Meet the borough’s busiest old-timers

Meet the borough’s busiest old-timers
Photo by Bess Adler

You’ve spotted them at community board meetings pounding their shoes on the table. You’ve seen them at rallies screaming for what they know is right. You’ve noticed them on the covers of newspapers, holding their noses in disgust. You’ve watched in awe as they harangued politicians into action. And you’ve run for the hills when you heard their huge cars barrelling down your block.

They’re Brooklyn’s beloved geezer patrol, the borough’s most active over-60 activists who grill city officials over issues like potholes, bike lanes, and garbage cans — often extending hour-long community meetings into overnight affairs. They circulate petitions and call 311 every day.

In short, they have the guts to stand up and fight for their neighborhoods — something they’ve been doing since before you were born.

So, in honor of these community heroes we all know so well, here is our list of the borough’s most distinguished neighborhood activists:

Joseph Garber, 63,


Member of: The Independence Towers Tenants Association; Shomrim Society of the New York City Police Department

Civic meetings attended each month: Nine

Biggest accomplishment: Helped a resident of he Marcy Houses run for president of the tenant group and wrote a 15-page report on the election.

Biggest gripe: “The bureaucracy of city-owned housing and tardiness at Community Board meetings.”

Number of 311 calls placed in the past year: 100. He’s also called the New York City Housing Authority’s hotline more than 200 times.

Fun fact: He painted his own apartment, and everything is color-coordinated. “It’s not outlandish, but in conservative taste.”

Allen Bortnick, 80,

Sandy Balboza has served as the watchdog for Atlantic Avenue since the 1970s.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Bay Ridge

Member of: Community Board 10; Bay Ridge Democrats; NYH20, which opposes drilling for gas in upstate New York.

Civic meetings attended each month: Five

Biggest accomplishment: Badgered the city until it finally covered the notoriously smelly tanks at the Owl’s Head wastewater treatment facility. “It still stinks a little, but at least they got something done there.”

Biggest gripe: “The lack of parking because the city refuses to be reasonable.”

Number of 311 calls placed in the past year: More than 45. “Unfortunately, they have little effect. Executives have chosen to hide behind a paper wall and not deal with the public anymore.”

Fun fact: He claims he has an IQ of at least 190. “It’s Mensa level.”

Sandy Balboza, 66,

Boerum Hill

Member of: The Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association (president); Community Board 2’s Transportation Committee; Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Group.

Civic meetings attended each month: 12

Biggest accomplishment: The ongoing revitalization of Atlantic Avenue. “We brought a sense of community to Atlantic Avenue.”

Biggest gripe: “The city doesn’t listen to community groups.”

Joseph Garber has long been a watchdog for tenants of city-owned housing.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Number of 311 calls placed in the past year: About five. “I don’t use it very much.”

Fun fact: “I go to the dog run with my dog. That’s fun for me.”

Lou Powsner, 91,

Coney Island

Member of: Community Board 13; former president of the Coney Island Board of Trade; past president of the Joint Council of Kings County Board of Trade.

Civic meetings attended each month: Five

Biggest accomplishment: Helped redesign the city’s lampposts so they would shine more light. Writes a bi-monthly column entitled “Speak Out” for the Brooklyn Graphic. Had 79 crooks near his Mermaid Avenue clothing store thrown in the slammer from the 1970s to 1990s.

Biggest gripe: The Abe Stark Skating Rink never reached its full potential. “The man who built the rink is dead. And now, so is the rink.”

Number of 311 calls placed in the past year: Less than five. “I call 311 sometimes to deal with local issues, but usually I don’t use it.”

Fun fact: Has been working for newspapers since he was a Lincoln HS student, calling in sports scores at games for papers like the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, World Telegram and Sun.

Frank Seddio, 65,

Bergen Beach

Member of: Canarsie Lions Club; Carmine and Mill Basin Kiwanis Club; Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club; Canarsie Volunteer Ambulance Corps (founding member); Democratic District Leader for the 59th Assembly District; State Parliamentarian for the Knight of Columbus.

Carnarsie activist Frank Seddio strikes a pose at his Flatlands Avenue law office.
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

Civic meetings attended each month: More than 10. “I attend them all,” he said.

Biggest accomplishment: He helped broker the sale of the city-owned Canarsie Cemetery to Cypress Hills Cemetery. “[Canarsie Cemetery] had been suffering from years of decay. What Cypress Hills has done there in the last few months has been more than [the city’s done] in the last 10 years.”

Biggest gripe: The lack of a sit-down restaurants in Canarsie. “Gateway National Recreational Area refuses to allow the Canarsie Pier to be renovated and reopen a local restaurant there, which was one of the last sit-down places.”

Number of 311 calls placed in the past year: Zero. “I never call 311. I call the mayor’s office.”

Fun fact: “Every year, I put up $350,000 in Christmas decorations. It’s the most decorated house in New York City — Dyker Heights copies us!”

Carmine Santa Maria, 76, Bensonhurst

Member of: Bensonhurst West End Community Council; Big Screechers (founder and president).

Civic meetings attended each month: About eight.

Biggest accomplishment: Got the state to fix the sound of the screeching on the elevated trains above 86th Street. “The MTA was forced to do the work because of us.”

Biggest gripe: The B64 bus no longer runs in the neighborhood.

“It’s hurt a lot of the handicapped and elderly people who depend on that bus.”

Number of 311 calls placed in the past year: More than 40. “Every time I see an accident or something that needs to be fixed, I call.”

Fun fact: Has been a ballroom dance teacher for 56 years.

Allen Bortnick, 80, of Bay Ridge, near his Shore Road home. He has been a fiesty addition to the local commmunity board, where he has railed against bike lanes, the stench at Owls Head, and the lack of back-in angled parking in the Ridge.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham
Photo by Elizabeth Graham
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

“I do a good Samba.”

— With Aaron Short