The big Brooklyn stories of 2016

It’s fashionable to talk about 2016 as an absolute disaster of a year, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom in the Borough of Kings. Sure, beloved businesses closed, the L-pocalypse began, and the outcome of the presidential election wasn’t exactly what many Brooklynites would have preferred, but we also had lawn-mowing goats, nude Shakespeare, and happy endings to several pesky lawsuits. Here is our annual look back at the highs and lows of the past 12 months:


Our No. 2 story: Bushwick artist Lisa Levy sat naked on a toilet in front of an audience for 10 hours at Williamsburg’s Christopher Stout Gallery, as looky-loos took it in turns to sit on another can across from her and stare. The spectacle was supposed bring self-serious artsy types — including herself — down a peg.

A black and white issue: Local leaders voted to go ahead with a controversial plan to rezone Vinegar Hill’s PS 307 — which has long served kids at a neighboring public housing project — to include all youngsters living in Dumbo, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. The move was intended to ease overcrowding at the well-to-do PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights, but turned into a city-wide discussion about school desegregation as PS 307 parents feared an influx of white yuppies taking over their school, and the white yuppies griped that their kids could no longer attend the higher achieving PS 8.

L no: Someone leaked news that the Metropolitan Transit Authority is planning a years-long closure of the Hurricane Sandy-battered L-train tunnel to Manhattan — sparking six months of panic in Kings County’s northern nabes as residents, business owners, and real-estate agents clamored for information from the tight-lipped transit agency. The authority eventually announced that it will close the tube for 18 months starting in 2019, by which point all the hipsters say they’ll have moved to Crown Heights.

Tropical storm: In the ultimate act of neighborliness, residents of a Brooklyn Heights co-op building rejected a developer’s $130-million offer to buy land on their property so it could erect a 40-story tower there. Denizens of 75 Henry St. stood to make $120,000–$260,000 from the sale of Pineapple Walk with little impact on their own housing situation, but turned the windfall down because it would block views at the neighboring Cadman Towers co-op.

Sweet and sour: Artificial sweetener company Sweet’N Low left a bad taste in Brooklynites’ mouths when it announced the closure of its Fort Greene factory after 60 years — outsourcing its operations and leaving 320 long-serving local employees out of a job.


He swears it’s Brooklyn’s only choice: Mayor DeBlasio unveiled his plan to bring trolley-dodging back to the Borough of Kings by building a $2.5-billion streetcar line from Sunset Park to Queens. The early planning process of the so-called Brooklyn–Queens Connector rattled along throughout the year but kicked up plenty of controversy — not least of all because the whole plan was created and backed by developers and businesses along the route, many of whom gave large sums of money to the mayor’s contentious Campaign for One New York fund. Still, it was fantastic news for legendary Flatbush transit geek Bob Diamond, who has been trying to build a streetcar system between Red Hook and Downtown since 1989.

Hot scoop: Two long-awaited Fire Department reports revealed that Williamsburg’s CitiStorage warehouse facility burned down in 2015 after firefighters failed to extinguish burning embers from a smaller blaze there hours earlier. The reports — which the department refused to hand over for weeks before this paper got a hold of them — finally provided some answers for victims who lost their possessions in the pyre.

Choppers chopped: After years and years of complaints from Brooklyn Heights residents, the city announced a plan to halve the helicopter-tour traffic thundering in and out of the heliport across the river by 2017 — pre-empting the passage of a popular bill from Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Red Hook) that would have banned the eggbeaters altogether.


RIP Sunny: Iconoclastic Red Hook dive-bar owner and artist Antonio “Sunny” Balzano died of a stroke at age 81. The beloved local bon vivant grew up in an apartment right next to the Conover Street speakeasy that would eventually bear his nickname.


Vote early, vote often: The borough came down with an acute case of election fever when the New York primaries brought Democratic hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to town, with locals hawking Bernie Sanders-themed hot sauce and designer Hillary duds. Sanders stumped with celebrities outside his childhood home in Midwood and brought record crowds to Prospect Park, while Clinton held more sedate events in black churches and colleges alongside husband Bill. The whole circus culminated in a debate at the Navy Yard, which ultimately disappointed many Brooklynites by not mentioning Brooklyn enough. Eventual presidential winner Republican Donald Trump did not set foot in Brooklyn during the primaries.

