Friday, July 25, 2008

Pointing Toward Defeat

Could the Willets Point redevelopment project be added to the growing list of major Bloomberg defeats? According to the Queens Gazette it certainly looks possible: "Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week rhapsodized in an op-ed piece about his "All Star City", with "the eyes of every baseball fan turned toward New York City in anticipation of the 2008 All Star game" at Yankee Stadium. But this special moment was occurring at about the same time that the mayor seemed to be heading for another major defeat comparable to previous stumbles, such as his plans for a new football stadium over the Chelsea rail yards and for congestion pricing. The mayor's latest Waterloo seems certain to be his grandiose vision of replacing the ugly bit of real estate called the Willets Point junkyards with spanking new high-rise apartment buildings, a convention center and an assortment of new businesses."

If it happens, he'll only have one man to blame: Hiram Monseratte. Once considered merely a gadfly, Monserrate has parlayed an outsider status into a role of major power broker: "The smoldering discontent that greeted the proposal several years ago has in recent months erupted into a major conflagration as the plan's many opponents have come together with a single voice demanding that the mayor make major changes in the plan or face certain defeat by the City Council. In recent weeks, Councilmember Hiram Monserrate (D- Corona), who has led the opposition to the plan, has increased the intensity of his protests. Two of his main supporters, Councilmembers John Liu (D- Flushing) and Tony Avella (D- Bayside), have been joined by several colleagues whose total number guarantees the majority needed to defeat the proposal if it comes before them. Monserrate, who represents Willets Point in the council, has repeatedly called upon the mayor to address concerns of displaced businesses, lost jobs and inadequate public housing raised by himself and various groups."

Who would have thought over two and a half years ago, when Hiram first began what looked like a quixotic venture, that a multi-billion dollar redevelopment plan would fall victim to his lance? It just demonstrates that where real political leadership exists, communities and businesses can be protected from rapacious development schemes. It's too bad that the cohort of such leaders is a small one indeed.