Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Last Word on the Armory-For This Year

As we have already commented, the city council dramatically overrode the, mayor's veto of the Kingsbridge Armory project, capping a magnificent campaign by the Alliance and the KARA coalition-girded by the essential backing of the RWDSU. The success of the effort represents a classic example to others as to how to mount a major opposition to unbridled retail development.

As the NY Times reports: "The City Council dealt a final blow on Monday to a developer’s plans to build a mall inside the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, a significant defeat for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on a key project. The Council voted 48 to 1, with one abstention, to override Mr. Bloomberg’s veto of its decision last week to defeat the plan, signaling the resentment the mayor faces on the eve of his third term."

The mayor, for his part, downplays the precedence-as does the speaker. According to the NY Daily News: "Bloomberg insisted that his usually smooth relations with the Council under Quinn's leadership have not altered since his narrower-than-expected reelection and the election of 13 new members to the 51-member legislative body. It takes a minimum of 34 votes to override a veto. "I assume everything's done on the merits, number one, and number two, this isn't about any one individual," he said. "This was a group of [Council members] - you'll have to ask them why they voted that way."

And the speaker concurred that this was not necessarily a harbinger: "Quinn - who is expected to be renamed speaker by her members early next year - said "people would be foolish" to speculate that she and the newly elected Council intend to be more confrontational with the mayor in the coming four years. She stressed that the Council has approved all of the mayor's prior economic development projects, making the Kingsbridge rejection "an exception, not at all the rule."

This does all remain to be seen, but the tenor of the override does indicate that the road ahead may be a bit bumpier than the two leaders are now portraying it. As the Times points out: "The armory vote highlighted the political difficulties Mr. Bloomberg is likely to face after narrowly winning a third term last month. To the applause of his colleagues in the Council chambers, Councilman G. Oliver Koppell of the Bronx said that although he regretted that the armory would stay vacant, “there is only one administration and one mayor to blame.”

And Koppell was one member who supported the mayor's re-election. Our view, is that the next four years will inevitably be more contentious than the past Quinn tenure-given the potential aggressiveness of the council's new members, and the lame duck status of so many of the holdovers. And it is the issue of living wage-and that of labor peace-that we believe will roil the body, given the mayor's hardline stand on these policies.

As for the Armory's future, who knows? "It still stands vacant-and Bronx BP Diaz has his own ideas about how to fill it. As the News tells us: "Okay, enough with all the cheering and jeering over living wages vs. lost jobs with the defeat of the Kingsbridge Armory plan. Moving on, we hear Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is doing some thinking outside the box over what kind of development he'd now like to see there. And it could jell quite well with his mantra for making the Bronx a "green" manufacturing hub, an agenda he pushed at his recent economic summit. Some folks now say the armory would work better as a manufacturing base for solar panels, hybrid engines or whatever other products in the new "green" evolution. There'd be plenty of room for community space, maybe an entertainment complex, and no loss of retail business to the nearby Fordham Road shopping district."

But we're sure that the mayor has different ideas-and is still smarting from his slap down. The NY Post reports that, "The mayor said he was disappointed with the end result." So, until this is all resolved, the vacant edifice stands now as a monument to what an energized labor, community, and business coalition can accomplish when it organizes and generates the kind of political support that we saw this past year in the Bronx.