Jim Walden Tries to Distance Bike Lane Lawsuit From Weinshall and Schumer

Weinshall, Schumer, Steisel
Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden is making the media rounds smearing the DOT over its installation of the Prospect Park West bike lane, while former DOT commissioner Iris Weinshall, Senator Chuck Schumer, and former deputy mayor Norman Steisel stay out of the spotlight.

This morning, Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden continued his media tour calling attention to the lawsuit he filed earlier this month to remove the Prospect Park West bike lane. Appearing on the Brian Lehrer show, Walden tried to distance the group he represents from former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall and her husband, Senator Chuck Schumer.

Walden told Lehrer that Weinshall is “not part of the group” suing the city. That may be true in some strictly legal sense, but just a few months ago Weinshall was writing letters to the Times alongside fellow bike lane opponents Louise Hainline and Norman Steisel. (Get your free access to it while you still can.) The paper identified all three authors as members of the bike lane opposition group “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes,” which is now a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Speaking of Steisel, he doesn’t seem to be making media appearances very much these days, either. Having press quotes come from a former deputy mayor, who tried to circumvent the public process by writing directly to a current deputy mayor, was probably bad optics for NBBL. (And can we drop the pretense that “Seniors for Safety” is somehow an independent group, distinct from NBBL? The leaders of each acronym, Louise Hainline and Lois Carswell, live within a stone’s throw of each other on the northern blocks of PPW, and their goals and message are indistinguishable.)

With Weinshall and Steisel no longer visible players for the opposition, Walden tried to portray his clients as a persecuted minority seeking justice from the government that wronged them.

When caller Megan said she feels safer walking to the park with her three children, this is how Walden tried to flip the script:

I think there are a very significant number of people, and maybe the minority at the end of the day, statistically, but a significant minority that feel less safe, and for the Department of Transportation to say their voices don’t count, and we need to neutralize them and counterattack them, I think is just awful conduct for a public official. We filed this lawsuit three weeks ago, and not one of those DOT employees has been put on administrative leave. I find that just shocking.

Walden later said that he took the case pro bono because it fits with his commitment to “good government litigation.”

Statistically, of course, the minority who feel less safe are actually safer, because speeding is much less prevalent on the redesigned street. The notion that the DOT has been dismissive of the concerns that remain overlooks the ongoing adjustments it’s making, like installing rumble strips for bike traffic at pedestrian crossings. DOT has a successful and popular project on its hands. Should it start firing people because someone sued to remove it?

As for the “counterattack” language that Walden finds so shocking — consider the full context. As with other arguments the plaintiffs make, Walden is cherry-picking the information he chooses to present.

Walden is referring to the June 21, 2010 email exchange between DOT’s Ryan Russo and Park Slope Neighbors’ Aaron Naparstek (full disclosure: Aaron is the founding editor of Streetsblog) cited in the lawsuit, in which Russo wrote, “This lane is under serious attack, is Park Slope Neighbors counterattacking?”

When these emails took place, DOT had already received 1,300 signatures from Park Slope Neighbors requesting the two-way, separated bike lane on Prospect Park West. The community board had approved it the previous year, and the project was in the final stages of implementation.

After this lengthy process, opponents started mobilizing against the project. They were going straight to the top, the mayor’s office, to lobby for its reversal, out of view of the public. We now know that their ranks included Steisel, members of Schumer’s family, and reportedly Schumer himself. This is the “minority” whom Walden accuses DOT of ignoring.

Which is really the shocker here: That DOT employees, faced with this situation, would then alert the very people who asked for the project in the first place. Or that Jim Walden would work “pro bono” to circumvent the public process which led to this safety improvement, then claim that he is doing it in the name of “good government,” not NIMBYism and politics.

  • digamma

    “The leaders of each acronym, Louise Hainline and Lois Carswell, live within a stone’s throw of each other on the northern blocks of PPW, and their goals and message are indistinguishable.)”

    Um, this is New York. We all live within a stone’s throw of each other. I don’t even know everyone who lives in my building and I don’t want to be accountable for any dumbass political organization they form.

  • car free nation

    I think the real issue now is to get more people riding. When 10% of commuters use their bikes on a nice day, that’s when we’ll have some security.

    My goal is 10 new cyclists by the end of the year. I’ve got one already…

  • BGray

    I make sure to wave every time I ride by #9 PPW or #35 PPW in the bike lane just in case they have their cameras running.

