Thursday, July 02, 2009

Behind the state Senate turmoil: the real estate industry (with an AY angle)

In an article headlined Senate Coup Plotters' Hidden Agenda: Tabloids call it a circus, but the lobbyists' goal is to squelch reforms, the Village Voice's Tom Robbins connects the state Senate's dysfunctions not to no-good legislators but to the real estate industry's desire to stymie long-awaited reforms in the city's rent regulations.

Also jeopardized are efforts at campaign finance reform and gun control. And, yes, a further look at Atlantic Yards.

Robbins writes:
Democratic control of Senate committees also brought the power to shine a spotlight in places Republicans had preferred to leave dark. On May 29, 10 days before the coup shut everything down, Harlem Senator Bill Perkins, new chairman of a committee overseeing state authorities, held the Senate's first public hearing on the massive $4 billion Atlantic Yards project.

The Forest City Ratner deal was made possible by an official sleight of hand that allowed it to skirt city land use regulations. Under Republican control, the Senate asked no questions. Even at the hearing, they still offered protection. Brooklyn's lone GOP senator, Marty Golden, burst into the hearings late and, backed by cheers from building trades workers, proceeded to mock Perkins and Montgomery, in whose district the project sits, for "holding the project hostage."


Efforts at inquiry stymied

Note that Perkins sent follow-up questions to Metropolitan Transportation Authority Acting Executive Director Helena Williams, but he did not get answers.

While the Republicans might be blamed for not wanting to pursue scrutiny of Atlantic Yards in the state Senate, the Democrats control the Assembly, and surely Brooklyn Assemblymembers Jim Brennan, Joan Millman, and Hakeem Jeffries support a closer look at the project.

But all-powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, an AY supporter (and recipient of Forest City Ratner largesse) has kept the lid on. With Democratic control of the Senate, local Senator Velmanette Montgomery could then push Perkins to hold a hearing. Perkins said he wanted to hold follow-up hearings on AY and other issues, but now that's in doubt.

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