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

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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.

On the Last Days of Christmas This Is What to See

Some 361 days remain until Christmas 2015, but for those who want to enjoy 2014 holiday windows and displays in New York City, the time grows very short. Here’s a quick list of must-sees, with few spoilers about store themes and no images included. These sights have to be experienced first hand. 1. Macy’s at Herald Square – these are light-years beyond even the fine designs of recent years 2. Bergdorf Goodman – a salute to the arts with an especially textured tribute to Literature 3. Lord & Taylor — an enthralling contact with the enchantment of books. How wonderful to see two great retailers celebrate the pleasure of reading. One humbug to L&T: for years I have been looking for Asian and black revelers, fairies and elves among the tiny white faces so that your imaginative displays reflect all the skin tones of New York. I recall one figure in an Afro last year, but give us more! 4. Tiffany & Co. – crisp and relatively simple tableaux celebrate urban moments while setting off the store’s diamonds and gold. These clear the visual palate after the ebullience of other store windows, even as the building itself is lit up as the best present ever 5. Saks Fifth Avenue – a New York tweak to the fairy tales of the ages. Could you enjoy an apple purchased from the hands of an evil stepmother at a food cart? 5. American Museum of Natural History – best origami tree ever! Salute the topiary dinosaurs on Central Park West then head to the 77th Street entrance where folded paper magic awaits. Spirit of Christmas Past (2012): American Museum of Natural History 2012

Looking for Hope, Even If It Kills Us

Four encouraging things have come out of the unrest resulting from a Staten Island grand jury’s failure to indict the policeman who killed Eric Garner. Garner, who was apparently selling illegal loose cigarettes, was subdued with a banned chokehold after he was surrounded by three policemen, each of whom was almost as big as he was. The grand jury’s decision deprived prosecutors of the opportunity to present facts in court, including those that might have explained the policeman’s action. Nonetheless, here are the emerging good things, one for each week in this season of Advent:

  1. For those who doubt that black and white men are not treated equally under the law, Jim Dwyer, columnist for the N.Y. Times, provided clear if appalling evidence when he detailed the wildly different ways that police dealt with two graduate students at the Union Theological Seminary after they were arrested for blocking traffic.

  2. White people in meaningful numbers are marching with the black community to demand respect for black lives, including those individuals who are suspected of criminal behavior. On the night protests began, I encountered a rolling protest on West 47th Street. Seeing that nearly all the protesters in front of me were white, I burst into tears. It took a few days for me to understand why since the full range of ethnicities I knew was appalled about the lack of indictments in Ferguson, Missouri and certainly about what seems to be a clearer case in Staten Island. Turns out, I was touched by the sight of a huge diverse group of people finally making demands to show that we are one society and that injustice to one group (be it physical or economic) is an attack on everyone.

  3. While some three hundred demonstrators have been arrested, the NYC police have been more focused on maintaining order than in threatening and punishing protestors. At a breakfast of business leaders a few weeks ago, Police Chief Bill Bratton acknowledged that the approach was “hands off” in part to save police time and to avoid paying compensation for over-reacting, as occurred during the Bloomberg Administration. He explained that the city is paying out some $18 million in claims from the 2004 Republican National Convention and the Occupy Wall Street three years ago. In addition, police time is spent in giving depositions about the mass arrests that occurred.

  4. Citizens who might have needed a reminder have been forced to recognize what the police have to deal with every day thanks to self-righteous protestors who attacked officers on the Brooklyn Bridge. The attackers who broke the law had the good luck not to kill anyone, making them more fortunate than Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who surely did not mean to kill the asthmatic Garner with a chokehold. As it is, both he and Garner have entered the history of the civil rights movement, on different sides certainly. Is it too much to hope that their horrific encounter will be a turning point in New York City and throughout the country? Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.

The Trouble with Noerdlinger

About five weeks ago New York City’s First Lady Chirline McCray sent a mass email inviting recipients to be an “UpStander.” Her message said in part “…all of us can be UpStanders, not bystanders, in preventing domestic violence. We can be UpStanders by teaching our kids to respect one another, by supporting victims fleeing abusive relationships, or by speaking up when we hear jokes or other statements that promote violence or victim blaming.” The missive included a link to a city website.

