Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When it came to D'Amato's lobbying, Bloomberg once was scathing about buying "political connections"

Naively or cunningly, architect Frank Gehry 4/10/06 famously described Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner as "politically my kind of guy, he's a do-gooder, liberal." Well, in his personal politics, Ratner may lean left, but when it comes to business, the developer is an equal-opportunity rent-seeker.

Hence Forest City Ratner's willingness, in the pursuit of federal stimulus funds, to enlist lobbyist and former Republican Senator D'Amato, who gained election as a conservative and maintained three terms as "Senator Pothole," emphasizing constituent service and pork.

Now D'Amato's an influence-peddler to the highest bidder, who previously was hired by the developer to make sure federal eminent domain laws didn't get tougher.

Bloomberg on D'Amato

Not so long ago, in 2004, D'Amato was hired by Cablevision, owner of Madison Square Garden, to lobby against the construction of a sports facility, the West Side Stadium, seen as a rival. Multi-Channel News reported that Madison Square Garden hired Park Strategies, the former senator's firm, for a six-month contract for $5,000 per month.

Bloomberg backed the stadium plan, and as Newsday pointed out, Bloomberg took aim at D'Amato during his 8/13/04 appearance on Live from City Hall with WABC radio's John Gambling.

(There's no counter on the page with the audio link, but the circle in the graphic indicates approximately how far along this segment occurs in the file.)

Bloomberg was scornful: "Cablevision's just out there hiring every political consultant, everybody that thinks they can get things done by pulling strings in the state and the city. It's a disgrace; they just run these ads that are so far off the mark. If we can't get these projects done, I don't know what we can get done, because these projects really do bring up a lot of jobs for the city, and it's jobs in particular for people who are starting up the economic ladder. And, also, if we don't get these two--the expansion to the Javits [Convention Center] and the stadium together--going, we are not going to be in contention for the Olympics."

"If they think they can buy their ways out, with a bunch of lobbyists who have political connections, I think that's a bad mistake. I think you're going to see the public rise up and say, enough--we've had too much of exactly that kind of decision-making done when it comes to big projects. We just cannot walk away from the future for our children just because one company is worried about competition."

(Emphases added)

The mayor will be mum

In the case of Atlantic Yards, D'Amato is lobbying for a project the mayor supports, so there's no reason to expect criticism from Bloomberg.

But the principle is the same. Decision-making by lobbyists detracts from democracy.

No party politics

As Jack Newfield and Paul DuBrul wrote in their 1977 book The Abuse of Power: The Permanent Government and the Fall of New York:
Legal graft is apolitical. It is important to understand that above a certain level of power, at the level of permanent power, there is no party politics. There are no Democrats and no Republicans. There are only class colleagues sharing profits.

In the Daily News

The New York Daily News, another backer of the stadium, was also scathing about D'Amato, in a 3/6/06 editorial headlined Getting to the Truth About Jets Stadium:
The naked self-interest of Cablevision bosses Charles and Jim Dolan - and their readiness to work against the best interests of New York - have been breathtaking. They have one aim, and that is to save the Garden, an antiquated frump in need of an extreme makeover, from competition by a stadium that would also serve as an entertainment venue and annex to the Javits Convention Center, as well as be the centerpiece venue of the 2012 Olympic Games.

To achieve their ends (while enjoying an undeserved $11 million yearly real estate tax exemption), the Dolans have retained a clown car's cargo of fixers, including Al D'Amato, a close pal of Kalikow, and Pat Lynch, confidant of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
(Emphasis added)

The Daily News pointed out, presciently enough, that critics of the West Side Stadium would not oppose the planned Yankee Stadium or the Nets arena, suggesting "high-stakes commercial and political agendas are obscuring the merits of a West Side stadium."

Alternatively, it might be argued that "high-stakes commercial and political agendas" have obscured the flaws of the other projects.

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