Owners had an hour’s notice of the city’s Zuccotti Park operation

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Zuccotti Park. (David Shankbone via flickr)
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On whose orders were Occupy Wall Street protesters evicted from their campsite of two months, Zuccotti Park?

Since protesters took over the park on Sept. 17, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pointed repeatedly to the fact that the park is privately owned, and that therefore clearing protesters from the space would require a request from the owners.

But according to a source with knowledge of the situation, it wasn't until around midnight last night that the owners, Brookfield Office Properties, were alerted to the city's plans. That was an hour before the operation began, and, given its success, likely long after it had been planned.

Brookfield's spokeswoman, who is away at an investor's conference, could not be reached for comment. But the company did share its official statement on this morning's events, which read, in part:

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Brookfield appreciates the peaceful and professional response of the NYPD, the FDNY, and the Department of Sanitation, and thanks Mayor Bloomberg for his leadership. As had been widely reported, conditions in Zuccotti Park had become dangerous, unhealthy and unsafe. In our view, these risks were unacceptable and it would have been irresponsible to not request that the City take action.

From the beginning, the NYPD and the mayor have said that the decision to clear the park is the landlord's and the landlord's alone. Brookfield would have to declare the protesters trespassers, and only then could the NYPD remove them from what is technically  private property.

Late last month, the mayor reiterated the position.

"They have to enforce those regulations," said Bloomberg, during the question-and-answer portion of a press conference at Yelp's new New York headquarters. "And if they choose not to, then they can call the city and say, ‘We have people who are not complying with our regulations, they are therefore trespassing,’ and do something about it." 

Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, the mayor's point man on the protests, wrote in an email to Capital: "As [Police Commissioner] Kelly said earlier, Brookfield sent us a letter yesterday asking us to enforce the park's rules."

But he also emphasized that the decision to clear the park was the mayor's.

Given the failure of local law enforcement to bring things under control at Occupy Wall Street protests in Oakland, Calif. and elsewhere, it's not hard to see why the involved parties might have wanted some distance from the task of clearing the park. But with hindsight, given the success of last night's operation, one might have expected more aggressive suits for paternity.

Certainly, Brookfield has been expressing concern about the protesters and their safety for a while now, especially in light of recent deaths at other Occupy Wall Street encampments. Some of those concerns seem to have made their way into the statement released by Bloomberg issued at 6:10 this morning.

"I could not wait for someone in the park to get killed or to injure another first responder before acting," he said. "Others have cautioned against action because enforcing our laws might be used by some protestors as a pretext for violence – but we must never be afraid to insist on compliance with our laws."

But Brookfield is in a delicate situation. It's not thrilled to have all these protesters camped out on its property, but the company has no interest in becoming the official nemesis of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has expanded into several other cities where Brookfield also has property.

As Zuccotti himself told The New York Times in early October, "[M]y guess is that we basically look to the police leadership and mayor to decide what to do.”