Banj-noooo: The borough’s annual competition to see who can hurl a banjo farthest into the Gowanus Canal turned into banj-demonium when the instrument broke free from its tether and floated off into Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory. Organizers of the athletic Americana carnival, parts of the Brooklyn Folk Festival, promised to tie a stronger knot next year

Justice?: Protestors and supporters faced off in the streets outside the Brooklyn Supreme Court after a judge spared former police officer Peter Liang from the slammer, despite a jury finding him guilty of shooting and killing unarmed Red Hook man Akai Gurley in 2014. The sentence, which came at the behest of District Attorney Ken Thompson, angered activists who said the justice system was once again putting police above the lives of black residents, but pleased members of local Asian communities, who argued the Chinese-American only fired his gun by accident and had been thrown under the bus because he is also a person of color.


Missin’ Miss Susie: Supercentenarian Susannah “Miss Susie” Mushatt Jones, the world’s oldest living person, passed away in East New York at the age of 116. Jones swore off alcohol, smoking, and makeup, but she indulged in bacon and grits every morning right up until the end. She ascribed her longevity to splitting with her underwhelming ex-husband and forgoing children.

New kids on the block: Prospect Park rented eight goats to rid the green space of weeds and poison ivy. The living lawn-mowers quickly became a popular tourist attraction, but had to bleat it back to their farm upstate at the end of summer.

Fighting dirty: Dishwashers from two Brooklyn restaurants faced off in an epic plate-cleaning duel at Greenpoint’s the Diamond bar. French restaurant Le Gamin cleaned up the competition, besting Williamsburg pizzeria Motorino across three rounds that included scrubbing brunch dishes, scraping off a crusty casserole dish, and polishing wine glasses.

F outta here: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority divided the borough when it announced plans to bring back the old F express service between Church Avenue and Jay Street — great news for Southern straphangers, who will shave seven minutes off their commutes, but a bummer for Brownstone Brooklynites, as service will be halved at six of their stops. Even pols got in on the feud, with Councilmen Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) fuming that the change will “screw” his constituents and Councilman David Greenfield (D–Borough Park) accusing him of being petty. “It’s not fair to say, ‘My constituents are in a wealthy, transit-rich area, but you poor schlubs who live in Southern Brooklyn shouldn’t get it,’” said Greenfield at a May 17 hearing.

Bird’s eye view: Red Hook artist and pigeon fancier Duke Riley trained thousands of the maligned birds to fly in formation over the East River while toting tiny lights on their legs for a series of sold-out shows at the Navy Yard. Riley previously taught 50 pigeons to smuggle cigars from Cuba to Florida.

Pier pressure: In a bizarre twist in the ongoing battle over housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park, state development honchos pulled their support for two new towers at Pier 6 — but Mayor DeBlasio just shrugged and announced he will build them anyway. Albany cited questionable donations the project’s developer made to Hizzoner, but also said it won’t stand in the city’s way. Activists are still trying to sue to stop the high rises.


We’re gonna need a bigger boat: Sharks are getting closer than ever to Brooklyn’s beaches, experts said after anglers plucked 17 of the beasts from the waters off Sheepshead Bay during a fishing tournament in June. A bumper crop of bunker fish churning along the coast was responsible for drawing the razor-toothed predators near our shores, naturalists say.

Un-American: The owner of a Gowanus studio where cable network FX films its sexy Soviet spy drama “The Americans” waged his own cold war on the city, after officials announced plans to seize and demolish the property as part of the federal Canal cleanup. Eastern Effects Studios honcho Scott Levy says he has sunk $5 million into building his studio and is only five years into a 20-year lease, and the move would kill his business faster than Kerri Russell’s character can assassinate a rival agent with her bare hands.

Finally: The owner of Park Slope old folks’ home Prospect Park Residence agreed to pay his elderly tenants $3.35 million to leave the pricey property, ending an ugly and high-profile two-year court battle between the two parties. The nonagenarians had been fighting eviction since landlord Haysha Deitsch abruptly gave them three months to scram in March 2014 so he could unload the tony building to an investment firm. He finally sold for $84 million in October.


