Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Democracy vs. demagoguery (redux): Daily News blog is only mainstream outlet for condemnation of bullying tactics at hearing

It's dismaying to me that none of New York City's daily newspaper columnists thought to show up at the state Senate oversight hearing Friday on Atlantic Yards.

As with the similarly-ignored (by columnists and editorialists) 8/23/06 public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, it was a remarkable piece of street theater, and the fodder for much potential commentary about, as I wrote nearly three years ago, "democracy versus demagoguery."

Indeed, there's a curious story line generating just from the New York Daily News. Columnist Errol Louis denounced the hearing ahead of time but didn't bother to show up. Would he have been proud that the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, the single most disruptive individual during the 4.5-hour hearing, invoked his column?

Would a columnist like Louis have wondered how bureaucrats like Empire State Development Corporation CEO Marisa Lago felt about the oft-unruly crowd interrupting in favor of her position? Surely Lago and colleagues must have felt a little uneasy.

Part of a pattern

Then sports reporter Michael O'Keeffe, who's attended several AY-related events but (I don't think) not this one, wrote, on the I-Team blog, Time to stop bullying at Atlantic Yards, citing reports on AYR and Noticing New York:
These attempts at intimidation are par for the course at AY public meetings. There's no question these bullying tactics are supported and perhaps coordinated by Forest City Ratner and the company's allies. These appearances are hardly spontaneous shows of support - the construction workers show up as a group and leave as a group, usually long before the hearing is over. In fact, their support appears to exist only when they are on the clock.

It is time this stopped. Nets owner Bruce Ratner, Mayor Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, ACORN's Bertha Lewis and everybody else who supports the Atlantic Yards proposal need to condemn the bullying tactics; they need to say in no uncertain terms that the project's foes have a right to participate in public meetings - even if they don't care for what they have to say.


The column not written

Indeed, there's a column to be written about the fundamental category error displayed last Friday: this was an oversight hearing, more akin to a courtroom trial than to a public hearing. The aim was to solicit information from and about the performance of government agencies, not to seek public input about the merits of the project.

I've been to state oversight hearings held on the 19th floor of 250 Broadway near City Hall. They're sober affairs, with no disruptions. That should've been the case Friday. And people other than O'Keeffe and a couple of online journalists should've pointed it out.

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