Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Lambda Night: City Political Candidates and Development (Focusing on Atlantic Yards and Dock Street)

(John C. Liu at back, candidate for comptroller listening to presntation of David Yassky, candidate for comptroler.)

This will fill in interstitially to our prior coverage about the positions on development (with Atlantic Yards getting a particularly deserved focus) of candidates running for city office and it will also provide a quick update about the activities of those currently in city office concerning the Walentas Dock Street project in DUMBO. We take the candidate endorsement meeting of Lambda Independent Democrats (LID) last Thursday night as the opportunity to do so.

Development and Urban Design Themes: Portents of Woe

The real estate development and urban design themes that come to the fore are familiar: Politicians spearheaded by the Bloomberg administration are engaging in unconscionable manipulations, and when manipulations do not work are riding roughshod to deprive communities of a say about what would be best for them. The question of term limits comes up and it must be asked, based on increasing evidence, how utterly disastrous a likely third term for the unchecked power of the Bloomberg administration will be. It portends to be disastrous for the livability of New York City’s urban design in ways we have not even begun to stretch our imaginations around.

Our Prior Coverage on Lack of Support for Atlantic Yards (Before AY Got Even Worse)

Here are links that will take you to the three-part series we initiated with concerning the City Council Races for the 33rd and 39th Council Districts:

City Council candidates don't support AY project, May 08, 2009 09:20AM

May 7, 2009, City
Council Races (33rd and 39th CDs): Candidates’ Positions on Development and
Effective Action They Would Take to Stop Atlantic Yards

As we noted in those articles all the 15 candidates we wrote about were in substantial opposition to Atlantic Yards, (wanting to take it back to the drawing board). And this was before all the very recent events which certainly substantially increase the reasons for discarding the project and starting over.

On some of the recent events see our own: Monday, June 1, 2009, Negotiating With Your Contractor: The Atlantic Yards As Kitchen Renovation Metaphor and Friday, May 29, 2009, Today’s State Senate Hearings on Atlantic Yards and Noticing New York Testimony and Atlantic Yards Report’s Friday, June 05, 2009, Gehry's design was impossible, so dropping him wasn't just cost; what do MAS and RPA say now?

We promised future focus on the races for city-wide offices; this will also serve as a jumpstart on that.

Twenty Candidates Speak

Twenty candidates running for various offices, City Council seats, Civil Court Judge and City Comptroller spoke. Development issue came up a lot, particularly Atlantic Yards. (Lambda has previously resolved that it is against Atlantic Yards even though there was an apparent effort by developer Forest City Ratner to woo support by promising gay and lesbian activists a community center in a Downtown Brooklyn building owned by the developer. They were apparently NOT co-opted. (See: Saturday, October 27, 2007, The LID vote on AY.)

It should not be surprising that Atlantic Yards, as indicated in our previous posts, was the subject of what is by now almost axiomatic attack by the candidates. Other development got the usual reactions too; candidates speaking about why the Gowanus Canal should be cleaned up by a federal superfunding approach was a favorite topic. The new kid on the development block, Dock Street, got attention because there were two dismaying City Council committee votes earlier in the day that approved it. (More on Dock Street further on.)

Bob Zuckerman was endorsed by Lambda for the 39th Council District which means that Lambda endorsed an openly gay candidate. Mr. Zuskerman’s presentation focused a fair amount on development and mentioned Atlantic Yards. (When asked about jobs remarked (beginning with a tone of careful scepticism): “One thing I should say, that I didn’t mention before, there is proposal in Brooklyn that the developers `say’ is going to bring these jobs. And I just want to say here categorically that I have always been, will continue to be, and am currently against the Atlantic Yard project.” We also noted that Josh Skaller, another candidate for the 39th and a strong opponent of Atlantic Yards received especially warm applause and that Brad Lander, also running for the 39th who has spoken eloquently against Atlantic Yards spoke with his usual eloquence hitting again upon development issue and how community participation is essential to ensuring the quality of New York neighborhoods but this time he forgot to specifically mention his opposition to Atlantic Yards.

Two Candidates For Comptroller and Three Topics: Atlantic Yards, Dock Street and Term Limits

The most interesting part of the evening were the speeches, (following one after the other) of Council Members John Liu and David Yassky, each running for the postion of Comptroller. This was where the topics of Atlantic Yards, Dock Street and term limits all came together fascinatingly.

