Vol. 17, No. 16 July 29 - Aug 25, 2004


'Not a Done Deal"
Klein Opposes Plant; Council Still Has Say


Saying he's "had it" with the city's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), State Senate candidate Jeff Klein changed his position to oppose the construction of a water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park. 

Klein, an assemblyman, said the project was "not a done deal" because the City Council still had to take up the matter before the DEP could start construction. And he echoed plant opponents in his charges that the city had fudged the numbers to make the Van Cortlandt Park site seem more palatable than the more remote Eastview site in Westchester that the city owns. 

"There is simply no doubt that DEP has committed an act of environmental racism," Klein said in a statement distributed at the press conference. "How can DEP justify using different comparative standards for the primarily Latino and low-income section of  Norwood and the predominantly white middle-class suburb of Eastview? It's not right and as an elected official, I believe it is my duty to stand up and protect residents who are being wronged." 

Klein made the announcement at a press conference on Friday in the southeast corner of the park flanked by Councilman Oliver Koppell, who recently crossed the lines of enemy Democratic factions in the borough to endorse Klein, and by neighborhood activists who had pressed him to reconsider his stance. The event took place near the Saturn playground, a short distance from where the city intends to blast a hole the size of Yankee Stadium for the plant. 

Klein said he had tried to get more information from the DEP about how they would work to mitigate impacts in the surrounding community but that they had not been forthcoming.  He also said he was asking State Comptroller Alan Hevesi to look into the validity of DEP's cost estimates. 

After the press conference, Klein wrote a letter to Council members urging them to block the city's choice of the park by voting down an agreement -  known as a memorandum of understanding (MOU) -  delineating what park improvement projects would benefit from $243 million in water bond money that the city promised the borough's Assembly delegation in return for their support of the project. (Klein is the first lawmaker affiliated with the Democratic machine to break ranks to oppose the park site.)

The announcement comes in the heat of an election campaign that may affect at least two races for the state legislature. Klein's change of heart could gain him votes in Woodlawn, where residents have become increasingly opposed to the project and in Eastchester, a Westchester suburb that may have to build a filtration-related facility, but only if the plant is built in the Bronx. 

Klein's opponent in the Democratic primary, Assemblyman Stephen Kaufman, is in favor of the city's plans. "He's in support of the filtration plant," his spokesman John Gallagher told the Norwood News, adding a charge that Klein had "flip-flopped" on the issue. (Kaufman may also run as a Republican in the general election and has said he will vote with the Republican leadership in the Senate. Mayor Bloomberg is supporting him.)

The filtration plant is also a central issue in the race to replace Klein in the Assembly. At least three candidates in the race oppose the park site, including Naomi Rivera, daughter of Bronx Democratic boss Jose Rivera, the chief cheerleader in the borough for the city's plan. (See story on p. 1.) 

Meanwhile, plant opponents are busy lobbying any other state or city lawmakers who will listen. Activists swarmed City Hall last week, when word broke that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver may have already signed and sent the MOU to the Council for ratification. Klein said that there was a preliminary draft but that Silver had not signed it. A Silver spokesman, Skip Carrier, would only say on Tuesday, "It's accurate to say it's still being discussed." 

While they were at City Hall, activists had a meeting with the Council's Black and Latino Caucus. Paul Sawyer, executive director of the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, said the Council contingent, which included Helen Foster, Robert Jackson, Charles Barron and Bill Perkins, were receptive to their arguments. "Barron had the courage to stand up and say, 'We did this wrong and this is our opportunity to make it right,'" Sawyer said.

The Council is expected to take up the matter of the MOU again on Aug. 12.

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