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The Edolphus Towns succession, Darryl Towns, and Forest City Ratner's interest and intervention$

City Hall News has an interesting piece on the potential race to succeed 74-year-old, 14-term 10th District Rep. Edolphus Towns, who in 2008 easily beat back a challenge from activist Kevin Powell though in 2006 was challenged more forcefully by City Council Member Charles Barron, whose impact was diluted by the spoiler role of Assemblyman Roger Green.

The article, headlined Big Egos and Ambitions Set To Collide in Prospective Race To Succeed Towns, doesn't mention the Atlantic Yards angle on past races nor the prospective one.

Still, Forest City Ratner has an interest in this race, part of the unwritten story about the developer's impact on Brooklyn politics. That interest includes a previously unreported Bruce Ratner campaign contribution to Assemblyman Darryl Towns and a surprise appearance by Towns himself at a recent AY-related meeting held by the Empire State Development Corporation.

Contrasts and contradictions

But first, some contrasts and contradictions suggested by the article.

First, though it had long been thought that Rep. Towns--whose questionable record includes an effort to block a smoking ban on passenger flights and a posture toward transparency that makes Forest City Ratner look like a sieve--was ready to retire, he said he's running again.

That means that two likely aspirants for the seat--his son, Darryl Towns, and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries--would put their potential candidacies on hold.

That would leave Barron as the strongest challenger, should he work out a deal with Powell to stay out of the race. However, as the article suggests, if City Council Member Letitia James--who denies interest in the seat--steps up, she could garner some of the anti-Towns vote that Powell got in the western part of the district. But she might want to wait her turn.

The article, using some curious passive voice, claims that James "is thought to lack the depth of a base in the black community that Barron has, the middle-class base that Jeffries has, or the name recognition of Towns." Well, she got reelected pretty easily in 2005, and got a boost in name recognition (and praise) from the recent term limits challenge.

Would Barron have a shot straight up against the incumbent? Maybe, but Towns would have the resources of incumbency. More interesting would be a multi-candidate race without the incumbent.

While Jeffries may be something of an insurgent in black politics--supporting Barack Obama early on, unlike some more established black leaders with ties to Hilary Clinton--he's got the support of Brooklyn Democratic kingpin Vito Lopez, which is an advantage, but could be targeted, as well, by an opponent.

James is expected to run in 2009 for her second full Council term, while Barron, though saying he wouldn't run for a third term should term limits be extended, has left the door open. It would be easier for Council Members to run in 2010 or 2012 for Congress, because they wouldn't give up their seats. Jeffries and Darryl Towns would be taking more of a risk.

The FCR connection

So what's Forest City Ratner's interest in the race? FCR certainly wouldn't want to lose an elected official who's been a reliable supporter, so reliable that Edolphus Towns endorsed the $6 billion lie.

That's likely why Bruce Ratner's brother Michael and his wife Karen Ranucci each gave $2000 for Towns's 2006 race. Also, an FCR executive contributed to Green's spoiler candidacy, as did people connected to the AY Community Benefits Agreement.

Last year, four members of the Ratner family, including FCR CEO Bruce Ratner, as well as the Forest City Enterprises Political Action Committee, contributed a total of $12,300 to Towns's re-election campaign.

Enter Darryl Towns

Darryl Towns, who in 2007 chaired the minority caucus of state legislators and got a special salute from Forest City Ratner, is a reliable voice of Atlantic Yards support. He in turn saluted the Barclays/Nets alliance. He spoke at the Brooklyn Day rally last June. He endorsed the $6 billion lie. He championed Barclays.

According to state filings, Bruce Ratner gave Towns $3000 last September. (So much for Ratner's one-time retreat from giving political contributions.)

Crashing the ESDC meeting

At a meeting December 22 at the offices of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), Forest City Ratner and several local officials were present. City Council members David Yassky, Bill de Blasio (via a representative), and James, Rep. Yvette Clarke, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, and Assemblymembers Jim Brennan, Joan Millman, and Hakeem Jeffries.

Also invited by Forest City Ratner to tilt the balance in a meeting in which nearly everyone would be at least a mild critic of Atlantic Yards were Darryl Towns and State Senator Marty Golden, another reliable AY supporter who happens to be ethically challenged. The ESDC, I'm told, wouldn't let them attend because the project would not directly impact their districts.

(After all, if Forest City Ratner were allowed to bring ringers to every meeting, then State Sen. Carl Kruger, he of the "Brooklyn" aria, would be at the next one, right?)

If not Towns?

So, if not Edolphus Towns, then Darryl Towns would seem to be the developer's choice. Barron and James (and, to a lesser extent, Powell) are Atlantic Yards opponents, so, if for some reason no Towns candidacy (or alternative candidate) emerged, Jeffries might be seen by FCR as the least unfavorable candidate.

Jeffries has been cautious and cagey on the Atlantic Yards issue, saying he opposes eminent domain to build a basketball arena but never opposing the project, instead leaning more to the BrooklynSpeaks "mend-it-don't-end-it" posture.

He's criticized the density of AY and called for affordable housing to be built first, even though the developer's design requires the arena at the center. He's called for an Assembly hearing on the project, though nothing's happened with that, likely because all-powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, an AY supporter (and FCR beneficiary), hasn't favored it.

A federal role?

The critical bodies for oversight of and support for Atlantic Yards are the City Council and the state Legislature, not Congress.

However, it's possible that federal stimulus money could assist the project, and surely Forest City Ratner prefers to have high-profile elected officials supporting AY, not opposing it.


  1. Do you think that Towns' role as Chairman of the Oversight Committee can help improve your view of him? He hit the ground running by passing some transparency laws.


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