Tuesday, November 04, 2008

As Election Day approaches, a deficit of democracy in New York City

As Election Day approached--not one with much choice for New Yorkers in local election, as City Limits reported--Mayor Mike Bloomberg, for the first time, yesterday had to listen to members of the public scold and rebuke him in the four-hour "comment period" before he signed an extension of term limits into law.

At least one person commenting yesterday, Prospect Heights activist Patti Hagan, managed to shove Bloomberg's own unequivocal words--five separate statements--in his face while connecting his "power grab" to Atlantic Yards.

She commented:
After your strong-armed, knuckle busting performance last month to get term limit extended, I'd like to refresh your memory on the subject of term limits extension--in your own words.

You said: "The public has spoken twice and they have spoken quite clearly. I don't know that you should keep shopping for a different answer."

...Unfortunately, Mr. Mayor, you have a bad habit of ignoring the People of NYC--you don't care what we think or vote. Instead, you govern imperiously with an inner circle, limited constituency of a couple dozen billionaire overdevelopers like the predatory Bruce Ratner--you blessed his Ratlantic Yards land grab in Brooklyn--and look where that has gone in 5½ years! Nowhere! Jinxed!


Well, it's gotten official approval and pre-construction demolition and utility relocation has begun. Whether it actually gets off the ground is another question. Suffice it to say that developer Forest City Ratner is happy with the mayor, as FCR executive MaryAnne Gilmartin indicated last week.

Public input on projects?

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn pointed to part of Bloomberg's justification:
...There’s no easy answer, and nobody is irreplaceable, but I do think that if you take a look at the real world of how long it takes to do things — we live in a litigious society, we live in a society where we have real democracy, and lots of people have the ability to input their views and approve or disapprove projects — I just think that three terms makes more sense than two...

(Emphasis added by DDDB; see video on NY1.)

DDDB cited to Council Member Letitia James's statement that "this is really all about a legacy," including Atlantic Yards.

James yesterday was singled out by New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman for cautioning Bloomberg:
“With a stroke of the pen, Mr. Mayor, you will pre-empt democracy,” she said in a voice tinged with sadness.

Dissecting Bloomberg

Let's look at Bloomberg's statement again:
we live in a litigious society, we live in a society where we have real democracy, and lots of people have the ability to input their views and approve or disapprove projects.

Well, we do live in a litigious society, but it doesn't follow that we have a real democracy.

And yes, lots of people have the ability to input their views--heck, they waited outside City Hall for hours to testify yesterday and to testify at the two hearings held by the City Council--but that doesn't mean they have the ability to approve projects.

After all, no elected official in New York City got a vote on the Atlantic Yards project. It bypassed the City Council and the City Planning Commission, whose votes are necessary to approve projects that go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP.

The votes went to four members of the Empire State Development Corporation board, who took 15 minutes, and the "three men in a room" of the Public Authorities Control Board, who took five minutes.

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