When Borough President Markowitz agreed to sit down for a year-in-review interview with our editor, Gersh Kuntzman, the fur started flying from the moment Kuntzman pressed “record” on his MP3 player. Markowitz didn’t waste any time getting into the year’s biggest story — Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development.
(Click here to download the unedited audio [13.8 MB].)
Q: Did you see our banner headline on the front page this week? “APPROVED.”
A: Look, The Paper, in my humble opinion — and I have a right to criticize — is overwhelmingly anti-[Atlantic Yards]. Not just the editorials, which you have every right to do, but the stories are tilted every freaking time. That’s my humble opinion. I’m sorry, it is NOT a balanced newspaper. It’s not.
Editorially, you can blast away ’til Kingdom Come. But it is so overwhelmingly against Atlantic Yards. Everyone knows that if there is any way to attack the project, The Brooklyn Papers will be there to do so.
Q: Do you think any paper in the city has analyzed this project credibly and with integrity?
A: I think the Times has. They have seriously written things that were definitely pro, middle and anti. Whatever issues that the antis have raised, they have definitely not ignored it. Your paper says, “We’re against it, so f— it.”
Q: Has there been a story in The Papers that had a factual inaccuracy?
A: What is fact? If you’re going to put in your paper that Ratner put up [surveillance] cameras on his building —
Q: We never wrote a word about that!
A: He has a right to put up cameras and protect the area. One of those nut jobs — you don’t know who can come by [and cause a] fire — and then put the blame on him!
Q: Did we write about that?
A: I didn’t say you wrote about it! But all I can tell you is that he has to protect what he has there. But let’s get on with your questions.
Q: I didn’t bring it up. I merely said I thought our headline last week, “Approved,” was a good headline.
A: You were being factual. OK. Great headline.
Q: What were the three best things that happened to Brooklyn this year and why?
A: The cruise ship terminal opening in Brooklyn. Promise made, promise kept. It will be a growing industry and opens the doors to a lot of tourism opportunities, making Brooklyn a destination of choice, especially if the cruise ship industry expands to the other pier … And someday, Brooklyn will be a port of call.
The second thing of course is Democratic control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Brooklyn, like most urban centers, is impacted by federal policies as they relate to health care and under-employment and affordable housing. Also, we lost a significant number of men and women in the war in Iraq … It all impacts the quality of life that we want to improve in Brooklyn.
And Atlantic Yards! I feel it is the project of the early part of the 21st century. It will propel Brooklyn into the 21st century and will create, in my humble opinion, a fantastic new city center and create synergy between the downtowns.
Q: OK, on that subject. Many Brooklynites do not like this project’s aesthetic, scale, impact on traffic in and around Downtown Brooklyn; its overriding of existing city zoning; and the manner in which Bruce Ratner was selected by state officials. What convinces you that it is going to be a net gain for Brooklyn?
A: An arena with a national sports team that calls Brooklyn home. That’s a big thing. Maybe not for your readers, but it’s big. And the thousands of jobs we anticipate, not just in the Atlantic Yards development itself, not just in the arena, not just in services to the arena, but what the impact of 6,000 new apartments will mean to families living in and around Atlantic Avenue that will propel life along Vanderbilt, Washington, Atlantic, Flatbush avenues.
And that will inspire [development] further east on Atlantic Avenue … And there are thousands of affordable units for very low income as well as working people, teachers, civil servants, and middle-income [tenants]. And even the market-rate rentals will attract the richness of diversity, making Atlantic Yards one of the most successful developments.
All of that overwhelms, significantly, some of the impacts that might result. I am confident that between the city, state, local elected officials and the developer — who wants this project to work because he has billions riding on it —
Q: Billions of our money, too.
A: They have billions of dollars of their own riding on it! Yes, they got some public subsidies. But let me say this: Some, including some elected officials, said, “If he’d cut down the affordable housing, we could cut down the size of the buildings.” I don’t buy into that argument. Some people would rather see the affordable housing cut significantly [to] cut the size of the buildings. And I call that selfish!
Q: I think you’re putting words in the opponents’ mouths. I don’t think anyone called for less affordable housing.
A: If you spoke to them privately and said, “If we reduce the buildings size in half, but have to cut the affordable housing, how do you feel?” it would be interesting to see what they’d say. They won’t be honest! … I’m sorry, Gersh, but there is a demand for housing in our borough. And [you can] build high-rise buildings only in certain areas. And this is a prime area … because it works here.
