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Goodbye, Dolly!
Under pressure from blogs, commissioner steps down
Courtesy No Land Grab

On October 5, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz announced that he would not reappoint Dolly Williams, a developer who has served, at times controversially, as his representative on the City Planning Commission. “When there are many voices to be heard on land use matters, it would be best for a new appointee to assume the planning commission position,” Markowitz said in a statement. Many of those voices, it turns out, belonged to local bloggers.

Brooklyn bloggers, especially No Land Grab, which formed in opposition to Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards plan, have been tracking Williams’ every move since August 2004, when The Brooklyn Paper revealed that she was a partial investor with Bruce Ratner in the New Jersey Nets. It was not yet known whether the project would go before the commission—it went to the state instead—but it was seen as a major conflict of interest. Bloggers picked up that story, and others, so when they covered Markowitz’s announcement, it was with an air of self-congratulation.

Though there was a mix of old and new media reporting on Williams and her activities, the latter emphasized her work on the commission. After all, many of the stories, like the aforementioned Nets investment, ran in the papers first, but it was the additional attention they received from the blogs that gave voice to frustrations.

“The outrage in the comments surely was noticed by someone in Markowitz’s office,” Norman Oder, of the Atlantic Yards Report, told AN in an email. (Williams and Markowitz’s office declined to comment.)

For the commission itself, the issue is more complex. “These are commissioners who have an expertise in a particular field,” Department of City Planning spokesperson Rachaele Raynoff said. “Some projects will come up that they have a connection to and that will require them to recuse themselves. There is nothing inappropriate about that.”

Commission chair Amanda Burden agreed that there was no reason developers should not have a role on the commission. “Being a commissioner is about being smart, knowing the city, and doing your homework,” she said. “There are both citywide and neighborhood perspectives you have to consider. Beyond that, it doesn’t matter who you are.”

For Oder and his fellow bloggers, the commission may finally take them seriously. “I do think that the media, and perhaps especially the blogs, may at least cause the next commissioner to recognize that his or her activities will be scrutinized,” he wrote.

Matt Chaban