It’s been a long year, Brooklyn! We’ve been through a drawn-out political redistricting process, more elections than we could keep straight, contentious debates in the city council, and plenty of community infighting. Some of the borough’s most-loved institutions have closed, to the dismay of lifelong Brooklynites and transplants alike.
But in good times and bad, Brooklynites came together to support each other and their communities — they marched through Brighton Beach in support of their Ukrainian families and neighbors when the war broke out, they sprinted through the streets when the Brooklyn Marathon officially returned, they dressed up their dogs in their finest for the Great PUPkin dog costume contest.
From the good to the bad to the just plain weird, we’ve documented it all — or, at least, as much as we could. Here’s a quick spin through the year as we get ready to start 2023:
Brooklyn’s beloved New Year kick-off returned: Hundreds of New Yorkers washed off the ichor of 2021 in the freezing Atlantic Ocean at the annual Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day. Like so many things, the icy fundraiser had been canceled in 2021 because of the pandemic, and returned to celebrate the new year with precautions in place: the swim took place over a number of hours and across a wide stretch of beach, a departure from the traditional stampede down a narrow pathway into the frigid waves.
New “neighborhood safety teams”: In an effort to combat gun violence in the city, the NYPD announced it would be sending new, updated “plainclothes” units to police precincts — including several precincts in central and eastern Brooklyn. The revived “anti-crime” units, now dubbed “neighborhood safety teams,” are delineated in the mayor’s “Blueprint to End Gun Violence,” released earlier this year in the wake of the shooting death of NYPD Officer Jason Rivera in Harlem.
The first of many (many) maps: Earlier this year, the New York State Legislature released new maps for the state’s congressional districts, showing new lines that could nearly shut out the Republican Party in the state. The new maps, brought on by population changes found in the 2020 Census, were released by the Legislature after the bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission, made up of an equal number of Democratic and Republican appointees (intended to prevent partisan gerrymandering). A judge later found the maps unconstitutional and threw them out — sending New York’s election schedule into disarray.
Dreams died with the Grand Prospect Hall: On a “fittingly bleak day,” the iconic Grand Prospect Hall was completely demolished, bringing down with it the dreams of countless Brooklynites as new residential units were set to go up in its place. The Victorian-style banquet hall on Prospect Avenue in Park Slope was built in 1892 and stood for 130 years. It played host to the luxurious shindigs of Brooklyn’s upper crust in the early 20th century before being reborn decades later, as a garish and ornate banquet hall made famous by its new owners, Michael and Alice Halkias, for ubiquitous television commercials where the couple promised to “make your dreams come true.”
Red Hook reclaimed recreation as long-closed ballfields reopened: Four of Red Hook’s ball fields finally reopened to the public after years of construction and remediation. The federal Environmental Protection Agency discovered dangerous levels of lead in the soil back in 2015 and immediately closed them – ordering the city to begin a multi-million dollar cleanup, which did not begin until 2018. As the years — and the project’s initial projected date of completion — passed, residents became angrier as recreation space in the nabe became more scarce. Finally, the fields — and the local recreation center, which had also been closed for repairs — reopened better than ever.
Brooklyn’s Ukrainian Community reeled as the war in their homeland began: As Russian forces began their invasion of Ukraine, locals in Brighton Beach’s “Little Odessa” desperately tried to reach their friends and family as they watched the war break out from afar. In the weeks and months that followed, locals took to the streets en masse to protest the war and support their neighbors and families near and far.
Demolition permits were filed for the Century 21 flagship location in Bay Ridge, “a project never meant to be”: After more than 50 years in business on 86th Street in Bay Ridge, Century 21’s owners declared bankruptcy at the end of 2020 — and in March of this year, demolition permits were filed for the home of the former department store as the lot’s new owners prepared to build a new structure with multiple retail businesses and a parking garage. Locals mourned the loss of the building, which had been a hub of the nabe for decades — but Pat Condren, head of the local Business Improvement District, said the demolition was “short -term pain for long-term gain.”
City officials swept a homeless encampment below the BQE days as part of new mayoral policy: On March 28, days after Mayor Eric Adams announced a new policy to clear homeless encampments off the streets, the Department of Sanitation and the NYPD “swept” one such encampment under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Williamsburg, removing several homeless people and their belongings in the process. Though Adams insisted the policy would keep New Yorkers off the streets by moving them into shelters, advocates said the sweeps just pushed homeless individuals out of a place of relative safety and comfort – and took away their belongings, including tents, linens, and more — in the process.
