Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ten Little Indians Style: Wings Aflame, Moths Around The Flame of Eminent Domain Abuse Find Themselves Crashing Out Of The Picture In Succession

(Above, a bobble-head Bruce Ratner indian joins those of the 1965 film: "Ten Little Indians."  Why?  Keep reading.)

. . .  It is happening in real life: They are dropping like flies!  Remember the many Ten Little Indians films . . . quite a few remakes were made of the beloved yarn, derived from the Agatha Christie’s classic mystery tale?  You remember the plot: A select little club of invitees (enticed for a frolic to a mysterious island) get picked off one by one and swiftly the ominousness and inevitable direction the scheme unfolding is understood by everyone, audience together with the crew of characters in the story itself: Pretty soon the group’s population is going to be brought to zero by the death-dispensing machinations of an unseen hand.  Hence the other well known title for the story, “And Then There Were None.”

Spoiler Alert!: A key feature of the plot is that all of the doomed visitors had it coming, they all had previously been complicit in the deaths of others but escaped notice or punishment.

So it is with the cast of Atlantic Yards perpetrators.  In real life they seem close to replicating what, although it was fun, seemed like a preposterously contrived plot!

I alluded to this march into the abyss of the disgraced, in July, when I wrote about the fall from reputational grace of Mayor Bloomber's friend Bob Diamond, the former the chief executive of Barclays Bank, forced to resign (abruptly) at that time in disgrace over the rate-rigging scandal for which Barclays has been fined £290m ($450m) for manipulating LIBOR rates. (See:Tuesday,  July 24, 2012, No Sparkle In Barclays’ Bob Diamond: Societal Mores Unmoored, What And Who We Honor Today- That Which We Used To Shun.)

(Above: Barclay's Bob Diamond as one of the symbolically toppling Indian statuettes losing its head in “And Then There Were None” made in 1945.)

I promised back then that I would revisit to write another Noticing New York article about how a growing list of Atlantic Yards supporters and perpetrators have been falling ignominiously by the wayside.  Here is what I said:
Add Mr. Diamond’s name, Robert E. Diamond Jr., to the lengthy roster of individuals involved in bringing into existence the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards and the Ratner/Prokhorov basketball stadium who have exited the scene in ignominy. Mr. Diamond is by no means the only individual involved in the perpetration of Atlantic Yards to wind up besmirched but we’ll save going into an enumeration of that long list for another day and another Noticing New York article.
Well, attending the alternative ribbon-cutting orchestrated by community opponents of the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” arena last week reminded me that I still needed to come back and fulfill presentation of the enumeration I earlier promised.

The alternative ribbon-cutting ceremony (as can be seen and heard in the video above) began with these remarks of Daniel Goldstein:
    Before we start we’d like to have a quick moment of silence for all of those who weren’t able to make it to the Broken Promise Land:
        •    Former Atlantic Yards executive Jim Stuckey, who last we heard is being sued for sexual harassment.

        •    Atlantic Yards cheerleader Sen. Carl Kruger, convicted and sentenced to nine years for corruption.

        •    Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Lobbyist Richard Lipsky, convicted of bribery.

        •    Atlantic Yards cheerleader and head of the Carpenters Union Local Sal Zarzana, indicted for extortion.

        •    Too many MTA & ESDC executives to count.

        •    The world’s most talked about starchitect, Frank Gehry.

        •    Former Forest City Ratner Executive and Political Fixer Bruce Bender, who left the firm and can’t be here today to F*[ck] The Bridge.

        •    And of course Barclays former Chief Officer Bob Diamond, forced to resign because of Barclays LIBOR interest rate-fixing scandal. Although there is no doubt he got his wish to USE Brooklyn to spread the bank’s global brand.

    Welcome Members of the Press. It is an honor to have you with us. We are lucky today to have for you local theater troop, The Land Grab Players. And what is even luckier for you, is that their ribbon cutting will only take about ten minutes, before you gotta go inside that building and spend 3 hours in hot air.

