Atlantic Yards critic turns conciliatory

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In something of an about-face, Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries last week praised the Atlantic Yards project as “a major economic development venture that is vital to the economy and the future of Brooklyn.” Jeffries, who has recently been critical of the project, made his comments in a letter co-signed with fellow Assemblymember N. Nick Perry and State Sen. John Sampson written to Developer Bruce Ratner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who recently bought majority ownership of the NBA’s Nets contingent on them moving to Brooklyn.

The letter reminds the two men that the government is subsidizing part of the project and asks for a meeting to go over “all covenants previously executed in the ‘Community Benefits Agreement’ (CBA) for the Atlantic Yards Project - as well as all federal, state and local mandates with respect to affordable housing, job creation, minority co-developers and minority and women business programs ... remain in force, and are fully implemented.”

While Perry and Sampson have long been supportive of the project, opponents of the project were left wondering about Jeffries’ views.

“Assemblyman Jeffries is on record against the use of eminent domain to build the arena, and has also said the CBA is not legally binding,” said Develop Don’t Destroy (DDDB) spokesperson Daniel Goldstein. “It [the letter] leaves one scratching their head on what his position actually is on the project. It’s confusing to both supporters and opponents of the project to read the letter, and see and hear what he has said in the recent past.”

Jeffries responded in an email statement that his colleagues in the legislature, including Sampson, the leader of the Democratic Majority of the New York State Senate, requested a meeting with the principal developer of the proposed Atlantic Yards project and invited him to participate.

“I remain highly critical of the project and the direction it has taken in recent years. I continue to believe that the extraordinary measure of eminent domain should not be used for the purpose of building a basketball arena,” he said.

Some political watchdogs speculate that Jeffries signed onto the letter because of his rumored ambition to succeed Rep. Ed Towns in the 10th Congressional District. A large part of Towns’ district is in the Canarsie/Flatlands area, which both Sampson and Perry partially represent.

Perry, who represents East Flatbush, Canarsie and Brownsville, said he remains mostly supportive with some reservations about the project.

“If we can get this project off the ground it would benefit all of Brooklyn in tough economic times,” said Perry of the letter. “We just want to make sure our expectations abide to it [the CBA] and even go beyond it. We have an obligation to keep their feet to the fire.”

Perry said he does not turn a deaf ear to Atlantic Yards critics, but feels their concerns can be worked out.

“Some people just want to stop the development altogether and I’m not sure that will be in the best interest of Brooklyn,” he said.

Sampson could not be reached for comment at press time, and Ratner’s company Forest City Ratner refused comment on the letter.

FCR spokesperson Joe DePlasco said the CBA remains in effect.

The letter comes as Goldstein said DDDB raised about $45,000 during a charity walkathon for the organization last weekend.

The money will help pay DDDB’s legals costs as it continues to challenge the project in the courts, as well as the salary of Goldstein’s wife, who received $33,750, according to DDDB’s latest tax filings.

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