This crystalized why Rachel Noerdlinger should have resigned as McCray’s chief of staff as soon as details of her controversial home life became public in early October. None of the many stories about her relationship with her problematic live-in boyfriend Hassaun McFarlan indicate she was ever physically beaten. However, police records indicate that she made a very bad choice of a longtime companion for herself and for her son. McFarlan’s background includes recent arrests, inflammatory rants against the police on his Facebook page and a six-year term in prison for manslaughter.

If Chirline McCray takes it upon herself to urge women to make healthy life choices, Noerdlinger is not the person she should have by her side. So it is a good thing that the chief of staff finally took an indefinite unpaid leave of absence after her son’s arrest last weekend.

The people who should have been involved here are not McCray and Mayor Bill de Blasio but Oprah or Dr. Phil. Perhaps New York’s first couple stuck by Noerdlinger because they did not want to give in to foes like police unions who may well have fed facts to the media. Possibly the two are blindly loyal. Whatever. If Noerdlinger were the essential public relations whiz she was supposed to be she would have resigned immediately, no matter how the de Blasios protested that she must stay. She would then have been at least as loyal to them as they have so unfortunately been to her.

The background: DNA Info broke the story that McFarlan served six years for manslaughter in the 1990s. Noerdlinger lives with him and her son in Edgewater, New Jersey where in 2011, police arrested him for possession of marijuana. He had been driving her Mercedes-Benz the wrong way with Noerdlinger and an underage passenger, presumably her son, in the car. She received a violation for allowing McFarlan to drive her car without a license.

De Blasio stood by her, saying that his aides knew about McFarlan, even if she had not included information about him in information the law required her to submit to the city’s Investigation Department. The mayor said, with some righteousness, that she should not be judged by the behavior of a companion. What if the behavior endangers a minor and the public and is part of a larger pattern? Will de Blasio allow himself to learn from this? Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.

Is the Board of Elections a Job Program?

The New York City Board of Elections has some 700 days to prepare for the 2016 presidential balloting. Based on my experience in these past two election cycles, I expect the BOE to gum it up again, unless some basic changes are made.
This year I was a poll worker at the side of a very dear man who was incapable of doing his job. Let’s call him Fred. A veteran with ten years service in the Army, he participated in the Reagan invasion of Granada and was discharged after suffering seizures. Fred radiated sweetness and a near-total incompetence that was recognized by all.
Five minutes after the polls opened our supervisor called for replacements for four workers who had been identified as problematic and was told that replacements were in a cab on their way to us. However, by 11 p.m. when we went home after an 18 hour day (minus two hours worth of breaks), no reinforcements had arrived.
In the meantime we managed. Fred’s unending good will melted my stony heart and together we figured out how he could tear the paper ballots from the pad without ripping them. We decided that would be his job while I signed in voters and answered questions about the ballot and the scanner, which some 80 percent distrust.
At least Fred remained calm throughout. Last year during the mayoral primary I worked in Greenwich Village. Early in the morning a worker at the next table spied Sarah Jessica Parker. My colleague started shrieking her name and ran up to talk to her in what became a brief commotion with flashing cell phone cameras. Whether SJP now casts an absentee ballot or comes to polling places in disguise I cannot say for I transferred to my own election district uptown where I found Fred.
He told me that he had worked at this very polling place two years ago. I recall the place in 2012 as a scene of complete ineptitude, exponentially aggravated by a high turnout for the presidential election. Voters stood on line up and down the street for more than an hour, and once inside were directed to the wrong tables, misinformed about how to fill out paper ballots, and subjected to broken scanners. I think I remember Fred himself misinforming me while impervious to my snarls. The chaos created by the workers themselves inspired me to enlist as a poll worker to try to understand why the BOE operates as it does. (enter  Poll Worker in the search box above to read about last year’s experience).
To a certain extent, I then became part of the problem because of my lack of experience and sketchy knowledge, which are compounded by the fact that procedures change a bit each year. Many workers and nearly all supervisors know balloting procedures cold and do their best, but they can’t be with each of us simultaneously to correct mistakes during the day or when we close the polls at night’s end. They manage to do a credible job only when turnout is low. I passed tests this August, but had forgotten some key elements by November. Those who not pass are encouraged to take the training over and over until they do. Some ultimately accomplish this with the help of instructors, which may explain how my new friend Fred managed to qualify.
Here’s an idea: maybe those who cannot pass the open book test at the end of training should not be allowed to try again. The failure of this simple test, which does have a few questions that seem tricky, indicates that the job is not for them.

