Monday, December 14, 2009

Armored and Dangerous

In what can only be described as an incredible turn around, the City Council has just voted, 45-1, to defeat the plan to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory. In fact, this is, as the press is reporting- and will continue in more depth tomorrow-unprecedented. No other land use application has gone down to defeat in the mayor's first eight years in office.

As the Observer reported earlier: "The City Council is preparing to hand a defeat Monday to the Related Companies, the normally-successful development powerhouse that sought to turn the giant Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a mall. The forthcoming rebuke--the Land Use committee Monday morning voted 17-1 against the project--is an extremely rare action for a Council that, in the end, almost always supports proposed development projects throughout the city."

And, as we have been observing throughout this year long ordeal, the RWDSU has been magnificent in its collaborative effort with the community-based KARA Coalition on the issue of a living wage: "But the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union applied heavy pressure on the issue, saying no jobs were better than "poverty jobs" (not noting that a major portion of the mall's jobs were to have been above $10 an hour), and proceeded to demand, successfully, that the Bronx delegation on the Council make an example of Related, and vote the project down. The Bloomberg administration tried to save the project, putting more subsidy into the deal and offering an optional living wage program for retailers."

This is the second major Bronx defeat for the powerful real estate giant Related: "The only other defeat in recent memory of a major development project at the Council was also a Related project: In 2005, the Council voted down a planned big-box development on Brush Avenue where Related wanted to put a BJ's. Lobbyist Richard Lipsky, who opposed Related on both projects, called Monday morning's move a "precedent-setting" one in a chat with The Observer's Azi Paybarah."

Liz Benjamin at the Daily Politics gave us a nice shout out for the work done on this David and Goliath battle: "Lobbyist Richard Lipsky is feeling pretty good in the wake of the unusual defeat by two Council committees of the rezoning required for the Kingsbridge Armory project, confidently pronouncing the plan permanently "dead" - no matter what the administration might try to revive it."

We went on to point out that Mike Bloomberg was the big loser here: "He didn't quite grasp the almost seismic nature of the shifting political landscape," said Lipsky, who has been working for months against the Bronx redevelopment. "People were emboldened by the election results, and the Council leadership vote in January created a unique set of circumstances (for Speaker Christine Quinn). Why would you want to roil the waters and go against the entire Bronx delegation with this vote?"

And we called Chris Quinn a winner (even though Liz put the observation in quotes) because we believe that her acceptance of the leadership role of the Bronx delegation showed statesmanship and political acumen: "Lipsky called Quinn a "winner" in the Kingsbridge fight because she decided to side with the Bronx elected officials, who made the living wage issue a deal-breaker, over Mayor Bloomberg and the developer, Related Companies. "She understood the political winds and she didn't need to be a weatherman to know which way they were blowing," he quipped."

But this has been an incredible fight against the odds-and a unique set of circumstances helped facilitate the victory. The aforementioned leadership vote for speaker played a role, but the ascension of Ruben Diaz to the borough presidency of the Bronx was vital, as Diaz provided strong leadership in pursuit of what he termed a "new paradigm" for development. Still, this was a classic example of what true community organizing can accomplish; and Ava Farkas from the Northwest Bronx and KARA deserves a special shout out for her indefatigable advocacy for the community's agenda.

So this was a classic team effort-one that saw some unnatural allies get together to achieve a common goal. And if the job loss is to be blamed on any one, it is the mayor who should be getting the Knucklehead Award for his failure to appreciate what the community and the Bronx electeds were fighting for-and how much the wage and labor goals really meant to them.

As a result of this major victory, there's a new dynamic that is in play when it comes to tax subsidized projects such as this one. In all likelihood, however, it will mean that there will be an enhanced legislative push for a mandated city-wide living wage-and a labor peace bill as well-when a development is getting tax dollars.

No one really wants to have this battle on each and every similar project that comes before the council for approval. And when the council does pass this landmark legislation, they'll be saying by way of explanation, "Remember Kingsbridge!"