For ‘Rocket Thrower’ in Queens, Reinforcement at Last

Twenty-five years ago, the Municipal Art Society opened a campaign to preserve 20 public sculptures. (I remember it as clearly as if I’d covered it myself.) The idea of the program, Adopt-a-Monument, was to entice benefactors into supporting specific artworks for which the city could no longer afford to care.

There was a needy monument for just about every philanthropic budget.

Building Blocks

How the city looks and feels — and why it got that way.

For $275,000, a donor could adopt the Heinrich Heine Fountain, “Die Lorelei,” in Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx. Its white marble was turning a sugary consistency. Every surface was blanketed with graffiti. The mermaids at its base had lost their heads and arms to vandals. For $3,500, a donor could adopt “Still Hunt,” a panther in Central Park, which needed cleaning, a new protective wax coat and a new tip for its bronze tail.

Nineteen of the 20 monuments were eventually adopted. The program was so successful that 16 more monuments were added, as were 15 public murals, under a companion drive called Adopt-a-Mural.

But one adoptive prospect had yet to be fully financed until now.

That would be Donald DeLue’s 43-foot-tall bronze “Rocket Thrower,” on the grounds of the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens. It might be described as an icon of heroic, midcentury, monumental Neo-Classicism. It might also be described as a gargantuan fairgrounds tchotchke of homoerotic kitsch.

The rescue delay has not been without cost. The estimated adoption cost in 1987 was $28,750 (adjusted for inflation, nearly $60,000 to day). The cost is now about $115,000.

“We really should have taken care of it right away,” said Vin Cipolla, the president of the Municipal Art Society, a nonprofit organization that advocates better and stronger urban planning, design and preservation.

“The fact that this has not been considered a distinctive piece of work — in the consciousness of art-oriented, philanthropic New York — may be the greatest challenge,” Mr. Cipolla said, being appropriately diplomatic.

Not a distinctive piece of work? To the contrary: John Canaday, the influential art critic of The New York Times, thought “Rocket Thrower” was quite distinctive. On April 25, 1964, he called it a “most lamentable monster” that made “Walt Disney look like Leonardo da Vinci.”

The artist, Mr. Canaday said, had created an “absurdity that might be a satire of the kind of sculpture already discredited at the time of the 1939 fair.” Unfortunately, the critic continued, this joke was destined to become “a permanent disfigurement.”

If the jealous heavens do not level ‘The Rocket Thrower’ with a bolt of lightning, a solution would be for some public-spirited citizen to pay for melting it down and putting it back in place. Whatever the shape of the resultant lump, it would be better than the shape the thing is in now.

Perhaps the Municipal Art Society would have been more successful raising money to melt down “Rocket Thrower” than to conserve it. But finally, an appreciative audience has begun to develop.

“You have to look at this artifact of the fair with the whole idea of man’s entry into space,” said Phyllis Samitz Cohen, the director of the Adopt-a-Monument and Adopt-a-Mural programs. “Rocket Thrower,” set in the semicircular Court of the Astronauts, was unveiled when outer space promised to be the next frontier.

About halfway along the fair’s grand axis, between the Unisphere and the Fountain of the Planets, “Rocket Thrower” was surrounded by international pavilions: Spain, Japan, the United Arab Republic and Polynesia — “A dance done with flaming knives and a chance to buy a pearl-bearing oyster are featured in South Seas huts.”

If you know how to read the plan of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, you can begin to understand how many traces remain of this evocative intersection of technological prowess and cultural naïveté, this summing up of America in the early 1960s.

“The ghosts of it are still there,” Ms. Cohen said.

The monument itself is a marvel of engineering, when you consider how enormous a load is being borne on such a slender, graceful arc. Even if the “bronze muscle man,” as Mr. Canaday called him, is awkwardly modeled, it is remarkable how his asymmetrical form seems to balance so effortlessly. “It put me in awe,” Ms. Cohen said. “There is some magic about this.”