Mr. Liu on Atlantic Yards

Here is Council Member John Liu, who is running for Comptroller, speaking on Atlantic Yards for a considerable portion of his allotted 10 minutes:

So some of the issues that Lambda has taken on that would not ordinarily be considered an LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangender] issue would be the whole idea of the development of Atlantic Yards. This is a development that promised the world for everybody in Brooklyn when it was first proposed. It was going to be a gargantuan. It was going to be a monstrosity. It was going to take people’s homes away. But, in return, so many jobs would be created, so many new housing units, so many economic opportunities. . And yet so many years have passed by and we still see very little, very little, even as people have lost their homes.

This is an issue that I am happy so see so many of the members of Lambda take a hold of. It is an issue, and I will be very honest, this was not something that ever came before the City Council, and so as a council member dealing with lots of development, anti-development issues in my neck of the woods, I had not paid very much close attention to this. But, of course, over the past several weeks I have been given a very quick tutorial by the likes of, you know, Lucy and Dan
[i. e. Atlantic Yards opponents, the “Dan” being Daniel Goldstein] and a number of other people and so I am going to take a very serious look at this.

And the first question has to be how come it wasn’t even before the City Council at all? Why did it not go through a ULURP process? Those are questions that we have to begin with and then we have to understand what it is that has been promised and what actually has materialized? And what actually at this point has even a promise or possibility of materializing?

Those are questions that I would look at if I was elected Comptroller. I will still look at them as a member of City Council, especially when they are talking about deferring (which in our book means “cancelling”) payments to the MTA that just imposed a fare hike on all of us and is claiming extreme poverty. These are issues that don’t make sense. This is casting more doubt and question on even the viability of something like Atlantic Yards.
(On the whole these are excellent and important remarks, but we would also offer to tutor Mr. Liu more on how the original plan offered little real value. See our Jane Jacobs Report Card.)

Mr. Liu on Term Limits

Mr. Liu then made his pitch for support depicting distinctions he saw between himself and his opponent, City Council member (for the 33rd) David Yassky who was, by the end of Liu’s remarks, also in the room, and with whom Liu has a mutually acknowledged good relationship. One of the distinctions Mr. Liu spent time on was the way he had fought against the way in which Mayor Bloomberg overrode the public’s imposition of term limits. Mr. Liu said that he was actually, personally, against term limits but that he was a minority in this regard because the “vast majority of New Yorkers” put the term limits restriction “on the books.” Mr, Liu said he had therefore taken the position that if it had to be changed, it should have been done by returning to the voters for another referendum. (He was roundly applauded on this, some of the most pronounced applause that occurred during the evening.)

Mr. Liu on Development

Respecting real estate development, Mr. Liu also spoke of his participation in his own Queens community to secure several down-zonings to preserve the community and keep it intact:

The American dream was not made of situations where you have more and more and more development and crowding in more and more people and yet the very ideal of the American dream that people were coming to the neighborhood for, were coming to New York for gets lost on people.
Mr. Yassky on Dock Street (With Kudos to Mr. Liu)

Councilman Yassky spoke next. The camaraderie of his relationship with Mr. Liu was immediately in evidence as he led with his remarks by extending thanks to Mr. Liu for his City Council committee vote that day against the Dock Street project, a fight Mr. Yassky has been leading: (The proposed project is in Yassky’s district.) Mr. Yassky got loud applause when he referred Liu’s vote to “block the atrocious idea for a 17 story tower next to the Brooklyn Bridge.” A stony silence followed when Mr. Yassky went on to reveal that the effort to block the project in committee had, in fact, failed. The project is up for a vote of the full City Council on Wednesday and right now, quite appallingly, the odds are that it will be approved.

Mr. Yassky on Atlantic Yards (and the Real Estate Industry)

Like Mr. Liu, Mr. Yassky similarly featured discussion of real estate development and Atlantic Yards in his remarks. He spoke about having some success in a coordinated fight against the mayor’s effort to get 421-a real estate tax breaks for luxury housing. (Those tax breaks have hurt city revenues in the current downturn and accentuated problems we are experiencing because Bloomberg did not save for a rainy day.) Mr. Yassky talked about when he fought the previous speaker of the council (on a garbage-handling plan) he had to pay the price for his opposition when his “member items got cut and budget got cut.” After referring to the real estate industry and its lobby as the “toughest most entrenched industry in this town” Mr. Yassky turned his attention to Atlantic Yards. He had arrived late enough so that he had not heard, and was unaware of, Mr. Liu’s expression of opposition on Atlantic Yards. In his presentation Mr. Yassky said that he had been against Atlantic Yards from the beginning and said:

I am the one who pointed out that Ratner has taken $40 million of your tax dollars. You know he is still sitting on $40 million of your tax money even though he hasn’t done anything on that project. And we should get hat money back. saying that he had been against it from the beginning
(We ought to mention that total taxpayer-funded subsidies going to Ratner will be in the billions.)

