The Columbia Vote
December 20th, 2007

For the City Council, a 35 to 5 to 6 vote is a divisive one (the body usually votes in one block unanimously behind Speaker Christine Quinn).

But yesterday’s approval of Columbia University’s 17-acre West Harlem expansion, estimated to cost $7 billion, was one that brought out catcalls and claws – well, for the usually compliant City Council, anyway.

Members questioned the timing of the expansion’s approval, which had a Jan. 15th deadline and many expected to occur after the New Year. Others disapproved of the application because the Ivy League institution has not ruled out the possibility of eminent domain for commercial properties to make way for the Manhattanville campus. And others still harbor resentment over Columbia hosting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Here is a list of those who dissented and those who abstained as well as the reasoning they spouted on the Council Chamber floor yesterday. Those without reasons didn’t specify any.

Councilmember Tony Avella (no): “If we approve this knowing that eminent domain could be used down the road, no one’s property is safe This is supposed to be the people’s house, not Columbia’s house.”

Councilmember Charles Barron (no): “What happened in the last few days was a rush.”

Councilmember Lewis Fidler (no): “I think a college campus is where we consume the highest and the best ideas. When it comes to that test Columbia University has failed. They invited to their campus a hate monger, a homophobe, a holocaust denier and they gave him a platform of credibility which I think is shameful.”

Councilmember Vincent Ignizio (no): “I think this is an abuse of government power Be very concerned about what you do, because the bullets you put in the gun of government today when pointed at somebody else may one day be pointed at you.

Councilmember Letitia James (no): “It’s just yet another example of the threat and or the abuse of eminent domain. Your house today. My house tomorrow. Columbia University and the community would be much better served were they to integrate rather than dominate, swallow, subjugate or control the neighboring community I say to residents, don’t worry you’ll join Brooklyn, and we’ll see them in court.”

Councilmember Helen Foster (abstained): “Having been familiar with an organization that has been unfriendly to a community and then once they want something makes all the promises in the world, I am suspect. ”

Councilmember Eric Gioia (abstained): “If you respect property, you have to respect property rights – for the big guy and the little guy.”

Councilmember Rosie Mendez (abstained)

Councilmember Hiram Monserrate (abstained)

Councilmember Peter Vallone (abstained): “I do have some serious problems with eminent domain used in this matter. But in deference to Councilmember Jackson, Dickens and Katz, I will abstain.

Councilmember Thomas White (abstained)

By on December 20, 2007, 4:55 pm
In category: Community Development,Education,Gotham City,Land Use | 2 Comments »

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2 Responses to “The Columbia Vote”

  1. New Yorker Says:
    December 21st, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    Thank’s to term limits – most of the unprincipled cowards and sell-outs on the city council will be gone. It is time for a 180 degree turn around. The people of this city must be heard and respected. We are being pushed against the wall. It won’t be long before we push back with the awesome and devestating power of the people.


  2. Movement for Justice in El Barrio Says:
    December 29th, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    Movement for Justice in El Barrio

    East Harlem Community Denounces City
    Council’s Approval of Columbia University’s Expansion Plan

    December 28th– The residents of East Harlem, although not directly affected by Columbia University’s plan to
    expand in West Harlem, have taken an active stand against the institutions planned action and denounce the New York city council representatives for voting
    in favor of profit-driven interests and against the communities they are supposed to be representing. For nearly fifty years Columbia University has played the
    role of gentrifier and enemy to the low-income communities of upper-east side Manhattan. Columbia’s role in gentrification is an even more pressing
    threat now that the city council has approved the university’s 18 acre expansion plan. Plan 197-c would bulldoze affordable housing, small businesses, and over 1,000 jobs from 125th to 134 street in West Harlem. Not only would exclusively-
    accessible buildings be built, but
    many would pose a direct health threat to surrounding residential communities, due to the construction of bio-safety level 3 labs that deal with highly toxic agents, such as SARS and the Avian Flu.

    Efforts to challenge Columbia’s unjust and
    irresponsible actions have been endless, among them and the most recent was a student-lead hunger strike against gentrification, specifically the university’s expansion plan. Challenges and alternatives to Columbia’s expansion plan continue to be ignored by the institution itself and by city council members. East Harlem’s own city council member, Melissa Mark Viverito,
    voted in favor of the expansion plan; despite both the East Harlem and West Harlem community’s opposition. On behalf of community residents of El Barrio, Movement for Justice in El Barrio member, Ramon Ricardo, sent a message of solidarity from East Harlem to West Harlem: “Sisters and Brothers, we want you to know that our alleged representative, Melissa Mark Viverito, who voted in favor of the Columbia expansion plan- her vote is not representative of the East Harlem community. If Viverito represented El Barrio then she would have voted against the project”. Regarding the council members politics, Movement for Justice in El Barrio member, Oscar Dominguez, states “she is like all other politicians, those who work for the rich and vote in favor of policies that help this capitalist system displace families from their homes.”

    Needless to say, the residents of East Harlem and Movement for Justice in El Barrio, also fighting against gentrification, endlessly support the West Harlem struggle; the struggle of poor people of color and historically marginalized communities against displacement.

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