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Quinn Kicks Public Out (Update)
April 30th, 2008

In the first significant disturbance since the Viola Plummer incident, Council Speaker Christine Quinn ordered the balcony of the council chamber be cleared this afternoon after a large group of Harlem rezoning opponents and supporters created a so-called disturbance.

The council approved the rezoning by a vote of 47 to 2, with members Charles Barron and Tony Avella dissenting.

Quinn’s move was criticized on the floor by several representatives, including Councilmember Helen Foster, who said if they are going to close the meeting to the general public (which is what they essentially did since the only people allowed on the council floor are staff members and press) they should do it for any disturbance — whether it is cheers of approval or heckling of dissent.

Equal treatment must be given to all groups, she added, and the council must ensure it does not eject anyone “based on color.”

“We have set a bar here today,” said Foster.

Noticeably disturbed by the heckling, Councilmember Inez Dickens, who represents a majority of the 125th Street throughway, challenged the perception that Harlem lost out in the rezoning — which will require 46 percent of housing be income targeted.

While calls of “sell out” sailed down from the chamber’s second-story balcony, Dickens said, “I don’t need anyone to document my commitment to my community. I was born and raised in Harlem.”

It is not unusual for catcalls to come from the council’s balcony — similar disturbances have occurred over the past year to varying degrees, most recently during the Columbia University rezoning. This is the first occasion in Quinn’s tenure as speaker that the balcony has been cleared.

Clearing the chamber is allowed under the City Council’s rules, which state:

3.10. Order, Decorum – The presiding officer shall preserve order and decorum. In the event of disturbance or disorderly conduct in the Chamber, lobby or gallery, the presiding officer may cause the same to be cleared.

The state’s Open Meetings Law is mute on whether government bodies can close meetings based on disturbances. Exemptions in the law (available here) would not apply to this incident.

UPDATE: According to Robert Freeman, executive director at the state Committee on Open Government, the council may have acted appropriately.

Here are his condensed comments:

“Certainly a public body like the City Council has the authority to keep decorum… If there was no way of distinguishing those that are disruptive to those that are not, perhaps it might have been reasonable… Alternatively, the council might have adjourned their meeting and reconvened at a time when ground rules clearly could have been established and returned to civility.”

By on April 30, 2008, 5:14 pm
In category: Civil Rights,Community Development,Gotham City,Land Use | 5 Comments »

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5 Responses to “Quinn Kicks Public Out (Update)”

  1. AMK Says:
    April 30th, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    The ability to observe our representative democracy is proper; the impedence of it through one’s conduct is not. It is clear from the order and decorum rules that the speaker had the right to clear the gallery once it became clear that the body was being impeded from its business.

    I’ve been to “public meetings” with some of the same people I’m sure were cleared out of the gallery and if it was anything like today’s meeting, I have no reservations about the speaker’s doing so.

  2. John McDermott Says:
    May 4th, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    49 of the 52 City Council reps voted (either for or against) this Harlem rezoning legislation. The City Council’s website does not include any information or link to the Council’s voting roll call record on this vote. Who voted for the legislation, who voted against the legislation, who did not vote at all on this matter, and where can this information be found?

  3. Juan Says:
    May 4th, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    Quinn is a police state afficianado working to craft laws promulgated by the NYPD, not a legislative body. Ie making environmental quality testing illegal, the more than 50 people together need a permit, etc. So, this is no surprise.

  4. Courtney Gross Says:
    May 5th, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    John –

    Both council members Tony Avella and Charles Barron voted against the rezoning. Michael Nelson was not in attendance and District 30, the former seat of Dennis Gallagher, is empty. There are 51 members. Unfortunately, the council has not put up the voting record on this matter. They usually do not for land use issues.

  5. Movement for Justice in El Barrio Says:
    May 17th, 2008 at 6:39 am

    To Our Fellow Members of the East Harlem Community,

    On Wednesday, as predicted, the Council Member who is supposed to represent our district, Melissa Mark Viverito, voted in favor of the 125th Street rezoning plan despite fierce community resistance from across Harlem. Although we are not directly affected by this proposal, as Movement for Justice in El Barrio, community members of East Harlem, we are against the plans that the Council Members and city government have to displace communities throughout Harlem.
    Movement for Justice in El Barrio was present to witness Melissa Mark Viverito in action at the Chambers of the City Council.

    Around 100 community members, mostly African American and Latino, from across Harlem were also present, relegated to the balcony of the Chamber to witness the vote and to express a passionate dissent, while the supporters of the plan were given special place as honored guests in the front of the Chamber.

    Nonetheless, the voices of the people came raining down strong as each of the three Council Members had their names called for role call, Robert Jackson of West Harlem, Inez Dickens of Central Harlem and
    Melissa Mark Viverito were all booed with shouts of sellout and liar. When Inez Dickens started as the first of the three council members to speak, the peoples voices continued strong, united and angry as they listened to the manipulations and lies from the
    politicians that claim to represent their community.

    But, as we know, the Council Members prefer to cast their votes against the community in secret and out of the public eye. As Council Member Robert Jackson took the podium amid continued dissent, he made the special demand that the balcony be cleared and the house be
    emptied.

    As the police swarmed onto the balcony to remove the people from their seats, Melissa Mark Viverito made her stance towards the community clear and stepped up to defend the proposed plan, one which she had played a special role in orchestrating and devising and was aggressively pushing forward in the City Council. For the first time, she turned to face the people, she stood up and walked over to stand next to Jackson with her arms crossed, and in a show of force and
    intimidation she stared the people down as they were removed from the balcony by the police while singing We Shall Overcome. Other Council Members followed the lead of Melissa Mark Viverito and Robert Jackson
    and joined this face-off between the Council Members of Harlem and the people who they claim to represent, as the people were removed from the chamber by the police. It was long before the Chamber was emptied,
    and the people were forced out to the streets so that so-called democracy could take place among those with power.

    So, the community could not be present to hear whatever manipulations, lies, or pretexts Melissa Mark Viverito shared with her fellow council members and an empty room, but the vote speaks for itself, the council members voted in favor of this devastating plan in a vote of 47-2, with the sole dissenters being Charles Barron and Tony Avella. Once again, Melissa Mark Viverito was able to cast her vote behind closed
    doors and free of the scrutiny and dissent of the public.

    We know that Melissa Mark Viverito claims to be anti-displacement, but we have seen time and again that, despite empty words and media stunts, when it comes down to the moments in which she actually
    exercises her power in the form of votes in the Council, she votes against the people and for displacement. In addition, she exposed her attitude towards her community very clearly as she collaborated
    in an unusual show of force against a public made up predominantly of people of color. We will not buy into her efforts to trick the people while she gives Harlem away to corporations and slumlords! We will never forget her votes in favor of displacement in West, Central and East Harlem!

    We ask all people of good will and good conscious to circulate this report widely to all those who are interested in stopping displacement in our community in East Harlem.

    Sincerely,
    Movement for Justice in El Barrio

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