The benefits — the creation of eight acres of open green space, which will provide a tapestry that will knit together Prospect Heights and Fort Greene, as opposed to a moat that we’ve had for 100 years — overwhelm those who say the buildings are too high.
Q: You realize that’s not their only argument against the project.
A: Listen to me, their arguments come down to the following: the heights of the building, the shadows they cast and the traffic.
Q: And the public subsidies!
A: The public subsidies are appropriate. Every project in this city, the government does provide infrastructure. [The Atlantic Yards subsidy] goes above that to assist the affordable housing component. If we didn’t have the affordable housing, this wouldn’t be necessary.
But it’s all a ruse. When they raise the fight about public subsidies, bop bop bop bop bop, they’re really saying, “We don’t want this project.”
Q: They don’t.
A: Some say they can live with the housing, but don’t want the arena. It’ll bring traffic and riffraff and bop bop bop bop bop.
And then some people tell me they can live with the arena, but there is too much housing and it’s too tall, there’ll be shadows, I’ll get in my car … I don’t know why they need a car in Brooklyn, with the greatest public transit system in the world, but it’s their right; I have a car. But, yes, it may take a minute or two minutes longer to transverse Atlantic Avenue [but] you know what, it’s a public benefit to the city. And I’m convinced that there will be enormous steps taken to mitigate the traffic issues. It’s important for the city and the developer for this project to work.
Q: Are you’re taking that on faith?
A: More than on faith, but because of my conversations with the developer and the city. We’re all pulling together to mitigate the traffic. You know, in the mornings, it’s not going to impact at all. During rush hours, if you’re driving, perhaps right before the games, perhaps there will be additional traffic issues. But there will be additional traffic agents and off-site parking to get that traffic moving.
Q: When we talk about public subsidies, those traffic agents are part of that subsidy. Taxpayers pay for it.
A: We pay for it at Madison Square Garden, too! In order to make money, you have to invest money! You have to invest! … It’s all part of a vibrant, exciting downtown. The opponents even argue that Atlantic [Avenue] isn’t Downtown. It’s definitely Downtown! They think only the corner of Junior’s is Downtown.
(Pensively) I really regret that those who oppose the [Atlantic Yards] project rejected an opportunity to work together. They said no, we don’t want this project. They didn’t want the arena. Look at your notes. Develop Don’t Destroy never said they’d take the arena. They didn’t want the high-rise housing. They supported Extell because there was no arena. So there was never an opportunity [for compromise] — and I tried. My hand was always extended, seriously, to say, “How can we reason together?” They said, “We’re against it. We don’t want a modification. We don’t want it.” It’s difficult to find a comprise with people who say, “We don’t want it!”
Q: They don’t want the arena.
A: But that’s the line in the sand. The arena. That’s the anchor of the project.
Q: But then you’re the one being unreasonable [to compromise].
A: I regret the fact that some of the hostility and some of the anger could not have been overcome. But whatever names these people call me — and they’ve called me everything — I’m still glad they live in Brooklyn. They’ve brought excitement to Brooklyn. I have no hatred at all, but they don’t see what I see: Brooklyn no longer being a backwater to Manhattan.
Q: But does Brooklyn need to be some kind of mini-Manhattan?
A: This is the ultimate renaissance. And other renaissances only benefited the very affluent. But here is one where, for the first time, the renaissance will benefit people of every income. And we’re taking a space that was empty and barren and creating a project that will benefit everyone … I wouldn’t put it on Sixth Street and Eighth Avenue in Park Slope … But here, unlike other neighborhoods, you have the greatest public transit hub. … When we had Ebbet’s Field in the middle of a neighborhood, we had cars, but it worked!
Q: Not as many cars.
A: We had plenty of cars! And it worked. It worked. And it’s going to work again. And tomorrow’s kids will get to have the same sweet memories I had as a kid. And that’s what this is all about. I wish everyone a good year. All of this is immaterial compared to terrorism and world peace.
Q: Bring us up to date on your diet.
A: I walk five days a week for at least a half hour. I dropped about 25 pounds and now I’m down to 180 or 179. I’m not trying to get to 150 … I keep away from the foods I know I shouldn’t eat. I altered all my suits to make sure I won’t go back to the way I was. I can’t afford to re-alter all my suits.