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September 29, 2005

BUILD: Bribe Us in Large Denominations (NLG Commentary)

Ratner pays community group to stump for his plan and play race card in the name of Our Lord.

Shocked, shocked! There is bribery in Ratnerville!

BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development), has been exposed as “Astroturf,” a group that looks and acts like a grassroots organization, but in reality is primarily a shill for, and funded by, a large corporate entity.

Today, Juan Gonzalez's column in the New York Daily News, “Snake in the 'grassroots'” reveals that BUILD is funded by Forest City Ratner (FCR) to the tune of $5 million. We repeat, that's a tax-deductible contribution of $5 million! Moreover, BUILD executives James Caldwell and Marie Louis are making bank, raking in six-figure salaries ($125,000 and $100,000, respectively).

The rumors that BUILD was funded by Ratner have never been put to rest, since one of the founding members of BUILD, Darnell Canada, left the group, “claiming that fellow group members were seeking financial gain” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 3/26/04). Since then, FCR, BUILD and the powerful tenant-advocate group ACORN have been on the defensive, and have repeatedly denied any financial connection between the groups and Ratner.

During a public meeting sponsored by Community Boards 2,6 & 8, FCR Executive VP Jim Stuckey deflected a question about whether ACORN and BUILD were being paid by FCR by answering, “Why don’t you ask them yourself?” Stuckey later backtracked and clarified his statement to a Brooklyn Papers reporter, claiming that “he didn’t answer the question because, ‘It was insulting. Of course, BUILD and ACORN are not getting paid.’” (Brooklyn Papers, 12/25/04)

In April, 2005, BUILD’s Marie Louis called the claim “a malicious and outrageous lie.” (The NY Sun, April 29, 2005) Just last week, talk show host Brian Lehrer caught her off guard when he popped the question. When Lehrer asked Louis, “So to what extent, just by way of full disclosure, is your group funded by Forest City Ratner?," she replied, “Wow, I mean, we are not funded by Forest City Ratner.” (Brian Lehrer Live CUNY-TV, September 21, 2005)

The revelation that BUILD is lavishly funded by Ratner places the entire Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) under suspicion. BUILD is receiving direct funding and ACORN is to be awarded affordable-housing marketing and management contracts. That means that two of three groups that “negotiated” the CBA have a direct financial stake in the project. How can a group negotiate with a party from which it receives funding without undermining its authority to speak for the community which it purports to represent?

Politicians like Mayor Bloomberg and Borough President Markowitz can distance themselves from the CBA since they were not actual signatories. However, Reverend Herbert A. Daughtry (the third “community representative”), has a real PR problem. NoLandGrab is not suggesting that a man of the cloth could be bought off by Ratner, but Rev. Daughtry should probably disclose all contributions from Ratner or sever any relationship with the Ratner-funded BUILD.

Marie Louis has repeatedly cried sour grapes to the complaints by long-standing and upstart grassroots community organizations that were not handpicked by the developer to participate in the CBA. Louis contends that Ratner's door was open to any groups that wanted to negotiate: “I think when people raise all these arguments it's because they're bitter that they didn't think of taking advantage of the opportunities.” (The Brooklyn Papers, September 3, 2005)

The way BUILD has played the race card is particularly distasteful and has churned the stomachs of progressive liberals throughout Brooklyn. The tactic of dividing the community along racial lines has been employed on multiple fronts: in the news media and in public meetings.

In an article in Forward, the Jewish weekly newspaper, BUILD’s James Caldwell attempted to arouse suspicions of racism: "I don't want to make this out to be a black versus white situation, but it seems like that's what it's turning out to be." (August 04, 2005)

On Brian Lehrer’s show, Marie Louis diverted the conversation about whether BUILD was Ratner-funded by pretending to be insulted and playing the race card: “many folks coming from communities of color, we wonder why is it that folks think that we cannot think for ourselves?” (Brian Lehrer Live CUNY-TV, September 21, 2005)

ACORN head Bertha Lewis was the headliner of racially divisive chorus when she unleashed the following diatribe: “It is because of race and class that whenever you have a small group of white liberals running and screaming about something, people think it’s important. They don't have to worry about affordable housing. They don't give a damn about people of color. All they care about is preserving their little Prospect Heights community.” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 9, 2005)

Invoking God and Ratner in the same breath has become a trademark of James Caldwell. In a speech that seemed a little over the top at the time, Caldwell seems to display the tact and compassion of Barbara Bush after Katrina, showing little regard for the people he claims to serve while raking in the big bucks from Ratner. Caldwell “thanked God and Ratner for the big check [to Carver Federal Savings Bank], which he said ‘gives the little people an opportunity…. This is bringing opportunity to our community,’ Caldwell said. ‘It is truly great to work with a person who was sent by God.’” (Brooklyn Downtown Star, March 24, 2005) Since then, nearly every time Caldwell has spoken in public, he has given praise to Ratner in sound bytes such as, “FCRC is truly like an angel in heaven.” (The Brooklyn Downtown Star, August 4, 2005)

While we are strolling down memory lane, revising our opinion of the entire cast of characters handpicked by Ratner, let’s not forget NY Assembly Member Roger Green. 2004 was a big year for Green. In January, he joined with other “community activists” to form BUILD. In February, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for misreporting travel expenses, which led to his disgraced resignation in June. How did the corrupt sycophant who sold out his district to Ratner get re-elected? After recent revelations, one has to wonder if Ratner cash funded his re-election campaign.

BUILD claims that three of its executive board members are also members of Community Board 8 (CB8). According to thier non-profit IRS filing these CB8 members are officers in BUILD. Two of these CB8 members, Marie Louis and Shalawn Langhorne, are reportedly drawing $100,000 in salaries from BUILD and while the other Marlene Sanders is only listed as an offier. These members of CB8 should step down from BUILD or CB8 and explain what they know about the finances of this sordid affair. Involvement in BUILD undermines their work and standing on CB8.

Shame on BUILD, Bruce Ratner and their community partners for exploiting the plight and aspirations of poor Brooklynites, trading on people’s religious beliefs, lying to the public and press and being arrogant to boot.

Last November, James Caldwell claimed “We are grass roots, and we're not at the table for ourselves. We're at the table for the community.” (Brooklyn Downtown Star, November 24, 2004) Now we know that all along, BUILD’s leaders have been fattening themselves at Ratner’s table, and their green grassroots were really cash-rich Astroturf.

BUILD shall henceforth be referred to as Bribe Us In Large Denominations.

And all that nonsense about the project being built to serve the community can be put to rest, while the rest of us discuss the project’s real impacts on our Brooklyn.

Posted by lumi at September 29, 2005 6:42 AM