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"Shame!" Crowd outside museum shouts "Ratner's bad for Brooklyn"

Maybe it's because a major anti-Atlantic Yards rally was held on a sweltering day or that the annual Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn walkathon fundraiser takes place in comfortable weather, while last night it was cold.

Maybe it was the ostentatious elegance of the tables set for the Brooklyn Museum's gala honoring Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner.

(Photos by Adrian Kinloch, except the Gloria Mattera shot. Click to enlarge.)

Maybe it was the parade of limousines and SUVs bringing well-dressed guests--at $500 to $1000 and more a plate--to an event that protesters likely arrived at via the 2/3 subway line. Maybe it was a sense that Forest City Ratner, however stalled in its plans for most of Atlantic Yards, is in the driver's seat, with most elected officials yet to challenge the developer. Maybe it's that demolitions promise increased blight around the Atlantic Yards footprint. Maybe it's just the accumulation of grievances.

But the protest organized by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn last night outside the museum was notably angry, with some 80 people gathering at one point, many chanting "Ratner is a liar" and "Shame on you" at vehicles coming to drop off their passengers. (More people arrived later, as others left, so total attendance probably topped 100.) Taking off from the museum's function, several people carried signs calling Ratner a "con artist."

Lawyer and urban planner Michael White, he of the lengthy open letter to the museum, wore a cape and recited quotes through the ages about "honor." (Sample: "Nobody can acquire honor by doing what is wrong."--Thomas Jefferson.)

A few protesters, including Green Party stalwart Gloria Mattera (left), wore evening dress.

(Here's the Brooklyn Paper's editorial justifying the protest and the contention by Sid Meyer that protesters went too far.)

A long night

The protest started at 6:30, when guests began arriving for the cocktail hour. Tables set in the museum's entry pavilion were joined by art from the museum's Murakami exhibition; projections on brick columns suggested the latticework of the Brooklyn Bridge.

As the night wore on and got colder, the crowd diminished somewhat but remained feisty. Because several still and video camerafolk had been filming, the protesters seemed unsurprised when a well-dressed man approached them and began snapping photos.

"Where are you from?" he was asked, the question implying an affiliation with news media.

"Brooklyn," he responded, and began a testy exchange. Closer inspection revealed he was wearing a laminated ID that said "Security." He continued to take pictures, then returned inside the museum with, likely, documentary evidence of Brooklyn residents never to appear on the museum's short list for the Augustus Graham Medal.

Though some people walking into the gala took protest flyers and others cordially ignored the protesters--heck, many were likely from Manhattan and points distant--not everyone bringing guests to the gala liked what they saw, as the photo shows.

Through the windows

Given the glass walls of the pavilion, speakers at the podium were visible, at least from the back.

The protest dissolved before the guest of honor spoke--he was to be introduced by Atlantic Yards architect Frank Gehry--but protesters did spot Borough President Marty Markowitz at the podium.

"Marty's Ratner's whore," some in the group shouted. That was soon amended to "Marty sucks" and then, more cordially and with more participation, "Marty sold out Brooklyn."

That almost surely was not the sentiment inside the museum. Perhaps not coincidentally, yesterday Crain's New York Business announced a "Business of Arts and Culture" breakfast April 30 on the topic "Dealing with controversy."

One of the three speakers will be Brooklyn Museum head Arnold Lehman, who famously clashed with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani over the "Sensation" show in 1999.

Now he has a fresher issue to discuss. After all, as one sign stated, "Elephant dung can be art. Eminent domain abuse can't." Another decried a "'Dung' Deal."


  1. Yep that was me expressing my opinion.

    Sid Meyer

  2. Sid Meyer's logic is deeply flawed, and his ignorance really speaks to the reason this protest was direly needed.

    The gala in Ratner's name was basically a non-monetary honorarium, which would be all well and good if the honoree weren't completely corrupt. I would want to ask Meyer the simple question: if Charles Manson were wealthy enough to make several $100K donations to the Museum, should the Museum likewise honor him?

