Sunday, April 09, 2006

Marty's dance of avoidance on Atlantic Yards

If Brooklyn were a standalone city, it would be the fourth-largest in the country, as Borough President Marty Markowitz is fond of saying. Such a city would deserve its own newspaper, and that newspaper surely would provide more exhaustive and exacting coverage of the Atlantic Yards project, the largest development in the city's history. (Photos from Brooklyn-usa.org.)

And that newspaper would also make sure to press the mayor (aka Markowitz) on his position regarding the project.

But Brooklyn's just a borough, and Markowitz has managed to avoid much scrutiny in the coverage of Forest City Ratner's decision to reduce the scale of the Atlantic Yards project by five percent from its previous iteration (which still leaves it larger than initially proposed).

The New York Times was the only paper, in initial coverage of the release of the Final Scope (the document that is prelude to a Draft Environmental Impact Statement), to ask Markowitz if he thought the reduction was sufficient. Markowitz wouldn't say.

With up to a week to follow up, the Brooklyn weeklies (Downtown Star, Brooklyn Papers, Courier-Life) and daily (Daily Eagle) didn't pick up on the issue. In fact, the Daily Eagle framed the issue more starkly than it deserved. A 4/6/06 article headlined Atlantic Yards Opponents Tell Ratner: Thanks, but No Thanks contained a deck asserting "Changes Fail To Pacify Arena Foes."

True, but it's not clear whether Marty's been pacified either. Or whether pacification is the right term here.

Marty's caution

Markowitz's closemouthedness seems to be part of a pattern of caution. Though Markowitz recently declared himself "an unqualified supporter of the Atlantic Yards project," he recognizes that many people are concerned about issues like traffic and scale. So avoidance may be his best public tactic.

I wrote in January how the Atlantic Yards project was downplayed in Markowitz's 2006 inaugural address, especially as compared to his effusiveness in the two previous years.

And there's another sign. The two most recent editions of Brooklyn!!, Fall/Winter 2005 and Spring 2006, the newspaper-ish promotional vehicle for Brooklyn and all things Marty (subtitled "Where New York City Begins"), have nary a word about the project.

Reese, Robinson, Ratner

Actually, there was a brief article in the Spring 2006 issue of Brooklyn!! that should've had a reference to FCR president Bruce Ratner, but discreetly avoided it. The article, headlined "Brothers in Arms," described the placement last November 1, at Coney Island's KeySpan Park, of a statue of Brooklyn Dodgers baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson and his teammate Pee Wee Reese, who supported Robinson's effort to break the color barrier.

The article makes no mention of how Ratner helped pay for the statue. The press release issued last November simply described the monument as "privately-financed."

But a 1/16/05 New York Daily News article headlined Apple polishers fatten Mike fund explained that the Bloomberg administration has raised $36 million in private money over last three years for the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City.

Ratner, a member of the fund's 49-member board, "donated more than $60,000 from his company and his foundation for, among other things, a long-stalled statue of Brooklyn Dodgers greats Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese," the Daily News reported.

Why keep quiet about such a public-spirited effort (sports, Brooklyn, racial harmony), especially since Ratner has more prominently promoted other local donations? Maybe, as the Daily News reported, because "some donors have business links to the city - raising eyebrows among good-government groups, since the mayor has called for strict curbs on donations from city contractors to candidates in the campaign-finance program."

It would be fair to say that Ratner's effort to build the Atlantic Yards project qualifies as a "business link" to the city.

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