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.

Note to Met Museum Cafeteria: I’d like a side of atmosphere

It’s not enough for me that New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art possesses Vermeer’s “Women With a Water Jug,” the Temple of Dendur and a large room full of armor. No, what I would like, truly, is to take pride in its cafeteria. That generic basement eatery could be anywhere, including a suburb in a declining Midwestern city. The posters that someone finally installed on its windowless walls have not improved the experience.

Graeco-Roman or 1930s Hollywood?

A nook at the Met Museum public cafeteria. Photos invoke 1930s Hollywood, not the Greek and Roman wing.

In the earlier public cafeteria space, art-lovers could munch on perfect medium-rare roast beef sandwiches in the aura of McKim, Mead and White’s marbled Roman atrium. That was taken over by the sublime Leon Levy and Shelby White Court of Classical Art.  Since then, the cafeteria has been déclassé, despite the high prices. In fairness, a few years ago the Prado’s cafeteria seemed plain, but its gazpacho imparted a cultural experience that was the best of Madrid, the essence of Spain.

The Musée d’Orsay in Paris should be an inspiration to the Met Museum. The food twice is good as Met fare, which makes it seem half the price (a friend paid $19 at the Met cafeteria for a plate of indifferent mashed potatoes and green beans, whereas I paid $23 at the full service d’Orsay brasserie for a large serving of smoked salmon, crudités and bottomless bread basket that I shared with a companion). Price is of course tangential to  visual aesthetics.

At the Musée d’Orsay, patrons at the snack bar, formally known as the Cafe de l’Ours, can enjoy a view of François Pompon’s delightful sculpture of an imposing polar bear.

by Sophie Boegly, free image from Musée-d'Orsay

Cafe de l’Ours snack bar at Musee Dorsay

While the Bear Cafe is just right for many museum patrons, those who want a meal can go to the restaurant that was part of the original Hotel d’Orsay adjacent to the train station that became the Musée d’Orsay.

Musee Dorsay

Restaurant Hotel d’Orsay combining haunt French style and plastic chairs with panache

And for those of us with appetites and budgets just in the middle, there is the Cafe Campana brasserie designed by the Campana Brothers of Brazil. They also devised the set for Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf at the Guggenheim Museum in 2008.

Lively atmosphere with decor of art

Who could have a bad time at this brasserie designed by the Campana Brothers of Brazil with art piece room divider?

Yours for 25 euros!

Yours for 25 euros!

Providing a more imaginative experience at the Met Museum cafeteria could be monetized. Do as the French. Remember: Exit through the gift shop!


Are NYC Pedestrians Less Important Than Carriage Horses?

In New York City, biking safety is measured by pedestrian body count. Not too many individuals are killed by lawless bike-riders, therefore biking is safe.

Nonetheless, most people I know, even cyclists, report that they are terrorized by bike-riders on sidewalks and in crosswalks on a daily basis. It is poor sportsmanship to say that cyclists should obey traffic laws or that they are anything less than a public good. When I was hit by a delivery biker while I stood behind the pedestrian barricade at the Second Avenue subway construction site this summer, the useless safety guard was amazed that I could expect any assistance. That wasn’t her job description, apparently. She thought it was an explanation when she snapped, “I am here to help people.” Not to worry, I stopped limping the next day.

Well today Jill Tarlov, 58, was stopped completely. The Connecticut wife and mother of two died this morning after several days of brain death caused by cyclist Jason Marshall, 31, who struck her down near West 62nd Street in Central Park on Thursday. The N.Y. Times reported the incident as well as the passion of New Yorkers whose concern about lawless cyclists is habitually ignored. As of this posting, he has yet to be charged with a crime. The N.Y. Post reported that Marshall has boasted of speeding on this $4,000 bike on the website http://www.strava.com. As of this posting, he has not been charged with a crime.

Hopefully, since one specific horror can illuminate festering wrongs, Tarlov’s death will be as transformative as the knock-out punch thrown by former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice against his then-fiancee. Revealed on a security video tape, it brought into focus the chronic violence against women that the National Football League and our Super Bowl-loving nation has long ignored. Now even the football commissioner has been shamed into paying attention.

Clearly, the city’s two-week police crackdown last month on cyclist law-breakers did not work. We need serious law enforcement every day, including the law that forbids anyone over the age of 14 from riding on the sidewalks. In addition, we need statues that require all cyclists to be licensed or registered and to wear large, visible registration numbers on their backs. Above all, cyclists must affix working headlights to their bikes and turn them on, as cars must, when twilight begins. Cyclists wearing black clothes in the black of even early black night are invisible to hapless pedestrians who dare to leave their homes after sundown.

