Thursday, February 8, 2024

Robert M. Solow, Groundbreaking Economist and Nobelist, Dies at 99


Robert M. Solow, Groundbreaking Economist and Nobelist, Dies at 99

 Robert Solow, wearing a white dress shirt and tie but no jacket, talks on the phone while sitting in a chair in a very cluttered office. He has glasses and is smiling broadly. 

Robert M. Solow in 1987, when he won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. 

Photo Credit: Mark Lennihan/Associated Press


Robert M. Solow, who won a Nobel in economic science in 1987 for his theory that advances in technology, rather than increases in capital and labor, have been the primary drivers of economic growth in the United States, died on Thursday at his home in Lexington, Mass. He was 99.

His son John confirmed the death.

Professor Solow (pronounced solo) taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he and a fellow Nobel laureate, Paul A. Samuelson, forged the M.I.T. style of economic analysis, which emerged as a leading approach in the second half of the 20th century and played an important role in economic policymaking.

His work demonstrated the power of bringing mathematics to bear on important economic debates and simplifying the analysis by focusing on a small number of variables at a time.

Beyond the impact of his own research, Professor Solow helped launch the careers of a stunning number of future superstar economists, including four Nobel laureates: Peter Diamond, Joseph E. Stiglitz, William D. Nordhaus and George A. Akerlof. “My pride and joy,” Professor Solow said.


The affection was reciprocated. In an interview for this obituary in 2013, Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton University economics professor, a former deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and a Solow pupil, said, “All his former students idolize him — all, with no exceptions.

Professor Solow received the John Bates Clark Medal in 1961 as the finest American economist under 40 and the National Medal of Science in 1999; he was one of the few economists to receive that honor. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Professor Solow’s research on economic growth became the model by which economists, well beyond the confines of M.I.T., came to practice their craft. For a century or more they simply “knew” that growth of capital and labor determined economic growth. But Professor Solow could not find data to confirm that common-sense presumption.

Besides, academic theories of economic growth that predated his writings had the discomforting implication that capitalist economies were always teetering between boom and bust. He observed that “the history of capitalism didn’t look like that.”

So what did explain growth? Entrepreneurs? Geography? Legal institutions? Something else?

“I discovered to my great surprise that the main source of growth was not capital investment but technological change,” Professor Solow said in an interview in 2009, also for this obituary. Specifically, he estimated that technical progress accounted for a surprising 80 percent of 20th-century American growth. He later pointed to Silicon Valley as a validation of his theory.


Professor Solow’s strategy — his gimmick, he liked to say — was to pick out one thing of special interest and simplify the role of everything else. The goal was to understand completely the role of a “little piece of the puzzle.” This strategy of inquiry came to be known as building “toy models.”

In analyzing economic growth, he singled out technological progress (the ability of society to translate inputs of capital and labor into outputs of goods and services) as independent from the other key variables, including population growth and returns on capital.

He devised a graph with two curves. One captured his simplifying assumption that population growth and technological knowledge rise at a constant rate over time. The second one captured his all-important assumption that the economic impact of adding more and more capital gets weaker and weaker. Adding capital to an economy drives up total output, but each additional dollop of capital drives up output by less than the previous dollop did.

Put the two curves on the same graph and a powerful theory of growth emerged. Professor Solow showed that higher savings and investment would indeed make individuals richer on average — the level of income per person would rise. But the added savings and investment would not affect the economy’s long-term rate of growth. The impact of additional savings on permanent growth rates peters out in a way that, under Professor Solow’s assumption, the impacts of population and technical knowledge do not.

Out went 100 years of often fruitless, meandering debate. Professor Solow’s simple graph refocused the argument, providing a clear path to cause-and-effect statements about past and future growth. He published his growth model in 1956. At that point, he had provided an elegant theory. A year later, he presented evidence.


Howard Golden, Who Led, and Defended, Brooklyn, Dies at 98

Howard Golden, Who Led, and Defended, Brooklyn, Dies at 98


A black and white close-up photo of Mr. Golden sitting at a table before a microphone in a large conference room where people are visible behind him sitting in rows in front of a large painting on a wall.

