Thursday, June 07, 2007

Another Disaster for Brooklyn in 1957: New Catholic Diocese for Long Island
[Reprinted from Newsday, June 7, 2007]

By Paul Moses

As it celebrates its 50th anniversary, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre deserves to be celebrated for speedily bringing a wealth of schools, parishes and other services to Nassau and Suffolk counties. But it should not be forgotten that its creation has been a disaster for the neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn.

Before the Rockville Centre diocese was formed in 1957, the church included all of Long Island – from Brooklyn to Montauk – in the Diocese of Brooklyn. After it was partitioned 50 years ago, the new Diocese of Brooklyn was left with the smallest territory of any Roman Catholic diocese in the United States - 179 square miles in Brooklyn and Queens. More to the point, it is the only U.S. diocese that is entirely urban.

The Archdiocese of New York, for example, includes Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx, and then rolls northward over hill and dale to fast-growing Dutchess and Ulster Counties - 4,683 square miles in all. Affluent parishes in Westchester County and growing ones in the exurbs have helped the finances of the archdiocese.

Unlike every other big-city diocese in America, the Diocese of Brooklyn lacks that benefit. As a result, it had to start making painful cuts as early as the 1970s that other dioceses made only later. Now, it faces even more difficult choices involving closure of schools and parishes in low-income neighborhoods without having the ability to use money collected in wealthier suburban communities to subsidize poorer inner-city parishes. It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the health, educational and social services the diocese has strained to provide in some of New York City’s poorest communities.

As a result, the decision to make fast-growing Nassau and Suffolk counties a new diocese should be ranked with the trio of disasters that define Brooklyn's post-World War II decline: the closing of the Brooklyn Eagle, the end of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles in 1957.

Archbishop Thomas Molloy, who led the Diocese of Brooklyn, reportedly opposed breaking off a separate diocese - and with good reason, since by the mid 1950s, it was obvious that entire neighborhoods of Brooklyn Catholics were moving to the suburbs. After Molloy died in November, 1956, it didn't take long for church authorities to make their move. Within five months, Pope Pius XII announced that the new dioceses would be formed.

The main proponent appears to have been Cardinal Francis Spellman, archbishop of the New York archdiocese. The bishops he installed to head the two dioceses, Bryan J. McEntegart of Brooklyn and Walter Kellenberg of Rockville Centre, were both priests of the New York archdiocese who had worked closely with Spellman.

The size and growth of Long Island seem to have been the major reasons given to form a new diocese. But the New York archdiocese was three times the size of the old Diocese of Brooklyn (when it included Nassau and Suffolk), and its parishioners also were moving from the city to the suburbs. No one dismantled the New York archdiocese, and it would be impossible to imagine Spellman, known for his political savvy in matters of both church and state, allowing that to happen.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre has turned out to be an excellent one, and it now faces challenges of its own as the inner suburbs become urbanized and as arriving immigrants head straight for the suburbs instead of settling into inner-city neighborhoods.

This anniversary is indeed cause for celebration. But the 50th anniversary also offers an occasion for church officials and their congregations to reflect on whether they can correct a structure that works against the interests of the urban poor.

Paul Moses teaches journalism at Brooklyn College and is the former director of the Center for the Study of Brooklyn.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Howard Golden's Warning

By Paul Moses
Former Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden offered some interesting observations about the development boom that is re-shaping Brooklyn when he visited the Brooklyn College Library on April 26 to offer some introductory comments in a conference called "The Roots of Modern Brooklyn."

He complained that Manhattan is being overbuilt with luxury housing, attracting too many people to the city. The problem he saw was not so much with Manhattan's prosperity as its impact on Brooklyn - that excessive building in Manhattan is having a spillover effect in Brooklyn. His borough is becoming Manhattanized with high-end housing developments that raise housing costs, pushing out Brooklynites who can no longer afford to live here.

"The people who are leaving here are not the people we want to see leave," Golden said.

Golden's remarks seemed off-agenda in a conference that generally celebrated the gains in real estate development in Brooklyn in the past three decades. But the Manhattanizing of Brooklyn clearly is something that has irked Golden in his retirement. I asked a follow-up question after he spoke and, when the conference's first session ended, he sought me out to amplify what he had said.