  • Marsha Kramer’s Bicicleta

    Essentially these people want a “do-over” after a long, lengthy, comprehensive Community Board process years in the making. Where were they then? How much time and $$$ does a city need to spend on people who don’t want to be involved on their Community Boards where these things are thoroughly vetted and commented on? Kind of reminds me of kids on the high school playground, “Do over!”

    If indeed this far-fetched lawsuit were to succeed, it would open up all sorts of potential do-overs. Can we get a do-over of projects from 10 years ago, 50, 100? Can we get rail service restored on PPW? Can we tear down some highways? Revisit what Robert Moses did?

  • Pete

    Steisel and Weinshall were both present at the DOT presentation in January to CB6 – (Steisel even spoke, as was noted here). It was only after that meeting that their profile started to lower.

    This just smells worse and worse over time. Hainline and Carswell, naively left holding the bag on a lousy case with a lawyer who’s doing pro-bono work that seems engineered to curry favor down the line with the more powerful players who prefer to remain behind the scenes.

    I wonder if they’re aware of just how badly they’re being played.

  • J

    I’m a little torn about this article.

    On one hand, I think if influential people want to drop out of the limelight, we may want to let them go quietly, as it removes a lot of the political weight behind the opposition, and creates better circumstances for reconciliation. We may get some converts to the cause, since we are certainly in favor of senior safety. Continuing to call them out may simply cause them to redouble their efforts.

    On the other hand, I am mad at how these politically influential people attacked livable streets, and I worry that they will simply continue their efforts more quietly. My cynical side thinks that it may take making an example out of some people to prevent this type of attack and smear campaign in the future.

    Thoughts?

  • Jabir

    Louise Hainline and Lois Carswell are hardly naive.

    This is just an effort to make the NBBLings appear more like “ordinary” NYers instead of powerful political insiders. (you have to overlook that ordinary NYers don’t ordinarily live in PPW penthouses and mansions.)

    The political heavies have just stepped behind the curtains. But they are still running this campaign, just as before.

  • Joe R.

    J,

    Anyone who has beyond a doubt dropped out of the opposition should no longer be called out. If anything, we should publicly reach out and thank them for their good sense, and say “no hard feelings”. A person from the other side who has turned is actually among the best allies we could have.

    On the flip side, we must keep tabs on anyone who has apparently dropped out, but instead simply switched to less obvious, sneakier tactics. As for making examples, what better way than every time a cyclist or pedestrian gets killed than to rub their noses in it. It’s a pity the news media doesn’t latch on to the auto carnage and try to enrage people about that. The bike thing in my opinion is just something to distract us from seeing the larger issues which our leaders are failing to address. It’s worked so far, but I think I’m finally actually seeing other topics generating more comments and interest. I think the public has probably hit the saturation point here. The media must move on to something else. This time around it might be nice if it was something of substance.

  • Suzanne

    “I think if influential people want to drop out of the limelight, we may want to let them go quietly, as it removes a lot of the political weight behind the opposition…”

    I don’t think it does. Do you really think Jim Walden and Marcia Kramer would be involved if powerful people they personally knew weren’t? If it was just “little people”? And do you think Weinshall and the rest have actually *stopped* their back room manipulations? Or simply moved them further out of sight?

    This whole thing stinks of the sort of duplicitous, manipulative ploy one would expect from a corporate pit bull who gets white collar criminals off the hook. The fact that they’re trying to scurry into the shadows like rats doesn’t change the fact that a bunch of rich, wealthy, politically connected insiders are dubiously using pro bono a high level attorney from a powerful law firm to try to destroy public infrastructure that was created through a clear, democratic process.

  • RL Emory

    If she wanted to, Iris Weinshall could end this silliness in a flash by issuing a statements saying she no longer supports either the NBBL lawsuit or removing the PPW lane. Until then she should be considered a core figure in Nibbledom. She lent her name, stature and husband to the NBBL cause and helped put this foolishness in motion. Ducking behind the curtain doesn’t get her off the hook.

  • Aaron Naparstek

    Think about it from the perspective of the DOT staffer that Jim Walden smeared on WNYC today:

    It is June 2010 and you are beginning to implement changes on Prospect Park West. These changes are the result of at least five years of community-driven process.

