Wednesday, August 27, 2008

At the DEIS hearing, invocations of Brooklyn street cred

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

From Assemblyman Roger Green to various community members, supporters of the Atlantic Yards project stressed their connections to Brooklyn, which might have led a casual observer to conclude that supporters were the "real Brooklyn." Even the one union guy who spoke that night, Dan Jederlinic, was a Brooklyn resident, though many if not most of the union representatives at the hearing were from out of the borough or even the city.

Perhaps because they were focused on actually responding to the DEIS within their precious three minutes, or perhaps because some were relative newcomers, project opponents initially didn't try to match the Brooklyn rhetoric. Though that ultimately changed, it's not what made the news.

Born in Brooklyn

Green came out swinging.

ASSEMBLYMAN GREEN: I want to start by saying for some of you that I was born in Brooklyn --

(Audience participation.)

ASSEMBLYMAN GREEN: -- okay. I was raised in Brooklyn.

(Audience participation.)

ASSEMBLYMAN GREEN: I grew up in Brooklyn.

(Audience participation.)

ASSEMBLYMAN GREEN: I walked these streets before some people got here.

(Audience participation.)

ASSEMBLYMAN GREEN: And in walking these streets, like the Reverend Camara said, say some of you have not been in the Fort Greene Housing Project with the unemployment rate....
Anomalous opponent

The first project opponent who spoke was, anomalously, from outside Brooklyn, the Westchester village of Pleasantville, and that story line made the news.

MR. TAL BARZILAI: Yeah. I'm a resident of Pleasantville, New York. And I know I don't really live in this borough, but my statements are just as important here.

The response

Barzilai's hometown was not ignored by a streetwise fellow named Umar Jordan, who represents a group, My Brother's Keepers, about whom I could find no information, and who otherwise has not been part of the Atlantic Yards debate. (A Lexis-Nexis search turns up a 4/21/04 New York Beacon article about Jordan attending a summit on youth violence in East New York.)

Jordan somehow suggested that Atlantic Yards opponents unfamiliar with the 'hood in Brooklyn were inauthentic, though, as I pointed out, his descriptions almost certainly applied to many potential AY residents.

MR. UMAR JORDAN: [Where] Brooklyn at? My name is Umar Jordan and I represent My [Brother's] Keepers. I heard a lot of people come up to this microphone saying that they're from Brooklyn and they've been in Brooklyn. I'm here to speak for the underprivileged, the people that don't get the opportunity to work. The brothers that just came over out of prison, yeah, you know, wants to get a job too.

MR. UMAR JORDAN: And for -- and for the people that are going to, people that say they represent our community, this is Brooklyn. If you never been in the Marcy projects, you ain't from Brooklyn.

(Audience participation.)

MR. UMAR JORDAN: If you haven't been to Betsy Head pool, you ain't from Brooklyn.

(Audience participation.)

MR. UMAR JORDAN: If you never been in the Marcy Projects, you ain't from Brooklyn.

(Audience participation.)

MR. UMAR JORDAN: If you haven't to Brownsville or East New York, Flatbush, you not from Brooklyn --

(Audience participation.)

MR. UMAR JORDAN: -- you just visiting. I'm speaking about the people that really never been to Brooklyn.

(Audience participation.)

...And this is for people that are unpleased with the behavior of Brooklyn. Well, I suggest you go back up to Pleasantville or wherever it is --


(Audience participation.)

More local cred

A Community Board 8 member had his say.

MR. MEREDITH STATON: It's pronounced Staton, S-T-A-T-O-N. Good evening, folks. I'm a member of this community and the community board, as well as member of Crown Heights. I've been living in this community for forty years.


MR. MEREDITH STATON: I'm not a newcomer here, I've been here for years and years. A lot of people claim where they came from. They come from Brooklyn, from Manhattan –

(Audience participation.)

Some response

Some critics began to cite their Brooklyn cred.

MR. MICHAEL UTEVSKY: My Name is Michael Utevsky. I live in Fort Greene. I've lived in Brooklyn for 30 years. I'm a Board Member of the Fort Greene Park Conservancy, and I am speaking on its behalf tonight.

MS. ASTRID LEGROV-SOLOMON: Having lived in this area since the 1960s I have witnessed the rebirth of what once -- were once elegant streets that had been left for decay. House by house and block by block people invest with their money and sweat to bring back this brownstone area. Now tourists come on buses and go on walking tours to get a glimpse of what 19th and early 20th century streets look like. Other cities cherish their old neighborhoods. The world knows Manhattan as the borough of skyscrapers. Brooklyn is the borough of neighborhoods.

MS. PATTI HAGAN: My name is Patti Hagan from 117 St. Marks Avenue. I am founding member of Prospect Heights Action Coalition - the little group that declared war on Ratner's expansionist Brooklyn empire in July 2003.

I'm here as an expert on ordinary life in Brooklyn. Over two decades I have watched developer Ratner relentlessly push his way into Brooklyn - along imaginary paths of blight. That's how fortress MetroTech rose up over the thriving artists and small business community on Bridge, Lawrence and Duffield Streets and killed it.


