Brooklyn Politics by Erik Engquist

SHAW WELCOMES WAL-MART: After unions and community members foiled Wal-Mart’s plans to open its first New York City store, Park Slope Republican mayoral candidate Steve Shaw wrote to the company in support of it.

We asked him why he made no mention of Wal-Mart’s questionable activities, including:

1. Union busting, often done illegally (see National Labor Relations Board rulings) or immorally (shutting down an entire store that unionized; closing a meat-packing unit that unionized; harassing and firing workers who engage in unionizing activities, etc.).

2. Locking employees in stores overnight after their shifts ended.

3. Forcing employees to work unpaid overtime.

4. Providing low wages and unaffordable health insurance for workers.

5. Allegedly sexist promotion policies.

Shaw, to his credit, said he’d look into such reports, which we assume haven’t been well covered in the conservative publications that reflect Shaw’s politics.

But Shaw added, “That said, I would totally disagree with your point 4—do you think Wal-Mart would have 1.2 million employees if it was such a terrible place to work?”

That’s like asking if Darfur would have 6.5 million residents if it were such a terrible place to live.

Wal-Mart controls a huge percentage of retail sales in the U.S. It is, in much of the country, the dominant employer, selling everything from socks to groceries to meat to prescription drugs to car tires. Competitors are non-existent in many places. By one count, about half a million Wal-Mart workers do leave the company every year, but many cannot quit or risk being fired because no other work is available.


TUNNEL VISION ENDORSED: The proposed Cross Harbor Rail Tunnel championed by Rep. Jerry Nadler got another boost when The New York Times editorialized that politics should not stop the project, which it said could reduce truck traffic and lower the cost of goods in the only metropolis in the U.S. without a rail delivery system. Were Congress to start funding the tunnel now, construction could start in four years.

Newsday’s editorial board earlier endorsed the tunnel. But Councilman Simcha Felder is furiously lobbying against it. While Felder has lost the battle for Newsday, the Daily News and The New York Times, he does have the Torah Times solidly in his corner.


NOACH’S NEW RIDE: Former City Councilman Noach Dear has reportedly ditched his Acura for a Lexus RX 330, a five-passenger SUV with a list price starting at $36,675.

One of our readers spotted Dear emerging from the vehicle outside an Avenue D fruit store and snapped photos of the car in a no-standing zone while Dear was inside squeezing grapefruit. According to our witness, Dear was allowed to skip the line for the cashier.

The car’s vanity plates read NYC TLC, which we assume reflects Dear’s membership on the Taxi & Limousine Commission.

We e-mailed Dear to ask if he or his campaign paid for the car, but got no reply. Dear’s past campaign disclosures show numerous payments to the Honda Finance Corporation.


GREEN WITH ANGER: A former Green Party candidate for City Council was not amused by our comment that City Councilwoman Yvette Clarke but never called on minorities and women to seek Fire Department jobs as she delivered a lengthy criticism of the FDNY’s lack of diversity.

Gloria Mattera, who challenged Councilman Bill de Blasio in 2003, called our remarks “shameful and insensitive” in an e-mailed letter.

For the record, we admit to insensitivity, but not shame.

Mattera wrote, “Flippantly suggesting that unemployed people, especially in communities of color could solve their problems by clicking onto the FDNY website is ignoring the role systemic racism and state and federal policies that compromise the quality of life for most poor and working class people play in joblessness. What about placing some blame on a government that caters to the corporations while it systematically cuts back on resources for basic services like access to quality public education, housing and health care?”

First, we never suggested unemployed people could “solve their problems” by visiting the FDNY online. Our point was that the department is not trying to hide these jobs from minorities, and that Clarke could have found room in her message to encourage minorities to apply for them.

To imply that we cannot do so without writing a treatise on all the ways government has failed poor people is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of this column.


ROPER A NO-HOPER? At first glance, Sandra Roper might not seem like a strong candidate for district attorney of a county with 2.5 million people.

Her small-time lawyer’s résumé doesn’t suggest she’s supervised an office of any size, let alone one with more than two dozen bureaus and hundreds of prosecutors and investigators. And her fundraising history gives no indication she can raise anywhere near the $500,000 or more insiders say is needed to contend.

But her supporters believe Roper, 48, a part-time pharmacist, has a few factors in her favor.

“She’s a scientist. There are no other scientists in the race,” said political insurgent John O’Hara, noting the increasing role of science and technology in law enforcement.

Assuming the scientist vote won’t be enough to win, what other votes can Roper hope for?

First, votes of sympathy and outrage, if Roper can continue to cast herself as a poster child for white oppression based on her indictment, even though it was recently dismissed.

Second, the black vote, since she’s black. Third, the Latino vote, since she’s a native of Panama. “Her middle name is Elena,” O’Hara explained, and it will appear on the ballot, he said.

Fourth, the pro-woman vote. “I’ve never seen a countywide race where one woman runs against five guys and loses,” O’Hara said. (The other candidates raising money are incumbent Joe Hynes, Mark Peters, State Senator John Sampson, Paul Wooten, and Arnie Kriss.)

One problem here is that while voters tend to favor female judges, they prefer male prosecutors. That’s the conventional wisdom, though it doesn’t always hold true (for example, Liz Holtzman was Brooklyn’s D.A. from 1982 to 1989).

