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Easing My Grief by Eating Like Anthony Bourdain

Maybe it’s because I’m paranoid by nature; maybe it’s because, now, the news cycle is never not stomach-churning. But when I see a celebrity’s name unexpectedly trending on social media, my first reaction is often to worry that something terrible has happened to them. (My second, lately, is to wonder if they’ve been outed as a monstrous sexual predator.) But early last Friday, when I woke up and first spotted Anthony Bourdain’s name on Twitter, the possibility — either possibility — didn’t remotely occur to me. The celebrity chef, writer, and Parts Unknown host always seemed more full of life than anyone I could imagine. Bourdain died by suicide in France, where he was shooting an episode of Parts Unknown. Even now, a week later, it’s difficult to believe. And it fucking sucks.

I lost most of that morning. In a haze of grief, I read his 1999 essay in the New Yorker (a hilarious, blistering piece that, among other things, warned of the dangers of ordering restaurant fish on Mondays), then the profile of the late chef published last year in the same magazine, then thumbed through my paperback copy of Kitchen Confidential, and then scrolled numbly through the remembrances that comprised most of my Twitter feed. It was comforting to see that I wasn’t the only one feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me, and doubly shocked that I was taking the loss of someone I’d never met as hard as I was. Bourdain’s bawdy wit, curiosity, and equal capacity for profound empathy and scathing cynicism made him a hero of mine — an all-time New Jersey great, a true pork roll, egg, and cheese of a man — as he was to so many others. He was, in my estimation, about the best possible representation of America abroad, especially in the Trump era; he was an outspoken advocate for the #MeToo movement. He was hungry in every sense of the word.

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I thought throwing myself into work would make me feel better, but work didn’t want to cooperate: I had a meeting and an interview scheduled that day, but both, for unrelated reasons, needed to be moved. So I decided to eat my feelings instead. Before I left my apartment, on an impulse, I sent off the kind of tweet that I usually delete a few endless unfaved minutes after posting, which is to say that it expressed a genuine, difficult emotion and not just a joke about a squirrel I saw eating garbage: “I am sad, so I have decided not to do my work and instead to go outside and eat something I’ve never eaten before.”

I took the 7 train from Long Island City, where I live, to Jackson Heights. Actually, I accidentally took it one stop too far, to 82nd Street, and walked west down Roosevelt Avenue back to 74th Street. Almost in spite of myself, I felt my mood lightened by the sunshine, fresh air, and being surrounded by other human beings. I started to receive responses to my tweet, from fans of Bourdain’s pledging to do the same, to leave their culinary comfort zones and try something new. That helped, too.

Lhasa Fast Food is hidden in the back of a cellphone store, past a jeweler and above a luggage shop. I felt hungry — suddenly, extremely hungry — for the first time that day when I wandered inside. Despite its unusual location, the tiny Tibetan restaurant is an increasingly less-hidden gem, having been warmly reviewed by the New York Times, Eater, and Bourdain himself. He dined there in the Queens episode of Parts Unknown. I’d come for the momos, Himalayan steamed dumplings, a dish I’ve wanted to try for years. I’d forgottten about Bourdain’s visit to Lhasa until my momo-related Googling led me directly to it — once I remembered, my lunch plans made themselves obvious.

Two oversize thermoses, one full of sweet tea and the other of salty butter tea, invite diners to pour their own cups for $1 each. A large portrait of the Dalai Lama, set before a snowy mountaintop, gazes down from above the register. From where I sat, I made direct eye contact with a photo of Bourdain with owner Sanggien Ben mounted on the wall. The pleasingly pleated beef momos (eight for $6) were delicious, and even more so when dipped in the black vinegar and fluorescent orange sepen, a truly spicy Tibetan hot sauce, available on every table.

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I replied to my original tweet with a photo of the momos, and was pleasantly surprised to discover my mentions were full of reports of first-time eats from around the country and beyond, many with images. There was mofongo and pineapple cornbread, pork and preserved egg congee, tater tots with kalua pork, and a late-night expedition to Waffle House. There was spinach gözleme from a Turkish food stall in Germany, Yukgaejang in Massachusetts, grilled venison in Spain, and (apparently lackluster, but still) takoyaki in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. The rapper Heems, who dined with Bourdain on Parts Unknown, sent me a photo of a custom-ordered Swedish biryani. Sometimes, I learned, the results of this experiment were incredible. Sometimes, not so much (sorry, again, about the takoyaki). But there was a universal sense of pleasure in the exploration: The world felt smaller, and much larger, all at once.

https://twitter.com/HIMANSHU/status/1005196478585950210

I’m still sad. Maybe you are, too. But expanding your horizons and seeking out experiences different than those you’re accustomed to — and maybe patronizing a small, family-owned business while you’re at it, or having a conversation with someone you might otherwise never have encountered — is a fitting tribute to a man who encouraged us to do exactly that. So go get some momos.

 

If you or someone you love is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It is free, operates 24-7, and provides confidential support for people in crisis.

