Thursday, June 18, 2009

The six ESDC board members--half from upstate, none from Brooklyn--who (likely) will rubber-stamp AY

So, let's meet the board of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the gubernatorial appointees who almost surely will approve revised plans for Atlantic Yards with no dissent, as the board did in December 2006.


All the directors (including ex-officio ones) are appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate. All are male. Three of the six are from upstate. Two are from Manhattan and one from Westchester. None are from Brooklyn.

Two of the six were appointed by Gov. George Pataki. Two spots are vacant. (The list does not appear on the ESDC site, but was provided in response to my request.)

In December 2006, I described the ESDC board as "team players and big donors;" the current configuration contains only one big donor to statewide campaigns, but surely includes team players.

NameAppointed ByTerm Expires
Dennis M. Mullen* (Chairman)GovernorPleasure of Governor
Kevin S. Corbett GovernorPleasure of Governor
Stanford LipseyGovernorPleasure of Governor
Mark E. Hamister Governor1/1/2009 (holdover)
Derrick D. CephasGovernor1/1/2013
Richard NeimanGovernorEx Officio

(There are two vacancies, plus Mullen awaits confirmation as Chairman, so he's not yet on the board. While Neiman is on the board by virtue of his office, he does get to vote. The Syracuse Post-Standard editorial page Tuesday offered a blog comment headlined ESDC adrift, noting the recent upstate-downstate tensions and cracking, "One hopes Mullen won't have turf battles with himself.")

Meeting June 23

Coming up at the ESDC board meeting June 23: the board is expected to "adopt" a revision of the Modified General Project Plan, which is a step toward approval, but requires a 60-day period to hold a hearing and accept public comment. At that meeting, it's unclear whether Mullen will be able to vote, since he hasn't been confirmed.

It will be at least two months until the board votes final approval. Presumably Mullen will be confirmed by then.

Should all six members vote--in December 2006, only four of seven voted--that means that half of the votes deciding on this important project for Brooklyn and New York would come from... upstate.

Then again, geography is probably irrelevant. As Assemblyman Richard Brodsky points out, the board members of state authorities follow the wishes of the executive who appointed them.


Dennis M. Mullen

ESDC Upstate President Dennis M. Mullen, who's been based in Rochester, has a history not in real estate issues but in frozen foods.

Mullen was set to become President and CEO of the ESDC after Marisa Lago's departure; now, after Chairman Robert Wilmers's surprising resignation, Mullen will be combined Chairman and CEO, assuming that the legislature approves it.

Mullen, then President and CEO of the Greater Rochester Enterprise, a regional economic development organization supported by both private and public sector leaders, was named ESDC Upstate President last August, the same time Lago was appointed.

A gubernatorial press release at the time noted that, at GRE, Mullen had focused on marketing Rochester’s core assets: alternative energy, biotechnology, food and beverage manufacturing and optics.

He previously served a decade as the chairman, president and CEO of Birds Eye Foods and headed three other food enterprises.

His approximately $16,000 in state political contributions in the past two years have been focused on the Rochester area and all but one (a $1000 contribution) have gone to Republicans. Of the total, $12,500 had gone to the campaign of Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, a Republican.

Stanford Lipsey

Lipsey (with President George W. Bush in 2004) is publisher of the Buffalo News and was named last December to the ESDC board by Gov. David Paterson.

“I was reluctant to serve, but I want to do whatever I can do to help Buffalo,” Lipsey said, according to Buffalo Business First. “And, if I can help [then-Chairman] Bob Wilmers, that’s a plus, too.”

After Lipsey's appointment, the Buffalo Newspaper Guild voted unanimously to ask him to resign the position, arguing that his presence "on the board of the state’s leading economic development agency is likely to raise questions about The News’ objectivity in its coverage of ESD and related state and local entities."

The letter noted a local tie: "We realize that you feel an obligation to ESD Chairman Bob Wilmers to serve on the board."

In October 2005, the University of Michigan named the university's Student Publications Building in honor of Lipsey, who began his career 60 years ago as a student working for U-M's yearbook and student newspaper and gave a $3 million gift toward a renovation effort.

I found no records of state political contributions by Lipsey.

Mark E. Hamister

Mark E. Hamister, once the only ESDC board member from upstate (when the board was appointed by Gov. George Pataki), is now one of three. He runs the Hamister Group, which manages assisted living and health care facilities, and also a hospitality management group and hotel acquisition company. Hamister is a member and/or officer of multiple boards and civic organizations.

A 1/3/03 profile in the Buffalo News was headlined “A Matter of Pull; As Mark E. Hamister seeks state and local aid to help buy the Buffalo Sabres, how much help will his political connections prove to be?”

