Carroll Gardens vets turn their backs on Lander at ceremony over his ‘Pledge’ protest

Salute to vets: Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient Nick Assante lay the wreath at the park’s war memorial, and also led the other vets in turning their backs on Lander when he spoke.
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Talk about a stand off.

Local veterans literally turned their backs on Councilman Brad Lander at the annual Carroll Park Veterans Day ceremony on Friday, in protest of the pol’s refusal to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a Council session earlier this year.

The vets were livid about Lander’s actions — part of a silent protest against police shootings of black men — which they saw as disrespectful to them and their service to the country, according to one who turned around.

“That’s a real slap in the face especially to us guys,” said Nick Assante, who was wounded serving in the Army in Vietnam and received the Purple Heart. “They want people like us to vote for people like him — he should respect people like us.”

Lander (D–Carroll Gardens) was one of eight Council members — including Carlos Menchaca (D–Red Hook), Antonio Reynoso (D–Williamsbu­rg), and Rafael Espinal (D–Bushwick) — who stayed seated for the pledge on Sept. 28 in solidarity with Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush), who received racist hate mail after sitting at the Sept. 14 session.

Assante and other local vets wanted to ban Lander from the ceremony entirely, but they settled for turning their backs during his speech after discussions with organizers from the Court Street Merchants Association, he said.

“A couple of guys that were there wanted to throw him out of the park — I myself would’ve done the same thing,” he said.

More than a dozen people turned on Lander while he spoke at the event, according to attendees, but the councilman did not mention their — or his — actions in his address.

After the ceremony, Vince Mazzone of longtime local home-improvement emporium Mazzone Hardware also gave a speech denouncing Lander and others who refuse to stand for the pledge.

“It’s unthinkable, it’s unacceptable, and it violates the very values and traditions that every good citizen holds dear,” said Mazzone, who served in the Army in Vietnam.

Emcee Joan D’Amico then gave Lander a chance to explain himself, but he decided not to after some members of the crowd objected, according to Mazzone — which was just fine by one attendee, who said he didn’t want to hear excuses, anyway.

“I wasn’t in the mood,” said lifelong Carroll Gardens resident Dominick Poalsamo, who was in the Army Reserves during Vietnam, but wasn’t sent overseas. “Politicians just tell you what you want to hear — the action was already done.”

Lander later told this paper in a statement that his appreciation of veterans and their sacrifices, and his decision to sit out the pledge to support “a colleague facing racist attacks,” both came from the same “deeply held patriotism and a heartfelt love of this country.” He also released a lengthier explanation of his actions in September.

But Mazzone said the councilman’s explanation — which he offered in private after the ceremony — just made him even angrier.

“He thinks what he did was patriotic and what he did was the right thing, my feeling is the opposite — you were more loyal to your colleague than you were the country,” he said. “I think they both betrayed the country, and they betrayed the communities they represent as councilmen.”

Other than the face-off between the vets and the pol, attendees say the ceremony was nice, although Poalsamo wishes more people had come — especially some of Carroll Gardens’ newer residents.

“The neighborhood is being gentrified but the newer people, they weren’t there,” he said. “The new people in this community, they don’t seem too patriotic. People don’t honor veterans the way they should — they gave us the freedom to do a lot of things in this country.”

Reach deputy editor Ruth Brown at or by calling (718) 260–8309. Follow her at
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018: Updated with additional comments from Vincent Mazzone and Brad Lander.
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Reasonable discourse

NN from Boerum Hill says:
Protesting injustice is patriotic. Thank you Brad Lander for standing up for all New Yorkers. Mazzone has a great store but is totally wrong on this issue.
Nov. 11, 2016, 10:09 pm
Not Goish from Prospect Heights says:
So de Blasio's mini-me, the out-of-towner Lander gets a taste of his medicine when stepping out from his Park Slope safe space. Waaaaah!
Nov. 12, 2016, 11:57 am
Severino from Bay Ridge says:
"Protesting injustice is patriotic. Thank you Brad Lander for standing up for all New Yorkers."
What 'injustice' are you talking about?
You mean the bulk of the 858 line-of-duty killings of NYPD listed on the NYC NYPD Memorial in Battery Park, the one you and 'Brad' have visited?
Lander knew more about patriotism when he was in kindergarten and stood for the Pledge of Allegiance.
No, he is not 'standing up' for all New Yorkers, ——.
He is a young, shrewd political animal with high hopes for a long career in NYC politics, and he wants to be sure not to offend the currrent line of his Marxist Overlords.
They used to have a name for people like this: 'Kapos': look it up.
Bolsheviks like DeBlasio, who has perfected the poker face after lecturing this city about the 'dangers' that the police pose to the favored demographic, are always one term clowns.
The peoples' tolerance for —— only goes so far.
Lander would be wise to learn from the reaction he got from the people he despises.
Nov. 12, 2016, 12:47 pm
Joe The Plumber from Waco says:
The Vets have become the new welfare queens.
Give me more free stuff because I wasted my time on a useless occupation and accomplished nothing.