A restoration fund has finally come together. “Rocket Thrower” was awarded a $10,000 grant from the new Partners in Preservation program. About $11,000 has been contributed in small amounts. Marvin and Donna Schwartz have given $15,000. And $79,000 more is to be drawn from a $600,000 bequest to the Adopt-a-Monument program by George Trescher, a leading fund-raiser who died in 2003.

Tucker Ashworth and Paul Gunther, who worked for Mr. Trescher in the 1980s on behalf of the Municipal Art Society, gave form to the program. It was first called “Monumental Woes,” referring to the fact that New York, still reeling from the fiscal crisis of the mid-70s, could scarcely afford to give public artwork the attention it needed. City agencies collaborate with the program.

Mr. Cipolla said the society was renewing its commitment to the adoption program through a committee headed by Ashton Hawkins, the former general counsel for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Resources have become only less available on the public side,” he said.

The rehabilitation of the Lorelei fountain in 1999 inspired a relandscaping of Joyce Kilmer Park when the monument was moved to a position facing the Bronx County Courthouse, across East 161st Street, from the north end of the park. “That’s the most profound restoration because it was the most ravaged monument,” Ms. Cohen said.

The project cost far more than anticipated. It benefited from a $330,000 grant by the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation and more than $1 million from the city. The reward of that investment can be seen regularly, Ms. Cohen said.

“When people get married in the courthouse,” she said, “they’ll come out and have their pictures taken at the monument.”

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Christopher Casscells, MD to lead Center for Health Care Policy

The Caesar Rodney Institute is pleased to announce the hiring of Dr. Christopher D. Casscells as Director of the Center for Health Care Policy.

CRI made filling this position a high priority after realizing the need to explain sound health care policies to the public in the wake of the Affordable Care Act ruling being upheld. In addition to questions that need to be answered surrounding the Supreme Court’s decision, there will be many additional issues in Delaware addressing health care which Dr. Casscells will answer.

Dr. Casscells brings many years of medical experience to the Center and to CRI as a whole.  He is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and practices general orthopedics with a specialization in arthroscopic surgery of the knee and shoulder at his Wilmington practice, Casscells Orthopedic and Sports Medicine.  His approach to building a strong doctor-patient relationship improves all aspects of his medical care, from diagnosis and treatment to rehabilitation.

In addition to operating his own practice, Dr. Casscells serves as president for both the Delaware Academy of Medicine and the University of Virginia Medical School Foundation.  He obtained his M.D. from the University of Virginia, and he performed both his general surgery residency and orthopedic residency at Yale University.

CRI is delighted  to have Dr. Casscells join our cause for freedom and liberty.  His medical expertise and experience running his own practice will provide a valuable insight into the world of health care and how Delaware can best address this important issue.


Caesar Rodney Institute

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Chef’s Picnic: Sara Jenkins

City Room asked a few of our city’s most talented chefs to design a creative and portable picnic basket for a sunny Fourth of July meal. Previous submissions came from Marcus Samuelsson, of Red Rooster Harlem, and Vincent Visceglia, of Karloff. Don’t forget to share your own homemade baskets in the comments.

Sara Jenkins, Porsena and Porchetta

When I was growing up in the Mediterranean, sometimes it seemed like picnics in the countryside were all my family ever did. From daylong trips to epic Roman ruins in the Lebanese hills, or days at the beach where Venus was rumored to have been born in Cyprus, or simple afternoon hikes to the wooden bridge by our farm in Tuscany, we never left the house without an ample supply of simple, finger-friendly food, mostly put together by my mother, to enjoy at whatever gorgeous destination we were headed. Inspired by those childhood romps into the deeply perfumed Mediterranean maquis, I would pack a picnic basket with:

Spanish tortilla

This was a classic of my mother’s. Living in an impoverished Madrid in the late 1960s, she cooked the classic: onions and boiled potatoes, just barely bound with beaten egg and fried in extra virgin olive oil. It remains the cornerstone of any picnic I create today: simple, delicious and perfect hot from the pan, cold from the fridge, or at room temperature after a long, hot walk under the sun.

