On Monday night, Brian Howald, a member of Brooklyn’s Community Board 2, was cycling along Third Avenue in Bay Ridge to a Community Board 7 meeting when a Cadillac sedan began driving behind him in the bike lane. The passenger in the car wound down his window and demanded that Howald move out of the bike lane so his car could pass, but Howald refused. The man waved a placard and said he was a police officer and was going to pull Howald over and take him “to the precinct.”
But Howald knew better. As he started to bike away, he realized the placard was not an official NYPD one. When he challenged the man on it, Howald says, the passenger called him an asshole.
Howald then took out his phone to document the incident, at which point the man tried to hide his face and the driver attempted to drive away, but got stuck in gridlock. A staccato chase ensued as the car pulled away and got caught in traffic; each time, Howald would catch up to it and take photographs. According to Howald, the driver ran at least two red lights and drove the wrong way on a portion of Third Avenue trying to avoid Howald’s camera.
When Howald, who documented the encounter on a Twitter thread, caught up to the car again at one of those lights, he asked the passenger who he was. The man responded, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
That passenger, it now appears, was New York State Senator Martin Golden, representative of the 22nd District, in southern Brooklyn. A former New York City police detective, Golden was en route to the Detectives’ Endowment Association Holiday Party when the encounter occurred.
@SenMartyGolden, is this you?
— Brian Howald (@bdhowald) December 12, 2017
Golden’s office declined to comment to the Voice for this story, but the senator told NY1 he never impersonated a police officer and that Howald has “got to get a life. I think he’s got to move on.”
Cyclists in New York have endured far worse behavior from motorists, but this incident sheds light on the disregard at least one lawmaker has for traffic laws and roadway safety — laws that he himself helps determine.
The Cadillac in which Golden was a passenger on Monday has two outstanding tickets for speed violations in school zones. Additionally, a search of the NYC OpenData portal shows that vehicle has been issued 37 violations since 2013 — including ten by the very traffic cameras in school zones he initially supported — two red light violations, and six for parking in bus stops. In fact, on the morning of November 16, 2015, that car was caught speeding through three separate school zones within a two-hour window in Marine Park. And in August 2005, Golden’s SUV struck and critically injured a 74-year-old woman in what was described by his spokesman as a “terrible accident.”
The Voice spoke to Howald on Tuesday evening about the incident. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
When did you first realize who the passenger in the car was?
Brian Howald: After I had arrived at my destination last night, which was a meeting of CB7 being held at Fourth Avenue and 43rd Street. Given that the person driving had a suit on, my assumption was that this was either an elected official or a bigwig at some government agency. Likely city, maybe state.
I went through my mental checklist of elected officials’ names south of Sunset Park, given that he was still driving south when I lost sight of him. And the first name that popped into my head was Marty Golden.
So I looked on Google to find some pictures of him and to ask some people at the meeting if they thought that it looked like him. Some people weren’t sure, other people said yes. A couple said that’s definitely Marty Golden. And that’s when I wrote the tweet.
At that point, I wasn’t completely sure, which is why my last tweet says, “Senator Golden, is this you?” I wasn’t entirely sure it was him until people were like, “Yeah, here’s a tweet that he posted to his account wearing the same shirt and the same plaid tie.”
Why was his the first name that came to mind?
Just the location, south of Sunset Park. Honestly, I couldn’t really tell you much about Marty Golden yesterday. If you had asked me in the afternoon if I thought I could pick his face out of a photo I would say not a chance. I knew that he was a state senator; I knew that he was being challenged by a guy named Ross Barkan. Just the first name that popped into my head.
You said you saw the interview he did with NY1?
I didn’t watch it. I saw the little tweet that [reporter] Zack Fink put up promoting it.
And what’s your reaction to that?
I mean, he said it was an incident of “cyclist road rage.” [Note: Fink’s tweet said that Golden characterized the run-in as “cyclist road rage,” but in the video interview Golden says, “And if he’s doing it to other drivers — other vehicles — he is leading towards a cyclist road rage.”]
You know, his driver was driving in a bike lane, and I think I speak for many cyclists who say that’s a very terrifying experience to have people driving in the bike lane behind you. I was biking out to Queens today, and I probably encountered twenty different people parked in bike lanes. But you don’t really expect people to be using the bike lanes to drive in.
And then after he threatened me by falsely claiming to be a police officer, I was upset and felt that somebody with a placard, somebody who had some official power, was fraudulently claiming to be a police officer — all in the service of putting my life at risk.
How did this encounter compare to other encounters you’ve had with drivers?
I have to say this is one of the least heated encounters I have ever had with drivers. I’ve had drivers threaten me. I’ve had drivers hop out of the car, scratch my back, shove me, try to steal my phone. At least in terms of the verbal and physical confrontation, this was pretty minor. What was most upsetting was that an elected official was committing a felony by claiming to be a police officer to excuse his driving in a bike lane.
What do you hope New Yorkers take away from this story?
Several other people filled me in on the litany of violations committed by the car [Golden] was in. I mean, this is somebody who is likely to commit multiple infractions, [who] drives aggressively. There were many people who commented on the Twitter thread that they had personally been almost hit by Senator Golden while walking the streets in Bay Ridge. I want New Yorkers to realize that this happens a lot. That people do this all the time to cyclists and pedestrians.
What’s particularly bad is that, as people pointed out to me with articles and statistics, the senator was one of the key people who killed the expansion of school speed cameras last year. The man who said we can’t have more speed cameras is probably one of the worst offenders of these cameras!
Part of the reason we can’t have safer streets in New York City is the people that are supposed to make the decisions to make our streets safer are themselves the biggest beneficiaries of placards, of using their authority to get out of getting stopped for dangerous driving. The people who are driving the most aggressively are the same people who are telling us we can’t have safer streets. And that’s incredibly hypocritical.
Some people have called for Golden to resign. Others have called for an ethics investigation. Obviously many people have pointed out the fact he may have committed a felony by impersonating a police officer. Do you want to see anything happen to him?
The first thing I want is an apology. Someone drives in the bike lane is one thing, but then [he] slanders me for being upset at him for putting my life at risk.
This isn’t a partisan thing to me. Safe streets isn’t a partisan issue. That school safety bill is not a partisan bill. I’ll certainly consider filing an ethics complaint with the state senate. But I’m not as much concerned about what happens to the senator as that real measures are enacted to keep us safe from people like him.