As Brooklyn Borough Marty Markowitz prepares to exit stage left following 12 years in office, Public Advocate-elect Letitia “Tish” James and City Councilman David Greenfield have called upon Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio to nominate Markowitz to yet another, albeit unusual, position for the city of New York. In fact, the position would be a newly created one and Markowitz would be the first ever politician or figure of any kind to take office in this capacity.
The position? An appointment to the commission of the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs. That position is not necessarily a new one, but both Greenfield and James have proposed that de Blasio rename the position and in doing so a new job would indeed be created, that of “Ambassador to New York City,” according to both the New York Observer and a press release from Greenfield himself.
In a written statement, Greenfield said that “there is no question that we are losing an invaluable asset who possesses institutional knowledge about municipal and civic matters when Mr. Markowitz leaves office at the end of the year. With that in mind, I can think of no better person to serve as Ambassador for New York City.”
Markowitz himself commented on the reports to Politicker, saying that he had not ruled anything out as he would love to continue working in a public capacity for years to come. “It is flattering that two of my colleagues in government would think of me in such esteem. I look forward to whatever role I may take in continuing to serve to my borough and my city in the next chapter of my life.”
If Markowitz were to serve as “ambassador,’ the outgoing borough president would be responsible for working, along with other city agencies, to “expand New York’s foreign city outreach,” as well as represent the city as a liaison with foreign governments, the United Nations and the U.S. Department of State, reported the Forest Hill Times.
The issue that has followed is whether Markowitz is qualified for this position. Furthermore, objections have arisen in which he has been called nothing more than a mascot for Brooklyn to begin with, not the kindest critique of a politician’s 12-year tenure.
Perhaps there aren’t many kind words to be said about Markowitz’s time as borough president for a reason. To begin with, Markowitz made a questionable political appointment in the name of Dolly Williams in 2002 to the New York City Planning Commission. It was not revealed until 2004 that Williams was co-founder of a construction company which had invested $1 million to Bruce Ratner’s New Jersey Nets purchase. This came into play much later, however, when Williams was required to recuse herself from Planning Commission decisions regarding the Ratner developed Atlantic Yards project. But Markowitz took the heat as he was responsible for her appointment to the commission in the first place.
Following the Williams appointment, Markowitz and his wife were scrutinized for their unscrupulous appetite and greed for freebies at high-end events throughout the city. For example, Markowitz and his wife Jamie Snow were guests at an already controversial gala that honored Ratner in 2008 at the Brooklyn Museum. By the event’s end, Markowitz’s wife had absconded with eight limited edition fiberglass placemats designed by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, valued on eBay at $1000 each. Not only was each gala guest supposed to take only one, but it was reported by Radar that Markowitz’s spouse tartly replied to a guest complaint with, “You guys really should have acted faster. This is Brooklyn!"
Then came the bike lane debacle for Prospect Park West. While bike lanes are nearly always a good, and safe, option for both drivers and bikers, Markowitz opposed a 2009 measure to install a two way protected bicycle lane in that area. Not only did he protest the installation of the lanes, but he successfully managed to stall the project and practically derailed it, after writing a letter to the city that opposed the measure.
At the time, a Department of Transportation study showed that "more than 70% of vehicles were exceeding the 30 mph limit, and at least 15 percent were traveling at 40 mph or faster. From 2005 to 2007, there were 58 reported crashes on Prospect Park West."
While objecting the bike lanes, Markowitz made disparaging remarks about DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, even calling her a "zealot.’ Even more odd is that while Markowitz claimed to support bike lanes throughout the city, he insisted that his opposition was simply due to the reduction of parking spaces and one lane of traffic on Prospect Park West. This is where it is important to note the evident conflict of interest: Markowitz lives in Windsor Terrace, which is situated on the southern end of Prospect Park West.
The bike lane was completed in 2010 despite the objections of the borough president. But more trouble followed in July 2011, when New York City's Conflicts of Interest Board fined Markowitz $20,000. The penalty is considered unusually large and the reason for the fine, according to COIB, was for Markowitz’s acceptance of three lavish trips for his wife that were funded by the governments of Turkey and the Netherlands.
Ruling Judge Kevin Casey wrote in his decision that “by accepting travel expenses for his wife for each trip, respondent used his position as a public servant for private or personal advantage. Simply put, his wife was able to travel with him for free.”
The COIB also noted that Markowitz had been given prior notice of the rules when Cunard Lines launched the Queen Mary II in Brooklyn in 2007 and invited the Borough President and his wife along for the ride.
Markowitz was outraged by the decision but agreed to pay “the goddamn fine.”
. “I’m not a dummy. I understand what a conflict is…I didn’t abuse my position. What they’re saying is they don’t recognize my role (in promoting the city and Brooklyn) beyond the borders of Brooklyn. They don’t believe my wife has any role and they’re wrong. You go to Europe, other countries, being borough president Brooklyn is a big thing there.”
The same ethics panel later fined Markowitz $2,000 for using his chief of staff as a lawyer in his home closing.
Is this the making of a NYC Ambassador? Markowitz’s marred record shows otherwise.