Neighbors Allied for Good Growth gala celebrates community-aware businesses

NAG Brings Together Political, Environmental & Business Leaders

November 17, 2016 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: NAG Chair Rita Beth Pasarell, Chief Counsel of Brooklyn Legal Services Marty Needelman and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
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Greenpoint nestles in Brooklyn’s northern edge like a precious jewel set in a tiara of lead. It’s the place where kielbasa and old world Roman Catholicism rub shoulders with porkpie hats and soy lattes. Some of the city’s hippest new restaurants call it home, as do more waste transfer stations than anywhere else. Beneath its principle public park flows a river of carcinogenic chlorinated solvents, and its stunning waterfront is gradually being consumed by high-rise condominiums that will block the view as they blot out the sun.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Greenpoint also produces more community activism than can be consumed locally.

One prime example of the kind of activism that is typical of Greenpoint is NAG, Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, which held its annual gala in nearby Williamsburg.  The setting was pretty modest as these events go — a few hundred square feet on the fourth floor of the W Loft, a venue more suited for smallish weddings or corporate presentations, and the acoustics were downright awful.

But the company was impressive.

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Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Councilmembers Antonio Reynoso and Stephen Levin and state Assemblymember Joe Lentol were among the guests. Officials of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, along with Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce Chair Elaine Brodsky, were on hand, as was Ms. Brodsky’s husband, developer Norman Brodsky.

“Children in Greenpoint are four times more likely to have elevated lead levels in their bodies,” Environmental Organizer Allison Currier explained. “That leads to all sorts of developmental and psychological delays. One of our principle programs is to help people deal with lead contamination of their soil.”

Environmental contamination is only one of the issues that play into the Greenpoint political scene. While the population of nearby Bedford-Stuyvesant is nearly 75 percent African-American, Greenpoint is only 5 percent African-American. The NYC Housing Authority has long been accused of racially gerrymandering the neighborhoods by offering housing allotments based on ethnicity. Thus it was no surprise that the evening’s first award went to fair housing advocate Marty Needelman, chief counsel of Brooklyn Legal Services and an Orthodox Jew who has often been accused of apostasy by Williamsburg Hasidim for taking cases on behalf of minority tenants, often in opposition to Jewish landlords and developers.

Next up was Lisa Bloodgood, Environmental Liaison for the City Council. “We’re all part of a family. Activism runs deep,” City Councilmember for District 33 Stephen Levin pointed out while presenting the award. “We need people in our community who know how to organize around environmental issues.”

NAG board member and former Land Use Chair of Community Board 1, Ward Dennis presented the Business Hero Award to the East River Ferry. “They’ve been an incredible partner over a variety of projects over the years,” Dennis told the audience. “They really are a model for how businesses should operate as responsible community citizens.”

“We wanted to view ourselves,” said Paul Samulski, vice president of Creative Marketing at East River Ferry, “as a thread that connected communities up and down the East River. We’re also glad we helped people appreciate what a few minutes on the water can do for your personal well being.”

The final award, the NAG Hero Award, went to Union Pool owner Alyssa Abeyta for her company’s help in creating Taste of Greenpoint and other events aimed at preserving the Firehouse Space as a community center for nonprofits and activists.

“This is a time in our country where you need to remember some of what it takes to be a great business leader,” said NAG board member Felice Kirby, herself a managing partner of Teddy’s Bar & Grill. “Alyssa led businesses in creating Taste of Greenpoint-Williamburg … and raised over $700,000 for the Firehouse Space.”

NAG, originally Neighbors Against Garbage, was founded in 1994 by trio Peter Gillespie, Michelle and Jim Rodecker to fight against a single garbage transfer station set up in a hitherto abandoned East River dock. They were successful. But, this being Greenpoint, there is always another issue, another toxic dragon, rampant landlord, or unkept promise from City Hall to task.


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