Daughtry breaks with ‘God Squad’

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Announcements of benefits agreements being forged between Forest City Ratner and the “community” over the development company’s plan to build a basketball arena, office towers and apartment buildings in Prospect Heights left many residents, activists and elected officials scratching their heads this week wondering, ‘Who is in this community and who represents it?

On Thursday, Forest City Ratner principal owner Bruce Ratner held a press conference at the House of the Lord Church on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill to announce that the church’s pastor, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, was being included in negotiations over a community benefits agreement (CBA) that Ratner said would be legally binding.

The CBA would guarantee local hiring, job training and a health clinic as a result of the construction of Ratner’s Atlantic Yards proposal. Ratner said the agreement would be formalized sometime next month.

“We’re very pleased to be working with the Reverend Daughtry,” said Ratner, calling him a “respected community leader,” with 30 years of experience in the neighborhood.

Ratner added that the accomplishments of the negotiators would speak for themselves.

“Words are easy, but let’s see if we can really do what is right,” Ratner said.

Daughtry resigned as chairman of the Downtown Brooklyn Leadership Coalition (DBLC) — often referred to as the “God squad,” because its leaders are largely comprised of clergymen — to negotiate with Ratner. The group has taken a harder line against Atlantic Yards, demanding the type of negotiating power Ratner might offer a business partner or prospective anchor tenant.

Ratner’s Atlantic Yards would include a 19,000-seat basketball arena for the developer’s recently purchased New Jersey Nets, three soaring office towers and 4,500 units of mixed-income housing on property bounded by Dean Street and Flatbush, Atlantic and Vanderbilt avenues in Prospect Heights. The site begins about four blocks, and accross Flatbush Avenue, from Daughtry’s Boerum Hill church.

But Daughtry’s inclusion in the negotiations had residents in Prospect Heights, whose homes lie in the footprint of the proposed development, seething that the one-time vocal foe of such closed-door dealings had been, in their eyes, co-opted.

“None of these negotiating groups represent Prospect Heights, where the project would be located,” charged Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for the anti-arena group Develop-Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. Goldstein would lose his condominium apartment to the arena plan.

“Reverend Daughtry said at today’s press conference that Bruce Ratner is honorable, caring, trustworthy and generous. Pardon us if we don’t think that’s a tough negotiating stance.”

Prospect Heights Councilwoman Letitia James, who championed the anti-Atlantic Yards cause early on, said Daughtry’s joining the CBA talks helps make it appear as though Ratner has the community on his side.

“This is nothing more than an attempt to divide and conquer the Downtown and Central Brooklyn community,” she said.

James, a member of the Downown Brooklyn Leadership Coalition, a group of political leaders and clergy formed by Daughtry last year in response to the Atlantic Yards plan. The $2.5 billion Ratner plan is dependent upon the state’s condemnation of more than two square blocks of privately owned property and negotiating the purchase of air rights over Metropolitan Transportation Authority rail yards.

When Ratner appeared with Daughtry this week, his staff and supporters made it clear that the real estate mogul’s outreach to a local clergy member was indicative that his company was committed to involving the community.

Though Daughtry will be the first clergy member represented in the CBA negotiations, Forest City Ratner Vice President Jim Stuckey invited members of the DBLC to take a seat at the bargaining table with Ratner.

At a Sept. 30 meeting at the Hanson Place Central United Methodist Church in Fort Greene, Stuckey reiterated his offer, telling a table of DBLC members and a 200-person audience that had gathered to decry the exclusion of the community from decision-making in Ratner’s project, that “the seat is waiting for you.”

The Rev. Dennis Dillon, who took Daughtry’s place as chairman of the DBLC said he didn’t think Forest City Ratner took their proclamation demanding inclusion in negotiations seriously.

“Forest City Ratner continues to falsely state that they have offered us a seat at the table,” Dillon said. “We’re not talking about sitting around the conference table at Borough Hall to discuss the CBA with some cheerleaders. We’re talking about the community that we represent being able to join in on the discussion, in terms of what has happened, when it will happen, what it will entail and how much of the taxpayers dollars it will require.”

Dillon compared the kind of consultation his group seeks to those that Ratner would be required to do with “various anchor tenants … government officials … and his partners.”

Barring that, Dillon repeated a threat that arose at last week’s meeting: a boycott of Ratner’s Atlantic Terminal shopping mall on the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest retail day of the year.

“The community will be organized to effect economic sanctions against the Atlantic Terminal mall, and is certainly going to remain vigilant and determined as a community until justice rolls down like a mighty stream,” Dillon warned.

“They didn’t have to wait,” said Ratner spokeswoman Johanna Flattery. “The offer we put on the table is exactly what they were requesting.”

While Forest City Ratner officials asserted on Thursday that the agreement they are forging — in closed-door meetings with Borough President Marty Markowitz, the heads of Community Boards 2, 6 and 8, and members of select organizations — will be a legally binding contract, they did not specify what penalties would be issued for violations of the terms, and acknowledge that there is no independent body providing oversight.

Committing that the development was “more than just basketball,” Ratner said he has worked to provide jobs, housing and “other benefits for the people of Brooklyn.”

Among the benefits discussed at the press conference was the creation of a health center and “intergener­ational” facility, both of which were advocated by Daughtry, as well as job training programs and a promise to hire one journeyman trainee construction worker for every four journeymen hired, in an effort to open union jobs to area residents.

Ratner promised Daughtry’s ideas would be introduced to the in-progress negotiations for the CBA, but Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, said the details of the health clinic and intergenerational facility had not been decided, and they could end up being one facility.

Daughtry said he resigned as chairman of the DBLC because the group failed to recognize a “good faith” attempt by Ratner to pull them into the negotiations.

“It was ours to respond to and I thought that at least we needed to move ahead,” he said at a community meeting on Tuesday night.

At the same meeting Daughtry told those in attendance that he was still “out of the loop,” but was ready to take action on behalf of the community. “I won’t be left out,” he said. “I can fight and not be accused of being an outsider.”

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