It was a flashback for me to the early 1990s when I was a reporter covering Brooklyn. At the time, I was writing a column in New York Newsday called "The City of Brooklyn," with the borough's logo attached. I occasionally wrote columns reporting on Golden's healthy skepticism for the city's Manhattan-centric policy establishment and news media.

That sort of skepticism is fading in the borough's public conversation, which tends to be more dominated these days by writers, pundits, researchers, academics and others who moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan.

The former borough president's concern that the widespread construction of luxury housing in Manhattan is having a negative affect on Brooklynites is especially worthy of consideration in the wake of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plaNYC blueprint for taking the city to the year 2030. It holds out the re-zonings of Park Slope and of Greenpoint-Williamsburg as models for future development of housing. But the Park Slope re-zoning has opened the way for construction of 10- to 12-story luxury buildings along Fourth Avenue, accelerating housing displacement in the area. And the city was slow to provide promised aid to businesses and residents displaced by the massive building the re-zoning of Greenpoint and Williamsburg permitted.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Neglected Story: How 9/11 Debris Hit Brooklyn

By Paul Moses

Back on Aug. 23, 2002, Newsday reported that the number of respiratory patients doubled at some Brooklyn hospitals after the World Trade Center crumbled. The paper also published a vivid front-page satellite photo showing the trail of fallout from the twin towers as it spread straight south across Brooklyn.

As Newsday reported (and as I wrote in a 2002 op-ed piece in Newsday), the winds followed a similar path across Brooklyn more than 80 percent of the time between Sept. 11, 2001 and Dec. 14, 2001, when the fires were finally ended.

The same government agencies that told the public there was no reason to be concerned about the air quality in lower Manhattan a week after the trade center fell also assured the public that there was no need to study whether there was a health impact in Brooklyn.

So nearly five years later, the issue of World Trade Center fallout in Brooklyn has finally gotten the stage it should have gotten in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Reps. Edolphus Towns and Jerrold Nadler held a hearing on the issue on April 23 in Brooklyn Borough Hall, presenting evidence from experts that the acrid smoke had increased the level of asthma in Brooklyn.

This is a health threat that should long ago have been taken seriously by city, state and federal health and environmental agencies. The plume that spread across Brooklyn was real enough to be photographed. Traces of debris landed in my backyard in Marine Park, to say nothing of the more direct exposure in other parts of the borough. One woman in my neighborhood found not only brokerage records but also a singed page from the Book of Job.

The issue still isn't getting the study it should. The fact that it hasn't says a great deal about how Manhattan-centric local government is.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Roadblock for Congestion Pricing

By Paul Moses

A new poll by the Quinnipiac College Polling Institute exposes the idea of "congestion pricing" - charging drivers to enter Manhattan - as the Manhattan-centric idea it is.

The findings, released Jan. 18, note that New York City voters reject the proposal by a 2-to-1 margin, even though most recognize traffic congestion as a serious problem. Residents of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx opposed it by overwhelming margins - 68 percent to 24 percent in Brooklyn. Only Manhattanites supported it, and by a narrow margin, 48 percent to 43 percent.

A solid majority (57 percent to 37 percent) also agreed that congestion pricing would "unfairly tax people who live outside Manhattan." Residents of the four larger boroughs (which some people still insist on calling "outer" boroughs) thought so by huge margins. Again, Manhattanites see it differently.

The notion of putting tolls on the East River bridges took an even greater thrashing in the poll; 78 percent called it a "bad idea" and 17 percent said it was a good idea. The margin was biggest in Brooklyn, where 84 percent of those surveyed said it was a bad idea.

The poll is a sign that no matter how much the influential supporters of congestion pricing lobby City Hall, issue costly studies and work their contacts with editorial boards and reporters, they won't succeed. The divide between Manhattan and the larger boroughs remains a basic fact of New York political life, even if Manhattan-centric wonks and news media often fail to see it.

Paul Moses is director of the Center for the Study of Brooklyn and a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Brooklyn's Vietnam Veterans: An Oral History

Brooklyn College and the Brooklyn Historical Society are teaming up in a partnership this fall to present an oral history exhibit about Brooklyn's Vietnam veterans. The aim is to record the memories of all kinds of folks - members of the Marines, Navy, Air Force and Army. These interviews are digitally recorded, transcribed and returned to the interviewee for edits and corrections.

