Monday, October 13, 2008

Marty "bought and paid for"? Following up on the Post's scoop

It's surprising that no other daily newspaper has followed up yet on the New York Post's scoop Friday that developer Forest City Ratner, as well as allied contractors, "have quietly funneled at least $680,000 to three nonprofits set up by Markowitz," promoting his charitable endeavors and concert series, and that Dick Dadey of the Citizens Union said, "Affiliated nonprofits should not be used as pseudo campaign accounts."

Just because another newspaper got there first, that doesn't mean that competitors should deny their readers important information. I wrote in August 2007 about this tendency, after the Daily News was alone in a scoop, and I cited comments from two New York Times Public Editors.

"If the goal of newspapering is to inform the readers and create a historical record, shouldn't the editors be telling us about everything they think is important, no matter where they find it?" Public Editor Daniel Okrent had written. Also, his successor Byron Calame suggested that the web version of the Times could link to others' exclusives; however, even the Times's web roundup Friday, Morning Buzz, omitted a reference to the Markowitz story.

(Graphic from NY Post)

[Update: Just this morning the Times reports:
Embracing the hyperlink ethos of the Web to a degree not seen before, news organizations are becoming more comfortable linking to competitors — acting in effect like aggregators... And The New York Times will soon offer its online readers an alternative home page with links to competitors. ]

"Bought and paid for"

Future coverage could follow up on the dispute that has since emerged over comments in the article by a Markowitz critic:
But Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for the Atlantic Yards opposition group Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, said the findings by the Post show Markowitz is "clearly bought and paid for" by Ratner and his partners for Atlantic Yards.

"This allows Ratner to support Markowitz's political interests outside of campaign finance rules," he said. "In return, Markowitz unconditionally supports Atlantic Yards. It's a conflict Markowitz has chosen to ignore."


In response, Markowitz told NY!:
"Make no mistake, I advocated for this project with no strings attached, no promise of any reciprocal support whatsoever," he said in a statement. "And I continue to do so adamantly because it will be a major catalyst for continuing what we call the 'Brooklyn Renaissance.'"

An AY defender, the pseudonymous NetIncome on the NetsDaily blog, also spoke up for Markowitz.

Which came first?

I don't doubt that Markowitz supported the project with no strings attached. So I think Goldstein does overstate the issue in the quote he gave the Post.

Then again, DDDB (and, I assume, Goldstein) makes a good point:
But he has continued to advocate for it for five years with zero skepticism and zero scrutiny despite all that has come to light about it. What explains his disdain for every single criticism or complaint about the project?

Are we to believe that Ratner's largesse has nothing to do with Markowitz's utter lack of scrutiny of perhaps the most controversial development plan in Brooklyn's history?


It's impossible to prove that the issue is Ratner's largesse--it could simply be "in for a dime, in for a dollar" (or, in this case, several hundred million in public funds). Markowitz has staked his reputation on this project, so maybe he'll going to continue to double down, to support the project no matter what.

Maybe he's being rewarded for that. And maybe it's just a happy confluence of pure civic-mindedness. Whatever it is, it has an unsavory air, as Dadey acknowledged.

Markowitz's AY record

After all, there's a difference between being a booster and a leader, and on AY, Markowitz has much more been a booster, eschewing ample opportunities for skepticism and scrutiny. Consider:

  • Markowitz, as the Post pointed out, last year "bounced nine longtime members of Community Board 6 from their posts for failing to back the project"
  • Markowitz supported an arena in Coney Island, then disdained the idea once Forest City Ratner announced its plan
  • Markowitz praised the developer for lowering the flagship AY tower one foot below the height of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, but failed to acknowledge that the tower would still block the bank's clock, despite the developer's pledge at the outset
  • Markowitz said "get real" on traffic and parking but, when the state failed to consider many of his recommendations, wouldn't comment
  • Markowitz, when delays were announced in the project, offered only unflinching support rather than acknowledge that project benefits would never arrive at the pace originally promised
  • Markowitz touted the AY at the dubious "Brooklyn Day" but fails to mention such a lightning-rod issue in his regular Brooklyn!! publication
In the New Yorker

Markowitz may not be "bought and paid for," but it's worth remembering the scene captured by the New Yorker's Rebecca Mead in her 4/25/05 profile of the BP, headlined Mr. Brooklyn.

Mead wrote:
In the car, Markowitz’s cell phone rang, and the voice of a female assistant announced that “Bruce” was on the line.

“Yes, sir, how are you doing, Bruce?” Markowitz said, picking up the handset and falling silent as he listened. Bruce Ratner, it appeared from Markowitz’s responses, had some urgent questions about the way discussions concerning waterfront development in Williamsburg and Greenpoint might affect his own project. Markowitz, whenever he could get a word in, tried to be both conciliatory and upbeat. “I understand,” he said; and then, “I wish I knew, but I don’t know”; and “It’s hard for me”; and “That’s absolutely right.” Finally, he told Ratner to call someone in his office—better yet, he would have that someone call Ratner.


That's access that very, very few of us have.

3 comments:

  1. Early in this fight, as the attorney for a number of residential rental tenants who live on the AYP site, in buildings owned by FCRC, I once wrote to Markowitz on their behalf, citing FCRC's failure to offer rent stabilized renewal leases. This was under Stuckey's regime, and it has since been corrected. Markowitz sent me a self-serving letter, actually a self-praising letter, citing his record as a tenants' advocate. Since that time, my clients' building was attacked by a backhoe (also under Stuckey's reign), another endured relentless pounding from a backhoe, and they now live in an environmentally unhealthy construction zone. Except for local reps like Tish James, no one takes responsibility for conditions in the area. Not the so-called Ombudsman, not various NYC agencies, and certainly not Markowitz. If he were such a tenants' advocate, why doesn't he speak up about how tenants who assert their rights, are forced to live while FCRC gouges the earth? Why isn't he out in front speaking up for his constituents? Even if he supports AYP? Markowitz is a joke and an embarassment to the good citizens of Brooklyn. I can see him as the national spokesman for the pastrami industry, but representing ordinary people against big business, oh please ...

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  2. Don't get me wrong, I like pastrami.

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  3. I think AYR is being quite kind to Marty.

    If he truly believed in this project heart and soul, he could have simply turned down the contributions from Ratner.

    That's all. That simple.

    The real question to ask Marty is not whether or not the donations affected his judgment, but why did he accept them in the first place?

    Why would anyone boasting "no strings attached" accept such largess?

    At best, Marty suffers from incredibly poor judgment and questionable leadership abilities.

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