Skip to main content

The Voice's Barrett on Bloomberg's transformation (with a blind spot)

Wayne Barrett's Village Voice cover story, The Transformation of Mike Bloomberg, demolishes the claims that Bloomberg's decision to seek a third term was driven by a duty to confront the financial crisis and dissects the editorial arguments made in favor of Bloomberg's effort to extend term limits.

Best and worst mayor?

[Correction: an earlier version referred to Tom Robbins, who's also done good work on Bloomberg.]

Barrett's article begins:
Mike Bloomberg is the best mayor—in fact, the best state or city chief executive—I've covered in 31 years at the Voice. He's also the worst.

In his first term, he was able to close a gaping budget chasm without crippling city services by imposing the largest and bravest property-tax hike in history—and it sent his approval ratings plunging. When the city boomed again, this Nixon-to-China boldness by a businessman/mayor had forever refuted the knee-jerk right-wing orthodoxy that higher taxes invariably kill growth. His smoking ban proved that a mayor can literally change the air we breathe and was part of a lifesaving public-health commitment that pumped resources into city hospitals that his predecessor had stripped of city funding. While mayors before him had hidden behind the independent Board of Education to diffuse responsibility for the seemingly intractable dysfunction of the schools, Mike Bloomberg put himself in charge and staked his mayoralty on the slow but steady improvement that has occurred with him at the helm. The continuing decline in the murder rate under Bloomberg was a rebuke of the Giuliani years, when New Yorkers were led to believe that a polarized city was the price we had to pay to reduce crime.

As thankful as the city is for all Mayor Mike accomplished after 9/11, that was nearly a full term ago. Now, he's decided he wants a third term, even though he still owes us a second.


Bloomberg & AY

I think Barrett is a bit too generous about Bloomberg's first term. After all, there were already signs of the mayor's edifice complex and his unquestioning willingness to back a developer's plan.

Remember, this is the mayor who said, in a 1/23/04 radio interview six weeks after Atlantic Yards was announced:
Then, we’ve got to find a ways--Bruce Ratner’s got to find a ways--to build this complex in Brooklyn. Like everything else, it’s controversial, I’m sympathetic to people who don’t like something like this moving in to their neighborhood. People whose apartments are going to be replaced, or houses taken away, generally speaking, this guy Ratner is a very responsible developer. If you go back and look at his track record when he developed MetroTech, which made an enormous difference in the city, he treated people very well.

As I pointed out, Bloomberg essentially said that the city and the developer were on the same team, nearly a year and a half before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority put the Vanderbilt Yard--some 40% of the proposed site--out for bid.

Partnership for NYC

Barrett explains how politics works in the city, involving real estate developers and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn:
Kathy Wylde, the president of the Partnership, says she learned "in July" that the mayor was "seriously thinking about it," after making inquiries for at least a year. Wylde's board of directors includes virtually everyone whose name has appeared in stories detailing the early lobbying for another term—Speyer, Rattner, Kravis, Rubenstein, Parsons, Murdoch, and even Lauder's nephew, William, who actually runs the cosmetics company (Speyer went to William Lauder's father, Leonard, to put pressure on brother Ron). Bloomberg was once on the Partnership board himself, and its 20-member executive committee voted unanimously to support the extension legislation.

Wylde also lobbied Quinn, who's been a friend since the two worked together in housing organizations more than a decade ago. Wylde introduced Quinn to the Partnership honchos at a luncheon at the Speyer-owned Rockefeller Center shortly after she became speaker in 2006. "The universal opinion of the CEO is that she has a bright political future," Wylde declared from the onset. Wylde got 30 bigwigs to sign a letter backing the bill, 25 of whom are on her board, and an ad featuring it soon appeared in the Times. The fact is that under Wylde and Speyer's leadership, the Partnership is the closest thing we now have in New York to a political club with the clout to make a mayor.


Here's the Partnership's testimony about Atlantic Yards, at the 5/4/04 City Council hearing and at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Draft Enviornmental Impact Statement.

"I am personally confident that Bruce will continue to work in good faith to resolve the concerns of immediate neighbors," Wylde testified at the latter hearing.

Does that include trying to get out of paying for demolished trees?

How far Brooklyn has come

Wylde reflected:
I cut my teeth in community organizing by leading opposition to the relocation of the old Fort Green Meat Market from Atlantic Avenue to the Sunset Park waterfront in 1971. Our community lost that battle, and so did the City, which has lost money on the failed meat market almost since the day it opened. I mention that community struggle as a reminder of the many years—not very long ago—when the only development happening in Brooklyn was the construction of public projects that were unwanted in other places. Atlantic Yards is a symbol of how far Brooklyn has come since those days.

Isn't Atlantic Yards also a symbol of public officials not trying to figure out what valuable public land might be worth?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…