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    Convention thoughts from Tom Webb

    Wednesday, September 01, 2004

    Brooklyn bridge 

    Minnesota reporters here, including yours truly, have noted that this marks Norm Coleman's return to his native New York. Coleman was raised in Brooklyn -- which is a huge place, with more than 2 million people -- in the Flatbush-Midwood area. In his day, this was a mixed Jewish/Italian/Irish neighborhood.

    "It's where Woody Allen grew up, it's where Ruth Bader Ginsberg is from," Coleman said. Not to mention fellow U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer. "Our neighbors were Camperelli, Charicanuto, Colavito -- so Coleman fit right in," he joked.

    But that was decades ago. I called the Brooklyn Historical Society, for a quick tutorial about the long evolution of Brooklyn's Midwood area. A very nice historian there, Marilyn Pettit, talked about Brooklyn's ever-changing ethnic mix. Way back when, Brooklyn was a heavily Protestant area, and later, heavily Catholic. When Coleman was growing up, it was heavily Jewish.

    "When I moved to Brooklyn in '68, they said there were more Jews in Brooklyn than there were in Israel," Pettit remembered. "I don't know what the percentage is now, but the black percentage is rising, the Jewish population is declining."

    "Now that neighborhood is full of West Indian immigrants, people from the Caribbean," she said."It's still pretty middle class, it's just different, culturally different, racially different, even religiously different."

    What has also changed, however, was the unity of a neighborhood where everyone was pretty much the same. Back in the 1950s, Pettit said, "Even though it was ethno-culturally diverse, they were all sort of at the same economic level. There weren't the great variation between rich and poor, so everyone went to the same public schools, and played ball together, and knew everyone in the neighborhood. . . Whereas if you were born in Cambodia or Vietnam, and find yourself in Corpus Christi, Texas, you know you're different, you feel you're different just walking down the street. . . Midwood was a place of a lot of shared values."

    Pettit concluded with a homecoming offer for Coleman: "Tell him he has an open invitation from the Brooklyn Historical Society to see us, this week or anytime."

    Tom Webb

    Tom Webb is the Washington correspondent for the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press. He can be reached at

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