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Four Reasons You Should Care About Tuesday’s Elections

After two and a half million New Yorkers marched to the polls last November, only for four-fifths of them to watch with horror as results trickled in from the rest of the country, city voters could be forgiven for never wanting to be inside a polling station again. And this year voters are likely approaching Election Day with the excitement of a trip to the drugstore, especially with the highest-profile race, for mayor, looking like a shoo-in for Bill de Blasio.

But there are still reasons to vote and watch the final tallies tomorrow, with seats up for grabs in certain key districts and in the surrounding region, as well as a ballot measure that could change the definition of New Yorkers’ basic rights:

The Suburbs

The most important race in the region is happening across the Hudson River, where Democrats have an excellent chance of nabbing a high-profile governorship when voters in New Jersey will choose a successor to term-limited Republican and former Trump bestie Chris Christie. One-time Goldman Sachs exec and diplomat Phil Murphy has led Republican lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno wire-to-wire since the primary and is ahead by 16 percentage points according to polling averages. Whoever wins will have to face a $687 million state budget shortfall over the next two years, and $49 billion in rising pension liabilities making up much of the state’s $153.5 billion debt, not to mention skyrocketing property taxes and more summers of hell on the rails.

Meanwhile, two contests in the city’s suburbs could be bellwethers for how the state will vote in future elections. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino wants a second crack at the governor’s mansion in 2018, but first must get past Yonkers state senator George Latimer. Nassau GOP senator Jack Martins is neck and neck with Democrat Laura Curran for the open Long Island county executive seat. How the county manipulates property taxes should be a key issue in that race, but the two have mostly squabbled over gangs.

The Council

New Yorkers aren’t just picking the next mayor on Tuesday. Dozens of municipal leaders are on the ballot, and some contests could be decided by only a handful of votes. The most competitive race in the city is in Bay Ridge, where two rising politicos, Democrat Justin Brannan and Republican John Quaglione, have fiercely debated immigration policy, broken windows policing, and discrimination in their debates. Republicans hope for a rare pickup in the borough — there are only three GOP members currently on the entire city council, none from Brooklyn — while Democrats are monitoring turnout to determine whether they would have a shot at reclaiming the neighborhood’s GOP-controlled congressional seat in 2018.

Elsewhere there are several rematches from the September primaries in which second-place Democratic finishers found another party to hitch a ride on. In the northeast Bronx, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj spent $716,000, or a little more than $200 per vote, to get past community board members Marjorie Velazquez and John Doyle in the primary. Velazquez took the Working Families Party line and Doyle snagged the Liberal Party ballot line, but Gjonaj is emptying out his campaign coffers — his spending is up to $1.2 million, according to the latest city campaign filings.

There’s a rematch in Maspeth between Democratic Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and civic leader Bob Holden, who is running on multiple party lines after he lost the Democratic primary. A race for an open seat in Borough Park between Kalman Yeger and Yoni Hikind has divided the area’s close-knit Orthodox Jewish community. And in Lower Manhattan, Democratic councilmember Margaret Chin is facing a rematch from Christopher Marte, now on the Independence Party line, after edging him by only 222 votes in September. Chin’s support for a senior housing development at the site of a garden on Elizabeth Street could cost her her seat this time around.

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The Convention

Read your ballot closely for a question concerning a constitutional convention. State law allows voters to decide whether the state’s constitution needs a little freshening up every 20 years, which New Yorkers last approved in 1967. A vote in favor of a convention starts the process enabling candidates to run next year as convention delegates — there would be 204 total, three for each state senate district and 15 at-large — and the convention itself would be held in April 2019 in Albany at a mostly clean hotel with a bar that stays open past midnight. By November of that year, voters would ratify or reject any of their proposed edits.

The referendum has divided like-minded advocacy groups on the left and the right, some of which have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the cause. Labor leaders are opposed to a Con Con because they’re worried delegates would do away with their pensions. Good government groups see a convention as their best chance to pass stronger ethics laws, civil rights protections, and election reform. The Voice’s Ross Barkan laid out the pros and cons of a Con Con, which you should read before voting; statewide support for the referendum appears to be faltering, according to a November Siena poll.

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The Right to Vote

You’re a New Yorker, damn it, and you already spend half your day giving your opinion to everyone around you, even if they never asked for it. Think of voting in an off-year election as giving the mayor and your local council member a piece of your mind. That way, when you see them in public you can tell them you voted for them, so they should put a bike rack on your corner and plant two more trees on your block already. (And if you throw in a couple hundred thousand dollars to the mayor’s campaign you can even ask for your water bill overcharges to be taken care of, or for building inspectors to back off your property.) And while you’re at it, you can also make sure you can actually still vote at your polling place — don’t forget how the city Board of Elections admitted to illegally removing 117,000 voters from the rolls in Brooklyn last year. The board has apparently corrected the error, although it wouldn’t surprise anyone if there is another glitch. If they don’t let you vote? You can always order those stickers in bulk.

