Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Ratner, the deputy mayor, the "Wild Card" BP, and the conversion of subsidies into philanthropy

The Brooklyn Museum's Brooklyn Ball 2008 Thursday honoring developer Bruce Ratner was not merely an opportunity for various private sector entities, including several associated with Forest City Ratner, to salute the guest of honor.

Representatives of our elected officials were there as well. We know that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz appeared; he was visible through the museum's glass-walled entrance plaza, and he generated some spirited (and mean-spirited) heckling.

A Deputy Mayor's presence

But no one at the demonstration outside recognized Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris, who was Mayor Mike Bloomberg's chief philanthropic advisor at Bloomberg, L.P., and her portfolio includes arts organizations.

(The New York Observer, in a 5/30/04 article co-reported by a capable journalist named Lizzy Ratner--Bruce's daughter and a Nets co-owner--described Harris as dressing down officials from arts organizations who had contributed to the campaign of City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, a potential mayoral candidate.)

The "Wild Card" of swag

Note that the "Schedule of Podium Remarks" (sent to me by an anonymous source) misspells Frank Gehry as "Ghery" and declares Markowitz, whose schedule is variable, as a "Wild Card."

Indeed, the museum might have gotten more of a "Wild Card" than it expected when Markowitz's wife, Jamie Snow, scooped up eight valuable one-per-guest plexiglas placemats, as reported by Radar and the Daily News. (Note Radar's follow-up.)

"Everyone is scrambling to take home one of the custom placemats," reported the enthusiastic Melena Ryzik in a video for for the Times.

Hmm--if the Murakami placemats are indeed worth $500-$1000 each (here's an eBay sale), and attendees at the ball paid $1000 a plate, do they get a full tax deduction? Did the Museum deduct the value of their swag from their tickets?

At the end of the video report, Ryzik declared that, though many glitterati were leaving for the after-party in Manhattan, "It was a very successful evening. There was dinner, and auction, and Kanye West on the first floor, and tons of art in the galleries. Everything took place in an incredible world of cuteness. It was so adorable. It kinda makes me just want to stay here, live here, with the kawaii, the cuteness."

(The segment included a bare mention of Ratner, and of the protest, which located AY in "downtown Brooklyn.")

Giving and giving

The ball (menu at right) raised $1.5 million, according to Bloomberg News, far more than the $100,000 a year given over two years (and, likely, a third) given by the Forest City Ratner Companies Foundation.

Keep in mind, however, that the foundation is but one avenue to donate funds to the museum; Forest City Ratner, as well as individual executives, likely have contributed significant sums, which need not be reported publicly. (So, my headline Thursday should've referred to the foundation alone, not the company.)

Another Harris connection

Harris has been the point person for Ratner contributions to a city charity launched by the mayor. On 4/1/07, the New York Observer reported:
In December 2005, right as the debate over the Atlantic Yards complex was heating up and before the city made several crucial decisions about the project, Forest City Ratner gave between $450,000 and $1 million to a nonprofit closely associated with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The donation came six months after a meeting with Mr. Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris that Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner reported was a lobbying contact—although the parties now dispute that it should have been characterized as such.


The money, from "three different entities of Forest City," reported the Observer, went to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York, of which Ratner is a board member, to restore a historic carousel at Coney Island. (The foundation, as I reported, has contributed only $25,000 to the Mayor's Fund.)

Buying influence?

The Observer checked in with a good-government advocate:
“It is not the same as a campaign contribution, but it nevertheless is a contribution to a cause that is dear to the Mayor’s heart,” said Megan Quattlebaum, the associate director of Common Cause New York, a lobbyist watchdog organization. “I think it’s fair to say that Forest City Ratner has used a number of different strategies to advance the Atlantic Yards project. The open question for the public is whether this is part of the larger effort, or whether it is a charitable effort with no self-interested motivation.”

The same could be said about other charitable endeavors. And, given that the developer relies crucially on public funding, it's a lot easier to spread the wealth.

In many ways, we may be paying for the philanthropy. Kawaii, indeed.

1 comment:

  1. I don't see how Lehman can be claiming that the Museum is only appreciating Ratner's patronage, and not tacitly supporting AY, and then go ahead and auction off an "NJ Net's VIP Package" (sic).

    ReplyDelete