Monday, July 31, 2006

Push poll (likely from FCR) boosts Boyland against Montgomery in Senate race

Sometimes the news just falls into your lap. When I got a call yesterday from a pollster from Pacific Crest Research, the name rang a bell. The same company conducted a push poll last year to gauge and change attitudes regarding Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards (AY) project, almost certainly on behalf of the developer.

I was asked numerous questions, some quite general, but most focused on the race between last-minute challenger Tracy Boyland and longstanding State Senator Velmanette Montgomery for the 18th Senatorial District.

The point of the push poll apparently was to see if the information provided--including leading statements, with incorrect information--would nudge listeners into supporting Boyland, who backs the AY project, against the incumbent, who opposes the AY project.

In the end, Montgomery was portrayed as an ally of those "who have million-dollar brownstones and want to preserve their exclusive neighborhood."

A member of a Brooklyn political dynasty, Boyland held a City Council seat from 1997 until 2005, when she was forced out by term limits and ran unsuccessfully for the 11th Congressional District seat held by Rep. Major Owens. The 18th Senatorial District is shaped like an “F” with the tine reversed, from Sunset Park in the south straight up to Downtown Brooklyn and Prospect Heights, then east to Bedford-Stuyvesant and Ocean Hill—and with a southwest jog to Red Hook.

Besides information on the Senatorial race, the pollsters also gathered information on attitudes toward the highly-contested 11th Congressional District race, as well as opinions regarding the AY project. Cross-tabulate the responses with demographic information, and that's a handy snapshot--and fodder for future marketing.

Enter the Ratner candidate?

There’s been widespread speculation that Boyland is the “Ratner candidate.” At the Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn rally on July 16, Montgomery took a swipe at Boyland. As noted by the Courier-Life chain:
“I don’t care if he [Ratner] wants to put some money up on a puppet [Boyland] to run against me,” Montgomery told the crowd.
[Update: A reader points out that there's no evidence in campaign filings of Ratner campaign contributions to Boyland.]

Circumstantial evidence suggests FCR is responsible for the poll. The pollster told me it was not conducted for any particular candidate, just an unnamed regular client.

Though Pacific Crest Research previously conducted a push poll about Atlantic Yards, neither the polling company nor FCR would confirm that the poll was conducted on behalf of the developer. “We don’t discuss our internal research,” FCR’s Barry Baum told the Brooklyn Papers last year, avoiding the opportunity to deny responsibility.

(Here's another account of a push poll; the writer says he heard "PCR Polling" and "FCR Polling" and concluded it was the latter. I think it was likely the former. Note that a Forest City Ratner spokesman charged that the report was wrong, but hedged: "I didn't say there wasn't a poll that went out.")

Pacific Crest Research last year also conducted a mystery poll that portrayed Democratic challenger Freddy Ferrer as running “a divisive campaign that is tearing the city apart” while Mayor Mike Bloomberg “has tried to bring people together.”

Bloomberg denied responsibility and Pacific Crest owner Matt Hewitt wouldn’t identify his client. Jonathan Trichter, who runs the Pace Poll, told the Politicker that it was likely “a special interest group” trying to figure out whom to endorse. Though Ferrer at that point had only expressed qualms about Atlantic Yards—his stated opposition was announced late in the campaign—it’s just as likely that Forest City Ratner paid for that poll.

Most vital issues

After asking if I was registered to vote, and in what party, I was asked, “Do you think things in Central Brooklyn are on the wrong track?”

[I didn’t tape the call but I did take notes—I type pretty fast and asked the pollster, C.J., to repeat himself a few times to make sure I got things right. I've paraphrased sections when I didn't get verbatim quotes.]

Then he asked my level of concern about several issues:
--the need to clean up corruption in Albany
--the quality and cost of health care
--the threat of crime
--traffic and congestion in Central Brooklyn
--high taxes in New York City
--the need for more parks and green space
--the need to maintain the character and neighborhood feel of Brooklyn
--the lack of affordable day care
--the need for more jobs and economic development in Brooklyn
--overdevelopment in Downtown Brooklyn
--the need for more affordable housing in Brooklyn
--the need to improve New York City’s public schools

Then I was asked which one or two of the issues would I pick as the biggest priorities.

Gentrification & parking

“There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the so-called gentrification of Brooklyn,” C.J. continued. Some people say it’s been good for Brooklyn, because it’s improved things, but others say it’s been bad, because it has priced many people out, instead of leaving room for everyone. Is this good for Brooklyn or bad for Brooklyn?

On this question, as with some others, I had to ask if there was a third option, a mixed opinion. The questions seemed designed to create stark opposition.

Then I was asked my opinion about neighborhood parking permits limited only to residents. Such permits have been proposed as one way to fight the parking problems created by Brooklyn’s growth, including the projected increase in traffic if the Atlantic Yards plan proceeds.

Atlantic Yards in “Central Brooklyn”

Then I was asked about a major development project “known as Atlantic Yards that has been proposed for Central Brooklyn,” containing an arena and a number of high rise apartments.

Note that the State Senate race is in Central Brooklyn, but Forest City Ratner has long located the Atlantic Yards project in Downtown Brooklyn, though most would be in Prospect Heights.