‘Jaws’ chews his way back: Champion hot-dog-chomper Joey Chestnut gobbled his way to the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest title on July 4 — regaining the coveted Mustard Belt he lost to Matt “Megatoad” Stonie last year by wolfing down a world-record 70 wieners in 10 minutes. Women’s champ Miki Sudo downed 38-and-a-half dogs to retain her title for the third year in a row.

Spu-mourni Gardens: The co-owner of famed Gravesend pizzeria L&B Spumoni Gardens was shot dead in front of his Dyker Heights home on July 30. A hooded gunman pumped five rounds into 61-year-old Louis Barbati at the corner of 12th Avenue and 76th Street and then fled. Police later arrested 41-year-old Andres Fernandez for the crime, which they say was a botched robbery, although some speculate it may have been mob-related.


Shakespeare in the buff: Nude actresses performed “The Tempest” in Prospect Park, stripping down to their skivvies for a show the director said was designed to promote body positivity.

Ready for our close-up: The Brooklyn Paper’s Downtown office starred on an episode of television show “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.” The hit Home Box Office show used our digs as a set for a spoof of the 2015 movie “Spotlight” starring Jason Sudeikis, Bobby Cannavale, and Rose Byrne — who were clearly thrilled to leave the humdrum world of Hollywood behind to experience the thrill of a community newspaper bullpen in person.

Citibike-lash: Bike-rental program Citi Bike rolled out new docks around Community Board 6, but many locals weren’t riding high — residents in both the ritzy streets of Park Slope and the Red Hook Houses complained that the bulky blue bikes usurped their parking spots. The panel called the cops at a September meeting after one irate Cobble Hill resident screamed into the faces of the board’s leadership.


Primary function: The state Democratic primary — which may as well be the actual election in deep-blue Brooklyn — saw 29-year-old Kensington politico Robert “Bobby” Carroll take over the 44th Assembly District seat from outgoing Assemblyman Jim Brennan, and the election of Brooklyn’s (and America’s) first female Hasidic judge, Borough Park’s Rachel “Ruchie” Freier, who will bang her gavel at the Fifth Judicial district civil court.

Bloody J’Ouvert: Gunmen shot four people, killing two, and stabbed a man during the early-morning J’Ouvert parade that precedes the West Indian American Day Carnival — despite a heavy police presence that Mayor DeBlasio had promised would ensure this year’s event would be “safer than ever.” Many called for the city to cancel the long-running Caribbean carnival following the bloodshed, though no decisions have been announced yet.

Goodbye Gamby: The Brooklyn Cyclones’ notoriously loose-lipped and much-loved manager Tom Gamboa announced his retirement after four decades in baseball, though his nuggets of wisdom will live on in a forthcoming book co-written by none-other than Brooklyn Paper baseball beat reporter David Russel. Gamby celebrated as only Gamby can — getting ejected from his final game by yelling “You must be f———– me up my a–” at the umpire.

Who you gonna call: Actor Bill Murray tended bar at his son Homer’s new Greenpoint restaurant — and served up a viral sensation when news of his booze-slinging antics made news across the globe.

Dead end: The six-year-long fight over the galaxy’s most controversial bike lane finally ended when the politically connected Park Slopers who had been suing to kill the pedaling path along Prospect Park West dropped their suit. The litigants’ ranks initially included former Transportation Commissioner and current wife to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D–Park Slope) Iris Weinshall, former Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel, and former Brooklyn College dean Louise Hainline, but several backed off — one died — as the case dragged on and the lane became a fixture of the neighborhood.


RIP: Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson died of cancer at age 50, just a week after notifying the public he was sick. Rumor had it that several others were hoping Gov. Cuomo would anoint them as a replacement — including Public Advocate Tish James, former prosecutor Ann Swern, and former Commissioner on Human Rights Patricia Gatling — but he ultimately left Thompson’s chosen replacement, Chief Assistant District Attorney Eric Gonzales, in place until next year’s election.

