Friday, July 07, 2006

Yassky thinks Miss Brooklyn should be halved (but his web site stays quiet)

Did you know that City Council Member (and Congressional candidate) David Yassky wants the taller buildings proposed for the Atlantic Yards project halved in size? That means the planned 620-foot Miss Brooklyn tower could shrink by hundreds of feet, and its bulk would be reduced even more significantly.

That disclosure came when Yassky was queried by The Brooklynite magazine, but Yassky, a chameleon on the Atlantic Yards issue, sure hasn't pressed the issue on his web site.

After the New York Times on Monday described how the Atlantic Yards project is influencing politics in Brooklyn, I decided to take another look at whether the candidates for the open seat in the 11th Congressional District, notably David Yassky, portray the Atlantic Yards issue on their web sites.

Nearly three months ago, I pointed out how Yassky’s supportive-but-not-quite position on Atlantic Yards was absent from his web site, even though a drop-down box titled "Yassky on the issues" had 13 topics, including Brooklyn Bridge Park and Affordable Housing.

While Yassky and his spokesman didn’t quite answer my query about why Atlantic Yards was missing—it seemed an obvious parallel to Brooklyn Bridge Park—they said the web site was in the process of being revamped.

Indeed, the site has been revamped and reorganized. But Atlantic Yards has not been added. In fact, it's been subtracted; a 9/13/05 press release, accessible from the previous version of the web site, headlined "Yassky and Brennan to MTA: Reject Proposal, Decrease Scope of Development at Atlantic Yards," is gone.

Where does Yassky stand?

The web site home page shows Yassky at a press conference in which he gained the support of several community leaders, including three signatories to the controversial Community Benefits Agreement for the Atlantic Yards project. This suggests a tilt toward the project. (Note that his attempt to gain $3 million to fund BUILD's job training efforts was unsuccessful.)

However, in the Summer 2006 issue of The Brooklynite, which unfortunately has folded, editor Daniel Treiman put Yassky on the spot:
For starters, there’s Yassky’s curious behavior on the single biggest development issue facing Brooklyn: Bruce Ratner’s mammoth Atlantic Yards project. While neighborhood activists and many of his fellow local elected officials have been out raising hell, Yassky has been quiet as a mouse. When Yassky has voiced an opinion, he has supported the basic idea of the project, while expressing concern about its scale and its impact on traffic and infrastructure. Pressed by The Brooklynite for more specifics, Yassky’s office said the councilman “would like to see a reduction of total size by more than a third. As part of this reduction, he would also like to see the taller buildings halved in size.” This is all well and good, but it’s not very helpful if he’s not vocal about it. If this project is to be stopped or significantly scaled back, it won’t be because a City Councilman has a nice set of opinions about it.

While Treiman is critical of Yassky's stance on the Atlantic Yards project, he observes that Yassky "has by far the most thoughtful position statements on the issues he would be working on as a congressman," except for his absent position on the Iraq war. Treiman has some barbs for Yassky's rivals, calling Chris Owens "unabashed in his race-baiting of Yassky," part of the battle over whether a white person should run in a majority-black district. Also, Treiman calls Carl Andrews an "unrepentant, longtime friend of [discredited Democratic party boss] Clarence Norman."

Yassky on housing

The only mention of affordable housing on Yassky's web site comes on the biography page:
His "Affordable Housing Zoning Initiative" will create thousands of new moderately priced apartments. Under the plan, developers building luxury apartments in newly rezoned areas are required to finance companion affordable projects.

Note that there has been a rezoning in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, which Yassky, as a City Council member, helped shape, but there’s been no rezoning for the Atlantic Yards project. Actually, rezoning points more to city politics than Congressional politics.

Owens and AY

Among the candidates, Owens maintains his opposition to the project, saying that developer Bruce Ratner “has circumvented substantive community input as well as local elected officials.”

Owens's housing policy addresses federal power:
Republican administrations have been cutting back on the programs and funding that have enabled urban areas, in particular, to provide affordable housing for Americans. These cutbacks must be stopped and new legislation developed.
Opportunities to support community land trusts and partnerships between the public, private and non-profit sectors must be developed and refined to provide taxpayers with value and Americans with affordable housing.


Andrews and Clark

Carl Andrews and Yvette Clark may be supporters of the Atlantic Yards project, but their web sites don't say so. Both candidates address affordable housing from a federal perspective.

Andrews' site states:
Though the Republican Administration has encouraged banks and other lending institutions to assist low income wage earners to buy homes in their communities they have not instituted laws that will protected these citizens from unscrupulous lending practices...
In Congress Carl will write and help pass legislation that will prevent our neighborhoods from being ripped apart by speculative developers and lending institutions. This legislation will protect our neighborhoods from speculators by providing clear and effective criteria for developers and government agencies when governmental funds are requested for new and renovated housing in our communities. In addition, Carl believes we should explore both local and national housing trust funds as options to build more affordable housing.


Clark’s web site says:
Ideologues in the Bush administration keep reducing and try to dismantle Section 8, the most successful public-and-private housing partnership in the history of the United States...A landmark program, Section 8 has produced affordable housing for needy Americans since the Nixon years. It works this way: instead of doing the construction itself, the government guarantees subsidies for rents in the private market. Families, most of them at or below the poverty level, pay 30 percent of their incomes toward rent, and Section 8 vouchers pay the rest...
[H]istory has demonstrated that the market, left to its own devices, does not serve the housing needs or interests of all Americans, particularly poor and low-income and today increasingly middle-income-people... Congress and the executive branch of the federal government must assume its responsibility.


All four are Democrats. They should be expected to challenge a Republican administration and push a Democratic one toward the left. Those are less complicated challenges than developing a position on an enormous local project that has left local Democrats split.

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