Feds finally declared the toxic Meeker Avenue Plume a Superfund site: The federal Environmental Protection Agency finalized its decision to designate the Meeker Avenue Plume a Superfund site, setting the stage for a federally-supervised scrub of the toxic site. The roughly 50-block Plume is comprised of soil and groundwater contaminated with dangerous, carcinogenic compounds left behind by long-shuttered businesses including metalsmiths and dry cleaners. Investigations have found contaminated air inside homes and businesses that sit atop the Plume. Earlier this month, the EPA started monitoring the Plume for chemicals considered dangerous to human health.
A gunman opened fire in a Sunset Park subway station: The morning rush through Sunset Park was violently disrupted on the morning of April 12 when shots rang out at the 36th Street subway station, injuring 29 people. Police, firefighters and federal agents flooded the smoke-filled station in the immediate aftermath of the incident — during which 62-year-old Frank James allegedly detonated smoke bombs and fired off 33 shots. James was later arrested and charged with federal terrorism charges — and, after an initial not-guilty plea, is reportedly planning to plead guilty in Brooklyn Federal Court early next month.
In the days and weeks following the attack, Sunset Park residents came together to heal and re-unite their community after a terrifying disruption to their lives.
The Brooklyn marathon came roaring back : After two years of pandemic-related cancellations, 20,000 runners sprinted through Brooklyn on April 24 for the 10th annual Brooklyn Marathon and Half Marathon. Both the marathon and the half-marathon premiered a new route this year, starting in Greenpoint’s McCarren Park and taking participants through a tour of Brooklyn’s streets— a contrast from previous years when the route only went through neighborhoods around Prospect Park.
A top court struck down redistricting maps, with profound implications for Brooklyn: New York’s top court struck down the state’s new Congressional and state Senate district maps on the grounds that they illegally gerrymandered for partisan purposes, throwing legislative races in Brooklyn into disarray. The state’s Court of Appeals ruled that the news maps — drawn by Albany Democrats, who took on the mantle after an independent commission failed to reach a consensus — were drawn with an “impermissible” partisan bias in order to give Democrats a leg up in elections. Because the decision was made just weeks before the primary elections, the state was forced to push the Congressional and state Senate primaries back until August.
Workers at the Bath Beach Starbucks unionized — becoming the first union Starbucks in Brooklyn: The store’s 17 employees, or “partners” in Starbucks company lingo, voted unanimously to join Starbucks Workers United, which began its organizing campaign in Buffalo last year and has quickly gained steam throughout the country.
“I think [unionizing] is gonna better partners’ relationship with the company,” said Megan DiMotta, an 11-year Starbucks vet and a union organizer at the Ceasar’s Bay store, outside the National Labor Relations Board office in Downtown Brooklyn following the vote. ” think it will rebuild the trust that they keep claiming they’re going to rebuild for us. I think that our union is going to do that, I think that’s why it’s important.”
Thousands of Brooklynites rallied in support of legal abortion after leaked Supreme Court decision: A crowd of nearly 10,000 people gathered in Cadman Plaza before marching across the Brooklyn Bridge to show support for legal abortion a week after a leaked draft opinion revealed that the Supreme Court was likely to strike down Roe v. Wade, which protected abortion as a constitutional right. Weeks later, the decision was finalized, and Roe was thrown out — leading to abortion bans in some states.
Fort Hamilton High School was left shaken after bomb threats: An 18-year-old Fort Hamilton High School student was arrested and charged with falsely reporting an incident and making terroristic threats after repeatedly calling in bomb threats — leading to three back-to-back evacuations of the school. Parents of students at the high school said they were frustrated with the school’s communications throughout the repeated evacuations — some resorted to just showing up at the school’s campus, fearing for the safety of their children.
The beloved Mermaid Parade returned to Coney Island: After two years lost at sea, revelers celebrated the return of Coney Island’s beloved Mermaid Parade on Saturday, June 18. More than 3,000 people, wearing all manner of costumes and decorations, attended the much-loved parade, which has been hosted at the People’s Playground since 1983.