Radishes, washed and cut with a cup of labne, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar

Radishes make for great picnic food, as they are hearty and resilient. I love the Lebanese style of dipping them in thickened yogurt, olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar (a spice mix). It’s also really easy to put together.

Tabbouleh with lots of herbs and lemon

This was a family staple growing up, made in the Lebanese style with a smidgen of cracked bulgur soaked directly in lemon juice to soften it, and then mixed with so much flat-leaf parsley that it became more greens than grains.


This Tunisian variation on Sicilian caponata (or Provençal ratatouille) uses grilled vegetables instead of fried, chopped together with cilantro and lime juice. It is wonderfully smoky and perfect as a side salad or vegetable.

Umbrian lentil salad with celery hearts and salt cod

My friend and fellow chef Salvatore Dennaro makes this for our lunches in the olive groves. He tosses lightly blanched little green lentils with lots of chopped celery hearts, a little red onion, and poached salt cod. Dress with plenty of extra virgin olive oil and some lemon juice. It’s a perfect hearty dish to keep one’s energy going, whether hiking or picking olives.

Prosciutto and melon butter on brioche rolls

Prosciutto and melon is the quintessential appetizer to eat in a hot Italian summer, but you don’t want to fiddle with sloppy pieces of melon bouncing around in a basket. I whip cantaloupe melon with an equal amount of sweet butter and fill a roll generously. Complement with thin-sliced prosciutto di Parma, jamón Serrano, or even one of the many quality air-dried or lightly smoked American hams coming out of the South.

Watermelon cubes with lime juice and chili

I learned this combination of sweet fruit, salt and acid from the many Mexican cooks I have worked with. It might seem odd at first, but I find the combination extremely refreshing and bright.

Sara Jenkins is the chef and owner of Porsena, 21 East Seventh Street at Third Avenue, East Village, (212) 228-4923, and Porchetta, 110 East Seventh Street at First Avenue, East Village, (212) 777-2151. Follow her on Twitter at @porchettanyc.

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Election Math: Ballots + New York = @#&*?!

To err, as you know, is human. To err repeatedly is this city’s voting system.

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

Wouldn’t it be nice if just once we could have an election that didn’t end up in a shambles, with no doubts about the validity of the results and the integrity of the entire process? Is that really asking for the moon?

Apparently, yes.

The situation seemed simple enough a week ago in the 13th Congressional District, taking in parts of Manhattan and the Bronx. Representative Charles B. Rangel didn’t do brilliantly in his quest for a 22nd term, but he did well enough. With most votes counted, he appeared to be about six percentage points ahead of State Senator Adriano D. Espaillat, his main rival in a five-person Democratic primary. Mr. Rangel claimed victory. Mr. Espaillat conceded. And that, as they say, was all she wrote.

Until it wasn’t.

Mr. Espaillat has effectively withdrawn his concession, much like Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race. For all anyone now knows, he actually beat Mr. Rangel. Few people would bet their life savings on that being the case. But closer scrutiny shows that the Rangel lead has shriveled to a mere two percentage points, with a couple of thousand ballots still to be counted. Mathematically, anything is possible.

On Monday, the Espaillat camp turned to a state judge to help sort things out. Though nothing happened, anytime the courts are roped into the electoral process, you have a mess. And all such messes land squarely in the laps of (1) the city’s Board of Elections, and (2) a political class that has shown scant interest in correcting the system so that it functions properly.

Everything about voting here seems designed to make things as complicated and error-prone as possible.

On election night, poll workers don’t bother with the memory drives in vote scanners that could provide instant and accurate counts. Instead, they print the tallies on strips of paper. Those strips are then cut into sections by election district. Each candidate’s total is inscribed on other pieces of paper called canvass sheets. Those sheets are then carried by police officers to their station houses. There, the results are entered by hand into Police Department computers. That computerized record finally makes its way to The Associated Press, which relays the results to the rest of us.

