Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Knitting on the Edge

An infamous fortune cookie reads "May you live in interesting times." And indeed, all who live in this area of Prospect Heights do. A threat of a sports arena and condemnation of a Brooklyn neighborhood races to beat a December 31st IRS deadline. Within this footprint of turmoil is Freddy's Bar, home of Knit PH and meeting place of numerous activist groups that oppose the private developer, Bruce Ratner, and the use of eminent domain

The tail of a blizzard had just passed on Sunday,  but not quietly at Freddy's Bar. In protest of Forest City Ratner's mega development, bar manager Donald O'Finn helped organize a symbolic event called "Chains of Freedom." Over the weekend Freddy's bolted industrial latches to it's bar.

Neighbors, patrons, parents and children, and politicians gathered among documentarians, photographers, and reporters... the Village Voice, Channel 12, Associated Press, New York Post, etc.

There were roughly 50 people there excluding the news media, which is pretty good considering we just got through a blizzard and most streets remained unplowed.

At half-past noon a familiar visitor from the north surprised everyone.

He toasted us all and announced the ceremony was about to begin. A long thick chain was lead down the length of the room through the latches, dressing the bar like an industrial Christmas garland as it ran between passing hands. There was cheering and applause. Oddly enough, there was even a fire next door, five fire engine companies were parked outside.

Bar manager Donald O'Finn thanked us all for our support and courage, and and shared his thoughts with the press and patrons. More than a bar, Freddy's is a community meeting place. Someone asked me if the bar would move to a new location. My thoughts — you'd end up in China Town, but nowhere near China.

On December 3rd 2009, Columbia University lost the right to use eminent domain to expand into Harlem. The state appellate court ruled that the seizure of the Manhattanville neighborhood to benefit a private interest, Columbia, was illegal. The resounding question is "Why is this state ruling not applied to Atlantic Yards? My question is "How much did it cost to buy a judge?

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesperson Daniel Goldstein updated us on a fraudulent creation of a state entity called the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC). They were recently created to bypass all normal channels of state review in order to fund Atlantic Yards' tax-exempt bonds. Many legal analysts have called this shadowy move "highly illegal."

Senator Bill Perkins has asked Gov. Paterson to reconsider his approval or face a law suit. The buzz — Atlantic Yards Bonds may be worthless since hey were backed by funds that they were not allowed to issue. Moody's already gave the bonds a low rating, "Baa3," just one cut above a junk bond. Although the bonds sold well at a low interest rate, I'm reminded of the "sub-prime" failure.

Eminent domain abuse is not just a curse for New Yorkers, this has been pandemic through out the entire Untied States. The keyword "blighted" is now interpreted to describe an area as being under-used or not generating much in tax revenue. Why should anyone's home and taxes be the corner stone of the state's cash flow?

"Kelo v. City of New London" — Drug giant Pfizer evoked eminent domain and razed an entire New London neighborhood to the ground calling it blighted. Susette Kelo, a single mother, fought hard and lost. Her property was seized and plowed under as Pfizer promised the creation thousands of permanent jobs and tax revenue for the state of Connecticut. But... within two years and a recession, Pfizer moved away leaving behind the city’s biggest empty office complex and acres barren land. In the wake of a recession this drug giants fell hard and left New London in destruction. Yet no one was accountable — so much lost over empty promises.

As New York state shamelessly betrays it's own ethical guidelines and gives public land away to private developers they should never wonder why most people have lost faith in their ability to perform their civic duty.

Our civic leaders either turn a blind eye or turn their attentions towards personal interests‚ both political or monetary. To become a witness of land seizure is like watching someone openly getting robbed.

Later on that evening, Stephanie called to report that Freddy's was packed in both rooms, I joined her for a beer. Bartender Mike said a few hundred patrons flowed in and out once the sun had set. They came for a pre-holiday beer at their favorite watering hole and express support. Black, white, brown, mixed, young, old, religious, agnostic, hippies, hipsters, lawyers, work-a-day folk — Freddy's does have a cross-cultural crowd. How will all this go down in history, loudly or unsung? Who can say, but Freddy's Bar owner Frank Yost has always said "Never without a fight."

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