As reported by Michael O’Keeffe in yesterday’s New York Daily News, I have issued a formal request to Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights to co-host a film screening of the documentary Battle for Brooklyn. The documentary describes the efforts in Brooklyn to resist the Atlantic Yards basketball arena/housing development project, which will upturn twenty-two acres in the heart of the borough. That has meant protesting eminent domain evictions, sweetheart backroom deals, the prospect of acerlated gentrification, the tearing down of historic buildings and the use of taxpayer subsidies. Mr. Ratner is an investor in this project, spearheaded by his brother, Bruce Ratner, a high powered real estate magnate. Michael Ratner is also a hero of mine. His work opposing the Patriot Act, torture as policy, and the War Powers Act is an inspiration to anyone who cares about civil liberties and real freedom. In other words, not freedom the way Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul talk about freedom—the freedom to destroy the environment, smash unions, or build a pipeline through your backyard—but the freedom to actually assemble, debate, discuss and live in an open society.
But Michael Ratner is also an investor in this incredibly controversial project. He has never commented publicly about the constitutionality of how eminent domain was used to remove people from their Brooklyn homes and businesses. He has never explained why someone of his sterling reputation would involve himself in a project that symbolizes for so many residents the profits of the few over the needs of the many. Maybe he believes that this kind of massive development project is completely constitutional. Maybe he thinks that it’s in the best interests of Brooklyn. Maybe he believes that the Ratner family will profit mightily from the project, which will in turn support the good works of the CCR. I have no idea. As a boy with Brooklyn roots, I’m certainly open to his arguments, but it would be good to actually hear them. Given Michael Ratner’s profile as a civil libertarian, I honestly believe he has an obligation to be public and transparent about his involvement
That is why I am issuing the following offer to Mr. Ratner: let us co-host a showing of the documentary Battle for Brooklyn. The film, which was shortlisted for an Academy Award, is remarkably gripping and would provide a terrific basis for a townhall conversation about the merits of Atlantic Yards, the constitutionality of eminent domain for private benefit and whether sports arenas are answers to the vexing problems of urban development and job creation. I already have agreements secured from several movie theaters willing to host such an event as well as a commitment from Daniel Goldstein, the protagonist of Battle for Brooklyn, to attend. You and I can both make brief statements and then open it up to the crowd. To Mr. Ratner: I can be reached at [email protected]. Let’s hold this event soon, in a comradely amicable setting, that allows us all to clear the air and educate the public about whether Atlantic Yards is in the best interests of Brooklyn not to mention in accordance with the kind of free, open and just society you have spent a lifetime championing.