We have no use for the military. No country will ever invade us. The 18,000 police forces we have can handle it.
Nov. 12, 2016, 2:07 pm
Still Red from Red Hook says:
The biggest Free —— Army in the world is right outside your door: do a little work and try to find out the percentage of your cohort that are Vets.
There are many 'nations' that have incompetent armies and non-functioning corrupt police: take a trip to Zimbabwe or Somalia.
You'd be more comfortable there.
You're too fkg stupid to know where the hell you are.
Nov. 12, 2016, 3:10 pm
Michael says:
There's a time and a place for everything. This was a rude time and place to makea point that's somewhat convoluted. What does the anthem have to do with the police? What does he expect the police to do to make him happy? As a politician, if he believes something concrete wasn't right, isn't he in a place to fix by actually doing something?
Is sitting down and doing nothing anything but the laziest way to make a point?
The police by and large do their jobs as they should. The country is more than just the police. As a public employee, you should have a certain degree of loyalty to your employer, and the people you represent.
Nov. 12, 2016, 4:03 pm
Sammy from Clinton Hill says:
About that guy Nick who served in Vietnam. Did we win that war?
Nov. 12, 2016, 4:31 pm
Amanda from Red Hook says:
The prison industrial complex is the biggest problem facing America. Lobbyist make a fortune on useless military hardware and they hide behind the vets to justify it.

As for the pledge of allegiance the part about Liberty and Justice for all applies to black people who get executed by white cops.
Nov. 12, 2016, 5:44 pm
Jjm from C. Hill says:
He did the right thing if you ask me. How are you gonna stand up & utter the words of the pledge when your fellow citizen is getting unjustly killed by those who were sworn to protect them? Kudos to Lander.
Nov. 12, 2016, 7:10 pm
Tired from Park Slope says:
I'm tired of the vets demanding free health care and lifetime housing. Why? The draft ended in 1973. You signed up for it.
Nov. 12, 2016, 10:22 pm
Meh from Gowanus says:
Soooooo the vets are exercising their First Amendment rights by protesting Councilmember Lander's exercise of those same rights which, by the way, he thanked the vets for fighting for. This is why I love this country.
Nov. 13, 2016, 2:12 pm
Billy D from Park Slop says:
Its a good thing none of these vets vote. Lander might give a s***
Nov. 13, 2016, 5:07 pm
justic for all from town says:
Lander time has come. He's now opposing the vote as if to say if the country didn't choose the candidate of his liking, let's ban together and revolt. He's even going as far as to suggest we corrupt the minds of our children as well.

How dare he manipulate the choice of the American people.

Here's what he's writing to people:

"Before going to sleep early this morning, I wrote (borrowing the legendary last words of union organizer Joe Hill): “Don’t Mourn. Organize.”

On a few hours sleep, I’ll amend that: Mourn. This is a nightmare, with very real consequences. But then, seriously, organize.

That’s not some polly-anish advice. Just sad and practical reality.
It was so hard to wake up and have to tell your kids the news that Donald Trump won. Far worse, of course, in families that include immigrants, Muslims, women, and other groups who were the targets of Trump’s attacks … and are now rightly worried about what the future holds. The disappointment in the eyes of our daughters was heartbreaking. And the results make us question many things about the country we thought we live in.

So a little mourning is necessary. Mourning is rooted in love and compassion for others, so it’s a good place to start.  

But not to stop.

We have an obligation to do all we can to defend the things we know are right, protect those who are vulnerable, stand together in organized resistance, and to fight for the future we believe in.

