Rowdy Bedford Union Armory Meeting Decries De Blasio, Cumbo

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An impassioned, emotional and oftentimes angry crowd gathered Wednesday at MS 61, 400 Empire Boulevard in Crown Heights to protest the contentious Bedford-Union Armory development project.

Residents and lawmakers alike argued that the project will exacerbate displacement by putting luxury housing above affordable units.

“Why should we have luxury condominiums,” said Beverly Newsome, President of the Ebbets Field Tenants Association and co-moderator of the night. “In an environment that screams a need for affordable housing?”

A large audience came out to protest the Bedford Union Armory project.

Organizers said that Mayor Bill DeBlasio was invited after comments that he made in Crain’s implying critics didn’t understand the project itself. They said they had hoped for a dialogue with the mayor, but he did not attend due to a conflicting event in Harlem.

“Since he thinks he knows more about our homes than we do, we invited him here today to explain what’s so great about luxury housing on public land,” said Esteban Girón, a leader in the Crown Heights Tenant Union and the other moderator of the event. “And as you all know, I think we were stood up.”

The organizers set up a live and recorded feed to send questions to the mayor. A “DeBlasio stand-in” wearing a paper mask sat on the stage, mock-responding to questions and gathering jeers and booing.

“The mayor who came to Ebbets Field in 2015, is not the mayor we’re looking at today,” said Newsome. “That mayor was concerned about affordable housing, that mayor had serious ideas about how to create affordable housing, how to maintain affordable housing.”

State Sen. Jesse Hamilton

Senator Jesse Hamilton spoke to the crowd, advocating against the project and arguing that his fellow electeds were too afraid to show up to the event. 

“Where are our progressive elected officials?” said Hamilton. “They’re only progressive when it’s pertaining to them. The issue is, people are being pushed out. And what are we doing about it?”

City Council candidates Ede Fox and Christine Parker also attended the event, though incumbent City Council member Laurie Cumbo (District 35) did not show.

“Three hundred and thirty rentals and luxury condos to be sold at a million dollars. And what do we get in return?” said Fox. “Well, we get fifteen apartments that are affordable to this community. What they call affordable, is not affordable.”

“I think that this practice is ethnic cleansing, it’s genocide to our community,” said Parker. “But I’m not going to make a proclamation about what I stand for or what I’m here for, mostly I’m here to support you.”

Assemblywoman Diana Richardson address the audeince about her opposition to the Bedford Union Armory as it is now proposed.

Assemblywoman Diana Richardson also attended the event, explaining to the audience that due to a recent surgery, she couldn’t stay long. 

“I said to my staff ‘walk with me down the block, I’ve got speak to the crowd, I’ve got to speak to the community.’ And if I can be here two days out of surgery, there’s not reason that the mayor cannot be here,” said Richardson. “I’m telling you right now, what they are doing to us is wrong.”

The controversy began when developing group BFC Partners was selected by the city to develop the armory. They plan to convert the space into 56 condos, 330 rental units, and a recreation center.

Residents and community members took turns speaking to the “stand-in DeBlasio.” Resident workers argued that BFC Partners was not developing with the community’s best interests in mind. Organizers decried the lack of low-income units in the development, called the promised recreation center unaffordable, and voiced concerns of asbestos in the building.

With each speaker, the crowd became increasingly intense. Several times audience members rose, waved signs, and broke into chants of ‘Kill the Deal.’

The apex came when a Cumbo representative came to the front of the room and attempted to speak to the crowd on behalf of the city council member. Shouts of “No” and “not you” broke out. The audience and organizers chanted “Kill the Deal, Cumbo,” their loud voices filling the auditorium, until the representative finally sat down.

“We don’t want surrogates here. If Laurie wants to come and tell us how’s she’s going to kill the deal, we want her to come,” said Girón. “We’re not going to let a politician come up here and speak unless they’re going to say ‘kill the deal.’”

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