Monday, August 16, 2010

Markowitz Using Chain Gang For Concert Series

Prisoners from Rikers Island have been assembling and disassembling the thousands of chairs used in the summer concerts at Asser Levy Park as part of a labor assignment — a practice that has some local residents on edge.


Call it Marty’s chain gang!

Two busloads of prisoners from Rikers Island — wearing matching red- and white-striped jumpsuits — have been setting up and breaking down the chairs used this summer for Borough President Markowitz’s controversial concerts in Coney Island’s Asser Levy Park, according to The Brooklyn Paper .

The inmates aren’t a threat to public safety, according to the city — but they are a heck of a bargain for Markowitz.

“It saves me money, that’s the motivation for having them!” said Debra Garcia, who is in charge of the Beep’s concerts. “It saves about a few thousand dollars a week.”

Under the “Cool Hand Luke”-style program, the inmates set up 2,000 seats at the front of the park’s bandshell near Surf Avenue and West Fifth Street hours before the show. The next morning, the inmates are returned to the spot to collect the chairs.

The work detail for prisoners — which also takes place at Wingate Field in Crown Heights as part of Markowitz’s Martin Luther King Jr. concert series — appears to be the only one of its kind in Brooklyn.

A Department of Correction official said that there are only two other chain gang-style work crews in the city — both near Rikers Island.

Markowitz had taken advantage of the discounted labor-in-chains through the state prison system for at least the last 15 years, beginning when he was a state senator. But that font of labor ran dry this year as part of state budget cutbacks.

“The total cost is typically more than $60,000 a crew,” explained Erik Kriss a spokesman with the state’s Department of Correctional Services, explaining why the program was cut.

After the state cutback, Markowitz went to the city’s jail system for help setting up his weekly music extravaganzas, which this year have featured George Thorogood and the Beach Boys.

It is unclear why Markowitz’s concerts are the only events in Brooklyn that get the benefit of prison labor.

But there is no doubt that the concerts have highlighted the Beep’s political savvy and influence — it was only three months ago that Mayor Bloomberg scrambled to pass a temporary measure that allowed the shows to proceed, despite an apparent violation of city law barring amplified noise within 500 feet of a house of worship.

Read More:

Bay Currents - August 17, 2010 -  By David J. Glenn

B'klyn Beep has cons work concerts 
New York Post -  August 17, 2010 - By Rich Calder


  1. wow, just when I thought marty already showed how venal he is

  2. Thom Payne from Brooklyn Heights says:

    At at one of Markowitz's Brooklyn concerts in 1990, the brilliant Curtis Mayfield was struck by falling stage lighting. The cause, according to Markowitz: a "freakish gust of wind". (See: The incident left Mayfield a paraplegic and led to his premature death in 1999.

    A NY Times story from 1996 profiling then State Senator Markowitz says that he started using prison laborers after the incident "to keep costs down". (After losing a corporate sponsor and settling a lawsuit by the artist.) The same story recounts Markowitz pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges associated with his unsuccessful 1985 run for Borough President. (See: 21, 1996 markowitz&st=cse.)

    In a letter responding to the Times story, a unionized Brooklyn stagehand stated that Markowitz "chooses to take risks with the safety of the performers and audience by employing amateurs—prison inmates—to perform highly skilled jobs". And he called for Markowitz's hiring practices to be "examined closely". (See: 11, 1996 markowitz&st=cse.)

    In my opinion, *everything* Markowitz does should be "examined closely"—by the Times, The Brooklyn Paper and all others who aim to protect the public trust.

    Yesterday, 8:29 pm