Sunday, October 23, 2011

At Bertha Lewis's new organization, The Black Institute, some Atlantic Yards (and ACORN) connections

Former ACORN Chief Organizer Bertha Lewis, who headed the New York branch of ACORN and later national ACORN, has focused her activism not on ACORN's local successor, New York Communities for Change, but instead founded and heads The Black Institute, a new think tank that aims "to shape intellectual discourse and dialogue and impact public policy uniquely from a Black perspective (a perspective which includes all people of color in the United States and throughout the Diaspora)."

Lewis is featured in this month's Essence magazine as among the 28 most influential black women and "perhaps the most influential community organizer of our time."

Both the organization's board of directors and advisory board include people with a track record of Atlantic Yards support. Yes, such a big project does intersect with a large number of people.

However, given those connections, as well as Forest City Ratner's temporary bailout of ACORN--the developer was the organization's biggest creditor--I wouldn't bet Lewis's new organization will criticize Atlantic Yards.

Board of directors

The seven-member board of directors includes two people with Atlantic Yards connections.

One is James Heyliger – President, Association of Minority Enterprises of New York (AMENY). He testified at a 9/14/05 Metropolitan Transportation Authority meeting, urging that the MTA reach a deal with Forest City Ratner to develop the Vanderbilt Yard, saying, as the Observer reported:
“If we look at the World Trade Center, where African-American firms have zero money out of that project, no labor, no contracts. That’s a disgrace. Here we have an opportunity where for once in the city of New York, the minority and disadvantaged community can participate in an equity position as well as get jobs.”
Another board member is Melvin Lowe – Principal, Melvin Lowe Group, a lobbyist who worked for New York Senate Democrats and, as I wrote in July 2010, has lobbied for Forest City Ratner on its Ridge Hill project in Yonkers, apparently previously worked on Atlantic Yards, and worked on Tracy Boyland's unsuccessful 2006 challenge to state Senator Velmanette Montgomery.

Also on the board is labor lawyer Arthur Schwartz, former counsel to ACORN. (Schwartz is also Board President of Advocates for Justice, a public interest legal foundation, headed by activist (and Atlantic Yards opponent) Chris Owens, whose goal is "to fight for the rights of the poor and the rights of working people, to fight for racial justice and equal rights, and to assist those who organize the poor and working people, and who advance the fight for equality.")

Advisory board

The Black Institute's nine-member advisory board includes two people with Atlantic Yards connections.

One is former Assemblyman Roger Green, who represented the area including the Atlantic Yards footprint and promoted the Community Benefits Agreement. He's now Executive Director, DuBois-Bunche Center for Public Policy at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

Green's also VP, Corporate Strategies, for Brookman Construction, a minority-owned business enterprise headed by Joe Coello, a signatory of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement, whose Brooklyn Voices for Children was, as of March 2008, "establishing a planning and development program for primary education, higher education, career exploration for youth, as well as health education and wellness initiatives for children, youth, and families."

The other is Cheryl McKissack, President of McKissack & McKissack, the Philadelphia-based, minority owned firm that is a staple on major construction projects. Forest City Ratner hired McKissack to oversee the railyard reconfiguration, in 2005 estimated at $182 million. Then-FCR executive Jim Stuckey famously told the Brooklyn Eagle in October 2005 that he didn’t know whether McKissack was chosen by a bidding process

Also on the advisory board are David Jones – President & CEO, Community Service Society of New York and lobbyist Bill Lynch – President, Bill Lynch & Associates.

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