Sunday, December 27, 2009

Who wrote that pro-Bruce letter to the Times? A Ratner spouse (and the Times either didn't ask or was lied to)

If you search the term "Bruce Ratner"--not "Bruce C. Ratner" on the New York Times web site, the "closest match"--not the newest--is a letter, and some footnotes are in order.

The letter, published in the 6/11/06 edition of the Times, responded to architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff's piece about the complex and difficult relationship between architect Frank Gehry and his clients, notably developer Bruce Ratner:
After reading this article, I am left feeling that Bruce Ratner, taking a huge gamble, is proceeding in a smart, businesslike way. The risks are enormous and Mr. Ouroussoff pays no heed at all. Perhaps he ought to start a fund to develop any mad, beautiful, outrageous or significant work of architecture of his own and put his money where his mouth is.

Michael Salzberg
Bethesda, Md.
Looking more closely

Why did someone from suburban Washington, DC take such a keen, supportive interest in the Atlantic Yards project?

Why did he claim that the project is a "huge gamble" when, unlike many others in the city, it proceeded as a single-source deal rather than via a request for proposals?

Is Salzberg just a typical enthusiast for development?

No.

Salzberg is the spouse of Deborah Ratner Salzberg, who is president of Forest City Washington, Inc., a member of the board of directors of Forest City Enterprises, Inc. (parent company of Forest City Washington and Forest City Ratner), and a cousin of Bruce Ratner. An earlier version of the corporate family tree (via a former iteration of ForestCity.net) is at right. (Click to enlarge.)

Big stock holdings

According to a SEC filing a year before the letter, Salzberg and his family had more than 950,000 shares of the company stock, FCE A. At about $47 per share, the price of the stock at the time of the letter, those holdings were worth nearly $45 million. (The stock is now closer to $13, which means the value has been cut some 70%.)

Other trusts and family holdings included 800,000 shares of FCE B, worth more than $37 million at the time, but again now diminished. But they now have a lot more stock.

Disclosure needed

So Salzberg wasn't exactly a disinterested party. Was the Times expected to catch this? Yes, as Letters Editor Thomas Feyer wrote in a 5/23/04 essay headlined Our Compact, Updated:
If your letter is selected, we will try to reach you and ask a few questions: Did you write the letter? (We're not amused by impostors.) Is it exclusive to The Times? (It should be.) Do you have a connection to the subject you're writing about? (Readers should be able to judge your credibility and motivation.)
(Emphasis added)

Should Salzberg have identified his connection to the Times? Sure.

He's apparently not an actual company official, though he has made political contributions from Forest City's Cleveland address and also given to Forest City's political action committee, Forest City Enterprises, Inc United for a Sensible Government, which has supported Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Edolphus Towns, among others.

So maybe he's not himself bound by the values professed by the real estate developer. Under the heading "Integrity and Openness," the company states:
In all our dealings with all stakeholders, we will uphold the highest possible standards of ethical behavior. Our interactions will be characterized by an attitude of openness, candor and honesty.

1 comment:

  1. Salzberger, Bruce Ratner's cousin-in-law, once sent a series of emails to us at Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn back in 2007 and 2008. A most memorable one read as follows:

    "You guys are doing a great job. Keep it up. I like it. No new development, partcularly nothing large.

    Brooklyn the Armpit of Manhattan. Keep it that way."

    Never mind that DDDB found Extell which outbid Ratner for the rail yard, with a proposal to build a rather large development plan. Putting that aside, one wonders if this "Brooklyn the Armpit of Manhattan" is a prevalent sentiment amongst the Ratner clan.

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