Monday, December 21, 2009

Scenes from a hectic day at City Hall

Not Diana's day.
Updated: With a 1 PM stated session for Council to vote on a grab bag of items before it recesses for the rest of the year, it mean the showdown over the Broadway Triangle would finally commence. Check out the Courier for my coverage of the whole show, in three acts.

Act I: At 12:30 PM it was time for the Broadway Triangle supporters, or as Azi Paybarah calls them, Steve's people, to take their place on the steps of City Hall for an impromptu rally. Steve Levin and Maritza Davila, right, fired up the crowd.
"Yes We will! Yes We Will!" they shouted.

I see Scott Short from RBSCC (no relation) and ask him how he thinks the vote will go. He says he's cautiously optimistic it will pass, but sees eminent domain concerns as a potential snag.
“Do not disturb the process,” said Davila, instructing the crowd as they moved inside. “Remember we are civilized and we come in peace.”

By 1 PM it was time for the opponents to take the stage. Led by Rob Solano, Juan Ramos, Marty Needelman and Council member Reyna, the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition wanted to say one last remark before the battle shifted to the courts.
"It is unfathomable in this day and age that we will allow politics to get in the way of a community that suffers from displacement and gentrification," said Reyna. "This is not government for the people. This is self preservation for a
political cause."
As Reyna was speaking, Council member-elect Steve Levin walked down the steps and left City Hall, leaving the compound. Cue dramatic music which begins to swell.

Act II: Shortly after 1 PM, Press Row starts assembling in the front tables and along the perimeter. There's one council member in the Chamber. Speaker Quinn is holding a pre-stated press conference to talk about all the bills downstairs in the green room. Usually green rooms mean shrimp cocktail. I leave my post to go investigate.
There was no food of any kind. Instead, Speaker Quinn is at a podium, flanked by ten council members, and is delivering a brief overview before taking questions from the press corps. On the agenda today includes the override of the Mayor's veto on the Kingsbridge Armory, the rezoning of the Western Rail Yards in Manhattan, and the Queens street co-naming of Sean Bell, among other things.
I ask Speaker Quinn whether the lawsuit that Broadway Triangle. opponents are filing would affect the vote in any way.
"I don't know. I can't speak to the lawsuit. You'll have to speak to those who are filing it," said Quinn.
You mean this guy, (right)?
Courtney Gross from Gotham Gazette (who has one of the more comprehensive round-ups of the rezonings I've seen so far) asks a follow-up about the Triangle and how the Council would vote today.
"We believe this is a project that will bring affordable housing to a part of the city that needs it. We are very mindful that this is not without opposition, but on the balance, the pluses outweigh the minuses."
It's nearly 2 PM and I make my way back up the chambers. Press Row looks a little bored. How do I know? They're all reading Marty Needelman's lawsuit. Kareem Fahim is almost done with it.
Andy Campbell, Juliet Linderman and I notice a gentleman leaning over the balcony who bears a remarkable resemblance to Steven Seagal. Watch out City Council! Do you think you are Above the Law?

Act III: Council members slowly file in and greet each other before the stated meeting which begins just after 2 PM. There is a lot to vote on, and some council
members who haven't been reelected (see Stewart, Kendall) or lost opportunities for higher office (see Avella, Tony; Katz, Melinda; Weprin, David; Gioia, Eric; and Yassky, David) might get emotional because it is their last meeting ever. Some of the newbies are already circulating around the gallery such as Jimmy Van Bramer and Steve Levin, scoping out their seating arrangements. Diana Reyna has a front row seat right next to Robert Jackson and Erik Dilan. We're only in hour one of three hours of voting and even the council members look bored.

