Tuesday, April 04, 2006

"Folks in the Bx. won't be bullied" in the Daily News, 4/4/6

Folks in the Bx. won't be bullied

by Juan Gonzalez

Three weeks ago, Chauncy Young, a member of the United Parents of Highbridge in the South Bronx, got permission from the principal of PS 218 Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School, a public school near Yankee Stadium, to use the school's auditorium for a big community meeting scheduled for tonight.
The topic of the meeting was to be City Hall's controversial plan to turn over the largest parks complex in the South Bronx to George Steinbrenner for his new $800 million stadium.

The plan has sparked widespread fury in the neighborhood, and with the City Council scheduled to vote tomorrow on the project, community leaders had expected a big turnout at their forum.

But about 2:30 p.m. on Friday, top officials at the Education Department suddenly declared the school off-limits and threw the community out on the street.

"It's a political event," Education Department spokesman Keith Kalb told me. "Chancellor [Joel] Klein's regulation No. D-130 bars political activity in schools."

The spokesman's claim is utter nonsense.

The January 2004 regulation he cited, a copy of which I have carefully reviewed, specifically states that it "governs the use of school buildings by candidates, elected officials, and political organizations and the conduct of school employees ... with respect to political campaigns and elections."

It affects political candidates but says nothing about barring local parent and community groups from school buildings.

"We've used local schools often and never had any event canceled until this one," Young told me. "This says a lot about the stakes involved."

Ironically, one of the things that has Bronx residents most steamed about the stadium proposal is the terrible impact it will have on the area's children.

More than 40 schools now use Macombs Dam and Mullaly parks everyday for recreation. Under the city's current proposal, 22 acres of those parks would simply be turned over to the Yankees. Local children will be left with no parks for the three years it would take to build the stadium. Afterward, the replacement parks the city has promised will be placed largely on top of yet-to-be-built stadium parking lots.

On Yankees game days, the kids can play ball while they suck in more car fumes.

Thousands of children in the poorest congressional district in America will bedenied use of their parks for three years just so one of the richest teams in professional sports won't have to suffer any inconvenience and loss of revenue. Heaven forbid, for example, that Steinbrenner should be forced to share Shea Stadium with the Mets while building a new home on his current site - something the Yankees have done once before.

You would think that Klein, this alleged educational reformer, would show the barest concern for how 40 of his schools will fare under this stadium deal.

You would think that even if he disagreed with the parents and neighborhood residents, Klein would at least grant them space to meet in a neighborhood school and air their concerns.

Think again.

This chancellor showed long ago that in the school system he is fashioning parents are to be seen and not heard.

When it comes to the Yankees, the politicians can't rush fast enough to give away the store. In this, the Bronx Democratic politicians, with the exception of Councilwoman Helen Foster and a few others, are just as bad as Bloomberg and Klein.

But the people of the Bronx are not easily bullied.

Tonight at 6 p.m., Young and the other neighborhood leaders will hold their public forum anyway. They will hold it in the shadow of Yankee Stadium - right in the very Macombs Dam Park they are fighting to save.

They are asking for all New Yorkers who are sick and tired of City Hall's endless sweetheart deals for sports teams and developers to show up as well.

They hope the Bronx cheer coming out of Macombs Dam Park will echo all the way downtown when the City Council votes tomorrow.

Originally published on April 4, 2006


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