Friday, November 30, 2007

Columbia plan ‘rigged’? Three claim Harlem community pact talks with school skewed by pols

From: "Ruth Eisenberg"
To: "Jordi Reyes-Montblanc" ,
Subject: Metro for Friday
Date: Fri, 30 Nov 2007 12:09:41 -0500


Columbia plan ‘rigged’?
Three claim Harlem community pact talks with school skewed by pols
by patrick arden / metro new york

city hall. Three members of the team negotiating a community benefits agreement with Columbia University over its proposed expansion resigned on Thursday, claiming a “closed door” process had been “rigged” in favor of the school.

The bad blood is hardly surprising. West Harlem’s community board came up with a competing development plan, which opposes Columbia’s use of eminent domain, yet it set up a local development corporation to negotiate a CBA with the university.

That might seem like playing both sides, but LDC president Pat Jones believes the neighborhood had no choice.

“Without any intervention, the community gets no benefit,” said Jones. “This a private project for Columbia by Columbia.”

When the LDC was formed 19 months ago, members agreed to give seats to local politicians in 2008 to enforce the pact after it was finalized. But that’s when things began to go wrong, according to Tom DeMott and Nick Sprayregen, who both quit the LDC yesterday. In the summer of ’06, they were invited to the offices of Rep. Charles Rangel.

“He pounded his fist on the table and said there was no way he was going to make an agreement without being involved,” Sprayregen recalled. Now 9 of 28 seats on the LDC are occupied by representatives of elected officials.

Politicians have played a role in drafting CBAs here, though the results have been troubling. Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion oversaw a pact for Yankee Stadium that was purely a deal between the team and four elected officials.

This week the city’s planning commission sent both Columbia’s and the community’s proposals to the City Council. Sprayregen wondered how local Councilman Robert Jackson could consider voting while his representative on the LDC is negotiating a CBA.

Jackson’s rep, Susan Russell, did not respond to a request for comment. But in July she tried to remove Sprayregen from the LDC, claiming that he, as the area’s largest property holder, had a conflict of interest. Sprayregen believed the politicians are acting in Columbia’s interest.

“They basically hijacked the process,” he said. “At the 11th hour, they’ll say, ‘This is the best we can do. You better accept it.’”

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