Friday, August 06, 2010

Koo D'etat

Council member Peter Koo is busy frantically trying to rewrite history-attempting to turn his own sell out of the Flushing merchants over the Flushing Commons project into a magnificent behind-the-scenes effort to force the Bloombergistas to pony up more money for the very same store owners he has striven so mightily to harm.

The Queens Tribune has the creative historical revision: "With the Land Use Committee’s vote looming, Koo met with the Bloomberg administration and EDC representatives last Monday. To his dismay, they came with literally no changes to their initial plans, and an even smaller will to negotiate. “We had a meeting […] to say, ‘Hey listen, here are some issues that are still not resolved,’” said James McClelland, Koo’s chief of staff. “They weren’t really ready to budge on the issues.” Koo ended the meeting by getting up and walking away, asserting his support was contingent upon a better deal for businesses and parking, McClelland said. The scene repeated itself twice over. Koo’s unusually early support of the project was misinterpreted as blanket approval of Flushing Commons as a whole, according to McClelland.The junior councilman’s true intention was to build a coalition around the project, set a basis for dialogue and “not be a shakedown artist,” McClelland said. “He supported the project for certain reasons, but he never wavered.”

Let's set the record straight-and we urge the reader to take with a grain of salt the usual collegial obeisance that honors a colleague over a strictly factual accounting. What to make of, "Build a coalition around the project?" Wouldn't this mean actually meeting with the opposition? As the Flushing Coalition's Ikwan Rim told the Tribune: "Some opponents also said Koo’s tough stance was aimed at not just the EDC but members of his own constituency. The Councilman’s open door policy, they claim, was selective at best. “All he had to do was talk to us and figure out a way how to save the businesses,” said Ikhwan Rim, head of the Union Street Merchants Association, jewelry store owner and one of the project’s most vocal opponents. “Very easily he could have helped us.”

Koo's response? He'll leave that to his consigliari: "McClelland refuted the accusations, saying he has evidence of at least a dozen meetings Koo had with the project’s critics. “That is absolutely not true,” he said." Rim made eight or nine phone calls to the council member that were unreturned-so much for coalition building. The Coalition met with council members (and/or staff) Weprin, Comrie, Garodnick, Seabrook, Rivera Viverito, Palma,Chin, Lander, Rodriguez, Vann Gentile, Brewer, Halloran, Ferreras, and Vacca on this issue-but couldn't get to meet with the local member.

The reality here is that the assistance package negotiated by the council doesn't, by a long shot, fully mitigate the project's negative impacts on the community-and Weprin and Comrie deserve the credit here for actually sitting through our testimony when Koo walked out of the hearing before we had a chance to be heard. So we understand why Koo needs to rewrite history-the actual version does him no credit-something that the 2,000 small business owners of Flushing know without a doubt. And make no mistake about it, the assistance is directly correlated to the forceful and effective actions of the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development-and Koo would have added some credibility to his revisionist effort if he had simply acknowledged this simple fact.

Which brings us to the City Hall story about a blog post we had done comparing Koo to the Norwegian collaborator Quisling-a post that offended the council member. While it was intended as satire, and Koo's offense is calculated to misdirect folks away from his own inexcusable actions, we can understand that others might feel that the reference is inappropriate. As someone who is married to a woman who lost most of her extended family in the ovens of Auschwitz, we understand better than most how our commentary could be construed as hurtful-and, in retrospect, we should have searched for a less offensive analogy. And in the future we certainly will.

That being said, however, making Richard Lipsky the issue rather than honestly confronting his own behavior-while good political strategy-doesn't take away from the fact that Koo's actions in stonewalling and ignoring the small businesses in his community have no parallel in our thirty years of lobbying. And his attempt to now say that he was in the forefront of the effort to bail out the beleaguered businesses is totally disingenuous-especially when he failed to utter a single negative word about the development in the six month lead up to the council vote.

The reality is that the Flushing Commons project-even with the meager assistance package-is a direct threat to the viability of the vibrant small business community of Flushing. Koo's effort to take credit for, "saving," the businesses, then, simply adds insult to injury

And given his own record in this controversy, Koo's effort to scapegoat us is understandable. Unfortunately, we gave him the opportunity to misdirect, and bear responsibility for whatever effectiveness his accusation has had. Hopefully, when the dust settles, the ongoing issue of the negative impact of the project will return front and center. On this note, we'll give CB #7 Chair Gene Kelty the last word-from the Tribune: "I’m happy that it passed but I think that there’s other stuff that needs to be included,” he said. “It may be a stumbling block for us. We’re talking about a big development that’s giving a lot to the city but it’s not giving anything back to the community. It’s a big project; it’s in a great location. We only got capped parking. What else does that do for us?”