2009 began in Brooklyn the way the New Year begins every year, with a dip in the frosty Atlantic Ocean, off Coney Island, by members of the borough’s Polar Bear Club. Another waterfront soon came into play. Pier 5 in Williamsburg’s Northside Piers development was opened to the public, the first waterfront access that the community had had in years. Another development, this one in Bay Ridge, came to a dead halt, as plans to build a condominium on the site of the recently razed “Green Church” were abandoned in favor of a new school. Then, on Jan. 20, Brooklynites gathered to watch as Barack Obama, this nation’s first African-American president, was inaugurated. Not all of January’s news was joyous. Two untimely deaths %u2013 a little boy killed in a hit-and-run accident in Canarsie, and a city worker at Bay Ridge’s Owls Head Water Treatment Plant %u2013 brought sorrow to the borough.
Winter’s chill brought a frigid rebuke to those hoping to stymie the Atlantic Yards project, when a New York appellate panel rejected a lawsuit that charged that the Empire State Development Corp.’s environmental review of the site was inadequate. In Red Hook, we exclusively detailed a bombshell deal that will bring the region’s largest beer distributor to the piers. Elsewhere, justice was served after Dexter Bostic, the man convicted of gunning down Police Officer Russel Timoshenko during a routine car stop in Crown Heights in 2007, was sentenced to life plus 55 years in prison. The month brought freedom for Craig the Crustacean, a20-pound lobster, released from a Dyker Heights eatery into the cold water off the coast of Maine. Craig wasn’t the only one feeling the pinch, as Brooklyn’s victims of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff spoke out, telling this paper that they never had an inkling of impropriety — until the Ponzi scheme collapsed.
March certainly came in like a lion in 2009 %u2013 a mangy, ill-tempered critter, filled with budget cuts, school closings and lost jobs. Things were so bleak that no one noticed that the girls over at the Foxy Gentlemen’s Club in Coney Island were topless. Brooklyn teachers and students joined thousands at City Hall to protest cuts to education, while the Catholic Church just didn’t have enough cash on hand to keep several of its Brooklyn schools open. The wheels also came off Chrysler’s last auto dealership in Bay Ridge, and Fulton Street said so long to the venerable Gage and Tollner restaurant. In the end, some were looking for the one-and-only “Man of Steel” to come rescue them from the recession. “Action Comics Number 1” featuring the first appearance of Superman, fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars at an online auction engineered by Stephen Fishler, a comic book dealer from Brooklyn.
April began with the city primary season heating up after it was reported that Councilmember Letitia James owed over $10,000 to the city relating to her four-family brownstone at 296 Lafayette Ave. James paid the bill a week later and went on to win re-election. Later in the month, Coney Island’s crumbling boardwalk received $15 million in federal stimulus money to install synthetic planks on several sections of the walkway. The usually reliable Edward R. Murrow chess team did not take home the gold at the 2009 National High School Chess Championship in Nashville, Tenn, an unusual fate for a dominating team accustomed to victory. The school’s varsity team finished 20th, while its junior varsity squad took home 26th place. The borough’s ledendary Junior’s Restaurant made the top 100 money-making eateries in the country, and in Boerum Hill playwright Lynn Nottage was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for drama for her play, “Ruined.”
April showers brought May flowers… cherries that is, as the month kicked off with the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens’ annual “Sakura Matsuri” Cherry Blossom Festival. Cherry trees weren’t the only things blossoming, as budding candidates for City Council, Comptroller, and Public Advocate began the first public debates of a long campaign season, while political world waited… and waited… for Rep. Anthony Weiner to set his mayoral ambitions into full bloom. Speaking of trees and parks, North Brooklyn residents joined David Yassky at City Hall to demand more park space along the East River while southern Brooklyn residents demanded that Holocaust Memorial Park (Emmons Ave and Shore Boulevard) include all victims of the Holocaust. By the end of the month, Brooklyn honored its veterans on Memorial Day, laying flowers on graves in Green-Wood Cemetery and marching in the Kings County Memorial Day Parade in Bay Ridge. At the same time, Weiner’s mayoral hopes ultimately wilted and withered. Maybe by 2013.
June was the month when Brooklyn fought back. During those hot summer days, residents challenged the city on several major issues, including the creation of a $64 million amphitheater in Asser Levy Seaside Park.. Early in June, critics of the amphitheater lashed out at the city for pushing the plan, which they say will destroy their quality of life, and Community Board 13 for not opposing the amphitheater. Swine flu was still a big concern in June, as the city Health Department placed several Brooklyn schools on a watch list and Borough Park parents claimed that the city wasn’t doing enough to keep students safe at P.S. 231. Also in June, Brooklynites successfully prevented the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School from opening in I.S. 278, Marine Park Junior High School. After several hundred parents protested the space-sharing plan, the charter school requested that it not be housed at I.S. 278.
