Monday, August 31, 2009

Nine Towns Revisited

This was written for use as an OpEd piece

Some affordable housing for moderate-income people may be built in suburban Westchester County towns one of these days soon. The courts have ruled that the county “misrepresented” the facts when they asserted they had made a good faith effort to desegregate their lily-white suburbs.

It’s not a done deal. The county’s Board of Legislators must still approve the agreement. Faced with the prospect of further expensive litigation and penalties, they’ll probably go along. But even if they do, it is possible that local town and village authorities will battle to reinforce the status quo, as they’ve successfully done for decades.

All this has a familiar ring.

In 1968, Ed Logue was brought in by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to run the Urban Development Corporation, a powerful new state agency created in the wake of Martin Luther King’s death. The agency was controversial because it had the power to get things done in the face of local resistance. Logue was controversial because he was a no-nonsense administrator with a track record in New Haven and Boston. I went to work as Logue’s Executive Assistant at UDC in 1969.

In his day Logue took a lot of heat because of his style. Since his death in 2000 he has been recognized as a visionary who was honest, effective, and committed to the public good. He saw the absence of affordable housing in places like suburban Westchester as an affront to decency and common sense. Low and moderate-income people of whatever race or ethnicity should have the right and opportunity to live in Westchester County.

So in 1972, “Fair Share,” which became known as the Nine Towns Program, was born. It wasn’t a complicated concept. 100 low-rise units of housing would be built in each of nine Westchester towns. 70 would be for moderate-income residents of the town. 20 would be for low-income residents of the town. 10 would be for low-income elderly.

When Nine Towns was announced a firestorm erupted. Logue wasn’t naïve enough to think there wouldn’t be opposition. But the breadth and depth of the uproar shocked him. Local and state elected officials ran for cover. Established community groups ranted. New community groups formed to battle this attempt by big government to ruin the quality of their lives raved. The media feasted on juicy negative headlines. Nine Towns had supporters, but their voices were drowned out by the noise. Logue wasn’t happy with how our local staff was managing the program and sent me up to take charge of it.

To be sure, we made mistakes. Some potential sites weren’t analyzed exhaustively, which allowed opponents to seize on technical or other issues to bolster their case. Everything was fair game: traffic, drainage, public transportation, a fair price for the land, impact on the school system, and more. In some cases local officials weren’t consulted in a timely manner.

But all that was only a useful smokescreen. The real problem was that middle-class white people, many of whom had only recently ‘escaped’ from the city felt threatened. We didn’t hear much from the Westchester gentry. They weren’t at risk.

We had public hearings in Bedford and Greenburgh. Those hearings make today’s health care town hall meetings look like sedate Scarsdale tea parties. On September 6, 1972, more than 400 people jammed into the auditorium of the Bedford Hills Elementary School. Threats were made. The local police suggested we wear bulletproof vests. We declined.

It was bedlam in Bedford that night. For more than four hours we tried to conduct a civil discourse over the top of heckling, shouting, loud interruptions, foot-stomping, whistling, name-calling. The massacre of Israeli athletes by terrorists at the Munich Olympic Games was fresh in everyone’s minds. At one point a Nine Towns supporter accused the local people of being like the terrorists. A middle-aged man jumped on a chair and yelled, “How can you say that? I’m a Jew. I’m a Jew.” That was when the near-riotous disorder reached its peak, and the police almost shut us down.

The handwriting was on the wall for Nine Towns. It was no longer about housing. It was about politics. As the year headed to a close, the political opposition was overwhelming and unyielding. In the end the Governor disowned the proposal. In the next session of the legislature UDC was stripped of its power to override local opposition.

We wanted to build 900 units of housing and allocate it to current residents of the towns. 700 units would be for moderate-income people. The current agreement in Westchester calls for building or acquiring 750 homes or apartments, 630 of which must be for moderate-income people in towns or villages where black and Hispanic residents constitute a small percentage of the population.

Nine Towns was 37 years ago. As I said, all this has a familiar ring. I hope the results will be different this time around.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Carelli-Pinkerton Blog Cancelled

I will not be posting the rest of the Carelli/Pinkerton trial story on this blogsite, and I am removing what has already been posted on this subject.

I am taking this action in response to comments by members of Milo Hoskins’ family. It was never my intention to cause additional pain to people who have suffered and are suffering from a devastating loss. But whether I intended it or not is irrelevant. What I wrote caused more pain. I am responsible. And I am deeply sorry that my words have been hurtful. For that I apologize and ask forgiveness.

My purpose was to tell a story that I thought would have relevance beyond the people immediately involved. There are lessons to be learned from the events that began in 2007 and continue to this day. These lessons have to do with our criminal justice system, the police, the media, how it looks from a juror’s point of view, the impact of a crime on the people affected, the power of the Internet, and more. I haven’t yet written about what we can learn from the death of Milo Hoskins and the subsequent trial. I will, but I won’t post it on this website.

The style I used to tell this story exacerbated the hurt that it caused. I know that. While the hurt was not deliberate, the style was. I write for a large audience. For people to stay interested they need to be interested. In this case I wrote dispassionately. I didn’t want to write as an advocate. At times I’ve been glib, seemingly uncaring. And certainly harsh on some people. All that was by design.

I wrote as if this were a memoir, which means it is what I remember and thought. While I did not deliberately falsify anything, what I wrote does not purport to be "the truth." It’s just what I think. Did I get some things wrong? I’m sure I did. For instance, I now know that the courtroom I described when Carelli testified was, in fact, the courtroom during closing arguments. How I characterized people and situations is not the truth; it’s just what I think and remember.

I honor and respect the judge, the courtroom staff, the lawyers, the jurors, and many witnesses. I do not honor and respect those who lied. You know who you are.

You may not agree with the verdict rendered by this jury. That’s your prerogative. But there wasn’t a person in that jury room who didn’t approach their responsibilities as caring human beings and with integrity.

The trial got under our skins. Many of us were obsessed with it. It got into our heads.

We didn’t reach the decision many would have liked. For the record, race had nothing to do with it. Absolutely nothing. I know some will argue otherwise no matter what I say. So be it.

I am going to finish this story. For those who want to know what I have to say, please send an email to and I’ll forward it to you when it’s ready.

Again, to Milo Hoskins’ family and friends, I regret the pain I’ve caused. I hope the future is good to you.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Passport to Everywhere

Earlier today I was talking on the phone when my screensaver came on. A list of email messages was magically replaced with photographs I'd downloaded from Webshots over the past couple of years. They caught my attention. I found myself mesmerized by them. Some were beautiful:

A galaxy 44 million light years away
A full solar eclipse
A Toucan from Panama
A Scarlet Macaw
An Iguana from the Galapagos Islands
Multiple images of Saturn
A Great Grey Owl from Finland
A Bengal Tiger

Others represented a sampling of places I've visited:

Capadoccia in Turkey
Sri Lanka
A Rain Forest in Borneo

I was entranced by the images - and taken back in time by the memories. And I was conscious of how fortunate and blessed I am.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Trial Follow-Up

The trial is finished. It was a long and challenging but ultimately positive experience. All is not always as it seems - and therein lays a tale. In a few days after I've decompressed and reflected some more I'll sit down and tell the tale. In the meantime, here are a few URL's that will give you a sense of the original press coverage of this story and the results of our deliberations.

I've been asked if I was one of the jurors quoted in a post-trial story. I was not. I was the Foreperson but had no interest in talking with the media.