On Monday morning as Tarlow’s death was announced, a woman wearing a Central Parks Conservancy volunteer tunic was at the accident site urging cyclists to obey posted notices that forbad bike riding on park pathways and also to get them to stop speeding through red lights. She told me she didn’t mind if they slowly rode through red ones (I do, however). For the most part, cyclists seemed to know they had to watch themselves. The volunteer told me, “I have seen the man who killed her many times. He speeds all the time. I do this volunteer work because I am a cyclist and I want it to be done right.”

Even so, cyclists know laws are not really for them. Tarlov’s husband was probably planning her funeral when I took these photos of the spot where she was struck down:


The green light at left means that this biker had a red and should not be in crosswalk. Police presence did not faze him.


Future Killer?

Breaking the law at the scene of a brain death




Could he kill your parent or child?

This man rode away when volunteer told him to dismount when on a pedestrian pathway. In this photo he returns to ignore park rules and rejoin a female companion who dismounted and waited for him.

Outside the park, this cyclist grimaced and dismounted after I took her photo. Maybe she heard about Tarlov.

Outside the park, this well-heeled cyclist grimaced and dismounted after I took her photo. She knew she was doing the wrong thing. If I did this while waiting for a bus, what could police accomplish?

It’s time to get serious. Mayor deBlasio believes he had to take a principled stand again carriage horses. Let him take a stand against cycling scofflaws who ruin the quality of life of people who are trying to walk down a sidewalk or cross a street. CBS News, which employs Jill Tarlow’s widower, has promised to report on the issue. For most of New York’s media, that would make a real change. Here is the statement from Anton Guitano, Chief Operating Officer, CBS Local Media, and Peter Dunn, President, CBS Television Stations: “We are heartsick over the passing of our dear friend and former 1010 WINS Radio colleague Jill Tarlov. As we mourn the loss of our friend and console Mike and his family, we are committed to doing what we can to bring greater public awareness of the perils of unsafe and distracted driving by motorists and cyclists that endangers pedestrians. Far too many people have been killed or seriously injured on our streets.” To this I would add: Terrorized too.

Funny the rider in the photo lower left doesn’t look under age 14 to me.  Please comment and click on  “Leave a reply” below.



Paris Has a High Line! Qui savait que?

Present in the City was present in Paris and files this report:

It’s not as exciting as New York’s High Line, even for a New Yorker excited about Paris, but the City of Lights does have its own elevated park. Opened in 1993, 16 years before the 2009 debut of Manhattan’s newest landmark, the Viaduct des Arts/Promenade Plantée runs on the abandoned Vincennes Railroad viaduct northeast of the Gare de Lyon and then continues at street level.

Lovers of the High Line who run out of other things to do in Paris, and find themselves seeking tranquility or the understated scribbles that mimic Gotham graffiti, might check it out. Although it’s mentioned in guide books, it is still not easy to find. It is marked on the Paris aver Rues map available at metro stations and is a bit of a stroll from the Bastille stop. Walk down the Rue de Lyon until you come to the red brick wall. Meanwhile, New Yorkers staying home can check out the new section of the High Line opening Sept. 21. Here are some views for comparison (click for enlargements):

Promenade Plantee

Quiet Contemplation

Peaceful lunch

Dejeuner sur bench

Skeptical Parisians

Cherchez graffiti — they are waving, really

Viaduct des Arts

The base of the Promenade Plantee

Health Enthusiasts

Health Enthusiasts

Bridge at Viaduct des Arts

Sky Bridge

Viaduct des Arts

No grass to cut at this level

Send the Children Home

Multi-cultural New York City, through governmental and non-profit immigrant service agencies, is working to find shelter and other needed resources for the tide of unaccompanied children pouring over the southwest border of the U.S. from Central America. Since last October, according to the N.Y. Times, federal officials have sent 3,200 of these minors into New York State alone. One potential source of housing for them is a former convent in Syracuse.

Some attribute the influx of these hapless children to immigration policies that are more lenient to children than to adults. The Obama Administration blames the poor state of the economies of Central America. As for what is to be done now, some say turn the kids back immediately, others say they should be allowed to stay.

For myself, I am going with the opinion of my friend Milly, who has a life history of being pro-immigrant. A U.S. citizen since birth, she has done social work in Mexico, worked with immigrants arriving on these shores, and now teaches English to newcomers from all nations in New York City. She insists that the children must be sent back to their homes immediately. She has seen first-hand the horrors – robbery, rape and murder as well as exposure to the elements – that such children face on their journey from Honduras to the southwest border. Milly insists that any such travel must be blocked and discouraged. Certainly, it should not be rewarded.