Howard Golden, the Brooklyn borough president, spoke at a hearing held by the New York City Council in 1992. During his tenure the power of the borough presidents was diminished, but he insisted on the importance of the job. 
Photo Credit: Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times

Howard Golden, who as Brooklyn borough president for a quarter-century pressed to strengthen the borough economically and defended it against slights real or perceived in the years before it experienced a gentrifying revival, died on Wednesday at his home in the Kensington section of Brooklyn. He was 98.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Michele Golden.

A brash, blunt and savvy product of the Brooklyn Democratic machine, Mr. Golden, whose clipped and gravelly tones often conveyed caustic criticisms of those who crossed him, doubled as the Democratic Party leader in Brooklyn during seven of his 25 years as borough president.

The party post made him a kingpin in determining who would get party backing in legislative and judicial primaries in Brooklyn, a heavily Democratic borough where winning the Democratic nomination was usually tantamount to being elected.

A reduction of the borough presidents’ powers occurred midway through Mr. Golden’s tenure, a result of a municipal reorganization approved by voters in 1989. The change abolished the Board of Estimate, which had been one of the city’s two top policy-making bodies, along with the City Council, and which comprised the mayor, the Council president, the city comptroller and the five borough presidents.


The board had the power, along with the City Council, to approve the city’s budget and, without the Council, to determine the use of city-owned property and enter into contracts on behalf of the city. Having a vote in those key decisions had given borough presidents most of their governmental power.

Mr. Golden was vehement in opposing the abolition of the board, which had been proposed by a commission appointed to recommend revisions of the City Charter.

When the commission held a public hearing in Brooklyn to discuss its proposals, Mr. Golden did not mince words. “As an act of courtesy, I welcome you to Brooklyn,” he told the commissioners. “I must say that your visit here today is not a beneficial one.”

It was undisputed, however, that changes in how the city was run had to be made. The United States Supreme Court had ruled that the Board of Estimate’s voting structure was unconstitutional, because it violated the one-person, one-vote principle by allotting one vote to each borough president even though the populations of the boroughs varied widely in size.

Read the rest of the obituary here:

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Menachem Daum, 77, Filmmaker Who Explored the World of Hasidim


Menachem Daum, 77, Filmmaker Who Explored the World of Hasidim

 His acclaimed documentary “A Life Apart” presented a complex portrait of a religious group usually depicted as somber and impenetrable.


A black-and-white portrait of Menachem Daum, a man with white hair, a full beard, glasses and a serious expression on his face.
Menachem Daum was not Hasidic himself. But in making the film “A Life Apart: Hasidism in America,” he was able to get people who scorn movies and television sets to sit on camera for revealing interviews.Credit...First Run Features/Oren Rudavsky Productions

Menachem Daum, a filmmaker who co-produced a groundbreaking 1997 documentary that illuminated the cloistered world of America’s Hasidim, died on Jan. 7 in a hospital near his home in Borough Park, Brooklyn. He was 77.

His death was confirmed by Eva Fogelman, a friend and the author of a book about Christian rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. She said Mr. Daum had been treated for congestive heart failure.

What made the documentary, “A Life Apart: Hasidism in America,” so striking was Mr. Daum’s ability to get people who scorn movies and television sets to sit on camera for revealing interviews, allowing him to chronicle their mores and rituals. The resulting film offered a complex portrait of a religious group usually depicted as somber and impenetrable; here it offered scenes of Hasidim joyfully dancing.

That achievement was not a given. Mr. Daum, though ultra-Orthodox, was not Hasidic himself. And although he had earlier made a film about caregivers for the aged, he was scarcely a seasoned filmmaker.

But he was well versed in the Torah, the Talmud and the intricacies of Orthodox Jewish observance. He spoke Yiddish — the Hasidic lingua franca — and lived in a Hasidic neighborhood. He teamed with an experienced filmmaker, Oren Rudavsky, the son of a Reform rabbi, to produce and direct the documentary.

The Hasidic movement was founded in the 18th century in Eastern Europe by a rabbi known as the Baal Shem Tov, who felt that Judaism had overemphasized intellectual qualities to the detriment of spiritual fervor and sincerity.