Are you following all this?

The potential for error at any of several points along the way is obvious. In this primary, the police recorded the vote totals in dozens of election precincts as having been zero, zip or nada. That was not credible. Somebody, or a bunch of somebodies, fouled up big time, though it’s not clear if blame lies with poll workers or with the police.

(And why, one might ask, are the police so deeply involved in the electoral process in the first place? Is responsibility for safeguarding a presidential election given to the Army?)

Now, with only 802 votes separating Messrs. Rangel and Espaillat out of more than 40,000 cast, at least 2,000 ballots remain to be counted — submitted by people who voted absentee or who challenged their exclusion, for whatever reason, from the voter rolls. That tally won’t begin till Thursday. State law requires the delay, a spokeswoman for the Elections Board said.

It is astonishing, though, how much time it can take in this city to tote up a relatively small number of votes. This happens in election after election. In India, they count hundreds of millions of paper ballots in a matter of days. Here, performing this simple arithmetic task with just a few thousand ballots at stake has been known to take months.

As tempting as it often is to blame the Board of Elections for all ills, the politicians who design the rules show little interest in making things easy for voters.

Here’s but one example: Because of dithering and political gamesmanship in Albany, New Yorkers are being asked to go to the polls four times this year: in April for a presidential primary, in June for Congressional primaries, in September for state primary races and in November for the general election. You couldn’t create a finer recipe for confusion and voter fatigue. Many in the city weren’t aware that last Tuesday was Primary Day. You can be sure few will show up in September.

But even with small turnouts, the vote-counting all too often turns into an ordeal, with the results shrouded in doubt.

In December, when Russia held parliamentary elections whose results were suspect, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was blunt. “The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted,” she said.

Maybe Mrs. Clinton, as our former senator, should now speak up for New Yorkers. Don’t we, too, deserve to have our votes counted, fair and square?

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The Benefits Of Excess Workers Compensation

Employers count on their employees to get the job done effectively and efficiently, but they should ensure they are well-taken care of while they are on the job. When Excess Workers Compensation is in place, there are several advantages that all parties will end up with. Most states require worker’s compensation, but the limits can leave gaps in coverage when it is needed. The gaps that are left can cause the employer to be responsible for the rest. If there is added coverage, then employees can get the medical and living expenses they need when they get injured and the employer doesn’t have to lose profit.
There are many instances where people may be injured while they are working. The labor of the job may be either hard or easy, but there still may injuries that happen. Employers are responsible to pay for the costs that arise when their employees get hurt, so with Excess Workers Compensation it can be there when it is needed. Any employee may get into an accident while they are working at any time, and it is usually an unpredicted event, so if coverage is there beforehand the costs will get covered as they should. Any employer should consider how much worker’s compensation they have in place before they allow anyone to work, so then they can get any injuries covered and retain more employees because of it. Visit our website to know more.


In the Dark Alleys of Sesame Street

At least two Elmos worked the Times Square pedestrian zones over the weekend, trying to make a buck by having their pictures taken with tourists. We can happily report that during the time we observed them, before the heat got to us, they confined themselves to waving at children and offering to pose with them. Not a single vile rant came from either of them.

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

You may have heard about one street impersonator of the red-furred Muppet whom the police tossed out of Central Park last week for behaving in a most un-Elmo-like manner, shouting obscenities and an anti-Semitic screed at people walking by.  It was later learned that this man had once run a pornographic Web site in Cambodia (which some might see as a variation of the Tickle Me theme that is identified with his present line of work).

This is not the city’s first unfortunate encounter with Elmo. Many New Yorkers will remember how the real Elmo, cuddly though he may be, made a real pain of himself a dozen years ago when his voice was among those used for recorded messages reminding taxi passengers to fasten their seat belts, ask for a receipt and remember to take their belongings.

