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Paterson meets with Atlantic Yards opponents, promises "objective and fair hearing" (but what does that mean now?)

So, as the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) moves forward with Atlantic Yards, can the man in charge of the agency, Governor David Paterson--once a public opponent of eminent domain (as DDDB's Daniel Goldstein reminds us), now a tacit supporter of Atlantic Yards--do anything?

Well, at least he's listening. Last night, before a "community conversation" at the First A.M.E. Zion Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, organized by local elected officials. Paterson held a hastily-called meeting with a small group of Atlantic Yards opponents.

(Photos by Tracy Collins; set)

He promised them "an objective and fair hearing"--seemingly meaningless (and too late) boilerplate given that state agencies like the ESDC and Metropolitan Transportation Authority have already been charged to do so and have vigorously defended their actions in court after being sued.

Also, with a bond sale in the works, surely others in the administration would tell Paterson that the horse is about to leave the barn and stopping the project would lead to a huge legal mess. Then again, there's a serious argument--as per Nicole Gelinas--that the bond sale is risky, thus giving Paterson some cover, should he invoke his maverick streak.

(What could he do? Tell the ESDC not to pursue eminent domain? Stall the bond sale?)

The meeting

Paterson's staff organized the meeting with less than a day's notice, in response to communications from Council Member Letitia James. Later, in the segment of the meeting acknowledging local elected officials, Paterson dubbed James "the ghost of Atlantic Yards."

In her brief public remarks, James eschewed direct mention of AY but said, "We need development which is in the best interests of the city and state and which will not increase our debt."

The AY question

The Atlantic Yards question came not from one of the several AY activists in the crowd--well outnumbered by hundreds of neighborhood folk--but from Mary Alice Miller, a writer for Our Time Press and a Room 8 blogger.

"Would you tell us how you feel about giving 1.5 billion dollars in tax-free bonds in order to build Atlantic Yards, build a stadium that would create part-time jobs, and there's no promise that affordable housing would be built?" Miller asked.

Actually, there would be only $500 million in tax-free bonds; the state says there would be 4538 new jobs, but that depends significantly on the building of an office tower.

Other full-time jobs, in retail and building services, depend on the construction of housing towers and, under one scenario acknowledged by the ESDC, only one may be built in the near term.

(Video by Tracy Collins)

Paterson's response

Paterson responded, "In the case of Atlantic Yards, a committee of advocates who are opposed to the Atlantic Yards decision met with me right here in this church prior to this meeting. And I have promised them an objective and fair hearing on the issue."

He seemed to be focusing on the decision last week by the Court of Appeals in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case rather than the project as a whole. He thus bypassed Miller's specific questions about bonds, housing, and jobs.

"We cannot reverse the Court of Appeals decision," Paterson said. "But whether the state has an interest in Atlantic Yards is something that to this point we have, but, upon advisement from Council Member James, we will review it."

Whether the state has an interest in Atlantic Yards is something that to this point we have? The state has invested $100 million and is backing it to the hilt.

As the video shows, Paterson's statement drew some healthy applause, but only a relative fraction of the audience applauded. (No one, as far as I could tell, booed or otherwise expressed disagreement, however.) The crowd was far more enthusiastic about issues closer to home.

What might happen

"He said he'd have independent, disinterested individuals take another look," James said afterward. "I await the review, because individuals on his staff have privately indicated that this project is not in the best interests of the state."

However, James acknowledged, Paterson has indicated to staffers that "he can't rescind the state's commitment."

Which doesn't leave him much room.

More on the event

While Paterson's been battered in the polls, it was a friendly audience, where speakers invoked Comptroller Bill Thompson's better-than-the-polls mayoral race to support Paterson's bid for a full term as governor. "Run, David, Run," the crowd chanted at one point.

Speaking without notes (obviously; he described himself as "I'm black, I'm blind, and I'm still alive"), Paterson took a place not at the podium but at the pew level of the church, allowing for a more intimate exchange. He asserted that New York has been far more fiscally responsible than other states, which are cutting vital services.

He even vetoed a bill he had proposed as a legislator, deeming the cost of a bill on lead paint removal too high, but later established a task force to address the issues.

And when James, in greeting the audience, said Paterson should not enact cuts in social services but instead tax the rich, he responded, "we are doing that right now."

He took some tough questions, including ones about teacher tenure, AIDS, and affordable housing. But, as NY1 reported, it was a comfortable setting for the governor who never sought the job.


  1. It's clear to me (I wasn't there) that Paterson made his comments as a favor to James and as a way to defuse the issue at the meeting. I doubt that he even knows where the project is located.

  2. There is plenty the Governor can do to stop the project. It is just a matter of if he has the political guts to do it.

    My surmise is that it would help him with the only political figures that really matter in the end -- the voters.


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