You can read a more fine-point analysis of Mr. Yassky’s position on Atlantic Yards in our earlier piece on the subject. (See: Wednesday, May 6, 2009, City Council Races (33rd and 39th CDs): Candidates’ Positions on Development and Effective Action They Would Take to Stop Atlantic Yards (Part II).) Plus we can introduce some additional nuance to what we provided before. Mr. Yassky stated to us at a bloggers’ breakfast on May 19, 2009 that he has been in favor of the proposed Nets arena at the Atlantic Yards site but that (like John Heyer, candidate for the 39th CD) he is opposed to the public financing of that arena.

The opposition of Yassky and Heyer to public taxpayer financing of the arena (with real property tax intercepts and tax exempt bonds like those for Yankee Stadium or the Mets Citifield) constitutes what is, as a practical matter, opposition to the plan for the arena. It should also be noted that when, at that May 19th breakfast Yassky noted his previous support for the design for the arena had not degenerated into its current airplane hanger/plant shed look which eliminates the purportedly beneficial and once highly touted “urban room” and the opportunity to use the space for hockey games. (Heyer’s statement of conditional support for the arena sans public financing was also before the arena degenerated and went sans these original purported benefits.)

The last nuance to note: Not everyone agrees that Yassky was always, from the beginning, as opposed to Atlantic Yards as he represents. However, we have said before, that we welcome everyone to the cause, including latecomers. (We feel we were also late.) With the poor mainstream press coverage Atlantic Yards has received, there is plenty of reason people have not always been promptly aware of Atlantic Yards’ stupendous flaws.

Yassky’s Defense on His Term Limits Vote

Of course, Yassky had to defend his vote to extend term limits. He noted that he had “no doubt that the bulk of the opinion in this room is against the elimination of term limits.” He argued that he was consistent in that he thought that term limits was a bad policy no matter who was proposing it, or for or against it, or would benefit politically from it. This was essentially the same case another City Council candidate, Lew Fidler, (CD 46) made earlier during the evening (after getting hissed about his vote). (Fidler, very strong on LGBT issues, got Lambda’s endorsement.)
Mulling Principles Applicable to Term Limits Vote

We think that Liu’s postion on term limits (essentially our own) makes sense while the Yassky and Fidler postion is disingenuous. Even if you have/had a principled opposition to City Council term limits the following come into play:

1. Term limits can apply to the mayor (the executive) without applying to the City Council just the way they do in the federal system.

2. The voter’s imposition of the requirement through referendum should not have been overridden, without referendum, especially by the mayor’s secretly hatched scheme unveiled at the last minute.

3. It was unfair to change term limits in the middle of an ongoing campaign. The mayor and his insiders availed themselves of advance knowledge of the imminent change. His opposition could not.

4. There is a principle (the “Harry Truman rule”) that term limit rules should not be made to apply during the terms of incumbents to the very people who are changing the rules that will apply to themselves.

There is, of course, more, (for instance, the way the vote was manipulated in a very short space of time); but this post is not intended to be all about that term limit fiasco. We should, however, look to what the elimination of term limits has meant as it applies to the power of the wealthy Mr. Bloomberg. We can see that with what is happening with the Dock Street project.

Term Limits and Lambda Comptroller Endorsement

At the end of the evening Lambda voted to endorse Mr. Liu over Mr. Yassky. From what we understand, Mr. Yassky’s vote on term limits is likely to have factored heavily in Lambda’s decision. That, plus the fact that there was feeling that Mr. Yassky could have been more strenuously opposed to Atlantic Yards, especially earlier on, and been more reliable on certain other development issues. His support for a City Council override of the landmarking of Williamsburg’s waterfront Cass Gilbert-designed Austin, Nichols Co. warehouse has stuck with Mr. Yassky as a famous black mark. (In the end, economics saved the warehouse from the desecration it was facing.) Lastly, the endorsemnt Liu received from the Stonewall club likley had an influence.