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Fab 5 Freddy Remembers Glenn O’Brien, Downtown Icon

I cannot stress enough how influential Glenn O’Brien was on my life. I went to Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn for about two semesters in the Seventies, and around that time I started reading Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. I became a huge fan of this column in the back: “Glenn O’Brien’s Beat.” Glenn would write about all kinds of music, from punk to disco to funk to reggae to dancehall reggae, and I would read his column and then I would go and get those records. And I would hear exactly what Glenn was writing about. At the time, I had a weekly college radio show focused on Caribbean music. We called it The People’s Beat, and had an idea to reach out to Glenn O’Brien: Maybe he would come and do an interview. And Glenn O’Brien responded yes.

We set up a date, and Glenn came to Brooklyn. We interviewed him at the station, and when I was walking him back to the train, I told him some of my ideas about how I was envisioning myself being an artist, how I saw these connections between graffiti and pop art. Glenn was totally encouraging. He told me that in a couple of months he was going to do a public access TV show on cable called Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party, and he wanted to interview me on it. Now, at the time in New York, cable was a luxury. For the outer boroughs — Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx — cable was something that other people had.

Two months later, I get a call from Glenn to come on his show. It was going to happen. So I show up at this funky little bar on 23rd Street in Manhattan called the Blarney Stone. There were all these cool new-wave, punk-rock folks, and we walked across the street to the studio, which was no bigger than your average living room. And it was very low-tech, very lo-fi; the video cameras we used were actually black-and-white. Glenn had explained he wanted his show to be like Hugh Hefner’s Playboy After Dark, which was like a very sexy cocktail hour on TV. At the beginning of each show, he would say, “TV Party is the television show that’s a cocktail party but which could be a political party.” You can see tons of it on YouTube. At the taping of the first show, which I also appeared on, the guy who was supposed to work the camera didn’t show, and Glenn was like, “Fred, man that camera!” And that began a change in my life.

Glenn O'Brien and Fab 5 Freddy

This is where I met Debbie Harry and Chris Stein from Blondie. David Byrne. The B-52’s. Filmmakers, writers, poets, other painters, photographers. It was amazing. It led me to meet Charlie Ahearn and pitch an idea to him for a movie that connected all this rap and graffiti stuff: Wild Style. And the downtown scene connected to the new culture of graffiti/street art, rapping, breakdancing, and DJ’ing now known as hip-hop.

At almost the same time, Glenn was working on another movie, New York Beat (a/k/a Downtown 81). Glenn wanted it to center on a cool downtown guy, and in the end he chose Jean-Michel Basquiat, who I was very close with. Everyone in that film was friends, and a lot of the movie mirrors actual things that were happening around us. That’s why that film feels so much like a documentary at times. It felt so real. We walked those streets every day. All of that really started the wheels turning on a journey for me. The key players on our scene definitely wanted to make a big impact on culture. Cool is subjective, but confidence — the courage to be different and go against the grain — was a trait among leaders of the scene like Glenn. That’s what was going on with those in our creative circle. Glenn totally understood what our mission was and what we were trying to do. He had such an impact on me, on New York, and on culture at large.

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After Spending Millions, the Port Authority Rethinks Plan on Curbing Ship Emissions

“If the city had announced to the community they were going to build a parking lot where 35,000 trucks would be idling for days at a time, people would be pretty pissed off,” Adam Armstrong tells me in his backyard in Red Hook, Brooklyn, as he points out where, during vacation season, he can see the smokestacks of the massive ocean liners just two blocks away. “Instead they told us they were building a wonderful new cruise terminal.”

When Armstrong moved to Red Hook in 2002, he was well aware of its history as a port community. Though the neighborhood was undergoing residential development, Armstrong hoped its industrial character would remain. So when, in 2004, the city announced that a cruise terminal would come to Red Hook in 2006, he didn’t necessarily think it was a bad thing.

“I thought it might make the waterfront more accessible,” Armstrong tells the Voice in the Pioneer Street home he shares with his wife and two children. As details about the terminal began to emerge, Armstrong, a musician, became curious about the environmental impact on his neighborhood. (He was right to be concerned: A 2012 study would reveal that oceangoing vessels were responsible for 64 percent of emissions at Red Hook terminals — and that the cruise ships docked there spew as much diesel exhaust in ten hours as those 35,000 idling trucks.) But the Economic Development Corporation, the quasi-public agency at the project’s helm, informed him that no emissions plan was in place. “They were bringing in a whole new source of pollution,” Armstrong explains, “and they weren’t admitting it or doing anything to address it.”

Armstrong’s research into possible solutions yielded one already in use in many places across the country: shore power, a technology that refits docked cruise ships to draw power from the local electrical grid, eliminating the need to run their exhaust-producing engines. It took years for Armstrong to persuade the Port Authority (which owns the port — the EDC just manages it) that shore power was the way forward; first came much cajoling of politicians and coalition-building within the community. In 2011, the agency coughed up almost $12 million for shore upgrades in Red Hook. The first power installation came online last fall. After the completion of that project however, the Port Authority is not planning on expanding the technology to any of the other terminals it administers.