    You have been working with community members to fix this street since, at least, May 2006 when the Park Slope Civic Council transportation forum and neighborhood survey identified rampant speeding, lack of bike access and dangerous pedestrian crossings on PPW as one of the top concerns in the neighborhood and the Grand Army Plaza Coalition was formed to begin go tackle this problem and others.

    You, the DOT staffer, have played by the rules and done the community process exactly as it is supposed to be done. The design that you are implementing on PPW has been developed in collaboration with the community, it is in direct response to community concerns and it has been approved by the Community Board in an overwhelming vote.

    Now, suddenly, the project is going in the ground and you hear that a sitting U.S. Senator, Chuck Schumer, a former Deputy Mayor, Norman Steisel, your former boss, ex-DOT commissioner Iris Weinshall, and people who write $100,000 checks to the Prospect Park Alliance have decided that your changes on Prospect Park West are bad and need to be stopped.

    This small group of local power-players has gone way over everyone’s head. They have circumvented the years-long community process between DOT and the community and are directly lobbying and pressuring Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Goldsmith, Council Transportation Chair Jimmy Vacca and other high level officials. They are also threatening legal action if the City does not comply with their wishes.

    Not only is it appropriate — it is absolutely incumbent on the DOT staffer that he tell his partners in the community about this threat to the project that they have been working on together for five years.

    It is incumbent on the DOT staffer to tell his partners in the community: Look, if you care about this project, if you want this street to get fixed, if you want our years of work on this project to come to fruition, then you’d better figure out how to neutralize and counter-attack this very powerful opposition that has suddenly emerged and is working way above all of our heads.

    There is nothing wrong with the DOT staffer saying this. There is nothing wrong with community members talking to their government. This is how a healthy democracy works.

    Jim Walden is doing at least two very destructive and rotten things here:

    1. He is actively trying to ruin a very smart, dedicated, hard-working DOT staffer’s career.

    2. He is trying to turn healthy collaboration between city agencies and community groups into something improper, nefarious and illegal.

  • I stopped voting for Schumer as of the last election. (It had more to do with Glass Steagall than livable streets.) Now I want to go on record as saying I will withhold my vote from any elected official who employs Iris Weinshall in any capacity.

  • jooltman

    Actually, the loaded, vicious way Walden said the word “collaborating” got me thinking. If he really wants to, in histrionic-height-of-bad-taste style, take the issue to that level, I think it’s pretty clear who the “Nazis” are in the PPW bike lane debate. I, for one, like it when employees of government agencies talk with and listen to citizens — it’s called responsive government. Last time I checked, that’s the gold standard of democracy.

  • Reader

    I found Walden’s comments about “administrative leave” quite shocking and vicious, and they seemed to reveal something about him as a person, as well as the character of the anti-PPW bike lane organizers. They are literally willing to destroy the career of a public employee to get what they want. Does this guy have a family? Kids? A mortgage? I don’t know – I don’t know him. But I know they don’t care — they want him placed on leave, and presumably fired. It’s one thing to have a legitimate disagreement with your fellow citizens; and fine — if they think court is the proper place to have their grievances heard, that is certainly their right. But for the wife of a sitting U.S. Senator and a former deputy mayor to be in any way associated with a Swift Boating campaign against a guy trying to do his job — even if they disagree with the way he does it — is disgusting and smacks of the phony ‘gotcha’ campaign against Shirley Sherrod. Weinshal should be ashamed.

  • William Reilly

    E-mails? Okay. Telephone conversations? Fine. But what about those “secret barroom meetings?”

    Secret barrooms are ILLEGAL, since even before Prohibition. So there’s that.

  • station44025

    Has anyone in the press tried asking Senator Schumer, for the record, about his position is on the bike lane and lawsuit, or his personal involvement in the issue? He would have to either say he was for it, against it, refuse to comment, or claim that he doesn’t know about it–any of which would have potential implications for his reputation at home. I am sure his is one of the safest seats in the country, but it would still be good information for his constituents to have going forward. Also, if he were to claim ignorance or deny any involvement and it later came to light that he has been involved, that would be fun. I would imagine that a news organization would have a better chance of not simply being ignored on this question, but just wondering if anyone has asked him. Does he ever take questions from constituents at public appearances where he could be asked about this?

  • jooltman

    @station44025 — I think several journalists have tried to no avail. I, at the risk of looking like the kook I really am, have been occasionally blitzing the Senator’s Facebook status with a reminder that he needs to comment on the issue…only after getting Talk to the Hand from both his NY and DC offices.

