Fans For Fair Play
Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What's So Civil About Civil Discourse? 

It's clear why Bruce Ratner's supporters so love Frank Gehry's glass and steel designs.

They themselves live in glass houses...and lately they've been throwing lots of rocks.

Some have resorted to curious vitriol in order to attack anti-Ratner forces for being vitriolic. They've insulted many of us for being "insulting." They've lost all sense of civil discourse when angrilly claiming we're not civil enough.

First, there was Daily News columnist Errol Louis, who's more interested in taking jabs at DDDB, et al. than in actually examining the downsides of the project. In a column last week, Louis ragged on the DDDB's, FFFP's and others' tactics.

What's wrong with them, excatly? According to Louis, we don't cozy up to the scions of power, the way Louis did during his "charm offensives" in his days as a "full-time community activist." Louis wrote of counselling friends of his who live -- well, lived -- in the Atlantic Yards footprint. Louis urged them not to fight for their homes and businesses because "[t]here is too much money, political power and community support to stop the project altogether, but there might be room for compromise."

Compromise? Louis has made a cottage industry of ignoring Ratner's refusal to comprimise. Bruce doesn't feel he has to, what with the governor, mayor and ESDC all molding the approval process to his exact liking.

There's an episode of The Simpsons where Bart's trying to learn the guitar. His frustration is noted by Homer, who in a tender and fatherly moment offers his son the exact sage advice that Errol Louis imparted to his footprint friends: "Son, it's okay. If something is too hard to do, then it's not worth doing."

An entire exchange between Louis, David Block, FFFP and a few others is at the Gotham Gazette's Wonkster blog.

Then, in Chris Smith's explosive New York Magazine piece
Atlantic Yards booster and New York Assemblymember Roger Green offers this social engineering bon mot:

Here’s the question: If we were building an 18,000-seat opera house, would we get as much resistance? I don’t think so,” he says. “Basketball is like a secular religion for most Brooklynites. The opposition to the arena is actually coming from people who are new to Brooklyn, who lived in Manhattan, mostly. And who have a culture of opposing projects of this nature. People who opposed the West Side Highway project; people who opposed the Jets stadium; people who opposed a host of other things. Some of those families now live in Brooklyn. That’s the reality. There’s a class of people who are going to the opera. And there’s another class of folks who will go to a basketball game and get a cup of beer.

Well, for starters, some of the Atlantic Yards supporters are so new to Brooklyn that they've never lived here in their lives -- like, f'rinstance, Brooklyn's Savior himself, Bruce Ratner, who lives on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Or so old to Brooklyn that they moved away long ago, all the way to Teaneck, NJ -- the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, c'mon down!

Yes, Brooklyn does embrace basketball as "a secular religion," oxymoronic though that phrase is. But here's where Green's wrong: opponents aren't fighting the Atlantic Yards because of basketball and its culture. It's because it's an 18,000 (or 19,000, or even 20,000) seat arena that, according to Ratner's own figures, would have events five nights every week for the rest of all time -- most of the time events not basketball.

Saying that AY opponents are snotty opera buffs who won't give basketball fans the time of day is idiotic coded language. Green's actually thrust is that opponents are too white to allow Black Brooklyn its own culture, that Ratner is benevolently enabling Black Brooklyn to be itself, and that whites are trying to stop it.

That opponents are "a class of people who are going to the opera" should come as news to Bob Law, Charles Barron, Chris Owens, Bill Batson, Tish James, Velmanette Montgomery, the pastors at all of the area's Black churches save one, and the many opponents-of-color who oppose the Ratner project.

Maybe Bob, Charles, et al. like opera. We don't know. But Green should be honest enough to use real language, not coded words. If he's saying the only people objecting to Ratner's obscene plan hail from a white culture laced with elitism, snobbishness and disrespect for Black culture, he should come clean and say it.

What of Black people who like La Traviata better than Jason Kidd? Cabernet Sauvigon more than Brooklyn Lager?

More to the point, what of Black people who like Jason Kidd and a cold brew just fine without 16-20 skyscrapers and a basketball arena being shoved down their borough's throat?

They're dumb questions, but, you know, Roger Green brought it up.

