Tem­pers Flare at Pub­lic Hear­ing on Bk­lyn Pfizer Site; Al­le­ga­tions of Anti-Semitism

The Jewish Voice - - NEW YORK - By: Kelly Mena & Ariella Ha­viv

The fight over the con­tro­ver­sial Pfizer site re­de­vel­op­ment plan last week took an odd turn con­cern­ing whether City Coun­cilmem­ber David Green­field, who is chair of the Coun­cil's pow­er­ful Land Use Com­mit­tee, should re­cuse him­self from the mat­ter as he read­ies to leave the city coun­cil in or­der to as­sume a lead­er­ship role in a large non­profit (the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Coun­cil on Jewish Poverty) that has past ties to the project.

A non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that bills it­self as one that pro­vides suc­cor for in­di­gent and fi­nan­cially chal­lenged Jews and their fam­i­lies, the Met Coun­cil, as it is com­monly re­ferred to, is still at­tempt­ing to emerge from a pub­lic re­la­tions im­broglio that it found it­self mired in. In 2014, its long time ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Wil­liam Rap­fo­gel was ar­rested and sen­tenced to prison for steal­ing mil­lions of dol­lars from the or­ga­ni­za­tion's cof­fers.

Since that junc­ture, the so­cial ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion that has spent more than $110 mil­lion a year, mostly from govern­ment funds, on home health care and other ser­vices for older peo­ple and the poor and has de­scended into a tail­spin that seems al­most ir­repara­ble.

The brouhaha at the pub­lic hear­ing on the Pfizer site in­cluded ver­bal threats and al­le­ga­tions of anti-Semitism which in turn then over­shad­owed the mer­its of the plan as hun­dreds of ad­vo­cates, op­po­nents and elected of­fi­cials who had de­scended upon City Hall for the City Coun­cil's sub­com­mit­tee on Zon­ing & Fran­chises.

The cur­rent plan is set in a two-block area sit­u­ated be­tween Har­ri­son and Union Av­enues, from Wal­ton Street to Gerry Street known as the Broad­way Tri­an­gle area.

As devel­op­ers of the project, the Rab­sky Group are propos­ing eight mixed-use build­ings for the site in­clud­ing 1,146 mixed-in­come res­i­den­tial units of which 287 will be per­ma­nently af­ford­able units, 65,000 square feet of neigh­bor­hood re­tail, a half-acre of pub­lic open space, and 405 park­ing spa­ces.

The Broad­way Tri­an­gle has been a con­tentious is­sue for lo­cal of­fi­cials and com­mu­nity ad­vo­cates, who have been fight­ing over the prop­erty for al­most a decade. Back in 2009, com­mu­nity mem­bers suc­cess­fully sued the city claim­ing the Broad­way Tri­an­gle Re­zon­ing fa­vored the Ha­sidic com­mu­nity over blacks and Lati­nos.

Dur­ing the hear­ing, which Queens City Coun­cil­man Richard Dono­van Jr. (D) led, Marty Needle­man, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of Brook­lyn Le­gal Ser­vices Cor­po­ra­tion A and one of the lead at­tor­neys for the plain­tiffs in a 2009 law­suit to stop the project, hinted at a pos­si­ble “money con­nec­tion” be­tween the United Jewish Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UJO) of Wil­liams­burg and the Rab­sky Group.

Needle­man specif­i­cally ac­cused the Wil­liams­burg-based de­vel­oper of fa­vor­ing the Ha­sidic Jewish com­mu­nity over the black and Latino com­mu­nity due to strong Ha­sidic com­mu­nity con­nec­tions, specif­i­cally re­gard­ing the UJO and its Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Rabbi David Nie­der­man.

“Rab­sky with some of the con­nec­tions es­pe­cially with the Ha­sidic com­mu­nity, is a money con­nec­tion, not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause he likes Jews, or he's Jewish or Ha­sidic. It's be­cause they [Rab­sky] know that the UJO is a very pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal force in this area [Wil­liams­burg],” said Needle­man.

One of the part­ners of the Rab­sky Group, Si­mon Dushin­sky, was born and raised in Is­rael and cur­rently lives in the Vizh­nitz Ha­sidic com­mu­nity in Wil­liams­burg. Ac­cord­ing to the Real Deal New York, Dushin­sky, formed Rab­sky Group in the early 1990s to develop con­dos for the Ha­sidic com­mu­nity.

The Broad­way Tri­an­gle has been a con­tentious is­sue for lo­cal of­fi­cials and com­mu­nity ad­vo­cates, who have been fight­ing over the prop­erty for al­most a decade

In ques­tion­ing Needle­man, Coun­cil­man Green­field (D) who rep­re­sents con­stituen­cies in Bor­ough Park, Mid­wood and Ben­son­hurst, was quick to walk him back on the al­le­ga­tions, ques­tion­ing the truth of the ac­cu­sa­tions on the of­fi­cial record.