We’ll need to do some reckoning about why we lost and what we should learn from it. I thought this clip from Van Jones was pretty good last night, on the elements of this that are a “white-lash” against change and our first African-American President. Some other good starting-points for me are posts by Peter Dreier and Dylan Matthews. How can we confront the racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigrant xenophobia that fueled Trump’s campaign, while also speaking to the genuine challenges facing white working-class voters (e.g. good jobs, college affordability, drug addiction), to offer opportunity and (maybe) help turn some people away from angry, nativist responses and toward a recognition that we are stronger together? How can we do better to turn out the voters of the “Obama coalition” to keep pushing for change? I don’t know the answers, but we’ll need some good thinking.

Regardless of how you understand that analysis. here are a few things I’m pretty sure about:

1. Assuming that Donald Trump and the GOP Congress try to enact the policies they proposed during this campaign -- building a wall, deporting the DREAMers, banning Muslims, defunding Planned Parenthood and trying to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating Obamacare -- we will fight them tooth and nail.

We have to accept the results of the election, but we should not accept responsibility for policies that go against our core American ideals. 

We have some tools. Our neighbor, Senator Chuck Schumer, knows how to lead a filibuster that can slow things down and try to prevent them from doing as much damage as possible.

We will call on the “checks and balances,” the institutions of American democracy. They are far from perfect, but they are real. When Trump and the GOP propose changes that are unconstitutional, we will fight in the courts. Other times, we will focus our fight on administrative agencies, independent panels, state and local legislatures.

We know how to turn out millions of people for rallies, protests, marches, civil disobedience when necessary ... rooted in love and compassion rather than anger, but still fierce and resolute.

We will, very likely, lose some of those fights. And people will genuinely suffer as a result. But we will not lose them all. And we can slow them down to limit the harm.

We will be organizing some local events -- building on the Town Hall for Racial Justice we held a few weeks ago, with the Muslim community in Kensington, and with our progressive, labor, and community allies -- to start getting organized.

If you want to be on our list for organized resistance (or as Lin-Manuel tweeted, to join the Order of the Phoenix), sign up here.

2. The long-term demographics of our country align well with the better angels of our nature.  

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Today, we are reminded of two important things: Sometimes there are kinks in the arc. And it doesn’t bend on its own.

But still, the demographic trends in our country are toward a more diverse, more pluralistic, more inclusive country -- and that aligns well with a more inclusive politics. If we organize.

We will have a woman POTUS in my daughter’s lifetime. That glass ceiling will be shattered. And that more diverse country not only offers a winning political coalition. It also gives us a real change to confront the ills that plague our society, and build a country and a world where, as the young people at the Morris Justice Project taught me, “it’s not a crime to be who you are.”    

3. We can do a lot at the local level. Cities around the country -- including NYC for sure -- are leading the way in the cause of opportunity, inclusion, compassion, and justice.

Some pundits are already saying that last night’s results were a repudiation of the “progressive urban agenda” -- but that’s just not true.

First, remember that so many people did not turn out to vote -- disproportionately low-income, people of color, and young people. If they had voted, Hillary would have won. As Peter Dreier writes: “The American people, overall, are better than the people who voted.”

So many of the policies we have been pushing at the local level -- fighting income inequality through the Fight for $15 and a fair work-week and paid family leave, expanding access to Pre-K and summer youth jobs and affordable college, strengthening next-generation manufacturing -- are the ones that speak to a broad majority of Americans, of every race and gender and background.

So I look forward to banding together with my colleagues from Local Progress (a national network of progressive local elected officials) -- both to fight back against hate, and to advance policies of opportunity.

Just yesterday, there was a good article in The Nation about our “American Leaders Campaign Against Hatred and Anti-Muslim Bigotry.” And that is so many of the same local leaders who have adopted policies to raise the minimum wage, reduce mass incarceration, improve policing, expand educational opportunity, and so much more. It’s a strong network to build on -- and I’ll try to connect our local organizing to that national work.

Back at home: Here’s what my sister-in-law -- a psychatric nurse practitioner who works every day with veterans coping with PTSD, and Aunt Beth to Marek and Rosa -- wrote to my kids:

“I could not be more proud of your formal and informal work on the campaign, on behalf of equality and justice. Please try not to give into the rage and disappointment about the outcome of the election. Try to be still with your anger and shock. Lashing out and spewing, while so justified, will ultimately drain us. Funnel your anger into being a guardian for equality and religious freedom, for diversity and safety and respect. This devastating loss is an opportunity for us to become stronger in the broken places.”   

