Brigham Park Receives $500k, Becomes Political Twilight Zone

Brigham Street Park in Sheepshead Bay

Nearly a year after initial designs were unveiled for the Brigham Street Park and news of the project teetered off, the little park we’re all hoping for is back. Councilman Lew Fidler has given it new life with an injection of $400,000 of capital funds, and Borough President Marty Markowitz is kicking in an additional $100,000.

The funds will be used by the Parks Department to conduct soil testing and begin reworking the designs. “This money will begin to get us answers to turn a concept into a reality,” Fidler told Sheepshead Bites.

But the money is also creating a bit of the political surreal and stirring up serious questions about the park’s future. You see, the park initiative is spearheaded by Fidler’s electoral challenger, Gene Berardelli of the Sheepshead Bay/Plumb Beach Civic Association. And as the money funnels in they’re both using the park to pump up their campaigns, leaving us wondering what really will happen to the park after the election.

The money comes from Fidler during what may be (and would be, had he not voted to extend term limits) his last year as city councilman. Fidler is the City Council’s top porker, and has used his influence to bring his district and special interests over $1.3M in discretionary funds – this year alone! (By comparison, Councilman Mike Nelson brought in just over $500k.) And though the city may be in financial straights, Fidler nor any other councilman appears to have restrained one bit on the pork – this being an election year and all.

That brings us to the park. With Fidler in a contested seat, it might look awkward that he’s funding his opponent’s primary project. But at every chance he gets, he’s reminding voters that he’s got the power and influence to keep the dollars flowing to our beloved district and its quirky little projects.

“If I only have one more year left, then I have one more budget. I’ll never be able to fund a park,” he told us by phone. “But if I have five more years left, that’s five more budgets and I can get it done.”

Bay News/ noted, “Fidler also said that … a fresh term in office will afford him the opportunity to fund the Brigham Park project.”

Keep in mind: this park is going to have a price tag closer to $6 million. The half-million Fidler sent our way is just to get the Parks Department moving.

But Berardelli isn’t exactly putting politics aside and kissing Fidler’s feet. One of Berardelli’s main campaign sticking points has been Fidler’s lack of support for community initiatives – and he uses Brigham Street Park as an example. Still, his blade has not broken, it’s just dulled a wee-bit. Berardelli’s political parry appears to be a sideways attack, saying – in the case of the park – we should put politics aside and be grateful for the funds… while simultaneously pointing out Fidler’s delayed support.

To Bay News/, he said, “I’m very happy that the councilman came around and funded a very worthy project.”

And here’s what Berardelli wrote on his blog about the funding:

It took a while to get Councilman Fidler totally on board with this Project (although he never said he was against the Project itself), but I’m glad he did. It may be odd for some to read that, considering that I”m running against him for City Council, but it’s true … I will not let politics taint the purity of what the community has created. (emphasis added)

It looks to us like Berardelli’s nailing the skill of political doublespeak.

But all this makes us wonder what will happen after the election. If Berardelli wins, will he have the influence he needs to steer funds to Brigham Street Park – not to mention other community projects? And if Fidler wins, will he continue to support a project led by his opponent, or will he seek punishment and let the park initiative dry up, like a raisin in the sun?