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Our man in Baghdad

The Brooklyn Paper
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The man who spent the last two years fixing potholes, handing out energy-efficient lightbulbs and keeping the peace between DUMBO’s warring factions is heading to Iraq to do, basically, the same thing.

DUMBO Improvement Director Tucker Reed has been tapped by the State Department for a vital rebuilding job in Baghdad.

As a “senior city management adviser,” Reed will be involved in the day-to-day effort to repair the damage — both physical and political — suffered in Iraq during the American occupation.

The 28-year-old former National Guardsman is ready to trade his suit for a flak jacket.

“I don’t want to get on my soapbox,” Reed said, “but it makes me sick to see our standing in the world diminished by what happened in Iraq. If I can play one small role in changing that, I have to do it.”

On the day I interviewed Reed, a front-page headline in the Times read, “In Sadr City, Basic Services are Faltering; Delays Threaten Effort to Thwart Militias.” Some would see that as a warning. Reed saw it as an opportunity.

“This is the calling of my generation,” said Reed, who won’t officially have the job until he gets his security and medical clearances.

Though he was raised in the distant state of Connecticut and he formerly lived on one of the city’s other islands, Reed’s “take-charge” style made him a much-loved figure in the quirky neighborhood of artists and gentrifiers down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass.

In his two years at the head of the Improvement District, he was successful in getting city agencies to pay attention to local concerns, despite a population of just 3,000 people.

“We had to be very entrepreneurial, given our small stature,” he said. “That’s one of the skills I’ll bring to the job in Iraq.”

Reed’s DUMBO initiatives include converting a parking lot into the lively Pearl Street Triangle, handing out reusable tote bags and energy-efficient lightbulbs to every household, getting all the sewers and water mains in the swampy neighborhood flushed, encouraging the city to cover some neighborhood eyesores with public art, and lining up $15 million in funding to restore the historic neighborhood’s cobblestone streets.

He even installed solar-powered Christmas lights this season — a move that earned him The Brooklyn Paper’s coveted “Green Hero of the Week” award last year.

Now he’ll go from Green Hero to the Green Zone.

“He always had great ideas,” said Bruce Silverglade, the owner of Gleason’s Gym, the neighborhood’s legendary boxing training ground. “And he knew how to put them into action. That’s the reason he’s leaving. The State Department knows he’s a real go-getter.

“Tucker’s a real nuts-and-bolts guy,” Silverglade said.

Reed credited his travels to Nepal, Southeast Asia and India with giving him that most vital of skills for his new posting in Iraq: the desire to understand the local culture.

“I’m taking Arabic lessons,” he said. “I want to get there and be able to say enough so that the people there know I’m serious about helping them.”

I debriefed Reed at DUMBO’s controversial Starbucks at Main and Front streets. The location of the interview provided a fitting metaphor for Reed’s new job. When he ordered a cup of coffee, he asked for a “grande,” the Starbuck-ese term for what we English speakers call “medium.”

“I always try to use the local language,” Reed said.

One man, two zones

DUMBO Improvement District honcho Tucker Reed’s new job fixing the mess in Iraq got us thinking: How different is the neighborhood between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges and Bush’s war zone?

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at gkuntzman@cnglocal.com

Reed’s departure means that the DUMBO Improvement District needs a new director. Interested candidates should e-mail Reed at tucker@dumbonyc.org.

Updated 5:06 pm, July 9, 2018
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