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Don't Put Our PEN in His Pocket
Mail passed around, New York on August 25, 2010

Let me weigh in with a few thoughts on the recent brouhaha on the placement of a Muslim center in lower Manhattan, particularly geared to the recently announced PEN support for Bloomberg’s position on the issue.

To start off, let me say, I support our constitutionally protected freedom of religion.  It does not matter if I understand or even disapprove of a person’s religion.  I believe each person has a right and freedom to practice his or her submission to whatever God or deity or spirit (or a rock for that matter), he or she chooses. In line with that I support the proposed Park 51 Community Center project.

I do think it would have been more savvy if they had waited to announce the building of the Center until after the WTC memorial had been erected. Without a place for people to focus their grief every new idea comes at a heavy price. That was poor timing and planning on the Community Center’s part. What I do not support is PEN (a writers’ organization to which I belong) getting involved in city politics by supporting Bloomberg’s stance on the whole matter. As a member of PEN, I am put in the position of supporting Bloomberg, which I emphatically do not!

Truth is, I wonder what is going on. What financial or personal advantage does Bloomberg expect to reap by being in such a rush to push this poorly timed idea of the community center in everyone’s face? I wonder if there is not something else going on in the background, maybe connected to a real-estate deal or a tax break or something.

One lesson I learned as an activist with a good number of arrests and years entangled in court cases is that political lawyers and politicians are often prompted to act by motives that have little to do with the case or cause as it appears to the public. So, to find Bloomberg’s motives for mixing in here, one would have to start by looking at his overall agenda. To me, Bloomberg represents “corporate gentrification,” which entails the death of mom and pops businesses, which are replaced by chain and superstores; the loss of opportunities for small scale entrepreneurial ideas to flourish; the end of affordable rents which is devastating to the creative community, and the loss of the right of non-rich people to live in Manhattan, which involves the pushing out of the homeless, the middleclass, and the poor. How can PEN put me in this compromised position of supporting a mayor whose intentions and actions have run so contrary to my own?

Bloomberg used his power and money to override the law, the will of the NYC voters (The People), and the essence of what democracy stands for by overturning the twice voter-approved term limit law so he could buy a 3rd term. Meanwhile being mayor has been a paying proposition for him. His financial wealth, which is in the billions, has doubled since he became "our" Mayor. This increase of his money has gone on, while, as everyone knows, the general New York City public is getting more financially strapped.

But let me shift focus a moment from this very generalized account and talk more specifically about how of some of Bloomberg’s policies have impacted on the middleclass and the poor, adding to their burden. I’m thinking particularly of fines, fines that devastate people who are barely surviving in these economically tough times. Parking tickets are killing downtown business. You cannot walk down a street and not see a parking ticket on some vehicle.  (One artist is even working on a project of photographing parking tickets on vehicles.)

Let me cite a few cases. Like the one of a self-motivated young man in Queens, trying to make a little extra money, who was fined $2,000 under a sanitation law for picking up a trashed air-conditioner. He had gotten permission from the property owner to take it away. Adding insult to injury, his aunt was fined the same $2,000 for allowing her car be used to cart the AC unit away. This car was impounded and to get it back she will have to pay an expensive towing fee. At a press conference, when Bloomberg was asked about these fines he smiled and said it sounds a little high.

I was fined $300 for having graffiti on my front door. I wanted the graffiti there. I used the door as a backdrop for photos of neighborhood, mostly Hispanic, residents for over 25 years. A book was recently printed of photographs taken by me in front of my door.

Another example. I was walking down the street and saw a situation unfold between the cops and a street ice seller whom they arrested on the sidewalk outside of TSP (Tompkins Square Park). I talked to the iceman’s friend and learned he has a 5 1/2 month pregnant wife. According to his mother, her son had gone to the precinct to inquire if he needed a license to sell ice and was told he didn’t. The mother went on to say that selling ice kept her son in money, a job, and out of trouble.

The iceman’s cart was confiscated, but, as he was dragged off to the station house, his family was allowed to take the ice and the other perishables. I am not sure of what they could do with a large block of ice. The man was put through the system and offered, as a penalty, 10 days community service. 10 days of free labor for the city in exchange for losing his means of making a living. Not sure I see the logic there. Like this kind of prison work will set you free.

