Abe Beame never had a bobblehead. Nor did Donald Manes, Charles Barron, or Ruth Messinger. So what is it about Marty Markowitz?
“I wish I knew,” says the 62-year-old Brooklyn borough president. Oh, he knows—anybody who describes himself as a “character,” as Markowitz does, knows it’s no accident. Brooklynites run into him so often, he all but lives in their dreams. Here’s Markowitz with the Turkish consul general at the “Taste of Turkey” celebration. And there’s Markowitz presiding over a latke-eating competition. It’s green bagels, bagpipes, and Marty Markowitz at Borough Hall on St. Patrick’s Day. And is that Marty traipsing through the corridors of Long Island College Hospital to pay homage to Oladipupo Oluwagbemiga, Brooklyn’s first-born baby of the New Year?
“How do you say mazel tov in Nigeria?” he asks the infant’s immigrant parents.
And now Brookyn baseball fans are asking, “Where can I get one of those Marty Markowitz bobbleheads?”
Steve Cohen, general manager of the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Met farm team, says his phone rings constantly: “People are calling and telling me, ‘I can’t make it to the game on August 5. Can you pull me one of those bobbleheads?’ ”
The promotion this Sunday is part of a “Brooklyn Legends” bobblehead series honoring the likes of Mets manager Willie Randolph (a Samuel Tilden High School grad) and Lee Mazzilli (who continued to live with his parents in Bensonhurst during his early days with the Mets and later parlayed his baseball celebrity into a leading role in
Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding).
Not yet a bobblehead, Markowitz already bounces around in KeySpan Park, the 7,500-seat stadium where the outfield wall is festooned with signs reminding fans to purchase Gold’s horseradish and mustard, volunteer for the Midwood Ambulance Service, and send their children to Xaverian High School, “Home of the Joe DiMaggio Award.” Above the rightfield bleachers, Coney Island’s famed Parachute Jump looms, while beyond the leftfield wall, neon flashes from the Wonder Wheel, Astrotower, and the landmark roller coaster from which the team derives its name.
It’s a view all but certain to change if developer Joe Sitt’s $1.5 billion Coney Island hotel and amusement complex comes to pass.
But Markowitz will remain, a walking egg cream in the tradition of Abe Stark, whose placard below the Ebbets Field scoreboard taunted, “Hit Sign, Win Suit. Abe Stark. Brooklyn’s Leading Clothier.” In the years to come, the former tailor would exploit his fame, becoming, first, city council president and then, in 1962, Brooklyn’s borough president.
Today, the Abe Stark Skating Rink sits on the opposite side of the parking lot from KeySpan Park, while the current inhabitant of Borough Hall waits to etch his name into political folklore as, arguably, the first elected official in these parts who is celebrated with a bobblehead night.
“We went with the slimmed-down Marty—the 1974 Marty,” says Cohen of the 2,500 limited-edition dolls produced by Success Promotions in Chesterfield, Missouri.
“It don’t look like me,” says Markowitz. “The bobblehead, I tell you, it looks like I had a nose job.”
Most of the Cyclones themselves wouldn’t know the difference. “Whatever puts fans in the seats,” shrugs J.R. Voyles, the Class A team’s charismatic third baseman.
Mumbles infielder Joaquin Rodriguez, “I’m not from here, so I don’t know who he is.”
But the fans do.
“He’s a great man,” proclaims Richie Ryan, 50, a retired accountant from Staten Island by way of Bay Parkway.
“He’s walking with the people,” rhapsodizes Fern Carriero, 47, a teacher from Marine Park. “He’s at every graduation. He’s all over the place.”
Guy Zoda, a/k/a “King Henry,” hands out postcards for his public-access kiddie show, sporting a crown and a Cyclones jersey numbered 312—for his purported weight. “I’m a local hero—in my own mind,” says the 39-year-old Bensonhurst resident, sauntering onto the field with a trash can for queasy contestants in a pre-game hamburger-eating contest. “But Marty’s a real hero. I don’t consider him a politician. I consider him an advocate.”
So does Shlomo Barnika, 23, a bespectacled young man with a rough beard, yarmulke, white shirt, and black pants. The bobblehead, he says, “is a good idea.”
“It shows appreciation,” adds his identical twin, Eliyahu, “for what he does for Brooklyn.”
But what does Markowitz do for Brooklyn? With a puzzled look, Eliyahu turns to Shlomo, who replies, “We’re not sure, but he seems to care.”
In reality, the borough president appoints some 900 members to the borough’s community boards, panels that influence decisions on matters like the transfer of public property to private use. As a result, in places like Park Slope and Prospect Heights, Markowitz catches a lot of heat for exerting that authority to support developer Bruce Ratner’s plan to use eminent domain to build his Atlantic Yards project.
Regardless of Markowitz’s positions, Cyclone public-address announcer David Freeman articulates why his constituents would give him a pass: “He’d make a great mayor, because he cares about another borough besides Manhattan.”
That hits home with any bridge-and-tunnel person resentful of newcomers to Manhattan who dare to redefine themselves as New Yorkers and than condescend toward the
sons and daughters of Flatlands, Parkchester, and Bayside.
Cyclones manager Edgar Alfonzo has seen leaders in his native Venezuela hit the same type of emotional buttons in rants against the
“You think there’ll ever be a Hugo Chávez bobblehead night?” Alfonzo is asked shortly before game time.
“Probably.” Alfonzo ponders a moment. “Probably,” he repeats, “but in a different way.”
“What kind of way?”
He chews his gum a few times and measures his words: “Maybe not in a funny way.”