But the larger impediment for Roper and the other challengers is that incumbent district attorneys just don’t lose reelection bids in New York City. Any reader who remembers one, please let us know.


SPITZER, NEWSDAY BACK RATNER: In a boost for Bruce Ratner, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer told Newsday he supports the developer’s plan to build an arena for the Nets and adjacent office, retail, and residential properties in Prospect Heights. Spitzer’s support is important because he’ll likely be governor when the project actually happens. Ratner expects the Nets to move to Brooklyn in 2008.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, a mayoral candidate, told the Daily News he’s “generally supportive” of the project. City Council speaker Gifford Miller said much the same, while two other mayoral hopefuls, Freddy Ferrer and Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields, voiced concerns but didn’t oppose the project, the News wrote.

Ratner got another lift when Newsday’s editorial board called his Atlantic Yards development “a must.” Wrote the paper, “It’s impossible to imagine a place outside Manhattan that’s better suited to top-heavy, high-density development.”

But Newsday lamented that the project’s review process excludes a fiscal analysis of all the tax breaks and subsidies Ratner stands to receive.

Atlantic Yards has already been endorsed by the New York Post.

In other bad news for project opponents, a lawsuit challenging an eminent domain condemnation in Connecticut got an icy reception from the Supreme Court, auguring a ruling that would grease the rails for Ratner to acquire the land he needs even if some private owners continue to hold out.

One bright spot for opponents was an article in the New York Observer critical of the city and state government’s financial arrangement with Ratner.

“Ratner will be able to finance the arena through tax-free bonds. While he pays those bonds back, he will not have to pay property taxes or even payments in lieu of taxes,” the weekly paper wrote. “The city will even throw in a couple of lots that it owns, along with portions of streets and sidewalks, for $1.”

Ratner may even be exempted from mortgage-recording taxes and sales tax on his construction materials. Councilwoman Tish James complained to the Observer, “They are getting every tax break known to man.”


“PARKER PACKAGE” SUGGESTED: Political commentator and operative Maurice Gumbs, musing about what to do with rage-prone State Senator Kevin Parker, wrote, “We have been taking suggestions from some readers. One suggestion was that the [Senate] minority leader equip all female employees in his office with a portable alarm system and a can of mace. This will be called the Parker Package.

“Another suggestion was that handcuffs be placed on Parker when he is expected to be around female employees. And one reader recommended a muzzle and a leash.

“Some readers felt that Parker should be required to take medication, and one reader felt that a lobotomy was the only solution.”

In a March 13 article, The New York Times summarized some of Parker’s recent troubles, including his arrest for striking a traffic agent. The word lobotomy did not appear in the story.

A day later, the Daily News reported that Parker’s Capitol access pass was suspended for three weeks because he repeatedly broke security rules including “barging through an emergency door” on March 7, setting off an alarm and leaving the door unsecured.

In a positive development for Parker, the door declined to press charges.


BUMPER STICKER BLUES: Flatbush newsletter contributor Tim O’Brien tells a funny (but also disconcerting) story about getting a double-parking ticket while bringing his son to Midwood Montessori three days after the Bush-Kerry election.

O’Brien writes that as he approached the officer writing the ticket, “I smiled and said that I was dropping off my son and needed to walk him to the door. The officer then stated the obvious about the parking rules on the street and I prepared to leave. He then asked if I had voted for Kerry, waving his pen in the direction of my Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker.

“Yes, I replied. He looked at his partner and chuckled and offered that he should give me two tickets.

“Still smarting from that Tuesday’s results, I countered, ‘I was voting for YOU guys! I thought YOU might like 100,000 more police officers and perhaps better pay, but I see you are fine and really don’t need any federal assistance to help you do your job.’

“He bristled at this and questioned my judgment. We parted amicably; me with a shiny new $45 ticket and he with what I hope was a bit of buyer’s remorse.”


TIDBITS: A member of Congress doesn’t have to be a millionaire to live like one. Rep. Vito Fossella ran up bills over $20,000 at fine restaurants during his 2004 reelection bid, all paid for by campaign donors, the New York Post reported…

…The New York Times inexplicably reported that State Senator Kevin Parker raised only $55,000 for his campaign last year. Heck, Parker raised more than that ($59,700) in a three-week period in August and September, and more than $227,000 for the year.

We wondered if the Times reporter got mixed up with Parker’s 2002 campaign, but we checked our files and found in that race, Parker spent about $105,000…

…Congressional candidate Chris Owens doesn’t call his New Brooklyn Leadership political club dead, just dormant. But whatever you call it, at the moment it doesn’t exist and thus won’t be of much help to Councilwoman Tish James’s reelection bid this year. Owens and former club secretary Carmen Colon said club leaders were involved in too many other projects to keep it going…

…Assemblyman Felix Ortiz of Sunset Park has a bill pending that would require schools to report students’ body-mass index to their parents twice a year. Schools would also have to send home an annual report about obesity, nutrition, and exercise.

This is the kind of thing conservatives harp on when calling for schools to “get back to basics.” But the easiest way for government to reach students—nearly half of whom are overweight—is through the schools. The obesity-related health-care costs borne by taxpayers would seem to justify Oritz’s approach.

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