State Senate & AY

Then I was asked about the State Senate race. Would I prefer a candidate who has served in Albany for a long time, “or a candidate who would be new to Albany and try to shake things up?” (Montgomery is at right)

“Would you be prepared to vote for a State Senator who supports the Atlantic Yards development project or someone who opposes it?” (Boyland appeared at the May 2005 press conference announcing the Atlantic Yards affordable housing agreement. See p. 2 of the Brooklyn Standard.)

Then I was asked whether Montgomery has performed her job well enough to ensure reelection.

A curious list

Then I was asked my opinion of several public figures, some of them elected officials, some not. My parentheticals were not part of the call

--William Boyland, Jr. (Tracy Boyland’s brother, and an Assemblyman from Brownsville)
--Mike Bloomberg (Mayor and a supporter of the AY plan)
--Velmanette Montgomery (State Senator and opponent of AY)
--Letitia James (City Council Member and opponent of AY)
--Rev. Herbert Daughtry (supporter of AY, signatory to the Community Benefits Agreement, and recipient of FCR funds)
--Rev. Al Sharpton (ally of Daughtry, supporter of AY, recipient of FCR funds)
--Nydia Velasquez (Congressional representative; she hasn’t been vocal about AY, but her district overlaps with Montgomery’s in Red Hook)
--Marty Markowitz (Brooklyn Borough President and prime booster of AY)
--Tracy Boyland (at right)

The question about William Boyland, along with a respondent's zip code, should help the pollsters understand the resonance of the family name, especially in the eastern portions of the State Senate district.

Congressional race

Then I was asked about the four candidates who are running for the Congressional seat that Major Owens is vacating. Interestingly enough, the candidates were not in alphabetical order.
--David Yassky (who has ridden the fence on AY, but has gone to bat for some AY Community Benefits Agreement signatories
--Chris Owens (opponent of AY)
--Carl Andrews (AY supporter)
--Yvette Clark (AY supporter)

Back to the Senate

I was again asked my opinion in the Montgomery-Boyland race, asked to rate the job Montgomery has been doing, then asked how much I felt I know about Montgomery and the issues facing the district.

Then, in proper push-poll tactic, I was given more information. C.J. read a brief bio of Boyland, which cited her City Council service and previous jobs as a legislative assistant for the Congressional Black Caucus and as a public school teacher. Supporters, I was told, say she is a young, energetic, and effective advocate for affordable housing, education, and women and familes. “She is running because it’s a time a change…We need some new energy and new ideas.”

Then came a biographical sketch of Montgomery, who was a teacher and day care director before her election in 1985. In the Senate, she has focused on improving social services, I was told, and she's been named one of the area's top business and professional women; she's running for reelection to continue to provide service to Brooklyn.

Then a repeat question: If Democratic primary were held tomorrow, who would I vote for?

Accentuating differences

Then C.J., reading his script, sketched out several differences between the candidates, including Montgomery’s statement that “she has been a strong candidate for reform” and Boyland’s counter that “the state government is in desperate need of change, but nothing will be done unless we elect new representatives.”

Then I was told that Montgomery says “she can get more done as an experienced Senator, but Boyland thinks “Montgomery has been in office long enough...[and] opposes projects that would’ve brought thousands of jobs and affordable housing to Central Brooklyn.”

The AY focus

That previous statement was a thinly-veiled reference to Atlantic Yards, but soon the focus on AY became clearer. Montgomery, I was told, strongly opposes AY, because it would be "wrong project for this part of Brooklyn" and destroy the character of neighborhoods.

Boyland, however, supports the AY project because it would “bring badly needed economic development to Central Brooklyn and create as many as 18,000 new jobs… [and] would provide over 7000 units of housing, with over 2200 set aside for affordable housing, which we desperately need.”

“Desperately needed affordable housing” is a quote that’s been used by Forest City Ratner and elected officials at least since the May 2005 press conference for the affordable housing Memorandum of Understanding. Note that at least half of the affordable housing wouldn't help people on the waiting list for public housing or Section 8 vouchers.

Also, the claim of 18,000 new jobs includes 15,000 construction jobs over ten years, or an average of 1500 jobs a year. Nor would all the jobs actually be created rather than retained, since some would represent jobs moved from elsewhere.

Class war

Finally, after about ten minutes on the phone with C.J., came the money shot: “Boyland says Montgomery is siding with people who have million-dollar brownstones and want to preserve their exclusive neighborhood instead of looking out for her own constituents.”

While class certainly plays a role in shaping attitudes toward the AY project, that’s a highly reductionist view of a complex issue, and a stilted sketch of Montgomery’s supporters.

Then again, it's a push poll. The question likely was meant to inflame opposition to the incumbent among less-affluent (and less-informed) members of her constituency.

Then I was asked my final opinion on the race, if the Democratic primary were held tomorrow.

Finally, I was asked, “for tabulation,” my age, education level, general political orientation, homeowner or renter, race, religion, and household income.

Who’s in charge?

I asked if a candidate was behind the poll. “We’re just an public opinion research firm,” I was told. “We’re not hired by either of them. We just have a client who gives us these jobs."

I got a supervisor and asked who was paying. “We’re never provided with the client’s information,” she told me.

C.J. told me he was calling from Seattle, where Pacific Crest Research apparently has a call center. But the phone number he gave me, 707-432-0374, is the company’s headquarters in Fairfield, CA. The web site is just a homepage, so there's no list of clients.

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