Now, let’s contrast that, the way the police and other authorities on Bloomberg’s watch are making it almost impossible for any small time, independent, hardworking individual to make a living off what they produce, to the hands-off attitude toward big corporations, even ones that are obviously screwing up. For example, he told the people in Queens, the ones who suffered through the losses from the 2006 Con Edison blackout, to support Con Ed because they know what they are doing. He defended BP saying the company was the only one who can fix the oil spill. He was out front praising Tishman Properties when they bought Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, a sale which caused many dramas and hardships amongst tenants as the real estate corporation illegally raised rents (as the court found). Later, it was found Tishman Speyer Properties could not support the financial takeover and had to give up properties to creditors.

Aside from supporting these corporate malefactors, he was quick to get behind mega-developers, going from the grand scale, such as the 2 groups that attempted to build 2 luxury hotels on Ludlow Street. Between the 2 they destroyed many small businesses but then the projects was left unfinished anyway. Down to smaller versions such as the wealthy Greek shipping family, the Economakis, who took over for their sole occupancy (as they claimed), a doublewide, 6-story tenement building, 45-47 East 3rd Street. The Economakis legally succeeded in throwing out all of the 15, some rent stabilized, long term tenants. Or Bloomberg helping bring in millions of dollars of communist money so a Russian businessman, through the use of eminent domain, could wipe out blocks of mom and pop businesses, destroy a neighborhood, displace hundreds of residents, so a new expensive basketball arena can be built. Put together the fines that seem set to harass only the middleclass and below, and the free pass given to any big money, and the result is the destruction of the NYC we know and love.

What we have is a fearsome, zero-sum game. As more and more rights and privileges are heaped on those with money and power, the poor and middleclass find they have fewer and fewer rights. I’d call that the death of the American dream.

I think it’s about time the equation was reversed. Less privileges and perks for those who are already awash in them, more opportunities for those who are being shut out. Free the ice Man- let him go back to making money.

To come back to my point, once you support Bloomberg on one issue, such as his stance on the Muslim center, you are shoring up his credibility and de facto supporting the rest of his agenda, his starve the poor to feed the rich stance.

Yes, I endorse PEN supporting the Muslims constitutionally protected right of freedom to practice their version of religion, but don’t tack onto that righteous stance support for our fat cat mayor.

I believe PEN should reword their support. Get out of supporting a politician whose record has been destructive to the creative life in NYC, and get back to the ideals that the organization stands for! As a member of PEN I can stand alone in my support of the constitution, I do not need to be a sheep for the rich!

For one more example- how NYC treats its artists- Jim Power Mosaic man still homeless.

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Steven Isenberg | Executive Director, PEN American Center | 8/30/10 |

Dear Mr. Patterson, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and concerns with us. Our statement is in no way an endorsement of Mayor Bloomberg's positions and policies overall. We mentioned the mayor along with political figures from both parties, religious leaders, and others; our choice to mention him by name is was to highlight for the rest of the country that our city's top elected official has spoken forcefully, on behalf of the city, in favor of the project, and also to encourage other political leaders to take an equally courageous stand. As we speak directly of those who would suppress freedom of expression, we believe we should commend those who work to protect it.

Clayton Patterson | 8/30/10

Dear Mr. Isenberg; I disagree: "declaring that the organization stands with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg." By standing with him and by mentioning him by name means PEN endorses him and his policies. His name is synonymous with his polices. To be clear I do not stand with this man and I have been arrested for practicing my art because of this man's values and push for a so called better New York. Shall I get you a list of creative people who have been pushed out of the city or made homeless because of this man's policies and vision for a better NYC? Bloomberg is a destroyer of the culture I love, try to protect, and whose history I attempt to save in books, photographs, videos, as well as, different types of related ephemera. For those creative people in the middle-class and below he has all but killed the muse. I do have people supporting me on my position of why PEN should separate itself from Bloomberg. I have no idea, none, it baffles me, why PEN would stand with and support this man. I am starting to believe that PEN is an elitist organization whose values do not represent mine. It seems that PEN has drifted away from its core values. I will have to think about his.

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