Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why Atlantic Yards Outrage And Examination Is Important- A Reminder Presents Itself By Taking A Look At The City And State Power Structure

Bruce Ratner, from City & State's list of the 100 most powerful people in New York City- Where on the list does he belong?  Read on.
Readers might sometimes ask, as I often ask myself, why do I write so much about Atlantic Yards? Noticing New York was not created like Atlantic Yards Report for the exclusive purpose of covering the Atlantic Yards story. It was created to write about development in New York City and associated politics, the ways in which the city is shaping itself as a place to live.

Nor was Noticing New York created with a conscious intent to just carp about what I am critical of.  I’d be writing more often (as was my original intention) about those things that can be praised if I saw them as comparatively more important.   (Often I do praise forms of development unfolding naturally in the city but do so in the context of pointing out what the real estate industry is doing to thwart or undermine such progress.)  My goal has been to prioritize, to write first about those things that most glaringly need to be pointed out and emphasized in the public dialogue.

I could be writing more often about some of the other things that I’ve written about, like the dismantling of Coney Island, Hudson Yards, the Columbia University takeover of West Harlem, how a hospital, St. Vincent’s, was transformed into a real estate project which was all that was left when the hospital then went bankrupt, or how the city is handling growing density. I could also write about things that I have not yet gotten around to writing about but ought to, such as the NYU expansion.

Some of these things like the shrinking of Coney Island and the NYU expansion, involve much more complicated narratives that therefore need to be written about; They also take much more work to do so.  (Those wanting to catch up a bit on the Coney Island story should try to see the documentary “Zipper: Coney Island's Last Wild Ride” by Amy Nicholson, about which I will have to get around to writing my own review.)

By contrast, the Atlantic Yards narrative is a stark one involving far fewer shades of gray with its developer-driven purpose of transferring more wealth and power to those in whom wealth and power is already concentrated, the cheating and dishonesty, poor urban design and the persistent perversions of process.  It embodies in stark relief virtually every highly objectionable form of conduct in which local public officials and the real estate industry engage that sap the quality of life in this city.

If people can’t understand the Atlantic Yards narrative there is little hope that the populace will understand what is needed in order for this city to be properly governed and to avoid an impoverishment of the city . . . but if they do understand Atlantic Yards, it becomes a prism through which to understand so much else  happening in this city that similarly needs to be addressed. But you have to start with the worst: If you can’t stop the worst excesses then everything else is up for grabs.

I offer all of the above as prologue to calling your attention to Norman Oder's Atlantic Yards Report story on City & State's publication of its list of  "the 100 most powerful people in New York City politics."
Mr. Oder points out, with itemizing information and analysis about 33 of those named, that fully one-third of the 100 individuals are critically intersected with the Atlantic Yards mega-project in one way or another. Mostly they intersect as supporters of the mega-monopoly.  Only a few intersect as possible opponents who have been neutralized (the latter group including State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who, having accepted money from Bruce Ratner, hasn't investigated Atlantic Yards despite the hopes he offered in that regard when running for his office).  See: Wednesday, December 05, 2012, The NYC Power 100 and Atlantic Yards: many intersections (and Ratner behind Markowitz?).

The remarkable thing is that Bruce Ratner, the developer/subsidy collector behind Atlantic Yards, is ranked as only the 59th most powerful individual on the list given all the ways Atlantic Yards is insidiously integrated into the New York power structure and is subserviently being supported by so many theoretically powerful individuals   Mr. Oder notes the anomaly that Bruce Ratner is ranked as less powerful than Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz (who is at #40), “AY's biggest cheerleader”, now a lame duck.  Whose payroll will Markowitz wind up on when he leaves office at the end of his expiring term?  Up till now he has been getting money from Ratner for his long-term favorite activity, concerts put on with a “not-for-profit” structure.

Putting aside any rationalizations that people might use to dress up their positions, Atlantic Yards, when honestly assessed, can only be evaluated as a boondoggle that's deeply destructive to the fabric of the city.  It is therefore frightening to think that so many of the city's power elite are aligned behind making it happen.  It can only be explained in one of two ways: Either Ratner is himself so powerful that those theoretically in power dare not oppose his mega-monopoly, or they will tolerate his personal mega-boondoggle because in a quid pro quo way they expect that their turn will come to similarly feed at the trough.  Which is it?  Neither would be good news.  I think that the extent to which one or other is true depends on the individuals at whom we are looking.

Mr. Oder identified Atlantic Yards interconnections for only 33 of the individuals on the list, including the obvious ones like Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  I think it is possible to add to those 33; in some cases that may involve stretching a bit further to identify the Atlantic Yards connections; in other cases it involves stretching not so very far at all.  I come up with a list that, with Mr. Oder's 33, tallies to 47, or nearly 50% of the entire list.  Further research could perhaps lengthen the list still more.