“Shore power is a perfect way to keep jobs and industry in port communities while also helping to save the planet,” Armstrong says today. “We can all live together here, but only if we actually use it.” Indeed, the technology offers potentially enormous environmental and fiscal benefits. A 2015 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Delaware found that if just two-thirds of U.S. vessels shifted to the technology, which would involve uniformly retrofitting the vessels and making sure they plug in while in port, shore power could yield “an air quality benefit of $70–$150 million per year.” In other words, health and environmental benefits would then equal and eventually outweigh the costs of retrofitting the ships and creating the necessary infrastructure, estimated at $150 million for the first few years, with at least $30 million saved each year in fuel costs.

“It’s not like we’re in a vacuum where shore power hasn’t happened anywhere else in the world,” argues John Kaltenstein, a senior policy analyst at Friends of the Earth who has been studying the use of shore power globally. California’s ports were its earliest adopters, first offering shore power back in 2004; in 2006, a state air quality agency implemented a plan to move 50 percent of ships calling at Long Beach, the state’s biggest port, to shore power by 2014, and 80 percent of ships by 2020. At least five other major ports, including those in Juneau and Seattle, have similar initiatives in place. “We have real developed ports with strong economies that have the responsibility of protecting their communities,” Kaltenstein told the Voice.

In a statement regarding the decision to walk shore power back, Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman explained that the agency “is greatly concerned about the health and well-being of the communities that surround its port facilities, which is why we are seriously considering new technology that would provide even greater environmental benefits than shore power. What is commonly referred to as stack technology or ‘sock on a stack’ is a pollution control device that is installed on a vessel that converts air pollutants into harmless materials like the catalytic converter in a car.”

The “sock on a stack” technology, a pilot for which will start at the Port Authority as soon as this year, is one that environmental advocates in New Jersey are likewise getting behind quickly. But while far cheaper than shore power, at just $1 million for each unit, the technology keeps large ships burning fossil fuels while in port, and carbon dioxide is still eventually released into the atmosphere.

Even so, given how long it could take the Port Authority to put together shore power infrastructure, holding out for it may not be feasible for a community already choking on smog. “We are always an advocate of pollution prevention, [and] capturing after the fact is not our ideal,” says Amy Goldsmith, the state director at Clean Water Action, an organization that pushes for healthier ports and port communities nationwide. “Would we rather have nothing or get some relief for downwind communities?”

Meanwhile, Armstrong hopes that the Port Authority will rethink its stance on the use of the technology he fought so hard for. Looking across New York Harbor from outside the cruise terminal, from which the cranes of Port Newark can be seen clearly, he recounted the argument that persuaded the agency in the first place — one he feels bears repeating. “I asked our politicians a really simple question: Aren’t children in Red Hook worthy of something that can help them live healthier lives?”

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Governor Christie’s Aides Found Guilty in Bridgegate Trial, But No Consequences for Christie (Yet)

Two former aides to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were convicted on nine counts of conspiracy and fraud this morning for their participation in a scheme to close lanes at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 — snarling traffic for days in order to punish a mayor who refused to endorse the governor’s bid for reelection.

Bridget Kelly, a former top aid to Christie, and Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority, were charged with seven counts of conspiracy and wire fraud as well as violating the civil rights of Fort Lee residents. Their six-week trial concluded, the two face maximum sentences of 86 years in prison, though federal prosecutors have said they’ll ask for considerably less. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for February 21.

Kelly and Baroni bring to four the tally of top Christie aides found guilty in recent months. David Wildstein, another Christie Port Authority appointee, pleaded guilty a year ago to orchestrating the scheme that has come to be known as Bridgegate, and was a cooperating witness in the case against Baroni and Kelly. David Samson, former chairman of the Port Authority, pleaded guilty in January to using his position to coerce United Airlines to reinstate a flight from Newark airport to Columbus South Carolina, where Samson has a home.

Not on trial, of course, was Kelly’s and Baroni’s boss, Governor Christie himself. Multiple witnesses, including Kelly and Wildstein, testified that Christie knew about the closures. The Governor has repeatedly denied those accusations, and indeed has spent upwards of $11 million of taxpayer money in legal fees to date to bolster that denial.

Christie, who ran for president even as the Bridgegate scandal was unfolding, and is now in charge of appointments in the still-terrifyingly-possible administration of his one-time rival, Donald Trump, today once again denied any knowledge of what his staff was up to. The governor promised that in coming days he will “set the record straight in the coming days regarding the lies that were told by the media and in the courtroom.”

Christie isn’t the only governor decrying lies in the media and the Bridgegate courtroom. Multiple witnesses have testified that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also knew about the Bridgegate scandal, prompting heated, if ever more narrowly phrased, denials from Cuomo’s team.

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After a Voice Investigation, Newark Is Looking to Make the Port Authority Pay

On a mid-June morning on the steps of Newark’s City Hall, community activists, labor organizers, and politicians gathered to demand that the Port Authority finally do right by the people of Newark. “Employ Us, Don’t Poison Us,” read the handmade signs, as Ras Baraka, midway through his second year as mayor of one of the poorest cities in New Jersey, took the lectern.

