The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Friday, June 23, 2017

And Speaking of Vino

What's going on here? Did all of Lefferts suddenly become winos? Sorry, wine enthusiasts. Oenophiles. People who like to get drunk in a classy way? Give me Mad Dog 20/20 any day. Actually, don't. You wouldn't like me when I'm drunk. Only right now am I realizing that

Gotta say this is Location, Location, Location for a wine shop. Parkside Avenue, right across from my beloved Q. Seems only a matter of time before this stretch starts to upscale generally.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Empanadas y Vino - Saturday June 29

The Q can't resist sharing this one. Between Empanada City's delicious savoury confections and Little Mo's gleeful-but-knowledgeable irreverence, a match has been made in nirvana. You can't miss this soiree on June 29. Just check out the screen shot I took from my office computer! Where'd Big Mo get that mouth-watering picture? Did he stage it and take it? Or did he merely right-click?

Friday, June 16, 2017

From Hookah to Sing Sing

His name was Larry Pagett, but maybe you knew him better as Biz, or Biz Loc, or Molotovbizzz, the man who's been charged with killing Droppa, sorry Chrispine Philip, at the Flatbush Ave Buda Hookah Lounge. 589 Flatbush, to be exact. 

This was a particularly terrifying gangland style shooting at a public watering hole and there were others critically hurt in the deadly assault. Depictions of such off-ings in movies might seem sickly glamorous to some. You know, Fats Joey sits in a quiet red checkered tablecloth eatery, face to the door, and his assailant enters with guns a-blazin'. Gore pours from the poor goon's head and onto his pasta. Visible splatters on the carefully arranged pictures of the owners with Freckle-Face Freddy and Squeaky Sal and Tony Orlando (with and without Dawn). In reality, as I've noted through the years of morbid fascination with these Brooklyn gang murders, the killer is a shitty shot and terrified and maybe high and he ends up shooting unintended victims and gets sent up river for a long, long time. Or gets off on a technicality. Or the wrong guy gets collared. Or...

Want a dark humor snicker? Check out the Google reviews of Sing Sing

Patch story by Marc Torrence

credit: D.Iudici
Before this particular place was the Hookah Lounge it was just plain Ali's Roti Shop, a classy looking joint with delicious take-out, a nice decor and swivel chairs at round tables. Then it went all Hookah on us, and the noise complaints started piling up. Neighbors weren't happy about it. The craziest part of this story is the strange lead up to the shooting, when the 311 calls about the place being unruly started piling up, and this appeared on a local telephone pole:

Some neighbors smelled a whiff of gentrifier haughtiness, and Ali's responsibly responded with this:

So in January of 2015 the place went from Roti Shop to Roti & Hookah shop, then a Roti & Hookah and Hooch shop. Then it got loud. Then it got REALLY loud - like bang bang bang. The next day it looked like the below.

credit: D.Iudici
They seem to have found the guy, and another shooting seems to have been linked by retailiation to another shooting, at the same time as J'Ouvert at the start of September. Blame the Hookah? Nah. This crime probably would have happened anywhere. Whatever happened to the good old fashione Duel? You know, like Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton? Ten paces, turn, and pow. No innocent bystanders.

That was then, this is now. A new swell looking biz called Tasty has moved in. (Pretty sure this is cousin to another Tasty further down in the 'Bush.)

Sometimes you need a leader to put it all in perspective. Your councilman and mine had a fascinating insight when he stopped by the joint later that day of the early morning shooting, noted at the end of this contemporaneous account.
Councilman Matthieu Eugene stopped by the scene earlier Friday. He said the gun violence is just too much, not only in his district, but everywhere.
Amen, Einstein.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Armory Activists Out In Force

At the Crown Gardens meeting space on Nostrand Avenue last night you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting an anti-deal activist. Now this wouldn't be the Q if the Q didn't take a swipe at the irony in the room. White gentrifiers decrying market rate housing. Socialist protesters from NYCC not really knowing anything about the project, just showing up for yet another cause (some, not all of course). Alicia Boyd shouted down by fellow protesters for being too crass (she seemed out of her element not being the center of attention). And don't miss the PRO signs in the back of the room, held by young people obviously there because they were brought by the Clarence Norman/Geoffrey Davis forces that were, not at all ironically, paid by the developers to produce support from the community for the project. That's Norman's white shirt and hair just to the right of the woman in the horizontally striped dress on the left side of the picture.

