Gowanus support stirs controversy

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A federal lawmaker is selfishly supporting a proposal to designate the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site to keep out future voters who might not cast their votes her way, an influential local activist is charging.

It’s not science, but politics that is motivating Rep. Nydia Velázquez, according to Salvatore “Buddy” Scotto, the funeral home owner known by some as the “Mayor of Carroll Gardens.”

“She is absolutely committed to preventing the development of housing for people who ordinarily wouldn’t vote for her,” Scotto said after the Environmental Protection Agency hosted a meeting last week detailing its plans along the canal. “She thinks that even affordable housing is even too expensive for poor Hispanics and poor Latinos and she is committed to saving poor Latinos. I’m not suggesting that is not worthwhile — she is totally and utterly committed to serving the Latino community and she doesn’t think our concept of development along the canal will be her natural voting bloc.”

In Scotto’s view, designating the canal a Superfund site will extinguish any hope of ever seeing new development built along the waterway. “How can you possibly justify investing money in luxury apartments next to a Love Canal,” he said, referring to the infamous toxic site.

A Velázquez spokesperson had this to say: “For Congresswoman Velázquez, the restoration of the Gowanus Canal has always been about what is best for the community, not politics. Unfortunately, Mr. Scotto has taken a closed-minded approach in suggesting that her views are solely based on the fact that she is Latina. Congresswoman Velázquez’s position is shared by a broad array of elected officials and, as shocking as this may be to Mr. Scotto, many of them are white. The reality is he would rather attack someone’s race than answer questions regarding the shortcomings of the city’s proposal, which he supports.”

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited the canal in October at an invitation-only event at the water’s edge, he singled out Scotto for his years of work to improve the area. Bloomberg does not support naming the canal a Superfund site, and instead has proposed an alternative plan he thinks can avoid the stigma, but still clean the toxic waterway.

Marc La Vorgna, a spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg, said: “Mr. Scotto is a long-time supporter of work on the canal, but we vehemently disagree with his characterizations.Congresswoman Velázquez has been a great supporter of all constituents in her district and a great supporter of a clean canal. Her support got the Army Corps the resources to start doing work there, and ultimately led to the partnership between the city and Corps. The city and Congresswoman Velázquez share the goal of getting the canal cleaned thoroughly and quickly for the benefit of everyone in the surrounding neighborhood and New York City.”

Former Community Board 6 member and political blogger Howard Graubard, who owns a home a block from the canal, said the truth is the polar opposite of Scotto’s sentiment. “She knows her votes in Carroll Gardens are anti-development, pro-clean the canal Yuppies,” he said, adding that anyone who would say otherwise “is an ignoramus or a liar, or some combination of the two.”

Graubard continued: “Buddy has a history of making patronizing comments about minorities that verge upon the insulting, not because he’s a hater, but because he’s paternalistic. Back in the days of the IKEA fight he said that Red Hook residents who backed the project lacked ‘self esteem,’” he recalled.

Scotto’s daughter Debra Scotto, a local developer, agreed that Velázquez is “totally anti-development” along the canal — but for different reasons than her father posited. “I think the constituency that she has along the canal — the manufacturers, the artists and the radical environmentalists —does not want development, and I think she’s feeding right into that.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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