Nanny On A Mission

(The New York Times) Sue Downey was standing before a packed room in Midtown recently, extolling the benefits of cotton balls.

“The most fun you will ever have with a 7-year-old is a cotton ball, a straw and a wood floor,” she said, telling the 90 nannies in the audience to use the straw to blow the ball from one end of the room to the other. “Now, introduce a stopwatch to the game, and they can also practice telling time.”

The Saturday seminar, which covered topics like early-childhood development, résumé building and mental health, was the brainchild of Alene Mathurin, a nanny and organizer. After the presentation by Ms. Downey, a nanny in Philadelphia, Ms. Mathurin took the microphone.

“I want you to stand up and close your eyes,” Ms. Mathurin said in her singsong Caribbean accent. “I want you to picture yourself exactly how you see yourself, and I want to tell you some things about yourself. “I want you to know that you are beautiful. I want you to know that you are enough.” Some of the nannies called out in agreement. “I want you to know that you are all woman. And while you are doing this, I want you to exhale.”

Ms. Mathurin, 43, is the founder of My Nanny Circle, a grass-roots group that focuses on the training and empowerment of caregivers. The organization is not political, but on this particular Saturday, it was impossible to ignore the events that had unfolded in Washington the day before. President Trump had signed an executive order curtailing immigration, and anxieties were high. According to the Economic Policy Institute, a research organization in Washington, about 38 percent of nannies in New York State are non-naturalized immigrants.


How Fredrik Eklund, Broker and Reality TV Star, Spends His Sundays

(The New York Times) You could say that the Swedish-born Fredrik Eklund, 39, is a triple threat. Besides being an associate real estate broker at Douglas Elliman, he is a star of a Bravo reality series, “Million Dollar Listing New York,” which just wrapped up its fifth season, and an author of “The Sell: The Secrets of Selling Anything to Anyone.” When he is not in front of the camera, writing or selling, Mr. Eklund likes to relax with his husband, Derek Kaplan, 41, an abstract painter, and their miniature dachshunds, Mini Mouse and Fritzy, who all live in a three-bedroom loft in TriBeCa

Waldorf Astoria and Hotel Workers Union Reach $149 Million Deal for Severance Payouts

(The New York Times) When a Chinese insurance firm bought the Waldorf Astoria Hotel for $1.95 billion this year, it said it planned to convert part of the aging building into high-end condominiums, while maintaining a smaller five-star hotel.

Standing in its way were the hotel’s 1,221 union workers, whose jobs were protected by the Waldorf Astoria’s contract with the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, a union that represents hotel workers.

Now, the owners of the Waldorf, New York’s largest union hotel employer, have reached a record deal with the union in which the hotel could pay almost $149 million in severance packages to its employees over the next two years. The average payout will be more than $142,000, with a handful of employees eligible for more than $300,000. One longtime worker is walking away with $656,409.68.

And Some Background....

I was meeting with Peter Ward, the head of the powerful New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council on a book I am writing on the Plaza Hotel when he gave me this scoop. It led the local Metro Section in the paper, which is awesome. I'm still hoping to track down the employee who was awarded a $656,000 severance package!


In Twist, Tenant Who Was Forced Out Will Displace One Who Moved In

Tranquilina Alvillar lost her rent-stabilized Brooklyn apartment after the landlord began renovations, and an inspector found her home uninhabitable.      Credit  Edwin J. Torres for The New York Times

Tranquilina Alvillar lost her rent-stabilized Brooklyn apartment after the landlord began renovations, and an inspector found her home uninhabitable. Credit Edwin J. Torres for The New York Times

(The New York Times) Tranquilina Alvillar has spent three years waiting for this moment.

On Friday, barring any last-minute legal maneuvering, Ms. Alvillar, 50, a street vendor who sells used clothing and plastic trinkets, will be able to return home to her apartment in a five-floor walk-up on Bedford Avenue, one block from the L train stop in the hipster heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Ms. Alvillar, who speaks only a few words of English, had lived in the rent-stabilized one-bedroom on the second floor at 193 Bedford, between North Sixth and North Seventh Streets, for a quarter-century, since coming to this country from Mexico.

Selma Radzivonovich, 20, in the gut-renovated apartment on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg where she lives above the unit to which Ms. Alvillar is set to return.

Selma Radzivonovich, 20, in the gut-renovated apartment on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg where she lives above the unit to which Ms. Alvillar is set to return.

Then, in 2011, the landlord began renovating the building, removing walls and tearing up floors. There were also problems with the heat. Ms. Alvillar stuck it out, continuing to pay her $700 monthly rent, until August, when a city building inspector ordered her to leave, declaring the home uninhabitable and an “imminent danger to life.”