“It was absolutely the most fun event,” said Barbara Arnett, who dressed as a sandcastle with her sister Joanne. “Everybody that marched in the parade was really happy and just so glad to be there, and then all the people that were watching also just seemed so happy to see everybody. There was just such a happy atmosphere around the whole parade.”
Controversial Clinton Hill Romantic Depot store reached climactic peace treaty with locals: After two months of negotiations presided over by the Rev. Kevin McCall, a local civil rights activist, Romantic Depot — Brooklyn’s most controversial sex shop — reached an historic peace settlement with hot-and-heavy neighbors who claimed the adult shop was an ill-fit for its spot in Clinton Hill. All parties reported feeling pleased and satisfied by the agreement.
The business agreed to a number of changes to the store’s outdoor display, including the removal of a mural of Biggie Smalls, LED lighting (which neighbors said made it hard to sleep), and various signs explicitly touting the sexy merchandise that could be found within.
Four local councilmembers voted against an ‘unconscionable’ city budget: The New York City Council overwhelmingly voted to approve a $101 billion city budget for the coming fiscal year late on Monday night, but six members voted against its adoption — four of them from Brooklyn.
Councilmembers Alexa Avilés (D – Sunset Park, Red Hook), Charles Barron (D – East New York), Sandy Nurse (D – Bushwick, East New York), and Chi Ossé (D – Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights) all gave a thumbs down to the budget negotiated by Mayor Eric Adams and Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, arguing that it had maintained bloated NYPD funding while shorting needs like education, housing, and sanitation. A number of councilmembers who had first voted to approve the budget later rallied against it — calling for Mayor Eric Adams to restore funding to public schools especially.
Park Church closed its doors, and parishioners fought the sale of the building: On Thursday, June 30, about a dozen people were gathered on the steps of Park Church Co-Op in Greenpoint. It was the church’s last ever day of operation, and congregants and supporters were discussing next steps as they fought to, somehow, keep the church and its community alive. The 125-year-old congregation had been struggling financially for a long time – but congregants celebrated in 2020 when the Metropolitan New York Synod promised a cash infusion to help the church get back on its feet.
But the Synod abruptly decided to pull funding last year, and, despite protests from the community, officially closed the church in June. The building was listed for sale for $4.5 million, and parishioners enlisted the help of the community — and their local elected officials — to try to stop the sale and make the church into a community center of sorts.
Coney Island’s New York Aquarium finally fully reopened after a decade of Sandy-related repairs: The Coney Island aquarium, operated by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, closed its doors for several months after experiencing severe flooding during the 2012 superstorm. It reopened about a third of its campus in 2013 while continuing to restore its other buildings, exhibits and critical life support systems, and working with city and state officials on future resiliency planning and storm mitigation.
In July, all that work was finally completed, and every public exhibit — including some new additions — opened to visitors.
Brooklyn tenants struggled with the return of the eviction machine: In 2020, as New Yorkers faced mass lay-offs and struggled to pay their rent, the state implemented an eviction moratorium declaring landlords could not evict tenants for nonpayment of rent in a bid to protect those who had lost their jobs. Last summer, the moratorium expired — and tens of thousands of stalled eviction proceedings suddenly started moving forward.
‘Crisis pregnancy centers’ abounded in Brooklyn: After Roe v. Wade was overturned, everyone from everyone from elected officials to prognosticating pundits to reproductive health providers predicted New York would become a “beacon” of safe, legal abortion care in a nation no longer guaranteeing it as a constitutional right.
But, despite having little political power, the anti-abortion movement for years had been quietly building up infrastructure within the Five Boroughs, including Brooklyn, by operating a number of “crisis pregnancy centers” that serve to deter pregnant women from getting abortions. Brooklyn Paper visited some of those centers to see firsthand what kinds of information they distribute, and to speak to some of the people who run them.
Back to the (community board) office: After two and a half years, Governor Kathy Hochul decided not to renew the state’s COVID-19 State of Emergency. The decision rolled back some of her emergency powers — and brought to an end the era of all-virtual community board meetings. Most of the city’s 59 community boards had been meeting via Zoom or WebEx since March 2020, when then-governor Andrew Cuomo first declared a state of emergency in New York State. The quasi-governmental advisory bodies meet regularly for ten months out of the year to discuss and issue their recommendations on everything from liquor licenses to large-scale rezonings, and are often the first point of contact for local constituents. In September, when meetings resumed after summer break, Brooklyn boards were split on how they wanted to proceed — some returning in-person, many sticking to virtual meetings for the time being. Brooklyn Paper broke it down for readers.
