Joseph Lentol has been the New York State Assembly Member for Brooklyn’s District 50 (which includes Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Fort Greene) since 1983. He is also Chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Codes, tasked with reviewing criminal justice legislation. He previously served as Assistant District Attorney in Kings County before he began holding elected office in 1972.
Greenpointers spoke with Lentol over the phone on October 19th about Occupy Wall Street and the homelessness in Greenpoint.
GP: What are your thoughts on Occupy Wall Street? Have you spoken with any participants?
JL: I certainly have been thinking about it a lot. Unfortunately, I haven’t spoken to anyone and I didn’t realize until Amy [Cleary, Lentol’s Communications Director] told me that you suggested it was a Greenpoint resident who was the person who was pepper-sprayed by the police department. By the Deputy Inspector, I guess. And later featured in the Daily News and New York Times articles.
In 1929 the NYTimes wrote that, “People do not travel for pleasure on Newtown Creek.” Those of us on the Working Harbor Committee’s “Hidden Harbor Tour” of Newtown Creek disagreed, as we traversed the 3.5 mile long estuary on a sunny Sunday.
The Working Harbor Committee (WHC), a not for profit, hosts boat tours all over the NYC area in what one of the day’s MCs called “the sixth borough” – the rivers and waterways surrounding the city. Sunday’s two-hour tour was hosted by members of the Newtown Creek Alliance, a non-profit community group advocating for development and cleanup along the Creek. New development requires cleanup, NCA claims, and would boost employment for Brooklyn and Queens residents along the Creek; as well as decrease the number of trucks trafficking goods on New York’s roadways. (One barge on the waterways, for example, could replace up to 70 trucks on the roadways.)
As the tour demonstrated, the Creek, which was once the busiest industrial waterway in the US, has a trove of secrets – wonderful and hideous.
Of the hideous, there is the “black mayonnaise” that rests 10 to 15 feet deep on the bottom of the Creek, which is the accumulation of every pollutant ever dumped there. (Since the Creek receives almost zero fresh water and is barely affected by the tides, the pollution literally does not move, even after centuries.) At some points in the Creek, the water has almost zero oxygen in it; at other points, mutant forms of life have been identified. What else can be expected of the place where Astral Oil began and Standard Oil burned down?
Of the wonderful: There is the building on the Queens side which one NCA member claimed was where Thomas Edison was building electric cars in 1915. Further wonderfulness: despite the vast environmental degradation, life has begun to come back to the Creek, largely because certain areas have been abandoned by industry. Birds, mussels and fish – if not abounding – are at least present; while some young people even managed to find a spot for an afternoon palaver.
The Greenpoint Soup Kitchen Supper Club will be hosting its final fundraiser of the year this Friday, October 21, 2011 at the Greenpoint Reformed Church (106 Milton). The event will open with cocktails with music by Brooklyn musicians Holler, from 6:30-8:00; followed by a four-course vegetarian meal.
Suggested donation is $20. Proceeds from the meal and the bar go towards purchasing fresh produce for the Soup Kitchen’s weekly meals during the winter months, when donations from CSAs no longer come. The Facebook page says, “consider this our ‘un’can’ drive.”
RSVP to annefay (at) gmail.com to reserve your spot and remember “As always the meal is TBD, but how could it not include squash, leafy greens, apples and pears?”
On Wednesday night, the Mayor informed protesters they must vacate Zucotti park on Friday morning at 7 a.m for “cleaning.” They will be allowed back into the park, but will not be able to use sleeping bags, tarps, nor will they be allowed to lay down, which may end the occupation.
The OWS protesters have been in the park since September 17th. They have a Sanitation Committee responsible for the park’s upkeep, and today they brought in power-washers and other equipment to clean the park themselves, perhaps not to Brookfield Property’s (the park owners) satisfaction.
Council Member Stephen Levin, along with member’s Lander, Mark-Viverito and Williams wrote a letter to the mayor asking him not to evict the protestors saying that, “traditions of free speech, public assembly, and public protest are a deep part of our American tradition, honored best of all in the civic spaces of New York City … we believe it would be a harmful disservice to these democratic traditions to evict them.” Read the full letter here.
This Saturday at 11am the movement is coming to Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza. Boro President Marty Markowitz told the Brooklyn Paper, “It was only a matter of time before the … rallies made their way to Brooklyn. There is no doubt that Americans — those in the ’99 percent’ — are hurting, and we can all agree that some of the issues being raised by these protests are concerns we can all rally around.”
Tonight we asked locals told Greenpointers tell us their reactions to Occupy Wall Street.
As Greenpointers reported on Monday, a duo of designers on India Street is attempting to raise funds to create a community space where a parking lot is destined to go. The deadline to raise the last $2,000 of the needed $22,000 is today, at 2:00pm.
