It always goes down easier when it comes from a man of the cloth, right?
Even more than politicians, they can walk up to a podium and speak with brio, no matter the facts. And the Reverends Herbert Daughtry and Al Sharpton, however slender their understanding of the Atlantic Yards, know whose side they're on.
And while they may in their hearts genuinely believe in AY, the financial contributions they've received from Forest City Ratner surely make it less likely they'd do any real research.
He's a legend, right, the man who gave the invocation? Had any of the journalists covering the groundbreaking been to the May 2009 state Senate oversight hearing at the Pratt Institute, they would've remembered how Daughtry heckled throughout.
Or they might have remembered that Daughtry refused to say how much money Forest City Ratner contributed to his fledging Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance (DBNA). Or that, in the promotional Brooklyn Standard of 2005, Daughtry called Bruce Ratner's customary manner "humble, winsome."
Talking to God, as Daughtry put it, he deceptively described the Atlantic Yards site as being transformed from a "long-neglected, rodent-infested, garbage-strewn strip of geography into a modern oasis of splendid residential and commercial dwellings."
Only Dave D'Alessandro of the Star-Ledger noticed, commenting, "There wasn’t much chance of anyone walking it back from there."
(Photos copyright James Leynse)
Daughtry closed with words from "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," the black national anthem.
What about the Russian national anthem?
This arena, this groundbreaking, may have some trickle-down benefits for black Brooklyn, even substantial ones, but not as a percentage of the project and the public subsidies.
(By the way, Daughtry testified at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that he lived “not far from the project” but “also happen to live in New Jersey and I happen to live in Augusta, Georgia.” That’s obfuscatory; his book No Monopoly on Suffering: Blacks and Jews in Crown Heights (and Elsewhere) explains that he and his wife raised their children at their home in Teaneck, NJ.)
Daughtry: hope and reality
The Amsterdam News reported this week:
He’s particularly pleased with the state-of-the-art health facility that will be built, aimed at improving health disparities in the community, especially in Fort Greene, which has a high infant mortality rate.Well, the health facility he mentions is not even in the Empire State Development Corporation's Memo of Environmental Commitments.
“I’ve been in this neighborhood for 40 years, and no other developer have ever come to me,” he said. “Ratner came to meet me in the community and he said he’s prepared to put his money into the community’s foundation.”
Daughtry told the AmNews that his organization negotiated getting a luxury suite at the Barclays Center to use as an incentive for a program that encourages students to improve their grades in school. He also said that he would receive 50 to 100 tickets to all events to give to community members who would usually not have access.
It's supposed to be in Phase 1 of the project, which could take 12 years. Here's the description in Chapter 1, Project Description, of the Final Environmental Impact Statement:
The proposed project would also include a 20,000-sf health care facility that would provide a broad range of health care services to the community. Services at this proposed facility (program being developed) could include primary care and preventative services, specialty care, diagnostic testing and ancillary services and related support services to improve the management of prevalent chronic diseases. This health center would occupy a portion of the residential space and would be constructed during Phase I.And who's going to pay for it? The Community Benefits Agreement says:
While it is understood that the Project Developer will continue to work with and assist DBNA in the implementation of the health care center initiative, except as otherwise provided in this Agreement or the Project Implementation Plan, the Project Developer shall have no obligation to provide on-going operational funding to the health care center.No other developer has ever come to Daughtry? Is it really that little--the gesture of inclusion and some tens of thousands of dollars--that justifies it all in his mind?
As for Daughtry's claims of a suite, maybe they're talking about an unsold suite, but here's what the CBA says:
The Arena Developer will designate one (1) box and four (4) seats within the lower bowl, and fifty (50) seats in the upper bowl, for community use with priority given to seniors and youths for all events throughout the year.It doesn't explicitly say that those tickets would go through Daughtry, but that seems to be his impression of the deal.
The upper bowl tickets would have a face value of $15. Let's put aside the possibility that, as with this year, the tickets might have no value. At $15 each, 50 tickets represent a face value of $750. Over 41 home games and three pre-season games, the total would be $33,000 a year.
Meanwhile, Forest City Ratner last year got a $31 million boost in subsidies from the city. It can afford some relative crumbs, especially when channeled through such a voluble advocate.
Sharpton's speech: a distraction from ACORN
Sharpton, a recipient of Forest City Ratner largesse, can be very useful to the developer. In 2005, he attacked mayoral candidate Freddy Ferrer when the latter belatedly came out against Atlantic Yards.
(Sharpton officially moved his residence from New Jersey to Brooklyn in 1996 so he could run for mayor. Newcomer?)
At the groundbreaking, Sharpton seemed to be a substitute for ACORN's Bertha Lewis, historically a prominent presence at AY-related events--heck, she MC'd the press event/rally before the August 2006 hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement--but now head of a group with some very distracting baggage.
No need to tangle Forest City Ratner in ACORN's problems--beyond, of course, that $1.5 million bailout. (The bailout, interestingly enough, didn't save ACORN from dissolution, but it helped keep ACORN on its feet through the groundbreaking. Money well spent.)
There was little talk about the affordable housing plan--the term 50/50 did not escape anyone's lips--but a lot about minority empowerment.
A minority of one, that one being a multi-millionaire named Jay-Z, a minority owner of the Nets.
"This project has gone through many hurdles, and there are those that continue to take different views," Sharpton declared, sounding statesmanlike without actually understanding the project. "But I want to say that what this project represents, in terms of jobs and contracts and inclusion, is something that weighs heavily on the need of a national mentality for a model on how we do these types of programs."
Actually, Mayor Bloomberg calls CBAs "extortion."
After making further vague references to the CBA, Sharpton moved on to everyone's favorite trope: The Brooklyn Dodgers. "Let me say this, also: the symbolism of what this team will mean," said the New Jersey resident. "When I was growing up in Brooklyn, my mother used to tell me about how it made her feel, that she could go to Ebbets Field before I was born, and see Jackie Robinson play. Jackie Robinson was the first black to own--to be able to play in major league baseball. He played his first games right here in Brooklyn and broke the color line in terms of major league baseball players. I'm glad I lived to see the color line in ownership broken in Brooklyn, where we've gone from Jackie to Jay-Z, where we can not only play the game but we can own a piece of the game. So my mother saw Jackie and my daughters will see Jay-Z--we have come a long way."
Members of the public should root for an owner, one who owns a tiny piece of the team?
Sharpton somehow neglected to point out that in June 2006, the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, announced that Brooklyn-born Michael Jordan would become the second-largest investor--two black men running a basketball team.
"But we have a long way to go," Sharpton continued. "And I think that progress takes tension, it takes discomfort--you can't have a baby without labor pains. But let the baby be born. Let us go forth. The pain is over in terms of the negotiations."
Negotiations? He probably didn't mean arm's length negotiations dubiously claimed by the ESDC. He probably did mean the CBA "negotiations" that involved only groups favorable to the project and neglected, for example, the three local community boards.
"Let's break ground on a new day, where in Brooklyn all of us will build together, work together, and share together," he said, unmindful of the fact that so few Brooklyn officials--and no local reps--were on the dais. "Let those of us that are concerned about the affordable housing keep on advocating, but let us also know that... people like Jay-Z out of the Marcy Projects can now sit back in the owner's box and say that we have a piece of the rock, too. That's why I came to Brooklyn."
Who, Rev. Sharpton, is "we"?