  • mjd

    Aaron, there are people on the Board of Prospect Park Alliance who favor the bike lane.

  • Aaron Naparstek

    Aaron, there are people on the Board of Prospect Park Alliance who favor the bike lane.

    Of course. I did not mean to suggest that the PPA or its entire board is opposed to the redesign of PPW.

  • tom

    However, if the people who write those $100,000 checks are angry then it’s time for a re-think.

    You are planning to replace those donations, right?

  • Perhaps Weinshall and Steisel care more about sticking it to JSK and Bloomberg while Hainline and Carswell care more about getting rid of the bike lane.

    If that’s true, then Iris and Norm have found the perfect foils in Louise and Lois. Letting those two women carry the water on this one is a good strategy for the true bigwigs behind NBBL. Weinshall and Steisel can inflict all the damage they want without appearing to get their hands dirty.

  • M

    I’ve also been scratching my head about Walden’s motivation to take this case on a “pro bono” basis. The case is without merit. Its for “pro bono” but the litigants are millionaires – which must pushing the ethics of his professional code.

    All I can figure is that he’s looking to earn one of these http://tinyurl.com/4hbt2zb

    Maybe its a requirement to move from ‘law’ into ‘politics.’ Thoughts?

  • Omri

    Here’s an idea: get a buttload of sidewalk chalk, and chalk “SHAME! IRIS, SHAME!” on the sidewalk right across from her apartment.

  • Omri

    That is, in letters large enough she can read them from her flat.

  • > You are planning to replace those donations, right?

    Oh golly, did we upset your plutocracy? Sorry about that!

  • The opponents’ main argument depends entirely on a wrong assumption: that cyclists going in the “unexpected” direction simply have no ability or will to try to avoid crashes. It assumes that northbound cyclists–but not southbound cyclists–are subject to some immutable physical force propelling them forward. It’s one of the weakest arguments I’ve ever heard.

  • Aaron Naparstek

    if the people who write those $100,000 checks are angry then it’s time for a re-think.

    You are planning to replace those donations, right?

    1. That would really be something, wouldn’t it, if people who professed to love and care about Prospect Park withdrew their support for the Park because they were unhappy with a DOT project outside of Prospect Park. What a spectacular tantrum that would be.

    2. I suspect there is more than enough money in the 78% of of the community that supports the PPW redesign to replace the angry $100,000 donor. If it actually came to that, I would be willing to work pretty hard to help Prospect Park raise those funds.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Prospsect Park Alliance funding can be found in this report.

    http://www.prospectpark.org/media/file/AR2010..pdf

    The big donations are from politicians and corporations using taxpayer and shareholder money, not their own, and from foundations.

    There are a handful of individual donors over $20K, and 73 donors between $2,500 and that level.

    The number of people donating $500 to $2,500 is very, very large.

  • station44025

    OK–did a little googling, and came up with this on Transportation Nation:

    “…While it’s accurate to say that neither Senator Schumer nor his wife are plaintiffs, both have made their anti-Prospect Park West bike lane position clear, in a wide array of forums. Both joined a Facebook group in favor of removing the bike lane, and Weinshall co-signed a letter to the New York Times. ]”

    http://transportationnation.org/tag/neighbors-for-better-bike-lanes/

    So, I guess he’s officially against it? Lame. Anyway, his position should be leveraged.

  • Art Link

    Schumer’s punishment is that he is married to THAT woman!

  • If I was steisel, I wouldn’t make appearances either.

    http://www.eLawsuit.com

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

For Nearly Two Years, Ex-NYC DOT Chief Has Undercut the Signature Street Safety and Sustainable Transportation Agenda of Her Successor

|
Tomorrow, Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Bert Bunyan is expected to weigh in for the first time on the core arguments brought by opponents of the Prospect Park West redesign against the City of New York. Ostensibly, the dispute is between the anti-bike lane groups known as “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” (NBBL) and “Seniors for […]

The NBBL Files: PPW Foes Pursued Connections to Reverse Public Process

|
Editor’s note: With yesterday’s appellate ruling prolonging the Prospect Park West case, Streetsblog is running a refresher on the how the well-connected gang of bike lane opponents waged their assault against a popular and effective street safety project. This is the fifth installment from the six-part NBBL Files. This piece originally ran on November 10, 2011. This is […]