The screaming, the chanting, the bluster...all on display. Ultimately there's not really any support at CB9 for the current BFC Partners project to create a beautiful recreation center and community group space out of the Bedford-Union Armory - leastways not if there are going to be any market-rate "luxury" rentals or condos in the mix.

The fact is, this particular parcel belongs to us all, and it probably SHOULD go to house the poorest among us. Yep. Public Housing. The kind that gets such a bad rap, even though public housing has been a lifeline for millions of Americans through the last 100 years. Look it up. Heck, even Eastern Bloc countries saw fit to follow suit!

But you gotta ask yourself...will such a "better deal" ever materialize? As it is, a perfectly good GIANT community resource is actually nearly happening, and the funding is all set. It's been more than a decade in the making. Are we really going to walk away in hopes of a better bargain? And more to the point, will the community REALLY come out in support of Public Housing (cause dammit, that's what it is)? Or is this just a bunch of posturing? For some, like the Crown Heights Tenants Union, I think it's a very REAL issue. They're understandably fed up with the rent hikes and displacement and blatant racism and ageism, and they resent the very notion of market-rate anything going on public land. As to the not-so-few carpet-baggers, I can appreciate a good protest, but a lot of folks seemed to know absolutely nothing about this particular project. I suspect if NY Communities for Change issued a call to protest Mr. Softy for running a non-union truck, the orange-shirts would be out in a jiffy, with signs reading "No Justice, No Sprinkles!" The fact is, this process is a lot more nuanced than "kill the deal" can possibly explain. But we don't really DO discourse at CB9, so there it is, no 'splain, no gain.

I guess you could say the Q's a realist. Or, cynic. Depends on whose talking. But really I to assume that everyone who lives near this potentially giant housing project is going to welcome his low-income brothers and sisters with loving arms? I certainly hope so. We'd be showing the City that we actually care about those least able to pay their bills.

But wait...isn't this the same community that wants nothing to do with a well-maintained and secure homeless shelter for families just down the block?

For those keeping score at home, here's what "the Community" seems to be saying. Give us a bunch of City subsidized housing (and it don't come cheap) for people making less than the actual median income ($38K for a family of 4 in Crown Heights). BUT, if those same people suddenly can't afford the roughly $800 - $900 month and become homeless, well, we sure as hell don't want them HERE.

To her credit, councilperson Laurie Cumbo was parked in the front row, and remained quiet as the battle raged. My considerable gut tells me she understands the nuances, and understands too that to favor this project is political death. She's come out against it and will likely win reelection as a result, and now she claims to want NO market rate housing. (When you want to emphasize the point, just call 'em "luxury condos.") But there's no hint of where the money will come from to build all this subsidized housing AND giant community center. Just a lot of hyperbole and bullying.

Lastly I'd just like to add what I always want to add to those who decry Developers out of hand. I'll bet Dollars to Donuts that the very home you're living in now was built by those nasty, greedy humans otherwise known as Developers.  Yep. Even your fancy townhouses were the once much-derided tract housing of its day. Developers are builders. And even if they make a profit, you don't get housing without them. The City got out of that business a long time ago, and for good reason. The corruption alone cost a fortune. Sure you can hire a non-profit developer. And you're just as likely to get reamed, too, by a bunch of crooks and shysters and volunteer board members.

Maybe it's time to park those dollars in the Carver for a minute, eat a few of those donuts, and reconsider whether there IS some compromise to be made before we end up with a 500,000 square foot vacant lot til the next recession ends in, oh, 2030 or so.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Flavors of Flatbush - Thursday June 15

Flavors yes. And smells, too, one would imagine. The spelling "flavours" gets the thumbs up from Google. But Flavors, without the "u" is misspelled, so sayeth the Great Brain of the Valley of Silicon. Well, there it is. Google is an Anglophile. Great Brain, Great Britain. The world's collective consciousness. Don't laugh; it's just a matter of time before Google becomes self-aware, and then...

