Thursday, November 12, 2009

Connecting the dots: How a pastor once protested the Coney Island deal but spoke up for Atlantic Yards

Those testifying in favor of Atlantic Yards don't necessarily spring up spontaneously.

Pastor Guillermo Martino of the Tabernacle of God's Glory Church in Crown Heights, who testified not so coherently on June 22 before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Finance Committee in favor of the Atlantic Yards plan (video below), has a curious profile when it comes to development disputes.

In November 2007, he protested the mayor's plan for Coney Island. As reported by the Bay News, Martino was "one of the dozens of people who turned out wearing bright yellow hats carrying the message 'The Bloomberg Plan: How Much? How Long? Who Pays?'"

Martino and fellow protesters came on buses chartered by Sen. Carl Kruger, who, as the Daily News later reported, spent several thousand dollars from his campaign fund. (After all, Kruger has a huge campaign fund but an untouchable seat.)

The Daily News quoted Kruger: "Nobody knows how much [the redevelopment is] going to cost, who's going to do it or when it's going to get done."

Of course, the same questions, including those on the yellow hats, could be raised about Atlantic Yards. Note the Kruger team included not only Martino but also James Caldwell (right in photo), president of Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement signatory BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development), who heads the 77th Precinct Community Council in Crown Heights.

(Photo via NoLandGrab)

Martino's testimony

Martino, to my knowledge, had not previously spoke out on Atlantic Yards, but, as the Coney Island episode suggests, he's willing to travel. (Also in Crown Heights are numerous BUILD members, and various pastors are members of the Clergy Council of the 77th Precinct.)

Like most people testifying for the project, Martino ignored both the decision facing the MTA--the impact on the transit system--and the benefit to developer Forest City Ratner.



He began, "Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Pastor Martino, I'm the senior pastor of the Tabernacle of God's Glory Church, and my primary concern is working with the homeless and the underprivileged. And, if not attended, they turn out to be a burden not only to the community but also to the city. The answer here is to bring jobs to the community, to curb this condition that has been affecting this city for a long long time. The lack of jobs kill the spirit of the individuals, creating more social and moral problems."

Yes, jobs are important, but job creation wasn't the prime focus of the MTA.

His conclusion: "The immediate hope and answer relies on the Atlantic Yard projects."

Yes, he said "Atlantic Yard projects." He either isn't that familiar with AY and/or wasn't reading all that well. And he might have been more compelling had he removed the phone from his ear.

Community role

He continued, "I have seen Mr. Ratner working with the community where he had built up shelters and helped out to repair places in the community, also with our church."

Well, that's vague, but Caldwell has testified how Ratner has helped house a family left homeless.

AY the answer?

Martino continued to read testimony he hadn't mastered: "The city has fallen into a recession that has affected blacks and people of colors [sic], and poverty has taken over our neighborhood. The Atlantic Yards project is the answer for jobs, affordable housing, and yes, an arena to present our home team."

Let's assume he doesn't know how long it might take to build that affordable housing.

"We have waited long enough," he concluded. "Gentlemen, you have the power, you have the authority, to bless and endorse this vision. Coming upstairs, I saw a sign by the elevator; it said 'Be part of the solution.' May God bless you."

Well, a pastor may get some extra attention for his blessing, but calling the board "gentlemen," when it includes three women, was probably not prudent.

(Photo of Martino's church from I Love Franklin Avenue.)

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