Pair arrested for livestreamed robbery of “Bling-Bling” Bishop’s Brooklyn parish: Two men were arrested in September on federal robbery charge after they allegedly robbed Bishop Lamor Whitehead of $1 million of jewelry as he gave a sermon at his Canarsie church. Months later, the preacher — coined “The Bling-Bling Bishop” for his affinity for flashy jewelry and clothing and expensive cars — was arrested himself on federal fraud and extortion charges. Though he has since maintained his innocence, Whitehead stands accused of defrauding one of his parishioners at Leaders of Tomorrow International Ministries of a large chunk of her retirement savings, attempting to defraud a businessman, and lying to the FBI.
Cash advance firms’ deep pockets: In an investigative report done in collaboration with THE CITY, Brooklyn Paper spoke to businessowners who said cash advance lenders are draining their bank accounts and threatening their livelihoods and safety — and there are few regulations to keep them in check.
Totonno’s lives on!: Brooklyn Paper broke the news that Totonno’s, the famed Coney Island pizzeria which has remained closed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, was pivoting its business model toward nationwide distribution of frozen pizza pies — and that owners were considering reopening in some capacity. Antoinette Balzano, granddaughter of founder Antonio “Totonno” Pero, told Brooklyn Paper the business is in the final stages of the transition, recently receiving new freezers at the Neptune Avenue store and training pizzaiolos in the art of frozen pizzamaking.
A tree grows too much in Brooklyn: Brooklyn Paper uncovered that municipal tree pruning had been suspended for the past year in Brooklyn and Queens because the city dropped its contractor following its principals’ indictment in a massive insurance scam. The nugget was tucked deep in the Mayor’s Management Report, a 500-page compendium of city agency performance over the past year, released on Friday afternoon. The report notes on page 144, in the Parks Department section, that while funding for tree pruning had been restored in Fiscal Year 2022 following COVID-era cuts, the program still was axed owing to “unforeseen legal issues with pruning contractors,” which the city said in September it intends to resolve this Fiscal Year.
Superstorm Sandy, 10 years later: Oct. 29, 2022 marked 10 years since Superstorm Sandy slammed into the southern coast of New Jersey and rolled north to New York City, where it inundated the five boroughs with historic floods of up to 14 feet above sea level, knocked out electricity for millions, and caused at least $19 billion in damage. Brooklyn Paper looked back at the stories the storm left in its wake, the devastation it caused in the borough’s coastal (and hardest-hit) communities and at what work has been done to protect the borough for future storms in the decade since.
Former head of local org named lead facilitator for Gowanus Rezoning task force: James Lima Planning + Development was selected in November as the facilitator for the Gowanus Rezoning Oversight Task Force, with Principal Ben Margolis — the former head of the Southwest Brooklyn Development Corporation — serving as the head facilitator. Promising accountability, Margolis and the company vowed to work with the city, developers, and the community to ensure all parties are making good on the promises the city made to the neighborhood.
Dressed-up dogs flock to Halloween costume contest: Not one of our most pressing stories of the year, but by far among our most popular. Hundreds of people gathered in Fort Greene Park on Halloweekend to see tail-wagging dogs dressed up in their best costumes during the 24th annual Great PUPkin Dog Costume Contest. From movie characters to great looking-food and iconic New York City locations and people, the lovingly-crafted costumes were met with the crowd’s non-stop applause.
Developers showed their hand bid to build a Coney Island casino: The push to bring a casino to Coney Island picked up steam in November as three organizations announced a partnership with Thor Equities in their bid to bring a casino to the People’s Playground as the state prepares to issue three new casino licenses in downstate New York. Development company Thor Equities — owned by Coney Island local and part-owner of the entertainment district, Joe Sitt — said it had been eyeing the licenses since last summer.