“We have been fighting the Port Authority around several things, like employment and jobs, and getting our financial due from the land that we own,” Baraka told the crowd, as a truck honked its horn loudly nearby. “But we’re here today to talk about the environmental injustice that goes on in our city as well.”

In May, the Village Voice reported on the Port Authority’s failed truck replacement program, aimed at reducing toxic emissions and clearing the chronic smog pollution plaguing communities in Newark and Elizabeth that surround the Port Newark shipping lanes. The exhaust levels are so high here that Newark children suffer breathing problems at rates higher than nearly anywhere else in the nation. The program had promised to replace more than 6,000 older, high-emissions trucks over seven years, but six years in, only 429 had been replaced, despite the bi-state agency spending millions of its own monies and federal funds. In January, the Port Authority, pleading poverty, canceled its ban on older polluting truck models — and put a bullet in the replacement program.

After the Voice‘s investigation, U.S. senators, including former Newark mayor Cory Booker, called on the EPA to step up its efforts to reduce pollution at the port. New Jersey state senator Raymond Lesniak, the representative for Elizabeth and the legislature’s in-house port watchdog, re-introduced a bill to impose fees on shipping companies and trucking carriers to help pay for the replacement of the polluting rigs, which would fix one of the fatal flaws of the earlier program: It dumped much of the cost on drivers, who make an average of $28,000 a year.

The EPA, which helped fund the replacement program, has yet to take any action. Lesniak’s bill has stalled in committee (for the second time in two sessions). Baraka is not surprised. “Historically, the Port Authority is like a whole other state. Fundamentally, it’s flawed. The whole board is made up of white men, a throwback to something from before the Civil Rights Act,” he tells the Voice. “We have no voice in what is happening there at all.”

Now local organizers and pols are expanding the theater of battle: They are coming after the agency’s money.

Since taking office in 2014, Baraka has relentlessly pushed for the Port Authority to pay its fair share in rent to the city, which, together with neighboring Elizabeth, owns the land the port sits on. He has also led marches and rallies demanding more jobs for Newark residents. But now Baraka is drawing a straight line from the Port Authority’s decades-long neglect of its financial obligations to Newark to the emissions problem itself.

Other port cities, like Los Angeles and Long Beach in California, have successfully reduced emissions by imposing serious fees on the shipping operators and tenants at their ports, which are then used to finance truck replacement. On top of that, they’ve launched new, low-emission trucking companies that employ local workers and force the older companies to compete on a new, greener playing field. It’s worth pointing out that both ports are just as large as the Port of Newark and have not seen any falloff in business since they began pushing toward zero emissions almost a decade ago.

“There’s a lie that if we make them spend money to clean up our ports, the ships won’t come any more, that they’ll go elsewhere. But most of the goods that go through the port are for our immediate metropolitan area. Things go on trucks, and they stay close by,” says Amy Goldsmith, state director at Clean Water Action, an organization that has assumed a leadership role in the movement for healthier ports in New Jersey. “There’s a way to clean up the port and create family-sustaining jobs that don’t continue to add more trucks to the streets, and we’re excited to see the city looking at those solutions.”

Baraka — who earlier in his administration was quieter on emissions issues — wants the Port Authority to follow that West Coast model. He believes the Port Authority not only has the money to pay for more robust emission-reduction efforts, but it can also afford to employ more Newark residents. Compared with other port cities in the United States, Newark has only half the per-capita representation of local residents working at the port, according to a 2013 study. Baraka has pressed the Port Authority and its tenants to set aside jobs for residents, as well as step up their outreach to local workers. This spring, he led a protest against the hiring practices of the International Longshoremen’s Union, which he believes discriminates against minority Newarkers. (The ILU declined to comment for the article.)

He’s also demanding that the Port Authority makes good on its rent. In the agency’s lease with Newark, there’s a “true-up” provision, which allows the city to increase the authority’s rent if revenues from the port increase. The city recently determined that it’s owed at least $12 million more annually, and is currently negotiating for that money. Without the $12 million, Newarkers face a 3 percent tax hike to keep their cash-strapped city running.

And in fact, the Port Newark–Elizabeth Marine Terminal, the largest port on the Eastern Seaboard, had a record 2015. It moved over $100 billion in goods — a 10 percent increase over the previous year — to keep stores stocked with products from all over the world. More than 75 percent of those goods are consumed in the region, one of the wealthiest consumer markets in the world. It seems only right that Newark and Elizabeth, the port’s landlords, would see at least some of the spillover of this recent surge in global shipping.

The cover of the May 4, 2016, <i>Village Voice</i>

Instead, Newark and Elizabeth have suffered all the negative effects of the industry — pollution, congestion, and crumbling infrastructure — while receiving almost nothing in return. As the Voice reported in May, one in four Newark children has asthma, while diesel particulate levels surrounding the port are up to 1,000 times greater than levels considered safe to breathe. Meanwhile, the unemployment rates in Newark and Elizabeth are 9.6 percent and 8 percent, respectively; the median household incomes, $34,387 and $43,590. The port is surrounded by working-class neighborhoods with some of the highest poverty rates in the state: Newark’s poorest census tract directly borders the terminal.

