the nytimes.com reports...
When the Queen Mary 2 made Brooklyn its New York home port, Marty Markowitz, the borough’s president and most tireless booster, fairly burst with pride.
“Brooklyn’s ship has come in,” a press release quoted him as saying last year when the ship made its maiden docking at Pier 12 in Red Hook. “All aboard.”
On Thursday, Mr. Markowitz’s own ship came in. He arrived in Brooklyn on the Queen Mary 2 after a free six-day cruise from Southampton, England. Mr. Markowitz was quick to point out that he sailed not just as a passenger, but also as the borough’s official ambassador. Between breakfasts of petit filet mignon and dinners of lobster flambé with cognac and truffles, harp recitals and black-tie soirees, the mostly European passengers were treated to an hourlong talk from Mr. Markowitz on the wonders of Brooklyn. More than 450 people attended it, he said.
“I know it sounds crazy to us,” Mr. Markowitz said yesterday, “but there are many people who don’t know Brooklyn and are curious to know about us.”
Though ethics watchdogs said it was hard to accept a free cruise from a company that does business with the city without creating the appearance of a conflict of interest, Mr. Markowitz’s voyage was approved by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board.
The board ruled that the gift was legitimate, given that “attracting regional, domestic and international tourism to Brooklyn is a major priority in your administration and that this trip will advance this priority.” Mr. Markowitz’s passage was reported yesterday in The New York Post.
Mr. Markowitz said that he certainly felt he earned his berth in an ocean-facing room on an upper deck, worth somewhere north of $1,500.
“Had they invited me to lounge around in my shorts and to play no role at all, that’s one story,” Mr. Markowitz said. “But I was invited for a specific purpose.”
The Queen Mary 2 typically sails with a dozen or so guest lecturers, on topics ranging from politics to psychology to art history. “There’s really nothing out of the ordinary about it,” Chris Hodek, public relations coordinator for Carnival’s Cunard Line, which owns the ship, said of Mr. Markowitz’s trip.
Nor were Mr. Markowitz’s shipboard duties limited to the lecture. He also took part in two question-and-answer sessions, he said, and fielded inquiries from passengers curious or confused about their destination.
“One man — definitely from England — when he heard that we were landing in Brooklyn, he screamed out: ‘Brooklyn. I want to go to New York,’ ” the borough president recalled. “I had to explain to him that Brooklyn is part of New York.”
Mr. Markowitz has long advocated Brooklyn as a logical home for the overflow traffic from Manhattan’s cruise docks, and he lobbied the mayor’s office long and hard to build a cruise terminal in Red Hook. His office also kicked in $1.5 million toward the terminal’s more than $50 million cost. (In return for renovations the city made to its terminals, the Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Lines agreed to pay the city at least $200 million in port charges through 2017.)
Gene Russianoff, a lawyer for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said that when it came to accepting a free ride on a luxury liner, “inevitably there’s an appearance issue even if you dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s.” But he said Mr. Markowitz had done everything that could have been asked of him to steer clear of choppy ethical waters.
Mr. Markowitz said that other than the cost of the cruise itself, he paid for everything on the trip, including the flight to London for him and his wife, and her boat fare.
Still, that Mr. Markowitz went on the free trip at all was enough to draw reproach from some quarters.
“It’s not something I would have done, even if the Conflicts of Interest Board says it’s O.K.,” said Chris Owens, a former Congressional candidate who is considering a run for borough president in 2009. (Mr. Markowitz is barred by term limits from re-election.)
Mr. Markowitz might have picked a more opportune time to leave town for a week. While he was away, one of the bigger controversies of his administration arose, concerning his decision to remove nine members from a community board that criticized the $4 billion Atlantic Yards development project, which Mr. Markowitz has championed. A reporter seeking comment on the move on Tuesday was told only that Mr. Markowitz was “on a ship.”
Still, Mr. Markowitz, who a few years ago told Newsday that an ocean cruise was “the ultimate vacation, a smorgasbord on water,” said one of his regrets was having broken his diet at the buffet table.