Thursday, January 10

Randall's Island playing fields deal being argued today

Six months after filing suit over the city's deal to lease most of the Randall's Island playing fields to private schools, Harlem residents are enjoying their first day in court today. Norm Siegel, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, is trying to expand the lawsuit to make it a broader attack on the city's proclivity to issue no-bid contracts. But the Sun reports that "in the end, the case will turn on a narrow issue: whether the city circumvented the community board and City Council in approving the lease agreement." It's probably best for the plaintiffs that the key legal issue is technical and not moral: contradicting their claims, the head of the Randall's Island Sports Foundation says the deal will create even more access for public school families than they had in the past. Construction on the fields began this summer.


Patrick Sullivan said...

The key issue is hardly limited to a technical one. The city charter requires a very specific process for making decisions about what happens to large tracts of public land. The mayor simply decided he didn't want to follow the process (called ULURP) and instead selected 20 private schools without any sort of bidding and granted them exclusive access to most of the prime hours. Philissa, If the mayor granted exclusive access to 66% of the great lawn to a handful of large corporations he selected and left the remants for the general public would it be a moral or a technical issue if the public employed the city charter to stop him?

Philissa said...

Patrick, I agree that the issue here is more than technical. I was trying to say 1) that the plaintiffs may be more likely to win on the technical issue than on the moral one and 2) there may be reasonable explanations for how someone could believe that the Randall's Island deal isn't so bad for East Harlem residents and the city. I do not believe that.

Patrick Sullivan said...

There is a good article in today's NY Times on the proceedings. Sure, some people may think selling the access is in the interest of the people but what the lawsuit is saying is that the mechanism to allow the people to decide what should happen to that park must be followed. It is not simply the prerogative of Mike Bloomberg. In the current contract, the schools that were offered the opportunity to purchase long term access and the price they paid was determined behind closed doors. We hear so much from the chancellor about devolving power and discretionary funds to principals. So why were the public schools locked out?

If the contract is annulled as Justice Korneich threatened yesterday, the East Harlem Community Board will need to vote on it, then eventually the City Council. Public School parents will then have a real opportunity to demand equitable access to those fields.