Archive for the ‘History – New York City’ Category

The Snakehead

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “The Snakehead” by Patrick Radden Keefe, published in 2009. This ebook recounts the details of a pivotal human-smuggling incident involving people of Chinese descent.

In early June 1993, a boat hit a sandbar in Breezy Point in the borough of Queens (New York City) in New York State. Most of its occupants were illegal immigrants originally from China. They were “smuggled” rather than “trafficked” in that they had willingly bribed a “snakehead” to help them move to the United States without identification documents, knowing the risks of their journey full well. Trafficked individuals also have the desire for a better life, but are usually unaware that they will be sold as property.

Organized crime in Chinatown in New York City in the 1980′s was rampant, consisting of not just arrangements to further illegal immigration, but of extortion, gang warfare, conspiracy, hostage-taking and money laundering. “But there was only so much money in shakedowns, burglaries and kidnappings.” The heroin trade carried heavy prison sentences. On the other hand, there was big money (approximately $30,000 for the snakehead per person) in human smuggling and it carried light prison sentences.

At the start of the 1990′s, two major reasons that immigration laws were lenient for political asylum seekers from China were: 1) The 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre had reminded the world of oppression in China, and 2) The country had a draconian population-limiting political system, allowing women to bear only one child and thereafter be forced to have an abortion or the men, to have forced sterilization. Another factor that contributed to the arrival of an excessive number of illegals on U.S. shores around 1990 was the fact the the Immigration and Naturalization Service was a poorly treated, underfunded and understaffed agency, that competed with the customs department– whose contraband confiscations made it a political darling.

Read the book to learn: why, around 1990, there was also a shift in the transportation method, routes and entry points for illegal smuggling; which perpetrators got caught and their fates; and the valid arguments on both sides of the debate over the legal and ethical issues on people’s entering a nation without the legal means to do so.

Bonus Post

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

This blogger skimmed the book, “The Story of The Waldorf-Astoria” by Edward Hungerford, published in 1925. The Waldorf-Astoria was originally “The Astoria,” built by the Astors, a super-rich family.

For most of the 19th century and before, Broadway was the favored location for hotels. However, the 1880′s saw congestion from a street railway and cars. The thirteen-story, 450-guestroom Astoria was therefore originally located at 35th Street at Fifth Avenue. Construction started in 1891. “From the first the idea was to create a hostelry with as little of the typically hotel features in evidence as humanly possible… Haste was not permitted… The house was well-builded. And thoroughly. This ideal became an obsession on the part of the men who built it.” It opened in March 1893. In 1895, construction began on another hotel next door, of sixteen stories. In November 1897, the completed complex became known as the “Waldorf-Astoria.”

The hotel’s restaurant served partridge and lobster. Its general manager, George C. Boldt, believed in “management by wandering around.” In the summer of 1898, he commissioned a classy steam-yacht, the “Calypso” that could be booked by up to 25 guests for a day. He also offered car rides around town before common people drove. Boldt trusted all the guests, even those who asked to cash personal checks. No other hotels were so trusting.

The hotel boasted a number of “firsts.” It was the first building to have a passenger elevator in the United States. Boldt had the brilliant idea of carving a street at the rear of the combined hotels to ensure no one could ever take away their light and air rights between 33rd and 34th Streets. The Waldorf became the first hotel in Manhattan to take up a whole city block.

In 1776, in order to collect extra revenue, government official Peter Stuyvesant established the liquor license for taverns. “It was especially forbidden to sell strong drinks to Indians.” The hotel obtained a liquor license. Unfortunately, the passing of Prohibition cost the hotel lots of revenue. It re-purposed its bar. The Waldorf also offered a roof garden, which became an ice skating rink in the wintertime.

The author wrote, incredibly (italics added by this blogger), “Upon the broad open desk lie the registers, three or four of them so that in a pinch, as is frequently done, guests may be received and assigned rooms at the rate of sixty to ninety to the hour.”

Read the book to learn further details of the hotel’s existence through the mid 1920′s.

Savage City

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

The Book of the Week is “Savage City” by T.J. English, published in 2011. This book highlights particular incidents in the lives of three people– two black men and a white police officer– in New York City between 1963 and 1973. All three– George Whitmore, Dhoruba al-Mujahid Bin Wahad, and Bill Phillips– experienced the city’s criminal justice system for prolonged periods, subject to the whims of cultural and political forces.