This was the second evening Mr. Yassky and Mr. Liu appeared before Lambda to seek their endorsement. No decision on the endorsement had been made the first time, indicating the decision was not easy. Both Mr. Yassky and Mr. Liu have qualifications to be a good comptroller. Mr. Liu is an actuary which would give him insight into the pension fund management aspects. Mr. Yassky started in the City Budget Office and has recently undertaken the task of organizing and making accessible on his website critical budget data information, something which should be taken even further in the future.

Cost of the Term Limits Vote- Back To Dock Street

Mr. Yassky’s vote to extend the mayor’s term limits may have ultimately cost him the Lambda endorsement. It may have cost him and the city something more, the City Council vote on the Dock Street project which in that day’s committee votes was very lopsidedly against Mr. Yassky’s effort to block the project. The vote in the larger land use committee was 17 to 4 in favor of approving the project. (Mr. Yassky, not on either committee, could not vote.) This lopsidedness certainly disrespected Mr. Yassky, given that City Council members traditionally give a very high degree of deference to the wishes of the City Council person in whose district a project is located. The lopsided vote is very likely strong testament to the way that the mayor’s power has grown as people recognize that, given his wealth and control of resources (including those he controls as an incumbent) there seems to be virtually no means to marshal opposition to him in the mayoral race. That now seems to be translating into a perceived lack of practical means to oppose Mr. Bloomberg and the real estate industry he champions in virtually every contest.

Principled City Council Votes?

We perceive a shift. Normally, when a City Council member’s wishes with respect to a project are disregarded by other City Council members it should be for reasons of principle. Opposition to eminent domain abuse is an example, but sometimes not even that principled opposition is forthcoming: A number of City Council members expressed principled opposition to eminent domain abuse but still voted in favor of that abuse in the case of the Columbia University expansion and the destruction of Willets Point because they were respecting the wishes and votes of the Council members from those districts whose votes had ultimately been bought by the Bloomberg administration. A few City Council members voted against those plans on principle. In the case of the Dock Street project, the lopsided alignment against local Councilman Yassky was not based on principle: Quite the opposite.

And Principle Would Dictate on Dock Street. . .

Principle would dictate that almost any City Council would vote to block the project. Blocking it is in the interest of the larger city and world community by preserving the iconic views of a world and national heritage monument. The developers have tried to characterize opposition as just being about a bunch of wealthy DUMBO residents trying to preserve their own apartment views, but this is not why Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning, historian David McCullough has testified against the project or written a two-page article against it in Newsweek. More important, as Councilman Eric Gioia has said, the project should be blocked because an ongoing FOIL investigation shows that the Bloomberg administration engaged in behind-the-scenes manipulations with the School Construction Authority to put a school into the project to get it approved despite the community’s prior disapproval. By definition, those manipulations which were so clearly focused on benefitting the developer and indifferent to the public, virtually guarantee that the project will not properly serve the public and that truly deserving alternatives will be ignored.

Tish James on Dock Street

Dock Street was briefly defended at the Lambda meeting by City Council member Tish James (a Lambda member before she became a public official) who was seeking endorsement in her race. James, a stalwart and leading opponent of Atlantic Yards (as well as many other projects like the Columbia University expansion) has taken a very uncharacteristic position on Dock Street which she probably knows is unprincipled. We have said that the project’s developers, the Walentases, are much better than most developers in the city and they are providing Ms. James with support, but they should not be developing this project and the backroom deal involving the bundling of a school into the project is absolutely unacceptable. Here is Ms. James that night:
I do support the Dock Street project. I support the Dock Street project, one, because it brings affordable housing ( There’s a crisis in affordable housing. In fact, there is not enough affordable housing in DUMBO.), and two, because it will bring middle school for the district that I represent and for surrounding community. And I am confident that there will be a middle school and affordable housing because it will be included in a legal document that the speaker of the City of New York (who came out in support of it yesterday) will be drafting. So I am confident that we will get those public benefits so that is why I support it.