It described how he chaired the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Western New York’s “most influential business organization,” which “threw the organization's considerable weight behind the re-election efforts of Gov. George E. Pataki,” even as the Partnership’s president “introduced Hamister as ‘the next owner of the Buffalo Sabres.’” (He eventually withdrew from the effort.)

The article outlined Hamister’s clout:
Hamister ranks as a major donor to area politicians -- Democrat as well as Republican -- dropping about $45,000 on local and state candidates over the past several years. That includes $6,000 to Pataki and more than $13,000 to County Executive Joel A. Giambra. Both will play major roles in determining whether Hamister receives public money to support his bid.

Hamister and his companies have continued to make significant campaign contributions, with most to Republicans, but also including $5000 in June 2008 to Gov. David Paterson's election campaign.

Hamister did not participate in the December 2006 board meeting.

Derrick D. Cephas

Cephas was named president and CEO of Amalgamated Bank, the nation's only fully union-owned bank, in January 2006. He was previously a banking and corporate law partner in the New York City office of the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. He was New York State Superintendent of Banks from June 1991 to July 1994, under Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Cephas was part of the transition team named in 2006 after the election of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

He has made relatively modest contributions to Democrats over the past eight years, some $7550.

He lives on the Upper West Side.

Kevin S. Corbett

Kevin Corbett is an ESDC insider; until late 2004, served as the ESDC’s chief operating officer. Now he’s VP of JWD Group, the marine planning division of the global transportation and infrastructure company DMJM+HARRIS, which is now known as AECOM.

He is a member of the board of the Regional Plan Association, which issued a qualified endorsement of the Atlantic Yards project, then went on to produce more criticism.

(Photo courtesy of America 2050)

Corbett does not appear to have been a major donor to campaigns, though he (apparently) gave $2000 to Gov. George Pataki in 2002. He is a holdover from the Pataki administration.

A 9/8/03 Times article headlined TWO YEARS LATER: THE MONEY; Downtown Grants Found To Favor Investment Field laid out a post-9/11 scenario:
More than a third of the emergency grant money intended to help small businesses in Lower Manhattan survive after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack went to investment firms, financial traders and lawyers, a result that some New York legislators who helped secure money for the program say they never envisioned.

Corbett defended the record:
"With the economic conditions and physical conditions we were faced with downtown, and the need to get the money out, we had to make decisions quickly," said Kevin S. Corbett, chief operating officer at Empire State Development, which is controlled by Gov. George E. Pataki. "We had no template at all for this kind of challenge."


After the December 2006 ESDC meeting, I pointed out to Corbett, a board member of the Regional Plan Association (RPA), that the RPA had been critical of Phase 2 of the project, and he shrugged it off.

He lives (I believe) on the Upper East Side.

Richard Neiman

Neiman, the New York State Superintendent of Banks, serves as an ex officio member of the ESDC board.

Appointed to the banking post in March 2007 by then-Governor Eliot Spitzer, Neiman worked at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in Washington, DC, then at Citicorp in New York, where he was General Counsel of its Global Equities Group; then back in Washington, as Director of Regulatory Advisory Services for Price Waterhouse. He went on to work as Executive Vice President and General Counsel for TD Waterhouse Group, then, immediately prior to joining the Banking Department, was President and CEO of TD Bank USA.

Neiman, who lives in suburban Rye, has given relatively modestly to Democratic campaigns, including $5000 in 2004 to the state Democratic Committee.

Bonus flashback: Robert G. Wilmers

Wilmers, the ESDC Chairman for one year, is no longer on the board. He was named to the post (for which he did not receive a salary) in June 2008 by Gov. David Paterson.

He has led the Buffalo-based M&T Bank Corporation and its principal subsidiary, M&T Bank, since 1983, and has worked previously at several banks. He was a deputy finance commissioner under New York City Mayor John Lindsay.

He serves on the board of directors of The Business Council of New York State. He also served as chairman of the New York Bankers Association in 2002 and as a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 1993 to 1998.

As the New York Observer reported on his appointment:
Mr. Wilmers, who will not take a salary, is a major political donor and served on Eliot Spitzer’s transition team just after he was elected governor. Campaign finance records show he gave $40,000 to the Spitzer-Paterson campaign between 2005 and 2006, and $50,000 to the state Senate Republicans earlier this year.

So the latter gift might have raised eyebrows with Paterson, who presumably wants a Democratic Senate. Also, before then, he gave $25,000 to the Pataki campaign between 1999 and 2002.

1 comment:

  1. And after the second vote, the result will have to be published, and then the EDPL lawsuits will begin all over again. The next EDPL lawsuit will not even be argued in 2009, let alone decided. When the courts see how little is left of AYP, and they recall all of the bloated and bogus representations, they will rule against the project. Even if the basketball coach thinks it's great.

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