Trish Anderson and Maureen Walsh, of Domestic Construction (a design studio), live across India Street from the lot and have spear-headed the design.plot effort to create a community space with the lot for agricultural, educational, artistic and community endeavors.
A recent Greenpoint Gazettearticle chronicled the duos’ efforts to save the space from becoming a parking lot, by leasing the lot and hoping that it could be made into a community garden.
The space is located on the stretch of McGuinness Boulevard above the split off from the Pulaski Bridge, making a quieter and more secluded area than further south. But with the bridge to the west, the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant to the east, and Newtown Creek to the north, having a little oasis of green community space might mean no small amount of respite from urban pressures.
I exchanged some emails with the ladies from design.plot, who were more than eager to tell the tale.
Q. How long have you been in Greenpoint, and why is this effort important to the neighborhood?
A: We have both lived and worked in Greenpoint for about 5 years. We are both transplants. Maureen’s from Ohio and I’m from Georgia. As many people can relate, we have been living and working in an area but felt a disconnect with the amazing community that surrounded us. One thing we always missed about our lives before Brooklyn was open green space. We missed the opportunity to get dirty. When the lot entered our lives we knew we needed to save it so that all Greenpointers could have a space to explore and learn from nature.
Q. What other Greenpoint/NYC (or other) organizations have been supportive of design.plot? Have you been in contact with local groups that could use the produce?
A: We are in talks with several organizations that are in full support of the project. We are also open to any others that would want to get involved. We want to give away the food that is grown to whomever needs it. This isn’t a money making venture. We are just very passionate about building something beautiful and educational for our community to experience. We have a network of growers and farmers with shovels ready and willing to make this happen once design.plot is funded.
Q. Are there any large/corporate donors?
A: Not yet! But for us that is why the Kickstarter platform has been so inspiring. It has been amazing to meet people that support and believe in the project. The idea of design.plot being funded little by little only solidifies the sense of community that we desire.
Q. Has there been any resistance from the space’s owner? Or are they supportive?
A: Our landlord is in full support of the project. He was only turning it into a concrete lot because frankly that is the normal thing to do on an industrial street in Brooklyn. Our neighbors (which are all auto shops and metal scrap yards) are in complete support as well. We are the only artists on the block so we stand out a bit but we have never met so many friendly and open people.
Q. What kind of film screenings do you have in mind? Have any organizations/artists expressed interest? Do you also foresee the space as a music venue?
A: For October we are in talks with thegreenhorns to have a screening of their documentary [The Greenhorns]. We plan to have plans to have fully curated outdoor exhibitions. We have a ton of talented artist friends excited about the possibility of an alternative to the typical Gallery space. We hope this interest keeps growing and growing, We imagine a multitude of different performances. As long as they are positive and can serve as a respectful meeting ground.
Q. Why the August 24th deadline? Is this because the owner wants to sell NOW? Or because the project wants to beat the cold Winter? Both?
A: We are working against the clock! The lot fell in our lap just after prime planting season. We want to be able to use this fall and winter to prepare for next spring.
On August 19th, The Brooklyn Eaglespeculated that an empty building near the northernmost point of McGuinness Blvd in Brooklyn had been bought by a developer, Triumph Hotels, in the knowledge that the building would likely be bought by the city to be made into a homeless man’s shelter. The residents of Greenpoint – and Councilman Steve Levin, and Assemblyman Joe Lentol – have, after all, been protesting the idea for months.
Previously, Steve Levin had said of the idea that the neighborhood “as a community [is] inundated with services that we provide to the rest of the city … on a level that no other neighborhood has to do.”
Activists and politicians have pointed out that, in care for the homeless and struggling alone, Greenpoint organizations have attempted to care for the neighborhood’s already large homeless population, through: the Greenpoint Reformed Church, Most Holy Trinity, Community Board 1, and the Outreach Project – not to mention the Greenpoint Hotel and the three-quarter house on Clay Street.
On the 22nd, The Real Deal reported City Comptroller John Liu’s office as stating that, “a fair, transparent and equitable siting process” would occur.
…And speaking of sharing: a recent article on DNA Info reported on protests by UES residents against an upgrade to the already existing garbage facility at 91st Street.
Writer Amy Zimmer points out that the upgrade is “intended to reduce the burden on neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, like the South Bronx and Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that have a disproportionate number of trash facilities.”
When imagining the enormous number of waste transfer vehicles rumbling around Greenpoint’s and Williamsburg’s children at all hours, the idea that “Upper East Siders are outraged by the possibility of trucks rumbling just feet away from where their kids play ball” makes one envious. (Italics all mine.)
A fire at 43 Moultrie Street on Friday, August 19th, went to 2 alarms before being controlled by the FDNY.
On Sunday, August 21st, the building’s sole tenant, Doris Yao, was seeing to some straightening of the space while her landlord straightened up after Friday’s fire.
Yao said that the FDNY had told her the cause of the fire was still under investigation, but that it might have originated next door, at 41 Moultrie.
