Not So Artful Dodgers

Inside Politics Doom an Affordable-Housing Plan in Crown Heights

After the vote, well-wishers patted Stewart on the back. "It's God's will," she said, beaming. "God is in the mix."

"I was never involved in any wrongdoing, except perhaps being a little stern about what the next generation wants," Stewart says. "That's what I stand for. If that upsets people, I'm sorry."

At 320 Sterling Street, the mood was colder. "Why is it that this woman with a handful of people can prevent the building from being renovated for tenants who have suffered, some of whose apartments are in shambles?" asks tenant Marjorie McCarthy. "Because the politicians are behind her? Whose side are they on?"

The politicians who testified on behalf of Stewart say it is not about her at all, but about community control and tenants having a voice in their futures—both vital issues. While they have the right issues, they seem to be applying them to the wrong case. To sort out the tenant-control issue from Stewart's personal relationship with these pols is a nearly impossible task anyway. In Clarence Norman's 2000 primary campaign, she worked as a field operator, covering his polling sites (his disbursements note a $150 payment to her for her work). In the apartment in 320 that she uses as an office, she has a basket containing dozens of flyers for losing Brooklyn borough president candidate Ken Fischer (perhaps the reason no one from Marty Markowitz's office came out for this one) and for Major Owens, whom she vocally supported in his bitter race with former councilmember Una Clarke, Yvette's mother.

Some surmise that all these politicians, who've been vulnerable in local elections in recent years, are stumping for Stewart, who, like many in 320, is from Trinidad, as much to appeal to West Indian voters as to step up for tenants' rights. Stewart takes a similar view. "It's political time now," she says. "Everyone is ready to come out of the henhouse and find the voters, and I have my voters."

At a private meeting before the council vote, Norman and Yvette Clarke informed Stewart of their plans for 320, which include bringing in a mediator to somehow pull together these divided tenants. "Joyce supports elected officials," Norman says. "But it's not the case that that would blind us to the fact that there's other factions in the building. We'll incorporate them into the equation."

Perhaps only one thing is certain. Now that Clarke, in one of her first acts as the representative for this district, has spiked the plan and hinged her fate to the building's future, what happens to the tenants of 320 Sterling should be used as a moral barometer of her term in office, be it short or long.

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