Monday, July 03, 2006

CBA gets short shrift in Times article on how AY reshapes politics

In an article published today on the front of the Metro Section, headlined Atlantic Yards, Still but a Plan, Shapes Politics in Brooklyn, the New York Times offers a reasonably comprehensive survey of the effects of the Atlantic Yards project on some contested political races, notably the 57th Assembly District and the 11th Congressional District, though the role of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) deserves a more stringent analysis.

The lead of the article hints at a done deal, sooner or later:
It will be months, if not years, before a single brick of the Atlantic Yards project is laid near Downtown Brooklyn.

Even though the next sentence explains that the project is unapproved, shouldn't the lead have been more conditional--could be laid vs. is laid? After all, no bricks were ever laid for the West Side Stadium project. Whatever momentum the Atlantic Yards plan seems to have, it is subject to unknown future variables.

Green & the CBA

Reporter Nicholas Confessore gets Assemblyman Roger Green, who once picketed Forest City Ratner, to explain his participation in the CBA:
"The issue is always about the uses of relative power," Mr. Green said of his relationship with Forest City. "There was a sense that the project was going to happen. With that objective reality, I had to position myself to get information about the project, and then use my relative power to engage in some creative problem-solving."

Green's words are another variation on the explanation that it was more important to be "at the table" than not.

Jeffries on the spot

The article points out that Bill Batson, a candidate for the 57th District seat being vacated by Green (who's running for Congress), is opposed to the Atlantic Yards project and advances the story by putting rival Hakeem Jeffries on the spot:
In late May, Mr. Jeffries took out an advertisement in The Brooklyn Downtown Star, a local newspaper, in order to "make sure there was a clear position on where we stood," he said in an interview.
"Essentially, yes to affordable housing, no to eminent domain abuse, no to commercial skyscrapers, and yes to an open process," Mr. Jeffries said.
His critics found the explanation unilluminating, since the project as currently designed would involve both eminent domain and soaring commercial skyscrapers. Pressed on whether he would support or oppose the project as it stands, Mr. Jeffries first said it was "an interesting question." After some prodding, he said he would "be more inclined to support it than not," in large part because the project includes a large component of below-market housing.


Unmentioned is the third candidate, Freddie Hamilton, who is a CBA signatory and supports the project.

Yassky's CBA ties

In the 11th Congressional District, Confessore writes, two candidates are for the project, Chris Owens opposes the project, while David Yassky has said he could not support the project at its current size, but favors development on the site. His supporters include the leaders of several nonprofit groups that have signed the community benefits agreement with Forest City Ratner, however, and some opponents of the project criticize Mr. Yassky for not taking a harder line against it.

The support Yassky has gained, however, seems predicated at least in part on a quid pro quo; unmentioned is that the candidate has tried to get $3 million from City Council for BUILD, one of those CBA signatories.

Politics as usual?

The article closes with an account of maneuvers at some of Brooklyn's Democratic political clubs, in which Atlantic Yards opponents have been accused of club-packing, and leaders of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats managed to exclude the new members from some endorsement votes.

The article cites Forest City Ratner's clout:
Politically speaking, however, opponents of the project still face an uphill climb. Bruce C. Ratner, the chief executive of Forest City Ratner, has long been a major political and philanthropic force in Brooklyn. Mr. Ratner and his top executives enjoy strong ties to elected officials and community leaders here.
Those ties are reflected, in part, by the overwhelming support for the project among the city's political establishment...
"There are two ways to work in this town," said Joe DePlasco, a spokesman for Forest City. "You can try to build a consensus by meeting with people and talking to them or you can try to stack political clubs and engage in the end-justifies-the-means single-issue tactics that opponents have been using. Given that the governor, the mayor, the borough president and numerous state and city elected officials support the project, we think the former approach is the one that works."


Yes, three Atlantic Yards opponents--including City Council Member Letitia James, and Prospect Heights residents Patti Hagan and Daniel Goldstein--are quoted earlier in the piece, but you'd think Confessore and his editors would be wary of closing an article with another self-serving quote from the developer's paid spokesman.

Stacking political clubs may be a controversial tactic, but it hardly began with Atlantic Yards opponents. Forest City Ratner assembled much of its political support before the project was even announced in December 2003, so a look at post-announcement political tactics would have been appropriate.

In that case, DePlasco's pious pronouncements are belied by a close examination of the tactics behind the Atlantic Yards CBA. In Los Angeles, CBA signatories agree to not to accept money from a developer for fear it would constitute a conflict of interest, but here, several do so--and Forest City Ratner refuses to say how much it has spent. Is that building consensus or buying support?

A misleading caption

The print version of the article includes a photograph mainly of the Metropolitan Transportation's Vanderbilt Yard, with an aboveground U-Haul lot in the foreground and structures on Pacific Street to the side. The caption states:
An area of the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, where a plan for a multi-billion-dollar project has become a major political issue in the borough.

As noted, Atlantic Yards is the name of a project, not a place.

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