Look, this is going to be a terrific event. Do NOT miss, and it's a good cause to boot. The Merchant's association is finally firing on most pistons.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Here They Come - The Candidates Get Down To Business

Yep. There were lots of people. Maybe 200 at the peak? And while all 200, mostly working people, many with families and duties, managed to come on time and prepare for the 7pm start, your Councilman Mathieu Eugene came more than half an hour into the program. Did he know this was a crucial close-up-to-constituents opportunity? Who knows. The guy has his head so far up his arse I'm surprised he knew this wasn't just another ribbon-cutting.

I liked the candidates...a lot. I was particularly impressed by Brian, Rose and Pia. Jennifer seemed shaky, and maybe not quite ready for the big time. I say that with love, because I know she's a dedicated servant to the tenants she works with and for, keeping people in their homes and fighting unscrupulous landlords. But I gotta say, and I hope this doesn't sound too crass...the seat belongs to a person of color. While we may be trending towards the Caucasioid these days, it's really important that longtime residents of the neighborhood feel they have a voice at City Hall. Were the race just Eugene and Berkely, I might feel otherwise. But there it is; the Q don't mince words. Let's keep the seat in the hands of a qualified black candidate. And we have three solid ones to choose from, each with their own assets and potential liabilities. Mostly assets though.

If you want the skinny, I highly recommend this thorough rundown from, of all places, Kings County Politics and journalist Phoebe Taylor Vuolo, who also took the below pic. KCP is often seen as an insider rag that seems more press release than hard news source. Perhaps that's changing? We could all use more information about those who serve us. We need strong leaders at every level if we're to turn back the tide of racist nationalism that has beset our noble republic.

Keep an eye on this race. Gonna be good, and while 5 is too many candidates, I hope that one emerges as the consensus to knock the good Doctor back to Canarsie where his actual home resides. Perhaps then he'll actually have to get a full-time job? I hear he has a medical degree from Mexico so he'll be just fine, between that and his black belt in something or other (true stories all - and he know Jean Claude Van Damme and once met an actual astronaut!).

According to Eugene, people in "HIS" district are very, very happy with him

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Black Educator's Perspective

If you have a perspective you'd like to share, feel free to shoot the Q an email. Thoughtful, engaging, provocative, challenging, moving, hilarious...send it along. And if this issue of segregation and inequality in the public schools is a concern of yours, please show up next Tuesday for another thought-provoking and hopeful action-inspiring event, flyer and info at the bottom of this post.

Longtime Lefferts neighbor, activist and "local gentry" Brenda Edwards shares her thoughts on the state of segregated schools and the history of such in our very neighborhood.

In the mid 90s a group of us black teachers decided to form a committee to protect our students and to be a definitive voice in the decision making process in what we saw as the coming onslaught of a white dominated school. For us, this was the beginning of gentrification which would affect our school,Erasmus Hall High located in Brooklyn's district 17. The district encompasses parts of East Flatbush, Prospect Lefferts, Gardens, Prospect Heights and Crown Heights.
We did not believe ourselves to be paranoid or over reacting. We had already seen the displacement and destruction of communities when its residents became more white and more wealthy.
We were determined to establish a balance within our school and with in the New York City educational system. We would be ready for whatever was to come. Students of all ethnicities would be welcome, but our black and brown students would not be excluded. We were armed with our teaching skills, our knowledge of the educational system and it's history of school segregation. We had witnessed the wrath of racism and economic inequities.
We would approach this issue with a vengeance. We would perform the necessary research citing evidence based on neighboring schools as well as others across the country. We would look for the signs: A sudden windfall found in the school budget resulting in long overdue renovations, the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment, and a generous inventory of school supplies including enough books for each student. Although this should be the normal working operations of a school, more often than not; this does not occur in schools located in predominately black and Latino neighborhoods,especially in the inner city.
We eventually realized that there would be no influx of white students eagerly registering for our school. The trickling stream of gentrifiers at that time and the presently increasing number would unequivocally decide that our school was not the right choice for their children. Perhaps it was and still is a clash of cultures, a resistance to change and a fear of the low performance that is associated with our neighborhood schools. Whatever the rationale, this choice continues to promote an imbalance where the majority of desirable schools are overwhelmingly stocked with the more affluent, the high achievers, the less needy and white students.
But as the neighborhood becomes more diverse, parents are organizing in preparation for their children to attend the schools around the corner, down the street and just a few blocks away. The hope is that the schools will reflect the various faces of its residents. And that all who live here will take responsibility in insisting on quality education for all students who cross the threshold of each classroom.
It is evident that in a changing neighborhood that our schools will also change to accommodate the newcomers as well as re-evaluate what works and does not work for the students who are already there. A successful educational system should never remain stagnant. it should be a system that proposes to satisfy the needs of its students regardless of who they are. It should not be a sudden and blatant realization that the schools are in need of substantial improvements only when the demographics change.
To quote the title of the song that Sam Cooke made famous "A Change Is Gonna Come." We will see where it takes us.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Kandidate Korner - First Up, Pia Raymond