Mr. Rudavsky said in an interview that he believed “A Life Apart” was the first feature-length documentary released in American theaters that explored Hasidism.

The film, narrated by Leonard Nimoy and Sarah Jessica Parker, premiered at the Walter Reade Theater in Manhattan and in Los Angeles. It later ran for five months at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan and was shown on PBS television.

“‘A Life Apart’ enlivens its history and analysis with surprisingly tender family scenes, with evocations of the Hasidic world’s deep mysticism, and with some of the community’s most colorfully quaint features, like formal matchmaking,” Janet Maslin wrote in her review in The New York Times.

 Mr. Daum’s friendships and his familiarity with his neighborhood were the key to unlocking the reclusive Hasidic world, whose members deliberately wall themselves off socially from the secular world to avoid its temptations and to sustain their way of life, spurning even college educations and schooling in the professions.

“If I put on a hat, I look like I belong even more than I do,” Mr. Daum told The Times before the film’s premiere. “I could assure them that this film would not mock or exploit them.”

The film offered critical perspectives. A Hasidic woman laments what she sees as her second-class status, and a Black parks employee in Brooklyn condemns what he says is the aloofness and “spiritual arrogance” of the Hasidim he has encountered.


(The New York Times article continues here ).....


Sunday, January 14, 2024

Norby Walters, 91, Dies; Music and Sports Agent Who Ran Afoul of the Law


Norby Walters, 91, Dies; Music and Sports Agent Who Ran Afoul of the Law

 He ran a highly successful booking agency, but his secret contacts with college athletes led to convictions (later reversed) for racketeering and fraud.

 Norby Walters, standing in front of the Beverly Hilton hotel, wearing sunglasses and a Brooklyn Dodgers jacket.


Norby Walters, a booking agent for some of the country’s top disco, R&B, funk and hip-hop artists whose aggressive leap in the 1980s into signing college athletes to secret contracts before they turned pro led to legal problems, died on Dec. 10 in Burbank, Calif. He was 91.

His son Gary confirmed the death, at an assisted living facility.

Mr. Walters found his footing in show business through his ownership of restaurants, pizzerias, mambo joints and nightclubs, including the Norby Walters Supper Club on the East Side of Manhattan, which he opened in 1966, near the Copacabana.

He walked away from the club business two years later after a customer at the supper club shot two mobsters dead in front of about 50 people.

“Everybody hit the floor,” Mr. Walters told The New York Times in 2016. “And this guy was very calm about it. He sat down at the bar, put the pistol down and waited to be taken.”

Mr. Walters closed the club soon after.

He switched to booking musical acts into nightclubs, lounges and hotels, which proved lucrative. Over the next two decades, the client list of Norby Walters Associates (later called General Talent International) included Gloria Gaynor, Dionne Warwick, Patti LaBelle, Parliament-Funkadelic, the Commodores, Luther Vandross, the Four Tops, Run-DMC, Kool & the Gang, Grandmaster Flash and Public Enemy.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Walters glimpsed a new opportunity in the top tier of college athletes. With a partner, Lloyd Bloom, he established World Sports & Entertainment. From 1984 to 1987, the two men signed dozens of athletes to secret contracts that included inducements like cash, loans and cars in exchange for giving the agency exclusive rights to handle their future negotiations with professional teams, most of them in the National Football League, according to a 1988 federal indictment against Mr. Walters, Mr. Bloom, a third agent and a football player.”

Most of the inducements violated National Collegiate Athletic Association regulations and would have rendered the athletes ineligible to compete had their schools known about them. But Mr. Walters and Mr. Bloom said their lawyers had assured them that the contracts were legal even if the players were still with their college teams.

The indictment charged Mr. Walters and Mr. Bloom with conspiring with the athletes to conceal the payments by having them agree to postdated contracts that appeared to have been signed after their last collegiate games.

“The crime alleged that he conspired with students to steal their educations, which was preposterous, since the schools had little concern about whether they got an education,” Gary Walters said in a phone interview. He added, “Norby wasn’t doing anything different in the sports business than he did in the music business: giving fair compensation to players who had been denied it.”

