ACORN's Lewis, interviewed unskeptically in journal focused on labor issues, maintains AY deal is a success
- Elected officials repeat Forest City Ratner talking points and imaginary numbers ginned up by a paid FCR consultant
- Elected officials miss the chance to pose tough questions to government officials (though they can recover)
- Appointed officials actively mislead the public at an oversight hearing
- A distinguished civil liberties lawyer makes campaign contributions to Brooklyn machine politicians
- Wall Street analysts fail to ask tough questions about an issue that demands skepticism.
- Academics avoid scrutinizing an organization that passes an ideological litmus test
The journal is published by the Center for the Study of Labor and Democracy (CLD) , based at Hofstra University on Long Island, which is "a nonprofit research institute that aims to expand public understanding and discussion of important issues facing working people."
The Preview section of the journal promotes the Lewis piece as "one of the first full-length interviews for publication that Ms. Lewis has given since ACORN found itself the target of almost daily Republican criticisms during the 2008 campaign for the White House."
Missing from the discussion
Even though the issues regarding Atlantic Yards were readily apparent when the interview was conducted February 9, 2009, the interviewer, a Ph.D economist, demonstrates no familiarity with:
- the Atlantic Yards controversy
- the shifting contours of the affordable housing promises
- the long delays, should the housing even be built
- the dubiousness of Forest City Ratner's commitment
- ACORN's contractual obligation to support the project
- Forest City Ratner's bailout of ACORN.
Q: Can you say something about the current Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn?
So you fight these battles, and we have been crying about gentrification of our neighborhoods, developers not dealing with the community. So this was nothing new to us. So now we see this Atlantic Yards coming up, and this guy is saying he’s going to build 4,500 units of luxury housing and an arena and shopping and all the basic grab bag of these developers.
But in comes sexy, sexy, sexy Atlantic Yards. But we’re saying Atlantic Yards is the same as any other development. We had met with developers, and they would laugh in our face. Basically, they said, “It’s not about us losing money, but if we make one penny less in profit than we could make, we don’t want to hear anything. We don’t have to do it. We can do the absolute minimum. The government’s on our side. Back up, community group. Back up, crazy ACORN. We don’t have to listen to you. Get out of our face. Can’t you see that capitalism and the market is what reigns?”
So then we sat down and said, “What, if you made a demand and you did a campaign, what would you demand?” “We demand 50% of the housing that’s being built be low and moderate income and affordable. We demand that there will be a community benefits agreement, where there will actually be real jobs, a real system.”
More importantly, the concept of "affordable housing" was not clarified. Those polled were not asked about affordable housing accessible to those in their income bracket.
Now, politically, we are who we are. We’ve built up a reputation. You know, we’re strong, we’re a political group, we’re a housing group, and people pay attention to us. I mean, these folks wanted to not have us as their enemy. But we came in and actually got a CBA, got a 50/50 housing deal, were able to shape the affordable piece of the housing. I was able to show these folks who had never done affordable housing. They didn’t have a clue about how to do it and brought in other folks to deal with this. Tied it down by having subsidies for the whole project tied to making certain deliverables in the community as well as housing.
So that’s the Atlantic Yards story. They brought their bean counters. We brought our bean counters. They brought their lawyers, we brought our lawyers. It took about a year to hammer out a CBA and an agreement around the affordable housing.
If you don’t have a willing partner, if you have people who only do it begrudgingly or because they’re forced to or they’re put into a shotgun relationship, it never works. But you have to have that willing partner, and you need to be big enough and have the strength and have enough expertise and be able to bring the political capital to the table.