By Thomas Tracy By Stephen Witt
Was it a simple coincidence or a dark harbinger of things to come when the lights winked out in a section of Bergen Beach last Tuesday evening – just as members of the Bergen Beach Community Council discussed the unwelcome possibility of a Con Edison substation being constructed on East 69th Street? No connections were made by council members, who, for the most part, said they would withhold their opinions until an upcoming meeting where the “Con Ed issue” would be discussed at length. As of this writing, that meeting, expected to be attended by local politicians, key members of the Bergen Beach Civic Association and others knowledgeable about Con Edison’s proposed plans, has been scheduled to occur on June 30. This latest wrinkle at 2368 East 69th Street, between Avenues X and Y, effectively kills previous plans by the developer of the property – Alex Forkosh and Coral Realty – to build two hotels catering to pilots and flight attendants from nearby JFK airport, although very few still believe that Forkosh would have made good on his intentions. Earlier this year, the Bergen Beach community stood steadfast in their opposition against the hotel plans; plans which suddenly snarled as future meetings with Forkosh were established. “[The hotel plan] was a scare tactic that didn’t work,” said one meeting attendee. Just as it appeared that Forkosh was backing off of his hotel plan to instead construct a host of semi-detached two family homes on the waterfront property, for which he needed a zoning variance from the city, the developer received a letter from Con Edison, informing him that the power company was interested in the property for themselves. Through the real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield Inc., Con Edison offered to buy the property for $1.5 million. Officials at Con Edison said that they are looking to build a substation in the area to provide power to the neighborhood’s growing populations. In a previous interview with this paper, Joseph Petta, spokesperson for Con Edison, said the substation is needed because demand for electricity is so high. “It is an area where electrical load is growing and our forecasts indicate it will continue to grow,” he said. “This facility is essential for the continued, reliable distribution of electricity to the community,” Petta continued. This so-called need gained some credence the night of the Bergen Beach Community Council meeting, when a resident came in claiming that the power at East 74th Street and Avenue V had just went out. The blackout, however, was only a temporary one and full power was restored in a short time. While many plan to withhold their judgment on the matter until the June 30 meeting, State Senator Carl Kruger is already rattling his saber against Con Ed’s proposal. In a letter he fired off to Con Edison, Kruger wrote, “The substation is unwanted by everyone in the neighborhood…and it undermines the hard fought effort, years in the making, to encourage additional residential development in the highly desirable Bergen Beach community.” “The hotels are a dead issue, but we all got letters from Senator Kruger that they plan to build a substation at the old brickyard,” said one member of the Bergen Beach Civic Association, who wished not to be identified. “[Kruger] wants to go to war with Con Edison, but there’s a lot about this that we don’t know.” Some at the meeting questioned if the Con Edison plan was just a rumor and that Kruger’s rallying cry to the community against the substation was “premature.” “We need to know what we’re fighting for,” said one member. City Councilmember Lew Fidler, who is also withholding judgment until after the June 30 meeting, said that the new Con Edison threat “may not be the whole story.” “[Forkosh] has a history of not being straight with us,” Fidler said. Call it one of the plums of political patronage. And in the Kings County Court system, where judgeships have the reputation of being made in the smoky backrooms of political clubs, the job has several contenders jockeying for position. The job is the Kings County Clerk, and it pays $136,000 annually. The position has been open since the death of Wilbur A. Levin last April. Interestingly, the job is also usually a Republican Party appointee since the governor, often a Republican, has a say in the appointment. Those considered on the short list for the job must go before a committee of four judges from the Appellate Division, Second Department, and headed by Republican Justice A. Gail Prudenti, a Pataki appointment. “It’s a political appointment. Everybody is trying to fight for the job,” said one source. “I hear Hy Singer [the County Republican Chair] wants to put in one guy and that [State Senator] Marty Golden wants somebody from the Conservative Party appointed.” The county clerk oversees 127 employees and is responsible for, among other things, judgments, notes of issue, selling of court index numbers, transcripts of judgments, business certificates, notices of appeal, property tax records, and military records. Matthew Kiernan, a top aide for Prudenti, said thus far about 150 people applied for the position and about 10 were interviewed. Among those interviewed were several with strong political ties, including Conservative Party District Leader John D’Emic, who sources say Golden is pushing. D’Emic, of Bay Ridge, is brother of acting justice Matthew J. D’Emic. Others in the hunt include Herbert S. Lupka, the chief deputy clerk in Brooklyn, who has been acting county clerk since Levin’s death. Lupka is a former Democratic district leader and comes through the clubhouse system. Sources say he has been actively courting Singer for the position. Also in the running is Nancy T. Sunshine, the chief clerk for Appellate Team Courts in Brooklyn, and married to acting Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Sunshine; and Anne Swerne, counsel to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. One name on the list who although a Republican is not as politically connected is Linda Caristo, who has been the executive Administrative Assistant to the last three county clerks, including Levin. She is the only candidate who has come through the ranks of first being hired after passing a civil service exam. “The county clerk is the highest [non-attorney] level you can go, but civil service people have never been considered because politics comes into play,” said Caristo. “There has been so much negativity as far as all the judges that have been indicted the last several years all based on politics, so it would be very refreshing for someone to attain the position as county clerk based on merits rather than who you know,” she added. Singer and Hynes both refused comment on the issue and Golden’s office did not return calls at press time. Kiernan said there might be another round of interviews before a new clerk is picked and there is no timetable for when a final decision will be made.