Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bertha Lewis and the G Project: not so credible (also, she claimed Ratner could build all market housing)

Is former New York ACORN head Bertha Lewis, one of Mayor Bill de Blasio's biggest supporters--and, of course, Forest City Ratner's key partner (and backer) on affordable housing, not credible?

City & State columnist Seth Barron convincingly makes that case in To G Or Not To G, an analysis of the "G Project"--Generation Project--organized by the Black Institute Lewis runs, regarding black immigration.

And that raises questions about a pattern in which Lewis has made not-so-credible statements regarding Atlantic Yards, as shown below in a previously unreleased video.

Pursuing a new agenda

The Black Institutes “action tank” has produced a video spot featuring de Blasio's wife Chirlane McCray, whose grandparent immigrated from Barbados, and children Dante and Chiara. Writes Barron:
Mayors’ wives and children do not typically endorse specific charities or nonprofits. Donna Hanover and Joyce Dinkins, the city’s previous two first ladies, appeared in occasional commercials on behalf of noncontroversial causes such as breast cancer or literacy, but rarely if ever on behalf of a specific organization tied so closely to a political associate of one of their husbands, nor one that takes a peculiarly ethno-nationalist approach to broad policy questions.
Lewis, co-founder of the New York chapter of the Working Families Party, and the former head of ACORN, created the Black Institute in order to promote issues of concern to African-Americans, including education, economic fairness and immigration. The language of the Black Institute’s website strikes a distinctly pre-post-racial tone, somewhat reminiscent of the Black Nationalist rhetoric of the 1970s.
Is Lewis out to lunch?

Barron notices a particularly incredible claim, then finds Lewis doubling down rather than backing off:
The website also makes the odd claim that “the African American vote for the first time exceeded the White vote in 2012,” a contention Lewis repeated last September in a speech before the Black Congressional Caucus, stating, “African-Americans outvoted white Americans. Oooh. That’s the fear of the white man.”
From The Black Institute 
In regard to the G Project’s implicit concern that black political power faces a decline in relation to growing Latino and Asian influence, Lewis stated unequivocally to City & State that blacks outvoted whites in the 2012 national election. Asked if she was speaking about the percentage of voter turnout among blacks, which was indeed higher than whites, Lewis said, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Darling, look it up. Black votes outnumbered white votes: More black people cast votes than white people.”

From the U.S. Census Bureau
According to the U.S. Census, in 2012 white non-Hispanics cast 98 million votes, blacks cast 17.8 million votes, and Hispanics cast 11.2 million votes.
Indeed, as shown at right, those facts are easily checkable.

The Advance Group connection

Barron discovers another tie between Lewis and the mayor:
It is interesting to note that the Black Institute shares office space with the prominent consulting firm the Advance Group, which has deep ties to Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and WFP candidates generally. Until her recent departure from the Advance Group, both the firm and the Black Institute had the same spokeswoman, Chelsea Connor, who handled press inquiries for both organizations. The Advance Group, run by Scott Levenson, made headlines recently for its campaign work in the 2013 elections, during which the firm apparently took campaign dollars from individual campaigns as well as from outside groups supporting the same candidates through independent expenditures. Assurances that there was no improper coordination of resources have been met with skepticism by some observers (and possibly regulators)
Levenson's bio on the Advance Group website mentions his previous work for Jesse Jackson, David Dinkins, Mark Green, and Ruth Messinger, but not his work as national spokesman for ACORN.

Unearthing a pattern?

It's not clear why Lewis had to simply make up the facts noted above. But it's a reminder that Lewis comes out of a theater background, and can appear to be be dramatically convincing when it serves her needs.

Consider her performance at a Community Board 2 meeting (I believe it was November 2004), filmed by the producers of the Battle for Brooklyn documentary. This was early during the public rollout of Atlantic Yards.

"I’m the executive director of New York ACORN and we have negotiated what we believe is the real jewel in this crown: not an arena, a 50/50 housing program, the only program of its type in this country," Lewis said, at the beginning of the video clip.

(Video from Battle for Brooklyn producers)

"No other developer has ever committed to 50% of their housing," she continued, praising Forest City Ratner. "As of right, which they could do, they could all do market housing, [but] 50% of it is affordable.

(Emphasis added)

Not true.

Forest City couldn't build housing in the first place on most of the site, since it was zoned for manufacturing.

Moreover, the part that was zoned for housing allowed only relatively small buildings. They couldn't build the giant Atlantic Yards project they were touting.

That's why Forest City needed a state override of zoning for Atlantic Yards, to allow housing, and to allow the bulk and density they wanted.

And Lewis helped rally public opinion and get them that override.

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