Prof. Philip F. Napoli, whose work in documenting the stories of Brooklyn's Vietnam veterans has gotten wide notice, explains: "Once the interview process is complete, we will ask the interviewees to give us the copyright to the interview itself -- the words spoken on the tape -- so that we can present this material to the public and store it for future generations of students and scholars. We are especially interested in interviewing the brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers of Vietnam veterans as well."

To participate, contact Prof. Napoli at or visit his web site:

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tax Breaks

By Paul Moses
The City Council’s vote on Dec. 20 to rein in a major tax break for building housing marks an evolution in City Hall, even if many Council members were looking for deeper changes in the program.

The 421-a program, in effect since 1971, allows developers a hefty tax break if they build new housing. Those building in certain areas – Manhattan, more or less between 14th and 96th streets, and, more recently, a stretch of the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront – had to make 20 percent of the units “affordable” to qualify for the tax break.

With the housing market so hot, especially in Brooklyn, it hardly seemed reasonable for city taxpayers to continue shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars a year in tax breaks without getting something in return. And so the Council voted to expand the areas in which builders need to develop affordable apartments to get the tax break. According to the Council’s news release, the area now includes “downtown Brooklyn, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Park Slope; most of Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Williamsburg and Greenpoint and significantly into Sunset Park and Bushwick.” Further, the affordable units need to be built on site and not tucked away elsewhere, the usual practice in the past.

This still leaves out many Brooklyn neighborhoods where developers are aggressively developing expensive new housing with help from taxpayers. I am sure that community activists in places like Manhattan Beach and Sheepshead Bay would like to see some additional check on what’s been happening there (or even enforcement of existing buildings laws).

But even so, the vote marks an evolution in City Hall.

The Council, prodded by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Planning Commission Chairwoman Amanda Burden, voted in 2003 to re-zone Park Slope with little regard for the need to develop affordable housing. The re-zoning protected brownstoners in the wealthy section of Park Slope by preventing out-of-scale (read: ugly) new developments. But it cleared the way for construction of 10- and 12-story luxury buildings along Fourth Avenue, the area where the Slope’s poorer residents lived. That’s lived, in past tense, since the ensuing real estate boom has driven many of them away.

The re-zoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint in May, 2005, was a different story. Unlike in Park Slope, the community organized in opposition to City Hall’s plans and local elected officials negotiated more aggressively. The result was that the 421-a “carve-out,” as it is sometimes called, crept out of Manhattan and into Brooklyn, with affordable housing required in exchange for tax breaks to build luxury housing on the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront. That set a precedent. Further, as a result of middle-of-the-night negotiations, the affordable units had to be on site, setting the precedent adopted in the 421-a revisions.

How that deal has worked out for Greenpoint and Williamsburg is another matter – and very much the subject of debate among community activists there.

But it did set a precedent. And the latest vote from the Council sets another precedent – that within two years, a joint mayoral-Council commission will review the “carve-out” area to see if it should be changed. That’s another setback for major real estate interests, which doesn’t happen everyday in New York politics.

Why is City Hall slowly giving ground?

I suggest two factors.

The first is that when community groups are truly organized, the Council needs to compromise. Occasionally, that leads to surprises, as when the Council rejected then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s effort to ease construction of “big box” stores such as Home Depot in New York City. There was definitely a case to be made for that, but well-organized local merchants throughout the city lobbied their Council members to oppose the measure and beat out big real estate.
The second reason is that Shaun Donovan, the city commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development, is an effective voice within the Bloomberg administration for developing affordable housing. During the Giuliani years, that agency was marginalized within city government.

Now that a deal has been struck, the Council might want to maintain close oversight on how it works out. For example, protections for tenants that were a selling point to get Council members to vote for the May, 2005 Greenpoint-Williamsburg re-zoning haven’t been put firmly in place. This time, the deal needs to be monitored from the start.
Paul Moses is director of the Center for the Study of Brooklyn and a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gridlock Alert
By Paul Moses
The annual proposal to charge motorists for driving into Manhattan has arrived once again, as surely as the appearance of Santa Claus at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Supporters call the concept “congestion pricing.” To opponents, it’s just a new tax.

I have to admit that I drive to work at Brooklyn College from my home in Marine Park. Occasionally, I drive into Manhattan on an evening or weekend to go to dinner or see a play or movie. That may give me a certain bias on this issue, but no greater than that of the Manhattan-centric proponents of this idea.

