Our recent piece on Jo Anne Simon and Atlantic Yards sparked quite the response. No one rose to her defense on the blog’s comments. But Norman Oder’s Atlantic Yards Report posted an article looking at whether Simon was, in fact, an early and vocal opponent of the project’s eminent domain as Simon repeatedly claims on the campaign trial. Contrary to Simon’s statements, after thoroughly reviewing the record, Order found that “she hasn’t been a consistently leading or prominent opponent of eminent domain.” Oder’s findings, as well as a posting by DDDB spokesman, Daniel Goldstein, and on a Daily Gotham, forces us to revisit the issue about whether Simon has been truthful when it comes to Atlantic Yards. Our conclusion: She hasn’t been honest.
Our initial piece Simon and Atlantic Yards made two points. First, that Simon was not truthful when she claimed, in her words, to be “an early and vocal critic of the use of eminent domain.” Second, we also took issue with the fact that Simon has not offered any legal assistance to the Atlantic Yards opposition or other land use controversies in the 33rd District. Simon recently said during the Brooklyn Papers/BIT Debate that she has “worked with DDDB on many, many legal issues.” Some other examples of 33rd District land use fights include Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Dock Street project and the Greenpoint/Williamsburg rezoning.
In reviewing the record of whether Simon was an early and vocal critic of eminent domain, Norman Oder pointed out that the Boerum Hill Association’s Atlantic Yards Task Force, which Simon chaired, opposed the use of eminent domain in a February 2004 press release. In fact, the press release does not state that Simon’s Task Force was opposed to eminent domain. Rather, it only said “we oppose any use of eminent domain…for private purposes….” Daniel Goldstein also noted in a comment to the Atlantic Yards Report that Simon has not been as solid on the issue. As Goldstein stated, “My criticism would be about BrooklynSpeaks’ (as a coalition) lack of a clear position on eminent domain specifically for the Atlantic Yards project (which is a position itself), and the times Jo Anne has kept silent on the issue as a representative of that coalition. So I wish Jo Anne had been more outspoken on eminent domain specifically….” Goldstein’s statement and Simon’s claims on the campaign trail do not square. Quite simply, the record does not support Simon’s campaign statements that she has been an “early and vocal opponent” of the Atlantic Yards’ proposed use of eminent domain.
Our second point has to do with Simon not offering legal assistance on Atlantic Yards or any of the other land use battles waging in the 33rd District. As for Atlantic Yards, at the Brooklyn Papers/BIT debate Simon said she has worked with DDDB on “many, many legal issues.” Norman Oder found that this was not the case when it came to the many eminent domain lawsuits surrounding Atlantic Yards. Oder observed, “Simon’s a civil rights lawyer, not a land-use lawyer, so it’s not surprising she didn’t participate in the DDDB-organized eminent domain lawsuits.” But Oder ignores the fact that eminent domain is a civil rights issue. In fact, the City’s most prominent civil rights firm, Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady, represents DDDB along with DDDB’s team of volunteer lawyers. Oder also observed that Simon “didn’t stand with DDDB when it announced its first lawsuit in 2006, and she hasn’t been a presence–as far as I remember–at any of the court arguments.” Daniel Goldstein also noted that Simon has not done legal work for DDDB: “We never even asked her to… Sure she could have joined our volunteer legal team, but there are scores of lawyer/politicians out there who didn’t either… Jo Anne has been an elected official and a practicing attorney, which leaves her little time to give us legal representation….” Yet again, Simon’s public statements about her work on Atlantic Yards find no support from the people closest to the matter.
In the end, our issue with Simon on Atlantic Yards is a question of her honesty. Simon, like all candidates for the 33rd, jump on the Atlantic Yards wagon in search of votes. Daily Gotham, which has endorsed Simon, has taken issue with Doug Biviano’s literature claiming that Simon effectively divided the Atlantic Yards opposition. Daily Gotham goes so far as to call Biviano an outright liar. The fact remains that Simon’s opposition to Atlantic Yards remains murky, at best. She was not an early and vocal opponent to the project’s use of eminent domain although it now makes for a good sound bite. She has also not offered her legal skills to the fight even though it is a civil rights issue – her area of expertise. Rather, Simon has taken a cautious “wait and see” approach to Atlantic Yards. She has waited to see which way the wind is blowing before committing to a position. While that may be an effective approach to life as a politician, we do not think that it makes for a good public servant – especially when the approach is coupled with misrepresentations about one’s record on the issue.
Keep It Real