Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Defining deviancy down & Dolly Williams

Lumi Rolley of No Land Grab offers a summary of City Planning Commissioner Dolly Williams' questionable behavior, taking off from a New York Post report that her company stiffed some subcontractors, and now Crain's New York Business adds more troubling details about her company's work on that Forest City Ratner project.

Williams is Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's sole appointee to the City Planning Commission and, as an investor in the Nets, recused herself from the commission's hardly-fierce discussion of Atlantic Yards.

Scholar and U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously coined the phrase "defining deviancy down" in an essay in the Winter 1993 issue of The American Scholar:
I proffer the thesis that, over the past generation, since the time Erikson wrote, the amount of deviant behavior in American society has increased beyond the levels the community can "afford to recognize" and that, accordingly, we have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the "normal" level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard.

Now let's acknowledge that Williams might come up with some explanation for the allegations. Still, a City Planning Commissioner who thinks she (or someone driving her car) can park with impunity at a fire hydrant might think she can get away with more questionable behavior.

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