I had the privilege of watching New York City Councilmember Christine Quinn in action this afternoon.
Well, actually I admit she was only idling, compared to what she can do when warmed up and ready to open the throttle all the way. Today she was just in perfect tune with both her case and the venue. While she still blew away her colleagues and the witnesses before the committees with her intelligence and her focus, the real battle will be engaged in January.
The occasion this afternoon was a City Council joint meeting, in Council Chambers, of the Committees on Economic Development; Transportation; Waterfronts. The subject was, officially, "What the Olympic Games would mean for waterfront development, waterborne transportation, and waterfront habitats in New York City," but until an hour and a half into the session, when Chris began to speak, it was basically a polite reception for a show-and-tell, or dog-and-pony show, by Daniel Doctoroff, a Deputy Mayor in the Giuliani administation and now founder and president of NYC2012, the committee charged with bringing the Olympics to New York City ten years from now.
The merits of a plan to bring the Olympics to New York City were not the subject of discussion today, but I was not made more comfortable with the idea by listening to Doctoroff start out by raving about his first soccer game experience during the recent World Cup games sited within our own borders, and especially when he exclaimed about how fantastic it was to be able to watch the teams "inject national fervor into the sport." Um, I don't think I'm the only one who doesn't believe nationalism is or should be a standard for the sports experience, and it definitely was neither part of the ancient Olympic ideal nor that of those who resurrected it over a hundred years ago. I don't have to even mention the horrors of soccer riots past and present around the world, all of which are the consequence of "national (or regional) fervor" and not of the spirit of the melting pot or of the Doctoroff's organization's description of New York, "The World's Second Home."
Anyway, the Doctoroff group's plan includes covering over extensive railroad yard areas, a massive increase in the area of the Javits Convention Center and a giant new sports stadium, all of which would be located at the top of Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood and to the west and south of the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, both densely residential. Not incidently, that part of our Olympic bid will require a $2 Billion bond issue from the City of New York. Chris, who represents both districts, is opposed to the construction of a mammoth commercial sports stadium in the midst of a vulnerable residential community which hopes to escape the congestion and the junk which stadium areas attract. She was definitely the first speaker of the day to ask any probing questions of the well-rehearsed visiting Olympics boosters. On this the first of a number of hearing days however she was clearly holding back from a real confrontation with a plan so badly misconceived, if not just cynical.
She pointed out that the plan for what was clearly an invasive stadium in the midst of these neighborhoods was essentially driven by professional sports team interests and she corrected Doctoroff by pointing out that, outside of the rail track yard itself, the area to be affected is definitely a populous community and not a wasteland. She reminded us all that there are in fact already several community-based development plans, that were painstakingly developed over a period of many years, for the areas which would be affected and they do not include a commercial stadium, and finally she reached into her own experience of many years as an advocate in that part of the borough to assert that without a shadow of a doubt the community's public transport problems definitely have never included the lack of a No. 7 subway line extension. Such a major extension constitutes the much balleyhooed key to the Olympic stadium plan, and the only part of the plan which would have to almost immediately if it is to be completed by the 2012 Olympics (which are still not a sure thing for the City).
In the end she asked what was in the plan for the West Side community; could it be reconciled with what that community really needs?
Doctoroff could basically only answer that his proposal sought to "change the neighborhood," an answer which would only sound stupid, if not totally chilling, to those who already were a part of a real neighborhood.
There will be more hearings, and I intend to be there for the real sparks. The next one is scheduled for January 30 (time not yet announced), and anyone is free to speak. This one should be a blast.