The Power Broker

I am selling 2 apartments on Second Avenue, and while they are really great apartments in a wonderful doorman building, one of the obstacles I have had is that they are constructing the Second Ave Subway outside the property. The Subway is a spectacular and much needed public works. Every New Yorker, Republican, Democrat, Rich, Poor, Vegan, Sports Fan, Ludite, Undocumented Alien, Homeless, Pierced, Parent, Pet Owner, Pastry Chef, Painter, please! Please support this venture. It’s good for all of us.

It’s been going a little slow. And the later phases (the downtown parts) have not really been funded yet. One thing that is interesting is that I have been reading a very famous book called The Power Broker. It’s about Robert Moses. He, like me, had no middle initial. Mr. Moses had an amazing career. You can’t understate his accomplishments in his early career.

Robert Moses

He came up in a time where New York City had almost 200 separate City government departments. The reason for all of these separate departments was to provide jobs for poor immigrant families, and the reason departments and jobs were needed was that this was the currency of the City’s old masters, Tammany Hall. Tammany Hall was the name given for the working class political organization that put Mayor’s and, later, Governors, in power in New York. The power of an effective “Get out the vote” machine remains vital to winning an election. Ask Eric Cantor.

Well the moral and conscious, and wealthier taxpayers, thought wasting all of the city’s tax base on jobs for people basically given as bribes to ensure votes at the ballot was a pretty ruinous way to run a city. The City’s aristocracy developed something called a Good Government Movement. One of the darlings of this Movement was Bob Moses. And his first achievement was helping reform the City Government. The Mayor at that time, Alfred Smith (a Tammany chieftan) took a liking to Bob Moses.

New-York-Skyline-under-The-Queensboro-Bridge

And so Mr. Moses, in the name of doing good, cutting waste, reducing bureaucracy, was able to elevate himself, over the next 40 years, into the most powerful man in the State, and amongst the most in the Country. During the Great Depression, he was able to steer 1 in 7 of all of the Federal New Deal funds towards his own building projects (of which he controlled a no-bid awarding of construction contracts).

He was able to build an island – Roosevelt Island (used to be 2 islands, he literally built it) and put on top of it a bridge – the Triborough, and wrote the laws so that he controlled all the money that came from the tolls, and in doing so had more money available to him at any time than any politician to use to fund public works.

His successes were great and helped New Yorkers in the City and State tremendously. Every park in the City other than Central Park and Prospect Park (so parks like Marine Park, Riverside Park, and Jones Beach) were built by Moses. Many highways – the Belt, the BQE, etc… Built by Moses.

If his career’s later stages were corrupt and power hungry, his early stages were callous, bigoted and selfish, but his results were real. His philosophies were imperfect (it turns out building more roads doesn’t decrease traffic, it actually can increase the use of cars which increases traffic,) but his focus on GETTING THINGS DONE was admirable. Anyone who wants to know how the City of New York developed should read The Power Broker.

Game Of Homes

If you haven’t been following the much hyped Game of Thrones on HBO, because, well, you have a life, let me bring you up to speed. This is a television show about warring factions who are vying for the throne of a fictitious world where they are protected by a big wall that keeps out cannibal zombies, giants, and other baddies.

There are some key themes that translate to the life of New Yorkers. I was really sickened to read that someone was killed on the 6 train recently. I have a confession (It wasn’t me!) but I have definitely wanted to punch a fellow straphanger once upon a time. And especially on the 4, 5 trains. You know there is a certain etiquette to riding the train – you let someone off before you get on, give up a seat for an older person or a pregnant woman, and don’t blast your music please. All of that is basically often violated on a regular basis on the east side train.

Game-of-Thrones

As a result the City, in its infinite wisdom, decided to make a train on the Second Ave subway. And I support that idea. I am very grateful to all who have sacrificed in creating this vision. Then I read that the new Mayor Mountain had agreed to let one of the high density buildings that the old King Lannister Mayor Bloomberg had rezoned for politically active Petyr Baelish Mark Green.

In exchange for being able to build a huge skyscraper, the developer is going to give the city the following: they are agreeing to build an underground passageway from Grand Central for their commercial tenants to access the existing train station. Hey, Mayor, here’s a hint: if you are going to let these guys build their new trophy buildings, please make them, in exchange, finance the later phases of the Second Ave subway.

Even if the counterpoint is that the amounts needed are large and the amounts given are small, every little bit helps.

A Quiet War On The Water

I am leaving The Domino Sugar Factory. I have just been observing something so striking that once you witness it, you will never unwitness it.

