Does NYC Support Democracy?

Manhattanites who vote are still scratching their heads over this last ridiculous “election” in which six Democrats ran unopposed for six judicial positions. As a poll worker, from 6 a.m. to 9:42 p.m. on Nov. 3 I wallowed in the spectacle of seeing voters come to terms with the fact that they were participating in a sham. They had no say in whether or not nominees would take office. In effect, in full view, the fix was in. This raises the oft-asked question of whether or not we should “elect” judges. Of course we seldom know anything about them in the first place, but pity the citizen who tries to learn about a potential judge. Most did not feel the need to submit their bios to a voter guide.

Do you see a choice?

Where’s the Choice?

Tuesday, when distressed citizens asked me if they had any choice at all, I pointed out their options: 1) Vote as directed. 2. Write in their own candidates. 3. Scan the ballot without marking it.

Three of some 100 voters in my district told me to void their ballots because they saw no point to any of it. There were other reactions to the situation as well. Two sets of parents audibly exhaled and proceeded to “privacy booths” to mark their ballots with their kids. (One is led to wonder about the value of secret ballots when the only choice a voter has is whether or not to participate.) Several who identified themselves as Republicans studied the sample ballot taped to the wall, mumbled about Donald Trump, and stole out into the night. I rejoice that New Yorkers generally support the principles of the Democratic party, but I am concerned that extremists and Know Nothings are hounding moderates from the  party of Eisenhower. Couldn’t Manhattan Republicans manage to nominate even one judge?

In some parts of the city, notably Republican Staten Island where a Democrat became District Attorney, real elections did take place. Thus some of the estimated $13 million dollars the Board of Elections pays citywide to hold an election was well-spent. As for myself,  I am left with pressing questions. Why did I not think to write in Joseph F. Crater and William M. Tweed? Who are the fools – the ones who turn out to cast a ballot or the ones who stay home? Finally, what can we do now that a great big democracy serves so few? Please comment in the box below.

Summer in the City 2015


It’s all over but the heat and humidity. Labor Day effectively ends summer, but memories of pleasant NYC surprises remain, such as people dressed in white gowns and tutus en route to Diner en Blanc, most lugging tables and chairs. I came upon them with a French friend who thought it was very New York until we discovered that the whole thing originated in Paris

Clearly something is going on

Clearly something is happening…

Is NYC really this clean?

Is NYC really this clean?


Then there is St. Paul’s Chapel, a reminder of the world’s good wishes for New York and the USA after 9/11 and all the missed opportunities since..

Letters, Drawing and Paper Cranes to the People of NYC from Around the World

Letters, Drawing and Paper Cranes to the People of NYC from Around the World

…plus the amazement of finding farmers among the tourists in Rockefeller Center. The ice rink is so 20th century.

Take that, Union Square!!

Take that, Union Square!!

Chic West 29th Street with the Ace Hotel and Yaohlee’s boutique becomes the site of Friday worship when the mosque is full:

The call to prayer was heard

The call to prayer is heard

The greatness of the city is seen in simple things:Summer (2)

Most amazing of all, the vendor would not let me pay him for using his stand as a photo op!

Read This Book!!

Since the days of former president Paul LeClerc, the trustees of the New York Public Library have done everything in their robber baron powers to sell off or compromise the value of the institution as a research library open to those who would use it for serious purposes. At one point the current NYPL president Anthony Marx said that their aim was to make the institution more democratic, but unlike other high caliber research libraries, it was already a temple of democracy open to anyone from anywhere who wished to read, to research, to learn, to create. Two examples are a housewife and writer who used its collections to turn out The Feminine Mystique, and a journalist who produced The Power Broker, an exposé of development run amok. Maybe those are the kinds of users and truth-bearers the trustees decided to squash or hamper in favor of encouraging noisy tourists who disrupt those using the library’s materials.

Trustees also used the library’s finances as a rationale, but they undercut their own argument when they hatched, in off-the-record sessions, a plan to pay British starchitect Sir Norman Foster $9 million for a design scheme that would have gutted the structure of the building, including the steel stacks holding books. Sir Norman’s plan did result in its research collection being off-loaded to a storage facility in New Jersey. Fortunately that plan failed, although the off-loaded materials have yet to be returned and bare stacks abound in public rooms. It is surely not an accident that the most influential trustees of the NYPL are real estate tycoons and financiers. They drove the sale and destruction of the much-used East 50s branch, the Donnell Library, at a fire sale price of $59 million. After the branch was demolished, a penthouse in the tower being constructed on the site sold for $60 million. How clueless can these trustees really be and who are they serving?

