What's worse, feigning ignorance or being ignorant? That is the question raised by the latest attack by public advocate candidates Andrew Rasiej and Norman Siegel on the woman they each want to unseat, incumbent Betsy Gotbaum.
In Tuesday's NY1 debate, Siegel asked Gotbaum how she squared her support for the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn with her opposition to the use of eminent domain. Siegel opposes the recent Supreme Court decision allowing government "takings" for private development rather than old fashioned public uses like hospitals and highways, and he has provided legal help to opponents of Bruce Ratner's plan to build a Nets arena and housing complex around the MTA rail yards.
In March, Gotbaum told the Brooklyn Rail newspaper that she "will not support any project that is dependent on the use of eminent domain for private use," but then in July called the Atlantic Yards project—and its community benefits agreement that includes jobs for locals and affordable housing—" a wonderful, wonderful example of what development should be all about." She went on to say: "To bring all these different groups together to get everybody on board, to have negotiated like that, Bruce Ratner, I think we can only praise you to the highest."
So, Siegel asked, what gives? According to an unofficial transcript of the NY1 debate, Gotbaum replied:
Well, Mr. Siegel, let me point out to you that I am against the use of eminent domain and . . . it is not my understanding that the developer at the Atlantic Yards is going to use eminent domain. I have been told in fact that that is not the case, so if you know something different that is something I don't know, but I am against the use of eminent domain in the northern part of Manhattan and at the Atlantic Yards. I am concerned about the project at the Atlantic Yards. I am concerned about the size and I am concerned about the traffic and I am also concerned if there is to be a use of eminent domain but I have been told there is not.
Perhaps Gotbaum has new information, but eminent domain's been in the Atlantic Yards mix since the beginning, and it remains part of the equation. It's mentioned in the February memorandum of understanding between Forest City Ratner and the city and state, as well as in the May presentation that Ratner's people made to the City Council, as well as in several articles in the local papers about the Brooklyn deal.
It's true that Forest City Ratner has bought up many of the parcels that lie in the project footprint, but some people so far are refusing to sell out (Besides, selling out with the prospect of eminent domain hanging over your head is a little different from deciding freely to relocate). That's why ACORN's Bertha Lewis, a champion of the Atlantic Yards deal, told the Voice in July that she supports the use of eminent domain "if it's a last resort and they are buildings where there's no other strategy to be dealt with." Gotbaum's salute to the Atlantic Yards community benefits deal can't have hurt the public advocate when she asked for ACORN's endorsement, which she received.
A spokesman for Gotbaum's campaign says simply, "If eminent domain is part of the project she's not supporting it."
The Village Voice: www.villagevoice.com