Atlantic Yards and Black Business Development
Opponents of the proposed $3.5 billion Atlantic Yards Project have a strategy of spreading innuendo and personal attacks against any and everyone who thinks the plan should be improved rather than scrapped. Much of the smear campaign is conducted through Web sites and blogs that endlessly cross-reference one another, creating the false impression that a groundswell of popular opposition to the project is rising.
I am frequently a target of their attacks, which is fine by me: it comes with the job. But the latest smear is worth sharing with Our Time Press readers. On a blog called http://timesratnerreport.blogspot.com/, an antidevelopment writer named Norm Oder criticized me for a recent column suggesting that central Brooklyn officials should try to make the most of a Community Benefits Agreement that promises a significant percentage of the Atlantic Yards billions to minority- and women-owned businesses.
Oder complains that “the minority-owned engineering firm that will oversee air monitoring and safety requirements during asbestos abatement at several buildings is based in Staten Island, and the minority-owned plumbing company that will disconnect water and sewer lines to the buildings is based in Queens.” Oder also seems to have problems with the fact that a Philadelphia black firm called McKissack and McKissack has a slice of the construction bid; that Domingo Gonzales Associates, a Latino firm doing lighting consulting, is based in Manhattan; and that a PR contract went to the Manhattan-based Terrie Williams Agency.
Oder is pretending to be concerned that the minority businesses getting in on Atlantic Yards happen not to be based in Brooklyn. In reality, opponents of Atlantic Yards have demonstrated that they couldn’t care less about black businesses or black economic empowerment in Brooklyn or anywhere else.
Last year, for instance, on the busiest shopping day of the year, a group of misguided ministers joined Councilwoman Tish James in an attempted one-day boycott of stores in Atlantic Terminal Mall, which is run by the same developer behind the Atlantic Yards Project. The boycott flopped, but if it had succeeded it might have harmed local residents: of the 1,688 employees who worked in the mall at the time, 81% lived within 5 miles of Atlantic Terminal and 48% within 2 miles.
The pro-boycott people didn’t mind putting other people’s jobs at risk. Today, in much the same way, opponents of Atlantic Yards like Oder seem perfectly willing to attack the idea of development dollars going to black and Latino firms in Queens, Manhattan and Philadelphia. We should all recognize this divide-and-conquer tactic for what it is.
Like most true advocates of black business empowerment, I would be overjoyed to see any minority- or women-owned businesses – from any borough or city – secure contracts and subcontracts as Atlantic Yards develops. Those who truly want to see more development dollars go to local companies should quit complaining, quit trying to hinder the project and put their favorite firms in touch with Forest City Ratner, the project developer.
But don’t expect the antidevelopment complainers to lift a finger to help.
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The Culture War Continues
I hope that Our Time Press readers will join me in fighting against a merchant of hate who has chosen to sell sickening, degrading caricatures of black people for profit. New Yorkers of all backgrounds – especially those who participated in the recent Kwanzaa celebration – should take note, and take a stand.
Sharon Hershkowitz, the owner of a store at the corner of West Broadway and Duane St. called Balloon Saloon, has resumed selling Ghettopoly, a racist and illegal knockoff of Hasbro’s Monopoly board game. Ghettopoly takes players through areas marked “Harlem” and “South Bronx” and the like, awarding points for selling drugs, robbing banks and so on.
Following a national outcry, Hasbro sued the maker of the game and federal prosecutors destroyed more than 60,000 Ghettopoly knockoffs this year. Urban Outfitters, eBay and Yahoo! all agreed to stop selling the game – and so did Hershkowitz after I wrote about her sales of the bigoted merchandise earlier this year.
But Hershkowitz apparently couldn’t resist trying to turn a buck by bringing New York a little racist cheer for the holidays. There on the sidewalk in front of the store in late December was a sandwich board happily advertising one item only, Ghettopoly, “by popular demand.”
Readers should call Hershkowitz at (800) 540-0749 or (212) 227-3838 and give her an earful. And Hasbro and the NYPD Counterfeiting Unit ought to ask why Hershkowitz continues to openly sell counterfeit goods with impunity three blocks from City Hall.
Hershkowitz, having chosen to sell black degradation for profit, seems beyond shame. So we’ll have to settle for the next best thing: relentless pressure.