Monday, December 21, 2009

Malling the Truth

The NY Post continues with its bending of the truth curve when it comes to reporting on the defeat of Related's adventures in sweetheart developing up in the Bronx. On Sunday, the paper manages to find no one who actually believes that the defeat of the mall at the Armory was a good idea-and quotes the one dissenting vote in its misguided lead: "The lone dissenter in the City Council's vote to kill the Kingsbridge Armory mall says the city's poorest borough, The Bronx, is getting burned again. "We shouldn't cut down the economic engine that creates the jobs we need," said Councilwoman Helen Sears, a Queens Democrat who was the only "yes" in the 45-1 vote Monday that quashed the Bronx plan. "You don't throw out the baby with the bath water," she added. "The fact is that it would create new jobs, and the money that would have poured into the city and into The Bronx would have been huge."

Of course Sears, who is leaving the council this month at the wishes of a majority of her own constituents, leaves out the fact that these subsidized jobs would have hurt 17 area supermarkets who would have been forced to compete with a mega competitor in the neighborhood-and the market right across the street employees the workers of Local 338 of the RWDSU, a main labor supporter of Sears. Talk about throwing the baby out with the dirty bath water!

And the Post, not in the interest of fairness, continues its diatribe thinly described as reporting: "Insiders said the Bronx delegation put pressure on the lawmakers. "If you don't vote for what they want, they won't vote for what you want," one insider said. "They screwed over their constituents." Ah, what would we do without unidentified "insiders?"

Of course, this is sheer nonsense, and caricatures how the legislative process is conducted. The Bronx delegation didn't threaten any of its colleagues-but, as per usual in the logrolling process, the other council members figure that the project is in the Bronx, so that the borough's representatives should be given some deference. And the role of the speaker-something the Post avoids discussing-is left to the imagination. Was she a helpless bystander to these "threats?" No, she also was deferent to the wishes of her Bronx colleagues.

But the Post saves this delicacy for last: "A council source said: "This happens all the time. It's just bribery. If you want something done in The Bronx, they ask, 'What are you going to do for me?' It happens here more than anywhere else." So, form unnamed insiders we go to unattributed council sources, and in the process what we fail to get is any reporting that is within a hundred miles of even minimal veracity.

In what way is the demand for a living wage to be considered a "bribe?" How is BP Diaz getting his vig by the workers getting a living wage? Now, if we examine the actions of Diaz's predecessor, then we get closer to the realm of the strong arm tactic. And the accusation elides the fact that all of these demands emerged directly from the grass roots organizing of the KARA coalition-so that in all fairness, Diaz can be accused of "knuckling under" to the wishes of his own community's sentiments. In some instances, and the Post would tell us that one of those instances can be seen in the Tea Party movement, that is called democracy in action.

And, as the RW's Stuart Appelbaum points out in a letter to the Post, the opposition was willing to negotiate but was rebuffed in its efforts-and his letter undermines the bribery contention: "We insisted that workers should not have to accept poverty-wage jobs, that they should be able to freely exercise their right to join a union and that the community should have real benefits from the project.

The Bloomberg administration and Related had an opportunity to do things differently, and they chose not to. We view the City Council vote to reject with regret, but we view it as necessary to stop a project that would bring more harm than good to The Bronx."

But the actions of the council has caused consternation among the bien pensants of the real estate community-and a counter offensive is apparently being planned. According to the Post's Dave Seifman-who actually does reporting: "It's pushback time for the real-estate industry on the Kingsbridge Armory. Steve Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said the industry intends to inform residents of the harm done when the City Council rejected a deal to transform the long-vacant Bronx armory into a $310 million mall. "We will clearly be reminding people what's been lost as a result of this decision," Spinola said, mentioning a billboard campaign as a possibility. "Every couple of months, we'll be calculating how many people don't have work, how much it's costing the city to keep the armory from deteriorating, how much is being lost in taxes."

All of which has BP Diaz, seeing the opportunity for a Dirty Harry, "make my day" moment, quaking in his boots: "Diaz all but dared Spinola to come after him. "If people who've done well in the real-estate community feel a need to attack me, that's an attack I'm willing to take," he said." As he should. The real estate moguls have done well politically by keeping a low profile by operating basically behind the scenes. If they come out to make this a public fight, they will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage-with headlines like, "landlords attacking Diaz and the Bronx," generating the exact political opposite of what they hope to achieve.
And now the Post also tells us that the building trades are also ready to join with their partners: "The latest fallout from the City Council's evaporation of 2,200 jobs and $300 million in investment at the crumbling Kingsbridge Armory in The Bronx? A labor-union civil war.
Bring it on, we say; New Yorkers can only benefit. Hardhats at the Building and Construction Trades Council are reportedly livid at retail-union honcho Stuart Appelbaum for his role in killing the project."
But, as we have said before, this isn't the kind of battle that it makes sense for the trades to engage in-given the demographic and political changes at the city council, and in the city as a whole. Nor will the classic partnership between the trades and the real estate community bear the same fruit that it has so often in the past.
No, what the Spinola's of the city need to do-along with their building trade acolytes- is to find a way to achieve some common ground with the paradigm that Diaz and the RWDSU have begun to forge. If they don't, the battle for the Kingsbridge Armory will be seen as the real estate's Waterloo.