« New York Court of Appeals Upholds Atlantic Yards Condemnations | Main | Nets CEO Yormark optimistic about the bond sale, says team will recover from losing streak »

November 26, 2009

Thankful for what? Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, that's what.

Rocky Sullivan Report

Here's Scott Turner's commentary on this week's events, from his Rocky Sullivan Pub Quiz email, published in full. [Press conference after yesterday's court decision. Photo by the excellent Tracy Collins.]

Something happened yesterday, though, that made me wanna throw myself into the brackish, mawkish pond of Thanksgiving thankfulivities.

Dan Goldstein, Freddy's Bar and other homeowners and residents lost their big eminent domain case. They'd gone to court to stop Bruce Ratner and the state's development agency, the ESDC, from taking their homes, businesses and properties so that Ratner can build the vile Atlantic Yards colossus.

By a 6-1 decision, the court washed its hands of the matter, saying it couldn't get involved in the affairs of a state agency. By that logic, they would refuse to order election commissions to let Black people vote, marriage license departments to allow mixed-race marriages, and school districts to integrate.

More to the point, if the Court of Appeals were King Solomon, it would've gone like this: "Hmmm...okay. Each of you chicks says you're the momma to this baby. Okay, first, I dunno if I'm the right guy to decide this. Second...hmmm....okay, you know what? I can't really get involved. Get out of my palace."

The one dissenting judge, Robert Smith, had harsh words for his colleagues on the bench:

[T]he majority is much too deferential to the self-serving determination by Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) that petitioners live in a "blighted" area, and are accordingly subject to having their homes seized and turned over to a private developer.

...It is clear to me from the record that the elimination of blight, in the sense of substandard and unsanitary conditions that present a danger to public safety, was never the bona fide purpose of the development at issue in this case.

Another battle lost, but is the war over? Not by a long shot. Ratner has to sell $700 million in bonds by the end of the year, and there are at least four lawsuits -- and possibly more -- between him and getting the project started. All of the grandiose affordable-housing and new-jobs promises are now distant echoes, having fulfilled their one raison d'etre -- to flim-flam elected officials and people desperate for housing and work -- to support the project. It's the same model as Ratner's hitting the eject button on the Nets basketball team -- it too having fulfilled its role as a feel-good nostalgia seduction.

Oh...and that basketball team of his is now 0-14.

Besides the immediacy of the court decision, what does this have to do with the giving of thanks?

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, that's what.

The group came together not long after Ratner's plans were announced in late 2003. The first DDDB event was a rally on Pacific Street, in front of Goldstein's building at what would be center court of the Nets' arena -- or rather, Barclays' arena, named for a bank involved with the slave trade, apartheid, Nazi occupation in France, the Congolese civil war and Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe. Just what Brooklyn needs.

From there, DDDB has done everything it can to stop Ratner's arrogance, architect Frank Gehry's self-absorbed dismissiveness, Mayor Bloomberg's bullying, Boro Prez Markowitz's childish cartoon pronouncements, Governors Pataki's/Spitzer's/Paterson's embrace of neighborhood decimation, and the state's wanton disregard for anyone who would question what their government is up to.

DDDB's primary goal is not to stop the Atlantic Yards. Rather, it's to develop the Vanderbilt Railyards with truly affordable housing...in scale with the neighborhood...emphasizing small businesses and not Ratner's model of big box-stores...with open-to-all public spaces...no eminent domain...none of the public money Ratner wants for his private for-profit arena and skyscrapers...truly green...and without wielding the dagger Ratner has plunged into Brooklyn's heart these last six years.

DDDB is not without its faults. To wage a political struggle faultlessly is Stepford to the core. That, and it never having happened in the history of humankind. Political strugglers make mistakes.

DDDB, though, has done done a good job because we haven't sunk to Ratner's and Bloomberg's level. We don't lie. We don't make things up. We don't play dirty tricks. We don't rip people off. We don't set fire to the dry tinder that is Brooklyn's racial and class divisions. We don't embrace the language of condescension.

Instead, we've always tried hard and played fair. We might not win. Brooklyn might not win. Perhaps, if we lose, some will say that DDDB should've played hardball.

See, it's that kind of macho crap that's gotten us into this mess in the first place. It gets us into messes all over the world. Machiavellian principles have ruined too many lives, burned too many cities to the ground, and soured the enzymes that give us life.

I've grown to love the people I work with at DDDB. It's the best campaign I've ever been a part of, and I've worked on "causes" since the early '80s. If a struggle loses sight of the humanity of the cause, it will fail. Even if, on paper, it wins. Ratner, Bloomberg, Markowitz and the others had no use for treating people kindly, right from the outset.

The abandonment of kindness isn't limited to the Ratner's key consortium players. A lot of good people in the Atlantic Yards conflagration can't tell night from day. A man like Michael Ratner, Bruce's brother, the radical progressive lawyer whose career has been about fighting the power, has lost his humanity. He has ethical blood on his hands for assisting his brother's taking of peoples homes and lives for the Atlantic Yards boondoggle. The Atlantic Yards' malfeasance is the kind he'd be in court battling against -- racism, classism, government playing rough with its populace. Yet Michael Ratner has been silent about in his own family's terrible behavior. Cross Michael Ratner off the list of good guys.

["But Michael Ratner's done such good!" you might respond. Sure, but but Justice is a 24/7 thing, and you can't be selective about it -- especially if it means your working dynamic becomes blood is thicker than ethics.]

David Sheets and Daniel Goldstein, two of the plaintiffs in Goldstein, et al. v. New York State Urban Development Corporation. Photo by Tracy Collins

DDDB and all the others groups and citizens fighting the Ratner development have a long way to go. That's because of the width and breadth of the issue -- overdevelopment and the very notion of who gets a say in their community's progress.

If Ratner is successful, it's an ominous moment at the end of the new century's first decade. At this juncture, communities, individuals, working-class people, people of color, immigrants and the wide range of traditionally-screwed groups should be gaining empowerment -- not drunk-on-power despots like Michael Bloomberg and wealthy scions like Bruce Ratner.

It just means, as always, that people need to come together and put an end to this bass-ackwards way of life.

This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for the friends I've made in DDDB -- none of whom I knew before Ratner pushed his way into our lives uninvited six years ago. They're good people. Really good people, who know the difference between fighting and cheating. There's not a Thierry Henry in sight on this side of the Atlantic Yards struggle.

It could be our downfall, but this much is clear: if you win by walking all over people, it's no win at all. I'm thankful that, whenever this thing finally ends, we'll still be standing, hearts still beating, without carnage strewn about. Not carnage of our making, anyway.

I think we'll win, by the way.

It sounds like a grim way to say "Happy Thanksgiving." It's not. It's a celebration of people fighting for what they believe, and having each others' backs. It's not always pretty, but in the end, it's affection and tenderness stating for the record that, without them, struggle is an empty call.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours...

Posted by lumi at November 26, 2009 6:36 AM