It's a testament to the weakness of incumbent City Council person Mathieu Eugene that he's facing four challengers to his throne this Fall. An even semi-popular council dude would easily slide to his max number of terms (Eugene was "grandfathered" so he has yet another term to go before being tossed out). Two popular and qualified candidates announced a while ago, with two new ones joining the race since. Of course everyone has the right to challenge Eugene, so we can't fault anyone for piling on, But the chances of beating him outright have plummeted as a result. Mathieu will maintain his most steadfast base, and each of the other candidates will carve out their spot in the electorate. Since it's do or die in the Democratic Primary, and you need just a plurality to win (no run-off), conventional wisdom says Eugene robs us of another four years of strong, vocal and imaginative leadership.

Unless..well, we'll cross that bridge in a later post.

Brian's the one with the beard
Let's get right to the candidates. The Q wrote about the first-announced challenger last fall, Brian Cunningham. At that time I would have called him a shoo-in to top Eugene in a head-to-head battle. Smart, experienced, politically savvy with many friends in his native neighborhood, his early announcement was meant to dissuade others from joining - a shrewd political move given the nature of Democratic primaries and the cynical power of incumbency. It seemed to be working...for awhile.

Pia has no beard
Then we learn that longtime Crown Heights resident (5 generations - wow) and currently Fenimore II mom Pia Raymond joined the race. She too is smart and popular, albeit less experienced in the ways and means of the notoriously arcane and treacherous City legislature. So who wins? Let's start with surface details. Anyone who knows Pia can't help but note (and her campaign poster attests) she's quite glamorous and fashionable, plus tall and svelte - she doesn't fade into a crowd. I'm not quite sure how that fits into the equation. I mean Brian's handsome too, though his beard is new! The two could be homecoming King and Queen. The calculus here is tough to determine. She's African-American; his roots are Jamaican; Eugene's obviously Haitian. (another recent addition to the roster of candidates is ALSO Haitian, Rose St. Albord). To say these things don't matter is to deny the reality of our neighborhood (oh hell, any neighborhood), where language, culture, dynasty and custom - not to mention rivalry - often rule the day. And yet a winning candidate must transcend such simplistic identity-politics and appeal broadly, and most important, s/he must bring out the vote. It ain't easy to get people to the polls for a primary in September just as the new year begins (and let's face it, the year begins in September, no matter what the calendar says).

And who really takes the time to get to know these folks or the issues they champion? You, perhaps? Yes, identity, roots, family, church...these things really do count for a lot. But so does YOUR identity, your roots, family, spirituality, gender (let's not forget that), orientation and, for lack of a better word, your politics beyond this particular race. These are all Democrats, mind you. They're not going to go all Trump on your ass. But still, there are differences, and some come down to the intangibles of charisma and leadership. You want someone who will inspire, lead the charge on contentious issues, take tough stands, articulate difficult issues, be teachable and tolerant, communicate effectively on ALL means of communication (just try to find your current Councilperson on le Web).