Cab-riding New Yorkers grew to hate those voices, and the program was finally ended. The Taxi and Limousine Commission found that some people were so annoyed that, in defiance, they purposefully refused to buckle up. Who needed to be hectored by Joan Rivers or by the ring announcer Michael Buffer (“Let’s get ready to rummmmmble!”)? Was it too much to ask for few moments of quiet?

Elmo was in a class of his own, though. His high-pitched squeal was like a dentist’s drill piercing you from ear to ear. It was enough to make one wonder if Muppet-cide carried serious prison time.

Now there’s another Elmo making a pest of himself. Not surprisingly, the Sesame Workshop  has disavowed him and his brethren on the streets as being “unauthorized representations of our characters.”

It was obvious that this offending Elmo didn’t have the workshop’s blessing, if only because he removed the head of his costume to talk a few days ago with my New York Times colleague Michael Wilson. In Sesame-land, that is a grave breach of etiquette.

Back in the late 1980s, we were living in Tokyo when a movie called “Big Bird in Japan”   was being made. A producer friend invited us to take our 2-year-old, Emma, to watch a scene being shot in a park. When we showed up, Big Bird was on a break. The man who played him, Caroll Spinney,  sat on a bench with the top part of the costume resting beside him. As soon as he saw us approach, Mr. Spinney hastily put the bird’s head back on. The rule was inviolate: Don’t let the kids see you out of character. Even for the parents, the sight of half a bird was kind of creepy.

Elmo, by the way, is not the only Muppet to give one pause.

Cookie Monster presents a problem beyond his grammatical lapses like “Me want cookie!” Is his craving for a fattening sweet proper in this age of epidemic childhood obesity? A few years ago, the “Sesame Street” creators decided that he needed a healthier diet.  Cookie Monster learned that there are “anytime” foods and “sometimes” foods. Cookies are “a sometimes food.” Not that he has gone wild with health consciousness. And mercifully, he has yet to be heard singing “C is for Cauliflower.”

Other Muppets have their own issues, to use a severely overworked word.

Three years ago, Robert Vollman, a Canadian blogger, wrote that as much as he had enjoyed “Sesame Street” as a child, he couldn’t escape a sense that some of his beloved characters had “obvious illnesses.” Ever-restless Ernie, he decided, had an attention deficit disorder, and his buddy Bert, with his paper-clip and bottle-cap collections and his fussy neatness, had “a very serious case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

So did The Count, who had to enumerate “everything he ever came across.” Cookie Monster, Mr. Vollman wrote, provided “our first glimpse into the world of eating disorders.” Grover was “quite possibly a manic depressive.” And Big Bird? He was “my first introduction to depression,” Mr. Vollman said — a lonely being with an imaginary friend, Mr. Snuffleupagus, who had “an even more serious case of depression.”

Could it be that when all is said and done, a foul-mouthed Elmo impersonator fits right in?

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Brownstone Wall Collapse in Brooklyn Forces Evacuations

The side wall of a brownstone in Carroll Gardens collapsed early Monday morning, forcing evacuations and disrupting train service for a few hours along nearby subway lines, the police said.

The police said no one was injured after the wall of 241 Carroll Street, a brownstone that abuts an alley behind Public School 58, collapsed around 1:10 a.m. But more than a dozen people in the building and an adjacent brownstone were not allowed to return to their homes on Monday morning, the police said.

“We’re going through a lot,” said Sisi Schneider, 43, who owns the building with her husband, Howard, 45, and lives there with their three children. The couple rent apartments in the building to two other families. A total of 14 people live in the brownstone, she said, including 8 children.

The whole building will most likely have to be demolished, she said. “It’s a loss, but we’re happy no one was hurt,” she said.

Images of the scene posted by WABC News show the wall of the building ripped completely off and the inside rooms exposed.

There was an open permit for contracting work currently in the building, but no work was being done there, Mrs. Schneider said. “We didn’t do any construction,” she said.

She attributed the collapse to the lack of lateral support on the alley side. The building was built in the 1860s, she said, but had undergone “slow unsettling” since the 1950s, when in order to build the public school building, an adjacent brownstone was taken down.