You know who's a great class of people? Those who'd go see their kids play high-school or youth league basketball in state-of-the-art facilities that could be built throughout Brooklyn, but won't because all the money and energy is instead going toward a single gleaming Gehry-designed court that millionaire NBA stars will use maybe 50 nights a year.

Louis and Green notwithstanding, the cake-taker this week is Richard Lipsky, a flak for Ratner and head of something called the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, whose missives are available at the cynically-named Momandpopnyc blogspot.

The NRA's claims of anti-development advocacy are laughable, since they're on-board with the most massive pro-development initiative in Brooklyn's history. It's just inconceivable that Lipsky, who has fought Wal-Mart's incursion into New York City, would side with a mega-developer known for crushing mom'n'pop stores with big box-stores throughout the Northeast.

More crass is the NRA's insistance that the project is good for Brooklyn's amateur sports programs. Lipsky parrots the same line as Green's. "So many of the critics," Lipsky opines, "exhibiting a certain level of snobbery, have looked down on this plebian side of this development and, because of this manifest snobbery, missed the potential importance of the sports team for the community.

You forgot the part about the beer, Richard.

So exactly do his and Green's talking points mirror one another that it's clear they're working off of the same playbook. That's a sports reference, Roger and Richard, just to let you know we're, you know, down with plebians. Forest City Ratner makes sure their supporters are all on the same page. That is, when they remove the gag-orders long enough for a public comment or two.

"Everything we have seen so far indicates that Bruce Ratner gets it," the NRA continues. "If FCRC and the Brooklyn Nets do not invest in the young people there will not be the kind of fan base that the franchise needs to succeed. It is enlightened self-interest not pure philanthropy, although BR is no slouch in this regard either."

There's nothing enlightened about Bruce Ratner's self-interest. Ratner bought the New Jersey Nets for $300 million for one purpose only -- to serve as a cog in his real-estate machine. Nearly a century ago, another infamous sports team owner did the same thing -- Harry Frazee, who bought the Boston Red Sox and infamously sold Babe Ruth in order to fund his Broadway theater empire.

Ratner, as disinterested in sports as any new team owner in recent memory, has thrown money around Brooklyn's amateur sports scene like it's going out of style. And it IS going out of style for most Brooklynites, what with the city and state ploughing taxpayer dollars into the Atlantic Yards rather than mass transit, schools, health systems, libraries and city workers' salaries.

...or are those things too elitist for Lipsky and Green?

No, it's not Ratner's Great White Father benevolence that's fueling all his spending on summer basketball camps and "CBA" promises of 60 tickets per 18,000 seat game for underprivileged Brooklynites. Rather, it's the uptick in public relations Ratner gets every time a Brooklyn youth-league coach goes on about what a gent Ratner is.

It's the wispy, exploitable nostalgia every time Ratner claims he's mending the hole in Brooklyn's heart from that dark day fifty years ago when the Dodgers headed west. (Go here for why the Nets could never be the Dodgers.)

It's the lost opportunity for a true Brooklyn Sportsplex and dozens of other state-of-the-art amateur sports facilities, opportunities squandered first during the fiscal crisis of the '70s, then during Giuliani's rush to build four stadiums for the Yankees, Mets and their two bottom-feeder minor league teams, and now brushed aside by Ratner's coliseum and its false promises that maybe, possibly a Brooklyn urchin or two might set foot on the pros' hardwood floor -- if, per chance, there's an hour available between Jay-Z concerts and monster truck pulls.

Lipsky, sadly, has bought into Ratner's "enlightened self-interest" hook, line, sinker and more than a few dollars tossed in the direction of the NRA's general field of interest.

Lipsky claims, in his expressive third-person narrative, that he wouldn't have jumped onto Ratner's bandwagon without "the sheer level of passion and enthusiasm [for Ratner's machinations] spontaneously exhibited by a diverse array of sports organizations in the borough."

Yow. Let's be clear, here -- the primary source of "passion and enthusiasm" for Ratner's currently stalled plans for the Brooklyn Nets comes courtesy of his checkbook. Sure, some Brooklynites who haven't yet been feted by Ratner are intrigued by an NBA team playing in Brooklyn.