The government also charged that the contracts had been backed by threats of violence, some involving the mobster Michael Franzese, a member of the Colombo crime family. When most of the athletes decided that they did not want Mr. Walters and Mr. Bloom to represent them but kept the cars and the money anyway, the indictment said, the two men threatened to have the athletes’ legs broken and threatened their families with physical harm.

Gary Walters said his father denied ever threatening anyone and also denied that Mr. Franzese had any involvement in his sports business.

Mr. Walters and Mr. Bloom were convicted of mail fraud and racketeering in 1989. Mr. Walters was sentenced to five years in prison and Mr. Bloom to three, but neither served a day.

An appeals court reversed the racketeering convictions in 1990, ruling that the trial judge had not instructed the jury that the two men’s actions had been guided by their lawyers’ advice that the signings were legal.

In 1993, the mail fraud convictions were also overturned.

“Walters is by all accounts a nasty and untrustworthy fellow,” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote in the 1993 ruling, “but the prosecutor did not prove that his efforts to circumvent the N.C.A.A.’s rules amounted to mail fraud.”

Mr. Bloom was shot to death at his home in Malibu, Calif., later that year.

By then, Mr. Walters had retired from his music and sports businesses, which had been damaged by the federal investigation, and remade himself as the host of celebrity parties and poker games.

Norbert Meyer was born on April 20, 1932, in Brooklyn. His father, Yosele Chezchonovitch, a Polish immigrant, served in the Army (where he changed his name to Joseph Meyer) during World War I and later became a diamond courier and the owner of a nightclub in Brooklyn and a sideshow attraction at Coney Island. His mother, Florence (Golub) Meyer, was a homemaker.

“I traveled all over the country with my father’s freak shows,” Mr. Walters told The Daily News of New York in 1987. “It was all a scam. There were no freaks, the alligator boy was a poor fellow with a horrible skin condition, the girl with no body was done with mirrors, the turtle girl was a dwarf with a costume.”

Norby studied business at Brooklyn College from 1950 to 1951 and served in the Army until 1953. He and his brother, Walter, took over their father’s club that year and renamed it Norby & Walter’s Bel Air.

On opening night, when Norby greeted customers by saying, “Hello, I’m Norby,” some responded by asking, “Oh, are you Norby Walters?” When the brothers stepped outside, they saw that the neon sign outside the club did not have the necessary ampersand. It said, “Norby Walters Bel Air Club.”

“I’ve been Norby Walters ever since,” he told The Atlanta Constitution in 1987. “My brother hated me for it.” His brother, who became known as Walter B. Walters, died in 2004.

Norby Walters carried the name — which he eventually changed legally — through his restaurant, club, music and sports careers, and into his final chapter.

From 1990 to 2017, he organized an annual Oscar viewing party, which he called Night of 100 Stars, in hotel ballrooms in Beverly Hills. It drew stars like Jon Voight, Shirley Jones, Charles Bronson, Eva Marie Saint and Martin Landau. He was also the host of a regular poker party at his condos in Southern California, where the regulars included Milton Berle, Bryan Cranston, Richard Lewis, Jason Alexander, James Woods, Charles Durning, Mimi Rogers and Alex Trebek.

A group of casually dressed people gathered around a green table with cards and poker chips. A crystal chandelier hangs above the table.
The final chapter of Mr. Walters’s life included a regular celebrity poker party. At one such party, the attendees included (standing, from left) his wife, Irene; his son Gary; the actors Dan Lauria, Lou Diamond Phillips and Bruce Davison; and Mr. Walters himself, as well as (seated) the actors Ed Asner, Mimi Rogers, Jason Alexander, James Woods and Kristanna Loken.Credit...via Walters Family

In addition to his son Gary, Mr. Walters is survived by two other sons, Steven and Richard. His wife, Irene (Solowitz) Walters, died in 2022.

Nearly 30 years after his legal problems caused him to retire, Mr. Walters said he understood his place in the Hollywood pantheon.

“As I always say to my wife,” he told The Times in 2016, a few days before his penultimate Oscar party, “‘I used to be important.’”

