Skip to main content

"Street Fight," Sharpe James, and some Newark echoes in Brooklyn

Even before the fraud conviction yesterday of former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, Marshall Curry's riveting 2005 documentary Street Fight, about Council Member Cory Booker's 2002 challenge to longtime mayoral incumbent James, was essential viewing--and with some implications for Atlantic Yards watchers, especially regarding the performance of the press.

Now that Booker was elected in 2006 and James convicted, Curry's non-neutral but essentially honest investigation reminds us of the inability of the mainstream press, too often wedded to "he said, she said" modes of reporting, to convey the sleaziness of the James administration.

He captures James in a baldfaced lie (see screenshot below), claiming he has "a volunteer army versus a paid army" (actually, the James "volunteers" admit on camera that they're paid and from out of state), films city employees tearing down Booker's campaign signs, and several times experiences intimidation by James's security detail.

The press as referee

Asked in an interview posted on Alternet about how candidates get away with such bad behavior, Curry responded:
One thing that frustrated me so much in both the Newark election and the last presidential election is the mainstream media tries to cover elections in a way that they consider to be fair but that in fact is a distortion of reality. They try to say, "Well, George Bush said this, John Kerry said this" or "Cory Booker said this, Sharpe James said this." And they don't analyze whether one side is telling the truth. They just allow themselves to be mouthpieces for the two campaigns. And I think that they do that because that is what the audience assumes is fair. In fact, I think the media needs to be like a referee. A good referee doesn't call the same number of fouls on both sides; a good referee calls fouls when there are fouls.
(Emphases added)

The real estate industry

In one scene in the film, a radio interviewer cites James's accusations of Booker's alliances with "far-right" Republicans like Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts. "I've never met J.C Watts," Booker responds. "I've been lifelong Democrat. And suddenly, here we are, wasting time, talking about Sharpe James's accusations."

The interviewer tells Booker that people are scared of his "broad-based support," which includes out-of-state contributions.

Booker responds, "This is what is almost comical... The majority of Sharpe James's supporters are developers and people that have city contracts. And the majority of those don't live in the city of Newark."

Politics as sport

In one important sequence, Curry tries to film a mayoral debate, but police won't let him film it; instead, he tapes the audio. A fracas breaks out. James accuses a Booker supporter of being a "terrorist." Police pull the man into a room, but lawyers for Booker campaign argue until he's released. James lunges at lawyers; his supporters hold him back.

A Booker supporter taunts James, and gets trash-talked in turn by James's supporters. A policeman from the mayor's security team breaks the microphone from Curry's camera. Reporters gather around to hear the "terrorist" explain what happened.

Next we see Booker on the phone, speaking to a reporter: "You saw how I comported myself, and I really hope that you write the truth--this is how Cory behaved, this is how Sharpe James behaved."

Curry's voiceover, however, is somber: "The Booker team is struggling to get the press to show more outrage. But so much of the reporting just treats the election like a sport. They call it rough-and-tumble politics, as if Newark were a crazy regime on the other side of the globe, rather than an American city, just 12 miles from Manhattan."

The Sharpton connection

The generational division in African-American politics is one theme in the film. We see academic Cornel West and filmmaker Spike Lee backing Booker, while Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton campaign for James, who repeatedly insisted that Booker, who grew up in the middle-class suburbs, was insufficiently black.

(Booker lived in a city housing project in his council district while James collected a second paycheck as a state senator, surely muddying the issue.)

The James connection is one of several that reminds us that Sharpton's political opinions should be taken with some skepticism.

The film premiered 7/5/05 (though it didn't appear on DVD until the end of 2006). A New York Times City Hall reporter, who presumably should have been familiar with a tough film on a nearby mayoralty, thought the news that Sharpton criticized Ferrer more important than Ferrer's public announcement that he opposed Atlantic Yards.

So a 10/29/05 headline in the Times read, Ferrer Is Chided Over Atlantic Yards, allowing Sharpton to wrest the narrative from Ferrer.

The media and Newark, the media and Brooklyn

While Brooklyn is famously undercovered, Curry suggested that Newark suffers as well, in an interview for P.O.V.:
Because it's so close to New York City, Newark falls in a media shadow, really. New York City sucks up most of the television press in the area, and most of the newspapers' scrutiny. Because of the longstanding lack of scrutiny, a lot of problems have developed. I'm hoping this film will help to shine a light on some of those problems and will get people involved to take some action.

While the Star-Ledger has dropped "Newark" from its name, Newark does have its own newspaper, sort of. And it has a city government. So there are probably more mainstream news reporters covering Newark than Brooklyn.

Then again, there are a lot more citizen journalists, independent journalists, activists, and bloggers in Brooklyn keeping the press on their toes.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.