Acting out: Locals accuse mayor of skipping armory meeting, say they will cast stand-in at event

It is open season on the Crown Heights armory
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Talk about playing the villain!

Crown Heights activists are accusing Mayor DeBlasio of using a Manhattan town hall tonight as an excuse to avoid a public meeting on his redevelopment plan for their nabe’s armory, but said they will not let his absence stop them from airing their grievances.

“I’d rather have the mayor there, but he’s running scared,” said Vaughn Armour, a 17-year Crown Heights resident and leader of anti-development group, Our Armory Coalition, which organized the event. “We’re going to have someone portray the mayor and we’re going to have questions and answers. We’ll probably get a tall guy.”

DeBlasio supports handing over the publicly owned Bedford-Union Armory to developer BFC partners, which has promised to construct below-market-rate housing and a non-for-profit recreation center at the historic military structure on Bedford Avenue between President and Union streets in return.

But community members continue to rail against the scheme, which also calls for more than 50 luxury condos and will only offer 18 of its planned 330 rental units at rates affordable to locals of a neighborhood with a median income of $40,000.

Activists invited DeBlasio to this evening’s 6:30 pm town hall at Crown Heights’ Dr. Gladstone H. Atwell Middle School in response to comments reported last month by Crain’s, in which he suggested the city needs to do a better job of explaining the project’s benefits to the community.

Hizzoner’s remarks implied that locals are not smart enough to understand his grand plan, according to event hosts, who said that the mayor’s problem is not one of communication but of values in the written invitation they sent to city hall on July 25.

“You don’t have a communications problem here,” the invitation read. “You have a values problem: your plan does not represent a real progressive vision for how to create deeply affordable housing and preserve a diverse, mixed-income community.”

But the real outrage occurred after organizers learned that DeBlasio scheduled a meeting on the distant isle of Manhattan at the same time as theirs, which they saw as a thinly vieled escape from what could be an overtly hostile gathering, according to Armour.

“Mayor DeBlasio is running because he knows his redevelopment plan for the armory faces growing opposition in Crown Heights and across the city,” he said.

The local activists are not interested in traveling across the river to confront him, however, and instead will direct their criticism tonight at a stand-in for the 6-foot-5-inch pol, according to Armour.

“We’re going to go on with the meeting as though he’s there,” he said.

The mayor did not schedule the Manhattan meeting to avoid facing his critics in Crown Heights, according to a spokeswoman, who said his meeting on the island was arranged before he received the invitation to talk about the armory.

“Tonight’s town hall in Harlem with Councilman Bill Perkins was scheduled before any invitation was extended,” said Melissa Grace. “Those seeking to cast doubt on the mayor’s commitment to making the Bedford-Union Armory the best project it can be simply aren’t paying attention.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.