Monday, November 30, 2009

Promising Predictions as Bloomberg’s Political Plaything

Knowing the “No”s of November, the Election Month

Back in September we commented skeptically on predictions that the Brooklyn Bridge Park would be opening by the end of the year. Some of what we said:
The public is being further titillated by the projection that spurs having been kicked so that the first phase of the long-delayed Brooklyn Bridge Park will be open by December, just two months after the mayoralty election. Really?

* * * *

Notably, much like the Times advises public officials to do in the case of Moynihan Station, the city is now suddenly moving Brooklyn Bridge Park forward (we’ll gauge how fast when December finally rolls in after the election) because it is setting the extraneous focus on development aside.
This was part of piece we did wherein we noticed a rash of new Bloomberg pre-election promises about development while commenting that by falling over himself to put developers ahead of the public interest Bloomberg had been particularly inept at actually producing development. (See: Wednesday, September 23, 2009, Getting Bloomberg Out of The Way to Honor Moynihan.)

It turns out that we didn’t actually have to wait for December to find out about the Brooklyn Bridge Park opening. We didn’t even have to let the election month of November conclude to find out. The mayoral election was November 3rd. On November 24th, a mere 21 days later, the Brooklyn Eagle ran a brief story that the opening of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 is being postponed. Now we are told that “It won’t be ready until spring.” (See: B’klyn Bridge Park Pier 6 Opening Postponed, by Brooklyn Eagle, 11-24-2009.) The story said only that Pier 6 won’t be open in December but since the story said that the reason that the opening is being delayed is “because they say a harsh winter could damage the facilities” it is entirely possible that we shall soon find out that the reasoning applies equally and that the opening of Pier 1, the other pier that was promised to be opened in December is also being postponed.

(Below is a picture, appearing with its original caption, of Pier 1 that we included in our September story followed by an up-to-date photo of the progress.)

(With about nine more weeks to go before its announced completion date, this is what Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Phase I looks like today.)

Predictably True: Election After-Math On NYC Budget

What a difference a matter of weeks can make if it takes you from pre- to post-election. We found out more quickly, only a week after the election, that Bloomberg was cutting the city budget almost 12%, the steepest cut since the cuts in response to the 9/11 crisis. (See: Bloomberg budget ax will cut to the bone, by Sally Goldenberg and David Seifman, November 11, 2009 and Mike's budget chopping spree, by Sally Goldenberg, November 17, 2009.) The cuts applicable to nearly all agencies were announced to take place in two phases (does that make either of them seem smaller?): 4% in fiscal year 2010, and 8% in FY 2011. But this was the announcement that was immediately post-election. Does anyone want to bet that the announcements of how much is actually being cut will also occur in two phases with additional cuts being announced in January when more serious budget deliberations are underway? When the Bloomberg administration announces the additional cuts, can they then get away with saying that they are just a percentage adjustment of the figures previously released or will the press add it all up together and announce that the cuts are 15%+ (or whatever it is) in cuts to the budget announced since Bloomberg won the election in November?

More Election After-Math

Some other numbers have received their post-election release as well. The current tally is that Bloomberg spent at least $102 million in direct campaign expenditures to get elected to his extended third term. (See: November 27, 2009, Bloomberg Spent $102 Million to Win 3rd Term, by Michael Barbaro.) Since this figure is post-election (as of Nov. 26) it will be close to the final figure although the Times points put hat it does not yet include Bloomberg’s “storied bonuses to campaign workers, which can top $100,000 a person.” Some of his storied bonuses are much higher: In 2005 he gave his campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey, a $400,000 bonus and Patricia (“Patti”) Harris, his top aide currently First Deputy Mayor got $350,000 for less than three month’s work. (See: Bonuses Uncertain for Bloomberg Election Aides, by Michael Barbaro, November 6, 2009.) Accordingly, our last Noticing New York estimate that he would spend $105 million looks like it was pretty dead on target, though near the end of the election we passed on word that the Times was estimating the incumbent mayor was “on pace to spend between $110 million and $140 million.” (See: Sunday, November 1, 2009, Bloomberg vs. Thomson (54% to 29%?): It’s Not What You Think. (For Instance the “P” is Missing and What Might “P” Stand For?).)