Needle­man was forced to con­cede that the al­le­ga­tions were “idle spec­u­la­tion but based on much ex­pe­ri­ence over 45 years.”

Rabbi Nie­der­man also re­futed the al­le­ga­tions, call­ing them “out­ra­geous lies” and com­pletely deny­ing any knowl­edge of such a con­nec­tion.

“It is hon­estly dis­ap­point­ing, when we are try­ing to have a hear­ing on the mer­its and facts, for you to say some­thing that seems fac­tual, but later un­der ques­tion­ing, is based on spec­u­la­tion, is a pretty se­ri­ous ac­cu­sa­tion, and is an un­fair claim to make,” said Green­field, who is step­ping down from the coun­cil in Jan­uary to head the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Coun­cil on Jewish Poverty (Met Coun­cil).

Ac­cord­ing to Needle­man and sep­a­rate sources, the UJO and the Met Coun­cil had a stake in the orig­i­nal Broad­way Tri­an­gle re­zon­ing pro­posal that in­cluded an af­ford­able hous­ing plan specif­i­cally pro­posed by the UJO back in 2009.

Ad­di­tion­ally, ac­cord­ing to the UJO web­site, “The UJO has had a long-stand­ing and successful col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Coun­cil on Jewish Poverty. Many of the valu­able ser­vices that the UJO pro­vides would not be pos­si­ble with­out the ded­i­ca­tion and co­op­er­a­tion of Met Coun­cil.”

Needle­man said his com­ments and al­le­ga­tions about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the UJO and the Rab­sky Group has noth­ing to do with be­ing anti-Semitic, and that there are good and bad peo­ple in all com­mu­ni­ties. This has to deal with the pol­i­tics, money and things that go on in this par­tic­u­lar area, he said.

Needle­man added that it's trou­bling Green­field was more fo­cused on the UJO al­le­ga­tions than on the im­pact that the re­zon­ing may have on His­pan­ics and blacks, and their abil­ity to stay in the neigh­bor­hood.

In ques­tion­ing Green­field's of­fice on whether he should re­cuse him­self on the is­sue be­cause of a pos­si­ble con­flict of in­ter­est due to his up­com­ing job with the Met Coun­cil, Green­field's of­fice is­sued a “no com­ment,” and made a point of telling the re­porter that it is bla­tant anti-Semitism to even fol­low this line of ques­tion­ing.

Ad­di­tion­ally Green­field, though re­fus­ing com­ment, made veiled threats re­gard­ing his con­nec­tion to the UJO and his up­com­ing ten­ure at the Met Coun­cil to the pub­lisher of KCP, promis­ing an in­tense smear cam­paign in the fu­ture.

In Au­gust of this year, the Jewish Voice pub­lished a sear­ing in­ves­tiga­tive piece about the cor­rup­tion rid­den past of the Met Coun­cil. When it was re­ported that Coun­cil­man Green­field had made the de­ci­sion to take on a lead­er­ship role at the trou­bled or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Jewish Voice reached out to him.

When asked for com­ment on his new po­si­tion at the Met Coun­cil and what steps he plans to take to ex­tri­cate the or­ga­ni­za­tion from the pub­lic re­la­tions quag­mire it finds it­self in, Coun­cil­man Green­field de­clined to is­sue state­ments to the me­dia. He did, how­ever. tell the Jewish

“It is hon­estly dis­ap­point­ing, when we are try­ing to have a hear­ing on the mer­its and facts, for you to say some­thing that seems fac­tual, but later un­der ques­tion­ing, is based on spec­u­la­tion, is a pretty se­ri­ous ac­cu­sa­tion, and is an un­fair claim to make,” said Green­field

Voice that he would be more than glad to pro­vide re­sponses to the ques­tions that the pub­li­ca­tion posed to him af­ter he as­sumes his po­si­tion at the Met Coun­cil.

Us­ing his pow­er­ful po­si­tion on the Land Use Com­mit­tee, it was re­ported last month by the Jewish Voice that Green­field has se­cured $9M in city coun­cil fund­ing for Jewish groups. This past sum­mer, Green­field ad­vo­cated for a $2.75 mil­lion aid pack­age for New York's Mu­seum of Jewish Her­itage. . Ac­cord­ing to the Mu­seum, these funds will ini­ti­ate new high-im­pact ex­hi­bi­tions on anti-Semitism, re­vi­tal­ize pub­lic space, and in­tro­duce new tech­nol­ogy for the ben­e­fit of 50,000 school­child­ren, their teach­ers, and other vis­i­tors.

The Mu­seum of Jewish Her­itage is just one of the many Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions whose fund­ing Green­field ad­vo­cated for in this year's bud­get. Green­field sup­ported the ef­forts of Coun­cil Mem­ber Lau­rie Cumbo to se­cure funds for the Jewish Chil­dren's Mu­seum in Crown Heights which will see $2 mil­lion to pro­vide sup­ple­men­tal ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties fo­cused on Jewish his­tory. Jewish so­cial-ser­vice providers like the Jewish Board of Fam­ily and Chil­dren's Ser­vices will re­ceive new of­fice space, equip­ment and new ve­hi­cles in­clud­ing for trans­porta­tion to and from Boro Park's Mishkon.

