In the latest installment of democracy Bronx-style, about 200 people who showed up at the alloted 6 pm start time for last night’s Yankees stadium hearing found the doors barred, with staffers for Borough President Adolfo Carrion claiming the room was filled to capacity. Inside, though, there were still a couple of dozen empty seats – along with more than a hundred members of construction unions, who’d been bused in early to grab the available seating. Guess that’s one way to avoid being outnumbered 35 to 1.
As chants of “Let us in!” filtered in through two sets of closed glass doors, a parade of iron workers talked up the jobs that would be created in building the planned $800 million stadium. The few opponents to speak, meanwhile, addressed the usual community complaints – loss of public parkland, the addition of parking and loss of trees in the nation’s worst asthma neighborhood, and the question of what the Red Sox know that the Yankees don’t – but largely focused on the not-so-public process:
“We stacked this room with all people out of the area – our people are sitting outside in the cold, and nobody’s letting them in,” said Pasquale Canali, president of the 161st Street Merchants Association, to applause. “And this is what happened to this process from the beginning. The community was never involved, and that’s why we have all these problems. We love the Yankees, but we don’t want to take parkland for the benefit of a private corporation. A couple of weeks ago, after we voted down at the community board, I read in the newspaper that our vote didn’t mean nothing. What are we doing on the community board if our vote don’t mean nothing?”
“What just happened here today is a travesty,” said Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx. “There is not a single person here who is not interested in jobs. Believe me, we want them for our community. What we expect from you, and what we thought you were going to get, is someone who is going to take into consideration all of the planned projects that are happening here and that would not leave the community in the dirt.”
Back in the vestibule, meanwhile, Carrion’s director of constituent services, Benny Catala, was berating those demanding to be let in: “Anyone that causes a disturbance inside will be removed! The minute it becomes disorderly we will shut it down!”
None of this appears to be illegal – the ULURP land use process rules allow borough presidents to hold public hearings in a back room at Dominick’s if they want, though state open-meeting laws may beg to differ – it certainly didn’t win the soon-to-be-mayoral candidate Carrion any friends in his home borough. Okay, well, maybe one guy with an office there.
By the end of the evening, many of those outside, especially those with kids in tow, had given up and gone home; the rest had trickled into the hearing room as others left. Many made it in just in time to hear the meeting be called to a close promptly at 8 pm – leaving at least 20 to 30 people who’d signed up but hadn’t yet spoken, including some who’d signed up before the unions had even arrived. Deputy borough president Earl Brown acknowledged that they had taken speakers out of order. The reason? “We tried to make sure that we had people who spoke for and spoke against.”
Oh, and the borough president’s mystery five acres? They were never mentioned. Must be one of those things man was not meant to know.
LATE NOTE: Yankees president (and former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani) Randy Levine told the New York Post’s Bill Sanderson after the hearing: “As the process goes forward, it will become more and more clear that the people who speak in opposition are professional protesters.” Does that mean they can get health benefits?