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Trustee Nathaniel O'Bannon, who's been on the board since 1987, says he's not sure whether the vote-buying tradition continues. "It's kind of difficult for me to say right now," O'Bannon says. "It could be, but I have not been close enough to know. Me being blind, I'm really not into knowing what the deal is going on."
Former Mayor Marcellus West, who died in 1987, invited topless clubs to Brooklyn 20 years ago after hearing that PT's in Centreville had financed new police cars for that city. He figured topless clubs would do the same sort of thing in Brooklyn. He was right.
The clubs have curried favor by donating money to the village baseball team, youth groups and even churches. When they first arrived in Brooklyn, the clubs paid for a small park that features a picnic shelter and playground. Tall grass and empty beer bottles now surround the monkey bars and broken swing set. Shattered porcelain is all that remains of the toilets. Villagers say the park is never used. "They put it right across the street from those places," says Trustee Miller. "I wouldn't let my kids play there."
Miller recalls picketing the clubs with his family and a few other residents back in the early 1980s. They were a lonely bunch, dismissed by Mayor West as radicals. "I was a little boy," Miller says. "When we was out there picketing, it seemed like the churches should have been the first people to come out there and stand beside us. But that didn't happen."
Maybe ministers could have done more to keep the sex businesses out, admits the Rev. William Turner, pastor at Lovejoy Temple Church of God in Christ. He recalls Mayor West's setting up a meeting between club owners and the town's pastors shortly before the first topless club opened. "The people that owned these places said they were coming here to put in legitimate businesses, like stores and things of that sort," Turner says. "But I told them at that meeting, I said, 'I've heard it's going to be something else.' I said, 'If it is, since you all are all Caucasians, why don't you take it to Belleville, Fairview Heights, O'Fallon, some of those places?' 'Oh, no, Reverend, it's not going to be like that.' I didn't believe them, but the mayor was sitting there. In less than two weeks, there was one of those big neon signs that takes weeks to make up, and it had the name of one of the spas. It was right over the place where they said they were going to have a dry-goods store." At that point, Turner says, the ministers gave up. "Since we knew the town was sold out, we just went on and tried to pastor our people," he says. "I guess maybe there's something else we could have done, but we didn't know what our options were."
Ten years ago, Mayor Davis told the FBI that West had been taking bribes from brothel owners. Today, Turner says the town is selling itself way too cheap. "What's so sad is, they license those places for just a few pennies, $15,000 or something," he says. "And they're taking millions away from the community. I just can't understand how the city officials would allow them to do what they're doing."
Turner wants the sex industry out of Brooklyn. Amen, says Miller. Like an addict who discovers that life goes on without a fix, the village can survive without the clubs, Miller figures. "If you take away the clubs, it will be hard," he says. "But some kind of way, we would survive."
Micheal Ocello, an executive for Roxy's management company, isn't so sure. "They're collecting somewhere in the neighborhood of $80,000-$100,000 in license fees from these businesses," Ocello says. "Admittedly, some people might say that 'Hey, you know what, if these businesses weren't here, they'd be able to develop some other business.' And I'm certainly not wanting to get into a debate about that. But what I do know is, a town that's strapped can't afford to lose $100,000. And there doesn't seem to be any business developing in other sections of the city."
Ocello doesn't think Roxy's harms Brooklyn. "I don't want this to sound rude, because I don't mean it rude, but when people need money for the schools or to fund a picnic, they certainly don't mind us chipping in to help," he notes.
Mayor Cook and Chief Young have acknowledged ties to whorehouse owners busted by the feds. Called as a defense witness when prosecutors went after Everette O. Baker, a Brooklyn brothel owner convicted of money-laundering in 1998, Cook was forced to admit she'd accepted money from Baker, who ran a combination whorehouse, topless bar and adult bookstore called Fantasyland. A $500 check written to her in 1993 was a campaign contribution, Cook testified, and she probably accepted another $500 contribution in 1997. Cook said she did not know that Baker ran a whorehouse. Under questioning by a federal prosecutor, she also said a nephew and her late brother had worked for Baker, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined $4.4 million.
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