Friday, March 24, 2006

"Pols strike out in the Bronx" in the Daily News, 3/24/6

Pols strike out in the Bronx

by Errol Louis

Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is smoldering.

A fast-growing coalition of Bronx residents and civic organizations is asking hard questions about plans by the New York Yankees to build a new stadium in the South Bronx on what was once public parkland. And the more these groups hear, the madder they get.

Just how angry will be clear Tuesday, when a City Council subcommittee holds a hearing on the Yankee plan. It's one of the last steps before a full Council votes on subsidies, zoning changes and city financing for the project.

Civic groups plan to descend on City Hall en masse to raise questions that should have been addressed long ago.

The Yankees project, which has been breezing through state and city approvals, needs a complete overhaul. For starters, the plan calls for $70 million in state funds to build new parking garages in and around the stadium, although 61% of people living in the Bronx don't own a car.

According to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which advocates mass transit, a far smarter move would be to build a Metro-North station on the Hudson Line, which runs right past the stadium. For $80 million to $100 million, the city would have permanent public transportation instead of thousands of cars jamming local highways and streets.

As the federal Environmental Protection Agency reported this week, New York City has the foulest, smoggiest air in America. That fact, along with the Bronx's deadly distinction as home to the nation's highest rates of asthma, should have made a no-more-cars approach to the new stadium a nonnegotiable demand.

But it's not clear that the Bronx's elected officials, each of whom has sworn to protect the interests of his constituents, did very much demanding at all. Shame on them all, especially Borough President Adolfo Carrion and the county's Democratic boss, Assemblyman Jose Rivera.

Dispensing with all pretense of protecting the public interest, Rivera has allowed one of his right-hand men, longtime Bronx fixer Stanley Schlein - who was on Rivera's Assembly staff throughout last year and doubles as the party's lawyer - to also collect a paycheck from the Yankees to goose the project along.

Carrion, who is busy trying to run for mayor, has his own conflicts of interest - he has collected $9,000 in contributions from Yankee executives so far - and has been roundly criticized for giving community organizations the big runaround. This week, for instance, neither Carrion nor anybody from his office - despite promises to the contrary - could find time to attend a forum on the pros and cons of the project held at the New York Foundation.

Savvy civic groups smell a rat. Good Jobs New York, a subsidy watchdog group, is questioning the Yankees' financial estimates, pointing out that more than $400 million in public dollars would go to the wealthiest sports franchise in America - while the permanent in-stadium jobs created would pay, on average, a poverty wage of $17,500 a year.

Eleven citywide civic groups, including the Sierra Club, and the Municipal Art Society signed a letter this week criticizing the plan. And Bronx neighborhood leaders are in an uproar.

"Bronx electeds have refused to stand with our community on the project," says Joyce Hogi of Save Our Parks, who lives near the stadium. Mothers on the Move, a grass-roots group, is on the move, holding regular meetings on how to put pressure on local officials.

Every Bronx pol needs to pay heed to these voices of discontent. If they don't, what began as opposition to a flawed project could turn into an all-out voter insurrection.

Originally published on March 24, 2006


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