Thursday, January 27, 2011

At State of the District, Jeffries talks education, jobs, housing, public safety--but not AY (later, he says he's waiting for an ESDC chair)

At his fourth annual State of the District address last night, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries had some tangible and less tangible achievements to report to a supportive crowd, concerned with education, employment, housing, and public safety. And a few jabs at Mayor Mike Bloomberg certainly were well-received.

Ever more polished--part lawyer, politician, preacher--Jeffries drew a reasonable crowd on a snowy night, with local District Leaders (Walter Mosley, Olanike Alabi, Lincoln Restler) in attendance, along with Community Board 8 Chair Nizjoni Granville, CB 2 Chair John Dew, and Joe Chan, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

Atlantic Yards, as with last year’s address, was not mentioned, a sign, perhaps, of Jeffries’ recognition that neither prominent criticism nor active support of such a divisive, complicated, and delayed project would play well with his base.

Or perhaps, Jeffries recognizes that he has relatively little clout at this point. I did interview him afterward (video below), and he said he hasn’t yet talked with Gov. Andrew Cuomo about Atlantic Yards because, understandably, a new Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) leader is not yet in place. (Update: Ken Adams was named today.)

Here's coverage from Patch.

The Navy Yard and jobs

He was introduced at the event, held at the Pratt Institute’s Higgins Hall, by Andrew Kimball, head of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, who said that Jeffries has urged the Navy Yard to focus on job training and local and minority/women contracting.

Kimball noted that Pratt--presumably the Pratt Center for Community Development--will be issuing a report with the Brookings Institution on how to support urban manufacturing. “The model for bringing urban jobs back into our cities is the Brooklyn Navy Yard,” he said.

(The Navy Yard was a longtime military-industrial center, reborn in recent decades as an industrial park, so, while antiquated, it did have infrastructure.).

The Navy Yard’s placement center, Kimball said, has 1000 people in jobs in the last ten years, with ten percent formerly incarcerated. Next fall, the Navy Yard will open up a training center focusing on local growth sectors, with outreach to public housing nearby and formerly incarcerated people.

He thanked the Rev. Mark Taylor for helping advocate for a new supermarket at Admirals Row, citing 500 jobs. “Assemblyman Jeffries understands that the best social program you can provide is a job, particularly a manufacturing job that lets you move up the ladder.”

The video

As in the past, Jeffries’ speech was preceded by video segment produced with Assembly help. He was pictured advocating against luxury decontrol for rent-regulated housing and advocating for a law preventing the New York Police Department from keeping records of those stopped and frisked but not arrested.

He also was shown criticizing Bloomberg’s appointment of Cathie Black as “an abuse of power,” noting that Black’s waiver application “relies on the appointment of a shadow chancellor... to create the illusion of competence.” Black made it in, but his criticism drew big praise.

The speech: housing

“The road will not be easy,” Jeffries said, launching into his theme, “But I'm convinced that we are stronger together than we are apart.”

He said he would continue to stand up for rent-regulated tenants and those in public housing and Mitchell-Lama buildings.

“Now, Mayor Bloomberg, my good friend”--the latter said with an edge-- “and his buddies in the real estate industry... have unleashed a gentrification streamroller that threatens the very character and survival of neighborhoods” like those he represents.

“We must preserve the affordable housing that we have and create as much as we possibly can,” he said, citing a new law, implementing Project Reclaim, designed to encourage refinancing of failed market-rate housing.

“Several units in Crown Heights have already been created but much more needs to be done,” he said, suggesting that banks need to be cooperating more. “Governor Cuomo has agreed to support Project Reclaim,” he added.

Criminal justice

He cited the “legislation that shut the NYPD stop and frisk database down,” noting that the number of stop and frisk encounters has since dropped by 25 percent. “When it comes to making sure our community is being treated with the respect it deserves, I'm not finished, I'm just getting started,” he said.

“We continue to break the back of the prison-industrial complex,” he said. “ I want the upstate economy to turn around, I just don't want it to be done on the backs of young men and women” from the city.

He cited the repeal of the “draconian Rockefeller drug laws,” the significant closure of some detention facilities, and, most notably, a change in the way incarcerated individuals are counted for the census. That means that those in upstate prisons are not counted as residents of those counties, but rather their home county, which makes more sense because that’s where they’re returning.

The best tactic for public safety, for dealing with concentrated poverty, for coping with the breakdown of family structure, he said, is jobs.

“I will carry that message forward to people in high places,” he said. “The president of the United States I think cares about our community. The governor of the great state of New York I think cares about our community. The Mayor”--he paused--”of the city of New York, well, two out of three ain't bad.”

He cited an effort with NYCHA and Council Member Letitia James to secure $2 million to start a not for profit organization to provide job training in Central Brooklyn.

About Atlantic Yards

Later, I asked if he'd talked to Cuomo about Atlantic Yards. No, he said, because he's been waiting for a new ESDC head, a process that has been delayed.

He said that Council Member James also wanted a conversation with the governor, but they wanted to wait until an ESDC head was in place.



What's the agenda? "First, we want to get his support for the governance act," Jeffries said, referring to the vaguely-worded bill that would set up a subsidiary in charge of Atlantic Yards. The ESDC under former Gov. David Paterson did, in fact, support last year's bill.

"[Cuomo] has not, in my view, taken a position one way or another, as it relates to the Atlantic Yards project, in great detail, so I'm hopeful that there's at least an opportunity to provide him with some community-based education as to what we think are the flaws and concerns of the project," he said.

(Given contributions from developer Bruce Ratner and closeness with the lobbying/p.r. firm DKC, there's little reason to expect Cuomo to take a critical view.)

"Are you familiar with ESDC's effort to help Ratner raise money in China from green card-seeking millionaires?" I asked.

"I'm somewhat familiar," Jeffries said, referring to my coverage, "but that's certainly is a subject that I think I'd bring up with ESDC."

"Did you know Peter Davidson of the ESDC went to China and said that Atlantic Yards would be the largest job-creating project in New York City in the last 20 years?" I asked.

"Well, that was clearly a gross exaggeration," he said with a smile, pivoting to add, "and there's no evidence that many of the jobs that have already been allegedly created have gone to local community residents. One of the biggest complaints I think that we've heard so far is that job training and preparation, and the access to the employment on Atlantic Yards leaves a lot to be desired. So certainly, if that is going to be the case, they got a long way to go."

(Forest City Ratner is supposed to make such figures available, and did so, in a partial way, at the first Atlantic Yard District Cabinet meeting, last November. The next meeting will be held the morning of Feb. 10 at Borough Hall.)

Job training and Project Reclaim

In the video below, Jeffries answers questions from another reporter about the job-training effort, and then from me about Project Reclaim



The job-training effort is aimed at public housing residents and others, based on a successful project at the Queensbridge public housing development. While federal funds seems to be available, the process of getting city and state funds is continuing, he said.

Some existing not-for-profit organizations, notably BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development) that aim to cover some of the same ground, though BUILD's offices are in Downtown Brooklyn--and, crucially, BUILD is seen as centered around Atlantic Yards advocacy.

I asked him about Project Reclaim--he indicated one six-story building in Crown Heights has been subject to conversion, part of Project Reclaim as well as a similar city program known as HARP.

"We still see a significant number of distressed properties," he said, in neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Bedford-Stuyvesant, so the program can be replicated.

It also depends on the ownership/financing and whether it makes more financial sense to just drop the prices, as happened with some buildings seemingly stalled a year or two ago.

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