Oh yes, and then there's the endorsements. Will BP Adams and Jesse Hamilton et al go to bat once again for the miserably unfit Eugene? Will the Working Families Party endorse him again too, after catching flack for giving him the WFP seal of approval last time? How about the powerful unions, particularly the hospital workers? Then there's the local political dynasty of Una and Yvette Clarke. They too showed no remorse or independence four years ago, sticking with the man they placed in the job in the first place. With the contest running near-even in 2013, they conpspired to robo-call folks in the district aGAINST capable and independent challenger Saundra Thomas. And while some consider her position as Congressperson untouchable, Yvette is more exposed than you'd think, and a strong candidate could take on her seat anytime - her district is much more diverse than it was 10 years ago. Therefore, look for her to hold on to the Haitian vote as long as she can. (So gross. To think politicians would stand by a loser for their own self-interest. Wait...I guess that's most of the Republican party with Donald Trump. Sanders supporters said the same of Clinton. I might as well have just described the political class in general. Ah, I hate everyone. Except you, of course, dear reader.)

The Q met with Pia on Friday morning, and though I've served with her at Community Board 9 for a few years, this was the first time we had a one-on-one conversation. I've gotten to know quite a number of people on CB9, but Pia is reserved, where I'm a loudmouth. I'd like to think I listen too, and I DO I really do, but Pia strikes me as a particularly good listener, and an excellent conciliator. She's super proud of her heritage, and she has plenty of good reason. She's managed to trace her own legacy to slave owners in North Carolina, and from those tortured beginnings her family rose to prominence in Brooklyn with her father - Syl - becoming a true stalwart (gentry, if you will) in Crown Heights through his sporting goods and trophies shop on Nostrand, at Park Place. This is a good example of the problem with the term Gentrification. I mean, with clear-souled folks like Syl Williamson helping define a neighborhood and working to keep kids on the right path...they were the heroes that kept a place from completely falling apart after the earlier gentry abandoned the neighborhood for the 'burbs. That's Gentry - the real deal. For a brief bio on the famous Syl Williamson, Pia's dad, check this here. Pia ran the business for awhile but eventually the landlord decided he could get more than Syl's could pay. It was then that Pia started her non-profit "Creating Legacies," dedicated to identifying and preserving the deep histories that differentiate "community" from "neighborhood."

Pia saw the worst of the drug and gang years through the eyes of a child. By the mid-80s, she started to plot her escape. She managed to earn a spot at Groton, the blue-blood boarding school in Connecticut. Then to Boston University, and back to NYU for Social Work. She's that powerful combination of reverent for elders, strong of character, and comfortable in non-native worlds. She puts people at ease. She's a laid-back presence in a rumble-tumble world. She's thoughtful and passionate, though maybe a bit circumspect. That's my only concern, really. Where folks like Diana Richardson, Jumaane Williams, Brad Lander, Laurie Cumbo can walk into a room and demand attention, Pia acquiesces. She may grow to lead, to command a room. If she surrounds herself with good people, we'll be in good hands, and she will put at ease any fears you may have of engaging with your elected officials.

Pia's work with Community Board 9 has focused on the needs of small businesses, and she and co-chair Warren Berke put together the successful and ongoing Shop Local CB9 campaign. She's a champion of local merchants as part of the Nostrand Avenue Merchant's Association, long under the stewardship of Lindiwe Kamau. Pia has brought fresh energy to NAMA, and maintains healthy relationships with all the local merchants, old and new. And she's a board member of the Lefferts Manor Association (LMA) that helps keep "the Manor" alive and thriving as a tight-knit 'hood within a 'hood. Her hubby's cool, her kids are gorgeous. What's not to like?

See what I mean? It's tough. We're going to have to look hard at these candidates and see in them what we want for the future of our neighborhood. I'll be coming back to Brian again, because I think he deserves a close-up now that we're heading into the busy season of signatures and campaigning, door-to-door. And don't you dare forget the upcoming "debate" at the Brooklyn Commons!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Let's Get Ready To Rumble - June 5

When Your Bank Says No, Champion Says YES!

