By Jared Chausow
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James insisted that the loss of a commu- nity was a necessary part of turning a town around. "Relocation is nothing strange to the city of Newark," he told the often-raucous crowd. "We've been relocating people for years. We have been blighting for years. . . . Thousands of people have been relocated. Not one unhappy person."
But the East Ward neighborhood is filled with unhappy people right now. "I want to stay here," says Carmen Cordero, Edwin's wife. "I want my home. And if he wants my home, he's going to have to really pay me to leave here. If not, he's going to have to build the arena and my house will be in the middle. We'll go to the Corderos' house at halftime."
"This is what I do," says Rui Freitas, who runs an autobody shop that's been in the neighborhood for 15 years. "What am I going to do after if I can't find a place? I have kids, I have a mortgage to pay. That's my biggest concern. I have bills to pay."
Freitas's frustration is principally at a process that's left him and others in the dark. "The residents were never given the opportunity to present any evidence as to why they believed that their neighborhood didn't meet the standard [for being blighted]," says Rutgers's Kraham.
In just under three months' time local residents have been told that what they thought was a successful neighborhood is in fact worthy of condemnation and prime pickings for a basketball team many could care less about. Their homes and livelihoods have been put on notice, and their suggestions and concerns completely ignored.
"This is what environmental justice is all about," adds Kraham. "The fact that it's a minority community living in a minority city doesn't make it any less egregious that they've been excluded from a participatory process."
Of course, it's hard not to think of the Bronx when talk turns to neighborhoods ignored. It is unclear exactly how participatory any potential process of rebuilding Yankee Stadium and the surrounding South Bronx neighborhood will be. "Make as big a stink as you can," Newark resident Hal Laeissig advises residents of the South Bronx, "because otherwise, nobody knows that you're there."
Some sort of local redevelopment is pretty much a certainty if the Yankees do stay in the Bronx. Yankee spokesman Howard Rubinstein says that without it, the team "would have less interest" in staying put. But Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer has already introduced a Yankee Village plan that would redevelop the area surrounding the existing ballpark. Clint Roswell, a spokesperson for the Ferrer, says he believes "The borough president has been very careful about displacement. . . .We know where the community is on this thing. We're quite certain the community would welcome this with open arms. But I don't think they would jump at the idea of having a new stadium built. The borough president doesn't think that's necessary." The Yankees have yet to respond to the Ferrer plan.
Meanwhile, the residents of Newark's East Ward remain in limbo. Troy West, a Newark architect who's housed his business in the community for 25 years, spoke for a fiercely proud neighborhood when he addressed the crowd at the first community meeting. "The people in this room have done something that Ray Chambers could never do," he said. "With your own individual sweat, your own individual neighboring, you have created the most desirable piece of Newark, and so now Ray Chambers wants to come in and take this."
"You've already built it," West said. "You've already made this a beautiful neighborhood. Ten years ago you couldn't come here without being afraid. Now, walk down the street and see the beautiful brownstones. . . . This was done by you. You folks are worth a hundred Ray Chambers."