Patti Smith Fights for Greenpoint

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People Fight the Power

Sure, let's all go. Leave it all for the Indians. Or not even. The rocks and insects.

Then on Saturday night, half past midnight, at Warsaw (aka the Polish National Home) on Driggs Ave., I watched Patti Smith and her band rock a mobbed-deep sold-out crowd as she climaxed her set with "People Have the Power." The song had a double meaning this night. The concert?which included Hugh Pool, Vic Thrill and Hamell on Trial?was a benefit for the Greenpoint/Williamsburg Waterfront Task Force, a coalition of neighborhood groups hoping to stop TransGas Energy from building a proposed 1100-megawatt power plant on nine acres of Greenpoint waterfront. It was completely Smith's crowd and her packed house. If TransGas could harness the kind of energy the diva and her adoring audience were feeding each other, they wouldn't need a new power plant.

It's nice when you sponsor a benefit and it's such a success. The project began a few months ago when Jon Weiss, who books Warsaw as well as the Village Underground, and who may be the nicest rock promoter I've ever dealt with, asked me if we wanted to throw a sort of "New York Press Presents" night at the Greenpoint hall. I said sure, but let's make it a benefit for some worthy neighborhood cause or charity. He contacted the Task Force's Jane Pool and Aggie Mullaney-Straus, and the three of them got Patti Smith and the other acts to donate their services. Brooklyn Brewery also came on board as a sponsor. Largely, I suspect, through the Task Force's excellent grassroots efforts, the concert was sold out weeks in advance.

All that was left for me to do was show up Saturday night and enjoy myself in the crush of Williamsburg hipsters, Task Force do-gooders and Patti-lovers. The century-old Polish National Home is a fabulous venue for rock. The hall is wide, deep and high-ceilinged, with great sightlines and acoustics and a nifty antique disco ball. When the packed hall got too stifling I slipped off to the attached bar, with its nice Polish barmaids and some cool Shindig-era rock footage on the tv.

I spoke to Mullaney-Straus Monday morning after the show, which she called "a total triumph." With its mix of waterfront, industrial and residential uses, Greenpoint has long been treated as a ghetto dumpsite, with a history of oil spills (Mobil leaked 17 million gallons of oil product into the soil), air pollution (from the dioxin-spewing Greenpoint incinerator) and fouled water (a sewage treatment plant that turned Newton Creek into a septic horror). Greenpoint children are already said to show one of the city's highest asthma rates, and the Task Force is concerned that the proposed plant's smokestacks would spew particulate matter that has been linked to asthma, cancer and heart disease. They characterize the plant as an unnecessary, "oversized industrial eyesore which would drench Brooklyn with toxic pollutants."

Mullaney-Straus says Saturday's concert raised $20,000 toward the $50,000 the Task Force needs to secure legal representation from the Pace Energy Project, a nonprofit "sustainable advocacy and research organization" that does a lot of environmental work and is affiliated with the Pace University Law School. Project lawyers would put the neighborhood's case during the 18-to-24-month period it will take TransGas to get approval for the plant from the Pataki-appointed New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting, which has the authority to make final decisions regarding the siting of major electricity-generating facilities. The Task Force hopes to raise the needed balance of funds through more benefit concerts and other fundraising among local businesses, landlords and homeowners.

Maybe even those two spatting moms I saw will get involved.

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