And the Follow Up Story:

After Suing, Tenant Comes Home to the Brooklyn Apartment She Was Made to Leave

(The New York Times) Tranquilina Alvillar stepped out of the truck and onto the curb at Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg just after 9 a.m. on Monday, carrying a Bible and wearing two scarves.

“I was so nervous this morning trying to get dressed, I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said in halting English as she unwrapped one gray woolen scarf from around her neck. “I’m feeling very worried.”

After more than three years, Ms. Alvillar, 50, was about to return to the second-floor apartment at 193 Bedford Avenue, between North Sixth and North Seventh Streets, where she had lived for 25 years, since coming to the United States from Mexico. Her story is a common one in gentrified Williamsburg, although the resolution is unusual.

Tranquilina Alvillar at her apartment on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Monday. She was ordered out in 2011.      Credit      Brian Harkin for The New York Times

Tranquilina Alvillar at her apartment on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Monday. She was ordered out in 2011. Credit 

Brian Harkin for The New York Times


On the List, and Not in a Good Way

(The New York Times) At New York City Housing Court, on the second floor of a dingy office building in Lower Manhattan, a woman sits quietly with a shawl pulled around her shoulders, looking up names on an old government computer and copying them into a sleek mini-laptop at her side. Behind her, tenants shift anxiously on their feet, clutching paperwork and waiting to speak with one of a handful of clerks sitting behind a glass partition.

The woman, who gives her name only as Carolyn out of fear of losing her job, sits at one of the three public-access computers in the room eight hours a day, five days a week. She is searching an online database for the names of tenants with cases before the court. The information she turns up will soon be compiled in a document and sold to landlords, who will use it as a kind of blacklist designed to prevent supposedly litigious or financially irresponsible tenants from renting apartments.

Room 225 at the New York State Courthouse in Lower Manhattan, where employees of tenant-screening companies compile information from publicly available case files for use by landlords. Credit Anthony Lanzilote for The New York Times

Impact of the story:

The New York City Council Member Ben Kallos submitted an "Anti Tenant Blacklist" bill in the City Council that would protect the identity of tenants who are involved in housing court cases against their landlords. The press release cites my story in the third paragraph. 

Jane Pratt: She's Still So Sassy

(The New York Times) Jane Pratt is the creator and editor in chief of the website xoJane, where beauty stories like “How Sunless Tanner (And Other Beauty Rituals) Helped Me Finally Quit Smoking” run beside columns by celebrity friends like Courtney Love and the popular confessional series “It Happened to Me.” Ms. Pratt, 51, has been a media maven since the 1980s, when at age 24 she started Sassy, a magazine for teenagers, which had fans including Johnny Depp. In 1997, she founded Jane magazine to cater to the aging Sassy demographic. Ms. Pratt lives in a loft in TriBeCa with her daughter, Charlotte, 11, and two dogs, Balloon, a Shih Tzu poodle mix, and Lemon, a Maltese.


At a Brooklyn Institution, Old School Goes iPad

(The New York Times) Jerry Costigliola has spent 29 years, or more than half his life, working at Gargiulo’s, the Brooklyn restaurant and Coney Island institution. In all that time, Mr. Costigliola, 45, has relied on a pad and pen to scribble orders of linguine in clam sauce and fried mozzarella. But three months ago, he traded in his paper for an iPad.

“It took some getting used to, don’t get me wrong,” Mr. Costigliola said on a recent afternoon, standing in the marble dining room in a black tuxedo uniform, his bow tie wilting in the heat. “But as long as you don’t get aggravated and make a mistake, the iPad makes the job easier.”

Walking into Gargiulo’s, which opened in 1907, is like opening the door to an earlier era, when fine dining meant white linen tablecloths, valet parking and book-length menus heavy on the red sauce and the waistline. So it caught many regulars by surprise when their favorite waiters began greeting them with the computer tablets, part of a sweeping new technical upgrade and not the only change afoot.


Jin Soon Choi: Sometimes, She’ll Even Do Nails

The manicurist Jin Soon Choi, who immigrated from South Korea in 1991, is a regular at New York Fashion Week, with a roster of celebrity clients that includes Taylor Swift and Anne Hathaway. Her nail art has appeared on the cover of Italian Vogue and is featured in advertising campaigns for Prada, Dior and Jimmy Choo. Ms. Choi, 52, is the founder of JINsoon Nail Lacquer and Jin Soon Natural Hand and Foot Spa. In summertime, sandal-clad fans flock to her three Manhattan locations for the Summer Oasis Pedicure, which features cucumber slices and mint leaves, to soothe their tired, blistered feet. Ms. Choi is married to John Coughlan, 53, an architect. The two met in 1999 and live in a loft in SoHo.

