Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Markowitz defense: "I'm an activist and like to get things done"

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz has come out swinging in defense of his use of mayoral and developer funds, via his charities, to support his concert series and other projects in Brooklyn. The problem is that Markowitz's defense is essentially the end justifies the means.

The New York Post summed up some of its coverage in a 10/13/08 editorial headlined BEEPING MARTY, taking some effort to separate its support for Atlantic Yards from its scorn for the BP and the office he holds:
A New York City borough president's main, if not only, responsibility is to be a cheerleader.

But for his borough, not for himself.

Brooklyn's Marty Markowitz, for example, is a most enthusiastic booster.

Yet Markowitz plainly believes the old philosophy of "doing well" (politically) by "doing good."

The beep is one of the biggest boosters for developer Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project in downtown Brooklyn.

Make no mistake: We've long thought that Atlantic Yards - which includes a new arena for the now-New Jersey Nets, as well as residential and retail space - is a good idea.

Still, the amount of money being directed from the Ratner orbit to Markowitz' favorite nonprofits gives pause.

Since 2003, these groups - Best of Brooklyn, Inc., the Martin Luther King Concert Series and the Seaside Summer Concert Series - have raked in between $680,000 and $1,00,075 from various Ratner-affiliated companies and allies. (Presumably $1,000,075)

Last month, it was revealed that Markowitz directed no-bid city contracts worth nearly $700,000 to the aforementioned Best of Brooklyn - a disclosure raising the same questions as the City Council's nonprofit scandal earlier this year:

To wit, Markowitz helped direct city funds to his favorite personal causes - in amounts seemingly designed to avoid an audit by the city comptroller.

In this case, the Markowitz-Ratner relationship appears to be evading city campaign-finance regulations.

Again, it's in the best interests of New York for the Atlantic Yards project to go ahead. But whether the best interests of Beep Marty Markowitz should be part of the deal is another matter.

Markowitz, of course, is another New York politician out to bend public offices and resources to personal ends.

He's reprehensible, in other words, but par for an exceedingly low-rent course.

What's much less clear is why the office he holds even exists.

Markowitz has a $5 million budget, seven official cars and a staff of 84, which includes a $50,000 speechwriter, a $45,000 "proclamations writer" and three drivers - plus a "discretionary" budget (read: slush fund) of $302,000.

And what does Brooklyn get in return?

Marty Markowitz?

Banish the beeps.

Markowitz's defense

In a letter yesterday headlined MARTY TO THE RESCUE, the BP wrote:
Get your facts straight ("Beeping Marty," Editorial, Oct. 13). It was my idea to bring professional sports back to Brooklyn. I advocated for Atlantic Yards, with no strings attached, and I adamantly believe that its arena, affordable housing, retail and union jobs are vital to a vibrant Downtown Brooklyn.

I'm proud of the non-profits that the editorial mentions, which support teen employment, camp for needy kids, the Brooklyn Tourism Center, Dine in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Book Festival, health awareness and the free Seaside and MLK concerts, which attract top artists to underserved neighborhoods.

My good looks and $302,000 won't fund these programs. These groups comply with all regulations and are supported by private and public sources, including the mayor, City Council and state Legislature.

I also allocated $88.7 million in Fiscal Year 2009 capital funds to 95 organizations - from the Brownsville Partnership to the Brooklyn Ballet to the School for Innovation in Advertising and Media, orchestrated by my office with the DOE.

If the price of service to Brooklyn families is derision from The Post, so be it. Of course, you also want to paint borough presidents as "do-nothings," but you can't have it both ways.

Let's keep in mind that Markowitz wanted to bring basketball to Coney Island, not the Atlantic Yards site chosen by Forest City Ratner. (I've detailed other elements of Markowitz's questionable role regarding AY.)

And, of course, Markowitz avoids the issues. Are the Ratner contributions a way to avoid campaign finance limits? And what about those and four contracts that, as the Brooklyn Paper observed, "conveniently amount to $24,999 each"--just short of triggering city oversight.

In the Courier-Life

In this weekend's Courier-Life (publisher of his Brooklyn!! tabloid), Markowitz expanded on his end-justifies-the-means defense:
"My job is to bring money and services and programs to Brooklynites, and services and resources require money and it's [as] simple as that," said Markowitz.


He sounds almost a bit like Robert Moses:
"I'm an activist and like to get things done, and that's what I'm about, period," said Markowitz.

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