Welcome to Brooklyn

Damn the criticism -- Mayor Ruby Cook runs Brooklyn her way. But in this historic town, best known for its sex trade, she's not the biggest problem. Brooklyn is broke, divided and sinking fast.

Few, if any, nonprofits in the village meet the community fund's new standards, and so the fund will provide training on how to build budgets, manage volunteers and plan programs. Organizations must complete the eight-month training program before they will be considered for grants. "It's really going to take a lot of hard work," Byrd says. "I think that we are a pretty tough sell."

In short, Brooklyn won't be seeing any money from the fund anytime soon. And so the village is turning to the sex industry for help -- the Board of Trustees has proposed doubling license fees to ease its financial crisis. In the meantime, Roxy's, which pays $20,000 a year for its business license, is making a $6,666 installment early so the village can make payroll.

Her critics call her a dictator. She sticks her tongue out at photographers when journalists ask questions she doesn't like. The Board of Trustees has asked the state's attorney in St. Clair County to remove her from office. They're concerned about village checks she's written to herself that she can't explain.

Brooklyn is best known for its sex businesses, which some village leaders would rather see go away. "What's so sad is, they license those places for just a few pennies, $15,000 or something," says the Rev. William Turner. "I just can't understand how the city officials would allow them to do what they're doing."
Jennifer Silverberg
Brooklyn is best known for its sex businesses, which some village leaders would rather see go away. "What's so sad is, they license those places for just a few pennies, $15,000 or something," says the Rev. William Turner. "I just can't understand how the city officials would allow them to do what they're doing."

Mayor Cook says she's not worried about her war with trustees. "If they want to say malfeasance, I can say nonfeasance," she says. "They haven't done anything to help the community." She ticks off her accomplishments since taking office in 1994 after winning a lawsuit alleging election irregularities. She's started a food bank, begun a clothing drive and organized Heritage Days, an annual celebration marking the anniversary of Brooklyn's incorporation. She wants to bring in more housing and spur economic development, despite the X-rated establishments that doubters say scare off other business. "Las Vegas did it," she says. She's not about to force adult entertainment out of Brooklyn. "I didn't put them here, and I'm not going to try to run them away," she says. "But when the Lord get ready, they will move."

Regarding the alleged $100,000 embezzlement of town funds by the former treasurer, Cook says she has no comment on how so much money could be missing without her knowing about it. Nor can she say the size of the municipal budget. "I can't tell you that right now because I never really -- well, we passed a budget," she says. "I never really pay any attention to it."

Brooklyn has long had its own brand of democracy in which "checks and balances" has meant that the mayor writes the checks and keeps the balances -- in 1984, a Democratic precinct committeeman who insisted on seeing a copy of the town budget was removed from a budget hearing and jailed for disorderly conduct. The situation isn't much better today. The village Board of Trustees says Mayor Cook hasn't shown them financial records for the past five years, despite repeated requests.

Corruption has been a given for so long that obituaries for former mayors convicted of bribery and extortion don't mention their crimes. Trustee Miller says clouds are a natural part of government, but Brooklyn is in a class by itself. "In Washington, there's a dark cloud," he says. "In Springfield, there's a cloud. But hey, it's raining here. We've got tornadoes."

Former Mayor James "Barney" Davis, now deceased, gave a rare peek into the town's political traditions during the Red Garter investigation. Like Chief Eugene Douglas, Davis was convicted of taking bribes, pitifully small ones. At $250 a week from the brothel owners, the mayor collected less than the whores, whose services accounted for $3.3 million in credit-card charges alone over a four-year period. The chief collected $150 a week from the brothel. In testimony before the grand jury, Davis, a trustee for 20 years before becoming mayor, detailed Election Day 1989, when campaign workers for both sides cruised the streets looking for voters. Under questioning by a federal prosecutor, Davis said junkies and drunks were some of his biggest supporters:

The winos and people that like to drink, have no jobs, are hanging around, are picked up by cars and taken to the polling place?

Yes. ... As I say, both of us were paying $5 or $10 a vote.

That's the highest you have ever heard being paid for votes in Brooklyn?

Right.... You didn't have to start to pay until later that evening. You could tell by the number of votes people were bringing in.... We were in trouble, got to pay more for the votes.

So that in effect you and your opponent were in a bidding war with the winos in Brooklyn?

I wouldn't say ... I don't mean to degrade the winos.

You have full knowledge they (campaign workers) were trying to keep up with your opponent in picking up winos or whatever you want to call them?

That's the way Brooklyn pays for our ticket. As I say, I have been there all my life. You have always had to pay. There have been some landslides in Brooklyn, and a lot of times the late mayor wouldn't be no election. He would see they would be off the ballot, couldn't get on the ballot. They always is going to be paid-for votes in Brooklyn, but not as much as this last one.

All told, Davis paid $3,000 in small bills to keep his office. Topless-club owners and a prominent Democratic Party official each contributed half, Davis testified.

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