inside historic, if somewhat seedy, City Council Chambers, an easy camaraderie prevailed in the midst of testimony which will supposedly decide the fate of the Jets stadium proposal
Crowds of construction union workers, most of whom typically live in the outer boroughs or even the suburbs (including New Jersey), crowded New York City Hall today to reinforce Mayor Bloomberg and his powerful friends in pushing for the building of a monstrous thing the city doesn't need as the only way to urban economic health. But remember, this project is supposed to be very much about jobs and affordable housing for people who live in New York City - or at least that's how it's being sold to us by the wealthy owners of the Jets. It's certainly not about tailgate parties on the platforms of subway cars.
The words in the headline above are those of Council Member Bill Perkins [on the far left in the picture] as he began questioning the principal Hudson Yards/Jets Stadium backers during today's combined public hearing of the Finance, Transportation and Economic Development Committees. His words get right to the heart of the matter, but unfortunately in the end the decision will be made by people who have lots of money of their own, but want ours too.
The trio of guests (an impressive entwining of corporate and goverment power) gathered almost as one before the combined Committees while I was in Chambers today were Daniel L. Doctoroff, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding for the City of New York and founder of NYC2012, the organization behind New York City's Olympic bid; Mark Page, director of the New York City Office of Management and Budget and a member of the MTA Board; and Jay Cross, President of the New York Jets. What a tangled web they have woven. Have they no shame? And a Manhattan football stadium as New York City's last, best hope?
I was there only for some of their testimony, and while most of it was devoted to financing issues, at least one commitee member brought up the subject of traffic congestion. I didn't hear anything about how we were to deal with the consequences of an enormous football stadium being dropped into the middle of a Manhattan already at a traffic standstill evenings and weekends, but one of the high-powered boondogglers repeatedly used the phrase "traffic mitigation" in his testimony, as if he were talking about condolences.
Actually I was unable to get into the room until very late in the morning. I arrived after 9:30, when the hearing was scheduled to begin. At that time I couldn't even get inside the park surrounding City Hall (locked behind gates now , but it once belonged to the people, two Republican mayors back), to say nothing of getting near the building itself.
I waited with a small dedicated group of anti-stadium people outside on the sidewalk in the cold, beyond the tank traps and metal detectors, for most of the morning. The construction trade unions had sent huge numbers of their members to pack the floor of the hearing and I was told that there had been only a few rows of seats available in the rear for those who weren't on their bandwagon. It's sad to see trade unions manipulated by corporations intent on destroying working-class neighborhoods for their own huge short-term gains.
Bloomberg and his corporate allies are trying to rush through an approval of the stadium project so it can be displayed with the city's proposal for the 2012 Olympics. The International Olympic Committee will be in New York for four days beginning February 21 as part of its round of formal visits to contending cities. But where is Bloomberg's head? If New York's bid ever had a chance after the beginning of Bush's "war on terror," it finally died when the Mayor's party decided to invade Iraq.
Interestingly, this photograph shows how the current City Council makeup pretty much reflects the demographics of New York, if not of much of the entire world, although here it does look like an entirely male world. The image is very misleading however. I was sitting in the second row and had to point my camera between two large suited gentlemen in front of me, so I didn't have much choice in deciding what was in the viewfinder. In fact, Council members Quinn, Sears, Gonzales and James, arguably some of the strongest and most articulate members, were seated on the dais just to the left and the right of the men pictured here.
If I can now be forgiven for going even further off-message, I want to admit that I'm finding myself compelled to keep looking back at the photograph above. I really, really like the gold needlepoint star with its red field on the back of the Speaker's chair; I now remember that even while I was sitting before a fairly animated group of committee members I was staring at the empty chair much of the time. I think everyone should have a chair with a star.