Bassoon Maker Is Leaving Lower East Side for Cheaper Rent in Maine

(The New York Times) There are not many places to sit amid the jumble of metal tools, piles of maple and boxwood boards, and bassoons crowding — and even hanging from the ceiling of — Leslie Ross’s studio on the Lower East Side.

This is only about half full,” Ms. Ross, 54, said recently while surveying the room, on the top floor of a small commercial building on Essex Street, where she has spent years building bassoons and inventing unusual instruments of her own.

Now, after nearly three decades in New York City, she is swapping her crammed studio for a sprawling former canning factory in the tiny coastal town of Penobscot, Me., population 1,263.

And some personal thoughts on the story...

I received an email from Christina Maile, an artist who lives at Westbeth who I had met while working on a story on the artist housing complex. She had been contacted by Zeke Finkelstein, a writer and professor at City College (who also works at Left Bank Books, an old-school West Village hold-out that has managed to stay put despite the neighborhood's soaring commercial rents). Zeke's girlfriend was leaving town after decades in New York, and moving to rural Maine. And he was desperate:

"Someone should 'cover' this," Zeke wrote in a pleading email. "Not so much Leslie's move itself, which should rather perhaps be noted in Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, or some other melancholy column of New York losses, but rather her decades of great, honest, beautiful maker's work and art in this studio and workshop where Leslie made not only her baroque bassoons, dulcians, bocals and related parts and instruments but also, of course, her outrageous, brilliant musical, mechanical, electrical inventions, pieces and contraptions, and where she designed her many sound installations."

I agreed. And voila! The day the story was published happened to be Leslie's last as an official New Yorker. 


Sunday Routine: Marcel Van Ooyen - Helping Flowers, Herbs and Sons Grow

(The New York Times) Marcel Van Ooyen is the executive director of GrowNYC, a nonprofit group that operates more than 50 greenmarkets and builds community and school gardens around the city. Previously legislative director for the City Council under former Speaker Gifford Miller, Mr. Van Ooyen, 49, lives in a brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with his wife, Cheryl, 48, an executive creative director at an advertising agency, McGarryBowen, and their two sons, Jack, 11, and Jude, 7. They have a rescue dog, Bubba. They think he is an Italian mastiff.


Storm Damaged Their Art, and Now It May Take Their Studios

(The New York Times) Christina Maile has lived at Westbeth, a massive artists’ complex in the West Village, for more than 40 years. For about half that time, she worked out of the building’s sculpture studio, a yawning space with whitewashed brick walls and a soaring ceiling that sits just off a large interior courtyard. There, Ms. Maile and a dozen other sculptors used table saws to slice wood and pipe benders to manipulate metal, creating large-scale pieces for galleries and museums.

But the tools have been cleared away, and the only indications that this once was a working studio are a half-peeled sticker on the window and an iron winch hanging dejectedly from the ceiling.

And some personal thoughts on the story....

This is my first piece for the Metro section of the newspaper. There was so much in the story that I couldn't include. Westbeth is the poster child for gentrification in the city and its story is really one of disappearing New York. 

One person I interviewed who grew up there told me of life during the AIDS epidemic. When she was a child, she saw a man who had hung himself after receiving a diagnosis of HIV, and her friend called for help, managing to save his life. He still lives down the hall from her all these years later. 

Brooklyn Communal Cool: The Brand

(The New York Times) On a recent Tuesday evening, Dickerman Cade Sadler III was in the kitchen making tacos for his roommates, sautéing beef in a frying pan and setting aside a bowl of rice and beans for the vegetarians. In the living room-cum-recording studio, Denitia Odigie was sitting at the drum kit tapping out a beat, her back to the wall papered with old-fashioned damask, while a man who calls himself Sene (his real name is Brian Marc) set up a mike under the glass and bronze chandelier. Standing outside, on the quiet cul-de-sac, two 20-somethings in clunky glasses and knitted beanies braved the freezing winter air to smoke a cigarette.

It was a typical weeknight at the Clubhouse, as the shabby Victorian home in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, is known to its inhabitants (it also goes by the name Club Casa.) A collective that some might consider a commune, eight roommates, most of them musicians and artists, share meals and expenses, use a Google doc to keep track of their chores, and pitch in to shop for groceries and stock the bathrooms. In addition to the core members, there is a vast network of friends and former residents — a total of 35 people have lived at the Clubhouse since it was established five years ago — who crash on the couches, often for indefinite periods. There’s a waiting list for residency, and the application, as it were, includes having to “vibe out” with current members, including the house’s founder and de facto president, Andrew Thomas Reid, 29.