“Here is one of the poorest cities in the nation by per capita income, there’s pockets of chronic poverty, and it sits in the middle of one of the wealthiest consumer markets in the world,” says Ana Baptista, a professor at the New School, who has studied the economics of the Port Authority for the past several years. “These people have no access to the wealth that’s right in their backyard, and are being poisoned and sickened by this port. The idea that the benefits of the port will eventually trickle down to these communities is a great symbol of how global wealth has been distributed. The wealthy are getting the profits, while the poor are paying the costs.”

In a statement to the Voice, the Port Authority wrote that it is now focusing on rail projects to help alleviate emissions (though 85 percent of inbound shipments leave the port in trucks). While avoiding the topic of the rent increase, spokesman Steve Coleman did state that the Port Authority “would like to further our partnership with the local cities in and around the port and all stakeholders. For example, working with the city of Newark to enforce its existing ordinances that regulate truck traffic and truck idling on local streets.”

In other words, the city, not the Port Authority, should enforce pollution laws already on the books.

“To put the onus back on Newark to do more is ridiculous. It wouldn’t be an issue if the trucks were being modernized to begin with,” Mayor Baraka tells the Voice. “We obviously need more police officers to enforce these ordinances, which would be easier if we had the dollars that were being generated by the port. It’s not about us ignoring idling trucks, it’s about us having the amount of personnel to enforce the traffic issues that exist.”

There are early signs, however, that the city’s yanking on the Port’s purse strings may be working. In what could be a first for a high-ranking Port Authority official, Molly Campbell, the director of the agency’s ports division, recently toured the neighborhoods surrounding the port. Environmental activists and community members hope that by meeting the people who have to live with the Port Authority’s decisions, who breathe the fumes from one of the greatest economic engines in the world but reap none of the benefits, Campbell will understand the urgency of the situation. (The event was closed to reporters.)

Baraka believes that until the leadership of the Port Authority more closely resembles the people the port serves, it will remain a battle for Newark to get even the slightest concessions.

“The Port Authority sits in a community that is predominantly of color and lower middle-class — and we have no representation on the board whatsoever and no voice in what policies are being made,” he explains. “Everything that happens is based on a struggle between them and us, and not based on the interests of the communities they make money in.”

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New Jersey Leads New York in the ‘Race’ to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

If you’re not interested in legalizing recreational marijuana, New Jersey state senator Nicholas Scutari is not interested in hearing from you. Earlier this month, Scutari held a hearing that allowed only supporters of legalizing recreational weed to testify. Opponents of Scutari’s bill to end the state’s cannabis prohibition, which he introduced eighteen months ago, will have their turn to testify at a future hearing.

Among those who testified at the hearing were speakers from the New Jersey chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as Lieutenant Nick Bucci, a retired state policeman, and J.H. Barr, a prosecutor and the president of the New Jersey Municipal Prosecutors Association.

The hearing on legalizing marijuana sent a strong message to the movement, says Evan Nison, executive director of NORML New Jersey and co-founder of the New York Cannabis Alliance. “It’s a race — whoever legalizes first is going to get a lot more customers,” Nison tells the Voice. “If all of Manhattan has to go to Bergen County to buy cannabis legally, that’s awesome. It’s a race for revenue. I think that will definitely motivate other states to legalize.”

Nonetheless, Nison says that current New Jersey law clings to antiquated ideas about weed: that marijuana is a gateway drug, that it’s more dangerous than alcohol, that it leads to the commission of other crime. “New Jersey erodes its residents’ respect for the law and criminalizes over 24,000 otherwise law-abiding citizens a year,” he says. He adds that these arrests disproportionately target black and Latino residents. In 2010 alone, enforcing marijuana laws cost the state almost $130 million, according to NORML New Jersey. By comparison, New York City alone spends $75 million a year on marijuana possession arrests.

States that continue to criminalize marijuana are also missing out on a windfall of tax dollars, Nison says, using Colorado as an example: During the first year of its recreational marijuana program, which went into effect in 2014, the state government generated $82 million in taxes from marijuana; it is expected to generate $125 million in 2015. “Moving the sale of marijuana into a regulated system also both created legitimate jobs and appears to have either reduced or maintained the status quo of teen use in both Colorado and Washington [State],” Nison says.

Politicians still have yet to come around to the notion that marijuana prohibition has had a negative impact on law enforcement and society in general, says Jeff Kaufman, a former NYPD officer who now teaches high school in Far Rockaway. “There’s still a large amount of police resources devoted to this purported drug war that we have no chance of winning or making any dent in,” says Kaufman, who is a frequent speaker for LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). “It totally alienates police officers from their communities.” He suspects that if polled, large numbers of NYPD officers would make clear their recognition that the current drug laws are diverting them from the real purpose of their job. “[Prohibition is] not only inappropriate but also destructive,” Kaufman says. “It reinforces racial stereotypes.”

While no action has been taken on Scutari’s bill thus far, Nison says that New Jersey still may be ahead of New York in the race to legalize. “Both houses [in New Jersey] are Democratic and the leadership is supportive here,” he says. Unlike New York, which has a fairly conservative Senate, in Jersey, the only impediment right now is Governor Chris Christie, a former prosecutor and attorney general who is vehemently against legalizing cannabis. But even with that opposition, legalizing adult-use cannabis is a bigger, more immediate conversation in Jersey than it currently is in New York.

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Roadside-Style Burger Joint Burg Opens in Newark’s Military Park

Manhattan’s Bryant Park, strewn with those simple forest-green café chairs, has served as the backdrop for early Law & Order episodes, a venue for sunset dancing, and a charming place to ice-skate in the winter, but it didn’t flourish overnight.

In similar fashion, after its second year of rehabilitation, Newark’s Military Park, run by the Military Park Partnership and Dan Biederman (of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, also the developer behind Bryant Park), is set to become more of a destination for the wide range of people who pass through it daily — a mix of local residents, college students, and the workers populating the office buildings proliferating a few blocks away from Newark Penn Station.

Burg (55 Park Plaza, Newark), is a new all-day burger joint, an indoor-outdoor stand in the middle of the park serving fried pickles, rye slushies, and maple-vanilla soft-serve.

Owner Chris Siversen is also the chef and proprietor of the Jersey City waterfront restaurant Maritime Parc, popular for its Thursday-night burger bargains. “I love hamburgers, and [Burg] is the kind of place I want to come hang out,” Siversen tells the Voice. He says that he’s waited two years for his passion project to come to fruition, and will now oversee the kitchen weekday afternoons before returning to Jersey City for dinner service. “If Maritime Parc is my baby, then Burg is my pet,” Siversen says.

Burg will stay open late to serve crowds leaving NJPAC for the PATH train home.
Burg will stay open late to serve crowds leaving NJPAC for the PATH train home.

Burg’s second day in operation this week had plenty of bite. Three hundred burgers were sold at lunch alone, a feat that eases Siversen’s biggest expenditure — a double-faced griddle, the same one used by Bill’s Bar & Burger, capable of banging out twenty pink-centered DeBragga beef patties in just three minutes. However, the rush completely depleted the evening supply of veggie burgers, a blend of mushrooms and cashews, tempeh, tofu, rice, and spices, slathered with curry mayo and piled with fried onions.

“When we did the kitchen layout I thought I’d prep a lot at Maritime and send it off, but then I said if I want to open a lot of these they need to be self-contained.” While he was approached by downtown Jersey City developers before a customer ever stepped inside, he’s more eager to expand elsewhere in-state, listing Montclair, North Bergen, and Princeton as possible future locations. “I’m not greedy — if I had four or five of these, I’d be thrilled,” he says.

Of course, in New Jersey liquor licenses are always a factor. Because Siversen is operating inside a park, he’s able to operate on a more affordable concessionaire’s permit, which is about 2 percent of the cost of a Newark liquor license. It’s what affords Burg a taps-lined bar fronting the open kitchen, and a singular cocktail, the “Iceburg” old-fashioned, made in collaboration with Brooklyn’s Kelvin Slush Co.

“I came up with the idea before I knew how to do it,” he admits, and at first the Kelvin crew said it couldn’t be done. But after several attempts at balancing the sugar-to-alcohol ratio, they came up with a spirituous ginger-citrus icee infused with orange juice, Old Overholt, and bitters, topped off with an additional ounce of rye.

There’s also an all-ages frozen dessert on the menu, bourbon maple and vanilla soft-serve, topped with a color-swirled birthday cake crunch akin to Fruity Pebbles. Siversen only allows his children a taste if they finish their broccoli, one of Burg’s more unconventional sides. Alongside thrice-cooked fries, broccoli is one of two crisp and crunchy greens poking through a light, salty tempura batter.

The other is pickle chips, which sport a clean vinegar taste, as Siversen was eager to avoid what he calls “that fussy Brooklyn thing.” Pickle chips will never be on the menu at Maritime Parc, but the new burgers will.

Two burger variations — a Greek lamb burger that comes smeared with black-olive hummus, and the chicken burger, garnished with kale pesto — will appear as part of Maritime Parc’s Thursday special going forward.

If you can’t wait for Thursdays and need two burgers to go, Burg’s daily bargain is the Deux-Luxe, two stacked five-ounce cheeseburgers for $15 — the PATH back to Jersey City is just a few blocks away.

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Citi Bike to Meet With Bronx Borough President After Critical Comments

The first 500 people to register for Citi Bike in Jersey City get a free tote bag. They should be so lucky in the Bronx, the borough of 1.4 million that for now can only dream of a fully stocked bay of the shiny, royal-blue bicycles.

Tuesday’s announcement that the bike-sharing program would open in Jersey City came a day before the first Citi Bike “expansion station” opened in Long Island City.

“It is deplorable that Citi Bike is expanding to New Jersey before the rest of the city,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “My borough deserves better, as do the parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island that are not currently served by our city’s official bike share program.”

We asked Citi Bike rep Dani Simons when the program would come to the Bronx:

“Once we are confident that our expansion is off to a good start, we welcome conversations with city officials on how we can meet the mayor’s goal of bringing Citi Bike to all five boroughs,” Simons said.

