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

Monday, July 25, 2005

Reverend Al and The Man, and a warning to the MTA 

The Reverend Al Sharpton couldn't be more wrong if he tried.

And goodness knows, it often seems like he's trying.

Throughout the 18 months that Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards colossus has been the borough's political, economic, cultural and, thanks to Ratner's vicious approach, racial flashpoint, Sharpton this week has finally thrown himself into the fray.

The man who's fought The Man most of his life -- well, after he stopped working for The Man as an FBI informant -- has now embraced the power structure with all his heart.

This must be, at best, a seriously mixed blessing for FCR. Sure, they get another tenuous toehold in the Black community, but they also get a guy who anyone can approach on the street and ask "hey, Reverend, that Jets stadium thingie you endorsed, how's that coming along?"

Throwing his support behind Ratner's stomach-churning skyscraper compound, Sharpton has gone from challenging the status quo to reading its scripts on the nightly news.

A generation ago, brave marchers at the Edmund Pettis Bridge marched arm-in-arm for civil rights and had the bejeesus kicked of of them for their trouble. It must have done the survivors of that seminal historical event proud to see Sharpton use the same tactic to support the civil rights of megal-developer Ratner, including:

* Ratner's right to use billions in taxpayer dollars for a privately-owned luxury housing development and sports arena;

* Ratner's right to destory peoples' homes, jobs and businesses through eminent domain condemnation (a tool overwhelming used in this nation's history against working class, minority communities);

* Ratner's right to exacerbate surrounding neighborhoods' asthma rates, including African-American Fort Greene's, one of the city's asthma hotspots;

* Ratner's right to wildly exaggerate to the Black community the number of affordable apartments and actual jobs they'll have access to;

* Ratner's right to seduce Sharpton with a "promise" to offer 25% of his construction jobs to minority-owned businesses in a city that's over 50% minority populated. (Italicized because we're just so goll-durned amazed.) Talk about bidding against yourself, and as for "promises" being legally-binding, er, not so much;

* Ratner's right to put a gun to the MTA's head and offer to buy the Vanderbilt Rail Yards for a scant one-fourth of their estimated worth, sticking up the cash-strapped agency -- and ultimately, straphangers, another constituency that Sharpton has advocated for in the past but, upon his quesey alliance with Ratner, has now abandoned;

* Ratner's right to push for a rigged bidding process, the sort of machination that distances government from ordinary citizens and further still from minority communities.

* Ratner's right to crow about a "community benefits agreement" that only benefits a few local groups by awarding them contracts whose riches depend on the skyscrapers getting built.

Look...we've more often than not supported Sharpton's crusades. Though he's never met a camera he didn't like, he's still fought political battles that were too hot for establishment politicians. His presidential run in 2004 was admirable.

But when it comes to Ratner, Sharpton is dead wrong. After all this time, the only thing he apparently knows about Ratner's project is what's written on the press-releases Forest City Ratner shoved in his hands last week.

Sharpton has ignored the many clergy in the area whose flocks are against the project, not to mention the tens of thousands of citizens who've signed petitions and turned out for rallies urging smart development, not Ratner's brand. The Reverend Dillon, chair of the Downtown Brooklyn Leadership Council, remarked that it would've been nice if Sharpton had sought out the DBLC's input since, you know, they live there and all.

It's no newsflash that Sharpton would embarrass himself like this. What's sad is that a guy whose entire raison d'être is fighting the powerful and elite would give himself over to them so unquestioningly and completely. If it's good enough for ACORN's Bertha Lewis and the Reverend Herbert Daughtry, two other retired activists, he must rationalize, it's good enough for Al Sharpton.

It really comes down to this: Reverend Al coming to Prospect Heights and siding with Ratner is like him going to Howard Beach and siding with the guys wielding the baseball bats.

* * * * * * * *

The MTA is set to meet on Wednesday and possibly vote on which of the two bids submitted for the Vanderbilt Rail Yards to accept. We urge the MTA to delay the vote for a variety of reasons:

1) There hasn't been nearly enough time to analyze the competing bids. Extell Development Corporation has offered three times the cash Forest City Ratner has ($150 million to $50 million). FCR, though, has complicated their bid with speculative numbers that seemingly puff their bid up to $369 million. However, the various bells and whistles in FCR's bid require serious analysis, and there hasn't been enough time for that.

2) The MTA should be highly cautious about awarding the yards to FCR, a corporation that inflates its bid by lying about its true value. FCR isn't upping the monetary value of their offer to an agency desperately in need of cash, but disingenuously inserting construction costs -- something the MTA will never see a cent of. It's like someone saying to you "I'll buy your house for $500,000 dollars, but after I move in I'm putting in $500,000 dollars in improvements, so I'm really offering you $1 million."

3) The MTA hasn't said word one about needing a state-of-the-art switching yard, something that Ratner's overinflated bid includes paying for. It's certainly not something straphangers have been clammoring for. "Damn, my train's late again...if only the MTA had a cutting-edge rail yard over there at Atlantic and Vanderbilt, I'd be getting to work on time!"

4) According to their bids, FCR will cost taxpayers $50 million more in public funds for their project than Extell -- that's how much more in subsidies FCR wants than Extell.

5) The MTA should be insulted that while their own appraiser has pegged the yards' value at $214.5 million dollars, FCR has bid less than a fourth of that value. Big, well-heeled, "we white knights are riding in to save Brooklyn" FCR, who could easily afford the MTA's price, has given city and state taxpayers the boot...again. What should be more shocking to the MTA board is that FCR has been collarborating with city and state agencies for a year-and-a-half, like they were best friends, and now FCR has drastically low-balled them. This after a stretch when Pataki and Bloomberg should have been inviting bids from all over instead of sealing off the process to all but one favored company.

6) The MTA should be very cautious of a mega-corporation like FCR that can't, apparently, afford the appraised value of the yards and whose entire project teeters precariously on a fulcrum of subsidies, tax breaks, PILOTs, "infrastructural" grants and a tenuous economy.

7) The MTA can ill-afford another fiasco like the Jets stadium. The Brooklyn process is the same deal. After being forced by an angry public to create an open bidding process, the favored bidder -- a sports-team-owning pal of the governor and mayor -- submits the worst bid, fraught with add-ons nicked from Peter to pretend to pay Paul. The MTA board's vote appears, at this stage, to be a slap-dash rush-job. The principles of fairness and democracy lose again.

That is, unless the MTA board on Wednesday elects to postpone their vote until September. There are simply too many questions, and the sale of the Vanderbilt Yards too important to the people of Brooklyn, the city and the state, not to look under every rock of both developers' bids.

If you can, call the and e-mail government officials listed below and let them know that as a straphanger, a parent, a sports fan, a supporter of good jobs and affordable housing, a taxpayer, or simply someone who believes in doing things the right way, you need for the MTA to delay its vote until they can carefully consider the future of the Vanderbilt Yards.

The future of the Yards is the future of Brooklyn.


Katherine Lapp, Executive Dir. MTA
(212) 878-7274

Richard Brodsky, Assemblyperson and transporation committeemember
(518) 455-5753, (914) 345-0432
email: brodskr@assemby.state.ny.us

Daniel Doctoroff, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development
(212) 788-3000 (telephone)
(212) 788-2460 (fax)

Hon. Governor George E. Pataki
(518) 474-8390

Honorable Mayor Michael Bloomberg
311 (or 212-NEW-YORK outside NYC)
(212) 788-2460 (fax)

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