The inflatable rat is one of the great players on New York’s stage—a well-recognized tool for exposing and embarrassing non-union job sites, low wage payers, and employers who’ve been struck. (The rat is so popular a figure it can be hard to obtain one; when the union at a certain New York newspaper was bracing for a possible strike this summer, the best it could line up was an inflatable cockroach, a symbol used in other labor struggles.)
Freddy Ferrer is none of those things, but there the rat was on Friday, towering over the street where the Democratic candidate was about to come out strongly against the current version of the Atlantic Yards development plan, which would use $200 million in taxpayer funds and the threat of eminent domain to clear land for a Nets arena and surrounding complex of apartments and offices. Backers say the deal, which includes a community benefits agreement securing a share of “affordable” apartments and a slice of the jobs for local people, is a boon to Brooklyn. Opponents say it’s too big for the area, likely to drive up rents, and a ripoff of taxpayers.
“The truth is, the more we hear about the project, the more it looks like its twin brother, the West Side Stadium,” Ferrer said, as the union workers manning one rat (joined by at least one Republican operative) yelled, “Don’t sell us out Freddy!” and yet another rat took form down the street. Ferrer complained that the project was approved out of the public eye, that too few of the apartments are really affordable, and that taxpayer funds shouldn’t be used for sports arenas and stadiums. “The only thing we know for sure,” he said, “is that this deal helps Mayor Bloomberg’s developer friends.”
Some of the guys around the rat disagreed, at least in part. Vince Jones, a laborer who lives in Bed-Stuy, said he doesn’t like the idea of taxpayer money—his tax money—being used. But he needs to work. He doesn’t like politics, either. “But for me to feed my family, I have to be political.” Some of those on the union side had been counting on the West Side Stadium for work; when that disappeared, Atlantic Yards took on new importance.
However, Ferrer wasn’t urging cancellation of the project. “We need to halt it and re-evaluate it,” he said, to make sure the housing is “truly affordable and truly 50 percent.” What about the guys who are counting on Atlantic Yards for jobs? “I’m all for jobs, and I believe jobs are important not only for this borough but for this city,” he said, then criticized the money that a supposedly grassroots pro-project group, BUILD, accepted from developer Forest City Ratner (which is also building the new HQ for the New York Times).
The Post asked: What about the rat? “I see some of the Bloomberg people here,” Ferrer replied. Then he raised his finger to emphasize: “And I have two rats.”