FOR LESLIE LEWIS, the phrase “pro bono publico” (“for the public good”) runs as the undertone of his current life.
“I feel like the king of pro bono,” says Lewis, the volunteer criminal justice liaison for Borough Prez. Marty Markowitz, and perennial president of the 84th Precinct Community Council. “But not because I’m a saint. The psychic income is enormous. This is the best job I’ve ever had. It’s extremely rewarding.” Long retired, Lewis began devoting so much pro bono time to criminal justice matters because he, too, wanted to feel safe in his neighborhood
“Boerum Hill in those days was too dangerous to walk around at night. When I started this, guns went off every night.”
Shortly after settling there in 1982 Lewis joined the Precinct Community Council and Boerum Hill Association and has since built strong relationships with the district attorney’s office and numerous precincts (the reason for his more recent position with Markowitz, he says). He started a court-monitoring program to encourage stricter penalties for repeat criminals in Boerum Hill, to send a loud message that crime would not be tolerated. Send a few to jail, word gets around, crime moves elsewhere — that was the idea, and it worked.
“They were going to know we were tough. I learned how to send the message ‘this is not a neighborhood to do this in.’”
In April of this year, the 84th Precinct was named the second safest in the city. Crime in the area has decreased by 90 percent since 1990, according to NYPD statistics. In the last year, several three-story buildings near Lewis’ home, still between two projects, sold for about $1.3 million.
Lewis tells a warming story of standing on the corner of the projects with a uniformed sergeant about six years ago, when a woman walked up and asked, “Is this neighborhood safe?’ She was thinking about moving there. The Sergeant responded that it was a low crime precinct, and after she walked away, turned to Lewis and said, ‘You and I enabled us to be able to say that. We couldn’t have said that a few years ago.’ And by ‘you and I’ he meant all of us working for it.”
In his role as precinct community council president, Lewis is the organizer of the upcoming Neighborhood Safe Streets Rally on August 5 — also known as the 25th anniversary of the National Night Out Against Crime. He’s been leading the event for years, but recently removed “against crime” from the name, changing the sentiment from confrontation to unity and respect. This is why the event T-shirts say, “Respect, it’s a Brooklyn Attitude.”
“It used to be the march against crime, but it’s not like that anymore. There are no empty parking lots. There are people in the streets, and the people who left Brooklyn are coming back. We are here to celebrate a successful partnership between the community and the police department.”
The rally will gather at Court Street along Borough Hall Plaza at 6:15 p.m. on August 5. Participants include the Gowanus Wildcats Drill Team, 84th Precinct Explorer Scouts, mounted police and various elected officials. Free activities include bike registration, pony rides, face painting, food and refreshments.
“There will always be some crime, but this is not an angry taking-over-the-streets movement,” says Lewis. “It’s a party. Happy time!”
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NATIVE NEW YORKER IRA FLATOW, host of NPR’s popular “Talk of the Nation: Science Friday” will be presenting his TalkingScience’s AquaCabaret at the New York Aquarium on August 8. (Flatow is founder and president of TalkingScience, a non-profit company dedicated to creating broadcast projects that make science “user friendly.”)
“Like Science Friday,” Flatow says, “TalkingScience Cabaret will give people a chance to talk to scientists and ask them questions directly. The Aquarium cabaret will be a Coney Island version of a science cabaret — a science and conservation message with a whacky twist.”
Aquarium Director Jon F. Dohlin says he is happy to host Flatow because his show plays into the main mission of the aquarium — “the collaboration between science and conservation.”
After the 7 p.m. show, guests will be invited to the Oceanic Deck to view the famous Coney Island Fireworks display. Tickets are $8 in advance, call (718) 741-1822, or $10 at the door.
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RED HOOK RESIDENT ANDREW BERGER has been elected to a four-year term on the Cornell University Council, an organization of alumni and friends who provide leadership to the school. Berger demonstrated leadership for Cornell and/or “a notable degree of professional accomplishment” to earn the nomination. He is counsel at the Manhattan firm Tannenbaum Helpern Syracuse & Hirschtritt.