Skip to main content

The latest cloud over Finance Commissioner Stark: a romance with the (former) assistant in the middle of the Yankee Stadium controversy

City Finance Commissioner Martha Stark is under a cloud again, this time for having a romantic relationship with a former assistant commissioner. Mayor Mike Bloomberg, formerly a staunch defender of Stark, says the city is looking into whether the relationship began while Dara Ottley-Brown was employed by Stark.

However, as I note below, no one is yet looking into the potential connection to an even more questionable episode: Ottley-Brown served as the Department of Finance's (DOF) point person in ensuring that the land under the new Yankee Stadium would be assessed--re-assessed, it turned out--at a figure sufficient to generate the foregone taxes to be repaid by PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes).

And the DOF faces similar challenges in ensuring that the assessments of the Atlantic Yards arena site are sufficient to generate PILOTs sought by the developer.

Stark reasons for questions

Certainly, as the New York Post first reported Sunday, there's a reason to ask questions. Ottley-Brown in 2003 earned $65,000, but was promoted to assistant commissioner in November 2004, earning $120,984, which rose to $138,013 in two years.

(Graphic from WCBS-TV)

Stark to the Post denied "a personal relationship with any subordinate" and thus any ethics violation, but the newspaper reported that, while under oath in a lawsuit, Stark was prevented from answering such a question by her lawyer.

Less than a month ago, Stark gave up a moonlighting position that earned her some $134,000 in two years.

The stadium issue

The Yankees angle goes unmentioned in the Times and Post. The Daily News hasn't covered the latest story at all, perhaps unwilling to acknowledge a scoop by the rival Post.

(Update April 15: The Daily News publishes a highly skeptical editorial, which does not mention the Yankees angle. The Times reports, as does the Post, that Bloomberg wants the Conflicts of Interest Board and Department of Investigation, to look into questions about Stark--again without the Yankees angle.)

But Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez laid it out, in a 12/18/08 column headlined E-mails reveal how city went to bat for Yankee to inflate value of stadium land:
The e-mails show that City Attorney Joseph Gunn notified Stark's former assistant commissioner, Dara Ottley-Brown, on July 15, 2005, that "the Yankees have an interest in seeing that the assessed valuation will be high enough to generate as much PILOT for tax-exempt debt as is lawful and appropriate."
They also show Stark's staff met at least three times with the Yankees and other city officials to discuss the department's assessment method.
On March 21, 2006, a few weeks before City Council's vote on the Yankees project, Maurice Kellman, the city's chief assessor, sent Ottley-Brown the stadium assessment report. It estimated the value of the land under the stadium at $26.8 million.
Finance Department spokesman Sam Miller said Tuesday that a "senior assessment team" decided Kellman's estimate was too low compared with the construction cost of the new stadium.
After a series of frantic phone calls and e-mails on March 21 and 22 between a half-dozen city officials and the Yankees, Ottley-Brown ordered Kellman to produce a new report.
"Here is the writeup with the changes you requested earlier today," Kellman wrote on the 22nd, pumping the assessment up to $204 million. Kellman would not comment.


Gonzalez suggested that it was time for a prosecutor to subpoena documents the city won't provide "and figure out if the Bloomberg administration manipulated land assessments for the Yankees."

(Here's more regarding Ottley-Brown's central role, from Assemblyman Richard Brodsky's report on Yankee Stadium and Rep. Dennis Kucinich's hearing on the stadium.)

Looking into manipulation

It's safe to say that Bloomberg, whatever criticism of Stark might emerge, is not going to address the stadium issue.

But part of Gonzalez's request is a no-brainer.

Did the city manipulate land assessments? The answer is yes--unless you think a small piece of land in Alphabet City is somehow comparable to a stadium site in the South Bronx.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

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…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …