BALCONY - Business and Labor Coalition of New York

March 22nd, 2017


Posted under News from BALCONY

LaGuardia Airport to use foreign steel in $4B renovation angering U.S. industry

March 21st, 2017

By Ginger Adams Otis

Bridge that connects to LaGuardia Airport under construction. Chinese steel will build some of roadway bridges at the airport. (DelMundo, Anthony)

LaGuardia’s $4 billion facelift won’t be an all-American job, the Daily News has learned.

Chinese steel will be used in the high-profile project meant to make the city’s second-best airport great again — infuriating the U.S. steel industry that says it can handle the demand.

A spokesman for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey told The News Monday that Chinese steel will build some of roadway bridges at the airport.

It’s also relying on steel fabricated in Canada for part of the Terminal B building.

The Port Authority said it’s in compliance with the mandates required by its funding.

“The public-private-partnership contract has a requirement that 50% of the steel be domestic and LaGuardia Gateway Partners — our PPP partner — is meeting that goal,” the spokesman said.

LaGuardia Airport is not the only Port Authority project using foreign steel. A contractor hired to overhaul a Holland Tunnel Pier bought steel from several of the U.S.’s most cut-throat competitors — Turkey, Eastern Europe and China, the spokesman said.

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said the Port Authority’s “blatant outsourcing” was at odds with Gov. Cuomo’s insistence on a “Buy American” clause in his latest budget — and even at odds with President Trump’s “Buy America, Hire America” pledge.

“The cost (of this) is more American jobs. It is our hope that the Port Authority reconsiders using Chinese and foreign steel. There are thousands of unemployed factory workers anxious to get back to making steel here in America,” said Paul.

“America’s steel makers are capable and waiting. It is unacceptable that major public infrastructure projects in New York are providing jobs overseas,” he added.

But it’s not just the Port Authority bypassing American steelmakers — the city’s Department of Environmental Protection also brought in Chinese steel for its work rebuilding the Hudson River aqueduct.

And in 2013, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority set off shockwaves by outsourcing $235 million worth of work on its Verrazano bridge upgrade to China.

Even President Trump’s patriotic proclamations may not come true, the U.S. steel industry fears.

At a Tennessee rally last week, he repeated his pledge to buy American materials for pipelines — but only those that are newly-constructed.

“I’ve authorized the construction of the long-stalled and delayed Keystone and Dakota Access pipeline,” Trump said at the gathering.

“I’ve also directed that new pipelines must be constructed with American steel. They want to build them here, they use our steel. We believe in two simple rules: Buy American and hire American,” he added.

Two weeks earlier, on March 3, his administration had admitted it couldn’t make good on his campaign promise to use American material on the Keystone — because foreign purchases had already been made.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it’s because of language in a presidential directive Trump issued in January.

“The way that executive order is written, it’s specific to new pipelines or those that are being repaired,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“And since this one is already currently under construction, the steel is already literally sitting there, it would be hard to go back,” she said.

About half the project’s steel will be from foreign sources, the contractor said.

And even Trump’s written executive order on buying American steel has loopholes large enough for an eyebeam to pass through.

It calls for U.S. steel and pipes to be used “to the maximum extent possible and to the extent permitted by law,” — hardly a guarantee of American content.

The flaws on the federal level make Gov. Cuomo’s efforts to enforce a “Buy American” proviso in New York all the more imperative, said Mario Cilento, head of the state AFL-CIO.

Sixty New York steelmakers will be in Albany on Tuesday to lobby the state Legislature on behalf of Cuomo’s mandate — and for more jobs for domestic steelmakers, who are being undercut by cheaper foreign materials.

“We have the most highly skilled workers in the world as well as the infrastructure to do these types of jobs right here in New York,” said Cilento, who said it was “disappointing” to learn of the Port Authority’s steel choices.

“That’s why I applaud Gov. Cuomo for making Buy American a top priority. We should be maximizing our tax dollars to create good union manufacturing jobs and strengthening local economies,” Cilento said.


Here’s what Jimmy Breslin had to say about Donald Trump decades ago

March 20th, 2017

By Jason Silverstein

Jimmy Breslin took a look at one of New York’s biggest characters, Donald Trump, and saw a chump.

The legendary columnist, who died Sunday, was an original champion of the working class, using his space in the Daily News and other papers to spotlight heroes and villains for ordinary New Yorkers.

And many years before Trump’s unprecedented rise to the presidency, Breslin summed up the fellow Queens boy as an enemy of the people.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Breslin saw through Trump’s worst instincts — his bullying and bragging, his cheapskate scams, his abuses of the press and the public — while most metro media marveled at the real estate mogul as a symbol of success.

One of Breslin’s earliest mentions of Trump avoided even using the name that would soon be screamed from front pages and skyscrapers worldwide.

In a 1982 Daily News column, Breslin brushed past “a young builder named Junior with a Big Ego,” who had recently made a famous but fruitless bid to buy the newspaper.

“His civic responsibility in the past consisted of getting tax abatements,” Breslin mused about the man who would become a daily fixture in the city’s tabloids.

In a series of Newsday columns years later, which the paper republished Sunday, Breslin unleashed harsh truths about Trump that have only gained more currency since the tycoon took the White House.

“Trump, in the crinkling of an eye, senses better than anyone the insecurity of people, that nobody knows whether anything is good or bad until they are told, and he is quite willing to tell them immediately,” Breslin wrote in a 1988 column about Trump’s purchase of an airline, which turned out to be one of his biggest business failures.

Breslin saw Trump as a Queens guy running “crap games” while a hungry public admired him for “the highest buildings, the most fantastic dealings” and even “personal presidential abilities.”

In later columns, Breslin remained outraged by one Trump-ism more than any other: His manipulation of the media.

After Trump took out a full-page newspaper ad in 1989 calling for the executions of the (ultimately innocent) “Central Park Five” suspects, Breslin advised readers, “beware always of the loudmouth taking advantage of the situation and appealing to a crowd’s meanest nature.”

He said Trump touted tough talk that could only come “from someone who walks around with bodyguards.”

Breslin predicted — let’s see if this sounds familiar — that Trump surely sank himself with this latest scandal, “for all demagogues ultimately do that.”

Instead, Trump kept being Trump, and Breslin kept warning his readers year after year.

By 1990, Breslin witnessed how reporters were so taken with Trump that they’d swallow any story he shoved down their throats. It was fake news made to order.

“Donald Trump handles these nitwit reporters with a new and most disgraceful form of bribery,” Breslin seethed in a column.

“He uses the reporters to create a razzle dazzle: there are five stories in the newspapers in the morning papers leading into 11 minutes of television at night. The financial people, who lead such dreary lives, believe what they read and see on television. Trump is larger than life.”

The next year, 1991, Breslin saw Trump hawking $1,000 boxing tickets and free helicopter to New York reporters — who eagerly accepted.

“The guy was buying the whole news industry with a return phone call. The news people provided Trump with the currency of his life, publicity, and he believed it was real and the news people believed him right back,” Breslin wrote.

In the past two years, as Trump rose from improbable candidate to the 45th President, Breslin kept quiet, having stopped publishing his thoughts years ago.

But just about a week ago, Breslin was privately at it again.

Former Daily News editor Pete Hamill recalled that Breslin was “addled” by Trump in a recent phone call.

“He knew Trump’s father, because Trump’s father was a Queens guy and Jimmy was the poet laureate of Queens,” Hamill told The News.

Watching Trump in the White House left Breslin “a bit sour with what’s going on in our country.”

“Mainly because (Trump was) the kind of guy that in my neighborhood in Brooklyn and (Breslin’s) in Queens we despised,” Hamill said.

“The bulls–t tough guy. The guy is all mouth and couldn’t fight his way out of an empty lot.”


Posted under News from BALCONY

David Rockefeller, Banker, Philanthropist, Heir, Dies at 101

March 20th, 2017

by Heather Burke and Mark Schoifet

The philanthropist David Rockefeller in 2005. Credit Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

David Rockefeller, the U.S. banker, philanthropist, presidential adviser and heir to one of history’s most fabled fortunes, has died. At 101, he was the world’s oldest billionaire.

He died Monday at his home in Pocantico Hills, New York, according to an emailed statement from Fraser P. Seitel, a family spokesman. The cause was congestive heart failure.

Rockefeller was the youngest and last-surviving grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, the nation’s first billionaire. He was the only one of John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s five sons who spent his entire professional career in the corporate world, rising to chief executive officer of Chase Manhattan Bank during his 35 years at the company.

He was also a confidant of world leaders, from Deng Xiaoping in China to Nelson Mandela in South Africa, from the shah of Iran to Henry Kissinger. Rockefeller famously asked President Jimmy Carter to let the deposed shah come to the U.S. for medical treatment, leading to the seizure of American hostages in Tehran from 1979 to 1981.

Rockefeller was equally well known for his philanthropy. In 2006, he bequeathed $225 million to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which he and his brothers established in 1940 to promote social change worldwide. The year before, he donated $100 million each to two New York institutions: the Museum of Modern Art, which was co-founded by his mother, and Rockefeller University, a medical-research school started by his grandfather.

“No individual has contributed more to the commercial and civic life of New York City over a longer period of time than David Rockefeller,” former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “During my time in City Hall, he was always there for the city when we called,” said Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

In 2008 Rockefeller gave $100 million to his alma mater, Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“The range of David Rockefeller’s business and philanthropic and political connections is perhaps unequaled,” said Ron Chernow, the author of “Titan,” a 1998 biography of John D. Rockefeller.

David Rockefeller’s death closes a chapter in the family’s storied history. Known simply as “The Brothers,” David, Laurance, John, Nelson and Winthrop traversed the intersecting worlds of business, politics, philanthropy and the arts as no other U.S. family had ever done.

The Brothers

Laurance, who died in 2004, was a venture capitalist, environmentalist and adviser to five U.S. presidents on conservation. Nelson, who died in 1979, was the four-term New York governor and U.S. vice president under President Gerald Ford. John D. Rockefeller III, the oldest brother who was killed in a 1978 automobile accident, led the fundraising effort to develop New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Winthrop, who died in 1973, was the former governor of Arkansas.

Their sister, Abby Rockefeller Mauze, known as “Babs,” died in 1976.

Once the nation’s wealthiest family, the Rockefellers today pale in comparison with 21st century tycoons such as Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates or investor Warren Buffett.

Rockefeller once joked that he was the only Rockefeller of his generation who had to “work for a living.” He was either chairman, president or CEO of Chase from 1957 to 1981, creating a global financial institution, traveling to 103 countries and meeting with dozens of presidents, kings and prime ministers. He accumulated about 150,000 names in an electronic Rolodex.

“Because I started sooner, I think I probably knew more heads of state than anyone else, possibly with the exception of Henry Kissinger, but maybe even including” him, Rockefeller said in a December 2003 interview.

Rockefeller was criticized for meeting with dictators including Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations for more than 60 years and its chairman for 15, Rockefeller was also a frequent target of conspiracy theorists because of his membership in secretive international policy groups such as the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group.

“Maybe in another 20 years I’ll outlive all my bad press,” Rockefeller said in the interview.

At Chase, he outlasted rivals, scandals, operational problems and board pressure to retire on schedule at age 65. Today, Chase is part of JPMorgan Chase & Co., the biggest U.S. bank by assets, after Chemical Banking Corp. acquired Chase in 1995. The combined company added J.P. Morgan & Co. five years later and Bank One Corp. in 2004.

JPMorgan Merger

Rockefeller said he was shocked by the merger with J.P. Morgan, which united the Rockefellers’ bank with the legendary bank of their only true early 20th-century rival for financial power, J. Pierpont Morgan.

Rockefeller, as chairman of the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, and his brother Nelson, as governor, played key roles in developing the World Trade Center and the Wall Street financial district in the 1960s and 1970s.

They sought to boost the lower Manhattan office market as their father had, at their urging, worked to shore up Midtown during the Great Depression by building the Rockefeller Center complex. During their construction, the Twin Towers were often dubbed “David” and “Nelson” by the press.

Rockefeller, who watched the twin towers burn from his 56th-floor Rockefeller Center office on Sept. 11, 2001, was an honorary member of the panel to design a memorial to the victims of the terrorist attacks.

In 2002, David Rockefeller published “Memoirs,” the first autobiography by a member of his family since his grandfather’s “Reminiscences of Men and Events” in 1909. Reviewers described the book as a rare candid view of a private family, with discussions of fraternal schisms and his wife’s depression, though they said it lacked sensationalism and soul-baring.

Defending Grandfather

Rockefeller wrote of his grandfather with reverence, parrying old depictions of John D. Rockefeller Sr. as a greedy, ruthless robber baron. He defended Standard Oil’s industry monopoly.

“That was Grandfather’s greatest achievement: building the petroleum industry and, in the process, creating the modern corporation,” he wrote. “It was an organizational triumph that transformed the business world.”

David was the first Rockefeller to unite the more than 100 descendants of John Sr. He was the organizer of annual family meetings at the Rockefeller estate at Pocantico Hills, which overlooks the Hudson River north of New York City. He encouraged his relatives’ philanthropic and educational efforts, such as his son David’s role as chairman of the National Parks Foundation.

None of the fourth-generation Rockefellers are likely to replace David as the family’s standard-bearer.

“No one can step into his shoes,” said Warren T. “Lindy” Lindquist, Rockefeller’s World War II buddy and business associate, in a 1995 interview with the New York Times. “Not because they aren’t good, smart, talented people but because it’s just a different world, and they have different interests.”

Lindquist died in 2003.

Early Life

David Rockefeller was born on June 12, 1915, in New York, the youngest child of John D. Rockefeller Jr., who spent most of his time preserving John Sr.’s philanthropy, and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.

Rockefeller attended the experimental Lincoln School of Columbia University’s Teachers College in Manhattan and graduated from Harvard College in 1936.

He studied at the London School of Economics and received a Ph.D. in economics in 1940 from the University of Chicago, which his family had founded. His thesis, “Unused Resources and Economic Waste,” argued that capitalists seek not only to make money but also to serve their employees and society.

Also in 1940, he married Margaret “Peggy” McGrath, who died in 1996. They had two sons and four daughters.

In his first job, Rockefeller drafted replies to letters sent to New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia for $1 a year. When World War II broke out, he resisted signing up for service until his mother urged him to do his military duty.

Rockefeller declined to use his father’s influence to secure an officer’s commission, enlisting as an Army private. He served from 1942 until 1945, rising to captain.

He joined Chase National Bank, where his uncle, Winthrop Aldrich, was chairman, in 1946 at the age of 30. Rockefeller’s father — and before that, his grandfather — had long been the bank’s biggest individual shareholders, and the family held two board seats.

Though tagged as a spoiled rich kid by Aldrich’s successor, John J. McCloy, Rockefeller rode the subway to work for a decade and worked his way up through various departments, including a stint overseeing the Latin America business, to become co-CEO after McCloy retired in 1960.

McCloy, Rockefeller wrote, was indecisive about a successor. Rockefeller threatened to quit when board members discussed having George Champion, who was 11 years older and had been with the bank two decades longer, as sole CEO for a time. Instead, Rockefeller shared power for eight years with Champion before he was named the sole CEO in 1969.

At Chase

During the 1960s, Rockefeller used his family name and global contacts to increase foreign branches to 73 from 11. Chase was the first Western bank to open branches in Moscow and Beijing, and it made loans in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Rockefeller also hired management professor Peter Drucker as a consultant and created human resources, marketing and planning departments.

Critics said Rockefeller’s international focus led to the neglect of Chase’s everyday operations. By the early 1970s, the bank had suffered shaky real estate investments, bond losses that forced it to restate earnings, bad loans and technological problems.

Citibank, which would become Citigroup Inc., was closing in on Chase’s market share. Rockefeller was forced to focus simultaneously on the bank’s internal deficiencies and global expansion.

In “Memoirs,” he said he had to fight to keep his job in 1975, with director and family adviser J. Richardson Dilworth telling him during a helicopter flight up the Hudson River that he had limited time to turn the bank around. A week later, the board gave him another year, and after restructuring management and the way the bank made loans, he was able to continue until his retirement in 1981, just before he turned 66.

Foremost a financier, Rockefeller was often a conduit for high-level diplomacy on his Chase trips, flying more than 5 million miles and meeting 200 heads of state in 35 years. He developed a close relationship with then-Secretary of State Kissinger, a longtime adviser to his brother Nelson, and argued for President Richard Nixon’s overtures to Communist China in the early 1970s.

Vietnam War

In the 1960s and early 1970s, protesters targeted him as a power behind U.S. foreign policy, including the Vietnam War. Some of his own children then in college opposed his politics, and he wrote about heated dinner table arguments with his daughter Abby, a draft-resistance counselor drawn to Marxism.

Rockefeller focused on managing family affairs after his Chase retirement. Since the 1940s the brothers held formal meetings, with David serving as secretary, that continued until the late 1970s.

“The five of us had had widely diverging and, in some ways, conflicting interests,” he wrote, “but largely because of these regular get-togethers we maintained a basic respect and affection for one another, something that has not always been the case with other wealthy families.”

In 1979, David, Laurance, and the widows of John and Nelson organized Rockefeller & Co., an outgrowth of the family office started by their grandfather when he moved to New York from Cleveland a century earlier. The firm has since branched out as a wealth manager for clients not affiliated with the family.

Rockefeller Center

David Rockefeller estimated that his father lost $110 million in 20 years on his stake in Rockefeller Center, which was started in 1932 as a show of faith in the U.S. economy. David later served as chairman of Rockefeller Center Properties Inc., which held the mortgage, and worked to avert a mid-1990s financial collapse after its purchase by Japan’s Mitsubishi Estate Corp.

In January 1995, the 79-year-old Rockefeller flew to Japan to try to persuade Mitsubishi not to put the property in bankruptcy. He broke his leg walking into Mitsubishi’s offices, then stayed to plead his case before heading to the hospital for treatment. Three months later, the filing occurred anyway.

A year later, Rockefeller bought the center back in partnership with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. In 2001, the group sold it to New York developer Tishman Speyer Properties at a profit, ending seven decades of family control.

Rockefeller upheld the family’s philanthropic tradition, giving away more than $900 million during his lifetime. In 1940, he joined the board of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, established in 1901 by his grandfather, and a decade later succeeded his father as board chairman, serving for 25 years. The Institute was renamed Rockefeller University in 1965.

He endowed the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard and was chairman of the school’s board of overseers.

Inheriting a love of art from his mother, Rockefeller amassed a collection of modern and impressionist works valued at more than $500 million in the early 1990s. After his mother’s death in 1948, he took her seat on the board of the Museum of Modern Art, serving more than 16 years as chairman between 1958 and 1993.

Rockefeller remained sharp and agile into his 90s, going to the office daily at 10 a.m. and leaving at 5 p.m. He exercised before work, and sometimes drank a glass of white wine with lunch.

Leadership of the family now falls upon the generation known as “The Cousins,” the great-grandchildren of John D. Rockefeller. David Rockefeller said he was confident his six children and grandchildren would carry on the philanthropic and activist legacy of the family’s century-old fortune.

“If they will have learned the important things about life and how to lead it, that could be my greatest contribution,” Rockefeller said in a May 2007 interview. “I have reason to think that they will.”


Chuck Berry, Rock ’n’ Roll Pioneer, Dies at 90

March 20th, 2017

by Jon Pareles

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Chuck Berry, who with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs about cars, girls and wild dance parties did as much as anyone to define rock ’n’ roll’s potential and attitude in its early years, died on Saturday at his home near Wentzville, Mo. He was 90.

The St. Charles County Police Department confirmed his death on its Facebook page. The department said that it responded to a medical emergency at the home, about 45 miles west of St. Louis, and that lifesaving measures were unsuccessful.

While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves. With songs like “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” he gave his listeners more than they knew they were getting from jukebox entertainment.

His guitar lines wired the lean twang of country and the bite of the blues into phrases with both a streamlined trajectory and a long memory. And tucked into the lighthearted, telegraphic narratives that he sang with such clear enunciation was a sly defiance, upending convention to claim the pleasures of the moment.
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In “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “You Can’t Catch Me” and other songs, Mr. Berry invented rock as a music of teenage wishes fulfilled and good times (even with cops in pursuit). In “Promised Land,” “Too Much Monkey Business” and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” he celebrated and satirized America’s opportunities and class tensions. His rock ’n’ roll was a music of joyful lusts, laughed-off tensions and gleefully shattered icons.

Mr. Berry was already well past his teens when he wrote mid-1950s manifestoes like “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “School Day.” Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on Oct. 18, 1926, in St. Louis, he grew up in a segregated, middle-class neighborhood there, soaking up gospel, blues, and rhythm and blues, along with some country music.

He spent three years in reform school after a spree of car thefts and armed robbery. He received a degree in hairdressing and cosmetology and worked for a time as a beautician; he married Themetta Suggs in 1948 and started a family. She survives him, as do four children: Ingrid Berry, Melody Eskridge, Aloha Isa Leigh Berry and Charles Berry Jr.

By the early 1950s, he was playing guitar and singing blues, pop standards and an occasional country tune with local combos. Shortly after joining Sir John’s Trio, led by the pianist Johnnie Johnson, he reshaped the group’s music and took it over.

From the Texas guitarist T-Bone Walker, Mr. Berry picked up a technique of bending two strings at once that he would rough up and turn into a rock ’n’ roll talisman, the Chuck Berry lick, which would in turn be emulated by the Rolling Stones and countless others. He also recognized the popularity of country music and added some hillbilly twang to his guitar lines. Mr. Berry’s hybrid music, along with his charisma and showmanship, drew white as well as black listeners to the Cosmopolitan Club in St. Louis.

In 1955, Mr. Berry ventured to Chicago and asked one of his idols, the bluesman Muddy Waters, about making records. Waters directed him to the label he recorded for, Chess Records, where one of the owners, Leonard Chess, heard potential in Mr. Berry’s song “Ida Red.”

A variant of an old country song by the same name, “Ida Red” had a 2/4 backbeat with a hillbilly oompah, while Mr. Berry’s lyrics sketched a car chase, the narrator “motorvatin’” after an elusive girl. Mr. Chess renamed the song “Maybellene,” and in a long session on May 21, 1955, Mr. Chess and the bassist Willie Dixon got the band to punch up the rhythm.

“The big beat, cars and young love,” Mr. Chess outlined. “It was a trend, and we jumped on it.”

The music was bright and clear, a hard-swinging amalgam of country and blues. More than 60 years later, it still sounds reckless and audacious.

Mr. Berry articulated every word, with precise diction and no noticeable accent, leading some listeners and concert promoters, used to a different kind of rhythm-and-blues singer, to initially think that he was white. Teenagers didn’t care; they heard a rocker who was ready to take on the world.

The song was sent to the disc jockey Alan Freed. Mr. Freed and another man, Russ Fratto, were added to the credits as songwriters and got a share of the publishing royalties. Played regularly on Mr. Freed’s show and others, “Maybellene” reached No. 5 on the Billboard pop chart and was a No. 1 R&B hit.

In Mr. Berry’s groundbreaking early songs, his guitar twangs his famous two-stringed lick. It also punches like a horn section and sasses back at his own voice. The drummer eagerly socks the backbeat, and the pianist — usually either Mr. Johnson or Lafayette Leake — hurls fistfuls of tinkling anarchy all around him.

From 1955 to 1958, Mr. Berry knocked out classic after classic. Although he was in his late 20s and early 30s, he came up with high school chronicles and plugs for the newfangled music called rock ’n’ roll.

No matter how calculated songs like “School Day” or “Rock and Roll Music” may have been, they reached the Top 10, caught the early rock ’n’ roll spirit and detailed its mythology. “Johnny B. Goode,” a Top 10 hit in 1958, told the archetypal story of a rocker who could “play the guitar just like ringin’ a bell.”

Mr. Berry toured with rock revues and performed in three movies with Mr. Freed: “Rock, Rock, Rock,” “Mr. Rock and Roll” and “Go, Johnny, Go.” On film and in concert, he dazzled audiences with his duck walk, a guitar-thrusting strut that involved kicking one leg forward and hopping on the other.

Through the 1950s, Mr. Berry had pop hits with his songs about rock ’n’ roll and R&B hits with less teenage-oriented material. He spun surreal tall tales that Bob Dylan and John Lennon would learn from, like “Thirty Days” and “Jo Jo Gunne.” In “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” from 1956, he offered a barely veiled racial pride. His pithiness and humor rarely failed him.

In 1957, Mr. Berry bought 30 acres in Wentzville, where he built a short-lived amusement park, Berry Park, and a restaurant, the Southern Air. In 1958, he opened Club Bandstand in the theater district of St. Louis.

In the early 1960s, Mr. Berry’s songs inspired both California rock and the British Invasion. The Beach Boys reworked his “Sweet Little Sixteen” into “Surfin’ U.S.A.” (Mr. Berry sued them and won a songwriting credit.) The Rolling Stones released a string of Berry songs, including their first single, “Come On,” and the Beatles remade “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music.”

But by the time his music started reaching a new audience, Mr. Berry was in jail.

He had been arrested in 1959 and charged with transporting a teenage girl — who briefly worked as a hatcheck girl at Club Bandstand — across state lines for immoral purposes. He was tried twice and found guilty both times; the first verdict was overturned because of racist remarks by the judge. When he emerged from 20 months in prison in 1964, his wife had left him (they later reconciled) and his songwriting spark had diminished.

He had not totally lost his touch, though, as demonstrated by the handful of hits he had in 1964 and 1965, notably “Nadine,” “No Particular Place to Go,” “You Never Can Tell” and “Promised Land.” He appeared in the celebrated all-star 1964 concert film “The TAMI Show,” along with James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, the Beach Boys and the Supremes.

While he toured steadily through the 1960s, headlining or sharing bills with bands that grew up on his songs, his recording career stalled after he moved from Chess to Mercury Records in 1966. He remade some of his old hits and tried to reach the new hippie audience, recording “Live at the Fillmore Auditorium” with the Steve Miller Band, billed as the Steve Miller Blues Band at the time. When he returned to Chess in 1970, he recorded new songs, like “Tulane” and “Have Mercy Judge,” that flashed his old wit but failed to reach the Top 40.

In 1972, Mr. Berry had the biggest hit of his career with “My Ding-a-Ling,” a double-entendre novelty song that was included on the album “The London Chuck Berry Sessions” (even though he recorded the song not in London but at a concert in Coventry, England). The New Orleans songwriter Dave Bartholomew wrote and recorded it in 1952; Mr. Berry recorded a similar song, “My Tambourine,” in 1968, and is credited on recordings as the sole songwriter of the 1972 “My Ding-a-Ling.”

It was a million-seller and Mr. Berry’s first and only No. 1 pop single. It was also his last hit. His 1973 follow-up album, “Bio,” was poorly received; “Rockit,” released by Atlantic in 1979, did not sell. But he stayed active: He appeared as himself in a 1979 movie about 1950s rock, “American Hot Wax,” and he continued to tour constantly.

In July 1979, he performed for President Jimmy Carter at the White House. Three days later, he was sentenced to 120 days in federal prison and four years’ probation for income tax evasion.

He had further legal troubles in 1990 when the police raided his home and found 62 grams of marijuana and videotapes from a camera in the women’s room of his restaurant. In a plea bargain, he agreed to a misdemeanor count of marijuana possession, with a suspended jail sentence and two years’ probation.

By the 1980s, Mr. Berry was recognized as a rock pioneer. He never won a Grammy Award in his prime, but the Recording Academy gave him a lifetime achievement award in 1984. He was in the first group of musicians inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

Around his 60th birthday that year, he allowed the director Taylor Hackford to film him at his home in Wentzville for the documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll,” which also included performances by Mr. Berry with a band led by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and special guests. “Chuck Berry: The Autobiography” was published in 1988.

Mr. Berry continued performing well into his 80s. He usually played with local pickup bands, as he had done for most of his career, but sometimes he played with fellow rock stars. When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened in Cleveland in 1995, Mr. Berry performed at an inaugural concert, backed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

In 2012, he headlined a Cleveland concert in his honor with a genre-spanning bill that included Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C. and Merle Haggard. Although he told reporters before the show, “My singing days have passed,” he performed “Johnny B. Goode” and “Reelin’ and Rockin’” and joined the other musicians for the closing number, “Rock and Roll Music.”

From 1996 to 2014, Mr. Berry performed once a month at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant in St. Louis where he appeared regularly until Oct. 24.

He made a surprising announcement on his 90th birthday, Oct. 18, 2016: He was planning to release his first studio album in almost 40 years. The album, called simply “Chuck” and scheduled for release in June, was to consist primarily of new compositions.

And Mr. Berry’s music has remained on tour extraterrestrially. “Johnny B. Goode” is on golden records within the Voyager I and II spacecraft, launched in 1977 and awaiting discovery.


The Importance of Jimmy Breslin

March 20th, 2017

By Tom Robbins

So many people do a good job of writing about this city that at any given moment there are hundreds of them at the big daily papers, scores of weeklies, magazines, and now Web sites, all hard at work, excavating and deciphering news. The best do it with heart, leaning into the story with the same determination as a late-inning relief pitcher.

For 40 years, however, James Breslin has been the standout player in this league, bar none. Breslin himself will gladly tell you this, but the record is there and, as he would say, you can look it up: In November 1963 he famously interviewed the men digging JFK’s grave; in the ’70s he found the heroes of Watergate and publicly corresponded with the Son of Sam; in the ’80s he helped bring the house crashing down on the municipal corruption schemes of his pals on Queens Boulevard. In the ’90s he filed a column by telephone, commas and paragraphs in place, after being beaten in Crown Heights during a riot. Yet he refused to let this sour him. When so many others were silent, he kept up a drumbeat against the anti-poor and anti-minority attitudes at Rudy Giuliani’s City Hall.

He won a Pulitzer along the way, but the greatest tribute was the full-page ads the patrolmen’s union bought in his own newspaper to protest his relentless columns on police misbehavior.

That was over a decade ago. He is 72 now and has lost nothing off his fastball. Today, he is still climbing stairs for stories and still writing the city’s sharpest words. “There were four of them together, bees from the hive, and the sodomy never would have been if they had not been together,” he wrote this month of the cops freed by the appeals court decision in the Abner Louima case. Of Cardinal Egan’s silence about priestly crimes, he wrote this week: “The man betrayed Catholics, and the Irish, and he puts on his red hat.”

The secret of this success is not the bluster and the blarney or the Irish newspaperman act that so easily lends itself to poseurs. It is instead a rock-hard sympathy with people of all colors in pursuit of simple things: job, love, school, home. Combined with a sense of history, a sense of humor, and an angry impatience with those swollen with power and self-importance, this has made him the city’s steadiest and most accurate chronicler.

So it was that when news came to him on November 23, 1999, while at the offices of his employer, Newsday, that a building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, had collapsed, injuring many immigrant Mexican workers and killing at least one, Breslin immediately took himself to the scene.

“I said, ‘That’s my music they’re playing. I know this novel, it is one of the best ever done,’ ” he said recently of that moment. The novel was Christ in Concrete, a book written in 1939 by an Italian immigrant named Pietro DiDonato. It is about a struggling family on the Lower East Side whose patriarch, working as a laborer, is drowned in wet cement during a building collapse.

This, it turned out, was precisely what happened to Tomás Eduardo Daniel Gutiérrez, 21, who had traveled through deserts, tunnels, and swollen rivers from Mexico to work as casual labor on the construction of buildings in Brooklyn.

His death there was both hideous and predictable. In the days before the collapse, Breslin reports in his new book about the episode, The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutiérrez, the workers spotted tiny cracks in the beams and felt the floors give as they walked. They said nothing, however, because they were illegal and feared deportation and the loss of $7 an hour more than the danger.

“There was no swaying or quivering. No time even for a warning gasp from somebody,” writes Breslin of the incident. “An instant, a shrug of concrete and metal, and the floor under Eduardo went. Down Eduardo went, so quickly that he made no sound. . . . The third floor fell into the second floor and the second fell into the first and everything fell into the basement. The rear wall blew out, as did a wall that was supposed to be tied to the building. There was a cascade of cinder blocks and metal. What were supposed to be metal beams holding up the floors were as strong as aluminum foil. Eduardo fell face first into three feet of concrete on the basement floor and drowned.”

It was a big story in the city for a few days. Newspaper city desks became briefly fascinated by the throngs of street corner immigrants who provide so much of the city’s low-wage labor, far from the attention of government watchdogs and union safety specialists. There was also much political buzz because the collapse had occurred in a Hasidic neighborhood where developers were often accused of breaking city safety and building codes but were perceived as insulated from prosecution because of their close ties to Giuliani’s administration.

Breslin, however, did not let go. Weeks after the collapse he could be found on a Sunday, shuffling through the empty Williamsburg streets, notebook in hand, asking questions of the immigrants from Mexico, South America, and South Asia at work on the new housing developments there.

He followed Gutiérrez’s casket back to his village, San Matías Cuatchatyotla, a place of “dust, with children leaning against walls and young mothers standing aimlessly on street corners holding staring babies.”

There was a mariachi singer at the funeral, he reports. Nine young women, Eduardo’s friends, carried the heavy casket, swaying as they moved. “Sway forward on the left leg, sway back on the right foot, sway forward, sway back, sway, sway, sway, dance the young man to his grave.”

Gutiérrez was a shy man, neighbors and family members told Breslin, so shy that it took him months to work up the nerve to address the young girl he loved. Within a year, however, both were gone from the village, headed north looking for work, part of a million-strong army that crosses the border every year in search of jobs.

Their story is part of the great migration that has brought some 275,000 Mexicans to New York. “These people who want to work, who want to scrub floors and clean pots . . . or show up every day in the grimmest of factory jobs, or wash dishes in coffee shops—or work construction for low wages on jobs on which white union members are paid five times as much,” writes Breslin.

Gutiérrez’s girlfriend, Silvia Tecpoyotti, waded across the Rio Grande, sneakers and suitcase held high above her head. In the desert she found herself caught between a rattlesnake “thick as a fuel hose” and the Border Patrol. Surviving these perils, she was welcomed with open arms at an Olive Garden restaurant in College Station, Texas, where she earned the astonishing salary of $420 a week making soup.

Gutiérrez called her there to say he too was doing well, working construction in Brooklyn. He was living, 10 to a room, in an apartment in Brighton Beach with other young Mexican men, sleeping on thin pads and pillows and racing each other to use the single bathroom each morning. From the subway, Gutiérrez would run to his job on Middleton Street, where he was helping put up new four-story buildings. He also told her the buildings “seemed shaky to him . . . dangerous,” Breslin writes.

This wasn’t surprising. Gutiérrez’s employer, a Hasidic builder named Eugene Ostreicher, had been cited several times by authorities for construction problems, Breslin learned. The state attorney general accused him of selling shabbily built condos to Orthodox residents. An engineer called them “the worst constructed buildings I have seen in 10 years.” A fire chief, Charles Blaich, wrote to the city’s Buildings Department complaining about other shoddy construction by Ostreicher. The letters went unanswered.

Buildings Department officials told Breslin this was because anytime they delayed or blocked building permits for the Hasidic community, City Hall accused them of “obstructing commerce.” The message was relayed directly from Giuliani’s chief of staff, Bruce Teitelbaum, who served as liaison to the Orthodox community, Breslin writes.

Ostreicher’s son Chaim, or Richie the Rabbi, as he called himself, managed the construction site. The son was a police buff who had a gold police detective’s badge someone had given him, which he flashed at least once at Fire Department officials who shut down his building for safety reasons. At his wedding banquet in 1998, he listed Teitelbaum, then-police commissioner Howard Safir, and other police bigs as guests. Chaim Ostreicher later fled to Belgium; the father eventually pled guilty to lying to a federal safety inspector. A $1 million fine was assessed, but no one went to jail.

Abuse of office, greedy builders, a growing army of easily victimized immigrants: All of these elements came to a head in the mangled construction of 50 Middleton Street and the death of Eduardo Gutiérrez. It says as much about life in the late 1990s as the many odes to “quality of life” written in praise of Giuliani by so many others. Its telling is one more debt the city owes to Breslin, who keeps track of these things for us.


Jimmy Breslin, Legendary New York City Newspaper Columnist, Dies at 88

March 19th, 2017

by Dan Barry

Jimmy Breslin, the New York City newspaper columnist and best-selling author who leveled the powerful and elevated the powerless for more than 50 years with brick-hard words and a jagged-glass wit, died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 88, and until very recently, was still pushing somebody’s buttons with two-finger jabs at his keyboard.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Ronnie Eldridge, a prominent Democratic politician in Manhattan. Mr. Breslin had been recovering from pneumonia.

With prose that was savagely funny, deceptively simple and poorly imitated, Mr. Breslin created his own distinct rhythm in the hurly-burly music of newspapers. Here, for example, is how he described Clifton Pollard, the man who dug President John F. Kennedy’s grave, in a celebrated column from 1963 that sent legions of journalists to find their “gravedigger”:

“Pollard is forty-two. He is a slim man with a mustache who was born in Pittsburgh and served as a private in the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma in World War II. He is an equipment operator, grade 10, which means he gets $3.01 an hour. One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the thirty-fifth President of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave.”

Here is how, in one of the columns that won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, he focused on a single man, David Camacho, to humanize the AIDS epidemic, which was widely misunderstood at the time:

“He had two good weeks in July and then the fever returned and he was back in the hospital for half of last August. He got out again and returned to Eighth Street. The date this time doesn’t count. By now, he measured nothing around him. Week, month, day, night, summer heat, fall chill, the color of the sky, the sound of the street, clothes, music, lights, wealth dwindled in meaning.”

And here is how he described what motivated Breslin the writer: “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”

Poetic and profane, softhearted and unforgiving, Mr. Breslin inspired every emotion but indifference; letters from outraged readers gladdened his heart. He often went after his own, from Irish-Americans with “shopping-center faces” who had forgotten their hardscrabble roots to the Roman Catholic Church, whose sex scandals prompted him to write an angry book called “The Church That Forgot Christ,” published in 2004. It ends with a cheeky vow to start a new church that would demand more low-income housing and better posture.

Love or loathe him, none could deny Mr. Breslin’s enduring impact on the craft of narrative nonfiction. He often explained that he merely applied a sportswriter’s visual sensibility to the news columns. Avoid the scrum of journalists gathered around the winner, he would advise, and go directly to the loser’s locker. This is how you find your gravedigger.

“So you go to a big thing like this presidential assassination,” he said in an extended interview with The New York Times in 2006. “Well, you’re looking for the dressing room, that’s all. And I did. I went there automatic.”

Early on, Mr. Breslin developed the persona of the hard-drinking, dark-humored Everyman from Queens, so consumed by life’s injustices and his six children that he barely had time to comb his wild black mane. While this persona shared a beer with the truth, Mr. Breslin also admired Dostoyevsky; swam every day; hadn’t had a drink in more than 30 years; wrote a shelf-full of books; and adhered to a demanding work ethic that required his presence in the moment, from a civil rights march in Alabama to a “perp walk” in Brooklyn — no matter that he never learned to drive.

The real Jimmy Breslin was so elusive that even Mr. Breslin could not find him. “There have been many Jimmy Breslins because of all the people I identified with so much, turning me into them, or them into me, that I can’t explain one Jimmy Breslin,” he once wrote.

Sometimes he presented himself as a regular guy who churned out words for pay; other times he became the megalomaniacal stylist — “J. B. Number One,” he called himself — who was dogged by pale imitators with Irish surnames. On occasion he would wake up other reporters with telephone calls to say, simply, “I’m big.”

He cut longstanding ties over small slights, often published an annual list of “the people I’m not talking to this year,” and rarely hesitated to target powerful friends, depending on his depth of outrage and the number of hours until deadline. He would occasionally refer to those who had fallen out of his favor only by their initials.

After concluding that Gov. Hugh L. Carey of New York had become too enamored of fine living, for example, Mr. Breslin rechristened his old pal Society Carey, a nickname that stuck like gum on a handmade shoe. But when someone he knew was sick, whether a beloved daughter or the switchboard operator at work, Mr. Breslin would be at the bedside, offering his comforting gift of almost vaudevillian distraction.

A man whose preferred manner of discourse was a yell, Mr. Breslin could be unkind, even vicious. In 1990, for example, he was suspended by his employer, Newsday, for a racist rant about a female Asian-American reporter who had dared to criticize one of his columns as sexist.

At the same time, Mr. Breslin was unmatched in his attention to the poor and disenfranchised. If there is one hero in the Breslin canon, it is the single black mother, far removed from power, trying to make it through the week.

According to his wife, Ms. Eldridge, Mr. Breslin became so upset by what he had witnessed in the streets of the city, streets he knew as well as anyone, that he often needed time to recover after writing his column. “Bad news puts him to bed,” she said.

Mr. Breslin came honestly to his empathy and distrust. Born James Earle Breslin on Oct. 17, 1928, he grew up in the Richmond Hill section of Queens. When Jimmy was 6, his father, James, a musician, deserted the family, leaving him to share an apartment with an emotionally distant mother, Frances — a supervisor in the East Harlem office of the city’s welfare department who drank — as well as a younger sister, a grandmother and various aunts and uncles.

Many decades later, after Mr. Breslin had become famous, his father, destitute in Miami, came back into his life “like heavy snow through a broken window,” he would write. He paid for his father’s medical bills and sent him a telegram that said, “NEXT TIME KILL YOURSELF.” When his father died, in 1974, he paid for the cremation and said: “Good. That’s over.”

Mr. Breslin found early escape in newspapers. As a boy, he would spread the broadsheet pages across the floor and imagine himself on a Pullman car, filing stories from baseball ports of call: Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh. Then The Long Island Press, in Jamaica, Queens, hired him as a copy boy in the late 1940s. High school took longer than necessary, and college received only a passing nod; his life centered on deadlines and ink.

After getting a job as a sportswriter for The New York Journal-American, Mr. Breslin wrote a freshly funny book about the first season of the hapless Mets, “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?” It persuaded John Hay Whitney, the publisher of The New York Herald Tribune, to hire him as a news columnist in 1963.

Soon Mr. Breslin was counted among the writers credited with inventing “New Journalism,” in which novelistic techniques are used to inject immediacy and narrative tension into the news. (Mr. Breslin, an admirer of sportswriters like Jimmy Cannon and Frank Graham, scoffed at this supposed contribution, saying that he and others had merely introduced Dickens-like storytelling to a new generation.)

Unleashed, Mr. Breslin issued regular dispatches that changed the craft of column writing, said the journalist and author Pete Hamill, a former colleague. “It seemed so new and original,” Mr. Hamill said. “It was a very, very important moment in New York journalism, and in national journalism.”

Mr. Breslin wrote about President Kennedy’s gravedigger, the sentencing of the union gangster Anthony Provenzano, the assassination of Malcolm X, and a stable of New York characters real and loosely based on reality, including the Mafia boss Un Occhio, the arsonist Marvin the Torch, the bookie Fat Thomas and Klein the lawyer. But Mr. Breslin’s greatest character was himself: the outer-borough boulevardier of bilious persuasion, often chaperoned by his superhumanly patient first wife, “the former Rosemary Dattolico.”

“Jimmy invented himself,” said Donald H. Forst, a prominent New York newspaper editor who died in 2014 and first worked with Mr. Breslin at The Herald Tribune. “He was irascible, extremely talented and very, very hard-working. And he understood what news was.”

Mr. Breslin began his day early, making calls to judges, politicians, police officers and other journalists, always greeting them with words that signaled he was in the hunt for news: “What’s doin’?”

“He just keeps calling until he has a column in his head,” Ms. Eldridge explained. “But then he has to go see it.”

Over the years, Mr. Breslin would leave daily newspapers in search of better pay. In 1969, for example, he resigned from The New York Post after writing his first novel, “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” a best-selling satire about the Mafia that was later made into a forgettable movie. But he repeatedly succumbed to the sirens of daily journalism, first at The Daily News, then at New York Newsday, then at Newsday on Long Island, then back to The Daily News.

“Once you get back in the newspapers, it’s like heroin,” Mr. Breslin told The Times. “You’re there. That’s all.”

Mr. Breslin always seemed to be “there.” He became one of the first staff writers at New York magazine. In 1968, he was nearby when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. In 1969, he ran for City Council president on a wacky, wildly unsuccessful ticket that included Norman Mailer for mayor. (Their contention that New York City should become the 51st state found little traction.) In 1986, he broke the story of how the Queens borough president, Donald R. Manes, had been implicated in a payoff swindle involving city officials; two months later, Mr. Manes committed suicide.

And in 1977, most famously, Mr. Breslin received a chilling letter from the serial killer known as Son of Sam, who, by that point, had killed five young people in New York and wounded several others with a .44-caliber revolver. “P.S.: JB, Please inform all the detectives working the case that I wish them the best of luck,” the killer wrote.

Mr. Breslin published the note with an appeal for Son of Sam to surrender, but the killer, David Berkowitz, struck twice more before being captured. The New Yorker magazine accused Mr. Breslin of exploiting the moment and feeding the killer’s ego. But he countered that he had published the letter at the suggestion of detectives, who thought it could encourage the killer to write another note that might bear clearer fingerprints.

Mr. Breslin won nearly every award known to the newspaper business, and also distinguished himself as a critically acclaimed author. He wrote novels, including “World Without End, Amen” (1973), a transcontinental love story set against the Troubles in Belfast, and “Table Money” (1986), about a Queens housewife freeing herself from her husband, an alcoholic sandhog.

He wrote biographies of Damon Runyon and Branch Rickey. He wrote “The Good Rat” (2008), in which he used the saga of two New York police detectives working as Mafia hit men to share his funny, hard-earned insights into mob culture.

Perhaps the quintessential Breslin book was “The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutierrez,” published in 2002, in which he focused on the death of an unauthorized Mexican worker at a flawed construction site in Brooklyn to rail against the shoddy building practices, political cowardice and racism of his beloved city.