Industry City, the SoHo of Sunset Park

(The New York TimesIn October, more than 200 artists combined forces in a former warehouse in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to create “Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1,” a sprawling exhibition of painting, sculpture and photography. Critics raved about the show, a mix of established names and relative unknowns that “verified that New York is as alive and brilliant as ever,” according to New York magazine, “with artists spread out into all the boroughs.”

But perhaps not at Industry City, the century-old industrial complex where the show was held. Beginning several months before the artists Chuck Close and Lola Schnabel posed for photos at the exhibition’s V.I.P. cocktail party, and continuing through the weeks when visitors flocked to the 36th Street train stop to see it, dozens of artists who had studios in Industry City were packing up their oil paints and brushes and leaving. Rents were rising, and many could not afford to stay.


A Diner Where Worlds Collide

(The New York Times) Beginning most days at 3 a.m. on a tiny stretch of Washington Street, men in bloodstained aprons muscle open the gates of their meatpacking storefronts and unload dripping carcasses onto waiting trucks. The routine is much the same as it has been for generations, although the meatpackers are now surrounded by designer boutiques and chic lounges.

Another spot, however, has remained as staunchly unchanged as they have: Hector’s Cafe & Diner, at the corner of Little West 12th Street and Washington.

A Spot to Start, or End, the Day: Hector’s Cafe & Diner has remained relatively unchanged since it opened in 1949. Credit: Bryan Thomas for The New York Times


Miles, Then Margaritas For New York Running Crews, Exercise Mixes With Partying

(The New York Times) There are runners who get up early every morning to get in their miles and who meet up for weekend events in city parks sponsored by the New York Road Runners club, or the like. The members of Orchard Street Runners are not those people.



Sunday Routine: Redesign for Living

(The New York Times) Vishaan Chakrabarti, 47, has been a force in New York real estate for decades, working as director of the Manhattan office for the Department of City Planning and later as a senior executive at the Related Companies. Now he is the Marc Holliday associate professor of real estate development and the director of CURE, the Center for Urban Real Estate, at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. He is also a partner at SHoP Architects, and recently published his first book, “A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America.” Despite his many hats, Mr. Chakrabarti finds time on Sundays to work with his wife, Maria Alataris, also an architect, on renovations for their home near Union Square and to relax with their 5-year-old daughter, Avia, and 11-year-old son, Evan. The family lives on the top floor of a co-op on West 17th Street and was recently joined by a Havanese puppy, Hero.


He Left a Fortune, to No One

(The New York Times) When Roman Blum died last year at age 97, his body lingered in the Staten Island University Hospital morgue for four days, until a rabbi at the hospital was able to track down his lawyer.

Mr. Blum, a Holocaust survivor and real estate developer, left behind no heirs and no surviving family members — his former wife died in 1992 and the couple was childless. His funeral, held graveside at the New Montefiore Jewish Cemetery in West Babylon, N.Y., was attended by a small number of mourners, most of them elderly fellow survivors or children of survivors.

Roman Blum, shirtless, at a birthday party on Long Island in 1983. In 1949, he and his wife, Eva, moved to Forest Hills, Queens, where they joined a tightknit community of Holocaust survivors.


In Search of the Perfect Espresso Bean

(The New York Times) Curt Ellis, 33, is executive director and a founder of FoodCorps, a nonprofit organization started in 2010 to improve schoolchildren’s diets by placing volunteers in their communities for a year of service. He also was a maker of the documentary “King Corn,” which won a Peabody Award. Mr. Ellis lives with his wife, Caitlin Boyle, 31, the founder and president of film.sprout, a distributor of documentaries; and their 8-week-old son, Oliver, in a 390-square-foot fifth-floor walk-up in the East Village. Mr. Ellis, an Oregon native, likes to run on Sundays, visit a farmers’ market and cook.

Curt Ellis of FoodCorps

A Ghost Town on 20 Acres in Brooklyn

(The New York Times) Vines clamber over ruined mansions. A stagnant swimming pool blooms with algae. Inside an abandoned hospital, amid falling plaster and splintered banisters, a chink in the wall reveals a city skyline.

This is not a movie set, though it might become one.

The developer Douglas C. Steiner recently reached an agreement with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation to convert this 20-acre site within the industrial complex into a media and technology hub. The $383.4 million project would allow his Steiner Studios to expand its existing footprint there.

Vines clamber over ruined mansions. A stagnant swimming pool blooms with algae. Inside an abandoned hospital, amid falling plaster and splintered banisters, a chink in the wall reveals a city skyline. This is not a movie set, though it might become one. Here, the chief surgeon’s residence.

Credit: Mustafah Abdulaziz for The New York Times