Let's fast forward to the actual voting, which begins at around 3:30 PM after a number of people, including the Sean Bell family, are recognized. This is a roll call vote, but each council member will take about five minutes to explain their vote. Some take ten. David Yassky and Diana Reyna have an exchange throughout the vote. First, David introduces the rezoning and explains why he is voting for the Broadway Triangle, citing the 1800 units of housing, 44 percent of which are affordable, and adding, "I can't imagine how we can make this project more affordable." When it is her turn, Diana responds.
“Not only is this giving us the minimum, it’s looking to displace hundreds of jobs in this area,” said Reyna. “For any plan not to address economic development and job creation, it’s not a plan at all. All I have been asking for is a plan for our community."
When it is David's turn to vote, he adds a comment.
“This is not an Atlantic Yards situation where ULURP was circumvented. It went through full ULURP process and had dozens of public and semi-public meetings in the decade leading up to this. Anybody who wanted to put up an alternative proposal for this site has had their plan heard and not necessarily adopted," said Yassky.

Two other notable votes, as also reported in The New York Times, include Public Advocate elect Bill De Blasio who voted in favor of the Broadway Triangle while criticizing the process and vowing to add more oversight for sole source site authorization, and Council member Letitia James who changed her vote to yes after saying she had been comforted by promises to small businesses that might be moved via eminent domain from the Triangle that they would receive fair compensation for their relocation.
As the vote totals are being tabulated, I notice Team Vito in the upper balcony on their cell phones. I take some pictures. Then Andy Marte and members of Team Vito start taking pictures of Press Row.

You know, Vito Lopez and The Charettes would make a great name for a funk band. Can you guys cover "How do I let a good man down?"

The parliamentarian tabulates the final vote, which is 36 yes, 10 no (Avella, Barron, Foster, Ignizio, Liu, Mark-Viverito, Mendez, Palma , Reyna, Sanders) and 4 abstentions ( Brewer, Gioia, Jackson, Katz). Diana sheds a few tears and pulls herself together. She could have used Steven Seagal.
It's 5 PM and Press Row breaks up to go downstairs for some interviews.
There is a holiday reception in the Council lounge, which is kind of like my high school's teachers' lounge because I am not allowed inside.
I file and talk with The Dilans, who are milling in the foyer in one corner, greeting Helen Sears and several departing Council members. Diana comes out to greet the attorneys, which include Marty "Rabbi" Needelman and Shekar Krishnan, formerly "Shake n' Bake" Krishnan. After they file their Broadway Triangle lawsuit, Shekar will be known as Omar.

Rabbi Needelman says that “We are committed to non-violence as long as humanly possible." These guys are Out for Justice.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Diana. There are many people out there who appreciate what you do each and every day.

Anonymous said...

Who is that lame duck in the photo?

Anonymous said...

I have the utmost admiration for Councilmember Reyna. She stood up for what she believed in, said what needed to have been said, was outcast by the power elite, and yet fought relentlessly on behalf of the communities that she represents.

I have witnessed many other politicians and community groups with their agendas and their power grabs, but she has consistently stood out as the one legislator who values integrity, honesty and fairness.

I see in these photos that it has been a grueling, draining fight, and personally, I believe this city would be a much greater place to live and work if we had more people who were as committed and perseverent as she has shown herself to be.

Win or not, Reyna deserves huge kudos. And I will bet -- or at least hope deeply -- that although the zoning plan is approved, she will continue to fight for fair implementation so that it addresses the needs of workers, business owners, local families, and residents of all ethnicities and incomes.

What's Next?
Looking forward, the Broadway Triangle community faces challenging issues about eminent domain, adequate relocation funds for businesses being kicked out, pushing for fair, competitive bidding for other components of the plan, etc.

And my message to the community board and local organizations: Be proud that you have someone who really gives a shit. I see this from outside, as I am involved in another Brooklyn community board, and I wish we all had leaders who are willing to stand up for what's right.

I hope that the CB and others show her the kind of thanks and respect that she deserves. She sure as hell worked for it.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE IT, you declare shake and bake omar, where is the picture of omar from the wire. To make a powerful statement as making shake and bake omar a well needed youtube video or pic was needed. please post pic of omar and shake and bake side by side for full effect!

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