Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Tish James tax story, the incumbent's misstep, and the weeklies' avoidance of the bigger picture

So, after ignoring the news value of the 35th District City Council campaign of Delia Hunley-Adossa, who runs a questionable nonprofit organization with ties to Forest City Ratner (but won't answer questions about it), the Brooklyn Paper finally covers the race--by picking up a story broken by its new Courier-Life sibling (right): that incumbent Letitia James owes nearly $10,000 in back taxes over the past year.

Sure, it's defensible to lead with the latest news. And James's explanation isn't fully credible.  

(Click on graphics to enlarge.)

But the bigger picture, which the Brooklyn Paper hasn't yet provided--and the Courier-Life's Stephen Witt likely will never provide--is that James's main challenger has failed to answer legitimate questions about the operation of and support for Brooklyn Endeavor Experience (BEE), an organization that pays her a salary while she more visibly organizes rallies in favor of the Atlantic Yards project.

James's explanation

James, apparently wishing to get the jump on the story emerging Friday in the Courier-Life, Thursday gave this explanation to the Times's blog The Local: “Like most people, I believe in paying my bills, and like most people I wait until I get my tax refund.”

Well, there's no rule that say you get to wait until the refund arrives, which is why those in arrears must pay an interest penalty. And James, who earns $122,500 a year, surely has it better than many people in her district.

It's not a huge transgression, given the lack of a long-term pattern. Still, rather than simply offering an Obama-esque "I screwed up" before changing the subject, James did the latter immediately.

Changing the subject

She told the Brooklyn Paper “This is a distraction from the real issues within the district," adding, in a swipe at Hunley Adossa's BEE, "If I started a not-for-profit, I could take money from [Mayor] Bloomberg and Ratner to pay [my property taxes]." She gave a similar quote to the Courier-Life.

I contacted her yesterday, giving her a chance to elaborate, and she said, "No further explanation other than there is a huge difference between not paying taxes at all and paying late. I have paid property taxes for the last seven years and will pay, albeit late, as part of my responsibilty as a property owner. This is frankly nothing more than a distraction away from the more serious issues that I am dealing with in this district. I guess I should start a not for profit and accept funds from Murdoch, Bloomberg and Ratner to keep me afloat. Fortunately, I choose not to."

The bigger picture

James's lapses do not indicate that she owes favors to any major powerbroker. Hunley-Adossa's silence suggests she might owe such favors to Forest City Ratner.

Similarly, the silence (in response to questions from both me and the Times) of Hunley-Adossa's campaign treasurer, Charlene Nimmons, regarding her dubious nonprofit's ties to FCR is also dismaying.

That's the bigger picture.

What's in the CBA

The Courier-Life's Witt touches on Hunley-Adossa's ties to Ratner without getting any numbers:
Ratner gave Hunley-Adossa seed money for her not-for-profit Brooklyn Endeavor Experience.

Hunley-Adossa is chair of the consortium of community organizations that signed a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with Ratner.

The seed money was negotiated as part of the CBA.


No, it wasn't.

The CBA states:
VIII. Environmental Assurances
A. Purpose. The purpose of this Section is to encourage involvement from the Surrounding Community on potential environmental issues caused by development of this Project and to provide a vehicle to address specific concerns.

B. Working Group.
(1) Upon execution of this Agreement, the Developers will work with FATHC to establish a Committee on Environmental Assurances to address short and long term environmental issues that may affect the Surrounding Community as a result of development of the Arena and the Project.

(2) If requested by the Environmental Assurances Committee, the Developers shall work with FATHC to seek and secure public and/or private funding to pay the reasonable expenses of the working group of this committee, in order to provide: an appropriate meeting space within walking distance of the Project, postage and phone communications, webhosting services for a community webpage and message board dedicated to the Project, and the services of an administrative staff to update the community webpage on a regular basis.


Hunley-Adossa's group was once known as the First Atlantic Terminal Housing Committee (FATHC). There's been no expenditure, as far as I can tell, to create a "community webpage and message board." Rather, Hunley-Adossa gets a salary from BEE (via Ratner?), while she runs for office.

Remember, an expert on CBAs said a week ago that CBA signatories shouldn't accept money from the developers signing the deal, because it undercuts the deal's integrity, but if they do, they should be transparent about it. 

Witt, on the EIS case appeal

The Brooklyn Paper, which once deemed a Forest City Ratner lie about Frank Gehry's birthplace worth of page 1, ignored this week's news about the plaintiffs seeking an appeal in the case challenging the Atlantic Yards environmental review.

The Courier-Life covered it, with Witt drawing significantly from a Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn press release. He then gave the last four paragraph to Forest City Ratner mouthpiece Joe DePlasco, who declared, "There is is nothing new to say about Daniel Goldstein's court cases."

By suggesting that a case involving 26 organizations, including Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (for which Goldstein is a spokesman), is somehow one person's case, "Dark Genius" DePlasco is apparently reverting to Tactic #3: Reality Be Damned.

As I wrote 11/1/05, DePlasco sometimes makes outlandish claims, almost daring reporters to make the effort to find a counterargument. When the Courier-Life's main rival, the Brooklyn Paper, simply punts on the story, readers are ill-served.

1 comment:

  1. BLAH! BLAH! BLAH! Ms. Tish James says there is a difference in not paying taxes and paying late. But how long is late, I surely think 1year is way past late and is clearly avoiding to pay. How dare she offer an Obama esque "I screwed up" Oh well we all know this is not the first time, nor the second this is just another smoke screen to dodge the truth. Also Ms. James needs to stop acting like she never accepted monies from Forest City Ratner because she has, when she needed money for other campaign taxes. Saying you need to start a not for profit organization is just another diversion to place the attention off herself (smoke and mirrors) it's the oldest trick in the book. I'm really afraid to see what will be the next rabbit she pulls out of the hat. Ms. James needs to fess up about a lot of her underhanded games in running for re-election because it shows a poor example of leadership.

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