Last summer a Rob Lowe look-alike helped supervise my training. He told me that he takes a leave of absence from his job each year because he feels that Republicans like himself should get more involved and not leave it to registered Democrats. Thinking we were simpatico I asked, unwisely, if he thought that Republicans did not volunteer because they did not believe in government. He said they did not volunteer because Republicans tended to have jobs. Well, maybe there is something to that. Poll workers in New York earn about $10 an hour for a day that goes from 5 am to some time after 9 pm when the polls close. That money will be a godsend to many, including Fred.
Capable citizens are as much to blame for the alarming performance of the Board of Education as anyone. Friends and neighbors who saw me at work gave me patronizing smiles. Many people who say they care about voting have the free time and stamina to do this work and should sign up to do so, at least once.

On election night, a poll monitor thanked me for working with Fred. He said they knew he should not work again. I asked if the Board of Elections was about voting or make-work. The monitor mumbled, backing away, that it was a little of both. If so, the Board of Elections might seek new poll workers at unemployment offices, veterans groups, houses of worship, Facebook and Twitter where able-bodied, able-minded long-term unemployed people can be found. Those recruits might not be as pleasant or deserving as Fred, who made for better company than many world-beaters I know, but they might be able to do the job.

Should the BOE be a job program? What has been your voting experience? Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box

What Goes Around Comes Back

On Thursday a contractor for the MTA made a boo boo and drilled into a subway tunnel at the 21st Street Station in Long Island City. Its giant drill bit scraped an occupied F-line subway car. The contractor, Griffin Dewatering New England, apparently did not follow instructions. Two years ago an MTA contractor blew life-threatening debris into East 72nd Street in Manhattan. In both incidents, people were scared witless, but no one was physically injured. However, over the past year passengers on another MTA operation, Metro-North Railroad, have died. The National Transportation Safety Board delivered a scathing condemnation of Metro-North and its regulator this Tuesday. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called the Federal Railroad Administration “essentially a lawless agency, a rogue agency.” * This came after the NTSB investigated five accidents resulting in six fatalities, more than 100 injuries, and $28 million in damages in the past eleven months. The report found that Metro-North had sacrificed scheduled maintenance and safety to keep the trains running on time. Bad management and oversight of both Metro-North and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at the highest levels is indicated and it adds to the irony of another story that appeared next to the NTSB story in print editions of the N.Y. Times: Jay Walder, chairman of the MTA from 2009 to October, 2011 is the new head of Alta Bicycle Share that operates the Citi Bike program. In July, 2011 the board of the MTA allowed Walder to break his six-year contract, which should have run until the end of 2015. Thus he was able to seize the opportunity to run the MTR Corporation that operates rail services in China. When Walder ran out on the MTA, instead of publicly chiding Walder for breaking his contract with the public, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former mayor Michael Bloomberg offered nothing but praise. The MTA board sent him off with a party. Only Gene Russianoff, head of the Straphangers Campaign, said that Walder’s unexpected departure would harm the MTA. “There’s always a learning curve for new management, and this learning curve will occur during the period when they’re funding their incredibly important rebuilding program,” he said. “I don’t think it’s so hot.” As it turns out, Walder’s scarper wasn’t a good career move. This year in Hong Kong, MTR announced it would not renew his contract in a decision that was “mutual.” So if the MTA and government officials had required Walder to live up to his commitments he would still be working for the people of the region. Whether Metro-North and the MTA would have performed better and spared lives and revenue with him at the helm can never be known. All that’s known is that that the man who once oversaw subway, busses and trains in the New York metropolitan region is now running a 1000-bike program he hopes to expand to all five boroughs. He will relocate Alta from Portland, Oregon to New York and will bring 6,000 more bikes to New York City. Cyclists have the kind of clout that riders of public transit riders. This time Walder needs to succeed big. Do you think he run Citi Bike longer than the few years he gave the MTA? Longer than the few he was with MTR? Will the de Blasio administration demand more from him than the MTA did? Do you expect him to do a good job? Are his skills transferable? Please comment below.

  • CORRECTION The original post 10/31/14 erroneously reported that Sen. Blumenthal’s quote referred to Metro-North. He was actually referring to the Federal Railroad Administration. Attribution is correct in the linked N.Y. Times story.