Trial and tragedy accompanied his many triumphs. In 1981, Mr. Breslin’s first wife, Rosemary, died of cancer; she was 50. In 2004, his elder daughter, Rosemary, a writer, died of a rare blood disease; she was 47. In 2009, his other daughter, Kelly, died after collapsing in a Manhattan restaurant; she was 44. At these times, friends say, words failed even Jimmy Breslin.

But Mr. Breslin always returned to the distraction and urgency of writing. In 1982, he married Ms. Eldridge in a Catholic-Jewish union that, with his six children and her three, provided rich column material. (“Everybody hated each other,” he told The Times. “It was beautiful.”) In 1994, he underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm that threatened what he called his “billion-dollar memory,” an experience that led to a memoir, published in 1996, called “I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me.”

“Think of it: He still works every day,” former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, a close friend, wrote in remarks prepared for a 2009 celebration of Mr. Breslin. “Writing, or thinking about writing, and he has done it for 60 years, nearly 22,000 days and nights — except for the short hiatus when doctors were forced to drill a hole in his head to let out of his congested brain some of his unused lines. Then he wrote a book about it!”

In addition to his wife, Ms. Eldridge, a former city councilwoman from Manhattan, Mr. Breslin is survived by his four sons, Kevin, James, Patrick and Christopher; a stepson, Daniel Eldridge; two stepdaughters, Emily and Lucy Eldridge; a sister, Deirdre Breslin; and 12 grandchildren.

In 2004, Mr. Breslin resigned from his three-columns-a-week job at Newsday to pursue other writing projects. But in 2011, he briefly returned to The Daily News to write a weekly column, in which he revisited old mob acquaintances, reflected on the plight of job-seekers and denounced the deaths of the young in wars waged by the old.

It was as though he could not help himself. Telling the stories of others, he once wrote, allowed him to suppress his feelings about his own story — including, say, a father’s abandonment.

“I replaced my feelings with what I felt were the feelings of others, and that changed with each thing I went to, so I was about 67 people in my life,” he wrote.

Telling stories was how Mr. Breslin communicated. In 1994, just as he was about to undergo brain surgery, he told a nurse about Bo Gee, a small, thirsty man who sold Chinese-language newspapers in the bars and restaurants of the East Side. Between drinks, the man would call out the two headlines that sold the most papers.

One was “War!” Mr. Breslin told the nurse. And the other: “Big Guy Dies.”


Green, Finkel, Armao, Congressman Meeks on BALCONY COMMON GROUND, March 19 @ 5 pm on WOR 710 am

March 17th, 2017


Posted under News from BALCONY

March 17th, 2017

by David Leonhardt

Earlier this week, the chief executive of Anthem — the country’s second largest insurer — received a private meeting with President Trump and Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services.

Why did the executive, Joseph Swedish, get the meeting? It probably has something to do with the fact that he has been one of the only outside voices to praise the Republican health care bill.

And why might Swedish have praised the bill? No one can know his motives for sure, but it’s clear that he has a multi-billion-dollar reason to curry favor with the Trump administration right now.

That tale is the subject of my column this morning, and I hope you’ll read it.

In other news, you can get ready for Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing next week by reading Linda Greenhouse; learn more about Trump’s latest defeat in federal court by reading Martin Redish; and dive into Trump’s budget proposal by reading the Editorial Board’s take.
David Leonhardt
Op-Ed Columnist


Posted under News from BALCONY

Gateway tunnel in trouble as Trump looks to kill key funding program

March 17th, 2017

By Ryan Hutchins

In a move that endangers the ability of the federal government to pay for construction of the Gateway rail tunnel, President Donald Trump proposed a budget this week that eliminates New Starts, a key infrastructure grant program that was expected to be one of the largest funding sources for the tubes under the Hudson River.

The president’s budget would limit New Starts funding to projects that already have existing full-funding agreements in place, according to a summary released Thursday. Any new transit initiatives would be paid for “by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects,” the White House said in announcing plans to cut transportation funding by 13 percent.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said the elimination of the Federal Transit Administration program puts Gateway on the chopping block.

“President Trump’s proposal to eliminate the New Starts program — and the Gateway Project along with it — is irresponsible, short-sighted, and demonstrates a complete failure of leadership,” Menendez said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “President Trump is single-handedly trying to derail Gateway and send a catastrophic ripple effect that will cause irreparable harm to our regional and national economies.”

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, who represents New York, said the budget would “stop the progress of the vital Gateway Tunnel project dead in its tracks.”

The proposal came as a shock to many involved in the project because Trump had promised to launch a $1 trillion investment in the nation’s infrastructure. The new rail tunnel was expected to be among his top priorities.

The Gateway Program, which includes the new tunnel and other improvements to ease congestion along the busiest stretch of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, would replace the aging tubes that run under the Hudson River, linking New Jersey to Manhattan. Those tubes are nearing the end of their useful life and may need to be taken out of service within the next two decades.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have agreed to have their states split half of the cost of the project and had anticipated the federal government to cover the remainder. The Obama administration had made the project one of its top transportation priorities. The project is expected to cost about $20 billion.

The first phase of the Gateway project, which includes the new tunnel and replacement of the troublesome Portal Bridge in New Jersey, was accepted into the New Starts pipeline last year but had not yet received a full funding commitment, said John D. Porcari, interim executive director of the Gateway Program Development Corp. Gateway, he said, is “the most urgent infrastructure project in America.”

“Zeroing out funding for New Starts will interrupt both of these critical projects and delay the start of construction, which in the case of the Portal Bridge, was anticipated to begin this year,” Porcari said in a statement. “Any proposed cut to transportation programs like New Starts is a major concern.”

At a press briefing in Washington, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said cuts in transportation and other programs did not necessarily mean more funding won’t arrive later. He said the infrastructure initiative may not be unveiled until this summer or fall and could include one-off funding for projects.

“The infrastructure program is something we just recently started” working on,” Mulvaney said.

In a statement, Christie’s office said the governor, a close friend of Trump, will “fight any federal funding cut.”

“The Governor has worked hard to develop a project which will ease commuting to New York City without all the practical and fiscal shortcomings of the ARC tunnel project,” spokesman Brian Murray said, referring to a similar project Christie unilaterally killed. “Gateway tunnel is that project. New Jersey and New York are committed to funding their fair share. He will do all he can to fight any federal funding cut to this project of regional and national importance.”

Still, Menendez said Trump’s decision was jarring given the president’s commitment to infrastructure and his background as a New York real estate developer.

“President Trump’s campaign rhetoric about investing in our nation’s infrastructure has proven to be just that — empty words used to win an election that he has no intention of delivering on,” said Menendez, who estimated a Northeast Corridor shutdown would cost $100 million a day. “Dismissing transit infrastructure as ‘localized’ projects is an outdated and dismissive mindset that fails to recognize transit’s central role in our regional and national economy.”