Gala celebrates People’s Playground

Brooklyn Daily
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Ride the lightning: A model of the Thunderbolt rollercoaster coming to Luna Park.
Talking shop: Former Councilman Domenic Recchia mingles with Community Board 13 chairperson Marty Levine and district manager Chuck Reichenthal.
Off the record: Courier Life Publisher Cliff Luster chats with Lori Raphael of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
Honorable mention: Honoree and former Councilman Domenic Recchia shows off his award.
Carnival barker: Nathan’s Famous hotdog eating contest announcer George Shea kicked off the gala with a rousing speech.
Gala grins: Wonder Wheel owner Dennis Vourderis; honoree Marty Markowitz; Central Amusement International president Valerio Ferrari; Gargiulo’s Restaurant co-owner Nino Russo; Markowitz’s wife, Jamie; and Nate Bliss, president of the Coney Island Development Corporation, are all smiles for Coney Island.

Coney Island’s movers and shakers came out in droves for the Alliance for Coney Island’s second annual winter gala on March 6.

The gala is the Alliance’s top fund-raising vehicle and paid tribute to the people who helped shape Copney Island in recent years, said the Alliance’s director of operations, Johanna Zaki. This year’s honorees were president of Empire State Development Ken Adams; former borough president Marty Markowitz; and former Councilmember Domenic Recchia for their support of Coney Island, especially after Hurricane Sandy rocked the People’s Playground.

Fund-raising totals were not available as of press time.

George Shea, announcer for the Nathan’s Famous hot dog-eating contest, kicked off the evening with a bombastic introduction set to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”

Councilman Mark Treyger gave a rousing speech, championing the Alliance for efforts to rebuild after the superstorm.

“Alliance — that’s what it is going to take to get this neighborhood not to where it was, but stronger and better,” Treyger said.

Zaki said Coney Recovers raised more than $700,000 in 2013 to provide resources to community-based organizations.

Much of the evening, however, was about looking forward.

Tourism is the fifth-largest employer in New York State, and it is one of the fastest-growing employment sectors, Adams said.

“So much of that is anchored by success here,” he said.

A staffer for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries echoed that sentiment during a speech.

“You might be at the end of the map, but you’re at the center of the district,” said Stina Skewes-Cox, district director for the congressman.

Wonder Wheel co-owner Dennis Vourderis said he is particularly excited for the new Thunderbolt rollercoaster coming to Luna Park — the first coaster to open at Coney Island since the Cyclone in 1927.

The evening also featured a musical performance from Park Slope’s Dan Zanes, who played his song “Wonder Wheel.”

After Zanes’s perfromance, he shared an embrace with Vourderis.

“I love your song,” Vourderis said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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