But if there were really crazy-mad buzz for the Nets, you'd see bootleg Brooklyn Nets t-shirts in every bodega, Church Ave record store and clothing emporium from Humboldt down to Stillwell, Bay Ridge to Bushwick, West 8th Street to East New York.

Fans would be phoning Mike & The Mad Dog, breathlessly counting down the days (well, months...years, actually) 'til the first tip-off at center court where Dan Goldstein lives today. But the only sporadic mention on the city's highest-rated sports-talk show is when Ratner tries out his well-rehearsed sports-ownerisms on the 'FAN as Mike Francessa and Chris Russo dutifully lob softballs his way. Dutifully because WFAN is now the flagship station for Nets radio broadcasts.

But the only sound you hear is Jay-Z's sad self-delusion about being an owner on Hewlett-Packard t.v. ads. It's self-delusional because nobody owns anything when their share is less than one-percent.

Lipsky treats us to this hypocritical classic as he critiques our "name calling" by calling us names: "Name calling seems to be the hallmark of this opposition and the fish clearly stinks from the head." Missing your own point doesn't much help your cause, Richard.

Let's get it straight, right here right now:

We love sports and hate Ratner's project.

We don't like opera but we love affordable housing and real job creation.

And we drink beer but don't swallow Ratner's lies, exaggerations and obfuscations.

* * * * * * * *

"RL got his start writing the definitive work on sports and politics in this country," says Richard Lipsky's third-person, self-agrandizing entry on his own blog.

Fans, if you're interested in a tome far more deserving of such a description, the book you're after is the legendary Ball Four by Jim Bouton.

Ball Four changed the way we look at sports. It rocked the baseball world when it was published thirty-six years ago. It forced us to see sports as more than just a place where hero-worship was the only currency, where legends were whitewashed by a compliant media and no one ever drank anything stronger than milk, ever took anything harder than their own 0-for-4 performance at the plate, and never chased anything feistier than a tough curveball out of the strike zone.

Bouton bravely forced us to look at everything good and bad in sports, and taught is that heroes have the same warts and defects as the rest of us...that hitting a baseball 500 feet is no more valuable than teaching schoolchildren or fixing the plumbing. Probably less valuable, actually.

Bouton knows that using sports to sell the Ratner project is about as unethical as it gets...that exploiting nostalgia, the misty memories of the past and pie-in-the-sky promises for the future is contemptible.

All this is to say we're excited that Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn has annonced that Jim Bouton has joined their Advisory Board.

Bouton, as many of you know, waged a long and tough battle in Pittsfield, MA to save historic Wahconah Park from politically-connected developers and local and state officials. It's all documented in his book Foul Ball. Bouton will be lending his expertise and eloquence to DDDB's efforts against the Atlantic Yards's skyscrapers and arena.

"As Pittsfield goes, so goes Brooklyn?" asks Bouton. "A few years ago, a handful of politically connected power brokers blocked our privately financed $1.5 million plan to restore an old ballpark in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Why? Because our plan would have put a stake in the heart of their proposed $19 million publicly financed stadium - a stadium that the citizens of Pittsfield had voted against three different times!

"What is it with sports arenas, or are they just the deals we know more about? Now we have the Steinbrenner and Ratner projects, trampling on neighborhoods, ignoring citizens, and giving public subsidies to millionaires at the expense of schools, hospitals and fire departments.

"And I think to myself that when we're finished bringing democracy to the Middle East, we can bring it to Pittsfield. And the Bronx. And Brooklyn."

Those who've followed Bouton these last several years know how much it meant for him to be, after many years of being blacklisted, invited to Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium. It means a lot to us that Bouton is willing to criticize the Yankees for their land-grab in the Bronx.

Jim, you're probably not plebian enough for Roger Green's and Richard Lipsky's tastes.

But here's something to cheer you up. Amazon.com ranks Ball Four is ranked one-point-five million slots higher than Richard Lipsky's "definitive work on sports and politics in this country," How We Play The Game.

* * * * * * * *

Finally, the boycott of Brooklyn Lager -- for supporting Ratner and turning their back on the many Brooklynites who supported Brooklyn Lager -- is still on. Click here for more details.

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