Update: East River PlazaBy Jose B. Rivera
The Personalization of an Issue
The East River Plaza debate is heating up as the vote on the project by Community Board 11 draws near. Most of the noise is coming from the opponents of project, mainly B.A.R.A. members (click on link to learn more about B.A.R.A.). B.A.R.A. seems to be at every committee meeting of Community Board 11.
Their attendance at board committee meetings is often times loud, rude, and downright uncivilized. At other times they behave properly. The main targets of their vindictives are board members Juana Pacheco and Jose B. Rivera, though Juana has gotten the worst of B.A.R.A.s verbal tongue lashings.
B.A.R.A. Members seemed convinced that only people who “sell out the community” are for the project. A mindset which says to the effect that if you do not think as I do, then you must have sold out. Again this mindset does not acknowledge or conceive the possibility that people have their own minds and can and do occasionally differ from what the ultra-liberal mindset feels is right.
A brief history of the last 30 days
A non binding public hearing was held in the auditorium of the East Harlem Multi-Service Center on April 21. Community Board 11 was one of the sponsors of the event as were B.A.R.A. Members Though billed as a public hearing, the event was actual a sounding board for the opponents of the project. The people invited to speak were ALL opponents of the project. So much for being fair.
Among the speakers were Ilene Bronsoff, who spoke about noise abatement and how much noise the additional truck traffic would hurt East Harlem and it’s children (from nearby schools). A speaker from Columbia University, whose near thesis tested the audience patients, and Sr. Regina who was concerned about the effect of the project on the learning habits of children in nearby schools. Other speakers spoke about the increased risk of Asthma to our children due to higher traffic cause by retail trucks bringing in goods.
Much of the opposition’s concerns focused on everything. They opposed the project because of the noise, a potential rise in asthma, children’s learning habits, the effects on small business, traffic congestion, unreliability of an impact study, the worthlessness of the employment opportunities, employee hiring practices, employee mistreatment by Home Depot/Costco, the disintegration of the Pleasant Avenue sub-community and the disintegration of East Harlem as a whole.. One can see someone objecting to a project based on one or two concerns, but when their concerns take in the whole universe of possible objections, then you wonder if their concerns are legitimate or just a bad attempt to oppose the big and bad corporate world.
B.A.R.A. would have done better to focus their concerns to one or two issue. It surprises the writer of this article that such well seasoned veteran activists such as those found in B.A.R.A. can make such a strategically bad mistake. They should have focused their message and then drummed it into the ears of the community. B.A.R.A. put forth a multitude of objections to the project thereby watering down any potential strong message which the community could have listened to and taken to heart. Their multitude of concerns served to make them seem like chicken little, who thought the sky was falling. Alarmist seems to be a good description of how they seem to many. This writer knows better, they are not alarmist, but boy did they miss an opportunity to get this right.
The last fifth of the public hearing allowed proponents of the East River Plaza project to voice their opinion. Although proponents were civil when hearing from the opponents of the project, opponents were not as well behaved when they heard from the proponents of the issue. Board Member Jose B. Rivera received most of the opponent’s wrath and boos when he made the following analogy:
“It sometimes seems that East Harlem is like a child learning to walk with the assistance of two parents. The parents being the church on one arm of the child and social service agencies on the other arm. In this instance the child has learned to walk, but the parents refuse to relinquish their assistance to the child in an effort to control where he walks”. (sorry, I had to paraphrase, who can remember exact words?).
The nuns who sat up front where offended as where many in the audience who work for social service agencies. But they all missed the point in their effort to allow themselves to be hurt by this statement (no one can hurt you, you must give them permission and allow them to hurt you). The point being, that native East Harlemites must and will make their own decisions as it pertains to them and their needs. It is not the duty of the church to make decisions for us, their role should only be as facilitators. For if they go beyond their role, what they are in effect saying is that we are children and can not yet have a say in our future. The same goes for Social Service Agencies. The church also has a history of putting in pastors and the rest of the clergy who come to this community to do good, make policy for us, the residents of East Harlem, and then leave when re-appointed somewhere else. In other words they do not have to live with the results of their policy (just like Congress use to be). This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Mr. Rivera did not mean to offend any one, it is not his fault people can not follow an analogy.
