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10th CD candidate Kevin Powell on Atlantic Yards and intertwined struggles

In an interview in the June issue of the Brooklyn Rail, activist Kevin Powell, challenging long-term incumbent (and Atlantic Yards supporter) Edolphus Towns, was asked a host of questions, including about affordable housing, the Iraq war, his own history of violence toward women, the importance of alternatives for inner-city youth, and his position on AY.

Powell two years ago announced he was running, then dropped out, leaving AY opponent Charles Barron as Towns's main challenger. AY supporter Roger Green, who did not campaign seriously, was seen by at least one observer as a spoiler to divert votes from Barron. Now Powell is apparently Towns's only challenger.

Money from Ratner

Ted Hamm: Can you explain your position regarding Atlantic Yards, and why you’ve criticized Towns for supporting it?

Kevin Powell: I’m opposed to Atlantic Yards. As for Towns, he gets money from a lot of different places—tobacco, pharmaceuticals—and we believe he is getting money from the Atlantic Yards folks, from Ratner.

Well,Towns in 2005 got $2000 contributions from both Michael Ratner, brother Forest City Ratner head Bruce Ratner, and Michael's wife Karen Ranucci, both Greenwich Village residents. That's close enough.

The connection to the projects

Powell, who lives in a condo near housing projects in Fort Greene and attended the recent FUREE convention, continued:
Over the last few years I’ve had a chance to really study this issue. If you remember two years ago, I said that I had to get back to you about my position. Now I can say unequivocally that I do not support the use of eminent domain in a private project. I made it a point to educate myself thoroughly about that issue. I don’t support Atlantic Yards in its present form. I can’t support a project that is dividing a community racially and along class lines. Working class folks in this community have been taking money from Ratner—they have been getting money for t-shirts and bus rides to casinos and Nets games and stuff like that. They are being exploited. I come from poverty, so I understand. When I was growing up and someone said, “Hey, you get free Nets tickets,” then you’re gonna support someone that is giving you the free Nets tickets. But we’re not seeing the larger effects of the project, one of which is that we’re about to lose eleven acres of land where the Fort Greene Projects are located. If you walk around, you’ll see a lot of vacancies there. As the residents will tell you, one of the things that’s been going on is that if you have a son that lives in the projects, and he happens to get arrested outside for standing on the corner, you lose your lease automatically. Meanwhile, while that’s happening, money is being thrown at folks who are in tenants groups—“we’ll give you money for this, we’ll give you money for that,” and so you’re actually supporting Atlantic Yards while you’re being gentrified out of your own home. We’re not seeing the connection between the two. Luckily an organization like FUREE sees that connection and they are fighting back.
(Emphasis added)

Powell is right to point out that community groups, including Community Benefit Agreement signatory Public Housing Communities (led by Charlene Nimmons), have taken money from Forest City Ratner. And it's legitimate to target New York City Housing Authority rules that strip families of their right to stay in a project.

However, NYCHA officers and elected officials reiterate that they don't intend to close housing projects, so Powell shouldn't charge that "we're going to lose eleven acres of land" unless he has more proof. Even FUREE is more cautious: The Mayor’s Downtown Brooklyn Plan, like many development plans happening around the City, places millions of dollars of public subsidies into the hands of developers who will permanently transform – and possibly eliminate – low-income communities.

Linking AY and other struggles

In his Martin Luther King Day speech on his campaign web site, Powell tried to link all the issues together. The passage begins at about 25:30.

Powell said of the struggle to recall the Underground Railroad in Brooklyn: "you can't say that's just for black folks, that's for all of us." He then talked about gentification in Downtown Brooklyn.

"It ain't just about Atlantic Yards, we need you on the other side of the park as well. And I'm not going to support [the struggle against] Atlantic Yards if you're not going to support the folks on the other side of the park. It's gotta go both ways... We gotta come together, y'all, and this is what Dr. King was talking about. You can't be conveniently opposed to injustice for yourself," he said, acknowledging regret that he long talked about racism, without addressing sexism, homophobia, or other forms of oppression.

Well, a few Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn members attended FUREE's recent convention and DDDB activists contributed to the effort to save 227 Duffield Street.