The author describes the era as one of racism, violence, corruption and injustice. He discusses the activist political group, The Black Panthers, formed in 1967, at length. The white Irish Catholic forces of the law charged the African American group with conspiracy after several ugly incidents.

Another group, the BLA (Black Liberation Army), formed in 1971, was involved in more of same. “It was a bitter harvest of BLA shootings, bombings, and threats against the police…” Autumn 1971 saw the aforementioned Bill Phillips of the NYPD (New York Police Department) turn informant to expose the rampant corruption in his organization.

Read this set of sordid anecdotes to learn the details of the moral bankruptcy and negative traits of human nature that pervaded the aforementioned decade.

If This Be Treason

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

The Book of the Week is “If This Be Treason: Your Sons Tell Their Own Stories of Why They Won’t Fight For Their Country” by Franklin Stevens, published in 1970. This book is about American men who received draft notices, but were against the Vietnam War. The threat of being sent to fight in a war in which they didn’t believe took a terrible psychological toll on these men and their families– who were neither wealthy nor influential enough to keep them out of it. They explain not only why they were against the war, but how they kept out of it.

The men implemented all sorts of strategies for at least temporarily rendering themselves ineligible to fight on physical or psychological grounds:  consuming an excessive number of salt pills, increasing one’s weight to 250 lbs or more, reducing one’s weight to 105 lbs or less, eating soap to get an ulcer, cutting off a limb, faking a condition such as:  insanity, transvestitism or homosexuality; or claiming one was a sleepwalker. Some other ways to stay away from the military were:  qualifying for a deferment by getting one’s wife pregnant or staying in school, enrolling and paying tuition at a school where one did not actually have to attend classes, or becoming a teacher or other government worker.

Some men found out about a draft-resisters’ organization located (ironically) in the United Nations area in New York City, where they learned how they could flee to Canada.

Other men were sent to jail for refusing to fight.

Some men applied for conscientious objector status, claiming they should be exempted from military service because they believed participating in a situation in which people might die at their hands, was wrong. “A conscientious objector had a better chance of being acquitted for draft dodging by a jury because every case of offenses against the draft law that demands a jury trial adds a burden to the judicial system and thus increases pressure against the draft and the war.” Unfortunately, it took a very long time before sufficient pressure forced the United States to pull out of the war in disgrace.

Some readers might consider this subject matter controversial and disturbing, but as long as history repeats itself, this subject merits discussion.

John Purroy Mitchel

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

The Book of the Week is “John Purroy Mitchel, The Boy Mayor of New York” by Edwin R. Lewinson, published in 1965.

Previously a young attorney, co-Commissioner of Accounts and President of the Board of Aldermen in New York City, Mitchel was elected Mayor in 1913 on the Fusion Party ticket.  However, he was inept as a politician because both his speech-making and political-machine-building skills were poor. Like Mayor John Lindsay, Mitchel had good intentions, but did not get much done. He was brutally honest and never took action for the purpose of gaining the popularity of his constituents.

Like Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Mitchel’s economic concerns overrode all others, and his administration operated under a veil of secrecy. Mitchel rubbed shoulders with the Rockefellers, and thus acquired a reputation of favoring big-money interests. However, he wanted to keep the then-46 members on the Board of Education, rather than have the power to appoint only 9 members.  If he had such power, those 9 men would be difficult to find, in that they would be “required to give all their time.”  The only people who could afford to, were millionaires, “and they are the very worst type to put in control of the schools.” Further, “The tendency of mayors is to respect the aristocratic voice of the community and to forget the democratic.”

The irony of the Mitchel administration was that, although he was pro-education, he was more interested in saving money than providing New York City’s children with a decent education. The mayor was not a narcissist out to acquire power and appoint his cronies. Nevertheless, the Board of Estimate was a penny-pinching entity, and engaged in petty squabbles over money, with the Board of Education.  Estimate refused to spend money to build much-needed schools. Mitchel wanted Estimate to control the wages of Education’s employees, which included teachers.  Besides, during his entire time in office, Mitchel’s public relations was non-existent with teachers and parents.

In 1914, Mitchel and other city officials visited Gary, Indiana to observe an education experiment, and decided to introduce “The Gary Plan” to New York City’s schools. The Board of Estimate favored the plan because it saved money and saved school-building space. Not surprisingly, teachers and parents opposed the plan. Under the plan, students could opt to start learning a trade in middle school. The schools superintendent published a two-year progress report showing poor performance among students in the two “Gary” schools in New York City.  The plan was abandoned in 1917, after 35 participating schools experienced negative results.