No matter that the Times’ last projected estimate was on the high side, it is still became a case of “never before in history” in many ways quite a while ago: Never has anyone in the United State of America spent so much of their personal money to hold political office, never was NYC’s mayor the wealthiest man in the city let alone become such with a multi-fold increase in wealth while serving in the office, never has a mayor had so many mind-boggling conflicts of interest with a personally-owned company that does business with so many of the same companies that the city itself has transactions with. No matter as well, because while our best estimate was that Bloomberg may have spent $102-105 million on direct campaign expenditures, these direct expenditures were dwarfed by his indirect campaign expenditures such as political contributions to buy endorsements ad charitable donations for political purposes. Counting those, we have noted, the total expenditures could be more on the order of $1 billion for Bloomberg’s third term.

Dueling Predictions

As our prediction on Bloomberg’s campaign spending was fairly dead-on accurate, let us try a few more predictions to duel with the guile of the prettifying before-the-fact promises that have been offered by the mayor. Try this one on for size: Columbia University will announce that it is deferring its plan to develop the swath of West Harlem for at least five years and at the same time is likely to announce that it is having problems technologically effecting the Jules Vernian giant underground bathtub basement that it used as a rationale to seize property through eminent domain. When will Columbia announce this? Not during the pendency of the litigation they are currently trying to win in order to uphold their abuse of eminent domain. They will hold back on the announcement as long as they can, perhaps hoping that by struggling longer with the bathtub technology and maybe shifting to a new architectural team they can conquer the problem before they have to acknowledge failure.

The reason that Columbia won’t announce anything like this during the pendency of the litigation is because litigations involving state agencies these days are more than a little like elections: Up-front government officials and the real estate development entities they go out of their way to assist are willing to say anything to win a lawsuit in the belief that once they have won it makes little difference that what they represented and promised wasn’t really true at all, irrespective of subsequent events disclosing the truth.

Witness the spectacle of that portion of the Atlantic Yards litigations that the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, just embarrassed itself with. The court managed to uphold a terrific abuse of eminent domain by deferring to a fairy tale version of the facts cooked up by state officials in service to the monopoly-seeking subsidy collector involved (Forest City Ratner). A key mechanism they used to do this provides an amazing example what we are talking about: The court based their decision on a “record” of non-facts that was officially closed as of late 2006, while they ignored conspicuous subsequent events that have continually demonstrated how false the facts of that “record” are in almost every respect.
The Amazing Carnage

Right now there are many litigations going on in efforts to stop Bloombergian real estate development: the aforementioned challenge to the Columbia University expansion, Atlantic Yards (a good several law suits), Willets Point, the Rudin/St. Vincent’s sell-off of the Greenwich Village Historic District, and the documented lying of finagling public officials on Dock Street. Many of these lawsuits involve the same conundrum of who are the courts going to believe, public officials creating a record of fictitious predictions or the contradicting realities that emerge. We won’t try to predict the outcome of all these litigations, but we will predict something else. While Bloomberg (if not stopped by lawsuits) may succeed in creating mega-project holes in the ground around New York, he will not in his third term as mayor succeed in creating successful developments to fill those holes.

Why do we confidently predict such carnage at sites like Coney Island, West Harlem where Columbia is taking over, Willets Point and Atlantic Yards? Because during the eight years that Bloomberg has been mayor (good economic years with a robust real estate market) Bloomberg has not been able to capitalize successfully on the simpler development opportunities that were already his to take advantage of: Ground Zero, Queens West, Moynihan Station (the new Penn Station) and, where we started. . . Brooklyn Bridge Park. Which brings us back to the words with which we concluded that article where we looked skeptically at the idea of the December Brooklyn Bridge Park openings together with many other promising predictions that administration officials furnished to the public intending that they be believed only for a limited period of time, only just long enough for Bloomberg to get a grant of power from the electorate in the election. This is what we wrote:
Some of Bloomberg’s developments may have been held up by litigation, but mostly they have been held up by his own misplaced focus, and if some have been litigated against, that too is largely the result of his own misfocus which has resulted in projects, often mega-projects, that are on top of everything else incredibly poorly designed.
It does not seem to us that Bloomberg (nor either his cohorts in development malfeasance) is a man to whom the electorate should be giving grants of power based on prettifying prognostications of what his destructions will lead to, whether those prettifying predictions come pre-election, pre-City Planning Commission, pre-City Council approvals, or pre-court litigations.

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