Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Bridge - severing connections with the working class

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I confess to having enjoyed this book, but correctives are absolutely necessary....

In his Pulitzer prize winning "The Power Broker," Robert Caro (1974) inferred that mover/shaker Robert Moses needlessly destroyed homes to build highways. With all but the rich and powerful, Moses was able to easily bulldoze opposing positions and properties. Simultaneously, metropolitan NYC's mass transit infrastructure was seriously neglected.

Suggesting that he saw them as monuments to himself, Caro also maintained that Moses coveted bridges, while detesting tunnels. He detailed how Moses was able to politically sabotage the car/train tunnel between Brooklyn and Staten Island, which had been started before World War II.

Recalling the already existing Third Avenue route of the Gowanus Expressway, crossing the Narrows through railroad yards at 62nd Street (en route to similar railroad yards in St. George) would seem to have been far more logical route than cutting a swathe through Bay Ridge, en route to Fort Hamilton. While eliminating the need to destroy homes, however, the resultant bridge would have been in a far less dramatic spot, than the entrance to NY Harbor.

Gay Talese appears to share Moses' insensitivity toward working class victims. Looking back in the mid 1960s, he noted that although "the eight hundred buildings that stood in the path of the bridge's approachways had now all disappeared, many people had long memories and they still hated the bridge. Monsignor Edward J. Sweeney, whose parish at St. Ephrem's had lost two thousand of its twelve thousand parishioners, thus diminishing the Sunday collection considerably, still became enraged at the mere mention of the bridge" (p. 116). My aunt, uncle & cousins constituted 8 of Msgr. Sweeney's 2000 displaced parishioners. In that era, 2000 displaced parishioners meant 250 displaced single income families. With a free parish school that was still unable to accommodate all its children, Msgr. Sweeney's advocacy for his parishioners was absolutely not based on financial self-interest.

While Moses may have bulldozed opposition and homes, Talese's specialty seems to be bulldozing reputations.

In the interest of disclosure, I was one of the altar boys at Msgr. Sweeney's funeral, somewhere around 1970.

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