The comments section is coming alive in the first installation of The Brooklyn Paper’s “Get to know a commentator” series.
Tal Barzilai, a prolific BrooklynPaper.com commentator who lives more than 40 miles outside of the borough, dropped by this paper’s MetroTech Center office for a chat after we spotted him at a recent road-safety hearing.
“I just wanted to have my voice heard,” said Tal Barzilai, the sometimes controversial, always vocal comments section habitue.
The Israel-born Pleasentville, New York resident explained his outsize interest in our humble borough. As a New York State taxpayer, he has a stake in state-funded projects like the Atlantic Yards redevelopment, even though he lives more than an hour’s drive away, he said.
“Understanding certain ideas or projects I don’t feel takes a special insider,” he said. “Sometimes boondoggles are boondoggles, no matter where you come from.”
Reading about the project’s public review process brought him to the Brooklyn Paper’s hard-hitting coverage of the ongoing Atlantic Yards saga in the first place, he said.
Now, with pressure mounting around reducing traffic fatalities borough-wide, Barzilai has re-focused his ire on the city’s bicycle- and pedestrian-safety lobby, charging that cyclists and strollers contribute to traffic crashes as much as motorists do.
Barzilai’s position has garnered significant blow-back from other readers, many of whom he believes are part of a concerted effort from the car-critic website Streetsblog, he said.
The persistent citizen-pundit framed the ideological divide between Streetsblog’s contributors and his own viewpoint in stark terms.
“It’s like trying to get the Muslim Brotherhood to see Israel as a nation for the Jews,” he said, citing Streetsblog’s “fanatical nature.”
Barzilai said he has other issues on his radar, too.
He said he objects to new tolls on the city’s bridges, and opposing the so-called “Move NY” plan to reduce congestion by tolling East River Bridges may be the next banner he takes up. But the guy whose internet activism began 12 years ago with a campaign to re-build the World Trade Center towers after the Sept. 11 attacks — a push he has not given up, by the way — is keeping his options open, he said.
“Sometimes I’m just a person who goes with the wind,” he said.
Barzilai, 30, came to the United States as a toddler in the mid-1980s. His father worked as a tech guy for Lehman Brothers before the investment bank went belly up and now works for a different financial services firm, the younger Barzilai said. Barzilai has a degree in environmental science from a small college on Long Island and worked at a recycling plant in Westchester County for about four years before being laid off in 2013, he said. The field is narrow and new positions are scarce, Barzilai said. He explained that he isn’t too picky about what job he will take next, but would prefer “something that pays well.”
This is not the first time a prolific newspaper responder has wound up making headlines. Larry Penner of Great Neck, New York is the region’s most prolific author of letters to the editor and his work has made him the subject of a blog post on the gossip website Gawker and landed him a blog of his own over at the Queens Courier.
If you are a regular commentator interested in checking in with us, please contact reporter Max Jaeger, whose information is below.