Her next sentence was a quick segue to mention her opposition to Atlantic Yards. For a principled stance on Dock Street Ms. James should, in fact, have been making some comparative notes about Atlantic Yards. First and foremost she should have acknowledged that Dock Street was a project where, consistent with the Bloomberg administration’s manipulations and the extraordinary flow of campaign funds, the fix was in a long time ago. Speaker Christine Quinn “ came out in support of it yesterday”? Then why was everyone else, including Borough President Markowitz, acknowledging that the fix was in long before that?

Speaker Christine Quinn “came out in support of it yesterday”? Then why was she, ahead of time, whipping so many votes for the project to get the lopsided committee votes that came out at the exact same time. Affordable housing is assured by a document that Speaker Quinn “will be drafting”? Why isn’t that document already drafted and in evidence given that the fix was in so long ago?

For the word “drafting” we, in this context, read the word “negotiating” as in Speaker Quinn will be “negotiating” the legal document that specifies what will be provided in terms of “a middle school and affordable housing.”

Who negotiates and gets to sign and enforce these legal documents, sometimes referred to as “public benefits agreements” is in itself an interesting topic that affords a lot of food for thought. Is one to presume, for instance, that Speaker Quinn gets these responsibilities in this context because she took the largest campaign contributions from the developer? (See below.) Or because she whipped all the votes to provide the benefits to the developer?

Surely, after her experience with Atlantic Yards, Ms. James recognizes manipulations and false promises and reprehensible conduct to override a community’s wishes? Surely she knows to suspect when public resources are improperly diverted into a developer’s project to create a bundling of “benefit” that presents false choices to the community?

Overall, her remarks were brief. Ms. James probably knew that among other things she could coast on her well-known opposition to Atlantic Yards. Yes, her candidacy was endorsed.

(Medhanie Estiphanos, candidate for the 35th CD running agsinst Ms. James.)

Jo Anne Simon on Dock Street

Jo Anne Simon, candidate for the 33rd City Council District, when asked about Dock Street during her presentation, emphatically said that she would have voted against the project. She said that one of the things she had made a point of in her testimony at several levels of review was that the space in the project was not going to be big enough for a properly functioning middle school as the Bloomberg administration was promising, “so it really is a deal that is not destined to be what people have been promised, and that to me is extraordinarily troubling.” Ms. Simon was also endorsed by Lamba that night for the 33rd Council District.

The DUMBO Neighborhood Association on Dock Street and Top Bloomberg Officials Implicated

After the City Council committees voted, the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance put out a press release (Land-Use Committee Votes to ‘Sell’ Brooklyn Bridge As Evidence of Impropriety between Developer Two Trees, School Construction Authority and Mayoral Aides Mounts) that noted that the e-mails being investigated showed that the School Construction Authority’s manipulative bundling of the school into the project involved the highest members of the Bloomberg administration. Here is some of what that press release says (emphasis supplied):

. . . those who are rushing to vote rather than investigate, will have their reputation and political careers painted with the outcome. While the City Council members may not have been direct players in impropriety, they are casting votes with the full knowledge that serious and potentially criminal evidence is mounting and in need of investigation. Rather than protect the public interest by calling for a halt to Dock Street pending an investigation, they are rushing forward to curry political favors and perhaps further contributions from our city’s worst pay-to-play developers. This will not escape the long-memory of the voting public on upcoming election days.”

* * * *

What is emerging today is that the potential impropriety extends its way into the highest level of the New York City Mayor’s Office. According to the chain of emails obtained via FOIL, both Gregorio Mayers, Senior Policy Advisor to Mayor Bloomberg, and Nnenna Lynch, Senior Policy to Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber, had direct email communication with the lobbyist, attorney and Two Trees head Jed Walentas regarding the project. Emails can be obtained directly from DNA by calling 917-742-6072.

It has also recently surfaced via The New York Times that developer Two Trees has spent approximately $400,000 lobbying the elected official in City Council and other important government agencies. The two City Council members yielding the most power over the development, Land Use Committee Chairwoman Melinda R. Katz and Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, have received at least $74,250 in campaign donations from the developer according to The New York Times article, perhaps coloring their objectivity on the proposed structure. According to The New York Times, “Katz, who is running for city comptroller, has received major financial support from the real estate industry, whose interests she oversees on the Land Use Committee… And Mr. Walentas and his father, David (the principals of Two Trees), were on the finance committee for a Katz fund-raiser in June.”
Robert Lieber, the deputy mayor who replaced Daniel Doctoroff, comes up in other contexts. He is being sued by those seeking to prevent the proposed destruction of Willets Point. If Coney Island ceases to exist as an amusement area, being sold off to developers for other uses, it will be very much at his hands and the people working for him. Working on the Hudson Yards project he has said it will take decades (“Projects Whose Names None Dare Speak”).

