Friday, December 09, 2005


Atlantic Yards controversy absent from Times profiles of Yassky, Green

New York Times local political reporter Jonathan P. Hicks has a curious blind spot towards Atlantic Yards, as evidenced when he covered two debates in the recent Public Advocate primary and ignored challenger Norman Siegel's forceful critique of incumbent Betsy Gotbaum's posture toward the development--see Chapter 5 of my report, and this post.

So maybe it's not that surprising that the two profiles he wrote in today's paper, of City Councilman David Yassky and State Assemblyman Roger Green, ignore their controversial and highly public positions on Atlantic Yards, the largest development in the history of Brooklyn. The 12/9/05 piece on Yassky, headlined Brooklyn Congressional Contest Tests Traditions of an Ethnic Turf, discusses how Yassky, who is white, is running for the black-majority Congressional seat held by retiring Rep. Major Owens, but may prevail in part because he has a larger war chest and four black candidates may split the vote. The article describes Yassky thusly:
Mr. Yassky, a former professor at Brooklyn Law School, is among the rising stars on the City Council. He was elected in 2001, and he is considered a political maverick who has a solid grasp of complicated issues and someone who is willing to buck the leadership on matters of principle.

Buck the leadership? Perhaps, but Yassky's position on Atlantic Yards is worth noting for his cautious support of the project, and its racial resonance. Now Yassky is indeed better-informed than many about the project, as his questions earlier this week indicated, but his position does seem to reflect both principle and politics. To overgeneralize, the better-off white constituents in the congressional district have greater concerns about Atlantic Yards (scale, traffic) than the more working-class black constituents, who may be seen to embrace the much-hyped promises of jobs and housing. (The complication, of course, is that incumbent Owens and his son Chris, who is running for the office, are black and oppose Atlantic Yards.) So Yassky must be responsive to the range of opinions.

The 12/9/05 piece on Green, headlined From Conviction to Re-election and Beyond, discusses how Green next year may challenge Rep. Edolphus Towns, a 23-year incumbent. Green is still on probation for billing the Assembly for free rides he got from a prison-services company that sought state contracts and resigned only to run again. He is the sole source for the story, other than a brief quote from Towns defending his record. So there's no one to challenge Green's self-report:
Mr. Green, 56, said he did not view his legal skirmishes as a deterrent to career aspirations. He said that few voters in the 10th Congressional District were likely to be concerned about his conviction on misdemeanor charges nearly two years old.

Here's one concern. In a 9/12/04 editorial (Casting a Meaningful Vote), the Times decried "New York's abysmal State Legislature," the fact that "[o]ur state government has totally broken down," and that "[i]f there is a primary race in your district, vote against the incumbent." And the Times singled out Green:
We would normally make an exception to the anti-incumbent rule for the few lawmakers who at least try to make a difference. But the real story this year is less about good men and women under attack than about terrible lawmakers who are getting a free ride. For instance, former Assemblyman Roger Green, who resigned after he was convicted of petty larceny, is running again for his old seat, without a primary. His Democratic cronies in Albany created a special district for him that carved out one house in particular -- the place where a strong possible opponent lives.

Now a Times news staffer wouldn't ordinarily quote the Times's editorial opinions, but you'd think that level of dismay would prompt the reporter to try to see if anyone in the district--or a good-government watchdog--shares those qualms.

Here's how Hicks sketches Green's career:
Indeed, he has proven to be a popular incumbent who is perhaps best known for his education-related work, including development of the Benjamin Banneker Academy, a charter school.

Perhaps best known? A Lexis-Nexis search of articles in the last five years that include Green and Banneker turns up a trio from 2002, from the Sun, the Daily News, and Newsday. You have to go back to 1997 for an article (One Green Vs. Another In a Primary For a City Post, 7/15/97) by the selfsame Hicks to find a mention of the two in the Times:
An Assemblyman since 1981, Roger Green has long been involved in youth issues. A former junior high school social studies teacher in Bedford Stuyvesant, Mr. Green wrote the proposal for the Benjamin Banneker Academy, a public school with an emphasis on math, science and technology. The school opened in his district in 1993.

These days, Green is best known for his support of Atlantic Yards, which is crucial to gaining state subsidies for the project. Green and Atlantic Yards were mentioned in two recent articles in the Times, (To Build Arena, Developer First Builds Bridges, 10/14/05 and Ferrer Is Chided Over Atlantic Yards, 10/29/05). Also, Green has recently likened Bruce Ratner to RFK and helped sponsor the controversial Community Benefits Agreement. While the school has a longer history, the Atlantic Yards project is a much bigger issue.

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