In 1917, Mitchel ran for re-election because he wanted New Yorkers to support the United States in World War I. He accused others of being unpatriotic if they did not support the war. He himself attended a military camp while still in his first term. When he lost the mayoral election to John Hylan, he joined the Air Force, which was at that time part of the U.S. Signal Corps, and was sent to San Diego, then to Louisiana for training. Although he was 38, he wanted to fight in the war.

In July 1918, Mitchel did not have his seatbelt fastened when he died in a solo-flight accident in Louisiana.  More people paid their last respects to him than did people who attended New York’s 4th of July celebrations just a few days before. He was highly praised for his “bravery, patriotism, his integrity and his ability as a public official.”   Mitchel Field, an airfield just finished on Long Island, was so named in his honor.

Bonus Post

Monday, September 20th, 2010

I am pleased to announce that my book: “The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive” is available through the following online channels:

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Please visit

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to read an excerpt.

Thank you.

BONUS POST

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

I am pleased to announce that my book:

“The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive”

is out.

Please find below, the first page of the Table of Contents and a page of the Introduction. [Please excuse the wonky formatting]

Copyright © 2014 by Sally A. Friedman

CONTENTS

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………….. 7

SECTION I

1 Education—Overview ……………………………………………………………….. 15

2 Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein …………………………………………………. 17

3 The Education Budget ……………………………………………………………… 21

4 Student Subgroups …………………………………………………………………. 42

5 What Did Your School Get? ………………………………………………………. 52

6 Propaganda ……………………………………………………………………………. 57

7 Reducing Class Sizes ……………………………………………………………….. 65

8 Small Schools …………………………………………………………………………. 73

9 Testing, Testing. One million. Two million. Testing, Testing. …………. 78

10 Unsafe At Any Rate . . . ………………………………………………………….. 87

11 Charter Schools and Culturally-Themed Schools………………………… 95

12 School Construction ……………………………………………………………… 109

13 Mayoral Control ……………………………………………………………………. 114

SECTION II

1 Rezoning and ULURP …………………………………………………………….. 121

2 Zoning Meetings ……………………………………………………………………. 127

3 Construction Woes …………………………………………………………………. 133

4 Self-Certification ……………………………………………………………………. 145

5 Deutsche Bank Building ………………………………………………………….. 148

6 Other Deadly Mishaps …………………………………………………………….. 153

7 Enforcement ………………………………………………………………………….. 160

8 Mr. Bloomberg’s Stadiums ……………………………………………………….. 167

9 Other Parks Projects ……………………………………………………………….. 176

10 Other Law-Skirting Projects ……………………………………………………. 182

11 Other Brooklyn Projects …………………………………………………………. 187

12 Atlantic Yards ………………………………………………………………………. 191

* * *

INTRODUCTION, p. 11

…making himself available to parents. The mayor performed the important tasks of negotiating with the unions, securing funding from the higher powers and making public relations appearances when there was good news to report.

I have observed that there were three recurring themes in Mr. Bloomberg’s modus operandi in both Education and Real Estate Development:

Theme 1: He was overly optimistic. As his various education initiatives and construction projects progressed, he routinely threw around and changed numbers on standardized test scores, graduation rates, school openings, school crime rates, construction costs, creation of jobs and affordable housing units, among others, and sometimes even distorted facts outright.

Theme 2: Time after time, Mr. Bloomberg asked for input from the community, or purported to, on new school openings and on construction of schools and other projects, but usually ended up hiring his cronies and ignored the community’s wishes.

Theme 3: He took advantage of legal loopholes or skirted around the law to forge ahead with his agendum.

His agendum was to acquire power. Why else did he take control of the schools and overturn term limits? It was not for the money. In November 2009, Mr. Bloomberg won his third-term election bid by a narrow margin, mostly because he was still viewed as a stronger candidate than the opposing one. His power and popularity were waning, however, rocked by various investigations in recent years, including a slush-fund scandal, and corruption and sloppiness in construction that led to fatal accidents, that resulted in the termination of decades-long unethical practices. Further, he was accused of being involved in various conflicts of interest and of being hypocritical on environmental and health issues.

Two farmyard clichés and one generic cliché also aptly describe many occurrences during the Bloomberg administration between 2002 and 2009:

Cliché 1: “Just another case of the fox guarding the henhouse”

Cliché 2: “Closing the barn door after the horses have already fled”

Cliché 3: “Do as I say, not as I do”

The above themes and clichés are so common in my text, that I refer to their generic names; i.e., I will use the blog style, for example, “File under Theme 1” or “File under Cliché 2” when providing evidence of same. Enjoy.


