Atlantic Yards.


COCHRAN’S LEGACY: City Councilwoman Yvette Clarke issued a statement following the death of attorney Johnnie Cochran. It read, in part, “Above all, Johnnie Cochran will be remembered as an African-American who not only succeeded in the American legal system but successfully challenged and defeated its inherent racism.”

Let’s be honest here. Fair or not, “above all” Cochran will be remembered as O.J. Simpson’s attorney. Clarke’s 50-word statement neglected to even mention Cochran’s most infamous client.


TIDBITS: Prospect Park gets millions of dollars from the borough president’s office. So it raises an eyebrow to see Tupper Thomas, the park administrator and head of the Prospect Park Alliance, raising money for the campaign of Borough President Marty Markowitz.

This is not to say that Markowitz would cut the park’s funding if Thomas didn’t raise money for his future campaigns. It’s simply the appearance on an ulterior motive that’s untoward…

…Councilman David Yassky, with help from activists in northern Brooklyn, is taking on the Bloomberg administration over a plan to rezone that area to allow for large apartment complexes. Yassky says much more affordable housing should be included, while the mayor’s Department of City Planning says including too much would discourage developers from building anything.

The Council tends to respect the wishes of a member whose district is most affected, so Yassky’s opposition could well force the mayor to modify the Greenpoint/Williamsburg rezoning……Only a handful of Brooklyn’s 42 Republican district leaders showed up at State Senator Marty Golden’s meeting with state Republican Chairman Steve Minarik. Given the poor turnout, you’d think Golden would have welcomed just about anyone to the table. But sources said when Republican mayoral candidate Tom Ognibene arrived unexpectedly, he was asked to leave. Golden is endorsing Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.