Atlantic Yards

Comedy is king at Markowitz’s Barclays gala

April 12, 2013 By Gail Robinson City Limits, reporting from
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Borough President Marty Markowitz threw a goodbye party for himself Thursday night at Barclays Center, the signature accomplishment of his 12 years in office.

His final State of the Borough speech had all the elements of the Markowitz shtick: over-the-top praise for Brooklyn (the borough’s school’s have “continued to set the standard”; with Brooklyn’s tech boom, “Silicon Valley is so over”), self-deprecating digs (about trying to listen to Jay-Z, not understanding the tech products made in his borough and wondering whether the world “is ready for my svelte swimsuit physique”); and people lauding Markowitz (City Council Speaker Christine Quinn singing “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Losing Marty,” Larry King on a video from Las Vegas, and a somewhat bungled Brooklyn rap by Tony Danza).

Amid a laundry list of accomplishments and the glories of Brooklyn, with praise directed at a diverse list of politicians (even City Councilman Charles Barron, a frequent Markowitz opponent, got a favorable mention), there was one bit of news. The Bloomberg administration, the City Planning department and iStar Financial had reached an agreement with Markowitz to build a new venue for the Seaside Concert Series, which Markowitz has sponsored for 34 years. The 5,000-seat covered arena will be at the site on the old Child’s restaurant building at the western end of Coney Island.

In many respects, Atlantic Yards was at the center of the speech, as it has been at the center of the Markowitz borough presidency.

The speech riffed on the theme of “How’s Brooklyn doin’?” Not surprisingly, Markowitz’ answer was that it’s “doin’ great”—and as prime evidence of that, Markowitz said, “Brooklyn is back with not one but two national sports teams,” playing, of course, in the Barclays Center.

Amid all the shout-outs, the most lavish praise went to developer Bruce Ratner — “Cousin Brucie,” as Markowitz called him — “a guy from Cleveland who sleeps in Manhattan but fell in love with Brooklyn” and who “made the dreams of so many of us in Brooklyn come true with the triumphant grand opening of America’s most beautiful arena.”

Touching on policy

The borough president, who got his start in politics as a tenant advocate, called for more affordable housing. That has always been one of his top priorities, Markowitz said, “because development and affordability can, and should, go hand in hand.”

He admitted Brooklyn’s health care system “is faced with some difficult challenges,” and called for Long Island College Hospital to stay open.

Markowitz’s most carefully parsed words may have come on police issues. The borough president, who has remained largely silent on stop-and-frisk and was nowhere to be heard after the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Kimani Gray by police last month, praised Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and the police for reducing crime. But, he said, “Sadly, it’s fact that residents in some of Brooklyn’s most under-served neighborhoods will tell you … our children’s days are not filed with hide and seek — but stop-and-frisk.”

He went on to say, “We look forward to a day when such measures aren’t needed,” implicitly refuting those Brooklynites who dispute the need for these measures even now.

On education, he took a similar approach, hailing Mayor Bloomberg and schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott for opening schools in the borough — without mentioning that they also closed a lot of schools here.

But while he commended Bloomberg for making education a top priority, he lavished more attention on United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president Michael Mulgrew “who over the years, whenever our public education was most challenged, stood up and fought to protect our kids and invest in their future.” Although he worked mostly from his prepared text, Markowitz then added, “and to give our teachers the respect they deserve.”

A joking matter

The two-and-a-half-hour event continued Markowitz’s penchant for making the State of the Borough speech an extravaganza. After winning re-election in 2009, he raked in more than $122,000 in “transition” funds, much of it from developers and business owners, and used it for a glitzy 2010 State of the Borough address.

Although a Markowitz spokesman did not say how much this year’s event cost, the program listed supporters “who helped make it possible for us to produce and present this special event.” Topping the list was Ratner and his Forest City Ratner company, followed by Bruce Yourmark, CEO of the Nets and Barclays Center. Others on the list included the UFT, Two Trees Management Co., National Grid and Time Equities, Inc. No public money went to Thursday’s speech, the spokesman said.

Even for a man who rode into his 2011 State of the Borough speech on a tricycle, Markowitz’s final address was long on attempts at comedy. An hour of the event featured a takeoff on the Tonight Show, with Markowitz, who changed into a light blazer for this portion of the program, and NBC’s Cat Greenleaf interviewing people such as restaurateur Dale Talde, Brooklyn Brewery owner Steve Hindy and writer Ayana Mathis about what Brooklyn — and of course, by extension, Markowitz — had meant for their field.

The show had a weird, almost anti-hip feel to it, with Jay Black of Jay and the Americans, a largely forgotten ’60s pop group, performing as the headliner. Toward the end, Markowitz’s likely successor, State Sen. Eric Adams, appeared on stage to try to get Markowitz to leave. (He didn’t succeed.)

The invitation-only audience, though clearly friendly, was hardly effusive. One of the biggest reactions came for a video showing the new lights on the Parachute Jump.

Last shot at the press

Despite an abundance of empty seats in the sections of the arena set aside for the speech, reporters were squeezed into a roped-off area with only a few folding chairs and poor acoustics.

One segment on the Brooklyn Tonight Show featuring NY1’s Pat Kiernan displayed headlines about Markowitz over the years. The segment ended with Markowitz becoming oddly serious, “I really do have a great respect for the role of media,” he said, “All I’m asking is that when people write a story it should be fair and balanced.”

He then turned to a video for a final word on the media from his parrot Beep, who Markowitz refers to as his and his wife Jamie’s son. The video shows the borough president lining the bird’s cage with newspapers and then settling back to watch nature take it course.

Markowitz nods with satisfaction, declaring, “Good to the last plop.”

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