    This array of cronies present: the LIBOR FIXER CENTER RIBBON CUTTING Take it away Land Grabbers!
Goldstein’s list could obviously have been longer: In his willingness to keep things short Mr. Goldstein left out two other prominent non-attending politicians who were driven out of office after sullying themselves, perhaps because those politcians did stand right behind him at that moment in bobble-head effigy form: former governors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson (see photo below and video above).
My July promise of an article with a roll-call of those departed in disgrace preceded the Vito Lopez/Shelly Silver sexual misconduct cover-up scandal that has now caused Atlantic Yards-supporting Lopez to resign his postion as Chair of the Kings County Democratic Party.  That scandal has so far not yet taken down Assemblyman Silver from his postion of speaker of the New York State Assembly but it gives some inkling of how Mr. Silver's political demise might come to pass.  (See this latest episode in the unfolding story about how one of Silver's staffers went into blogging drag to defend Silver's role in the coverup: Assembly Staffer Defends Speaker Silver By Posting Web Comments as a Woman, Monday, September 24, 2012.)

If Sheldon Silver left his office in ignominy it would knock out the last elected politician of a very short list of politicians who gave Atlantic Yards the only official approval it received from any elected officials: The approval came from only four elected individuals and the other three have already left in disgrace.

This sole approval to which I refer was the approval of Atlantic Yards by the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB).  The approval was required by a vote of three individuals, the aforementioned Governor Eliot Spitzer and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver together with senate leader Joe Bruno.  The approval then had to be accepted by State Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

We all know about the hypocritical scandal involving use of prostitutes (a crime Attorney General Spitzer once prosecuted) that forced Spitzer out of office.  Spitzer did not comport himself admirably with respect to Atlantic Yards.   Joe Bruno was convicted of corruption although he will need to be retried because the federal “honest-services” law he was found to have violated (which law makes it a crime “to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services”) was ruled to be insufficiently specific.  Alan Hevesi was forced out in scandal two days after he reviewed and accepted the PACB’s approval of Atlantic Yards.

The recital of names could be sounded out to a melody as a calumnically cynical Leonard Cohen-style march.  Instead of “Everybody Knows”* the refrains might be: . . . “Everybody gets . . . In- . .  dited;  Everybody gets . . . Be-- . .  Smirched.”
(* In part because of Everybody Knows Mr. Cohen has been asked why he has agreed to perform at the “Barclays” Center.)
What is it that draws such individuals, like moths, to the flame of eminent domain abuse?  One thing to remember is that eminent domain abuse is basically a subset of a bigger category of abuse: Crony capitalism.  So we are really looking at the question of what draws these moths to the flame of crony capitalism.  That being understood it is probably not so surprising that their wings ultimately wind up aflame for one kind of selfish conduct or another.

How absurd it is that politicians thought it was justifiable to abuse eminent domain to give Forest City Ratner a mega-monopoly over 30+ acres of Brooklyn sitting astride its most important subway lines?  The purpose of the mega-monopoly was to wipe out competition for Ratner and also, perhaps more important, to ensure that government officials would never have any negotiating power with the developer/subsidy collector to enforce promises, to demand quality of product or to keep costs in check.  In other words no ability to procure for the public any of the things that negotiating leverage can produce.

Atlantic Yards could not have happened had the Kelo v. New London, Connecticut case not paved the way for such abuse.   Kelo is the case that went all the way up to the Supreme Court that made eminent domain abuse legal.  Bad as the Kelo case was, the New York State courts have gone even further in legalizing such abuse in Kelo's wake.

The abuse of eminent domain didn’t work out in New London (it was focused on benefitting pharmaceutical firm Pfizer).  And it didn’t work out for for those perpetrating the New London scheme either.  I wrote about it here: Monday, December 21, 2009, Eminent Domain Abuse: The Gifts That Keep On Giving and the Gifts That Don’t.  Where once there were homes and a neighborhood there is now an expanse of empty lots.  Pfizer, the firm being catered to when the scheme was concocted, left town without any envisioned benefits materializing.

(Above, 36 Franklin Street, in New London, Connecticut, the bulldozed site where Susette Kelo's Little Pink House no longer stands.)

Meanwhile, as I wrote back then, cribbing from and quoting Jeff Benedict, the author of  “Little Pink House,” a book about the Kelo case, this is what happened to folks that brought the world the Kelo case ememinent domain abuse:
    • Former Governor John Rowland of Connecticut “pled guilty to felony conspiracy and was sentenced to one year and a day in federal prison.” (Rowland was charged with an extensive array of schemes to get kickbacks from contractors doing business with the state. After prison he was thrown a lifeline by a political pal and became the city of Waterbury’s economic development coordinator.)

    • Peter Ellef, former chief of staff to Gov. John Rowland, “was sentenced to thirty months in prison for his part in the scandal” (Mr. Ellef’s involvement with Rowland’s scandal involved taking some of his own kickbacks from contractors in the form of gold coins).