Does Ms. Quinn Have So Much As a Comment on Smoking Gun E-Mails?

We would think that if Ms. Quinn is going to whip votes in favor of the Dock Street project she ought to have a comment on the smoking gun e-mails that have been in the press about the mayoral level manipulations to get the project approved and give the public less than the benefits it deserves. We also think that if any City Council committee member is going to vote in favor of the project and not to block it as Councilmen Gioia and Yassky said was essential, they should have a comment on these smoking gun e-mails.

We called Speaker Quinn’s office for her comment on the e-mails. She has supplied no comment. Did she whip votes and come out in favor of the project without having an opinion on these e-mails? Despite the huge amount of attention they received in the press? That, obviously, would have been an irresponsible thing to do.

Names and Votes of City Council Committee Members: Again, Any Comment?

Here are the votes of the two committees that voted on Dock Street on Thursday. City Council members on the Land Use committee who are also on the Zoning and Franchise committee are indicated in italics. (Everyone on the latter is on the former.) For extra good measure, we have bolded the names of any of Council members who also was among the 29 members who voted to extend the mayor’s term limits. We are particularly dismayed by the Dock Street votes of certain Council Members who ought otherwise to have particularly bright futures, Jessica Lapin and Daniel Garodnick among them.


Tony Avella: no
Charles Barron: no
Eric Gioia: no
John Liu: no

Maria Baez: yes
Maria Arroyo: yes
Leroy Comrie: yes

Elizabeth Crowley: yes
Inez Dickens: yes
Simcha Felder: yes

Daniel Garodnick: yes
Sara Gonzalez: yes
Vincent Ignizio: yes
Robert Jackson: yes
Melinda Katz: yes

Jessica Lappin: yes
Annabel Palma: yes
Joel Rivera: yes
Larry Seabrook: yes
Helen Sears: yes

Albert Vann: yes


Tony Avella: no
Eric Gioa: no

Simcha Felder: yes
Robert Jackson: yes
Melinda Katz: yes
Joel Rivera: yes
Larry Seabrook: yes
Helen Sears: yes

We called up every one of the City Council members who voted on these committees to ask for their comment on the School Construction Authority e-mails. So far we have not received any comment from any member who voted in favor of the project. We will let you know if we do. Mr. Gioia obviously has made known his view that the project needed to be blocked unless adequate answers were forthcoming. Mr. Avella had already issued a press release that included the following Avella remarks:

“It is absolutely disgraceful that this project was able to pass through the committee process with relative ease despite the massive outpouring of community opposition. This development will undoubtably destroy the panoramic view of the Brooklyn bridge, which is not only a City treasure, nut a national one as well. The votes only further demonstrate that the real estate industry truly controls the land use process in the City of New York,” stated Avella.

“Recent reports in many of the City’s daily newspapers have only heightened my concerns that there may be a connection between campaign contributions by the real estate industry and the voting decisions of individual Council Members. The mere appearance of impropriety in or legislative body is shameful. These activities must be investigated and stopped before we jeopardize our democracy,” concluded Avella.
At the Lambda meeting we had a chance to personally thank Mr. Liu for his vote to block the project. Is it possible that we will never hear any comment from any of the City Council members who will willing to be whipped by Speaker Quinn into voting for this project despite the Bloomberg administration’s manipulations at the expense of public benefit?

Not Listening to Communities and Circumvention of Process

Yes, it is troubling that part of the story is that the Dock Street developer was buying the City Council approval of an unacceptable project with $74,250 in campaign contributions to Quinn and Katz, plus $400.000 in lobbying expenditures. But what is more frightening is the way that, with the demise of term limits, the growing, unchecked power of Mayor Bloomberg means that communities and their representation are now going to be irrelevant when the Bloomberg sells off more of New York City’s public realm, slating it for destruction. As candidate and Councilman John Liu said, rasing much the same concerns about Atlantic Yards: “And the first question has to be how come it wasn’t even before the City Council at all? Why did it not go through a ULURP process? Those are questions that we have to begin with. .” And the next question is, whatever the process: Is anyone going to listen?

