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November 19, 2011

The Ratner Seven

City Journal
By Nicole Gelinas

This piece has harsh words for those who believe in promises made by Bruce Ratner.

Earlier this week, seven Brooklyn residents filed a federal lawsuit against Bruce Ratner, the developer of the Atlantic Yards basketball arena, accusing him of committing a grave injustice. The plaintiffs, however, aren’t opposed to injustice; in fact, they had hoped to benefit from it. For the wrongs that they’ve suffered, Bruce Ratner’s latest useful idiots have no one to blame but themselves.

Ratner has spent eight years using the power of New York City and New York State to injure people who don’t have the arbitrary power of the government backing them. Starting in 2003, Ratner garnered the support of Mayor Bloomberg, Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, and a succession of governors to use the power of eminent domain—plus $700 million in subsidies—to label some private Brooklyn properties “blighted,” seize them, and build his stadium and (at some point) surrounding apartment towers. Ratner gained government backing only by marshaling community support: that is, he shoveled money into new “grassroots” advocacy groups like Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD). Ratner signed a “community benefits agreement” under which BUILD chief James Caldwell would train residents—many of them low-income Brooklynites—for as many as 15,000 well-paying construction jobs at Atlantic Yards.

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Now, seven job-seekers are suing, alleging that Ratner and Caldwell duped them into joining a “training” class last year that consisted of reading Wikipedia printouts and then working—unpaid and unsupervised—for two months on a dangerous Staten Island home-construction site owned by a third party. During their “training,” the seven “learned very little that they did not already know,” they said, because they were “already fully capable of performing construction work.” One man had previously worked as a carpenter; another had “extensive experience” and had once supervised 100 people on a worksite; a third had worked as an electrician’s apprentice. Two others quit jobs to enroll in Ratner’s “training,” while another turned down a maintenance job. The seven plaintiffs toiled unpaid because, they say, Ratner’s surrogates promised them trade-union memberships, a pathway to good jobs building Atlantic Yards. Caldwell, whose BUILD salary was funded by Ratner, told them that they should “prepare to be millionaires,” they say. They got nothing. “None of the Plaintiffs has received an offer of employment in a construction job” at Atlantic Yards, according to their suit.

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Posted by steve at November 19, 2011 11:08 PM