Power (Plant) Politics

Where did these guys come from? Such was the first question on the minds of everyone who came to the Polish National Home in Greenpoint on a Thursday night in mid-July for the last scheduled public hearing on the power plant proposed for a site on Kent Avenue between N. 12th and N. 14th Streets. Instinctively, the angry crowd knew that the union guys—all in the building trades—had been recruited by Adam Victor, president of TransGas Energy Systems, the outfit wanting to build the power plant.
Victor, whose name and perennial ’70s metalhead look are both darkly satirical, had convinced the workingmen that building the plant would provide much-needed construction jobs. Neighborhood activist, Deb Masters, disputed the claim, saying that “there are specialized work crews based upstate who build power plants, so these guys won’t get anything out of the deal.” Whatever the case, the boys’ mission that night was simply to disrupt the proceedings.

But they only partially succeeded. They did, in fact, take up a lot of space inside the Polish National Home, forcing the angry overflow crowd onto the streets. There, a mixture of local Polish, Latino, Italian, and some Hasidic residents were joined by the newly galvanized hipster community. All hurled chants of “Scabs go home!” and “You don’t live here!” at the union guys. City Councilpersons David Yassky and Diana Reyna left the hearing in order to remind the crowd outside of their opposition to the plan, as did Assemblymen Vito Lopez and Joe Lentol.

Inside, the working guys insured that the pro-power plant position would be heard, and loudly. In response to several of the anti-power plant speakers came the shouts of “Wrong! Wrong!” and “Time’s up!” These men were indeed passionate, and doing their jobs well. But they were outnumbered, and actually shouted down, by the equally angry men and women of the community who want the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront to be something other than an environmental disaster zone.

Every local elected official at the meeting spoke strongly against the power plant, and recently Daniel Doctoroff, the deputy mayor for economic development, wrote an op-ed in the Daily News against the proposed site. So why is it still being considered? As the Post surmised in a recent editorial, it’s because Governor Pataki is afraid of the dark. The city’s need for more electricity may not be so pressing in the current relatively cool summer; but next summer, as the Post suggests, Bloomberg and Pataki want all the lights on for the huge party they’re throwing for all their reactionary friends.

It’s clear that the current power plant proposal contradicts Mayor Bloomberg’s plan for the waterfront, which includes lots of housing, some parks, and volleyball and archery stadiums designed for the Olympics that may or may not come to town in 2012. But sitting back and hoping that Mike will prevail upon George to do what’s best for an outer borough neighborhood is a fool’s game. Outside the Polish National Home, a hostile crowd chanted “Power plant, no! Firehouse, yes!” Yet another reminder that the action is always outside a public hearing.

Contributor

Theodore Hamm

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