Yao uses the space to store ice and some supplies for her food vendor service, A-Pou’s Taste (which Yao laughingly translated from Chinese as meaning “the old woman’s taste,” as in the old woman knows how to cook) which has four locations in Manhattan, including City Hall and on the LES.
A large, full container of debris from the incident sat outside the building, to be picked up later that night.
Having relocated to a Greenpoint space from her former space in East Williamsburg, Yao jokes that she is “the bitch of the street,” as she is the only female business person on the block, which runs north/south between Meserole and Norman Avenues.
But when Yao arrived to the scene of the fire on Friday, she saw not only a mass of FDNY trucks, but all of her neighbors arrived and offered tools to help and then to clean up. “I love this neighborhood,” said Yao, who has been living in the United States for thirty years, mostly based in New York.
Yao’s landlord, while reticent to speak with me, seemed to have met Yao’s expectations in helping clean up the damages. Already a brand new roof appeared to be in place, although the VACATE sign from the Department of Buildings was still prominently affixed to the door.
Having owned A-Pou’s Taste for almost one year, Yao moved spaces to Greenpoint from East Williamsburg when she acquired the food vendor business. Yao had formerly rented space in East Williamsburg, at Meserole Ave & Bushwick Place, where she says she did not feel safe. One frightening incident occurred when a large man attempted to steal her computer from her office; when the not very tall Yao confronted the man, he claimed to be looking for a job, and Yao told him there were none available and he left. Another time, after parking her moving truck outside the East Williamsburg space for an hour, she came back to find a wheel and several parts of her engine missing.
While the cause of the fire is still unknown, Yao, her business and her Greenpoint space seem back to her liking, great news for anyone in the neighborhood who is nice enough to be a bitch of the block.
<a href=”http://thegreenpointers.com/app/uploads/2011/08/onyx1.jpg”><img src=”http://thegreenpointers.com/app/uploads/2011/08/onyx1-225×300.jpg” alt=”” width=”225″ height=”300″ /></a> The first time I entered the newly-managed Onyx on Morgan & Nassau in Greenpoint, I heard one of the barkeeps refer to the neighborhood as Greenpoint Heights. I thought this rather fine, since the term North Brooklyn includes northern portions of Williamsburg, and we up here surrounded by Newtown Creek on two sides, the BQE to the south and the treacherous McGuinness Avenue to the west, we are in our own special paradise so many dozens of blocks from the trains. Out here where “Greenpoint” does not mean the Nassau & Greenpoint stops on the G – or only by proxy. (Someone on Yelp referred to the area as Greenpoint SewTrePla – meaning the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, which moniker is less than wonderful.)
When we (me and my various roommates) moved to Greenpoint in 2004, we came from 156th Street in Washington Heights – and our neighborhood bar was on 80th. In Greenpoint we found a fine bar at the end of the block, at Nassau and Morgan avenues: Lyric Lounge. We patronized the place as often as our pockets allowed, but it closed within the year anyway. We were forced to Twisted, and after their demise, to Boulevard, an outpost of a watering hole beneath the crashing rushes of the BQE on Meeker Avenue.
When Lyric Lounge reopened, it was 2006, and it was called Onyx. Instead of rock and roll and some dart-boards, it was a techno-playing Polish-oriented club. And it was an appropriate place for such an establishment, really.
In early 2010 Onyx closed. In Spring 2011 it reopened under the same name (why?) but new management. Back came the rock n roll (whole albums, even) and a place to sit outside with a drink and smoke.
<a href=”http://thegreenpointers.com/app/uploads/2011/08/onyx2.jpg”><img src=”http://thegreenpointers.com/app/uploads/2011/08/onyx2-300×225.jpg” alt=”” width=”300″ height=”225″ /></a>The menu is surprisingly good – surprising I guess because of the ruggedness of the environs. (Boulevard’s menu, in contrast, is culled from a grill crammed into a corner in the back outside-area of the place.) Friends and I have tried Onyx’s grass-fed burgers, chicken sandwiches, mac n cheese, etc. Beers, wines, liquors. No complaints.
Given that the place is the only bar in the area (not including Connie O’s), that they have a backyard, that their happy hour includes $2 High Life, and that the burgers don’t make me feel funky, I will go here as often as they stay open.
And if we’re going to be particular enough to adopt a new handle, please, let’s go with Greenpoint Heights. Not Greenpoint SewTrePla. The mush of its pronunciation is horrible reason enough.
<span style=”color: #ff6600;”><strong>Update by Justine 8.9.11</strong></span>: I knew I spotted that Greenpoint Heights term used before – back in 2007 on <a href=”http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2007/11/01/car_toastathon_marathon_greenpoint_action_edition.php”>Curbed</a> someone used it and since then <a href=”http://www.google.com/search?q=%22Greenpoint+Heights%22″>it pops up on the blogs every so often</a>.