The farthest uptown one can check out a Citi Bike is at Broadway and 60th Street, though new stations are planned for as far uptown as 85th Street.

John DeSio, communications director for Diaz, tells the Voice that the Citi Bike team contacted Diaz’s office after the latter sent out an email with those harsh remarks to the media. DeSio says the office expects to set up a meeting in the near future to explore next steps. Simons writes that the meeting will happen in the next few weeks.

“Citi Bike is operated by NYC Bike Share. That ‘NYC’ should mean something,” ends Diaz’s terse press release.

The other borough that remains without the bike-sharing program is Staten Island. Its borough president says his office has asked that the program be expanded there, but — and we’ll take a stab at finishing James S. Oddo’s sentence, here — don’t hold your breath.

The Citi Bike expansion in New York results from a bulked-up donation from Citibank of $70.5 million through 2024, a $21 million increase in credit from the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, and more money from the investors of Motivate, the firm that runs bike-sharing programs in eleven cities across the globe.

Citi Bike’s website advertises that it will soon expand in New York City to Astoria, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Crown Heights, Gowanus, Harlem, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, and Red Hook.

Across the Hudson, the Jersey City program will launch with 350 bikes at 35 stations next month. The city has recently added 22 miles of bike lanes.

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Jersey City’s Battello Proves It’s More Than a Happy-Hour Destination

For anchor restaurants serving the waterfront office towers occupying Jersey City’s Newport neighborhood, business centers around the bar. At VB3, chef Mike Colletti found his niche with iced vodka taps and ladies’-night EDM Thursdays. Taphaus’s Chris Nirschel placates with maple-bacon bourbon and homemade pretzels under a wall of televisions. But unbeknownst to the nightly tide of happy-hour drinkers sipping High West Bourye sweetened with Caribbean falernum and aromatic Tiki bitters at year-old Battello (502 Washington Boulevard, Jersey City; 201-798-1798), it’s the pedigree of affable, analytic barman Ray Keane that keeps the sunset scene abuzz.

A veteran pastry chef turned mixologist, Keane’s experience includes the country’s most modernist kitchens and cocktail programs including wd~50, Princeton’s Elements, and Chicago’s Alinea and the Aviary.

“I don’t miss the kitchen. People ask me all the time,” Keane told us. “Even if I worked the same hours, it doesn’t feel the same. In a kitchen you don’t see how customers react. Now when they take the drink and I see a smile, I get that reward.”

And on weekends, he even does weddings.

It was the desire for a wedding venue at Newport Marina, the opposite of the small plates, pizza, and bistros that dominate downtown Jersey City one PATH stop south, that inspired Turtle Club owner Cory Checkett to transform the lagging Michael Anthony’s space into Battello, calling on HGTV star Anthony Carrino to redesign the venue and longtime friend Ryan DePersio to reboot the kitchen. And while the stigma of a wedding venue means Battello doesn’t bask in the same Jersey City hype as Thirty Acres and Talde, DePersio’s cachet as the chef behind Montclair’s Fascino has earned the restaurant statewide destination status, with glowing reviews from the New York Times and NJ Monthly in recent months.

DePersio's seasonal dishes include salt-baked beets with pistachio crumble and orange purée.
DePersio’s seasonal dishes include salt-baked beets with pistachio crumble and orange purée.

Still, the restaurant’s standout dishes either evolve with the seasons or vanish altogether. A late crop of spring produce only just found its way onto the menu, plates of chilled asparagus cozying up alongside coconut soup floated with pickled hearts of palm, and a grilled ribeye sweetened with marinated heirloom cherry tomatoes. Also new is a tuna rollatini that best defines DePersio’s philosophy of “Italian cooking without borders,” developed while cooking for Jean-Georges Vongerichten and David Bouley.

For pastry chef Joseph Gabriel, a veteran of Oceana, rave winter creations like powdered peanut butter over popcorn ice cream have given way to classics.

Classically influenced desserts by pastry chef Joseph Gabriel, an Oceana veteran
Classically influenced desserts by pastry chef Joseph Gabriel, an Oceana veteran

“I have the ability to push boundaries, but at the same token, because I’m getting older, I’m really loving the classics at this point,” Gabriel says. “I think a lot of chefs in general are going so modern they’re forgetting where modernism came from. You have to take a step back and do the classic first, reinvent, then push it forward.”

As for Battello’s status on the fringes of Jersey City’s dining scene, DePersio finds more than enough satisfaction cooking in what he describes as the Brooklyn of New Jersey. “My dream as a kid was to own a restaurant in New York, but then I opened a restaurant with my family, I started having kids, and even though I’m working all the time, being a chef and restaurateur in the state where I live, I can still have time for a life.”

Cooking in the Garden State also gives a second meaning to DePersio’s “Italian without borders” philosophy — he tells us “a lot of successful people move [to New Jersey] from New York to have families, and their friends will visit from the city and always look unhappy to be here. But by the end of their meal, they’re transformed.”