Saturday, October 3, 2009

What Purnick Has Purged: The Bloomberg Bio Mysteriously Missing Atlantic Yards

Our last post, (Friday, October 2, 2009, No Real Debate About It: Press Remains Way Off Track in Presupposing Bloomberg’s “Charity”) was about “a press corps far too pliantly in the thrall of official Bloomberg mythology,” particularly Bloomberg’s ostensible charitable intent in using his vast financial resources. We suggested that the public is paying significant prices it hasn’t even begun to consider yet. To make our points we relied to a fair extent on Joyce Purnick’s brand-new biography of Bloomberg, Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics, which (officially published this week, on September 28th). It has been noted that the book is far too adulatory.

Unimpeachable Admiration

In our post we wrote:
As asserted by Fred Siegel’s review of her book in the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Purnick is probably much too easy on Bloomberg. He says her book “is mostly an admiring portrait of the man and his mayoralty” and that Ms. Purnick “who had extensive access to the mayor and his staff” “sees Mr. Bloomberg as he would like to see himself.” We concur.
Bloomberg expert and feature reporter for the Village Voice, Wayne Barrett, says of Ms. Purnick and her book:
She is evenhanded to a fault and concluded that Bloomberg could be "one of the most effective mayor's in the city's history." So when Purnick slams the mayor, or even reports something about the mayor with negative connotations, it's unimpeachable.
(See: Barrett: More Bloomberg Revelations in Purnick's Book, By Wayne Barrett Monday, Sep. 21 2009.)

The Tease of Revelation

Unimpeachable? That’s good because we used Ms. Purnick’s book to help nail the true problem that Bloomberg’s ostensible “charity” really is. Well, maybe not totally unimpeachable, not exactly. We think Ms. Purnick gets some things wrong. We used a few internal contradictions (and contradictions from Bloomberg own 1997 book, “Bloomberg by Bloomberg”(By Bloomberg- With invaluable help from Matthew Winkler.) to tease out revelations we think others may be missing, including revelations about the origins and arc of Bloomberg’s political ambitions.

How does one write a book that is “mostly an admiring portrait” of Bloomberg? It helps to write a pretty short one. Ms. Purnick’s is 227 pages. Bloomberg’s own biographical venture in self-adulation, not even getting into his political career is 249 pages, the second edition a few pages longer.

Keeping Development Down to Half A Burden

Another way to write an overly adorational book do it is to report virtually nothing about one of Noticing New York’s main concerns, Bloomberg’s effect on New York urban design and development. City Planning Commission Chairman Amanda Burden gets a half-sentence mention on page 88:
. . . . And Amanda Burden, Member of the City Planning Commission and a friend of Patti Harris,* took him touring to dilapidated corners of Brooklyn.
* We had a lot to say about quid-pro-quoing Patti Harris in our last post. Any interest this key political operative (currently Bloomberg’s First Deputy Mayor) takes in real estate development is something we consider foreboding.- “ dilapidated corners of Brooklyn”?: Humm.

There is little about Bloomberg’s predilection for megadevelopment or his mishandling of them by virtue of his focus on benefitting developers and letting them take the lead in setting public policy. Ms. Purncik obviously hasn’t been reading Noticing New York posts like Un-funny Valentines Arriving Late: Your Community Interests at Heart (Monday, February 23, 2009) or Getting Bloomberg Out of The Way to Honor Moynihan (Wednesday, September 23, 2009).

Net of Atlantic Yards

A prime example of ignoring significantly errant Bloombergian megadevelopment is Purnick’s lack of mention of Atlantic Yards. Her book contains only an oblique misleading sliver of a reference. Neither Atlantic Yards nor Bruce Ratner or his Forest City Ratner are mentioned anywhere in the book. Similarly, you won’t find mention of Yankee Stadium in the index, though there are two paragraphs about the new Yankee and Mets stadiums into which there is tucked the slight hint that there might be plans for a megadevelopment far more problematic than either stadium. On page 207 Ms. Purnick breezes through this topic area thusly:
After blocking Giuliani’s subsidies to new stadiums for the Mets and the Yankees in his first year, judging, in his pragmatic businessman’s fashion, that the city could not afford them, Bloomberg later relented. He was lavishly generous to the two teams and their ultraluxurious stadiums, as well as to a new basketball arena in Brooklyn.

The stadiums benefited (sic) from tens of millions of dollars* in city investments, tax breaks and subsides, bundled into complex deals whose true cost to the taxpayers may never be clear. The city will gain from economic activity in the long run, the mayor said, as all mayors say about sports stadiums everywhere. Rarely do the predictions meet the promise but the stadiums are built anyway.
(* Only “tens of millions of dollars”? Total public subsidies for Atlantic Yards are in the hundreds of millions aggregating up to $2-$3 billion and the subsidies that come from the state and other levels of government should not be disregarded: Those are funded with taxes from NYC taxpayers too, and divert resources from other city projects. ESDC and the MTA just piled on hundreds of millions of extra subsidy on the basketball arena alone.)

