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Community Board 13 is way too amped up over Borough President Marty Markowitz’s controversial $64 million amphitheater planned Asser Levy Seaside Park.
Salvos in the ongoing battle over the project exploded all over last week’s Wednesday night meeting, so much so that board Chair Marion Cleaver cut the meeting short when she thought the biting back-and-forth commentary between members and project opponents had reached dangerous levels.
Robert’s Rules of Order were supplanted by schoolyard “who can scream the loudest” rules after opponent Lori Silverman accused board members of keeping quiet about the amphitheater for fear that the community volunteers would lose their “perks” -- a word that sparked an emotional reaction in at least one board member.
“Cut the crap!” board member Freddy Schneider screamed. “What perks?”
“I don’t like to be accused of getting perks!” he screamed after being asked to quiet down.
Schneider then morphed into Al Pacino from “And Justice For All” when he was told that he was “out of order” for interrupting Silverman.
“I’m out of order? This whole meeting is out of order,” he spat as he stood up and began pointing at opponents. “Maybe we don’t have a problem with the amphitheater, but you’re making it a problem. SO SHUT YOUR GOD DAMN MOUTH!”
The ensuing kibitzing was so loud after Schneider stormed out that some in the back didn’t hear Cleaver end the meeting, even though a handful of speakers still waited in the wings to speak.
Cleaver said that somewhere in the ensuing zaniness a board member called to close the meeting. She quickly called the vote and got enough ayes to gavel out of what she saw as an out of control scene.
“There is no way of controlling a dangerous situation,” she said. “The microphones aren’t working and when there’s a volatile situation like this one my first concern is for the safety of the people here before anyone comes to blows.”
The confrontation took place in front of a representative for the Borough President, a longtime backer of the plan.
Ida Sanoff, a former board member and opponent of the amphitheater said that she “surprised” over what had transpired.
“I was astonished that the chair took no action,” she said, adding that if a meeting gets too out of control, a recess should be called so everyone could calm down.
“We say one word and we’re out of order, but a board member does this and the meeting is called. It’s a farce,” she said.
Silverman, who board members reportedly called a “potty mouth”and encouraged to “go to Creedmore” after she last addressed the board, said Schneider “acted like a wacko.”
“They insult us and it’s okay, but I guess we can’t insult them,” she said.
Silverman said she “couldn’t believe” that people would erupt over the word perks, which she saw as VIP seating at Markowitz’s Seaside Summer Concert series and free invites to dinners, Borough Hall functions and to barbecues at Gracie Mansion.
Patronage jobs were implied, although Silverman didn’t say it openly.
“I don’t think Mr. Schneider understands the meaning of the word perk,” said amphitheater opponent Arlene Brenner. “A perk isn’t money, it’s any little thing they get.”
Yet to some, Wednesday’s confrontation was inevitable.
Board member Brian Gotlieb said that since May, project opponents “have taken pot shots” at the board.
“While I disagree in the manner in which Freddy did what he did, it represented a feeling that’s pervasive throughout the board,” he said. “Rather than present their grievances and then focus on a way we can all work together [the opponents] have opted to participate in what appears to be a scripted plan to goad community board members into a confrontation.”
“While everyone has a right and a privilege to express their feelings pro or con, speaker after speaker have been calling us lackeys for the elected officials,” he said. “It begins to wear on you.”
Gotlieb, who said that a town hall meeting on the issue was needed to ease some concerns, said that this was the first time during his ten years on the board that the “meeting had closed in this fashion.”
Word about this ongoing confrontation is nothing new to Markowitz.
When contacted, Laura Sinagra, a spokesperson for the Borough President’s office, said that Markowitz “understands that even with a wonderful park rehabilitation like this one, there are those who will see its value and those who may feel differently.”
She added that Markowitz “would like to reiterate that the goal of this project is to renovate the park and ensure it is not only a welcoming eastern gateway to a revitalized Coney Island, but a place where families and residents, including those of Brightwater, Warbasse, Trump Village and Luna Park, can enjoy recreation as well as the free music and cultural programming that residents have taken pleasure in over the years -- a hallmark of Asser Levy Seaside Park since at least the turn of the twentieth century.”
For months, opponents have been chastising board members for not speaking out against the amphitheater.
Board members said since the amphitheater is being built on city land within appropriate zoning guidelines, the issue will never come to them for a vote, although that may change.
As reported here earlier, it has yet to be determined if the amphitheater will be subject to a Uniform Land Use Procedure [ULURP].
Still, board members have so far refrained from voting on a resolution outlining some of the community’s obvious displeasure.
Cleaver did cobble together a letter asking Borough President Markowitz to “clarify” some of the key points about the amphitheater, claiming that board members are confused about the project which she said has been “fogged by misinformation.”
The letter asks Markowitz to clarify his meaning of the word amphitheater, whether the seating would be permanent, if the project would cause the removal of memorials in the park and how parking would be affected.
“I want my board members to understand what the project entails,” Cleaver told this paper. “As far as I know there are maybe four people who understand the project in its entirety. I don’t even know how it’s evolved.”
While board members applauded the letter, Brenner scoffed at the board’s mollycoddling of the amphitheater project.
“That letter is a crock of sh-t,” she said.
Board member Bernie Kaufman also had a problem with the letter, which he saw as a back door approval of the plan.
“I’m pretty good at English and that letter definitely states that you’re siding with some parts of the proposal,” he said.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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