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— Patrick Kearns (@PkearnsBQE) March 24, 2015
On Tuesday hundreds of Williamsburg residents along with City Council Member Antonio Reynoso and North Brooklyn’s Democratic District Leader Nick Rizzo participated in a public protest to help put a stop to the possible closure of two community centers. According to Reynoso’s Facebook post calling on people to join in the sit-in, where the Council Rep and others were well-prepared for getting arrested, “private developers” threaten these “important community spaces.”
Reynoso and Rizzo, along with four others, were arrested yesterday evening apparently for blocking traffic outside the Senior Center. Community activists and organizations were involved in the protest including St. Nick’s Alliance, a non-profit that runs the Swinging 60s Center, which along with the Nuestros Niños Day Care Center could be shut down in the near future unless the city acts to save them.
We spoke with Nick Rizzo today to see exactly what went down at the demonstration. Between 400 and 500 people participated, most of whom are residents of Williamsburg’s Southside. The police were informed prior to the demonstration who would be arrested. Only one additional person was detained. “This was planned civil disobedience,” Rizzo explained. “Everyone else was careful to stay out of the intersection.”
The protesters aimed to garner the attention of Mayor de Blasio to save help save the two community centers. “We are in danger of losing these places, which have been around for decades and serve some of the most defenseless and isolated members of our community, due to the shortsightedness of the previous administration’s policies,” Rizzo explained. “We have not received enough indication that the people who work for mayor Bill de Blasio are trying to live up to the vision of candidate Bill de Blasio in this matter. And we need to focus the city’s attention on it and the only way to do that is to show that we’re willing to get arrested over it.”
The Swinging 60s Senior Center (which first opened in 1974) has been on the chopping block since at least 2012, But the center’s days started to look seriously numbered in 2013 when new landlords issued an eviction notice to the center. That year and the following, Assemblyman Joseph Lentol attempted to push an eminent domain law that would allow the city to protect the center from eviction. Efforts to ensure the center remains open despite the property owner’s aims have so far failed.
In 2013, father and son developers Victor and Harry Einhorn bought the building where the senior center is located for $4.5 million. The Einhorns immediately raised rent by $7,000 a month, according to DNAinfo and infamously served eviction papers to the senior center during the holiday season. St. Nick’s Alliance has since tried to purchase the building from the Einhorns, though in 2014 the developers refused to budge from a $10.5 million price tag.
When asked if the protest has had any immediate impact, Rizzo said media attention is a good indicator but added, “this stuff takes time.”