    Though a reductio ad Hitlerum, this line of rhetorical probing gets to the heart of the issue.

    The Brooklyn Museum made a fundamentally bad decision in honoring an amoral, opportunistic slime like Ratner, someone who is anything but positive for the communities of Brooklyn.

  3. Full coverage of what happened INSIDE is on The Brooklyn Paper website at

  4. I want to share with people the “quotes through the ages about `honor’" I was reading last night- . . .
    . . . .It seems to me that when “honors” are handed out at grand events the use of time-tested quotes is a tradition worth observing.

    I hope the quotes below are choicely apt (they were also on placards at the event) :

    "Nobody can acquire honor by doing what is wrong"
    Thomas Jefferson

    "Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them."

    "Those who give, hoping to be rewarded with honor, are not giving, they are bargaining"
    Philo Judaeus

    "Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you"
    Lao Tzu

    "Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud."

    "The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be."

    "The most tragic thing in the world is a man of genius who is not a man of honor"
    George Bernard Shaw

    "He has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so."
    Walter Lippman

    "Honor sinks where commerce long prevails."
    Oliver Goldsmith

    "One of the common failings among honorable people is a failure to appreciate how thoroughly dishonorable some other people can be, and how dangerous it is to trust them"
    Thomas Sowell

    "The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons."
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    I’d also like to note that I think the Brooklyn Museum still has a debt to pay to the community over this event so I do not view the matter as entirely at rest.

    I refer people to my open letter to the Museum. It was not designed as a “petition” (it is personal, and it isn’t short or written in vague consensus-generating bromides) but it is something that people are signing on to endorse. Though it’s only been publicly available a few days it has over a hundred endorsements so far. I think there is value to continue collecting endorsements just as I think there would be value for there to be days when we are again outside the Museum to collect signatures and acquaint and educate Museum attendees about the rectification I believe the Museum now owes to the community with respect to this matter.

    The letter, for those who want to sign on as endorsers or to it or pass it along to others is at:

  5. Ratner is not Charles Manson. He is has been the chair of BAM for over ten years, clearly a laudable institution. My logic may be flawed but you comparison is insulting and probably intentionally so. So my statement that this is part of the no hold- no prisoner attacks is probably quite apt.

    I assume if Charles Manson made such a donation it would be rejected.
    You may disagree with Ratner but so far as I know he has violated any criminal law, except to the extent that he has had the state set aside the New York City zoning laws with the City's approval.

  6. Regarding this “Charles Manson” “reductio ad Hitlerum” debate that is going on in these comments: David Cay Johnston in his interviews typically makes the point that the critical problems we are facing are not what is done that “is illegal” but what is legal that absolutely shouldn’t be and that has been obtained through abuse of influence. (Along these lines, One of his books is even titled “Perfectly Legal.”) My letter points out that what Ratner has done in the way of collecting no-bid subsides through influence makes it very hard to distinguish his actions from other situations where people do get sent to prison. To the extent that a legal difference might have been created it has been done in the name of very bad urban planning practices and egregious governance. And that doesn’t mean that the activities are not antisocial. This is not to say that I am giving Ratner a pass on legality. I don’t think we know enough about what has been done in terms of influence since it was covert.

    I remember that money has been rejected from Arab Sheiks though they have not “broken any laws.” The question here is not whether money should be accepted (some would not) but whether an honor should be awarded. It is also a question of timing. Ten years ago, before Atlantic Yards, maybe someone could have honored Ratner for something BAM related notwithstanding the poor quality of some of his development or his over-reliance on subsidy. That was then. This is now. Atlantic Yards is poised to do incredible harm to Brooklyn. That harm is intrinsically related Ratner’s abuse of process including the gratuitous abuse eminent domain for greater windfall. The use of what this site has referred to as his “shadowy foundation” for promotion of these practices is a serious problem and the public is thereby harmed. Accordingly, the activities of the protestors, myself included, are proportionate to the ills Mr. Ratner is visiting upon the community.

    I know I have repeated myself in these remarks. That is for the sake of those for whom what I said in my letter has not yet registered.


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