In much-more measured prose than demonstrated in the above paragraphs, Scott Sherman uncovered this story for The Nation. His spare and elegant book Patience and Fortitude Power Real Estate and the Fight to Save A Public Library would be the rewarding experience of an evening’s reading if one could concentrate on the fact that the Foster/Central Library Plan was quashed when Mayor Bill de Blasio declined to fund it. However, the trustees involved are still active. Equally important, the book is revelatory of the capture of the boards of nearly every civic organization in the city by financial and real estate profiteers who know only cronyism and financial gain and are capable of nothing else. Happily, Sherman portrays many interesting and constructive New Yorkers in Patience and Fortitude. These labor tirelessly in the light for public good and not in closed session. One pivotal player in the defeat of the Central Library plan was a young member of the state assembly named Micah Kellner who chaired the Assembly’s library committee and was also running for New York City Council. In late June, 2013 he held an 8-hour public hearing that inspired a closer look at the plan. It galvanized and unified its opponents and led to lawsuits by distinguished scholars. A month after the hearing, Kellner’s career was effectively destroyed. The N.Y. Times reported that four years earlier a junior staff member had charged Kellner with verbal sexual harassment. Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver (his own troubles surfacing) claimed that he had only just learned of the 2009 episode and a similar alleged incident that had occurred in 2011. Kellner, who is openly bi-sexual as well as a husband and father, lost his bid for the City Council. Sexual harassment, especially if it is actually proven, is indefensible, but the timing of the career-killing charges is interesting. Power is not power unless it is exercised. But perhaps there are Higher Powers. A few weeks after the Central Library Plan was abandoned in May 2014, a section of the Rose Reading Room ceiling collapsed. Normal wear to the steel trusses that supported it was blamed. Repairs continue and the huge expanse is still shuttered. But what greater, un-doable damage might have been done if the trustees had been allowed to rip out the steel trusses altogether? How many oligarch-ready condos might have been built like the ones that are going up where the popular, democratic Donnell Library once stood? It’s too late for patience. Now urgency and fortitude are called for, along with Distrust of trustees. What do you think? Please comment in the box below.

50,000 Frenchmen (and Women) Can’t Be Wrong — Right?

Springtime in New York is particularly tinged by grace notes of Paris this year, as the N.Y. Times has pointed out. The French consulate estimates that 50,000 French citizens live in New York City. Based on the number of tourists milling about, it seems that friends and relatives are visiting most of them. When they ride our subway, do they feel more at home or less? Peruse these photos from the Paris Metro to decide.

casquette de baseball

The N.Y. Yankees have un ami in this Montmartre metro entrance

Easy listening

Easy listening

Graffiti, French style?

Graffiti, French style?

FDR, we are here

FDR, we are here

The Metro really is cleaner

It does look cleaner

Learning to Step On Tolerant Toes

At last New Yorkers have reason to be happy that the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s courtesy campaign has been a total failure. It’s a sign that riders don’t pay attention to notices on subways and busses! This makes me feel better about the U.S. District Court judge who would allow the pro-Israel American Freedom Defense Initiative to run an ad featuring a menacing Arab and the words “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah.” [See AFDI photo featuring a non-menacing American] The ad attributes this to Hamas TV and adds this line below the quote: “That’s his Jihad. What’s yours?”

The AFDI wanted to run this message in the NYC transit system last year, but the MTA rejected it saying it could be a call to violence again Jews. The AFDI sued and won Tuesday in the U.S. District Court. Today the MTA tried to blunt the ruling by sending a letter to the judge saying that at its April 29 meeting the MTA board will establish a new policy to ban ads of a political nature. The MTA also has 30 days to appeal the decision through the courts.

Judge John G. Koeltl of the U.S. District Court sided with the AFDI based in part on the lack of evidence that similar ads in Chicago and San Francisco had ill effect. He also noted, “The defendants underestimate the tolerant quality of New Yorkers and overestimate the political impact of these fleeting advertisements.”