City Coun­cil­man Stephen Levin (D-Brook­lyn Heights, DUMBO, Wil­liams­burg, Boerum Hill) whose dis­trict in­cludes the pro­posed re­de­vel­op­ment site, opened the pro­ceed­ings with re­marks ad­dress­ing the eth­nic ten­sions sur­round­ing the plan.

“Over the past 20 years, all of these com­mu­ni­ties have been feel­ing the squeeze. At some point we have to get past the fights of a pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion. We have to move past train­ing our fire on one an­other. We have to be con­struc­tive be­cause if we aren't con­struc­tive, the sit­u­a­tion is go­ing to get worse. We can con­tinue to build as much af­ford­able hous­ing as were able to build, and the sit­u­a­tion for a lot of peo­ple is go­ing to con­tinue to get worse. But it's go­ing to get that much worse if we do noth­ing,” said Levin.

But City Coun­cil­man An­to­nio Reynoso (D-Bush­wick, Wil­liams­burg), whose dis­trict is across the street from the pro­posed de­vel­op­ment, coun­tered the claim by cit­ing the pre­vi­ous 2009 law­suit brought against the city. That law­suit even­tu­ally halted con­struc­tion in the Broad­way Tri­an­gle in 2012.

“Ev­ery­thing that has been said now has been said in the past. With­out the abil­ity to sue, with­out the court sys­tem, we would not get jus­tice. It is a judge that has said that the re­zon­ing will per­pet­u­ate segregation in the Broad­way Tri­an­gle. That is not an opin­ion, that is a fact. This whole no­tion that one com­mu­nity is pit­ted against an­other is real, it is not some­thing we can sweep un­der the rug or hold hands and sing Kum­baya,” said Reynoso.

The Rab­sky orig­i­nally paid $12,8 mil­lion for the prop­erty back in 2012 when it first ac­quired the prop­erty from Pfizer.

Ma­jor-Gen­eral Dan Efrony (Res.), Mil­i­tary Ad­vo­cate Gen­eral of the I.D.F., 2011-2015

MG Efrony, lec­tured at se­lect law schools on The Laws Of Armed Con­flict In The Era Of Cy­ber & Au­ton­o­mous War­fare. Pre­sent­ing to the stu­dent com­mu­nity and di­a­logu­ing with renowned fac­ulty mem­bers alike, MG Efrony ex­pertly out­lined the dilem­mas and chal­lenges at­ten­dant to this new realm of asym­met­ri­cal war­fare.

Lt. Colonel Roni Katzir (Ac­tive),

Head Of The Op­er­a­tional Branch, In­ter­na­tional

Law Dept., IDF M.A.G. Corps

Marty Needle­man, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of Brook­lyn Le­gal Ser­vices Cor­po­ra­tion A and one of the lead at­tor­neys for the plain­tiffs in a 2009 law­suit to stop the project. “Rab­sky with some of the con­nec­tions es­pe­cially with the Ha­sidic com­mu­nity, is a money con­nec­tion, not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause he likes Jews, or he’s Jewish or Ha­sidic. It’s be­cause they [Rab­sky] know that the UJO is a very pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal force in this area [Wil­liams­burg],” said Needle­man.

The fight over the con­tro­ver­sial Pfizer site re­de­vel­op­ment plan last week took an odd turn con­cern­ing whether City Coun­cilmem­ber David Green­field, who is chair of the Coun­cil’s pow­er­ful Land Use Com­mit­tee, should re­cuse him­self from the mat­ter as he read­ies to leave the city coun­cil in or­der to as­sume a lead­er­ship role in a large non­profit (the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Coun­cil on Jewish Poverty) that has past ties to the project.

The Rab­sky Group are the devel­op­ers be­hind the con­tro­ver­sial plan to re­zone a two-block site at 200 Har­ri­son Av­enue in Wil­liams­burg, known as the Broad­way Tri­an­gle. They are propos­ing eight mixed-use build­ings for the site in­clud­ing 1,146 mixed-in­come res­i­den­tial units of which 287 will be per­ma­nently af­ford­able units, 65,000 square feet of neigh­bor­hood re­tail, a half-acre of pub­lic open space, and 405 park­ing spa­ces.

UJO Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Rabbi David Nie­der­man

City Coun­cil­man Stephen Levin (D-Brook­lyn Heights, DUMBO, Wil­liams­burg, Boerum Hill) whose dis­trict in­cludes the pro­posed re­de­vel­op­ment site, opened the pro­ceed­ings with re­marks ad­dress­ing the eth­nic ten­sions sur­round­ing the plan

Mem­bers of the United Jewish Or­ga­ni­za­tions of Wil­liams­burg

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