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Kicking up controversy, and dust

A long-simmering dispute over park usage erupted into a war of words in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, last week when a longtime resident and civic leader criticized a group of athletes on the New York Times’ new blog devoted to the neighborhood, the Local.

Abby Weissman, acting president of the South Oxford Street Block Association and a member of the Fort Greene Park Conservancy, blamed soccer players for the poor state of the field that takes up most of the park’s southeastern corner. Grass has not grown for years on the flat expanse of dirt where the devoted group of friends play pick-up soccer games every Saturday and Sunday and often on weekdays.

Comments on the blog were mixed, but most supported the soccer players. Commenter “skfk” wrote, “I think it’s great that people are using the park for what it offers–sports, a place for dogs, high school students, etc. I think people make too much of this ‘dustball’ — who wants a pristine lawn that no one’s allowed to use.”

In a subsequent post, Julius Spiegel, the Brooklyn parks commissioner, was quoted as having no interest in stopping the games. A soccer player’s point of view came next when Fabio Otalora wrote a response to all the criticism, pointing out that many other neighborhood residents use the same area of the park, including dozens of dogs who run freely every morning.

Click on the photo below to view a slideshow about the dispute:

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Liveblog: Sharpton protests preferential treatment for Madoff

12:25 pm

Five minutes from now, the Rev. Al Sharpton is scheduled to lead a rally outside 133 64th St. in Manhattan, at the corner of Lexington Ave., the building where accused securities fraudster Bernie Madoff lives.

Madoff is out on $10 million bail but confined to his home. Sharpton and other critics contend that this is much more lenient treatment than minorities accused of crimes receive.

12:32 pm

Still no Sharpton. The crowd is small, maybe 15 people. Channel 4 and 7 newsvans are here.

12:35 pm

The police have set up barricades in the middle of 64th St., and people are gathering across the street from Madoff’s building.

12:40 pm

About 10 people have started marching in an oval inside the police-barricaded area, shouting “Hey hey, ho ho, Madoff has got to go” and “Justice for everyone.”

12:53 pm

The number of people marching and chanting has increased to about 27. They are mostly African-American, plus a few older white folks.


Hey! Sharpton’s here! He has joined the marchers.

12:58 pm

The chants are all about equal justice now. There are several photographers here, as well as curious well-dressed Upper East Siders who look like the economic downturn hasn’t hit them quite yet. Several cops are standing around looking placid.

1:02 pm

The marchers now number more than 30, and a few more white people have joined the ranks. Suddenly they’ve gone silent. Still marching, no chanting. OK, now a National Action Network spokesperson is explaining why they’re here.

1:09 pm

The woman at the microphone, Tamika Mallory, spoke of a two-tiered justice system in the city and called it a blatant injustice. Sharpton spoke after her, echoing her comments. Here is an excerpt from his speech (not the greatest quality audio, partially due to the photographer’s camera next to me clicking incessantly):

1:15 pm

After a few more minutes of chanting, the protesters wrapped it up, applauding their own efforts. Members of the press, including me, descended on the group asking for interviews.

Michael Hardy, general counsel of the National Action Network, discusses the double standard of justice that led his group to organize today’s protest:


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Newly and truly blighted

Half a block from where I live, a huge gaping chasm sits quiet and dormant, its future uncertain, its status clouded by controversy.

It’s the railyard at the center of the proposed Atlantic Yards development, where Forest City Ratner plans to erect a stadium for the NBA’s Nets alongside a mini-city of high-rise towers. The project would add thousands of apartments and condos, along with office and retail space, to an already severely congested area of Brooklyn. As of now the plan still stands, but two weeks ago construction abruptly stopped.

Initially, Forest City Ratner told the Daily News that pending litigation had forced them to stop work. Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, a grassroots organization opposed to the project, disputed that claim. DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein alleged that financial problems must have played a role in the work stoppage, since the area under construction would not be affected by either of two unresolved lawsuits filed by DDDB.

Freddy's Bar at 6th Avenue and Dean Street, a popular gathering place for opponents of Atlantic Yards, on December 15, 2008.

One of the suits challenges the usage of eminent domain to evict residents, such as Goldstein and his wife, Shabnam Merchant, who live in the project’s footprint. The other seeks to overturn the state’s determination that parts of the surrounding neighborhood were “blighted,” one of the factors that set the stage for the project’s huge scope.

News reports in the last week, including this article in the Observer, have confirmed that financial difficulties may force the developer to postpone or even abandon the project regardless of the outcome of the lawsuits. Today the Daily News reported that architect Frank Gehry has laid off nearly every employee he had working on his designs for Atlantic Yards.

Earlier this week I interviewed Daniel Goldstein. Here’s what he had to say about the possibility of the project falling through:

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Pounding out art for a good cause

(Originally posted on December 6, 2008)

In a small gallery in Soho this past Thursday, two artists sat across from each other at a table, drawing. You couldn’t cut the tension with a knife. In fact, there was no tension. Although it’s been billed as the “Thrilla in Manila,” this draw-a-thon featuring Jason Polan and Jane Mount at Jen Bekman gallery on Spring Street doesn’t have much in common with the classic Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight of the same name. While staged as a competition between the artists, the 4-day ongoing event has featured mellow banter, humorous creativity and a welcoming atmosphere. “We’re more collaborating than fighting today,” Mount said on Thursday.

The two artists and a rotating cast of friends and strangers are creating art to sell at a reception on Monday, December 8 to benefit 826NYC. The Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization provides tutoring and other services to help kids age 6 to 18 improve their writing skills.

Polan said that in addition to the art being thrilling, the name refers literally to the manila envelopes that people who purchase the drawings will take them home in.

Here, Jane Mount discusses what will happen after the draw-a-thon has ended:


While friendly collaboration was the order of the day, Mount and Polan did engage in a head-to-head draw-off featuring pop-culture icons. They enlisted illustrator and cartoonist Evan Forsch, who had stopped by to draw with them for the day, to judge the competition.

Watch the battle here:


The draw-a-thon began on Wednesday and is slated to end today (Saturday) at 6 pm. On Thursday, several curious passersby stared in from outside the gallery windows at the artists at work. Some intrepid visitors entered and sat down, taking up pens, colored pencils and paintbrushes to join Mount and Polan in their quest to fill the gallery’s walls with artwork.

“I’m not very much of an artist,” filmmaker Maggie Murphy said, adding that she had stopped by the gallery hoping to get some inspiration. Polan and Mount convinced her to sit down and draw with them.

On the gallery’s east wall hung several 5″ x 7″ drawings completed by both Mount and Polan. On Tuesday, these works will be released as an original edition as part of the gallery’s weekly 20X200 series. Gallery registrar Audra Wolowiec said that the series, founded on the principle of limited editions at low prices, reflects owner Jen Bekman’s commitment to accessible and affordable art.


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Midtown Comics Soundslides

Down the block from the CUNY J-School, Midtown Comics draws comic book and graphic novel fans from throughout the city and beyond. I interviewed a few people about their purchases and what role comic books play in their lives.

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New Yorkers Voice Strong Opinions on Bloomberg's Quest for a Third Term

On Thursday, October 2, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirmed what many had already suspected: he wants the City Council to amend the city’s term-limit law so he can run for another four-year term as mayor. Since he previously supported the term-limit law, Bloomberg’s reversal has stirred up controversy. Residents and workers in midtown weighed in on the mayor’s hopes for remaining in his job beyond 2009.

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