Monday, April 10, 2006

Atlantic Yards position AWOL on Yassky's campaign web site

City Council Member David Yassky, the fundraising frontrunner for for the Congressional seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Major Owens, has a spiffy campaign web site that describes his accomplishments and positions.

What the site lacks is an obvious position on the Atlantic Yards project. Atlantic Yards is a controversial issue for the diverse district, which includes a minority of (mostly-white) brownstoners (allegedly) concerned about the project's scale and a majority of (mostly black) working-class residents (allegedly) more concerned about the promises of construction jobs and affordable housing.

The lack of clarity reflects how Yassky has treaded carefully, expressing both enthusiasm for and concern about the project. (Supporters see that as nuanced, while critics see it as expedient; others say Bruce Ratner's not pleased either.) The twist is that Chris Owens, son of the incumbent and one of the four black candidates in the race, is the only one to take an unequivocal position opposing the project.

Even though it's more of a local than Congressional issue, this is one of the few issues on which the mostly-liberal candidates differ; the candidates are arguing competence, clout, and racial politics. (I couldn't find a position on the web sites of candidates Yvette Clarke, Carl Andrews, or Nick Perry, though Clarke and Andrews have been reported as favoring the project.)

Going to the web

Yassky's campaign web site contains a drop down box titled "Yassky on the issues," with 13 topics including Brooklyn Bridge Park and Affordable Housing. There's no box for the Atlantic Yards project, though it is as significant and controversial as the park. The Affordable Housing section mentions inclusionary zoning in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, but not the controversial agreement for the Atlantic Yards project negotiated by developer Forest City Ratner and the community group ACORN.

Actually, if you search, you can find a Yassky position. In the News & Press section there's a 9/13/05 press release headlined "Yassky and Brennan to MTA: Reject Proposal, Decrease Scope of Development at Atlantic Yards."

Other statements

Other statements aren't on Yassky's web site. Since then, at the 10/18/05 public hearing on the Draft Scope of Analysis, Yassky said, “I’m for the project, I want to see it done right,” but followed up to emphasize that he won't support the plan unless changes are made.

More recently, he told a Park Slope audience in March that “unless there’s a serious and concrete plan” regarding traffic, “I think the project has to be resisted on that ground alone.”

Is Yassky hedging when he speaks to other audiences? (I'm told that at the Independent Neighborhood Democrats debate last Thursday, both Yassky and Clarke criticized eminent domain for a favored developer and said they were troubled by its use for the Atlantic Yards project, but neither went beyond that to say the project "has to be resisted.")

Why can't he state his position on his web site?

I emailed him to ask about the omission, and he responded, "We are in the process of updating and relaunching our web site." For questions about the project, he suggested I contact press spokesman Evan Thies.

That's not quite the point. If he's going to offer positions on 13 issues, he shouldn't ignore Atlantic Yards. But I did contact Thies, who responded, "The web site has had statements from David on Atlantic Yards posted in the past, including his public testimony on the project. The site is in the midst of an upgrade and will relaunch sometime next month. I'm sure there will be Atlantic Yards items and comments." He didn't affirm that it would be in the section on issues, though.

Past hedging

Yassky does have a record of mixing enthusiasm and concern. At the 5/26/05 City Council hearing, according to a 6/2/05 Brooklyn Downtown Star article headlined Hearing Turns Into Back-'Yards' Brawl, ACORN's Bertha Lewis declared, "It's time for some affirmative support...I want the councilmembers to roll up their sleeves and help us on this," and Yassky responded by taking off his jacket and began rolling up his sleeves.

Later, however Yassky expressed concerns about traffic, project scale, and the project's impact on city and social services. "I don't think it's adequate to leave it to the ESDC and wait and see," he told FCR VP Jim Stuckey. "There are concrete things that we can do ahead of time."

Stuckey responded that the responses would be in the project's environmental impact statement (EIS). "It doesn't make sense to speculate right now," Stuckey insisted.

But Yassky's instinct to address problems sooner rather than later seems sound. The Draft EIS won't arrive until late May or early June, and Forest City Ratner president Bruce Ratner expects government approval (meaning Final EIS, plus other signoffs) by mid-fall. That's not a lot of time.

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