I am left with two questions: First, did NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, deliver as promised? It seems not to have engendered the “certain” boost to the Mexican economy that would keep its people thriving at home. In the U.S., even factoring in automation, it deprived U.S. workers without college degrees of needed work, forcing them on social support at taxpayer expense. It was good for shareholders and intellectual property rights. It also dealt a big blow to unions. Learn about other outcomes here and see one of NAFTA’s proponents make a case for her work here.

Second question: How fast can we de-criminalize drug use and regulate and tax the sales of substances from marijuana to heroin? You can bet the drug lords of Mexico and the gangs they sub-contract to don’t want this to happen. Neither do those who live off the tax-funded U.S. prison system, which is supported by drug convictions and is, statistically speaking, the destination of many of today’s scarred and unaccompanied immigrant children.

Let’s Take This Lying Politician Seriously

The only good thing you can say about Gabriela Rosa is that she makes a great case for immigration reform. Without meaningful statues governing immigration, people who lie and cheat their way into the United States, as she did, will continue to feel justified. Worse yet, they will find support. She is surely not a woman who before last Friday would have told her son that playing by the rules and working hard were the way to succeed.

Why last Friday? Because that’s the day that her crimes became known. Rosa came to New York from the Dominican Republic. In 1996 she paid a man $8,000 to marry her so she could become a citizen. She later used that sham marriage to defraud a bankruptcy court. Eventually she divorced the husband she paid and married the man she had been involved with all along. She was so comfortable with her behavior that she ran for office in 2012 and was hailed as the first Dominican-American elected to the state assembly. Along the way she received $1,000 from a foreign government in violation of campaign finance laws.

Happily the truth caught up with her. Now 47, Gabriela Rosa was forced out of office after pleading guilty to two felonies. She is a disgrace to every group to which she belongs. She is a stain on women, immigrants, Hispanics and Dominicans. Her plea deal included her resignation from office, so she no longer belongs on the roster of New York State officials. Lamentably, she seemed to fit in there. That set from this year alone includes a roster of native-born convicted lawbreakers, including Eric A. Stevenson, William F. Boyland, Jr. and possibly Malcolm A. Smith, who was recently granted a mistrial and will be retried in January. All are Democrats like Ms. Rosa.

As part of her plea agreement, the U.S. attorney Preet Bharara will recommend that she serve only 12 to 18 months in prison. Her attorney Matthew Myers, who is under obligation to provide spin, says that her crime was minor. I don’t think so. I hope that judge will give her the maximum of 10 years instead. Please comment below.

Mutant Architecture: Days of Past Oddified

Not that one’s mind could wander while watching the film  X Men Days of Future Past, but it put me in mind of buildings that continue to distract me, such as the Military Museum in Dresden and the Hearst Tower in New York City. Here’s how that happened: The X Men are a species bearing much resemblance to homo sapiens except they have unique super-properties grafted on to them. Wolverine, as you moviegoers know, has noisy extended metal claws that frankly detract from the pleasure of looking at Hugh Jackman who plays him.

Strange eruptions like those from the Marvel Comics superheros made me think of what Daniel Libeskind did to the Dresden museum and how Norman Foster augmented the Hearst Building. They just look odd. Renzo Piano’s addition to the Morgan Museum & Library is so jarring that it makes what is original to the complex feel fake. I have yet to find or take a photo that conveys what it is like to step from the hush and splendor of the library into the trumpeting light and bare wood flooring of Piano’s addition. His work feels odd and violates the place. In contrast, one makeover ennobles. The standout is Foster’s Reichstag in Berlin, which exorcizes the horrors of its past and creates a setting for a soaring and responsible future. From the outside the classic shape of the glass dome harmonizes with the 19th century facade. Inside the environment is transformed. Lacking credentials as an architectural critic, I have hesitated to publish these thoughts.  Now I am emboldened by insightful Witold Rybczynski, who has written an excellent piece in the N.Y. Times that questions the aesthetics of global architecture. Read it here and hope that those who bankroll New York’s cultural institutions hand-in-glove with real estate developers and hedge fund managers will learn something of the public good. Please share your thoughts.

Libeskind in Dresden

Libeskind’s Wing

Hearst Tower, Manhattan

Foster’s Hearst Tower

Reichstag in Berlin

Foster’s Reichstag