A former labor organizer, Dyson has a long history of activism, and Atlantic Yards got a mention in two articles. The Local, in a 10/5/11 article headlined Fort Greene Pastor Retires After 18 Years of Service, reported:
He decided to move back into church ministry after his labor union work because he wanted to have a base of operations to focus his ministry. He served at the Riverside Church in Manhattan before moving to Lafayette, where he continued his activism by speaking out against the Atlantic Yards development.The Brooklyn Paper published a 10/6/11 article headlined Rev. ‘Call me Dave’ Dyson retires at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian:
In recent years, his activism included nuts and bolts stuff — converting the church’s bulbs to fluorescents, for exampe — and the Big Ideas, as when he rallied against the use of eminent domain to pave the way for Atlantic Yards.Not only did Dyson donate space at the church to groups organizing against the project (as well as numerous other groups), he spoke eloquently about Atlantic Yards in a April 2005 Brooklyn Rail interview by Norman Kelley headlined Pastor of the People: David Dyson.
Dyson's a member of the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn Advisory Board.
The position on AY
Let’s come back to Brooklyn. This church is a hop, skip, and jump from the epicenter of the Ratner plan to turn the Atlantic Yards into an arena. What’s the church’s position on this, or is there not a church position but just your own personal position?Dyson:
There’s not a church position on this. Our position here as a mainline Protestant church is really not to take positions on specific political issues or to endorse specific political candidates. Certainly we feel the gospel informs our positions on moral and ethical issues, and I personally have become very involved with this, because I’ve been very upset by how this project has come about. I just wrote a letter to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in which I said that I was not anti-development but that I was anti-corruption, anti-sweetheart deal, anti-eminent domain, anti-environmental chaos, anti-lack of transparency—in short, anti many of the things that have been the hallmark of the Atlantic Yards Project. I had a private meeting with Borough President Marty Markowitz, where he asked me why I had a burr under my saddle. I said it’s because one guy—Ratner, who I actually know a little bit—has this sort of private pipeline to this project. There’s no open bidding, there’s no transparency, there’s no community forum. The only people who are being brought in on a community level are being brought in as business partners, not as advocates for the welfare of the community. I told Marty that the deal is being handed on a silver platter to Bruce Ratner because he’s an old college buddy of George Pataki. I said that it just rubs those of us in our community the wrong way. It’s not merely a question of jobs, as our city councilwoman, Tish James, has pointed out many times. Any development scheme or idea is going to bring jobs. The question is about this particular development idea, which is so fraught with corruption, cronyism, and favoritism that I object to it from a moral and ethical standpoint.Broken alliances
Well, this is interesting because some of the alliances that you and the church have with ACORN and Reverend [Herbert] Daughtry, who have signed onto this project, are now threatened, which is distressing. Would you say that Ratner is playing the race card?Dyson:
Yes, and it’s very depressing. This project has actually split lifelong partners in the progressive movement. We feel that Reverend Daughtry and ACORN have been brought in by Ratner not as advocates for the community but as private business partners in the deal. We’re trying to prevent the misuse of eminent domain, trying to increase the number of affordable housing units, trying to decrease the number of high-rise luxury office buildings. Those are the kinds of issues that a community group should have, but the Reverend Daughtry—who’s also an old friend—and our friends at ACORN are trying to cut a personal deal so that they can be brokers over whatever little piece or crumb of this pie falls from Ratner’s table. Ratner has been to Brooklyn what Karl Rove was to Ohio and Florida—brilliantly able to play on people’s worst instincts in order to get what he wants in a way that he wants it.The rest of the interview is quite interesting as well, given the church's rich history and relatively unusual status as an integrated congregation.