After an illegal marijuana dispensary was raided by cops, Bay Ridge called for better regulation: More than a year after recreational marijuana use and retail sale was legalized in New York State, no legal dispensary licenses have been issued in Brooklyn — but that hasn’t stopped some retailers from setting up shop anyway, operating in a so-called “legal gray area.” In October, local elected officials called on the police department to crack down on the illegal stores — and, weeks later, cops raided one such shop, arresting two people and confiscating $1 million worth of unlawful cannabis products. In the aftermath of the raid, locals urged city and state officials to tighten regulations for the safety of their community.
Small but mighty ‘Red Wave’ came for longtime Democrats in southern Brooklyn: Though a nationwide “Red Wave” of Republican wins didn’t materialized the day after the midterm elections, the story was a little different in normally deep-blue Brooklyn. The day after the election, Kings County Republicans celebrated as the Red Wave topped a handful of Democrats in southern Brooklyn — among them, Nicole Malliotakis, the borough’s only congressional Republican, who handily won re-election in NY-11, the city’s only swing districtLapping at Brooklyn’s southern shores, the Red Wave also unseated two longtime Democratic state Assemblymembers — in Assembly District 45, Republican Michael Novakhov defeated incumbent Steven Cymbrowitz, a Democrat who has served in the statehouse since 2001 and in AD46, Democrat-turned-Republican Alec Brook-Krasny toppled two-term Democratic Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, who conceded shortly after ballots were counted.. Meanwhile, Democrat Peter J. Abbate, Jr., who has served as the Assemblymember in AD49 since 1987, lost — but has not yet publicly conceded — to Republican Lester Chang by a much smaller margin (though members of the Assembly have since questioned Chang’s residency and have vowed to vote against his election come the new year).
Brooklyn in the House!: Brooklyn Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries was formally elected House Democratic Leader on Nov. 30 during a vote of the House Democratic Conference. Jeffries is the first African American top Democrat in Washington’s lower chamber. With Jeffries’ ascension to be the top Democrat in the House, Washington’s two Democratic Congressional leaders will both be from Brooklyn – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lives less than a mile away from him.
World Cup divided (and united) Brooklynites: As the World Cup neared its end, the global soccer championship forged new bonds around the world as supporters cheered on their teams. Those bonds were on full display in Brooklyn — a cultural melting pot that’s home to a handful of local soccer leagues, making it arguably one of the best places in the city to watch the cup each year. In Park Slope, Park Slope United, a soccer program with over 1,400 players, gathered to watch the games together and in Bay Ridge, residents came out in droves to support Morocco, such as deli owner Mike Laraichi.
Laraichi said his team’s entrance into the semifinals put life on pause — in a good way.
“No one is talking about politics, religion or about gas prices,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “This is new to us, but it’s a good look.”
Pig Beach said goodbye: Owners of the popular Gowanus barbecue joint Pig Beach announced in early December that they would be closing the doors to their flagship Brooklyn location on Dec. 30. According to a post shared on social media, the 480 Union St. restaurant was sold to local developer Tankhouse and MacArthur Holdings as part of the Gowanus Rezoning project. While it’s not yet clear what will be built on the lot in place of the existing building, patrons of Pig Beach were quick to mourn the loss of another local establishment.
A devastating fire destroyed an NYPD evidence warehouse: A “deep-seated” three-alarm blaze broke out in a Red Hook warehouse that stored decades of NYPD evidence — damaging and destroying most of the items inside. Firefighters were forced to battle the blaze from outside the warehouse after part of the structure collapsed, and the FDNY stayed on the scene for a full day afterwards to extinguish the remaining pockets of flames.
As police and firefighters investigated what caused the fire and what had been lost in the warehouse, the Legal Aid Society, worried that evidence critical to its clients cases had been lost, called for a thorough and transparent investigation — and more oversight into the storage of evidence.
Dyker decked the halls — again: Residents of Dyker Heights began decking their halls for the neighborhood’s grand — and world-famous — lights display, fondly (and not so fondly by some local Grinches) referred to as the Dyker Heights Christmas Light, or simply the “Dyker Lights.” As soon as the -itis kicked in on Thanksgiving, lights began going up across the busiest parts of the neighborhood and, come Dec. 1,, tour buses began bringing loads of tourists to view the bold and dazzling lights displays, brought to life each year by dedicated residents of southern Brooklyn. This year, locals battened the hatches for one of the more busy seasons since the pandemic slowed things down in 2020 and 2021.