And if you want to help your kids engage in some organizing like that, one suggestion: encourage them to come to “Girls Read for Girls” this Sunday, 3 - 5 p.m. at the Brooklyn Museum (an event organized by my daughter & other young women, inspired by Malala Yousafzai). It’s about global girls education, but also an inspiring way to remember that -- even in the face of getting shot by the Taliban -- there are way to stand up for what’s right and make a difference all around the world.

Last night (in the early hours, when we were still so hopeful), at an Election Night watch party with Bangladeshi Muslim young people at a public library in my district, I asked the students for their definition of democracy. And a boy in middle school gave me the best answer that I’ve ever heard: “We look out for each other.”

That may be the best answer I’ve ever heard.

So let’s get busy.


I guess Brad didn't figure that some people in Brooklyn voted for Trump!
Nov. 14, 2016, 12:35 am
John from Bay Ridge says:
The sobering reality is that the election results had for more to do with class concerns than with the easy, old reliable excuses of citing racism, bigotry, etc. All of us who are unhappy with a Trump presidency would be well advised to consider the reasons so many people in this country feel left by the side of the road.
Nov. 14, 2016, 8:58 am
Frank from Furter says:
I always thought it was unpatriotic to not stand for the national anthem. I have always been proud to be an American...until now. How could a country that twice elected Obama elect Trump? Trumps first appointment came from the racist right. Wait til he appoints Betsy McCaughy head of HHS. She was removed as lieutenant governor by George Pataki because she is a nut job. They will drain the swamp and drown us all.
Nov. 14, 2016, 9:59 am
Tyler from pps says:
Why are we reciting the pledge of allegiance at a City Council meeting anyway? And this new "tradition" of singing the national anthem before any and all sporting events? It's really just silly. This isn't love of country. This is just some weird jingoistic litmus test we've all decided to participate in.

I wish we would stop being such a ridiculous country and worry about things that ACTUALLY matter. And just to fan the flames a bit... why are these supposedly tough-as-nails veterans so thin skinned? Pretty much every expression of free speech (that's not originating from them) is a "slap in the face" and a "disgrace" blah blah blah.
Nov. 14, 2016, 11:15 am
Steve from Greenpoint says:
These guys just don't get it! I salute Brad's courage along with the other CM's who banded with him.
Nov. 14, 2016, 12:39 pm
Jjm from C. Hill says:
And also not to mention the millions that are behind bars, with the majority of them there locked up for bullsh*t.
Nov. 14, 2016, 1:05 pm
Law & Disorder from Brooklyn says:
I salute & stand with all who turned there backs on this ASS HOLE
Nov. 14, 2016, 1:05 pm
Pheadra from Cobble Hill says:
Landers, an intelligent man, ought to know there are more appropriate ways of demonstrating solidarity.
Nov. 14, 2016, 2:05 pm
Benny from Park Slope says:
Jesus, when did American vets become such self-righteous whiners? You don't like Lander? Fine. Don't vote for him. But don't act like you're better Americans than those who never wore a military uniform. Because trust me: you're not.

Sincerely -- the proud son of a decorated WWII vet (who always found people who wrapped themselves in the flag to be despicable)
Nov. 14, 2016, 3:01 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Just because someone doesn't recite the pledge of allegiance, it doesn't make them anti-American. I'm just getting tired of extreme nationalists telling me how to live my life. Keep in mind that Jehovah's Witnesses are known for not doing this and there was even a Supreme Court case, WV Board of Ed vs Barnett, that ruled that state and local governments can't pass laws that violates anyone's US Constitutional rights. For the record, as an Israeli-born Jew, I don't support any forms of terrorism, so don't make such accusations or I will be calling any of you on that for slander.
Nov. 14, 2016, 4:18 pm
Alan from PLG says:
How dare Nick Assante and his stupid thug friends say they want to throw Brad Lander out of the park. Brad is our democratically elected city council member, and a Brooklyn hero as far as I'm concerned. I hope he runs for mayor one day!
Nov. 14, 2016, 8:48 pm
Fred from Windsor Terrace says:
Well Alan, other people feel that Landers is a lilly livered licker of radical behinds.
Nov. 14, 2016, 9:30 pm
The Ghosts of PPR from 1 Prospect Park West says:
Brad Lander was the only politician to follow through and help the seniors. The others pols showed up to get there pictures taken at protests and no follow up.
Nov. 15, 2016, 12:32 am
Adam from Bedstuy says:
So, a member of the government protested the government by not saying the pledge, vs actually doing something concrete, like he was elected to do, to make America a fairer and safer place for all Americans? I'd turn my back to the do-nothing grandstander.
Nov. 15, 2016, 4:02 pm
Tyler from pps says:
Adam -- I'm not sure your "vs." makes any sense. Someone can't protest X and also do Y? Why have you created this weird mutually exclusive scenario... ?
Nov. 16, 2016, 10:14 am
Steve .M from C. gardens says:
Disrespect the men and woman in uniform so you can make a point. Gross !
Nov. 23, 2016, 3:45 am
Sean from Carroll Gradens says:
I agree with Mr. Mazzone when he said, Lander was more loyal to your colleague than you were the country. I never served in the military but I thank God every day for those that did. Why even go to a celebration when you know your presents is going to take away from it's meaning? Does Lander want press that bad? Trump isn't who I wanted but the silent majority spoke by electing Trump. The same silent majority could and should easily vote Lander out of office.
Nov. 23, 2016, 8:11 am
Mike from Carroll Gardens says:
Here is a letter I wrote to the author of the article late last week...

