Company opponents denounce ‘turncoat’ for new role
Majora Carter, the noted South Bronx environmentalist, has been hired by FreshDirect to combat opposition to its relocation to Mott Haven.
Carter’s husband James Chase, the communications director for her consulting company The Majora Carter Group, confirmed that she has been under contract for the last two months to advocate on the on-line grocer’s behalf.
Her job is to combat “misinformation” from opponents of the move, organized under the banner of South Bronx Unite, he said.
South Bronx Unite has denounced the $130 million in taxpayer subsidies that will help the company move from its current headquarters in Long Island City, organizing a boycott of the on-line grocer and filing a lawsuit seeking to prevent its move to the Harlem River Yards.
Chase said Carter has been “using her network connections” to reach out to environmental and community organizations. Her ties to the company became public when she organized a meeting with those organizations on behalf of FreshDirect CEO Jason Ackerman at the BankNote Building in Hunts Point on Sept. 27.
At the meeting, Mychal Johnson, an uninvited guest who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against FreshDirect, challenged Ackerman’s claims that the company’s trucks would not add to the area’s air pollution and that it would provide good jobs.
Asked whether the company would agree to a new environmental impact study, a key demand of FreshDirect’s opponents, Ackerman said a new study would be a deal-breaker, Chase and Johnson agreed. The time a new study would take would cripple FreshDirect’s ability to expand he said.
Opponents of the company’s move to the Bronx say the last study, conducted 20 years ago, is out of date and does not account for growing residential use of nearby land or of the failure of the Harlem River Yards to revive rail traffic.
Asked about the loss of recreational access to the Harlem River of the sort Carter had fought for in Hunts Point, Chase said, “She’s no longer in that line of work. But you have to remember that the successes she was able to achieve with the South Bronx Greenway came after years of hard lonely work.”
The opponents of FreshDirect “aren’t doing that,” he said, “and they certainly never came to Majora Carter and asked how did you do that?”
“Given her history,” Johnson said of Carter,” I’m disappointed that she’s not advocating for the benefit of the community but for the benefit of a corporation.”
But Steve Ritz, the founder of Green for All and the newly-appointed dean of students and director of community partnerships at Hyde Leadership Charter School, said the meeting put him squarely in FreshDirect’s camp.
“Majora is always important to me,” he said, “but as important as Majora is–when she speaks I listen–the fact that Mr. Ackerman was willing to walk into the lion’s den was more important to me.” A teacher who has used his classroom to create urban agriculture projects, Ritz added, “What was really impressive to me was when Mr. Ackerman brought up all the farms he supports.”
While Ritz spoke of the boost the company would give to the borough’s economy, Johnson scoffed at the wages the company is offering, noting that non-union employees who are being recruited through the borough president’s Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, start at $8.75 an hour “to work in a freezer 12 hours a day.”
In a brief response after this article originally appeared online, Carter said that sum was merely the base pay and that more onerous work was rewarded with additional compensation that made the pay decent–“better than Apple, better than Walmart.”
Chase called FreshDirect a company in tune with the needs of the area. “Of all the possible uses that could come on to that property, FreshDirect is one of the best and will have a net benefit, because of their commitment to alternative fuels and because e-commerce and food are both growth industries that provide good jobs,” he contended.
Carter has a one-year contract to consult with FreshDirect said Chase. He bristled when asked how much she was being paid. “They’re a private company and so is the Majora Carter Group. It’s nobody’s business,” he said.