Bridging the divide

Given the race/class divide evident at the hearing, some of the more powerful invocations of Brooklyn cred came from black residents who questioned or opposed the project.

Captured partially in Brooklyn Matters was the statement by SHIRLEY MCRAE, the Chairperson of Brooklyn Community Board #2: ...Bypassing ULURP means that no local official will have a vote for the development of this project. Now listen, you have to agree on one thing, whether you are for this project or whether you are against this project, the community needs enough time to review these massive documents.

(Audience participation.)

MS. SHIRLEY MCRAE: The amount of time provided by the -- if the community that we all live in and serve, and don't even talk about Brooklyn because I've been here in Brooklyn among six decades.

(Audience participation.)

Later came a voice from the projects.

MR. ED CARTER: My name is Ed Carter. And I'm known as the living legend of Fort Greene... I'm the President and Chairman of the Relocation and Modernization Committee of Fort Greene Projects...

We have over 200 vacant apartments at the Ingersoll site. I served on Community Planning Board #2 for forty years... I've been here, I've been in the struggle. I heard so many people sitting tonight and talking, Reverend Daughtry, for example, I've been in this struggle five or ten years before he get out. I seen [a] lot of the people get bought out. And have no doubt, the truth will set you free.


Late in the evening, a man with a Caribbean accent offered perhaps the angriest response to the project.

MR. LLOYD HEZEKIAH: My name is Lloyd Hezekiah. For over 35 years I have owned a home in historic Fort Greene and contributed actively in its in development. Yet, so called gentrification began there more than 35 years ago. The current plans for Atlantic Yards should be dumped in the Atlantic Ocean...

More back and forth

MS. PAT BOONE: Good evening. My name is Pat Boone. I am a President of New York ACORN.

(Audience participation.)

MS. PAT BOONE: While I represent the entire state of membership all over the state, I also represent over 3,800 City Dwellers, the majority of which live right here in Brooklyn. I was born, bred and have lived life-long in Brooklyn. In fact, I was born right here on Bergen Street between 3rd and 4th Avenue. My church is on Bergen Street between 3rd and Nevins. So I am very, very interested as to what goes on in this neighborhood. And as reflective of my membership and all of my family members and residents from this neighborhood, I believe that this project is beneficial for every single Brooklynite there is all over.

Later, a pugnacious response from another CB8 member.

MR. ROBERT PUCA: My name is Robert Puca. I live on Dean Street. I live in the Newswalk Building, the Newswalk Condo which is adjacent to the Rail Yards so --

(Audience participation.)

MR. ROBERT PUCA: Do me a favor, let me speak. You'll get your chance to speak. If anyone would feel the impacts of this proposed project, it would be the Newswalk Building. I'm a member of Community Board #8. I was born in the -- it was called -- it used to be called the Jewish Hospital. It was on Classon Avenue. That's where I was born. I've been a full time -- just so everybody knows, I've been living in Brooklyn for 43 years. I was born on Classon Avenue.

Becoming a ritual

As the evening continued, more project opponents began to ritually cite their history in Brooklyn.

MS. AUDREY DOYLE: Good evening. My name is Audrey Doyle. I have lived -- I have lived in Fort Greene for about thirty years.

MR. PETER VITAKIS: My name is Peter Vitakis. And I have been a resident of Fort Greene and the surrounding neighborhood for forty years.

Questioning authenticity

Later in the evening, Scott Turner of Fans for Fair Play tossed an autographed basketball to the crowd, then confessed the autographs from Nets players were fake, a prelude to a challenge to the calls for authenticity.

MR. SCOTT TURNER: ...I'm just going to say one thing, for people who are preaching independence, and I support independence on all levels, for people preaching independence, you sure are depending on rich, white folks to buy luxury condos to make their affordable housing. And the people who talk about community, and I wish the DEIS --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Time is up.

MR. SCOTT TURNER: -- would have done a study on what it means to be a Brooklynite. You are depending on a heirloom from Cleveland, a rich, white guy and you're calling him a savior. That's not independence, that's not independence.

Nearly a month later

Brooklyn cred was invoked at the two follow-up community forums. One forceful response, at the September 18 community forum, came from a Brooklyn resident named Bill Gillen:

MR. WILLIAM GILLEN: I live at 193 State Street in Downtown Brooklyn. My familiarity with Brooklyn goes back to 1947. My father worked at The Daily News plant on Pacific Street. Many of you now know that as condo development. We moved from the Bronx to Crown Heights where I attended and graduated from St. Gregory's Elementary School on St. Johns Place at Brooklyn Avenue.

Like Reverend Daughtry, who spoke here in August, I, too, hold Brooklyn dear. All my children are still here in Brooklyn. I have three grandchildren living here and many, many friends and associations. After my years in college and the Army, I returned to Brooklyn in '69. Since then I have lived in Fort Greene, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights so I believe I know something about this part of Brooklyn.

And what I know is that this project is wrong. It's wrong for our communities, it's wrong for Brooklyn, it's wrong for New York City and it's wrong for New York State.


But he didn't get to speak early that first night.

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