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Editorial: Tupper Thomas’s sad legacy

The Brooklyn Paper
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Last week’s news about the retirement of Tupper Thomas after 30 years of running Prospect Park was a sad day for anyone who cherishes our limited open space.

In her three decades of service, Thomas proved that single-minded focus, steely determination and well-forged alliances can turn around any situation.

But therein lies the tragedy.

So before the rest of the city, starting with the increasingly non-critical New York Times, starts spending the remainder of Thomas’s tenure penning paeans, we’ll provide a little balance.

Yes, when Thomas took over day to day oversight of the park in the 1980s, the place was a shambles, a victim, like so many things in those days, of municipal neglect. There was a Parks Department with a mandate to run the city’s open space, of course, but that agency failed.

Out of that failure came the Faustian bargain offered by the Tupper Thomases of the world: put our struggling public spaces under quasi-public control, set aside some of the normal rules, raise private money from rich people, and we’ll make sure wealthy neighborhoods have a suitable backyard.

Yes, Thomas was indefatigable and seemingly incorruptible. And she was well liked by the very people who should have been doing the job better in the first place. Those personal relationships gave Thomas a level of control that should have simply remained in the hands of officials and politicians who are, at least on paper, accountable to the voters, not their donors.

That’s why we have traditionally been leery of such public-private partnerships. If the city would just do its job, our parks would not need people like Tupper Thomas. Indeed, there would also be no need for business improvement districts or agencies like the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation, which are motivated by economic expansion for condo developers, not open-space construction for the public.

Taxes would go into the general fund to maintain our open spaces, and the rich would pay their fair share to the taxman — not get a break so that they can dole out donations to the parks of their choice.

And that is the sad legacy of these public-private “partnershi­ps.”

Updated 10:16 am, April 15, 2010
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Reasonable discourse

Sid from boerum hill says:
Nice Utopian clap trap. Why are their business improvement districts? private guards? private schools etc because unless there is someone directly concerned it just doesn't happen. Even when their is equitable distribution do you think that all public schools are the same? Maybe we shouldn't have different newspapers only one per state. The Brooklyn Bridge park you site is such a poor example. There wouldn't be a park at all unless there was direct funding for it. We as you point out about Prospect park didn't have enough money for the parks we already had. So a mechanism to ensure that the money would be there was created. Its convenient enough to forget that the park was approved as long as it would be self sufficient. Manhattan has learned this. Battery Park city provides enough money for the entire Hudson River Park. When 100 million was needed for the Intrepid where did you think the money came from. Not NY City but from Battery Park City. The State just stole almost 200 million that was sitting in the Banks for Battery Park City....money which rightfully belongs to the city. The Rich are taxed plenty. If they want to give money to something else you are not going to stop them.
April 14, 2010, 9:31 pm
Publius from Bklyn Heights says:
Lord, this "paper" is a freaking pathetic joke. This from the same "Editorial Board" that shills for private developers who happen to be their landlord.

Perhaps the "editorial board" would like all the parks in the City to be equally crummy. Nyet?
April 14, 2010, 10:52 pm
Fred from Park Slope says:
Tupper is a nice woman and all, but her refusal to universally enforce park rules tarnishes her legacy.

When residents just outside the park complained about barbecue fumes from fires nowhere near the designated BBQ areas, Tupper's response was to criticize wealthy homeowners for picking on poor people.
April 15, 2010, 9:34 am
John from Park Slope says:
Tupper Thomas' inability to respond when called upon to act, is the reason why her legacy is sad. The neglect in care is rampant and getting worse.
She has a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil mentally.
April 15, 2010, 9:46 am
Colin from Windsor Terrace says:
What kind of leadership of a non-profit does she claim to possess.
The day-to-care is almost non-existent.
The money raised by her is being given mostly to contractors.
I am sure that those profiting financially from her mis-guided "Lakeside Profit", I mean Project, will be the only one's sad that she is leaving.
April 15, 2010, 10:36 am
Mike Curatore from Carroll Gardens says:
Look, the bottom line is that if the system doesn't work people find a way around it.

Principles can get in the way of practical needs, and those who could afford principles are typically those without the practical needs.
April 15, 2010, 10:44 am
tony giordano from sunset park says:
Once again, the Brooklyn Paper has demonstrated its lack of understanding as to what a BID is. Let's try to break it down simply.

1. A BID is basically a Merchants Association.
2. All BID funding is raised locally from the pockets of the member property owners.
3. Annual budgets of BIDs include NO public money, no tax revenue.
4. BIDs are run by the people whose funds create it - just like a civic association, a merchants group or a club.
5. Although BIDs are basically Merchant Associations, they have a huge amount of transparency, unlike a typical not for profit, merchants group or civic association. They must publish their budgets in detail. They must allow all elected officials (City Councilmember, Assemblymember, State Senator, Mayor, City Comptroller & Boro President) who represent their area to sit on their boards to observe what is going on & participate on behalf of their constituents. Their meetings are open to the general public. The local community board has a seat on BID, just like the elected officials.
6. BIDs do NOT take the place of public agencies, they provide services and amenities that their local community want beyond those provided by the city thru tax revenues. And rather than have the general population of the city provide the funding, the local community pays for it themselves. For example, why should tax payers in Washington Heights pay for Sunset Park to install a clock on the sidewalk?

A BID is not the case of someone with deep pockets funding and calling the shots in the public domain. It is the property owners themselves paying from their own pockets to provide services for them and their local community. These services are not like those provided to a public park. Many times these services are in the form of special events that advertise or promote local businesses, or it may provide incentive funds for individual property owners to fix their buildings.

If you are saying that neighborhoods with more affluent members can do more for themselves, I guess that's true. But then why aren't you complaining about every neighborhood group or club from affluent neighborhoods? And what does any of this have to do with a BID like the 5th Avenue Sunset Park BID?

So please Brooklyn Paper, speak of what you know, not what you imagine.
April 15, 2010, 4:50 pm
Ronnie from Sheepshead Bay says:
Who authored this? Gersh? For shame.
April 15, 2010, 9:39 pm
Jeff from Brooklyn says:
Bold editorial, I concur.
April 16, 2010, 4:28 am
Parent from Heights says:
I like the barbques, AND the drums. As do the great majority. Welcome to NY.
April 16, 2010, 4:29 am
Jim from Park Slope says:
We don't need another bureaucrat like Tupper Thomas kissing up to donors and ignoring the existing park's decay.
She has not done the hard work of maintaining and caring for the park. Her choice is to cover-up the serious problems and to smile insincerely.
Report abuseFriday, Apr 16, 2010 at 10:42 am
April 16, 2010, 9:46 am
Sean from Windsor Terrace says:
Tupper Thomas has failed many responsible park-goers.
There is all too often, an excuse-laden response from the park, when the residents who live nearby express their concerns.
It is a fact, that the park lakeside is in poor shape. It is also a fact, that the deterioration we see at the lake is due to inaction on the part of those in charge.
April 16, 2010, 11:44 am
Orrin from Kensington says:
My hat's off to Tupper Thomas and her tireless advocacy for the people of Brooklyn over the years. Ms. Thomas has made Prospect Park a shining jewel from all New Yorkers.

Prospect Park is now an example of how all park user groups can co-exist in harmony, from the runners to the cyclists, to the dog walkers, to the birders.

Thank you Tupper!
April 17, 2010, Midnight
DD Grayson from Bklyn exile says:
Oy! Tupper almost single handedly brought Brooklyn back from the brink and this is the thanks she gets from The Paper on the eve of her retirement? Face it: public-private partnerships work. Pragmatism trumps idealism, imho.
April 19, 2010, 6:39 pm

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