Richard Sandomir is an obituaries writer. He previously wrote about sports media and sports business. He is also the author of several books, including “The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper and the Making of a Classic.” More about Richard Sandomir

A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 12, 2024, Section B, Page 12 of the New York edition with the headline: Norby Walters, 91, Booker In Sports and Music World Who Ran Afoul of the Law. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Edward Jay Epstein, Author and Stubborn Skeptic, Dies at 88.


Edward Jay Epstein, Author and Stubborn Skeptic, Dies at 88

He questioned the findings of the Warren Commission, called Edward Snowden a prized Russian asset and exposed the diamond industry’s economic impact.


 A black-and-white portrait of a young Edward Jay Epstein, wearing a jacket and narrow tie.

Edward Jay Epstein in 1966, the year he turned his master’s thesis into a best-selling book on the Kennedy assassination.Credit...Marc Green/Viking Press


Edward Jay Epstein, an iconoclastic author whose deeply researched books challenged conventional wisdom about controversies ranging from whether John F. Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin to whether the whistle-blower Edward Snowden was really a Russian spy, has died in Manhattan. He was 88.

The cause was complications of Covid, his nephew Richard Nessel said. He said Mr. Epstein was found dead in his apartment on Tuesday.

A professional skeptic, Mr. Epstein wrote more than two dozen nonfiction books, many involving allegations of government conspiracies and corporate dereliction. Some raised more questions than they answered.

 In an improbable start to a prolific career, he debuted as an author early in 1966 when he transformed his master’s thesis at Cornell University into a book, “Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth.” The New York Times called it “the first book to throw open to serious question, in the minds of serious people,” the conclusions reached by the presidential panel appointed to investigate President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. ..............................................................................................

.........He was born Edward Jay Levinson on Dec. 6, 1935, in Brooklyn to Albert and Betty (Opolinsky) Levinson. His mother was an abstract sculptor, his father a financier in the fur trade who died of a heart attack when Edward was 7. His mother remarried, to Louis Epstein, an English-born shoe manufacturing executive, who adopted Edward in 1945. He was raised in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, where he attended Midwood High School, and in Rockville Centre, on Long Island, where he graduated from South Side High School.

At Cornell, Mr. Epstein was an erratic student. He was suspended after the 1956 spring semester for failing four courses, although he had received good grades in a 19th-century European literature course taught by Vladimir Nabokov and an A in Professor Hacker’s class on the U.S. Congress.

When he returned after 1963, Mr. Epstein completed his undergraduate degree and a master’s simultaneously, both in government. He graduated in 1966.

 Mr. Epstein and Henry Kissinger, both in suits and with white hair, chatting at a table as others mill around.

Mr. Epstein speaking with former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger at a publication party for the Snowden book in 2017. Credit...via Nessel Family

“He was the most interesting student I ever had,” Professor Hacker said. “There was a kind of mock ingenuousness about him. He would pretend he didn’t know anything.”

Mr. Epstein earned a doctorate in 1972 from the Harvard-M.I.T. Joint Center for Urban Studies, where his coursework was overseen by Prof. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the future U.S. senator from New York.

For three years Mr. Epstein taught political science at Harvard, the University of California, Los Angeles, and M.I.T., and wrote part time for The New Yorker. But he decided to return to the city of his birth to become a full-time author rather than pursue an academic career any further.

“I wanted to be in New York, ever since I met Clay Felker,” the editor of New York Magazine, he said in an interview last year with the online magazine Air Mail. “He knew the whole world.”

Mr. Epstein lived alone in a lavish rent-controlled apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. His niece and nephews are his closest survivors..............................................

.......................Michael Wolff, a fellow maverick investigative author, said of Mr. Epstein by phone, “He saw his job as a journalist as challenging, or, in fact, undermining, all conventional wisdom, which he did with a rigor born of both deep research and of knowing exactly who to call — because part of his trade was to know everybody.”

He added: “Ed’s politics were the joie de vivre of skepticism. Was he right? Curiously, I don’t think he was out to be right. He was out to ask the questions that others avoided or didn’t think of.”

