Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Assumption of Privilege

What is it about Andy Rothschild that grants him special favor with the Durham City Council? From all appearances, dude is running things down at city hall like he’s the mayor. There’s nothing wrong with being a concerned citizen. The problem when it comes to Rothschild, owner of Scientific Properties, is in how his company has been granted unusual consideration that leaves one wondering if he has been bolted to this position due to a special relationship with a member of the city staff.

My eyebrows were first raised when Rothschild was awarded a $14,000 per month contract to rent space to the city. The departments of Economic & Workplace Development and Equal Opportunity and Equity are renting space at Rotschild’s Venable building on Pettigrew Street.

Victoria Peterson, a community activist who is making yet another bid for public office, attacked the city and Rothschild in February for entering into an agreement that was a conflict of interest. Rothschild serves as the chairman of the city’s Workforce Development Board. Peterson was correct to raise question regarding full disclosure. The public has the right to know if a deal was made that came about due to the dealings of the chairman of the board.

The good news for Rothschild is people have a hard time taking Peterson seriously. Yes, she’s the same woman who was kicked out of the Mike Nifong ethics hearing. Yes, she’s the same black woman who made the flip/flop from being a staunch Jessie Helms supporter to a member of the Democratic Party. Her argument fell of deaf ears not because she was wrong, but because she lacked the credibility needed to stir a concern around the issues.

Rothschild’s special favor has been proven again. This week, he raised concerns over an incentives proposal for Greenfire Development’s $284 million downtown project. The city decided to hold off plans to vote on the package until March 17. Rothschild met with Michael Lemanski, one of Greenfire’s lead partners, to discuss his concerns.

The fact that the city was made aware of Rothschild’s concerns leaves me with serious questions related to his working relationship with the city. It seems odd that a developer would bring concerns involving an incentives package to the attention of the city staff. Those concerns could have been addressed in private. There was no need to make them part of the public dialogue. In doing so, Rothschild has positioned himself as the watch dog for downtown business development, and, by empowering him to do so, the city has granted him special favor that should not be a part of discussions involving the deals made between the city and a competing company.

I have been a supporter of Rothschild’s work. I spoke before the city council in favor of his plan to revive Heritage Square. I still believe in that project. This despite my growing concern about Rothschild’s disconnection from the historical significance of the Hayti community. Scientific Properties is coming into a once vital African American business district. What will emerge will trigger economic development for Hayti and other surrounding communities.

This is great thing for the city of Durham. The problem is Rothschild has failed to convince me that he gets it. He needs to do better in hiring a staff that understands how delicate a move this is for those who still cling to those old days. The past should never limit or quest to move forward; however, it is hard to trust when too few of those on your staff don’t look like the people you ask to trust you.

Rothschild must have special privilege with the city. Otherwise, how can you explain how easy it has been for him to come this far while discounting the obvious-you can’t assume a position of privilege; you have to earn your right to sit at the table. Sooner or later, those favors will come back to bite you.


  1. Carl:

    I'll never understand how someone can agree with Victoria but slap her down in the same breath. You mention that she was kicked out of the Nifong hearing without saying that it was because she dared say that she thought the Lacrosse guys were hiding something. She was never disruptive in any way. Lots of people change political parties. Doesn't she have the same right? I would think you, of all people, would refrain from disparaging her without at least knowing the facts.

    This is indeed a sweetheart deal that Andy Rothschild has going. What are you going to do about it? Complain? Watch out you don't get lumped in with Victoria! How about a lawsuit? How about doing something concrete to stop the gentrification you know he is committed to.

    Durham is turning into Disneyland and the vision doesn't include slums. The solution is what it has always been - negro removal. Poor negro removal, at least.

    Whenever someone speaks up they are labeled crazy and ignored. Their ideas are then co-opted and watered down. So, Victoria points out the cozy relationship between Rothschild and the city. You call her crazy but uphold her main point as being valid. However, you don't take the hardline that Victoria does. You come from a collaborative (collaboraTOR?) point of view. You try to reason with these folks. You appeal to their conscience. They know what they are doing is wrong. If they had a conscience they wouldn't be doing this. You play the loyal opposition. Apologies are given. Promises are made. But the projects are built and the poor are displaced - again. Then, now that the poor have been moved elsewhere, we can walk the streets without having to look at them. We pat ourselves on the back for "bringing life back to Downtown".

    "Power concedes nothing without a demand" - Frederick Douglass

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