Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Author deMause on Zimbalist: "a lot of people don't take him as seriously"

This is the third of a multi-part interview (conducted May 28) with Neil deMause, the Brooklyn-based co-author of the book Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit, and writer of the companion web site. He testified at a 3/29/07 Congressional hearing that questioned taxpayer financing of stadiums, convention centers, and hotels.

One curious thing I noticed about the new edition of Field of Schemes is that it appears with a prominent blurb from Smith College sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, one of the scholars on whom deMause and co-author Joanna Cagan relied for the first edition of the book.

Zimbalist, of course, is notorious for writing a "promotional" study of the economic impact of the Atlantic Yards project, paid for by developer Forest City Ratner, and defending it poorly, as on the Brian Lehrer Show Monday.

deMause v. Zimbalist

It's safe to say that Zimbalist would not blurb the revised and expanded edition, since deMause has since publicly clashed with him about the Yankees Stadium and the book contains a skeptical account--though not as extensive as my critique--of Zimbalist's Forest City Ratner-sponsored economic impact study of Atlantic Yards.

If the housing component of the AY development would generate the most revenues, as per Zimbalist's analysis, why, deMause asks rhetorically in the book, wouldn't the state find a developer to build just apartment buildings, which would require no eminent domain nor special subsidies?

(Zimbalist improbably maintains, as he did on the Brian Lehrer Show Monday, that the benefits for Forest City Ratner would be as-of-right.)

Zimbalist's damaged reputation

Q. What do you think Zimbalist's Atlantic Yards "study" does to his reputation? You’re talking with someone who thinks it’s been damaged.

deMause paused before answering, knowing that Zimbalist is a highly combative sort.

A. I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to say that won’t have Andy calling me on the phone and yelling at me. He would never actually pick up the phone. I think Andy already hates me, because I’ve called him out on a lot of stuff. I think that, from the people that I have spoken to in the field, there is a lot of surprise and a lot of curiosity as to why he’s been so gung-ho about the New York City projects, the Nets and the Yankees and Mets project.

He wrote that op-ed about the Yankees project in the Times, saying it was going to help gentrify the Bronx, which is a claim Andy has never made about anything and a weird one to be trying to sell as a good thing, given that one of the complaints was that it was going to gentrify the Bronx and drive people out of that area.

I think a lot of people are wondering why he did this, and has changed his tune so much on these projects, and wrote that book praising [baseball commissioner] Bud Selig. And I think there are a fair number of people who don’t take him seriously any more. There are certainly people who will talk to him and cite him and refer people to him. He’s still a smart economist, but the fact that this is someone who has said, oh, consulting reports paid for by sports team owners are worth crap and then went and did a consulting report paid for by a sports team owner--that doesn’t make him look very good.

Q. It was not peer reviewed.

A. Yeah. I don’t think it's destroyed his reputation by any means, but I think there are a lot of people who don’t take him as seriously as they used to. I certainly don’t. I used to think he was somebody who you could go to and would give you a straight answer based on his years and decades of study. I’ve just seen too much work by him that seems to be bending over backwards to make a project look good. His response, when I ask him about it, is What do you know, you’re not an economist.

I’m like, Yeah, I know I’m a journalist. That’s why my job is to question the economists. So, if the numbers don’t add up, I’ve got a calculator. So it’s been very difficult. Andy has always been a prickly guy in the best of times and he’s never taken kindly to people disagreeing with him on stuff.

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