Monday, June 19, 2006

"Bronx Board Is Shuffled After Rejecting New Stadium" NY Times 6/19/6

Bronx Board Is Shuffled After Rejecting New Stadium

Published: June 19, 2006

When a Bronx community board rejected the plan to build a new Yankee Stadium on land occupied by two neighborhood parks last year, the result was a surprising setback for Adolfo Carrión Jr., the Bronx borough president, who had been one of the new stadium's most ardent public supporters.

This month, seven months after that vote, Mr. Carrión has replaced or demoted several of the board members. Some say Mr. Carrión's motives are to get rid of board members who voted against the stadium.

Mr. Carrión has declined to say whether the dissenting votes were the reason the members were not reappointed, but several current and former members of the advisory panel have accused him of acting out of vindictiveness, saying he is discouraging community involvement and stifling debate — which they say are unattractive traits for a man who might run for mayor in 2009.

"It's called revenge," said Mary L. Blassingame, a board member who lost her position as chairwoman of the board's housing and land-use committee this month after 21 years. "This shows total disregard for the community."

The vote, though nonbinding, was particularly embarrassing for Mr. Carrión, board members said, because he had approved the appointments of each of the 39 board members and had directed a vigorous lobbying effort to win the vote on the stadium issue.

Mr. Carrión declined to comment for this article. But in a statement, Anne Fenton, a spokeswoman for Mr. Carrión, said, "The borough president along with his fellow elected officials oftentimes appoints new people to serve on their community board in an effort to expand community involvement."

Community boards are allowed to have as many as 50 members, all volunteers. They are picked by each borough president for two-year terms and act in an advisory capacity. If Mr. Carrión fills each of the vacant slots with new appointees, the board will have a total of 39 members. Some members say that if he wanted new voices represented on the panel, Community Board 4, he could have added members rather than replace existing ones.

Four members whose terms expired this month were not reappointed, including the board's chairman, Ade A. Rasul. All but Mr. Rasul had opposed the stadium project, which the board rejected in November. The vote was 16 to 8, with 5 abstentions; 10 members were not present during the vote.

Mr. Rasul, who did not return calls to his home last night, told colleagues that even though he voted for the new stadium, he was being removed because he had failed to deliver the board's vote for Mr. Carrión, according to current and former members of the community board.

Louise Williams, a former board member, was mailed a form letter signed by the borough president last month, telling her that she would not be reappointed after a single two-year term.

"You have to take a stand when injustice is being done, and I stood up and talked so now I'm off the board?" she said. "Adolfo Carrión is not thinking of the needs of the community."

The Yankees say they need a new ballpark because the current one is old and they need more of the lucrative luxury boxes that many teams now use to generate revenue. Despite the community board's opposition, the City Council approved the project in April.

The $800 million stadium is awaiting clearance from the National Park Service and, because of the bond financing involved, the Internal Revenue Service. It would sit on two popular parks across 161st Street from the current Yankee Stadium, which would be torn down and replaced by a new park. It is scheduled to be finished in 2009.

The plan encountered significant opposition in the High Bridge neighborhood, just north of the stadium, as residents complained about the loss of the parks and the potential increase in traffic and pollution in an area with high asthma rates.

The discord marked the second time in recent months that members of Community Board 4 had publicly criticized Mr. Carrión. In February, several board members said a community benefits agreement negotiated by Mr. Carrión with the Related Companies for a new shopping mall at the site of the Bronx Terminal Market had shortchanged Bronx residents.

Maria Simmons, who lives near Yankee Stadium, said she was circulating a letter that would eventually be sent to Mr. Carrión saying that his failure to reappoint the dissenting board members runs counter to the ideals of democracy. She said she wanted to get 5,000 signatures of Bronx residents on the letter before sending it.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened," she said. "With all due respect, what we want to communicate to him is, 'Don't play with people who put their trust in you.' "


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