Beep’s ‘State of Boro’ focuses on Nets plan

The Brooklyn Paper
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During his State of the Borough address Sunday Borough President Marty Markowitz touted Brooklyn’s cultural renaissance and future as a tourism hotspot while reminding an audience of about 500 that its schools are among the city’s most crowded and its auto-insurance rates among the nation’s highest.

But last month’s $300 million purchase of the New Jersey Nets by developer Bruce Ratner was clearly the centerpiece of his two-hour address, although the subject wasn’t raised until halftime, when retired Knicks and Nets star forward Bernard King joined Markowitz for a staged pickup game before continuing on with his stump speech.

Markowitz scored a layup against the 6-foot-7 King in the Joseph Anzalone Theater at Edward R. Murrow High School in Midwood. But a handful of those in attendance, who stand to be displaced by Ratner’s arena plan, booed every mention of the Nets and said Markowitz was shooting from foul territory.

“I will do everything in my power to make sure that as few people as possible will be displaced, that any negative impacts are minimized and, most importantly, that they are treated with dignity and respect,” Markowitz said to applause sprinkled with a few boos.

“For 26 years, I have kept my promises to Brooklynites. And I will keep this one, too,” he said.

Despite rumors that arena-plan protestors would be out in full force, a small holding pen outside of the school at 1600 Ave. L remained empty for the entirety of the event. Inside, activist Robert Puca and members of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition and Brooklyn Vision were seated throughout the theater, adding to the small chorus of boos.

“We prepared for it, certainly, and we had a couple people” said Sharon Toomer, the borough president’s new director of communications. “But we didn’t expect too much.”

When King began speaking about the Nets’ anticipated move to his hometown, a woman sitting near the front of the auditorium yelled, “U.S. Constituti­on.” When King politely replied, “I’m sorry, didn’t hear you,” the woman repeated herself.

“U.S. Constituti­on,” she said again.

A mystified King continued with his speech.

The opposition could have been worse, said Puca, who sat in the fourth row, and intermittently waved a yellow, 8-inch by 10-inch placard emblazoned with the words “Don’t Destroy our Homes.” A resident of the Newswalk condominium, one of the buildings surrounded by Ratner’s plan that will not be taken by eminent domain, Puca said that some of the arena’s most vocal opponents had planned to rally at the event, but decided against it in favor of future endeavors. He declined to elaborate.

“I don’t think this would have been the right way to go about it,” Puca said, adding that protesting at the event would have been disrespectful to some of Markowitz’s other talking points.

The smattering of vocal opposition was first unleashed when Sen. Charles Schumer, of Park Slope, praised Ratner and Markowitz for the $2.5 billion arena and residential and commercial village plan.
“They say, ‘Can one person change the world?’ Well, one person is going to change Brooklyn — that’s Marty Markowitz.”

“I know some people might have a little dissention,” Schumer said, but added that the development would create “10,000 jobs” and “3,000 to 4,000 units of housing.”

James Vogel, a secretary for Brooklyn Vision, which serves as an umbrella organization for block associations in the Downtown Brooklyn area, said that days before the State of the Borough address, an e-mail from someone within the Prospect Heights Action Coalition was posted to an e-mail group, telling people to restrain themselves. He estimated that about a dozen people from the coalition and other organizations attended the event.

“They had decided not to have a loud, noisy protest,” said Vogel. “They had decided to marshal their forces elsewhere. I think they might have wanted to give their people a day off.”

Save for the entertainment, which included the Jackie Robinson Steppers — a 100-piece marching band that conspicuously played the Aretha Franklin hit, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” twice during the day — the event offered few surprises.

Rather, much of the afternoon was a rehash of last year’s address, including the tagline, “Respect, it’s the Brooklyn attitude.” And much like last year, Markowitz peppered his speech with the word “respect,” which this year was uttered 26 times.

The difference this time around was that many of Markowitz’s dreams are inching closer to reality — from a plan to dock Carnival Cruise Lines ships on the Brooklyn waterfront to snagging the borough’s first professional sports team since the Dodgers left after the 1957 season.

“The theme was respect for Brooklyn, but there was an undertone of ‘have respect for Marty,’” said Vogel, who lives on Pacific Street between Fourth and Flatbush avenues, where, he said, Ratner plans to build a skyscraper.

Updated 3:24 am, April 12, 2013
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