Best Of :: People & Places
That little wedge of green nestled at the corner of Lafayette and Kenmare streets is called Petrosino Square. It was spiffed up recently and makes a perfect spot for city watching—made even nicer with a little local history. First, the name: Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino lived across the street at 233 Lafayette. A tough-as-nails Italian-American cop, he so spooked the Mafia when he traveled to Sicily in 1909 to identify Black Hand gangsters preying on local immigrants that they had him murdered. Look west and there's more mob history in the little building at 218 Lafayette. That's where the country's largest pornography business was run by a Gambino crime family soldier named Robert "DeeBee" DiBernardo. It didn't help Democratic Party chances in 1984 when it became known that the smut purveyor's landlord was married to vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro. DeeBee lost his own election when John Gotti had him whacked in 1986. Look east and there's a Mexican Radio restaurant at 19 Cleveland Place. It used to be La Donna Rosa, a nice Italian joint run by Alphonse "Little Al" D'Arco. He headed the Lucchese crime family until he learned his own execution was in the works. He switched to Uncle Sam's team in 1991. It was the highest-ranking mob defection ever at the time, a move that would've pleased Lieutenant Petrosino to no end.
Adrian Schoolcraft was a Brooklyn police officer who secretly recorded his supervisors in Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct and brought New Yorkers an unprecedented, intimate look behind the Blue Wall of Silence. That glimpse revealed that street cops are under intense pressure to arrest people for doing little or nothing at all, while at the same time intimidating victims of actual crimes from filing complaintsall in the name of manipulating crime statistics. The revelations in Schoolcraft's tapes have sparked numerous official investigations and lawsuits as well as an increased scrutiny of the NYPD and its obsession with statistics. For his efforts, the NYPD hauled Schoolcraft off in handcuffs to a psychiatric ward for six days, and tried to discredit him. But his tapes backed up everything he said.
It's one thing to spend decades fighting the good fight on urban environmental causes when the odds are always stacked heavily against you, what with the endless supply of lobbyists that megacorporations and giant utility companies can harness on a moment's notice. It's quite another to do so and actually win a few of those battles, while remaining cheerfully upbeat at the same time. Eric Goldstein has managed to pull off that hat trick while championing environmental issues in New York for more than 30 years. He has helped win increased recycling and cleaner water, while battling threats like upstate gas drilling and helping to rescue the steadily vanishing marshlands of Jamaica Bay. He even co-wrote a book on the topic—The New York Environment Book. A senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, Goldstein has been helping New Yorkers breathe easier for years, starting with his fight in the 1980s to get the lead out of gasoline.
The pairing of newspaper columnists with radio goes back as far as Walter Winchell. When done well, it's a lively combination, merging points of view with the rat-a-tat-tat of breaking news. Right now, the best local practitioner of this double play is Errol Louis, the Daily News columnist who hosts a 6 a.m.–9 a.m. weekday talk show on WWRL 1600 AM, the station that long catered to black audiences but now bills itself as the "outpost of progressive talk." Louis is pure New York: He was born in Harlem, and his father was a cop. He went to Harvard and Yale, came back to the city, and ran a credit union in Bedford-Stuyvesant, followed by a losing race for City Council in 1997, probably the best thing that could have happened to him. He then started writing, first for The New York Sun, later for the News in 2004. Louis's radio show has been the stop of choice for Governor David Paterson as he's struggled to explain himself over the past year. His News columns are tough and pointed and pull no punches, whether he's shining a light on housing authority high-rises where the elevators don't work or forcing the police to keep se arching for the culprit in an unsolved murder.
Union Square once boasted a glorious trademark image in the giant sign over the old S. Klein department store on the park's east side: "S. Klein on the Square," it proudly announced over a massive angled L-square ruler. S. Klein fell long ago to the jackhammers of Zeckendorf's banal towers that replaced it, but there was a chance to revive the square's jaunty spirit in the late '90s when millions in government subsidies were handed to a politically connected developer erecting a massive building on the square's south side. Instead, the Related Companies and other bureaucrats managed to kill the streetscape with soaring blank walls and the city's most hideous work of public art: a series of swirling brick rings surrounding a chunk of mounted bedrock and a gaping hole emitting a jet of steam and a bronze hand, signifying . . . what? Even more obtuse is the row of 15 lighted digits alongside it all. It's supposed to tell the time, but good luck reading that clock. Such felonies deserve their own statute in the penal code: Desecration of Public Space, First-Degree.
John Paulson has the kind of Midas touch that turns gold even more golden. Infamous for having turned billions in profit by betting against America in the 2007–08 subprime-mortgage disaster—he bet that the housing market would crash—he then hired former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan as an adviser to help him weather the resulting Street meltdown and possible blowback. While the hedge-funder's partner in alleged crime, Goldman Sachs, got nailed by the government for illegally betting against America, Paulson skated. These days, with his hedge funds not doing as well as he would like, he is snapping up as much gold as he can. And at record prices, it's worth more than ever. Usually only conspiracy nuts go crazy about owning gold; they fear that the world's economy is going to crash and that only precious metal will still be precious. Paulson probably knows the end-times are near. He'll survive.