Here, in reverse order, working up from the bottom of City and State's list, are the additional names with my own observed connections in italics.  The unitalicized text is from City & State. (The first numbers appearing below are my rising tally toward 47):
34.    93. Diana Taylor- Girlfriend of Mayor Bloomberg and Managing Director, Wolfensohn & Co.  (Ms. Taylor, is not only Bloomberg's girlfriend, on the board of Brookfield Properties and on the board of Hudson River Park was connected with the removal of Occupy Wall Street from Zucotti Park, a milestone event when it comes to the privatizing of public space, which in turn makes the similar privatizing of public space that is part of Atlantic Yards comparatively acceptable.)
35.    92. Martin Golden- State Senator Golden is one of very few Republican state senators in the city and a close ally of Bloomberg and unions.  (And he conspicuously testified in support of Atlantic Yards at hearings.)
36.    67. Charles Meara- Chief of Staff to Council Speaker Quinn- The speaker’s longtime top aide was also chief of staff to Quinn’s predecessor.  (If Quinn is on Mr. Oder's list of intersections shouldn't her Cheif of Staff be on that list for the same reason?)
37.    44. Edward Koch- Former New York City Mayor and Partner, Bryan Cave LLC  (Koch was a mentor to First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris- see below- before she left to work for Bloomberg in the private sector about the time that Bloomberg began to show his interest in politics, with a corresponding shooting up of his wealth.  Harris, first in the private sector and then working in Bloomberg's mayoral administration, oversees the handing out of charitable donations which are used to keep the recipients politically in line and behind Bloomberg.  Among other things this was used to procure Bloomberg a previously prohibited third term.  Thus Atlantic Yards continued.  For a more specific Atlantic Yards connection see the notes on Ms. Harris below.  Koch, supportive of Harris, has never publicly criticized her.)
  38.    36. Charles Rangel- U.S. Representative- Rangel’s power has been diminished in recent years in the wake of scandals, which lost him the chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, but he remains a leader in Harlem and the black community and demonstrated his continuing might by fending off a strong challenge this year. (Rangel lobbied for a special tax break for Yankee Stadium, was expected to lobby for housing bonds for Atlantic Yards and lobbied for the special federal tax loophole extension obtained for issuance of bonds for the Ratner/Prokhorov "Barclays" arena.
39.    34. Thomas DiNapoli, State Comptroller.  (DiNapoli has the power and obligation to investigate misconduct at state public authorities and has not exercised it with respect to the excess and improprieties respecting Atlantic Yards.  DiNapoli also do not insist, as he could have, that Atlantic Yards receive no state financing without a new approval of the altered mega-project by the Public Authorities Control Board, which approval his office must bless.)
40.    33. Cyrus Vance Jr.- Manhattan District Attorney  (While New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman would be the most appropriate to investigate Atlantic Yards this could also be done by Vance, although the fact that his jurisdiction is Manhattan means the required nexus for investigation is much reduced.)
41.    31. Patrick Foye- Executive Director, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey  (Foye was previously in charge of the Empire State Development Corporation, the state agency agency theoretically in charge of Atlantic Yards during an important period when it continued to advance.)
42.    26. Joseph Lhota- Chairman and CEO, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Lhota was recently interviewed and featured in a Daily News article about the opening of the so-called Barclays Center, supplying quotes that helped create the misimpression that Forest City Ratner was supplying the public with free subway station improvements.  As noted by Mr. Oder the Daily News is partnering with Ratner and Prokhorov in the arena.)
43.    25. William Rudin- Vice Chairman and CEO, Rudin Management Company  (Since Rudin- involved with the St. Vincent's debacle- is Vice Chair of the Real Estate Board of New York it must be noted that Atlantic Yards would not be proceeding without REBNY's support.  Mr. Oder notes, for instance, that Real Estate Board of NY President Steven Spinola, also on this list, is an AY supporter.  REBNY supported the specially preferential tax abatement legislation for the mega-project which Mr. Oder mentions when talking about Assemblyman and former Brooklyn Democratic Chair Vito Lopez, who is also on the list.)
44.    24. Bradley Tusk- Founder, Tusk Strategies- Tusk orchestrated Mayor Bloomberg’s path to a third term, and continues to serve as a key political adviser to the mayor, not to mention a host of top corporate clients like Walmart.  (Tusk, who Bloomberg hired away from disgraced Illinois Governor Ron Blagojevich, apparently never had good judgment when it came to advising his principals to stay away from special deals for insiders.  Is it a stretch to suspect that Mr. Tusk assists Atlantic Yards by allowing Bloomberg to feel comfortable occupying a world where benefits are handed out to big corporations o the basis of relationships?)
45.    21. Merryl Tisch- Chancellor, New York State Board of Regents- One of the state’s top education policymakers, Tisch has established herself as an independent, forceful voice on New York City’s schools. Tisch, who married into one of the city’s wealthiest families, has also flirted with a run for mayor.  (The Tisch family Ms. Tisch married into is the construction and real estate family.  She is married to James S. Tisch, President and Chief Executive Officer of Loews Corporation, who is involved in construction through the hotel chain. James Tisch is also on the board of the New York Federal Reserve with Kathy Wylde- also on the power list as an AY supporter- and Lee Bolinger, both of whom advocate abuse of eminent domain.  And Tisch, with his name on some Channel 13 PBS station buildings, is on the board of New York's Channel 13 that with Charlie Rose programs has propagandized for Atlantic Yards while refusing to broadcast critical documentaries about the megadevelopment like "Brooklyn Matters" or "Battle For Brooklyn."
46.    11. Rupert Murdoch- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, News Corporation  (Murdoch not only owns the New York Post, which has followed in the footsteps of the New York Times in giving Atlantic Yards a largely free pass from public scrutiny.  More important, at a key time he curtailed valuable coverage of Atlantic Yards at the local level by buying up the local papers, including the Brooklyn Paper which, when acquired by him, ceased the critical and insightful coverage of Atlantic Yards it had been providing.)    
47.    6. Patricia Harris- First Deputy Mayor  (Not only does Ms. Harris, as noted above, oversee the handing out of Bloomberg charity with political strings attached; she also oversees the city Landmarks Commission. All indications are that Ms. Harris had a hand in signing the death sentence for Ward Bakery- to clear the site for Ratner and improve the odds of approvals he needed- when she and Mayor Bloomberg met with Bruce Ratner in a meeting that bore evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement of contributions to Bloomberg charities in exchange for project approvals.)
If you haven't yet read Mr. Oder's Atlantic Yards Report article about the the intersections of the other 33 individuals on the list with Atlantic Yards I suggest you proceed to read it now so you will have the whole picture.

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