How Much of the City Can Bloomberg Sell Off? And How Fast?

What is also clear from both the Dock Street project and the degenerating Atlantic Yards project is that the administration does not support projects, they support developers “ad hominem” and the projects get supported by manipulation irrespective of their merit, and, particularly in the case of Atlantic Yards, no matter to what level they degenerate.

In the next couple of weeks the city will be making major decisions ranging from:

1. Selling off a portion of the Greenwich Village Historic District (to subsidize St. Vincent’s)- Tuesday at the Landmark’s Preservation Commission.

2. Selling off most of the Coney Island amusement district- City Planning Commission- June 17th. (A Don't Shrink Coney! Rally will be held in the City Hall Steps Wednesday June 10, 1 p.m.- Show up 12:30 p.m. to allow time to go through security.- A parade will follw.)

3. The City Economic Development Corporation has announced condemnation proceedings against Willets Point business and property owners while Article 78 challenge is still pending in court. (This is from a media advisory from Councilman Tony Avella.) EDC has also decided to do this before negotiating with property owners and after telling many of them that negotiations will not start for more than a year.- There will be a press conference and rally in opposition Monday, June 8th at 1:30pm at the Shea Gas Station 127-48 Northern Blvd, Willets Point, Queens.

4. Giving additional substantial additional benefits to Forest City Ratner for the degenerating Atlantic Yards, including giving it more of the MTA’s assets without a proper quid pro quo.- June 24 at both the MTA and the ESDC in synchronized meetings. (Does that sound like the fix is in?)- There will ba a Community meeting on Atlantic Yards, June 9- 7 PM at Lafayette Avenue Church. 85 South Oxford Street, Ft. Greene

5. Sacrificing the iconocism of the Brooklyn Bridge for Dock Street- Next Wednesday, June 10th at the City Council.
The list is not complete and, for instance, does not include the likelihood that the mayor’s wishes will again be accommodated by diverting more public authority money into the risky financing of a private developer’s towers at the World Trade Center site (against the advice of the New York Times). If the Bloomberg administration can accomplish the sale of so much of the city is just a few weeks, think what it will be able to do unimpeded and unchecked with an entire third term. And just remember that while Bloomberg administration destroys, it does NOT build. It rightfully failed on the West Side Stadium but there is also Moynihan Station, the World Trade Center redevelopment site and the very slow pace of work at Queens West.

The Role Paterson Does Not Fulfill as Governor

We have one final thought which is to note that it is not just and always about the Bloomberg administration. It is also sometimes about Governor David Paterson. Paterson is not fulfilling his role and responsibility as governor. Further, by not taking a principled stance to deal with the corruption of Atlantic Yards, Paterson is also not doing his duty as a loyal Democrat.

We recognize that Governor Paterson has no say about what is happening with respect to the Dock Street project. That is happening entirely at the city level. But the Governor could at any time make a principled move and pull the plug on the incredible Atlantic Yards mega-boondoggle. By doing so he would ensure that Bloomberg is confronted squarely and that the issue of inappropriate development is politically engaged. Flushing out Bloomberg would almost certainly lead to a much more respectable showing by the Democrats who are trying to get traction in politically opposing Bloomberg despite his extraordinary wealth and vastly disproportionate resources. It could perhaps lead to a Democratic win. Right now, by playing along with Bloomberg, Paterson is enfeebling of the Democratic party in New York City. Might one counter that the vast majority of City Council seats will continue to be held by Democrats? Perhaps, but what good is it if we have a million City Council members who are Democrats if none of them can do anything for their communities and all the power is held by a single Republican? A single Republican who also happens (shall we say by coincidence?) to have become the richest New Yorker while in the office of mayor.

In the Bible the question is asked: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Alternately, “lose his life.”) Sticking to politics, we would ask: What does it profit a party to populate the City Council with an overwhelming majority but to have no power and no principles? And as a voter one might then ask, what use do we have for such Democrats?

1 comment:

Bob said...

Great article. Like you, I am frightened to think what a third term for the Mayor will create in terms of the cities land. Even more frightening (or atleast dissapointing) is how the average New Yorker seems totally divorced from what is going on.
It is so important that we have a public advocate who, if Mr. Bloomberg wins, will fight for the rights of the rest of us; similarly (if possible) the City Council members. Again, keep up the good work.