The end-game at Zuccotti Park? According to the NYPD, the landlord has to ‘push the political button’

A night at Zuccotti Park. (Man Bartlett via flickr)
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Nancy Scola

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As City Hall continues its wait-and-see response to the Occupy Wall Street protests, a glimpse of the end-game between the protesters and the city became clear last night in the unlikely setting of a local community board meeting.

Zuccotti Park, a less-than-one-acre public park in middle of the Financial District, has served as the base camp for the protests (and the real "occupation" site). But Zuccotti Park is owned not by the city, but by Brookfield Properties, the North American real-estate company that owns the adjacent office building, One Liberty Plaza. This complicates the city's latitude in responding to the occupation.

In public statements, Brookfield has gently suggested to the city that it is past time to restore the space to its normal use, and has posted signs in the park objecting to the sleeping bags, tarps, and use of benches as beds throughout the space.

But they've stopped there, according to a representative of the New York Police Department who attended the meeting last night. He said that Brookfield Properties would have to formally declare the protesters trespassers. It's something the real-estate company hasn't yet done, but when and if it does, it is likely to result in the clearing of the park by police.

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THE CHANTS OF THOUSANDS OF OCCUPY WALL STREET protesters streaming by City Hall last night floated up to the 7th floor of the Emigrant Bank Building on Chambers Street, where the Financial District Committee of Community Board One met to wrestle over whether to issue a formal resolution on the swarms of people who have, for the last 19 days, made their home in the center of their district.

What emerged over the course of the night is that the community board’s greatest hope for restoring some degree of livability to their neighborhood—one affected by the Sept. 11th attacks, a decade of construction and uncertainty since, and now street closures, late-night drum circles and a loss of vendors—is, for the time being, to work with the protesters to negotiate some terms of peaceful cohabitation. Clearing the park, if that goal might ever ultimately be agreed upon, would at any rate have to wait.

The board hosted two representatives from among the protesters in addition to the NYPD representative, and they went head-to-head in a meeting room while police and protesters clashed in the streets below.

Committee chair Edward “Ro” Scheffe began the meeting by reading letters he said he’s received from neighbors. One had written that “the current financial system is not fair. But neither is taking over one of the few small parts of our quality of life that is a plus, and not a minus, in this tourist-inundated construction site we call home.”

Several other letters carried the suggestion of moving the protest-camp to the far larger, city-owned Battery Park.

"Whose streets? Our streets!" the chants continued, at times so loud it was hard to hear the speakers at the meeting.

“What would have to happen is that a representative from Brookfield would go into the park, and say, ‘You’re in violation of the rules of the park that apply. You’re trespassing,’” Detective Rick Lee of the NYPD's community affairs office told attendees.

They pressed him to be sure: It’s Brookfield’s move to make, then?

“That’s the scenario,” Lee said. “Politically, when that button is going to be pushed is beyond my pay grade.”

“Welcome to the 99 percent,” said Justin Wedes, one of the protester-representatives at the meeting, using a tagline popular among the protesters defined in an affiliated Tumblr blog as the people who are “getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything."

Given the circumstances Lee had detailed, various members of the committee had come to conclude that a formal resolution from the community board couldn't do much good.

“The people who need to know that our neighborhood is being disrupted—the mayor, Brookfield, the police—they all know that loud and clear,” said Patricia Moore, chair of the board’s quality of life committee and a 34-year resident of the neighborhood.

And there were worries that putting the community group’s concerns in writing could put the organization in an unwelcome political position.

Last spring, Community Board One found itself the target of considerable heat when it voiced support for the building of the Cordoba House Project—the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque." Last night, committee members tried with varying degrees of success to avoid the politics of the moment, and stick to the logistics. Sometimes, the temptation was too great.

“If we’re talking geographic location,” Scheffe said, “my view is that you guys need to be in Greenwich, Connecticut, at the gated communities, where the rich people live. Because the people being disturbed are middle-class people, just like you.”

His remark was directed at Wedes and Naomi Less, a fellow Brooklynite who had joined him at the meeting on behalf of the protesters. Scheffe had already been working behind the scenes with Wedes, to get the agreed-upon quiet hours in the square rolled back one hour, from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Wedes added that the discussions were particularly useful in making the protesters understand that not everyone living in this slice of lower Manhattan are “hedge-funders and rich bankers.”