How Marty Markowitz Transformed Brooklyn

Marty Markowitz has been the borough president of Brooklyn since 2002—he’s been in office as long as the mayor, who seems like he’s been in office forever, since just after 9/11, before Lena Dunham was born, back when artists lived in Williamsburg and Franklin Avenue had nary a boutique. He’s presided over the height of the borough’s radical transformation from working-class enclave to hipster bohemia, and you could credit him with playing a role in that. A borough president’s power is limited but not insignificant: it’s a prominent position, if you make it so, that wields a bully pulpit and back-room influence; it also has significant control over the community boards, which play a large role in zoning issues, among others.

Marty has sometimes wielded this power for ill, like pushing hard for the Atlantic Yards development or opposing the Prospect Park West bike lane, but he’s also been an effective hometown cheerleader, Brooklyn’s most prominent brand ambassador—a walking “I’m wawkin here” stereotype of the Brooklyn old-school. He teetered always at the edge of charming and buffoonish, sometimes being both at once, as with the now-iconic highway signs that tell you as you’re leaving Brooklyn to fuhgeddaboudit. He was wholly lovable as he welcomed same-sex couples to be married at Borough Hall, or when his office launched the Brooklyn Book Festival, or when he made a supportive appearance at Occupy Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza rally.

To say Markowitz has an outsized personality is an understatement; Markowitz is his personality. He’s half salesman, half showman, and so it made sense that he would make his last big performance a literal show. His final State of the Borough address, delivered last night at the Barclays Center he worked so hard to build, included a boring ol’ speech of course, but afterward he took five and returned to the stage (accompanied by indoor fireworks, for serious), now mocked up like a talk-show set, to host what he called Brooklyn Tonight, a late-night-style show replete with opening monologue, a house funk band, and a musical guest. Marty seemed happiest while delivering his Catskills-style opening remarks with Spumoni Gardens punchlines. “We’ve got the young people, the hipsters,” he said, “and the old people, the artificial hip-sters.” Ba dum ch!

He appeared in pre-taped skits, one in which he chided the press by using the daily tabloids as lining for his beloved-parrot’s cage, and another in which he inserted himself into famous Brooklyn movies: walking down 86th Street, eating two slices of pizza on top of each other, or wearing a Brooklyn hoodie, telling Mookie to “do the right thing.” Less effectively, he donned a funny hat and did a Carnac the Magnificent bit. (The whole event lasted about almost three hours, and not everyone could take it. “Could you stick this”—a pen—”right here?”—his neck—one reporter asked me.)

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