As I drive myself urgently to the Upper East Side to show a listing, I marvel while sitting in traffic on the Pulaski Bridge of the amazing scope of monuments that New York Real Estate presents. Each skyscraping building is a singular masterpiece of finance, labor, architecture, technology, and a body politic that nurtures and preserves the presence of each one. However, the City isn’t about its buildings, the Apple is made sweet by its soul.

A hilarious stand-up comic friend, Drew Dowdy, who I grew up with in Park Slope, wrote on Facebook the other day “You Are Not From The Same Brooklyn I Am.” There is and has been among the City’s middle class a feeling the City has lost something almost irretrievable in the past 10 years. What has eroded are the artisans and artists, and blue collar workers, who used to have some legal protections.

I don’t mean to get heavy on you, BUT THE 50 TON AFRICAN AMERICAN SPHINX MADE OUT OF SUGAR. I just checked out makes no sense without making these specific background points. The art work was just presented to us by two persons, one from the team at Creative Time (an amazing not-for-profit Arts Organization that IS the needle in the City,) and one of the fabricators of the project, an alum of the NYU Museum Studies Department where my Stepmother Josephine Gear teaches.

Domino-Sugar-Factory-Williamsburg-Brooklyn

The artwork on its own is one of a kind. I have travelled the world seeing art and architecture. This is a local wonder of the world. It’s the only must-see I have ever known about in the history of New York City. Go see it.
The artist, Kara Walker, along with Creative Time and the team that have created the installation sure have their finger on the pulse. Kara is a 2D artist primarily, and worked from inspirations that included stereotypical depictions of sugar worker dolls and other imagery (on the site) to create the Sphinx and her processional (out of actual sugar, with foam and resin) as a statement of strength in the face of persecution.

Our host makes the point that the Sphinx was not only a guardian, but also a huntress. Of course, most people don’t need an Art History course as to why Ms. Walker created this symbol of strength at Williamsburg’s Domino Sugar Factory. It is a beautiful historical building being torn down.

Once the sight of local industry, it is now the site of private development, obscuring the river view (owned by the public) for the enjoyment of the few who will rent there. The building will be a high priced rental developed and managed by Two Trees. No one else will be able to live there without Two Tree’s permission, at the rents they set, etc… The public won’t get to trade them as condos, the City won’t get to preserve the site as a school or as affordable public housing, or a museum or Park. The mill of progress will grind away history to make way for a singular, narrow, and precariously high priced inflated vision for the benefit of one incredibly lucky landlord.

As I am leaving the Domino Sugar Factory, Hannah from Creative Time is walking me to the locked gate to let me off the property. I am gushing over the Sphinx, Creative Time, etc.. In the distance the soulless glass golems of 440 Kent St tower. Hannah says to me, “What do you do?” “I’m a real estate agent.” “Ah…”

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Club Med NYC

I have a confession. When I was 6 years old I flew over Shea Stadium during the 1986 World Series. Sometime a year later I went to a Mets Game.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is about how much I knew about Queens until I turned 30.

Now I am a total fan of the North Eastern Borough. A year ago I wrote about a restaurant in Astoria called Queens Comfort. That place is cool if you want to see some weird menu items crush the status quo. However, if you really want to eat some G-DDAMNED good food, check out the Greek Captain Restaurant. Don’t read Yelp.

We had the following: Large Greek Salad (to share), Grilled Octopus, Dip Combo (Skordalia, Tzatziki, Taramosalata, Melitzanosalata,) Calamari, Zuchini Croquettes, and some White Wine. They also serve Garlic Bread which is AMAZING. The price was reasonable, we sat outdoors, and we had a lovely time. Others were eating lobster and larger entrees. I must say there were many, shall I say, people who looked like they had many good meals in their lives, dining alongside of us. You know what. Those people are experts in flavor. This is some good eating.

New-York-Queens-Borough-Art-Map

Look, everyone has had the Pita and dip combo somewhere, and this is not an out of this world demonstration of this appetizer. However, the octopus and calamari are just SOOO GOOOOD. SOOOO GOOOD. And the Zuchini Croquettes were just perfect.

This fed 3 people very well (we couldn’t finish.)We spent less than $100.00 (well less in fact including tip.) Across the street from this Greek Restaurant was a Brazillian restaurant, an Irish restaurant, and there are many other cultural opportunities to dine. On the walk to the restaurant we were able to see some dudes in a White Jeep Wrangler blasting music (like the stereotypical neighborhood guys of NYC’s yore, prehipster.)

Astoria isn’t new by any means, but in this time of a red hot Brooklyn market, it’s really nice to still have this refuge where prices haven’t skyrocketed in the same way and people are more down to earth and clearly have a history and a heritage within a neighborhood. I look forward to more cultural occasions in the hood.