Recipients of public assistance
are among the most demonized groups of people in American society.
Even working people look down on them, claiming that their
benefits are too generous or even foolishly suggesting that both
and the poor have an easy life. Anecdotes abound of friends
or relatives on the dole who could support themselves if they weren’t
too lazy to work.
The condemnation is turned on its head
when the hand in the public treasury cookie jar comes from a
wealthy corporation. Wal-Mart, the largest retailer on earth,
has received $1
billion in subsidies from state and local governments across
the United States. If Wal-Mart can ask for the tax dollars of
hard working Americans it is little wonder that other corporate
interests are adamant in demanding a slice of corporate welfare
Among the repeat offenders of greed
at the public trough are professional sports teams.
Every municipality is given an assurance
that an arena or stadium will produce jobs and bring in millions
of revenue. In actuality the jobs produced are scarce and low
paid and the facilities never meet
predictions of economic benefits.
A comedic sports analogy
is definitely in order to describe the fleecing of the public
and the accommodation of
urban leaders. In the old Peanuts comic strip, the hapless hero,
Charlie Brown, listened to Lucy’s promise to let him kick the ball,
but on every occasion Lucy would pull the ball away at the last
moment and laugh when Charlie Brown fell on his behind.
Urban political leaders
have been reduced to comic book characters by corporate interests.
New York City
is getting the Charlie Brown treatment from both the New York
Jets football team and the Nets basketball franchise. The Jets
want to build a stadium and convention center on Manhattan’s
west side that would also double as a facility for the 2012 Olympics
if they are held in New York. They Jets are asking for $600
million from the state and the city. The Nets plan to condemn
property through eminent domain in downtown Brooklyn to build
an arena for their basketball team. Their reach into the public
purse is for $449 million.
The refrain is the same.
The facilities will provide jobs, revenue and tourism. The Charlie
New York’s black leadership have all begun taking their turn
at kicking the ball. Paul T. Williams, President of 100 Black
Men Inc., is the latest victim. Mr. Williams believes that the
high rate of black unemployment in New York will disappear if
tax payers just turn their coffers over to the Jets. It is unfortunate
that Williams didn’t read a report written by the New York City
Independent Budget Office. The IBO concludes that the Jets revenue
estimates are overly
optimistic and that the facility will only provide half of
the jobs that the Jets claim it will.
The same elected officials and corporate
interests who could do something about the 48%
unemployment rate for black men in New York are now using
that data to advocate for public subsidies to wealthy corporations
and individuals. When the high unemployment numbers were made
public neither Governor George Pataki nor Mayor Michael Bloomberg
expressed any interest in tackling the problem. Now that they
want public funding for their pet white elephant, black male
unemployment is used as the reason to make these projects move
Black elected officials have not disappointed
their superiors and have dutifully stepped forward and proclaimed
themselves believers in the old time religion of corporate welfare.
spectacle would not be repeated in city after city if black
leaders made the effort to plan for economic development, or
even if they bothered to read the Black Commentator series “Wanted:
A Plan for the Cities to Save Themselves.”
city mayors have been reduced to a bizarre class of beggars,
lining up at corporate
doorsteps with gifts of public resources. Urban executives
extend permanent invitations to private capital managers to
do whatever they want with constituents’ property and futures,
but please do something! Rarely do they have anything
resembling a plan of their own, beyond a firm determination
to accept whatever capital offers, and a willingness to out-grovel
the next mayor in line.
The plan for the Nets arena has a
sweetener of 4,500 units of housing. Even ACORN,
known for its grass roots organizing on issues of equity and
justice, supports the giveaway to the Nets because of the housing
component. If it weren’t so sad it might be funny. The developer
can make money constructing housing without a public subsidy
and yet even a progressive organization is ready to bless an
unnecessary giveaway of public funds.
The civic leaders and
politicians who want to be thought of as leaders need to start
part. Their homework assignment is to read the entire series “A
Plan for the Cities to Save Themselves”. They might come up
with ways to help their communities instead of asking “How
high?” when corporations say, “Jump!” Urban leaders just might
find a way to truly save their communities instead of relying
on old formulas that have been proven untrue time and again.
If both teams succeed in their plans for public subsidy they
should be renamed. It won’t be enough for the names to rhyme.
They should both be called the Kings, the Welfare Kings, of
New York City.