For nearly seven years, at considerable personal risk, I used my home to fight the abuse of eminent domain and Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project. Without my home, the misguided project — opposed by a fierce community movement I came to lead — could not happen. With no democratic political process available to the community, the not-so-simple act of keeping my home was the best way I could affect what was clearly a fixed deal.
But I never promised to be an ineffectual martyr.
On March 1, the state took title to my home, effectively ending the possibility of winning the fight on eminent domain grounds. Those who wish to deem me a “sellout” are flatly wrong. After condemnation, I had nothing meaningful left to sell that might affect the fight or achieve a single one of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn’s goals.
The state sought a court order to evict me on May 17. Facing that — and a judge who wanted the parties to resolve the eviction — I agreed to leave on May 7 rather than the 17. Ratner also demanded a gag order and complete disassociation from DDDB. I refused both demands, affirming my First Amendment rights.
The media, agape at the settlement figures — though never agape at the size of Ratner’s public subsidy — missed some key things last week:
In the past six years, Ratner’s representatives approached me four times, offering to buy me out in exchange for my abandoning key eminent domain litigation, which threatened their project. Each time, they knew that the opposition to Atlantic Yards would suffer a huge blow if I sold my home.
Their most recent approach came early this year, before the final eminent domain court hearing, but after I had learned that the state’s “just compensation” offer would be just half the market value of my home — a gut-wrenching offer. I resisted any settlement in exchange for dropping litigation that would affect the outcome of the fight.
I rejected a settlement every time I met with Ratner’s people, instead offering to help facilitate a negotiation with the community about the project. That, however, was of no interest to them.
So, what was of interest to them last week? Was it an attempt to buy my silence, which would, at this stage, provide them very little value? They would like the public to believe that was their goal.
But for all the frothing in the media, I’m not aware of a single analysis as to why Ratner agreed to the settlement he did. It had nothing to do with some pressing matter of public interest, nor speeding the building of affordable housing.
There was one overarching reason they paid me to leave early. Basketball.
The court was unlikely to agree to an accelerated eviction date of May 17 — it would be just a few days after the state would by paying me its original “just compensation.”
However, the billionaire Russian oligarch, Mikhail Prokhorov, could not assume ownership of the Nets, nor prepare for the NBA draft and free-agent market, in his effort to rebuild the NBA’s worst team until my apartment was vacated.
The state’s May 17 eviction date may have appeared arbitrary, but May 18 is the NBA draft lottery, and Prokhorov wanted to be at that lottery. That’s not what ESDC or Ratner told the judge or the press last week. But that was their motivation.
As to why the state thought it so important to evict my family and me on Prokhorov’s NBA schedule, so he could encrust his plaything with diamonds, is something that speaks for itself.
Daniel Goldstein is former spokesman of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, and more commentary can be seen here. He will be moving out of his Pacific Street condo before May 7.