Who Say's it's A Sharing Economy?

Pole Hog Under “Don’t Be A Pole Hog” message

Well, okay. We could also call New Yorkers “tolerant” rather than “dangerously self-absorbed” when they ignore the following notices that are part of the MTA courtesy campaign: “Step Aside to Let Others Off First.” “Don’t Be a Poll Hog.” “Keep the Doors Clear So Others Can Board.” Riders of all races, colors, creeds and nationalities feel free to block subway doors and restrict entry to other riders whether a car is empty or has relative extra room at rush hour. We could be helping each other, but we don’t.

This behavior comes at a time when ridership is the greatest it has been in 65 years and crowding is a serious problem. I would like to believe that it is tourists who are behaving in such piggish ways, but they seem to find bad behavior part of the show. In any event, if the AFDI does get to run its ad, tourists will have more to see. Not so New Yorkers who will be too tolerant to take much notice, according to the judge. Would they clear the doorway if a police officer asked them to? Would it be helpful to find out? Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.

Update: On Monday April 27 the MTA board voted 7 to 2 in favor of banning political and other controversial ads. A WSJ story notes that government agencies that restrict ad to commercial content generally prevail when challenged in the court. Hooray (for once) for the MTA!

Re-attribution for that Clinton Portrait

Nelson Shanks just revealed that he took it upon himself to immortalize Monica Lewinsky in his portrait of President Bill Clinton 6a00e550199efb8833010535c75e34970bthat hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. He also decided to omit Clinton’s wedding ring. Less known is the fact that the work is actually a tribute to newsman Ted Koppel. Unknown

Fashion from the ’70s — the 1070s

New York Fashion Week for Fall 2015 featured spare and bohemian looks from the 1970s, but cutting edge Proenza Schouler showed something… Proenza Schouler Fall 2015 … that harkens back to William the Conqueror, depicted below on the Bayeux Tapestry at the dramatic moment in 1066 when he lifts his helmet to show his troops that he is still alive. William lifts his helmet The classics. notably military looks, always return. Please share your thoughts in the reply box below.

A Small Midtown Business Survives!

Just in time for the Lenten season comes the miracle of a resurrection — Jim’s Shoe Repair is saved! Having now signed a new lease for the space at 50 E. 59th Street that it has occupied since 1932, Jim’s is a rare example of a successful and hallowed New York City business beating back the encroachment of a faceless mega-corporation. Some eighteen months ago the adjacent Duane Reade store, owned by Walgreen, tried to take over the space of the family-owned business, reportedly because to wanted to install refrigerators. Landlord SL Green Realty was ready to kick Jim’s out and it looked like another small New York City business would be swallowed in the maw of a national chain. (See May 2, 2014 post for background) 

Although SL Green drove Posman Books in Grand Central Station out of business, the firm and its tenant Walgreen decided to relent in the case of this repair shop. Joseph Rocco, grandson of the founder, credits his lawyer Bill Brewer who worked pro bono. “Without Bill Brewer we would be out of here,” he said. “He brought his shoes in here one day and said, ‘What do you mean you are losing your lease? You are not losing your lease.'” Rocco also acknowledges the help of Fox 5, the N.Y. Daily News, bloggers who reported on their plight, and customers who signed their petition. Surely it also helped that customer Kim Cattrall was bringing in a black handbag for repair when the Daily News came to do its story.

The Roccos were determined to save their business and looked for another location. They did manage to find one last fall, and they thought they had a deal. However, that fell through when their prospective landlord dropped them for another tenant who offered more money. Disaster loomed until just before Thanksgiving when Brewer phoned Rocco, inquired if he was sitting down, and said that SL Green had agreed to renew. By Valentine’s Day the papers were ready. Could it be that mega-businesses like Walgreen, and even Real Estate Board of New York members like SL Green, care about their image? Maybe this time.

The survival of Jim’s is a rare victory for those who love New York City and who fight to help its people to thrive. However, more than blogs and Kim Cattrall are needed if even one more small business is to be saved. Today a stroll up Madison Avenue from Jim’s to East 72nd Street offers a visit of at least one empty store front on every block.