The key supporters remain the Partnership for New York City, a Manhattan business advocacy group, and the editorial page of The New York Times. The Partnership fumbled last year when, just after Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s re-election, it floated the idea to Times reporters. That produced a November 11, 2005 story with this lead:

“It is an idea that has been successful in London, and is now being whispered in the ears of City Hall officials after months of behind-the-scenes work by the Partnership for New York City, the city's major business association: congestion pricing.”

For a few minutes, the story created the illusion that this was a viable proposal. In actuality, it was dead on arrival. Bloomberg shot it down right away. Nonetheless, The Times followed up with an editorial that floated the idea anew, telling Bloomberg, “there's no time like the present to begin thinking about it.”

This year’s effort was much slicker. First of all, the Partnership relied on the well honed skills of Dan Klores Associates, a public relations firm that spins with the best. There was an odd alliance of convenience with environmental groups. Then there was the much-promoted release of a study with some startling numbers. And, of course, the Partnership released that study during prime gridlock season to influence public opinion on the issue.

As sometimes happens in these cases, the report uses data with great dexterity to create a scenario that is then further exaggerated in news reports. For example, The Times editorial on Dec. 10 said: “The argument for considering congestion pricing got a further boost last week with a study from the Partnership for New York City showing that clogged streets cost New York $13 billion a year.”

Well, actually that $13 billion figure in the report isn’t for New York City. It is for the entire metropolitan area, which includes all the traffic congestion in 13 counties in New Jersey and elsewhere. A headline in the Post – “Choked Streets Cost City $13B a year: Report” – reflected a similar error. The Partnership worded its news release more carefully, saying the study “identified more than $13 billion a year in losses to the New York Metropolitan Region’s economy.”

But a lot of that loss is, to put the best face on it, conceptual. For example, the report tallies up $2.8 billion for the excess cost of commuting to work, which it prices at up to $30 an hour. Do the Partnership’s corporate members now plan to reimburse employees $30 an hour for sitting in traffic on the way to work? That would certainly ease some of the stress.

The report lists a $2 billion cost in vehicle maintenance stemming from traffic congestion. Again, that cost to commuters in fuel and wear and tear on a car adds up – but for the commuter, not for a company based in Manhattan. Imposing an additional charge on that driver through congestion pricing won’t ease that burden.

The report also comes up with a figure in jobs lost due to excess traffic congestion – 52,000 – that was quoted in many news accounts. But a stretch is needed to arrive at that number. “The starting assumption of this calculation is that workers who must commute through congested areas, and lose time in doing so, will require higher pay,” the report says. Try that on the boss when you ask for your next raise.

My favorite part of the report is that it makes the claim that “The Partnership has not yet taken a position on how to solve the congestion problem.” Funny, but just a year ago, The Times reported that congestion pricing “was being whispered in the ears of City Hall officials after months of behind-the-scenes work” by the Partnership. What was being whispered, anyway?

One notion not raised in the report or the ensuing news coverage is that the real estate development advocated by Manhattan’s business community over the last three decades contributed enormously to the congestion now being lamented. Variances were granted for one office tower after another to be built higher than the zoning permitted. There were always environmental studies done concerning the projects’ impact – sometimes by the same consulting firm that worked on the Partnership’s new study. But only now is an alarm being raised that this density led to congestion with ominous prospects for both jobs and health (since traffic-induced air pollution leads to cancer, according to the new study).

The cumulative impact of so many zoning changes on the entire city needs to be considered in the future. The guy who owns a car in, say, Marine Park, needs to be aware that allowing greater density in developments in Manhattan – or downtown Brooklyn and Atlantic Yards –could lead to a new tax and other restrictions on driving. Coming on top of the already excessive cost of car insurance in Brooklyn, that’s asking a lot from drivers.

The problem, though – and this goes back to an issue we’ve raised at the Center for the Study of Brooklyn – is that a Manhattan-centric news media will give short shrift to those who look at this issue from that perspective. Last year, the Queens Chamber of Commerce issued a study opposing congestion pricing, which it said was bad for residents and businesses in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx. There was one article about it in a major city paper – veteran Daily News political reporter Frank Lombardi covered it in a piece that appeared in the suburban edition in March – but for the most part, the Manhattan-based Partnership has dominated the conversation.
Paul Moses is a journalism professor at Brooklyn College and director of the Center for the Study of Brooklyn.