Sam Roberts is an obituaries reporter for The Times, writing mini-biographies about the lives of remarkable people.







Paul Sorvino, Master of the Mild-Mannered Mobster, Dies at 83 - New York Times, July 25, 2022


Paul Sorvino, the tough-guy actor — and operatic tenor and figurative sculptor — known for his roles as calm and often courteously quiet but dangerous men in films like “Goodfellas” and television shows like “Law & Order,” died on Monday. He was 83.

His publicist, Roger Neal, confirmed the death, at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. No specific cause was given, but Mr. Neal said that Mr. Sorvino “had dealt with health issues over the past few years.”

Mr. Sorvino was the father of Mira Sorvino, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for Woody Allen’s “Mighty Aphrodite” (1995). In her acceptance speech, she said her father had “taught me everything I know about acting.”

“Goodfellas” (1990), Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed Mafia epic, came along when Mr. Sorvino was 50 and decades into his film career. His character, Paulie Cicero, was a local mob boss — lumbering, soft-spoken and ice-cold.

Paul Sorvino, the tough-guy actor — and operatic tenor and figurative sculptor — known for his roles as calm and often courteously quiet but dangerous men in films like “Goodfellas” and television shows like “Law & Order,” died on Monday. He was 83.

His publicist, Roger Neal, confirmed the death, at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. No specific cause was given, but Mr. Neal said that Mr. Sorvino “had dealt with health issues over the past few years.”

Mr. Sorvino was the father of Mira Sorvino, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for Woody Allen’s “Mighty Aphrodite” (1995). In her acceptance speech, she said her father had “taught me everything I know about acting.”

“Goodfellas” (1990), Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed Mafia epic, came along when Mr. Sorvino was 50 and decades into his film career. His character, Paulie Cicero, was a local mob boss — lumbering, soft-spoken and ice-cold.

That didn’t happen, he recalled, until one day when he was adjusting his necktie, looked in the mirror and saw something in his own eyes. When he saw what he called “that lethal Paulie look,” Mr. Sorvino told The Lowcountry Weekly, a South Carolina publication, in 2019, “I knew at that moment I had embraced my inner mob boss.”

He had made his mark onstage as a very different but perhaps equally soulless character in “That Championship Season” (1972), Jason Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning tragicomedy about the sad reunion of high school basketball players whose glory days are decades past. In the original Broadway production, Mr. Sorvino played Phil Romano, a small-town strip-mining millionaire arrogantly having an affair with the mayor’s wife.

Mr. Sorvino received a Tony Award nomination for best actor in a play and reprised the role in a 1982 film adaptation.

Paul Anthony Sorvino was born on April 13, 1939, in Brooklyn, the youngest of three sons of Fortunato Sorvino, known as Ford, and Marietta (Renzi) Sorvino, a homemaker and piano teacher. The elder Mr. Sorvino, a robe-factory foreman, was born in Naples, Italy, and emigrated to New York with his parents in 1907.

Paul grew up in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn and attended Lafayette High School. His original career dream was to sing — he idolized the Italian American tenor and actor Mario Lanza — and he began taking voice lessons when he was 8 years old or so.

In the late 1950s, he began performing at Catskills resorts and charity events. In 1963, he received his Actors Equity card as a chorus member in “South Pacific” and “The Student Prince” at the Theater at Westbury on Long Island. That same year, he began studying drama at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York.

Acting jobs were elusive. Mr. Sorvino’s Broadway debut, in the chorus of the musical “Bajour” (1964), lasted almost seven months, but his next show, the comedy “Mating Dance” (1965), starring Van Johnson, closed on opening night.

Mr. Sorvino worked as a waiter and a bartender, sold cars, taught acting to children and appeared in commercials for deodorant and tomato sauce. After his first child, Mira, was born, he wrote advertising copy for nine months, but the office job gave him an ulcer.

“Most of the time I was just another out-of-work actor who couldn’t get arrested,” he told The New York Times in 1972. “I had confidence in my ability, and I was angry as hell when other people didn’t recognize it.”