Ms. Brown,

As one of the organizers of this event, I read your article ( on this year's Veteran's Day Ceremony in Carroll Park with great interest. I had hoped to print it out and show to others as an example of great work we do in this neighborhood. But as I continued to read, I realized how factually inaccurate and one sided your article is and what a disservice it provides to the event and to our organization.

Had you bothered to contact myself or anyone else from our organization you would have known that:

No meeting between CSMA and the veterans on the question of Brad Lander's presence ever took place. One of our board members, who is a veteran, argued against inviting Brad to the ceremony but the majority opinion was that he should and would be invited. No other veteran including Nick Assante, whom you quoted in your article, ever contacted me to express their opinion on this issue either before or after the event. For the record, during the ceremony, as we do every year, we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing Star Spangled Banner. If you cared to look, you would have seen everyone, including Brad Lander participating in both, while standing.

Veterans, including members of the Honor Guard were told that Brad Lander would be attending the ceremony and requested to not disrupt the ceremony. They were also advised that they and anyone else who was interested were invited to discuss this issue with Brad Lander because he wanted to hear their point of view and express his. After the ceremony was over, only one veteran came over to tell Brad Lander to his face how they feel about his actions.

When you quoted a veteran who opined on how he "wasn't in the mood" to hear Brad Lander's response to Vincent Mazzone's words, you made it seem as if the Councilman was going to respond and then he decided not to because "some members of the crowd objected". Actually, one person objected, the person you quoted above. You created a false impression that Brad Lander was going to speak publicly but decided not to because of people in the crowd and then you quoted another veteran who is upset that Brad Lander did not speak about this publicly. You seem to want to have it both ways in your article.

The vast majority of attendees did not 'about face' while Brad Lander spoke. This included a number of veterans who were upset that the Veteran's Day Ceremony was disrupted and politicized. Perhaps a more honest article would have read "more than a dozen people out of a crowd of more than 100 turned on Lander..." or "members of the Honor Guard about faced." Now it is possible that those veterans who continued to face him during his speech either supported his stance or were unaware of it but your words, give the inaccurate impression of what actually happened there.

You end the article by quoting a long-time resident and veteran as he laments that "the new people in this community, they don't seem too patriotic." Just for good measure, you throw in some gentrification as well. I'm not sure who these new people are. How long does a person have to live here to not be a 'new people." I'd also love to hear how I can be more patriotic, according to him. As someone who has helped to organize and attended each Memorial Day and Veteran's Day Ceremony since inception, I can assure you that the 'new people' make up at least half of the attendees if not more. And while we're taking attendance, the veteran in question, has attended our event once. Last Friday was his first year.

CSMA has been sponsoring and supporting Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and Christmas Tree Lighting events in Carroll Park since 2009 but this is the first time you've chosen to write about our events. Your article misrepresented what happened during our event and misled the readers as to our intentions for this event. I wish that you would attend more of our events and if you're looking for a feel-good story in the first week of December, we're having a Christmas Tree Lighting in Carroll Park on December 2nd.

Hope to see you there,

Mike Polanski, CSMA President
Nov. 23, 2016, 10:55 am
NN from Boerum Hill says:
Thank you Mike for clarifying what happened.
Nov. 28, 2016, 5:21 pm

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