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At what Forest City Ratner calls a press conference, the temporary alliance between Bertha Lewis and Marty Golden

I finally got video (by Adrian Kinloch) excerpts of the "press conference" organized by Forest City Ratner during the July 29 Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) hearing on Atlantic Yards at the Klitgord Auditorium of New York City Technical College.

It was more of a "press event" than a press conference, given that there was no opportunity for questions, supporters kept cheering, and the timing was organized for the arrival of television cameras.

Strange bedfellows

Though several Atlantic Yards backers (union leaders, Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for New York City) made speeches for the cameras, the stars, so to speak, were State Senator Marty Golden (R-Bay Ridge) and ACORN Chief Organizer Bertha Lewis.

They make for some strange bedfellows.

The ethically-challenged Golden, for example, has long sided with the real estate industry, not tenant groups, in refusing to support the repeal of vacancy decontrol, which currently allows rent-stabilized apartments to leave the system. ACORN, of course, opposes vacancy decontrol and recently led a rally outside Golden's office.

Golden's moment

The video begins with Lewis offering a chant, "Fired up. We can't take delays no more."

Then a man in a cap protests people being moved out of their homes--I'm not sure if he was referring to the AY footprint or, more likely, general displacement in Brooklyn.

Then Golden, a former cop, tells the group--mostly union members and ACORN members--that police have warned them to stop the screaming and the chanting. After all, there's a hearing going on nearby.

(By the way, in the background, the dark-haired fellow with the yellow tie is newly elected Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich, from distant Ozone Park, like Golden one of the relatively few Republican elected officials in the city. Remember, the Republicans usually steer clear of ACORN.)

Golden's analysis

"It's important that focus on why we're here." Golden continues. "There's been stalling tactics going on on this property for over four years. We are denied jobs. We are denied housing. We are denied income in the communities. We are denied tax revenue for the city and state, and this is plain wrong."

"This is the last hurdle, ladies and gentleman. This is the last hurdle today. When we get the final approval, God willing, which will be shortly, we will start building the Atlantic Yards and putting the Nets in Brooklyn..."

The question of course, is: who's we? Since when was the Atlantic Yards project a project under public ownership or public control? Golden did not see fit to mention the name of developer Forest City Ratner. (Nor did he bother to testify publicly, subjecting himself to potential hisses or jeers from both AY opponents and ACORN members experiencing cognitive dissonance.)

"We need those 17,000 jobs," he continues. "We need those 8000 permanent jobs. We need that 5.6 billion dollars in revenues to the city and the state."

Some of Golden's numbers come from statements he made at the state Senate oversight hearing May 29 (see video, at about 8:30) but they're still bogus. Then-ESDC CEO Marisa Lago said that the General Project Plan estimated about 12,000 construction jobs.

(Actually, it would be 12,568 job-years, which means about 1257 jobs a year over the announced ten years or, if the project takes 25 years, 503 jobs a year.)

That $5.6 billion figure appears nowhere in state documents, as I've written. It is a figment from Forest City Ratner, though FCR lawyers have claimed it was a government statement. All the government numbers are based on a ten-year buildout, as well as an office tower built early in the first phase, both of which are completely unrealistic.

Golden on housing

He went on to erroneously describe the housing plan: "The 2245 low-income housing [units]."

No, of the 2250 subsidized "affordable" units, 900 would be considered low-income, for households under 50% of the Area Median Income (AMI), which--given that it incorporates wealthy suburban counties--is well above Brooklyn's AMI.

"The 450 senior housing apartments," he continued.

Actually, ten percent, or 225, of the 2250 subsidized units would be for senior citizens, as Lewis herself has stated.

"Almost 6000 apartments for the people of Brooklyn," he continued.

Well, the apartments would be for people who end up in Brooklyn, but there's no guarantee they would go to people from Brooklyn. Half of the affordable units, or 1125 units, are designated for people from the three adjacent community boards, but that's it; the rest would be via lottery.

Lewis's analysis

Though Lewis made a partial attempt in her testimony to use logic (her biggest selling point was that the units would be rent-stabilized, even though most would be too expensive for her followers), at the press conference, it was all about emotion: "Enough of the stalling," she bellowed. "Enough of folks trying to make Brooklyn their own little bucolic playground."

Does she really equate people questioning Atlantic Yards as an effort to make Brooklyn a "little bucolic playground," especially since the alternative UNITY Plan proposes high-density (though not as high-density as AY) and a significant slice of affordable housing?

"We need real jobs here," she continued. "Five and a half years ago, we were in an emergency situation. People needed jobs then. People need housing now more than ever. Here we are five and a half years later."

Note that ACORN is contractually obligated to support the project and in debt to FCR to the tune of $1 million. So Lewis wasn't about to acknowledge any skepticism about the project, such as the likelihood, acknowledged in ESDC documents, that only one tower would be built for several years.

In closing

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are fired up," Lewis continued. "We can't take it no more. Enough is enough. You better build it, and build it now."

Was that a threat? Does that constitute cogent testimony on the pending project plan? 

Has Ulrich, who has said that "taxpaying citizens" shouldn't bear the brunt of the economic crisis, looked into the numbers regarding AY?

Behind Lewis, in the light-colored blouse and designer glasses, is Delia Hunley-Adossa, who's challenging incumbent City Council Member Letitia James, the project's leading political opponent.


  1. This post asks the question whether Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich, who has said that "taxpaying citizens" shouldn't bear the brunt of the economic crisis, looked into the numbers regarding AY?

    At the press conference we were asking Council member Ulrich about his political credentials and whether he could identify the biggest boondoggle project in the city. He noted that this seemed to be a baited question. He said “certainly not this one” but could not identify another project. We asked him whether he knew how much subsidy was proposed to be going into Atlantic Yards. He said he did not and suggested perhaps Kathy Wylde would know how much subsidy was going into the project. But when we asked Ms. Wylde whether she knew how much subsidy was going into the project she did not give us a response that convinced us that she actually knew. We also asked Delia Hunley-Adossa whether she knew how much subsidy was going into the project and she simply ignored us.

    Our bet is that none of the those who showed up at the press conference to politically support the megadevelopment, including Mr. Eric Ulrich, know how much subsidy is going into the project. That was not the point of their showing up.

    But it is irresponsible of Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich to show up not taking this into consideration. The fact of the matter is that the subsidies are so massive they could make a very big difference to every New York including his Queens constituents if those billions were redistributed where they ought to go.

    Michael D. D. White
    Noticing New York


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