    • “The head of Pfizer who was behind this project is out.” The head of Pfizer from January 2001 was Hank McKinnell, who is not mentioned in Mr. Benedict’s book so Mr. Benedict was likely referring to George M. Milne (see below), president of Pfizer’s central reaserch who was very much involved. Mr. McKinnell, having come up through the Pfizer ranks where he was involved in strategic planning for the corporation, resigned in 2006 after an unpopular tenure presiding over declining stock prices that were attributed to an expansionist agenda where Pfizer acquired and merged into itself smaller companies unwisely bought for too much. Ultimately it was the board that was dissatisfied but “Yank Hank” was a refrain with employees. Ironically, while Pfizer trampled property rights in New London, Mr. McKinnell was reputedly a very aggressive defender of Pfizer’s own patents and intellectual property rights.

    • “The woman who ran the development agency that directed the bulldozers to knock the houses down [Claire L. Gaudiani]: Over 70% of the faculty members at Connecticut college signed a petition to have her lose her job as president, and she did.” (The New York Times ran a puff piece upon her departure full of praise, including from a Pfizer representative involved in pushing for the benefits Pfizer walked away from: “George M. Milne Jr., a college trustee who is also senior vice president at Pfizer Inc. and a member of the New London Development Corporation, of which Dr. Gaudiani is also president.” According to “Little Pink House” Mr. Milne is now a “venture capitalist and adjunct lecturer at Harvard and MIT.”

    • As Mr. Benedict makes the point, “So all the power brokers behind this case are out by the time the Supreme Court decision comes down.” He noted that the new governor of Connecticut, Jodi Rell, who replaced Rowland when he was forced to resign ultimately “takes the policy of open-checkbook” to clean up after her predecessor and reach a settlement with the homeowners . Not included in Mr. Benedict’s formal epilogue is information Tom Blumer provides about why that the 2006 deal was brokered:
    • “. . . infuriated city residents mounted what from all appearances was a successful petition drive to put the question of the city property takeover of the Kelo and Cristofaro properties on the ballot in just three weeks.”

    • “. . . a new party, One New London, whose express purpose was to prevent the New London Development Corporation from carrying out its Supreme Court-sanctioned actions, came out of nowhere and won two seats on the seven-seat City Council, losing out on a third seat by 19 votes”
    • At Columbia Mr. Benedict did make this related point: “But perhaps the most important thing in all of this is that if they hadn’t have stood up and lost the case you wouldn’t have the situation you have today which is that 44 states have either passed legislation or constitutional amendments to ban the kind of taking that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005. Now if that’s not victory, I don’t know what is. If they had won the case that wouldn’t happen. . . . That’s what happens when one person stands up.”

    • “Every plaintiff from the eminent-domain lawsuit has left New London, vowing not to return.”

    • “Their houses get knocked down all except for the Pink House which is saved, is taken down board by board, and moved to another part of the city and rebuilt. It sits there today as a landmark and a testament to the case.”

    • Mr. Benedict ends where we began: “The former Fort Trumbull neighborhood is a barren wasteland of weeds, litter, and rubble.”
It should be noted that eminent domain abuse is considered to be technically legal.  Were that not the case the takings of property it permits would simply be considered abject examples of theft.

Daniel Goldstein’s list of  ne'er-do-wells to whom good riddance has now been said probably evolved from this earlier Develop Don’t’ Destroy Brooklyn-supplied starter list of seven indicted, disgraced, sued, or criminally guilty perps (politicians, political fixers, and political gamesmen) that includes supporting links to the relevant background stories of anti-social behaviors coming home to roust: A Ratner's Gallery of Cronies, Friends, Partners, Fixers and Shrill Supporters.

When I wrote the above referred to December 2009 Noticing New York article about the Kelo eminent domain case I included a longer list of those who have left the Atlantic Yards scene without giving a good account of themselves, (that started with a list DDDB had put out six months before).  Since 2009 the list has grown.  The list I have set forth below reprises names already mentioned in this article.  It also fills in the names of some of the government public authority officials that Mr. Goldstein referred to at the alternative ribbon-cutting as being too numerous to count.  It isn’t expanded to include the names of the Westchester politicians who were federally prosecuted for their interactions with Forest City Ratner in connection with the Ratner Ridge Hill project.

