By Ben Muessig, Mike McLaughlin and Robert VorisPosted on
Coney Island: Frank Giordano and Dick Zigun Two neighborhood titans — pharmacy owner Frank Giordano and sideshow promoter Dick Zigun — share the power in Coney Island, balancing the titles of mayor in a friendly biumvirate. The highlight of Giordano’s 50-year career as mayor occurred in the 1960s, when he fended off Nathan’s expansion plans that he said would have eliminated two blocks of parking on Mermaid Avenue. “We called it the frankfurter folly,” said Giordano, a former president of Coney Island Board of Trade and the Coney Island Neighborhood Improvement Organization, and a 30-year member of Community Board 13. Meanwhile, Zigun became a co-Mayor of Coney Island in 1984, when he began wearing cool sunglasses and a straw hat as a publicity stunt for the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce. “The first issue was changing the media perception of Coney Island, which had been arson, gangs, trouble for more than a decade,” said Zigun. “I was trying too create the image of the Coney Island hipster.” As mayor, Zigun has attempted to help Coney Island return to its past glory, but his biggest disappointment was his failed attempt to landmark the Thunderbolt roller coaster, which was torn down in 2000 by Mayor Giuliani, evidence that even a mayor can’t fight City Hall. Though they don’t always agree — Giordano supported the city’s rezoning of Coney Island while Zigun was an outspoken critic — the pair have no trouble sharing power. “We joked about it,” said Giordano. “We don’t care who gets the credit as long as the job gets done.”
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan
Bloomy ain’t the only mayor in town.
South Williamsburg: Isaac Abraham He might be the Mayor of South Williamsburg, but Hasidic activist Isaac Abraham is actually seeking a demotion. The hardware store owner is a longshot in the race to represent the neighborhood in the City Council, but his leadership in the Southside has already cemented his legacy. For 30 years, Abraham’s lengthy resume as mayor includes accomplishments like the implementation of a CB radio-based, stay-at-home neighborhood watch and the rescue of a Jewish girl who was lost in the woods on the border of Connecticut and Massachusetts. According to Abraham, his greatest skill is his tenacity. “If you throw me through the door, I come back through the window,” he said. His supporters say that going from mayor to councilman is a natural progression for a born leader. “He already has the job, he’s just looking for the official title,” said Leo Moskowitz.
Brooklyn is a borough of neighborhoods, and almost every one of them has its own un-elected mayor in charge of everything from hanging Christmas tree lights to negotiating complicated rezonings — all without any official power.
Park Slope: Susan Fox The Mayor of Park Slope built her own community — an online one that is. Since Susan Fox founded the seminal Park Slope Parents message board in 2002, the site has become the digital town square of Mom and Pop stores and moms and pops. Despite her digital achievements, her proudest accomplishment as mayor was adding puppets to the annual Park Slope Children’s Halloween Parade, which she co-chairs. Community Board 6 District Manger Craig Hammerman called Fox a “ball of energy” and said her online network is an “incredibly invaluable tool” that has created “a network and a voice for parents to communicate.” For her part, Fox acknowledges that being Mayor of Park Slope is nothing like being Mayor of the city — especially considering finances. “I don’t have nearly as much money as Bloomberg does, but if I had the money he has, the Halloween Parade would be better,” she said.
It usually takes years of hard work, a lengthy record of community activism, and some Brooklyn chutzpah to land the lofty-sounding yet informal position.
Carroll Gardens: Buddy Scotto A longtime advocate for business and development in Carroll Gardens, Buddy Scotto has fought alongside — or against — just about everybody in the neighborhood over the past 35 years. The funeral home director once befriended Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, battled the mob and ran for Congress, but he is best known in the neighborhood for raising cash to clean the Gowanus Canal. Though his opposition to plans to designate the fetid waterway as a Superfund site has made him a polarizing figure in the community, Carroll Garden’s elder statesman is never afraid of a fight. “It’s the battle that keeps you young,” said Scotto, who’s been an advocate since the neighborhood was called South Brooklyn. “Buddy has certainly been around longer than most, so for his staying power alone he certainly deserves recognition,” said Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman. “I often find myself disagreeing with him, but admiring the attention that he has been able to draw to the community.”
The Brooklyn Paper / Jeff Bachner
Once they’re in office — not that they actually have an office — the neighborhood leaders are more town crier than chief executive, but they play an important role in advocating for their communities nonetheless.
North Williamsburg: Phil DePaolo Rabble-rouser Phil DePaolo has been active in Williamsburg since the 1980s when he fought the crack epidemic, but it wasn’t until his ultimately unsuccessful crusade to save a Wythe Avenue firehouse in 2003 that he became a true mayor. Since then, he has been one of the neighborhood’s most vocal opponents of out-of-scale developments, which he frequently criticizes in his widely distributed e-mail blasts. Another frequent target is Mayor Bloomberg. “He works for a dollar a year more than I do, and he’s overpaid as far as I’m concerned,” DePaolo said. According to Kurt Hill, director of outreach for the People’s Firehouse, DePaolo has all of the skills a good mayor needs. “He’s a good schmoozer and he can get along with people,” said Hill. “He’s articulate, and at the drop of a hat he can get up there and make a little speech — he’s a natural.”
The Brooklyn Paper / Bess Adler
Bensonhurst: Carmine Santa Maria In his time as the Mayor of Bensonhurst, Carmine Santa Maria has done it all — from serving on the school board to teaching ballroom dancing. The community leader — known for dressing as Santa around Christmas — has led fights for smart development while championing his neighborhood’s growing diversity for more than 30 years. But his proudest accomplishment as “mayor” was convincing the Metropolitan Transit Authority to shush the noisy elevated trains that run through the community. “When the MTA got the wheel dampers, they got them from a company two blocks away in Downtown Brooklyn — we complained for 60 years to finally get them to walk two blocks,” said Santa Maria. Friends say that a mayor like Santa Maria is one in a million. “Carmine brings a wealth of experience in lots of different areas, but the nice thing about him is that he’s low-key,” Ralph Perfetto, a Democratic District leader. “He’s at the forefront of issues in his community, just constantly tinkering.”
Greenwood Heights: Aaron Brashear Aaron Brashear only moved to Greenwood Heights five years ago, but he’s already made an indelible mark on the community. As a neighborhood activist, Brashear has fought against illegal dumping and feral cats, but his biggest enemy has been out-of-scale development. His biggest battle? A controversial 23rd Street building that would have obstructed the historic view from the statue of Minerva in Green-wood Cemetery to the State of Liberty. He won some concessions, but he’s still not happy — but that’s a mayor for you. Brashear admits he has been “razzed” by friends since The Brooklyn Paper bequeathed him with the title of mayor last year, and maybe with good reason. “This neighborhood has lots of activists,” he said. “I just bang the drum the loudest.”
The Brooklyn Paper / Bess Adler
Did we miss any Brooklyn mayor? Send us the name of your neighborhood’s de facto ruler and we’ll do a follow up. E-mail our editor at [email protected]