Copyright © 2015 by Sally A. Friedman

Four Books on History, Mostly NYC

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

(1) “McNamara’s Old Bronx” by John McNamara, published in 1989; (2) “Fifty Years on Fifth 1907-1957″ by The Fifth Avenue Association, published in 1957; (3) “From Alley Pond to Rockefeller Center” by Henry Collins Brown, published in 1936, and (4) “Centenarians” by Bernard Edelman, published in 1999.

(1) This is a book of essays on Bronx history, dating from the 1950′s through the 1980′s. I relate the following trivia:

BATHHOUSES

At the bottom of 138th Street in Mott Haven, there were floating bathhouses. It was Ladies’ Night on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

One of the most majestic Public Baths opened in 1909 at Elton Avenue and E. 156th St. It boasted Roman architecture, with carved ornamentation and a copper roof. However, bathtubs in residences became widespread, and the baths have gone the way of many other businesses.

TRAGEDIES

There occurred many tragedies that are now just a blip in the annals of Bronx history.

In the mid-1850′s, it was trendy for rival steamboat lines to “drag race”. On July 28, 1852, two ships, the “Armenia” and the “Henry Clay” were having a drag race. The boilers of the Henry Clay exploded, causing a big fire, and passengers to be thrown off the boat. Many were trapped in the stern by smoke, so they jumped off the side and drowned. To add insult to injury, looters boated out to the scene and took whatever they could get from the flotsam, jetsam, victims, and finally the steamship itself. The criminal case involving the ship’s owners and officers was tried in Riverdale, then a part of the Bronx. They were acquitted. A few months later, the passing of the Steamboat Inspection Act outlawed racing.

In January 1882, the Tarrytown Express and the Atlantic Express trains crashed during a snowstorm. The reason is that someone pulled the emergency brake on the Atlantic, and it had to stop. There was no problem found. However, since it was exactly 13 minutes ahead of the Tarrytown, and going in the same direction, a brakeman was supposed to go out with signal lanterns to warn the Tarrytown. He was too late. Between 8 and 13 people died. People like to tell the story using 13, as other “13′s” pop up in the story, including the aforementioned 13 minutes, the fact that there were 13 cars on the Atlantic, and it was Friday the 13th. The brakeman and the conductor were indicted for, then vindicated of manslaughter.

On June 15, 1904, there was the General Slocum disaster, in which an excursion boat caught fire while in Bronx waters, and hundreds of women and children on a church outing drowned.  In 1914, just two years after the Titanic sank, Murray Haas made a movie in Hunts Point simulating the calamity. The film’s replica of the iceberg was made of wood and canvas. Night shooting was done with flares and arc-lights.

ENTERTAINMENT

In the late 1800′s, German bands used to play music on the streets of the Bronx. It was a way for Germans to remember their culture. Listeners would put a coin in the musicians’ basket. When the bands were in front of pork stores and bakeries, they created a bit of nostalgia for German housewives. The bands played German drinking songs to remind them of their school days when in front of athletic facilities. In those days, one could get free lunch with the purchase of a beer, but bands that played at saloons at lunchtime got free beer anyway.

BUSINESS

In the 1890′s single Chinese men started restaurants and laundromats in the Bronx. Some were from Cuba. The laundrymen sometimes gave sugar cane to delivery boys to suck on. Girls did not work for them, because they had heard (false) horror stories of white slavery. The Chinese actually had a very low crime rate.

In 1787, the Lorillard Brothers, who owned a snuff mill on the Bronx River, created the first ad campaign for their chewing tobacco, snuff and “segars”. They mailed cards of an Indian smoking a long clay pipe of “Best Virginia” to every postmaster in America, since at that time, post offices served as general stores and centers of social activity.

MISCELLANEOUS

In 1907, Van Cortlandt Park was used as a holding pen for buffalo for a number of months, before the buffalo were sent to the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma. Buffalo were an endangered species at the time, and Congress was trying to beef up their numbers.

NAMING OF THE BRONX

There are a few theories as to how the Bronx was named. An unlikely story is that visitors to Jonas Bronck’s farm said they were “going to the Broncks”.

Another is that the first English settlers assumed the phrase “Bronck’s Land” to mean land of a certain nature, such as marsh or hills, and called it The Bronx, such as the way “Flatlands” or “New Lots” are sections of Brooklyn.

