By Brandon Pizzola
Daniel Goldstein was living the American Dream. He had found Echo, the girl he was set to marry, and they had plans to start a family. Moreover, their five-year search for home had been realized: they had found “the perfect apartment,” a Pacific Street condo in Brooklyn. But this idyllic moment was not to last. A saga of political obsession, in which a businessman made use of wealth and connections to enlist the power of government in pursuit of his own avaricious ends, would soon thereafter strip Daniel of both his home and his family.
This is the story of Battle for Brooklyn, a 93-minute documentary chronicling Daniel’s seven-year struggle for his stake in the American Dream against the infamous Atlantic Yards project.
The documentary opens with the fanfare and celebrity befitting the 2003 announcement that Brooklyn had acquired the New Jersey Nets and with them a plan to build a world-class stadium and fifteen top-notch skyscrapers in five and a half blocks of prime Brooklyn real estate, the Atlantic Yards project. Against this backdrop of privilege and ostentation, however, stands the marginalization of mainly “little people and poor people,” bewildered that their homes and businesses would be acquired, with or without their consent, by the state of New York and sold to a developer.
Daniel summarizes New York’s acquisition of the 864 homes and businesses of residents as follows: “[the developer Bruce] Ratner went to the governor and said, ‘I want [these five and a half blocks]’ … and thirty-one months after announcing [the Atlantic Yard project] the state said, ‘okay, that same [five and a half blocks are] blighted and we’re going to approve the condemnation of it.’”
The documentary highlights the ignominious nature of the land dealing in New York by revealing that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York favored Ratner’s 50 million dollar bid in an auction for part of the land over a competitor’s 150 million dollar bid for that same land. In addition, it features video exhibiting a New York judge pondering over the seemingly “gerrymandered” features of the blighting.
Battle for Brooklyn is a heartrending account of glamour-obsessed politicians in New York exploiting their public power for the private gain of a developer. While the documentary offers little solace to the victims of this case of abused government authority, it should be noted that a major Ratner lobbyist, Richard Lipsky, has been indicted on federal corruption charges for bribing a New York State senator, along with that state senator, Brooklyn’s Carl Kruger.
“New York State has sanctioned the theft of my home,” says Daniel. “[One] morning I woke up and owned my home; then New York State decided they own it.”
Read NPR’s review here, and Huffington Post’s review here.