Is it all just a game of good-cop bad-cop? Maybe. The City Planning Commission (read: the Mayor) is going forward with the current plans by BFC Partners for the Bedford-Union Armory - they just decided to start the official ULURP process, which does NOT mean a for-certain conclusion. But the battle lines have been drawn. Usually, though not always, the City Council sides with the council person on these matters. T'would be interesting if they didn't in this case, since Laurie has come around to finding the deal insufficiently community controlled. I've discussed the issue ad nauseum, but story keeps giving. It's a terrific metaphor for so many social, political, racial, economic zeitgeist issues.

Maybe my analysis is too grandiose. I think what's really going on is that Laurie Cumbo senses she cannot get re-elected if people feel she has not been sufficiently Lefty on the issue. And by Lefty, I mean Socialist (this is Brooklyn, USA after all). At this moment in political history, it's not enough to be a Democrat. You must defy the very forces of capital and the captains of industry! You must make certain that no one makes any money, even if a few good things might come of it.

Seriously...seriously. That sort of one-up-person-ship as to who is the true progressive - that's what I sense is happening, and not just around the Bedford-Union Armory. In my own life, at the kids' school and work and friendships, I see folks struggling for their very identity in a world turned upside down. It's not okay to side with forces that could be seen as reactionary or pro-business. To do so would be to betray one's liberal bonafides, to side with the Trumpers, to send the country back to its darkest days i.e. last Wednesday. Or was it Thursday?

If you want to know what the Socialist perspective is, why not go to the source? NY Communities for Change is one of the closest organized relatives of the World Workers Party we have going right here in the Windy Apple, as I like to call Brooklyn. Actually I think Brooklyn's outline looks more like an apple than Manhattan, which always struck me as more of a sawed-off shotgun. When I look at the outline of Brooklyn, I actually see the silhouette profile of a bear, sort of a Paddington like fellow, with a funny hat. See how his back leg (bottom right) is in the air, making him look like he's walking leftward? That leg is actually Floyd Bennett Field. And are those little shards of poop coming out of Canarsie, or maybe his backup ruptured sending cheese puffs a-flyin'?

Anyhow, the beef of the matter here is that NYCC is actually deeply involved in the Armory issue, and their participation has shown that the Left, as in the REAL Left, has plenty of kick left in her, not unlike Mrs. O'Leary's cow. It's never too late to set a City on fire, you know.

Here's the latest missive from NYCC, which many of you first encountered as ACORN:

We are not moving forward with the project.”

That’s what Council member Laurie Cumbo said last week about the Bedford Armory deal, but yesterday the City gave the development process the greenlight.1

That means that Mayor de Blasio’s administration will move forward with the project while Laurie Cumbo gets to tell her constituents she’s against this gentrification plan during the election season.

But we can still stop this deal from happening. Laurie Cumbo has the power to finally kill this deal and start over with a new plan for community-controlled, 100% affordable housing at the Bedford Armory.

Tell Council member Laurie Cumbo to stand up to Mayor de Blasio and demand that this project be pulled from the approval pipeline! Call her office at (718) 260-9191.

Laurie Cumbo and the administration are in the middle of playing good cop/bad cop with us, all while leaving Crown Heights stuck with a terrible housing deal.

This is completely unacceptable. Our neighborhoods, homes, and lives are not a game. Laurie Cumbo may say she’s fighting with us, but now she has an opportunity to actually step into the ring and stop this deal from happening.

This deal prioritizes private profit on public land, in a neighborhood that’s facing rapid gentrification and a homelessness crisis. We shouldn’t have to choose between a recreation center and the housing Crown Heights needs.

The only acceptable way forward is to kill the deal and start over under a framework that puts community control front and center. Council member Cumbo should demand that the City stop this process and start over with a deal for 100% affordable housing at the Armory.

Call her office now at (718) 260-9191 and urge her to demand that the City stop the approval process. Click here for a sample script of what to say.

Until we win,

Vaughn Armour
NYCC Member & Crown Heights resident of 16 years