Still another is that people referred to specific regions, such as The Bronx River, or The Bronx Kills, by the short name “The Bronx” in the late 1700′s; this, according to Bronx Historian Dr. T. Kazimiroff.

*  *  *

(2) This book tells the history of the buildings and culture of Fifth Avenue, through the eyes of an association that has tried to maintain its high-class reputation through the years.

FIRES

In the 1800′s, construction materials were very flammable, electrical wiring was faulty, firefighting technology and infrastructure were poor, and hundreds of buildings were burned to the ground in hours:

In 1835, seven hundred buildings, including the Merchants Exchange were destroyed; 1858, it was the Crystal Palace; 1872, the Fifth Avenue Hotel; 1905, St. Thomas Church.

CENTRAL PARK

The area above 59th street was seedy until it was cleared for the creation of Central Park; in fact, it was named “Squatter’s Sovereignty”. The place was a shantytown of the homeless, an overgrown swamp.  Tracts of land sold to build the Park commanded tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 1850′s. The Park was finally finished in 1876.

In 1907, New York copied Paris, and introduced taxis. The taxis at that time were all different colors.

PAY TELEPHONES

There were telephone attendants in public phone booths from 1876 through the mid 1890′s. Coin-operated phones were introduced in 1896. They accepted all coins, from nickels to silver dollars. In 1910, nickels, dimes and quarters became the standard, but the caller still had to ring the operator to make a call. The rotary dial appeared on all phones in 1925. An organ maker and his lawyer started the Telephone Company of New York. Bell Telephone Company took it over in 1878.

* * *

(3) This book is an overview of the culture and landscape of various regions, including Queens (especially Flushing), Brooklyn, Bronx, Richmond (Staten Island) and a few bordering areas.

QUEENS

In 1683, Queens, named after Queen Catherine, was formed. The author complains that many of the borough’s old-world villages lost their rural quaintness and became citified. Such is the price of progress.

In the late 1800′s, there were a handful of police officers covering Flushing, New York.

TRANSPORTATION

The ways to get around used to include the straw-filled, horse-drawn car, then the cable and the trolley. The elevated trains replaced those. Surface cars, omnibuses and the subway have endured to this day.

BUSINESS

Industries such as steel, oil, tobacco, five-and-tens and railroads made many men rich from the late 1800′s to early 1900′s. Oil is still lucrative, but the other sectors have not fared as well, relatively speaking.

FORMATION OF “NEW YORK CITY”

At midnight on December 31, 1897, the five boroughs became united. Brooklyn was no longer a city. People used to play cricket in Staten Island. Cornelius Vanderbilt the First lived and died there. So did many sailors, who retired to the now landmark and arts center, Sailor’s Snug Harbor. Three famous architects, James W. Renwick, Frederick Law Olmstead and Arthur Gilman, lived there, too.

Riverdale, The Bronx, was a bird sanctuary for decades before it received other inhabitants.

*  *  *

(4)  This book presents an oral history of dozens of people, mostly white (and a few blacks), who, at its writing, claimed they were more than 100 years old. All were born in the mid to late 1890′s.

WAR/IMMIGRANTS

During WWII, Nazi minister Goebbels put out the propaganda that Germany had “successfully” invaded the Soviet Union. One West German man says he viewed that as good news, because he knew the Russians would fight back. Polish prisoners agreed. He came to America in 1942, where he discovered he could actually find a job. And talk to women unintroduced, without getting in trouble. There was even free night school.

One way a man was tested to determine his fitness for the air force during WWII, was to spin him around in a dentist’s chair. If he qualified, he might be sent to MIT for six weeks’ training.

UTILITIES/ENERGY

When telephones were first installed in residences, seven or eight families shared one line. The ring tone was different for each household; for example, one long and three short rings.

Some people had a coin-operated gas meter. The gas was pumped into light fixtures, which one could turn on by striking a match. When the electric company was invented, it tried to convert people from gas to electricity by giving away appliances and light bulbs. Some people did not welcome electricity, because they were scared of getting shocked. The early electricity meters were also coin-operated. Before the electric iron, females’ work was even harder, because ironing of clothing was done with irons in a fire that had to be constantly stoked.

HOLIDAYS

In Maryland, Christmas, never July 4th, was celebrated by setting off firecrackers. There were gifts of pickles made to the “Negroes”. The sound of a Revolutionary War cannon firing might be heard to herald the start of Christmas Day.