B.A.R.A.‘s other mistake was the personalization of this fight. Instead of seeking compromise, being diplomatic and winning over opponents , they have chosen to attack community board members who are for the project. Mainly, Juana Pacheco and Jose B. Rivera (the writer of this article). Both Juana and Jose have been accused of having a conflict of interest
In a B.A.R.A. letter written to Community Board Chairman David Givens, B.A.R.A. Leader Gloria Quinones writes:
Dear Mr. Givens:
We want to call your attention to a potential conflict of interest if Mr. Jose Rivera and Ms. Juana Pacheco, member of Community Board 11, are allowed to vote in matters pertaining to the above project. Both members are either actively employed by, or seeking employment with, the developer of this project, directly or indirectly.
Prior to his appointment to the Board, Mr. Rivera had informed me that he had been hired to create a website for the developer. It’s my understanding that as recently as last week, Ms. Pacheco and Mr. Rivera were actively pursuing a new contract with the developer.
Another possible conflict of interest is that of any staff or board member of E.H.C.C.I. (East Harlem Council for Community Improvement), who may also be a member of the Community Board since this organization has been assured the contract for hiring.
These are the only cases of conflict that our organization has been made aware of this far. We trust you will take the necessary precautions to insure there are no other conflicts at the time of voting on May 26th.
Gloria E. Quinones
Raul Rodriguez, EHCCI
The personalization comes through clearly at Community Board 11 committee meetings where Gloria Quinones broke with her usual good naturedness and verbally attacked Juana Pacheco in front of Juana’s own children. Something which is both unnecessary and unlike the Gloria Quinones we all know and love.
Gloria has worked hard for this community and her opposition to the East River Plaza project can only be seen as an extension of her love for and the continuation of her hard work on behalf of the East Harlem community. Her motives will never be questioned by this writer. She truly believes in what she is doing and no one will fault her for acting upon her beliefs. As one of this writer’s early role models, Gloria has done well to serve this community. Her fight, vigor and intelligence are commendable, good to emulate and done with goodness of heart. It is just surprising that she attacked Juana the way she did. This writer chooses to see this an emotional moment and nothing less. As someone who had broken bread in Gloria’s beautiful home, it can be said with certainty that the Gloria at committee meetings is not the Gloria we all know and love.
It is hoped that B.A.R.A. as a whole does not choose to follow the path of personal attacks against proponents of the East River Plaza project. Personal attacks serve only to cloud the issue, hurt feelings, create enemies, and most importantly bring B.A.R.A. to a low ethical standard. Something which because of the integrity and history of those who compose B.A.R.A. Would be a shame.
Just because people differ on an issue doesn’t give us permission or license to act below a certain level of respect, and personal interaction with others. We all still live in this community and therefore will more likely than not have to someday work together on some other issue. If we keep it civil, we can get through this and still break bread some other day.
Conflict of Interest
Gloria Quinones does bring up an important point to the table. That of the conflict of interest as it pertains to Mr. Jose B. Rivera. Unlike the current occupant of the White House, Mr. Rivera believes that the law is what keeps us from being barbarians and should be respected above all else. He has written to the Conflict of Interest Board asking for a ruling on this matter and will abide by that ruling even if it means that he will not be able to vote on this issue. If it turns out that Mr. Rivera can not vote, Gloria Quinones should be credited for bringing the conflict of interest matter before the board, as is her job as an opponent of this project. Mr. Rivera does not take this personally, but sees this as a natural outcome of the dynamics of this process (proponents and opposition via an issue). Again, the law is king and made to serve and protect us.
Mr. Rivera does not feel like he has a conflict of interest for the following reasons:
The East River Plaza web site was complete a few weeks before Mr. Rivera was appointed to the Community Board.
Mr. Rivera was subcontracted by Aurora Communications to do the web site and was not as presently believed to be hired directly by BDG, Inc. the developer of the project.
It remains to be seen if this is enough to allow Mr. Rivera to vote on the project. What do you think?
This writer believes that there are enough votes on the Community Board to approve the re-zoning of the project area from “Manufacturing” to “Retail”, that by the way is what the Community Board will actually vote on as it pertains to the East River Plaza project on May 26, 1999 (see this month’s calendar for more information). Juana Pacheco will be allowed to vote and Mr. Rivera will at least get the opportunity to speak for project if he is found to have a conflict of interest.
It is sad that people’s feelings were hurt and that former friends do not speak to each other, all because a few have chosen to personalize this issue. It was unnecessary and does not serve the individuals who personalized it or the community at large. It is hoped that this was an aberration and will not happen again. We all live here, we may as well get along.