Monday, January 10, 2011

On Brian Lehrer Live, Markowitz asks, "Is it a matter of public policy to make New York City like Beijing of 1940?"

Last week, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz appeared on CUNY-TV's Brian Lehrer Live, and while he didn't quite discuss one of the questions posed by Lehrer in the segment intro--how can to strike a better balance between big development and the human scale--his performance was telling, both in his over-the-top rhetoric and his Atlantic Yards blind spot.

Neighborhood change

Lehrer began by tracing the change in Brooklyn suggested by the recent census, an increase of 100,000 people in the last decade, with ethnic groups ebbing and flowing. Notably, as gentrification has continued in western Brooklyn, the African-American population has declined in Fort Greene and Prospect Heights.

(See the excerpt at left from a New York Times map of residential tenure. As far as I can tell, the census tracked in darker brown north of Prospect Park begins just east of Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights--the area just east of the Atlantic Yards site.)

After Markowitz presented Lehrer with an official Brooklyn cap, he described the Chinese population as "bursting at the seams... I predict that the Chinese population will be a major, major part of the future of Brooklyn and New York City."

He wasn't talking about his effort to entice Chinese investors into Atlantic Yards, however.

"By the way, I don't have an accent," Markowitz replied, adding, in a familiar trope, "I speak the King's [County] English... Having said that, there is no Brooklyn accent, it's the accent of America and it's the accent of the world."

Dysfunction or crumb bums?

A Lehrer question about new Governor Andrew Cuomo led Markowitz to lament that, during his 23 years in the state Senate, he was never part of a Democratic majority.

Lehrer asked Markowitz if the legislature, due to spending or poor ethics, is the problem.

Markowitz, ignoring studies that have pegged the state legislature as notably dysfunctional, insisted, "Overwhelmingly, the men and women are good, honest hard-working people... You're always going to get a few crumb bums."

He blamed the press for focusing on the latter to the detriment of miscreants out of public life.

Slamming DOT

Markowitz, who said a possible mayoral run "I think [is] most unlikely," said it was unfair for snow removal to take precedence in Manhattan over Brooklyn. But what really exercised him--no surprise--is bike lines.

He said the Department of Transportation is pursuing "the social re-engineering of our streets, it's not about safety... what can we do to force people out of automobiles."

Given the city's expected growth, Lehrer asked mildly, is that not a good thing to try?

"Is it a matter of public policy to make New York City like Beijing of 1940?" Markowitz asked, in the tiniest stretch.

"It's a legitimate question that I think should not be left to a commissioner--the whims of a commissioner and one department," he continued. "It's a legitimate public policy issue should be decided, I believe, by a wider democracy, which means the city government, the City Council should weigh in on this and make those kind of decisions."

I'm not the first to point out Markowitz's Atlantic Yards blind spot: he readily agreed with the city's decision to let an unelected, shadowy state agency shepherd and oversee the biggest project in his borough.

"I'm not opposed to bike lanes where it works," he said. "I would never have opposed a traditional bike lane on Prospect Park West. They've taken a beautiful thoroughfare... [and it] puts people at greater risk, in my humble opinion."

A BP's role

What can a borough president actually do, Lehrer asked.

"The bully pulpit, advocating, promoting," Markowitz said, noting that he regularly pitches corporations. "Why isn't Apple in Brooklyn?"

(He also controls a not inconsiderable capital budget and community board appointments, as well as make land use recommendations.)

His greatest fear, Markowitz said in closing, is that "America is no longer making anything... So therefore we don't have those entry level jobs... One way or another, America has to get back to manufacturing."

That concern's certainly shared by many fair-minded people. But Markowitz and others have encouraged the rezoning of manufacturing areas to accommodate housing--not always the wisest course in a city where niche manufacturing can still thrive.

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