(Purnick's basketball arena? Rendering by the Municipal Art Society showing the teardown of the neighborhood the Ratner project plan involves. At this point, even some of the replacement buildings shown above next to the arena probably won't come in the near future either. -Original Aerial Photograph by Jonathan Barkey.)

Also From AYR’s Perspective

Norman Oder in his own Atlantic Yards Report post reviewing the book, notes* one other mention of the arena, that with what Ms. Purnick communicates as an attitude of “Development is development, good for the city's economy,” Bloomberg “bowing to the economy” backed developer Forest City Ratner’s switcheroo to the cheaper (subsequently modified) Ellerbe Becket design “for the Brooklyn stadium” (sic) that “looked like nothing so much as a bland, boxy factory.” (Page 209).

(* This post is being updated as of October 7, 2009 to refer to this AYR post: Tuesday, October 06, 2009, Bloomberg's biographer offers gentle treatment of development issues, and barely a mention of the Nets arena (but no AY).)

Mr. Oder’s review of the book is very thorough, spotting other references to development dealt with by Ms. Purick in her breezily sparse way. (Mr. Oder similarly uses the adjective “breezy.”) Aptly and with devastating documentation he faults Ms. Purnick for the false dichotomy she creates to portray Bloomberg as a “pragmatic,” “prudent” mayor content with “imperfect development” whom only “sticklers” tolerating “neglect” would criticize. Mr. Oder also reveals that Ms. Purnick has absolutely no excuse to be as cursorily mistaken about Atlantic Yards given that:
AY uber-opponent Patti Hagan, who shares mutual friends with Purnick, assures me [as well as us at Noticing New York] she provided the biographer with copious background material on the controversy in Brooklyn.
Not Coming to Terms With Limits

Ms. Purnick may have overlooked the quintessential Bloombergianism of megadevelopment (and debacles like Atlantic Yards), but Mr. Bloomberg apparently doesn’t. Bloomberg’s term limits extension is generally viewed as the most ignoble (and revealing) moment of his political career. When Bloomberg’s signed the bill extending term limits and provided a reason for why his pursuit of the legislation was justified, he apparently focused on his drive for megadevelopment, perhaps thinking of Atlantic Yards in particular. In his brief statement before signing, his reasons for signing the bill included the following (emphasis supplied):
“You know that I have fundamentally changed my opinion in terms of how long someone should be in office. I have not changed my opinion in terms of the value of term limits. I have made a commitment that I will appoint a charter review commission to look at the issue of whether two or three terms is appropriate and to put on the ballot the ability for the public to either reaffirm what we have today or to change. There is no easy answer and nobody is irreplaceable, but I do think that if you take a look at the real world, of how long it takes to do things; we live in a litigious society, we live in a society where we have real democracy and lots of people have the ability to INPUT their views and approve or disapprove projects. I just think that three terms makes more sense than two. . . . I feel that this time the public should have a choice and while I still am in favor of term limits it is seriously something that everyone should think long and hard about.”
See: Tuesday, November 4, 2008, Remembering; Not Forgetting in Chinatown.)

Among Hidden and Not So Hidden Revelations: Bloomberg is Not Outgunning Shy

Read our last post for what we think are some of the most significant hidden revelations in Ms. Purnicks’ book.

Others have been suggesting, with Mr. Barrett perhaps taking the lead in his Village Voice piece, that the key revelations in Purnick’s book concern Bloomberg’s recently disclosed dislike for Barack Obama:
. . revealing their true feelings about Obama. In extolling his own readiness to be president to Purnick, Bloomberg assailed both Obama and John McCain in an interview shortly before he announced he wouldn't run: "What the hell do they know about management and dealing with people? Nothing." Kevin [Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s top political aide] said that Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Obama were the candidates, "I'd write the filing checks myself," suggesting that he was so sure Bloomberg could beat those two ideologically polarizing figures that he'd pay the fees to get the mayor on various state ballots.
Mr. Bloomberg’s “true feelings about Obama”? “[E]xtolling his own readiness to be president”. . . "What the hell do they know about management and dealing with people? Nothing.". . "I'd write the filing checks myself,"? We don’t think that “true feelings” about Obama have anything to do with it. We think that Bloomberg is tactically positioning himself to run against Obama for president in 2012, planning to fulfill an intention (worked out with Patti Harris) that he revealed in the mid-1990's. Bloomberg is obviously outgunning Thompson financially now in the race for mayor. He would very likely outgun Obama too. Obama raised three quarters of a billion in the 2008 campaign while Bloomberg was willing to spend $1 billion. For more about this and the origin story of Bloomberg-the-politician, see our last post.

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