Friday, November 30, 2007

A Community Resigned to its Fate

As we mentioned yesterday, (and thanks to Liz for the link) three of the board members of the West Harlem LDC resigned from the body to protest its lack of transparency and authenticity. As our client Nick Sprayregen told the Observer: "Further, I for one, do not want to be a signatory to a document that could represent such a sell-out of the community and that represents something that is not what the community wants.”

This is all so expected. As soon as we found out that Jesse James Masyr was "hired" to represent the LDC in its negotiations for a Community Benefits Agreement we knew that a sell-out was likely on the way. The last time that Jesse did the CBA tango was over at the Bronx Terminal Market where, working for the developer Related, he helped BP Carrion to craft an agreement that his mentors found acceptable-so much so that they heaped considerable gratitude on the leader of the borough. One knowledgeable observer called this a "subversion of the land use process"-and the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.The only thing a genuine community hires Masyr for is to draw up its last will and testament.

And the fact that, as we've commented before, Masyr has an agreement with the LDC to work "pro bono," except for the proviso that he can be compensated at a later date by a third party. We know that it ain't Tom DeMott that's gonna cut old Jesse a big check. It's time to reprise "The Sting," with Masyr in the Paul Newman role. Metro's headline today says it all: "Columbia plan ‘rigged’?

All of which underscores the hilarity of Masyr's comments to the Observer: "“This has not been a behind the scenes process,” Mr. Masyr said. “We are probably a bit too transparent to really be able to negotiate. When it becomes apparent that not everybody was pulling in the same direction, we have a problem.”

And while you are negotiating this kind of CBA you don't need folks who want to aggressively advocate on behalf of local residents and businesses: "Our mission is clear, our vision is clear. We are going to negotiate a community benefits agreement,” the lawyer, Jesse Masyr, said. “I think that you could make the argument that two out of the three members never really intended to fulfill the mission of the LDC.”

Unlike, for instance, Susan Russell, gal Friday to Councilman Bob Jackson, someone whose only raison d'etre in life is to make sure that the community gets every last benefit from the rapacious university developer. Au Contraire you say? We must have the wrong Susan Russell; this Russell is the Terrier to the Stringer Spaniel-and she's carrying Masyr's water in a blue and white bucket. As she told the Spectator: “It’s not like people are trying to exclude others, but there has to be a certain level of practicality there,” she said. “Everyone on that board is absolutely dedicated to this community, and I can say that without hesitation.”

Say what? Sounds quite Orwellian to us-on the order of "all the pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal than others." Which is all the more reason why this land use process needs the dose of disinfectant that labor is threatening to bring to it. Enough with the faux CBAs and the legerdemain practiced by those to whom justice means, just us.


Crain's writes the following on the CBA trail:
"Three people who oppose Columbia University’s Manhattanville expansion resigned
Wednesday from the West Harlem Local Development Corp., the organization that is negotiating
a package of community benefits to compensate for lost businesses and residences.
A school source says the resignations herald a pending agreement on the
package and that the three left so that they would not be party to the terms. But one of those who resigned, business owner Nick Sprayregen, says he did so to inform the public that the parties are nowhere near an accord—which as an LDC member he could
not do because he was under a gag agreement. Only Wednesday did the LDC begin
talking with its lawyer about enforcement mechanisms in case Columbia doesn’t keep
its promises, he says."

Clearly, there will be an agreement negotiated that reflects the interests of CU more than it does any genuine grass roots sentiment. All of which was part of the hand writing on the wall when Jesse James came to West Harlem.