Pizza wars: Old-school Bay Ridgites were cheesed off over news that artisanal pizza mini-chain Artichoke Basille’s was cooking up a storefront on the corner of 91st Street and Fourth Avenue, chastising the cooks for trying to pass anything with vegetables off as a pie. “Vegetables should be nowhere near my pizza. If you’re going to do pizza, do pizza — get it dripping with cheese and sauce and grease,” said local Michael Marotto. “To me a real slice of pizza is plain or pepperoni — artichokes belong in salads, not pizza.”

Pun done: The city finally cracked down on the scourge of tourists securing so-called “love locks” and other pieces of junk to the Brooklyn Bridge, installing signs along the span saying “No locks, yes lox” — complete with images of a crossed-out latch and a smoked-salmon-stuffed bagel — that threaten a $100 fine. The pun-ny solution seems to have worked — a highly scientific study by this paper a month later found almost all the locks were gone and visitors were too scared to attach any new ones.


The presidential election…: Our reporters watched Hillary’s election-night party go downhill fast, while Dems in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens collectively boo-hooed over Trump’s upset win. When the results came in, it was clear Kings County was “with her” — except for sections of Southern Brooklyn where Russian electors in Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach who are fond of the pro-Israel businessman turned swaths of the map red for The Donald.

…And the ensuing backlash: The borough’s political tensions hit fever pitch in the days following Trump’s election. First a guy socked a woman at Cobble Hill’s Bar Tabac because she was criticizing Trump. Then immigrant students in Sunset Park reported that school staffers were telling them to “pack their bags” in the wake of the election. And if that wasn’t enough, someone spray-painted swastikas and the words “Go Trump” on a jungle gym in Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn Heights.

Expressway decay: City workers vivisected the aging Brooklyn–Queens Expressway to find that the three-tiered section near Brooklyn Heights has just 10 years to live. The 70-year-old structure is already a decade beyond its lifespan, and now taxpayers face a $1.7-billion repair bill — the largest in Department of Transportation history.

Pledge of a grievance: Local veterans turned their back on Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) during a Veterans Day ceremony at Carroll Park, because the lawmaker refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance during an earlier Council meeting — a move Lander insisted was to show solidarity with oppressed people and not a criticism of the armed services. Either way, he should have known better, war heroes said. “That’s a real slap in the face especially to us guys,” said Nick Assante, a Vietnam vet and Purple Heart recipient. “They want people like us to vote for people like him — he should respect people like us.”

Green for green: The city finally made good on a decade-old promise to finish Bushwick Inlet Park on the Williasmburg waterfront, agreeing to cut a $160-million check to buy the burnt-out CitiStorage warehouses at Kent Avenue and N. 11th Street — the final piece of land it needs to put in the park that officials pledged back when they rezoned the waterfront for luxury housing in 2005.

LICH talks flatline: The developers of the old Long Island Hospital in Cobble Hill officially pulled the plug on negotiations with local residents and pols to rezone the site for more housing in exchange for building a school and some below-market housing there. Instead, Fortis Property Group says it will just plow ahead with a plan to build high rises next to the neighborhood historic district, which is equally unpopular but doesn’t require city approval.


Closing the book: The owners of Cobble Hill institution BookCourt announced they were closing the Court Street shop after 35 years of slinging tomes. Like a well-written character, the store had taken on a life its own, and local lit-lovers really felt the loss, one said. “I think it’s a tremendous loss for the neighborhood … it’s like losing a good friend,” said George Washington Francis Gaw Jr.

Grim news: And if that demise wasn’t enough, Gowanus mecca-of-the-macabre the Morbid Anatomy Museum met its grisly end. The popular haunt for taxidermists, ghost-hunters, and all manner of thanatophiles succumbed to a terminal case of no-cash-itis not long after its founder launched a moribund crowd-funding operation to raise $75,000 and return the curio from the brink of death. Rest in peace.

Bigly deal: Donald Trump’s son-in-law and right-hand man Jared Kushner bought a city-block-sized vacant Dumbo lot for $345 million, adding to his already substantial portfolio of property in the nabe. Real estate tycoons have been salivating over the former Jehovah’s Witnesses parking lot for years, as it is one of the last remaining swathes of empty land in the pricey neighborhood — and it is zoned for residential development to boot.