Last July, Danny Meyer wrote in the N.Y. Times about the threatened closure of his Union Square Cafe and called for New York City to create a body like London’s Rent Assessment Panel that has helped to preserve neighborhoods. Recently Mayor Bill de Blasio summoned the perfect metaphor when he said that New York City should not be a “gated community.” Nor should it resemble a strip mall in Stamford, but it does. Within a two block radius of my apartment building on the Upper East Side there are two Duane Reades and two Walgreens, plus a CVS. We have more bank branches than delis, which is no accident because the banks took over the spaces of the family-owned food shops that all used to thrive in the days of commercial rent control. If the city can’t bring back fruitful regulation then it must explore the creation of an arbitration panel for commercial rent rates or a similar mechanism that will promote New York’s economic diversity. If the city’s business elites can’t bother to figure out how they can profit from the economic well-being of residents, let them at least think of the tourists. Those Stanford strip malls aren’t much of a draw to all those people that are flying in from Beijing and Rio. Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.

Subway Art Made and Found

Riders of New York City subway are likely to have their eyes glued to mobile devices these days, but those who look around, especially when they transfer, often see mosaics, sculpture and stained glass by established and emerging artists. This is well documented in a new book New York’s Underground Art Museum that features one hundred images displayed throughout the boroughs.

The Times Square station presents two distinguished murals — a glass mosaic by Jacob Lawrence and one nearby in porcelain enamel by Roy Lichtenstein.

Lichtenstein Mural, Times Square subway station

Photo by Rob Wilson for the MTA

But beauty with a nod to abstract expressionism, occurs as commercial images wear away. Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.

Photos by Kathleen Brady

Photos by Kathleen Brady


Who are Patrick Lynch’s Real New Yorkers?

As president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick J. Lynch may be obligated to stand up for every union member who commits a questionable act, even an indefensible one. However, his actions and tone are those of thug, of someone more like a semi-literate television Mafia capo rather than a responsible police officer. Lynch has created, or highlighted, a fissure that exists between an insubordinate, armed police force and the people of New York City, a large number of whom took to the streets in December to protest police treatment of minorities. Why has the media styled growing questions about a pattern of police conduct as an issue between Lynch’s rank and file and the mayor? Possibly because Lynch has spun it that way. Mayor Bill de Blasio owes “New York’s Finest” no apology for voicing concern about dubious actions by some officers – one of whom used a banned chokehold that killed Eric Garner and another who opened the door to a public housing stairwell with the use of a loaded and drawn gun, thereby killing Akai Gurley. The mayor owes no apology for drawing a distinction between officers who serve the public trust and those whose actions invite scrutiny. In every his pronouncement de Blasio has indicated that he does “have the back” of a responsible police force, despite the disrespect of those who literally have turned their backs on him at recent public events, including funerals of assassinated officers. Nonetheless, some contrition is due: Lynch owes an apology to New Yorkers for a work slowdown that has cost the city as much as $10 million per week, according to the Citizen’s Budget Commission, which bases the figure on a drop in the issuance of parking tickets. The N.Y. Daily News reports that Lynch has told his members to go back to doing half of their former workload.  Meanwhile, with all this going on, Lynch through the PBA website and in newspaper ads thanks “real New Yorkers” for not believing that their insubordination has anything to do with labor negotiations and for “holding accountable” those who stir up hatred and violence against police officers.  The question is what kind of people does Lynch regard as “real New Yorkers” because sadly, almost half of his members, notably the white ones, don’t qualify. Some 40 percent are suburban and exurbanites, according to data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Census Bureau. That is a smaller percentage than those other large U.S. cities, but the numbers provoke even more thought when they are examined along racial lines. While 77 percent of black officers live in the five boroughs and 76 percent of Hispanic ones do, only 45 percent of white officers are “real New Yorkers,” if being a “real New Yorker” means residing here and paying city taxes. Minority police officers are more likely than their white colleagues to be willing to live among the people they serve and, apparently, be comfortable with us and raise their families alongside ours. When it comes to living here, can we say that New York City police officers are turning their backs? If minority cops can find a way to afford living here, why can’t – or won’t — white ones? Could moving out of the boroughs be the most questionable act of all? Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.