Monday, September 11, 2006

The unwritten story: Forest City Ratner and Brooklyn politics

The outline has emerged, perhaps for the first time, of Forest City Ratner's extensive reach into Brooklyn politics. Of course the borough's leading real estate developer--in terms of major projects--would play a significant role, but little analysis has appeared in the press.

It's well-known that FCR spends a lot of money on lobbying, but that Bruce Ratner and his lieutenants eschew local campaign contributions.

Still, that Watergate-era adage remains operative: follow the money.

Contributions via surrogates

As I've reported, Bruce Ratner's relatives and associates have contributed regularly to political races in Brooklyn (and beyond), especially as election day approaches.

What makes this curious is that Michael Ratner, the eminent human rights lawyer, and his wife, both Greenwich Village residents, make some contributions from Forest City Ratner's offices in Brooklyn. Michael Ratner apparently does have an office there, but his wife sure doesn't--and they apparently put their progressive ideology in check when blood meets Brooklyn.

A curious polling firm

Someone is paying the shadowy, California-based polling firm Pacific Crest Research, to push-poll Brooklynites in favor of 18th Senatorial District candidate Tracy Boyland (and to ask about Atlantic Yards), to query Brooklynites about the 11th Congressional District race (and ask about Atlantic Yards), and to query them about other local races.

FCR won't admit/deny that the firm is their client. However, who else is interested in these topics, especially since the polls also include nongovernmental but AY-connected figures like the Rev. Herbert Daughtry?

At this point, Forest City Ratner's failure to disavow any role in the Pacific Crest Research calls should be taken as probable cause--not proof, but certainly sufficient to be raised publicly.

Political ties

Sure, people have personal ties independent of their jobs, but it's always convenient if the politicians they help share the interests of their employers. FCR executive Bruce Bender is playing some role in helping Boyland, according to the Brooklyn Papers.

A hand in Green's race?

And why has Assemblyman Roger Green remained in the three-way race against Rep. Edolphus Towns and City Councilman Charles Barron, even though Green has little money and has hardly campaigned vigorously? The Times reported Friday:
Two months ago, the challengers — City Councilman Charles Barron and Assemblyman Roger L. Green — talked about joining forces and whether one should drop out of the race in order to defeat Mr. Towns. But since then, their deliberations have spiraled into a series of meetings, angry charges and accusations of betrayal.
In an interview this week, Mr. Barron said that he had reached an agreement with Mr. Green more than a week ago in which they agreed that Mr. Green would drop out and support the Barron candidacy.


Green claimed unconvincingly that he was campaigning vigorously. He told the Observer: "I'm a deliberative person," Green added. "I try not to be impulsive in my decision making and my actions."

That's hardly an explanation.

But look at it from a FCR-centric view. Towns supports the Atlantic Yards project, as does Green. (Both Towns and Green, though the former more recently, have received contributions from Michael Ratner.) Barron is a staunch opponent.

By staying in the race, Green--who has decent name recognition due to his longevity in office--may siphon votes that Barron could have taken in a two-way race. Green, could go to work for Forest City Ratner, as did his aide Randall Toure, or be very employable in an organization related to the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement.

Was Green's candidacy serious from the start? A veteran political observer told me that it was, as Green had hoped to get union backing for his bid--unions were furious with Towns for some of his votes. Once Green failed to get the union nod, his fundraising dried up, and his candidacy was doomed.

The larger picture

Political reporters have often been tone-deaf to the Forest City Ratner/Atlantic Yards element in local politics; remember how Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's equivocations were ignored last year?

It's time to wise up.

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