OPINION: Reflections on Marty Markowitz
Within days, Marty Markowitz will no longer be borough president.
The Brooklyn of 2013 is very different than the Brooklyn of 2001, when he was elected. Even beforehand, he had made a positive contribution to life in the borough as the presenter of the Seaside and Martin Luther King summer concert series. I have seen many of the Seaside concerts, from Blondie to the Beach Boys, and I am sure they will continue into the far future.
The first change one saw when Marty took over was one of tone. The old borough president, Howie Golden, was a sincere official who was dedicated to the good of Brooklyn and who supported many worthwhile projects. I lived in Brooklyn at the time and voted for him. However, Golden’s remarks sometimes had an edge to them. This was never clearer than when representatives of city departments came to Borough Hall to take part in hearings. The way Howie questioned them, you’d think a criminal trial was under way. Golden probably had bitter feelings because he served during a transition period when the city’s revised charter greatly reduced the power of borough presidents. In essence, there was less a BP could accomplish, no matter how good the intentions.
Marty came to the office knowing those limitations, and his youthful energy helped overcome the obstacle. I remember him reassuring people walking over the Brooklyn Bridge during the blackout of 2003, saying “Yay, Brooklyn!” He praised everything Brooklyn, from the old Loew’s Kings Theater to the Parachute Jump to the Cyclones to the new hotels. Sometimes he seemed a little confused, like the time at a “Tech Triangle” event when he proclaimed that Brooklyn was “the hipster capital of the world.” Not all techies are hipsters, and not all hipsters are techies. But Marty always meant well. His “Take Your Man to the Doctor” campaign was showmanship, but it called attention to a very real problem.
Brooklyn was a very different place in 2001. Williamsburg was a low-income area full of abandoned warehouses. The Cyclones had just come to Coney Island. The redevelopment of Downtown Brooklyn was basically limited to MetroTech. Park Slope was thriving, but if you went to the other side of Flatbush Avenue, you might have a problem.
Still, Brooklyn even then had world-class attractions, such as BAM, the Brooklyn Museum and Prospect Park. Under Marty’s rule, more projects were completed – the DUMBO residential buildings, Renaissance Plaza, the development of housing on the Williamsburg waterfront, the first steps toward cleaning up the Gowanus Canal, the Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal malls, the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. Marty supported these initiatives, working with partners in government and industry.
Even though Marty conveyed a positive image, he could be a fighter and a fierce critic of the “powers that be.” He took part in the early protests against Continuum’s mismanagement of Long Island College Hospital. Largely because of those protests, Continuum decided to hand LICH over to SUNY Downstate, which proved to be no bargain either. As Marty might say, “Gornisht helf’n.”
One of Marty’s pet projects, the Atlantic Yards, became the center of controversy. I was critical of both sides – I liked the idea of an arena (now called the Barclays Arena), but felt he and developer Bruce Ratner should have worked with the community and identified a site where a minimum of people would have been displaced. (I thought the ill-fated Extell plan was pretty good). But this is now water under the bridge, and Brooklyn now has an NBA basketball team.
Marty is leaving Borough Hall, and his mythical “Yiddish Sons of Erin” is presumably closing up shop. Here’s to Borough President Markowitz. He will be missed!