Joe Ferris remembers, by Joe Enright
On a cloudy November afternoon, a small crowd gathered at the southeast corner of 7th Avenue and 3rd Street in Park Slope for a street naming event. It was the kind of ceremony I imagine Joe Ferris would have liked. Just family members, close friends and political allies. No press, no podium, no seats, no blocked traffic. Bobby Carroll kicked off, recalling Joe’s iconoclastic life before Covid took him last June. Army veteran and high school teacher who also taught Riker’s Island inmates, he got his feet wet in politics in the 1960s as one of the founders of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, defying briefly an old-school Democratic congressman. In 1972, he faced the machine’s candidate for the State Assembly and won the primaries but lost the general elections. By this time he had quit teaching and was running the Shamrock Tavern on Flatbush near 6th Avenue in a building he owned.
Brad Lander, our elected controller, who arrived on a Citi bike in a suit and tie, recalled the street unveiling months ago further south on 7th Avenue for fellow Irishman Pete Hamill.
As Lander spoke, a female passenger in a shiny black sedan turning on 3rd Street angrily yelled out the window that Lander was a traitor and a liar about something or the other. Lander pointed out that we had just witnessed another example of Park Slopers so passionate about their politics.
Joe Ferris Jr. was next, remembering how much his father loved this block from the moment he bought a house across the street in 1961, a difficult time in Park Slope. “How much did he pay?” Someone asked. “About $ 12,000 I think.” Another elder shouted, “He’s been overcharged! Joe Jr. laughed and replied, “Well, I think they threw out the furniture too.”
Finally, Jim Brennan spoke, recalling how Ferris dusted himself off after his 1972 loss in the Nixon landslide and won a hotly contested primary in 1974, then defeated the outgoing Republican who was an education teacher physics at John Jay High School. Joe was sworn in alongside another rookie member from the neighboring district, Chuck Schumer. In 1976, the Democratic machine backed a challenger, but Joe won the primary and was reelected. He was primary again in 1978, 1980 and 1982 but won each time, retiring in 1984. Ferris passed the banner of reform to his assistant, Brennan, who would serve for 32 years before passing the baton to Bobby Carroll.
Now Joe Jr. has pulled on the string to unsheathe the new street name sign. The string broke. Lander was dissuaded from climbing up the post as Carroll rushed to Tarzian Hardware on the next turn to get a post. Joe used it to remove the coating and thanked us all for coming.
I asked Brennan why Ferris had withdrawn. “Joe really and really hated Albany,” he said. But more than anything, it seems, he hated the old clubhouse politics of the Democratic Party. So much so that in 1989, still independent, he supported Giuliani against Dinkins for mayor.
In July 1972, after visiting Joe’s first victory party, Pete Hamill wrote this: three saloonkeepers, two Puerto Rican bodega owners, lots of young people and lots of working class sons from Ireland and Italy. It was the politics of ethnicity and inclusion, cases of beer, loud music, community, laughter and a sense of belonging. “Everyone is welcome,” Ferris was saying as a group fought and people hugged and a few people cried. “
Brennan, Lander, Carroll & Ferris (left to right) Joe Jr. holds the Tarzian pole
The Joseph Ferris route unveiled
Another sign for the northeast corner