EDUCATION

About one hundred years ago, schools might have all grades one through eight in the same classroom. The teachers might be eighth grade graduates. There might be reading, spelling, arithmetic, penmanship, grammar, geography, history and physiology. But no gym, no art, no music. If a kid misbehaved in school, the teacher would punish him, and then his parents would, too. Students started each day by hearing a Bible passage, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and singing a patriotic song. The kids were sick a lot with chicken pox, measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough, hepatitis and malaria, and they were infested with black lice. Fortunately there was poisonous mercurial salve to kill the lice, and quinine for the malaria. Fun.

TECHNOLOGY

Cobblestones were used on roads to prevent stick wagons from getting stuck in the mud. People had to shovel snow off the roads themselves. When cars were first introduced, drivers’ licenses were issued, but some people just taught themselves to drive, and never got caught for not having a license. People got flat tires all the time, but also had tire repair kits. Sometimes horses got scared by cars, because cars were very noisy, before getting mufflers. Gasoline was sold in grocery stores, if at all.

Procter & Gamble used to have a huge line of soap kettles, and it still took 7 days to make one bar of Ivory soap. A process was invented that cut the time to two hours. Pringles potato chips never spoil because they are packed on a bed of nitrogen in a cylinder. In the early 1960′s, P&G unwisely tested disposable diapers one hot summer in Dallas.

WAGES FOR WORKERS

sd’s – single digits

long – sunup to sundown, 6-7 days/week

Year Job Approx. Pay / Hours

1910′s cotton farmer 5 to ? cents a pound long

19 teens self-employed optometrist $500 a day

19 sd’s coyote killing $5 a head

19 teens drugstore clerk $1 a day long

1890′s laundress $1 a day long

1890′s outdoor manual laborer $1.50 a day long

1910′s lamplighter $24 a month short

1910′s railroad workshop 23 cents an hour long

1910′s motorcycle & bike repair 50 cent an hour

1910′s shoeshine stand $4-$80 a week

19 teens security guard $3 a week, free board

19 teens coat-button painter $8 a week

1920′s domestic servant for rich $15 a week, free board

1910′s restaurant cook $4 a week, free board long

19 sd’s factory nail-puller $6 a week

1910′s factory assembler $7 a week

19 teens ML baseball player $250-$450 a month long

1920 bicycle factory worker $25 a week

19 teens milkman $42.50 a week

1920′s banker $70 a month

19 teens pre-union coal miner 40 cents a ton long

pre-union coal miner $9 a week long

19 teens seamstress $7 a week

1918 certified teacher $90 a month 1918 teacher $64.35 a month

19 teens Navy yeomanette $2 a day, free board

1930′s coalmine paymaster $175 a month

19 teens train car factory worker $15 per unit

Forest Hills Diary

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

The Book of the Week is “Forest Hills Diary” by Mario Cuomo, published in 1974.  In 1972, New York City Mayor John Lindsay chose Mario Cuomo to embark on a fact-finding mission to collect public opinion data on a proposed low-income housing project on 108th Street in Forest Hills near Corona, Queens, to consist of African American tenants, three towers of 24 stories each.

There was much emotionally charged public debate due to the very nature of the undertaking (housing projects in general, have a bad reputation– for crime, for bringing down property values, etc.).  Cuomo could have proposed reducing the planned apartment sizes to that of studios or 1 bedrooms– a compromise in order to push the project through. Regardless, he could not please anyone because Forest Hills residents were against the project altogether, while African Americans wanted apartments of at least 2 bedrooms.

Another option was to make one of the three towers a “Mitchell-Lama” which would allow tax breaks, but reduce the number of low-income units, and reserve 40% of the units for the elderly. The reason for favoring the elderly was to minimize the public sentiment that the apartments would be crime-ridden. Cuomo visited projects in the Bronx and had seen this phenomenon himself.

The Jewish neighborhood of Crown Heights had gone downhill due to low-income housing. The African Americans with whom Cuomo spoke were against the project.  One black leader admitted to him in confidence that a way to spur upward mobility among African Americans was to have a mix of middle-income and low-income tenants.

The “scatter-site” legislation was passed allowing the project proposed originally, to be built.  However, raucous public hearings prompted the developers to compromise by building three towers of 12 stories each (instead of 24), 40% of which were to house seniors. All sides of the controversy roundly criticized a report released by Cuomo, although few people had actually read the whole thing.  This book provided an engaging analysis of political and urban issues with respect to race, housing and human nature.