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New York City’s homegrown film studio mogul is a Gotham power broker out of central casting, and he’s used gobs of resources and connections to the Adams administration to try and block a street safety project in Greenpoint.
- Queens College student
- Founder of Broadway Stages, one of NYC’s biggest film and TV production companies.
How do you stop street safety improvements that have been in the works for years and are endorsed by the neighborhood’s elected officials? If you have the money, you could fund a robust PR campaign, complete with robocalls, billboards, and mailers. If you’re politically connected to the mayor, you could bend some ears and pull some strings. If you’re a big shot in the neighborhood, you could call in a few favors and have your powerful friends rally behind you.
This past May, shortly after the Department of Transportation announced plans to cut McGuinness from four lanes of traffic to two and install two-way protected bike lanes and other traffic-calming measures, Argento sprung into action. Dozens of local businesses—many linked to Argento and his film company Broadway Stages—opposed the project under the banner “Keep McGuinness Moving.” The mayor’s chief advisor Ingrid Lewis-Martin complained about the redesign in high-level staff meetings. And in mid-June, Argento hosted a “town hall” meeting at Broadway Stages. Scores of Brooklyn business interests attended the meeting along with members of local Teamsters unions; and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, the chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party and a major Adams ally. While they expressed their opposition to the DOT plan, Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez, who had been summoned from City Hall, stood and listened (many supporters of the redesign weren’t allowed inside).
“Bringing Rodneyse to address that group, that’s a flex,” one Brooklyn business insider, who was granted anonymity to speak freely and avoid reprisal, told Hell Gate; Bichotte Hermelyn’s Assembly district sits miles away from McGuinness Boulevard. “When I snap my fingers, the chair of the Democratic Party shows up. She didn’t even know why she was there!”
Tony Argento, owner of Broadway Stages, addresses the crowd, talks about moving here in the 1990s when there were dirt streets and trash everywhere. “I live here,” he says. “This is about safety,” he says regarding McGuinness Blvd, but he thinks there needs to be more input. pic.twitter.com/obaY7d7AUj— Gwynne Hogan (@GwynneFitz) June 15, 2023
Argento and his sister Gina, who run Broadway Stages together, have collectively spent lots of money over the years on political donations to New York’s politicians— well over $1 million since 2006—but they’ve been especially generous to Adams and his allies. The Argentos have personally given Adams’s campaigns $15,000 since 2015, and during the 2021 campaign, Broadway Stages shoveled $25,000 into A Better NY For All, a PAC that spent heavily in favor of Adams. This is on top of the hundreds of thousands of dollars Broadway Stages gave to the nonprofit that Adams controlled while he was Brooklyn Borough President, the One Brooklyn Fund. (Bichotte Hermelyn and the Brooklyn Democratic Party apparatus she controls have gotten at least $80,000 from the Argentos since 2014.)
For her part, Gina was a major campaign bundler for Bill de Blasio in 2013, and briefly attracted the scrutiny of federal investigators three years later after she gave de Blasio’s PAC $50,000; prosecutors looked for evidence of favor-trading that never materialized, and Gina’s husband cited “pressure” from the mayor’s office to give.
“Political activism is a right in the United States and that we are extremely conscious about our communal and civic responsibility,” a spokesperson for the Argentos told Hell Gate in response to a list of questions. “It’s not wrong and it’s not for any reason other than to advocate for what we deem is good for NYC, for our communities and the country.”
Tony is a proud Italian American who arrived in New York from Sicily when he was six, founded Broadway Stages in 1983, and built a studio empire of more than 60 soundstages on the public’s unquenchable thirst for both prestige TV and new seasons of “Law & Order,” and New York’s burgeoning film tax credits. (When we asked to confirm these facts of Tony’s life, the spokesperson replied, “As far as questions on Tony Argento, we are offended that you even ask about his ethnicity. It’s bigoted and wrong. In these times we’re finding ourselves in, with racism and antisemitism running rampant, that’s where these questions go? Tony is one of the most charitable and community and civic minded entrepreneurs you can find, and believes strongly in paying it forward. That’s who Tony Argento is.”)
“I have never met a more grumpy millionaire,” a political source in Greenpoint told Hell Gate, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “He’s extremely rich and has been extremely successful, but you run into him in the neighborhood, and he’s driving to get take out from someplace even though he lives 10 blocks away, and all he wants to do is complain to you about how bad things are getting—how awful the traffic is, and the crime. For him, the glory days are long behind us, and since then it’s all been one shitshow.”
Bo Dietl says he’s here to support Tony Argento, “who built this whole neighborhood up from nothing”— Christopher Robbins (@ChristRobbins) September 12, 2023
The Argento family owns the soundstage company that is backing “Keep McGuinness Moving” pic.twitter.com/b1G9xpnPg5
In 2012, when a different company of Tony and Gina’s tried to obtain a municipal waste-hauling license, the City’s Business Integrity Commission rejected their application “because the Applicant lacks good character, honesty and integrity.” The report said that the company was illegally hauling waste in Greenpoint, that Tony had lied about a felony DWI arrest in 1997, and that the company and Tony had more than $1 million in federal tax liens (the Argentos countered that it was more like $435,000).
The Argentos have had more success with stopping the safety improvements in Greenpoint. Since their campaign began, the McGuinness Boulevard redesign has gone from removing a lane of traffic each way for the entire road, to removing a lane of traffic below Calyer Street, to the DOT saying that they will “study” removing a lane below Calyer Street, though there will be a protected bike lane the full length, connecting to the Pulaski Bridge. It’s not just McGuinness—business interests across town have found the Adams administration extremely amenable to killing street improvements, from the Fordham Road busway to a bike lane in Fort Greene.
Meanwhile, McGuinness remains extremely dangerous. According to City data, there have been 224 major crashes on the road since May of 2021, when public school teacher Matthew Jensen was killed crossing the street; 84 people have been injured in that time period.
Why does Tony care so much about the DOT fixing McGuinness? A DOT study showed that truck traffic, which is important to Broadway Stages and other industrial businesses in Greenpoint, won’t be affected by the road diet. So what is behind his fervent opposition?
“I don’t know if this was ever about a street in the first place,” the business insider said. “It’s really about who is in charge and who gets to call the shots and who is protected and who is exposed and who is ascendant and who is not. His issue is never really about a street, it’s: how could they do that to us?“
As North Brooklyn demographics keep trending younger and richer, the source predicted that the Argentos would keep fighting change, and would keep needing a receptive administration to do it.
“This is just the first salvo in what could be a whole set of ongoing issues—maybe they’re not about streets at all,” they said. “It’s really about the forces of gentrification and the receding influence of the old Italian and Polish residents.”
- This Powerful Family Is Fighting Safety Measure for a Deadly Greenpoint Street | The CITY
- Bounty! Greenpoint bizman offers reward for graffiti vandal’s capture | Brooklyn Paper
- Intrigue behind delays in Broadway Stages land deal | Staten Island Advance
Last updated: 12/18/2023
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