While this month is almost always known for its block parties, fireworks, and jetting fireplugs, everyone knows that July in Brooklyn is all about the food! Every party you were lucky enough to be invited to had plenty of edibles to go around %u2013 the grand daddy of them all being Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. Three-peat winner Joey Chestnut set a new world record, downing 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. We quickly learned that the buns are more popular with pachyderms, three of which beat out three competitive eaters during a special man vs. beast glut-fest on July 3. Humans ate 143 hot dog buns, while the elephants ate a staggering 505. Yet all of this eating had taken its toll. By the end of the month the city’s Department of Health reported that 59 percent of adult Brooklynites were either overweight or obese.
The world was reeling from the death of Michael Jackson and Brooklyn was no exception. In fact, the borough hosted a special tribute to the King of Pop held at Prospect Park by famed borough filmmaker Spike Lee. Hundreds of Michael Jackson fans moon-walked in the mud during the special celebration, which was considered the largest of several tributes to the fallen singer held in the borough. Also receiving a tribute %u2013 one that was long overdue %u2013 was the “Mother of Judo” Coney Island-born Rena “Rusty” Kanokogi, who was awarded the YMCA competition medal she was forced to give back in 1959 because women were not allowed to fight in competitive Judo matches. Kanokogi reveled in the late recognition for a few months before succumbing to her ongoing battle with cancer in November.
Politics took center stage in September, as a Brooklynite — City Councilmember Bill de Blasio — captured the Democratic nomination for public advocate after a run-off election. In the 39th Council District, Democratic voters selected local activist Brad Lander as their replacement for the departing de Blasio. In Flatbush, incumbent Councilmember Kendall Stewart lost the Democratic line in a five-way race to Jumaane Williams. In the 33rd C.D., voters gave Steve Levin their backing to replace outgoing Councilmember David Yassky, who ran for comptroller. In other news, Coney Island figured prominently. On Sept. 1, Akituussaq, the two-year-old walrus born at the Aquarium, died; divers retrieved the renowned Coney Island bell after 98 years on the ocean floor; and a mini scandal erupted over a photo op in which firefighters hosed down an elephant belonging to the “Boom A Ring” circus, closing their firehouse for half an hour, to the dismay of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.
October’s crisp chill didn’t succeed in bringing clarity to a controversial plan to bring a $64 million amphitheater inside Asser Levy Seaside Park in Coney Island. CB 13 Chair Marion Cleaver proclaimed the structure “an improvement to the existing situation” there. “The proposed plan…is cockamamie,” attorney Norman Siegel declared. The City Council unanimously approved a rezoning plan for Carroll Gardens, a measure advocates say would keep intact the neighborhood’s aesthetic. In DUMBO, a local group filed a lawsuit in order to stop the Dock Street project. As the election cycledrew to a close, voters in the 45th District received several mailings from incumbent Kendall Stewart calling challenger and Democratic nominee Jumaane Williams a “carpetbagger.” The mayor showed he doesn’t shy away from mud, even if it’s toxic, paying an early October trip to the polluted Gowanus Canal to tout an alternative scheme for the canal’s cleanup that would not designate the waterway a Superfund site.
November was a month to remember. After spending $102 million on his reelection campaign, Mayor Michael Bloomberg won a third term. However, with just 51 percent of the vote, it was a narrow victory for Bloomberg. In fact, 55 percent of public school parents voted for mayor selected Bill Thompson, according to an exit poll by The New York Times. Bloomberg, who dubbed himself the “education mayor,”received 43 percent of those votes. Brooklyn politicians also celebrated on election day. City Councilmember Bill de Blasio was elected public advocate, and several local pols, including Councilmember Lew Fidler, won a third term.
Brooklynites were in a litigious mood this month, as Coney Island ride advocates sued the city regarding its development of the seaside amusement park. The same week, the city sued itself over the reopening of the Brooklyn House of Detention. Some lawsuits, such as thedeveloper Bruce Ratner’s right to develop Atlantic Yards, were dismissed, while others, including TransGas Energy’s right to build a power plant on the Williamsburg waterfront, remain subject to appeal. Meanwhile, the State Senate rejected gay marriage, angering LGBT activists, who may move to take the issue back to the courts, and a group of atheists and Catholic activists sued the Brooklyn Diocese for overt political activity in last month’s City Council elections. And after a vote on the Broadway Triangle was postponed, rezoning opponents amended their lawsuit against the mayor and the city’s Housing Department, alleging a violation of the Fair Housing Act, which was re-filed just in time for the holidays.