 Then his luck changed. He made his film debut in “Where’s Poppa?” (1970), a dark comedy directed by Carl Reiner, in a small role as a retirement-home owner. Then “That Championship Season” came along, starting with the Off Broadway production at the Public Theater.

The film role that first won him major attention was as Joseph Bologna’s grouchy Italian American father in “Made for Each Other” (1971). Mr. Sorvino, almost five years younger than Mr. Bologna, wore old-age makeup for the role.

He appeared next as a New Yorker robbed by a prostitute in “The Panic in Needle Park” (1972) but did not fall victim to the cops-and-gangsters stereotype right away. In 1973, he was George Segal’s movie-producer friend in “A Touch of Class” and a mysterious government agent in “The Day of the Dolphin.”

Mr. Sorvino later played an egotistic, money-hungry evangelist with a Southern accent in the comedy “Oh, God!” (1977) and God Himself in “The Devil’s Carnival” (2012) and its 2015 sequel. He was a down-to-earth newspaper reporter in love with a ballerina in “Slow Dancing in the Big City” (1978). In “Reds” (1981), he was a passionate Italian American Communist leader just before the Bolshevik Revolution.

Mr. Sorvino in 2000 with castmates in “Law and Order.” With him, from left, were Chris Noth, Michael Moriarty and Richard Brooks.Credit...NBC

He was Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, complete with German accent, in Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” (1995). And he played Fulgencio Capulet, Juliet’s intense father with an ancient grudge, in Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” (1996).

But in a half-century screen career, Mr. Sorvino’s characters were often on the wrong side of the law. He played, among others, Chubby de Coco (“Bloodbrothers,” 1978), Lips Manlis (“Dick Tracy,” 1990), Big Mike Cicero (“How Sweet It Is,” 2013), Jimmy Scambino (“Sicilian Vampire,” 2015) and Fat Tony Salerno (“Kill the Irishman,” 2011).


And in at least 20 roles, he played law officers with titles like detective, captain or chief. For one season (1991-92), he was Sgt. Phil Cerreta on NBC’s “Law & Order,” but he found the shooting schedule too demanding — and difficult on his voice.

Mr. Sorvino continued to sing professionally, making his City Opera debut in Frank Loesser’s “The Most Happy Fella” in 2006.

His personal life sometimes reinforced his tough-guy image. Most recently, in 2018, when the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was on trial for criminal sexual acts — and Mira Sorvino had accused him of harassment — Mr. Sorvino predicted that Mr. Weinstein would die in jail. “Because if not, he has to meet me, and I will kill the [expletive deleted] — real simple,” Mr. Sorvino said in a widely aired video interview.

Four months later, Mr. Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Mr. Sorvino’s final screen roles were in 2019. He played a corrupt senator in “Welcome to Acapulco,” a spy-comedy film, and the crime boss Frank Costello in the Epix series “Godfather of Harlem.”

Mr. Sorvino with his daughter Mira Sorvino in 2007. Credit...Kathleen Voege/Associated Press
Mr. Sorvino with his daughter Mira Sorvino in 2007.
Paul Sorvino in 1976. He sang and performed onstage before finding his stride in movies and television.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

"THE NEW BROOKLYN What It Takes to Bring a City Back" By Kay S. Hymowitz

"THE NEW BROOKLYN What It Takes to Bring a City Back" By Kay S. Hymowitz

(Originally Published in the New York Times on  )

Words are always shifting in their meanings, but what has happened to the word “gentrification” is something of a special case. Not too long ago, it was pretty much a value-neutral term for the process by which communities exchange one set of residents for another. Now it is a term of opprobrium, a word that conjures up the cruel displacement of defenseless poor people by a greedy and arrogant professional elite.

There is a whiff of hypocrisy in all this, or at least a strong element of disingenuousness. Ask mayors what they wish for in their city centers, and they will give you similar answers — safe streets, bustling sidewalks, busy stores and restaurants, and a healthy and growing residential population with plenty of money in its pocket. Mayors and city planners spend much of their time maneuvering to create these things, but with one inevitable disclaimer: They don’t want it to lead to gentrification. What they choose not to admit is that the change they are seeking and the change they claim to fear are exactly the same thing.

