THE BATTLE FOR BROOKLYN

Watched a documentary, THE BATTLE FOR BROOKLYN (available through Amazon for $3.99). It’s about a real estate developer named Bruce Ratner who uses all of his influence and connections to get the powers-that-be in New York to use eminent domain to sweep aside a neighborhood in Brooklyn so he can build a vast development including a new sports arena. Never mind that eminent domain was never intended to be used for private individuals to create projects that will enrich them.

There are a lot of connections to what’s going on today. My opinion of Michael Bloomberg’s behavior as a leader of anti-Trumpism is a high and admiring one. But he is definitely one of the villains of this documentary. So is Charles Schumer. And the Brooklyn borough president at the time, Marty Markowitz (now a state senator), comes across as someone who gives lip service to fairness but betrays his own constituents without thought or hesitation.

There is a hero. Daniel Goldstein, who moved into a condo he had just bought in that neighborhood with his fiancee, decides he is going to fight back. The specifics aren’t explored, but he loses his fiancee. Then, during the course of his activism, he meets Shabnam Merchant. Their shared passion for the cause turns into love and they marry. (One of the ironies Goldstein notes is that fighting this long-term, losing battle with Ratner is what led to the family that brings him his deepest joy.)

There is another hero. Letitia James, at the time of the events, was a NYC Councilmember. She constantly frames the contest clearly and fairly and uses all of her energy fighting for those resisting Ratner. As co-directors Suki Hawley & Michael Galinsky filmed this project (an undertaking that took eight years), they could hardly have known that James would today be New York state’s attorney general. She is fighting another abusive real estate entrepreneur in state courts.

The result of the project is the Barclay Center, a few blocks away from BAM and a little west of Fort Greene. The Barclay hosts sports and events (Streisand sang there), but apparently it is a perpetual money-loser, and it has done severe damage to neighborhood traffic. Also, Ratner couldn’t make good on his agreement to pay $100 million to the MTA (ultimately shelling out only $20 million) and the film suggests that some of the increase in our transit fares can be attributed to this shortfall. Most dismaying, much of the rationale for supporting the project was that it was going to bring into the area new jobs and affordable housing. Neither has appeared to a serious degree.

The film rings a personal bell. Shabnam and Daniel’s marriage took place in a tent on an estate that looked familiar. Kristine and I rewound a bit to make sure. Yes, it was Full Moon, not far from Woodstock, NY. Kristine created an annual summer improv retreat that met there for several years. I used to teach classes in that tent!

Aside from that, the film fills in another piece of the story of New York for me. I love the convoluted history of this town, constantly being kicked around by the moneyed interests but still somehow not losing its central feisty integrity.

So, yes, I strong urge anybody attracted to David-and-Goliath stories to check out BATTLE FOR BROOKLYN. It kept me enthralled as few fictional films have lately.

About dgsweet

I write for and about theater. I spent a number of years as a resident playwright of a theater in Chicago which put up 14 of my plays, and I still think of Chicago as my primary theatrical home, though I actually live in New York. I serve on the Council of the Dramatists Guild. Between plays, I write books, most notably SOMETHING WONDERFUL RIGHT AWAY (about Second City), THE O'NEILL (about the O'Neill Center) and THE DRAMATIST'S TOOLKIT (a text on playwriting craft). I also occasionally perform a solo show called YOU ONLY SHOOT THE ONES YOU LOVE. I enjoy visiting theaters outside of New York. I can be reached at dgsweet@aol.com.
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