Thursday, August 6, 2009

Perjury, Free Speech and the Great Lawn

Central Park's Great Lawn. During the 2004 Republican National Convention Mayor Bloomberg used his power to deny a protest permit for Central Park's Great Lawn a lawsuit alleged. 

The not-particularly-credible The Great Lawn, Its Public Use, Maintenaince , and Repair, "independent" report  (see below) even fails to mention that one of the authors, Robert Russo, was a former high-ranking DPR official  - deputy Parks commissioner from 1981 to ’89.  Full-Disclosure anyone?


By Geoffrey Croft

Bloomberg and Benepe Under Oath. News of Bloomberg's suppressing free speech during the Republican National Convention once again reared its ugly head as the city released an "independent" study they claim supports the city's reason in denying a permit for a single protest march on the Great Lawn in Central Park. The case dates back to 2004 when the Mayor apparently got a severe case of amnesia that caused him to lie under oath that he had "no knowledge at all" regarding the permit application for a civil rights, anti-war rally on the Great Lawn during the RNC, by the National Council of Arab Americans and the ANSWER Coalition.

The Bloomberg administration maintained that the denial of the permit was not politically motivated but, instead, denied solely out of concern for the natural grass field. Yet, documents obtained by Partnership for Civil Justice (PCJ) during the litigation reveal the involvement of the Mayor's office in the denial of the permit during the RNC, including that the Mayor was receiving updated information on the NCA/ANSWER permit specifically, and its denial, personally from Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. Other documents reveal Bloomberg's office received regular reports on the status and denial of the permit.

Park Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who serves at the pleasure of the Mayor, denied in an August 19, 2005 sworn deposition that Bloomberg was involved with the issuing of the permit, and denied the Mayor was even consulted. Lucky for people who believe in honest government that "Operon" - Adrian's on-line nom de plume - sent the Mayor an email on June 11, 2004 outlining their complicity. During the lawsuit, the City of New York initially refused to produce a July 11, 2004 e-mail claiming it was privileged. The Partnership for Civil Justice (PCJ) challenged this designation, and forced the City to produce the e-mail.

“Following your call, I spoke to Ray about 10 minutes ago,” Mr. Benepe wrote, referring to Raymond Kelly the police commissioner. “Coincidentally, our lawyer and Chief McManus and the Law Department are meeting at this very minute to agree on the language and strategy of the letter rejecting the Arab-American rally on the Great Lawn,” Mr. Benepe continued, referring to Assistant Chief John B. McManus, who oversaw Police Department strategy for the convention. Mr. Benepe’s message added: “I assume the rejection letter will go out today. I will let you know.”
This is all the more ironic considering Adrian is famous for telling his employees not to use email for things of a sensitive nature: he also directs Alessandro Olivieri, the DPR's lawyer, to send out emails warning employees to be careful. "Hoist with his own petar", as Adrian is fond of saying. Except not really, because our elected officials don't seem to be particularly concerned about accountability. So the Mayor and his Parks Commissioner are able to lie under oath with zero accountability, or without being prosecuted.

The question is often asked how Adrian is allowed to get away with what he does. The answer is simple, when the Mayor himself lied to the court that he did "not have unique, personal knowledge regarding the basis of the decision,”, and that he had “no knowledge at all regarding the denial of a Parks Department permit to plaintiff.”

The New York Times wrote, "Those documents, which include internal e-mail messages and depositions in the court case, show that Mr. Bloomberg's involvement in the deliberations over the protests may have been different from how he and his aides have portrayed it. They also suggest that officials were indeed motivated by political concerns over how the protests would play out while the Republican delegates were in town, and how the events could affect the mayor's re-election campaign the following year."
''It is very important that we do not permit any big or political events for the period between Aug. 23 and Sept. 6, 2004,'' read one Parks Department e-mail message, referring to issuing permits for the days framing the convention. ''It's really important for us to keep track of any large events (over 1,000 people), and any rallies or events that seem sensitive or political in nature.''

While protecting the Great Lawn is important, allowing a single protest would have resulted in minimal damage. There also would have been financial safeguards in place in the form a of a bond in the unlikely event the lawn was damaged. The Mayor was simply trying to prevent embarrassment on a national stage.

While the Associated Press dumped another reworked DPR press release on its subscribers without doing any original reporting, including not bothering to provide at the least a quote from opponents, a few media outlets provided at least some context.

Read More:

New York Sun - July 19, 2006

New York Times - July 31, 2006
New York Times - City Room - August 5, 2009

Limits backed on Great Lawn
Metro NY - August 5, 2009
"Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to fight protesters at the 2004 Republican National Convention, even after reaching an out-of-court settlement turning back limits on the use of Central Park’s Great Lawn.

The battle was reignited this week by an independent review supporting the city’s 2004 lawn limit of 55,000 people. The report draws on an assessment by a former city official, Robert Russo, deputy Parks commissioner from 1981 to ’89."

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