As “gentrification” has become an increasingly dirty word, the volume of disingenuous posturing on the subject has increased dramatically, and the supply of balanced reporting has declined. One writer who has managed to speak sensibly above the din is Kay S. Hymowitz, a contributing editor at City Journal and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “The New Brooklyn” is her admirably clearheaded assessment of the borough that sometimes seems the epicenter of American gentrification.

Brooklyn’s overall return to affluence in the 21st century has been a remarkable event, and it is one that Hymowitz describes with an unmistakable relish. “A left-for-dead city marinated in more than a century of industrial soot,” she writes, “became just about the coolest place on earth and the paragon of the postindustrial creative city.” But the core of the book is the portrait that she draws of half a dozen individual neighborhoods, and the subtleties that each of them reveals about the gentrification process.
After: Work and avocation have become more important to relationships here than geography. Credit Michael Nagle for The New York Times
Writing of now fashionable Park Slope, where Hymowitz herself lives, she makes some provocative sociological points that tend to get lost in the larger commotion. One is that class is now far more important than race: White gentrifiers with elite-school credentials and well-paying jobs get on famously with their well-educated black counterparts. The people they fail to connect with are their white working-class neighbors, most of whom were there before gentrification and have never been comfortable with it.

In a similar way, work and avocation are more important than geography. The relationships that matter most in Park Slope are those that link residents who share professional and leisure-time interests, not those of people who happen to live next door to one another. The days when neighbors bonded during long summer evenings on the front stoop are a distant memory. Today’s Park Slope citizens are oriented toward their backyard gardens and cedar decks; they may not know the family next door at all.

Park Slope is a neighborhood of elegant but formerly dilapidated brownstones now restored to its 19th-century glory. Nearby Williamsburg is something else entirely: an old working-class enclave whose industrial grittiness became pretentiously chic in ways that no one thought possible. In Williamsburg, the artists who arrived as pioneers in the 1980s resent the techies who showed up in the early 2000s, and both resent the Wall Street traders who moved in after them. All three groups are scornful of the huge condo towers that have sprung up on the Williamsburg waterfront as a result of rezoning in the past decade and, as Hymowitz puts it, erected a “massive wall between the community and the waterfront park.” Those towers are a dark side of gentrification, and Hymowitz candidly portrays them as such.

 The way for any collection of neighborhood profiles to succeed is to make fine distinctions between places that casual observers tend to consider similar. Hymowitz does that effectively in the case of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville, two neighborhoods widely perceived as outposts of African-American poverty and social dysfunction. Bedford-Stuyvesant hit bottom in the 1960s and 1970s, but more recently its architectural graces have made it attractive to middle-class newcomers, many of them black professionals. Brownsville, on the other hand, is an early-20th-century Jewish tenement slum that became an isolated fortress of public housing, a “dumping ground for the most welfare-dependent and least capable of Brooklyn’s black poor.” Gentrification has not touched it — at least not yet.

It is in discussing Brownsville that Hymowitz reveals her ultimate conclusions about the subject of her book. She challenges the local activists there who have voiced their opposition to the coming of the white middle class. “They’re making a mistake,” Hymowitz writes. “The difficult truth — and it is immensely difficult — is that gentrification would be about the best thing that could ever happen to Brownsville.”
And indeed, the thesis that emerges from the book, balanced as the author tries to make it, is that gentrification has been, on the whole, a good thing for Brooklyn. No fair-minded observer can deny, and Hymowitz does not try to deny, that significant numbers of poor people have been forced to leave Park Slope and Williamsburg, that this is happening in Bedford-Stuyvesant and that it will happen in more remote parts of the borough in the years to come.

And yet when one considers Brooklyn as much of it stood 40 years ago — once-vibrant communities whose residential blocks had become unsafe by day and by night; elegant brownstone homes that had fallen into dangerous disrepair; commercial districts with storefronts abandoned by merchants who could no longer make a living from them; job losses mounting in every corner of the borough — when one thinks back to those depressing days, and compares them with the Brooklyn of 2017, the ultimate logic of Hymowitz’s argument is compelling: Gentrification has winners and losers. Urban decline makes losers out of everyone.