To be fair and clear, the list below is only the extensive list of those whom the eminent domain-abusing Atlantic Yards mega-project did not embrace very long or lovingly.  It is not necessarily or exclusively comprised of individuals who got their comeuppance or departed in disgrace for unseemly behavior although it does include such individuals of that character focused on at the beginning of this article.   . .  Still, it includes such people as Starchitect Frank Gehry: He was not forced from the scene for misdeeds but his reputation suffered in connection with his shilling association with Atlantic Yards and the cavalierly ignorant arrogance he displayed proclaiming that he viewed himself as “building a neighborhood practically from scratch.”  It also includes such people as ESDC head Marisa Lago, who seemed to think it was just fine and dandy that she believed that Atlantic Yards could easily take forty years to build even though her agency's environmental assessment documents represented that it would take no more than ten years to build.  Virtually by definition no one on this list came away from their dealings with the Atlantic Yards mega-project with clean hands.

Here is the long list:
    •    Starchitect Frank Gehry
    •    Landscape architect Laurie Olin

    •    Governors:
    •        George Pataki
    •        Eliot Spitzer
    •        David Paterson
    •    ESDC Heads:
    •        Charles Gargano
    •        Patrick Foye
    •        Avi Schick
    •        Marisa Lago
    •        Bob Wilmers
    •        Dennis M. Mullen

    •    MTA heads:
    •        Peter Kalikow
    •        Katherine Lapp
    •        Eliot Sander
    •        H. Dale Hemmerdinger (shortly after an ignominious Atlantic Yards approval)
    •        Jay Walder

    •    PACB Approvers in addition to Eliot Spitzer (Sheldon Silver is the only one not yet booted):
    •        PACB Approval member Joe Bruno.
    •        State Comptroller Alan Hevesi       

    •    Other culpable elected supporters:
    •        Kings County Democratic Party Chair Senator Vito Lopez
    •        Assemblyman Roger Green
    •        Senator Carl Kruger

    •    Team Ratner:
    •        Jim Stuckey
    •        Loren Riegelhaupt
    •        Randall Toure
    •        Richard Lipsky
    •        Bruce Bender
    •        Sal Zarzana

    •    “Team Nets”:
    •        Vince Carter
    •        Jason Kidd
    •        Richard Jefferson

    •    And, of course, the sparkling Mr. Robert J. Diamond, the former the chief executive of Barclays Bank, the LIBORously scandalous bank after which, thanks to our politicians, subway hubs and a city block with an arena have been named.
(I am not even sure this list is complete.  I am particularly not sure about the “Team Nets” list as I am not much of a sports fan.) 

I do not think that the answer in explaining why so many on this list have crashed and burned is simply to believe that all politicians and developers are corrupt.  I think the answer is that the ones attracted to eminent domain abuse and crony capitalism are.
(From the 1964 "Ten Little Indians" film: The diminishing group of specially privileged invitees unhappily contemplate the ominous information from the Judge that they are to be held accountable for crimes the law itself would blithely overlook.)

In the “Ten Little Indians” story the unseen hand of the murderer (a judge) was dealing out his version of justice to guilty individuals he deemed to have escaped their just desserts, those he proclaims “to be guilty of certain crimes which the law cannot touch.”   In real life, the eminent domain abuse theft at the core of Atlantic Yards went unpunished, treated as if it were legal. While there is no sentence-dispensing judge contriving it as in the Agatha Christie plot, it does seem as if comeuppances have a way of coming up for those individuals complicit in that land grab which, but for treating eminent domain abuse as legal (notwithstanding all its faux pretext), is the grandest of recent civic crimes.

Without the plot device of an unseen judge contriving the result these individuals seem to get lured to their justice-delivered fates by their own character: What drew them to eminent domain abuse and crony capitalism draws them also to the other selfish improprieties and illegal maneuvers for which they were ultimately punished.  This suggests a simple shortcut: What if theft by eminent domain abuse were made illegal again?  The way it should be.  Then we would not have to sit around, as if in a suspense novel, waiting for the unseen hand of fate to deliver fitting justice!

As for the suspense of who might be next little indian to meet comeuppance read the breaking story about about how as an extension of the Senator Kruger persecution, Richard Lipsky, former lobbyist for Bruce Ratner, is “spilling his guts about `numerous other persons’ under investigation by the feds ” with the prediction that his revelations will “send tremors through City Hall and the Albany statehouse.”  (See: September 25, 2012, Crooked Kruger lobbyist names names for feds: Court docs.)

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