ACORN Tied to Brooklyn Land-grabber

The multi-billion dollar Atlantic Yards development project in Brooklyn, New York–subsidized to the tune of $1.6 billion by New York taxpayers–is facing new scrutiny after politically-connected developer Bruce Ratner’s ties with embattled left-wing activist group ACORN were revealed. As it currently stands, the public-financed redevelopment plan relies on extensive use of eminent domain that would leave many long-time residents and business owners out in the cold. But ACORN, as one would expect, is framing the debate in racial terms:

ACORN’s New York director, Bertha Lewis, is a vocal and enthusiastic supporter of Ratner’s development. At a news conference announcing the project would proceed, Lewis, onstage, planted photo-op kisses on both Ratner and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Lewis has also framed it on racial terms: “The overwhelming folks who are opposed are white people and wealthier people and more secure people and people who just arrived. *** We’re tired of being pushed out.”

It helps inspire Lewis, one imagines, that ACORN got that loan from Ratner and that Ratner gave her a hand in devising the low-income housing portions of his development. Ratner, it appears, has bought an ally, not just with cash, but with power — ACORN will now be shaping who lives where. “We’re developers now,” Lewis told New York Magazine.

But what Lewis and ACORN don’t mention is that Ratner quietly directed $1.5 million in grants and low-interest loans to the cash-strapped group last year–after major foundation support dried up due to an embezzlement scandal–leading Atlantic Yards opponent and former Working Families Party (a New York minor party with deep ties to ACORN) activist Patti Hagan to declare, “ACORN is a corrupt organization that had its silence bought by Ratner.” Opposition groups, including Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, have alleged corruption in the past, and even fence-sitting local politicians are questioning the development timeline and the security of future funding, which do not look promising. In fact, a new study estimates that the Atlantic Yards project would take twice as long to complete than Ratner currently claims. But objections from actual neighborhood activists are unlikely to change ACORN’s mind on the project. An ACORN whistleblower says the group stands to bring in at least $5 million annually in housing revenue thanks to a cushy deal brokered by Ratner.