She said her family was staying with relatives nearby and that the city had been “amazing” in helping her tenants.

Subway service, disrupted in the immediate aftermath of the collapse, had been restored by the morning rush to the nearby F and G lines.

The building was on the market for $3.5 million in 2008, according to StreetEasy, but property records show it had not been sold. The Schneiders bought it for $1.54 million in 2004, according to records.

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Labor Negotiations Fail at Con Ed

7:17 a.m. | Updated Contract negotiations that stretched early into Sunday morning between Consolidated Edison and its largest union have come to an abrupt halt, with the utility saying that 5,000 of its supervisors would step in to maintain service during the dispute.

The union said its 8,500 Con Ed members had been locked out.

“Con Ed locked out members at 2 a.m.,” said John Melia, a spokesman for Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America.

A collective bargaining agreement between the company and the union expired at midnight on Saturday. At that point, Mr. Melia said, the union expressed a willingness to continue negotiations and work while a new contract was discussed.

“The union requested dates to resume negotiations from Con Ed, and Con Ed informed the union negotiators shortly before 1:30 this morning that they had decided to lock out the members of 1-2,” Mr. Melia said.

Con Ed said that it put supervisors into the maintenance jobs only after the union turned down its latest offer.

The union rejected an offer, the utility said in a statement, to continue negotiating if both sides agreed to provide seven days “notice of a strike or work stoppage.”

“Without a contract and the assurance that the union leadership would not call a strike without notice,” the utility said, Con Ed “would not have been able to assure customers of reliable service.”

The disagreement over a new contract centers on the kind of pension plan sought by the company. The workers currently have a traditional plan, which pays a defined monthly benefit upon retirement. The company wants to shift to what is known as a cash balance plan, which tends to yield lower benefits to older workers. Managers hired over the last 10 years or so have a cash balance plan.

The union has suggested that the utility might not be able to keep electricity flowing to its 3.2 million customers in New York City and Westchester County without its members.

Asked whether there was any indication from the company’s part about when negotiations would resume, Mr. Melia said, “None whatsoever. They stood up and kicked us out.”

Con Ed said that its offer to extend the current contract while negotiations continued remained on the table.

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Con Ed Negotiations Continue Past Deadline

Contract negotiations between Consolidated Edison and its biggest union carried on past a midnight deadline on Saturday, amid threats of a strike that union leaders say could disrupt electricity flows to the city.

The two sides remained locked behind closed doors in the early hours on Sunday, said John Melia, a spokesman for the union, Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America. Mr. Melia said the sides could agree to extend negotiations if progress had been made, but said he could offer no prognosis on the outcome of the talks.

The union has threatened to walk off the job over company proposals to reduce pension benefits. Some 8,500 Con Edison workers belong to the union, the company’s largest.

The disagreement centers on the kind of pension plan that the company wants. The workers now have a traditional plan that pays a defined monthly benefit upon retirement. The company proposes to replace that with what is known as a cash balance plan, which tends to yield lower benefits to older workers. Managers hired over the last 10 years or so have a cash balance plan.

Michael Clendenin, a Con Edison spokesman, said on Saturday afternoon that the negotiations, at a Westchester hotel, were continuing: “They have been meeting all day. They are still talking. We are exchanging proposals.”

The union has suggested that the utility might not be able to keep electricity flowing to air-conditioners and lights for its 3.2 million customers in New York City and Westchester County without its members. Con Ed officials, however, said that the utility had prepared its managers to step in and operate the power grid and make repairs.

If a walkout did occur, Mr. Clendenin said, the company could deploy about 5,000 managers, about half of whom have some experience working in the field. In the interim, he said, some construction projects would be postponed and meter-reading might be curtailed.

Another Con Ed spokesman, Bob McGee, pointed out that there was less usage of power over a weekend because people tend to go away, and that the demand would drop this week because of the Fourth of July holiday.

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