Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why talky Public Advocate candidate Bill de Blasio became quiet about Atlantic Yards (and will rival Siegel press the issue?)

Any reporter or blogger on Bill de Blasio's mailing list gets a daily stream of announcements and statements, in which the Council Member and Public Advocate candidate weighs in on local and citywide issues--but not Atlantic Yards.

Today, in fact, he plans to attend a press conference in the Bronx, along with Council Member Annabel Palma and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, to demand that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) "guarantee riders a basic level of service and accountability."

And he plans to announce an endorsement from the Rev. Al Sharpton, an Atlantic Yards supporter and longtime ally of the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, a signatory of the AY CBA (and noted heckler).

AY criticism recedes

When it came to crossing some of his union supporters (and, for that matter, Sharpton) by questioning the MTA's willingness to cut a sweetheart deal with Forest City Ratner, however, de Blasio and the "independent leadership" he promises was nowhere to be found. 

(For example, de Blasio has been endorsed by the Service Employees International Union's Local 32BJ and has received $4950 from SEIU's Political Action Committee and $2000 from Local 32BJ. He received $3950 from the New York City District Council of Carpenters and $2950 from the Mason Tenders District Council, among others. He received $2000 from the campaign of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. He's raised $1.28 million so far.)

While de Blasio last year ramped up some criticism of Atlantic Yards, he muted that criticism, apparently when he recognized that the overturning of term limits meant that he could no longer run for Borough President but instead would pursue citywide office. (He long lacked due diligence on AY.)

In June, the only elected officials to testify critically at the MTA Finance Committee meeting and board meeting were Assemblyman Jim Brennan, City Council Members Letitia James and David Yassky, and, via representatives, state Senators Velmanette Montgomery and Bill Perkins. (Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz sent his cheerleading chief of staff.)

While Brennan and five other elected officials signed a letter asking the Independent Budget Office to look closely at Atlantic Yards, de Blasio did not joint them. Nor did de Blasio join Brennan and several other officials in a letter asking the MTA to delay its June 24 vote.

The Siegel candidacy

Perhaps de Blasio has concluded that anyone critical of Atlantic Yards will vote for rival candidate Norman Siegel, the longtime civil rights attorney who in 2005 challenged incumbent Betsy Gotbaum on her support for Atlantic Yards. (The Times coverage was lousy.)

Siegel's' current bio cites his role representing a property owner challenging Columbia University's pursuit of eminent domain (via the Empire State Development Corporation) as well as his past role representing Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.

The landscape and the issues

The other candidates for Public Advocate are Council Member Eric Gioia., who has opposed eminent domain for AY but has not been vocal, and former Public Advocate Mark Green, who's pretty much sat out the AY debate.

Gioia has raised $2.1 million, with a significant slice from developers; Green has raised $414,000; and Siegel has raised $286,000. According to the Times, de Blasio led in fundraising among citywide candidates over the past reporting period; while Siegel collected enough small donations to qualify for matching funds, Green has not done so. 

City Limits assesses the race:
The question is whether Gioia's money and energy—one observer likened him to an "Energizer Bunny"—will be enough to defeat de Blasio's growing list of endorsements, Green's name recognition and Siegel's dedicated following among progressives.

There are obviously many issues in the race, but, as far as I can tell, neither Siegel nor the other candidates in debates have challenged de Blasio on AY.

From CBID questionnaires, positions on AY

The candidates were asked about Atlantic Yards by the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, which has endorsed Siegel. Candidates filled out lengthy questionnaires (here and here) on numerous issues.

Siegel on AY:
The use of eminent domain in the Atlantic Yards project is unconstitutional, illegal, and absolutely inappropriate. I have always opposed it, dating back to 2004 and 2005 when I was counsel to Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. Unfortunately, this attitude towards development is not an isolated incident, but has been a troubling pattern of the Bloomberg administration – which I know firsthand as I am also counsel to Tuck It Away Storage in their fight against the use of eminent domain in Columbia University’s expansion plan.

Here's a City Limits profile on Siegel.

de Blasio on AY:
I became a supporter of the project because of the groundbreaking affordable housing program, jobs and other community benefits, and felt it to be an appropriate use of eminent domain. I have said publicly that no further public subsidies should be granted or demolitions allowed until there is evidence that the Community Benefits Agreement will be adhered to. It is also essential that surrounding neighborhoods have a larger, ongoing role in the project.

That's what he told City Limits, too. Note that, when the MTA expanded subsidies to Forest City Ratner, de Blasio was silent.

Green on AY:
Being out of office, I had no public role or say on the Atlantic Yards development. My views now are that the City and Borough economy obviously need smart growth, which must include a good chunk of any residential housing in Atlantic Yards be affordable. Eminent domain turns on the extent of the public purpose, which I haven’t yet examined in this case. Obviously, given what’s happened to the City in general and that project in particular, the economics and scale of Atlantic Yards now needs to be reexamined if not reimagined.

Here's a City Limits profile on Green, whose brother is a real estate mogul.

Gioia on AY:
My position today is the same as it was in 2005 – I am opposed to the use of eminent domain for purely economic reasons. I did not vote in favor of the Columbia University project for similar reasons. If you respect property rights, you have to respect property rights for the little guy as well as for the big shots.

Here's a City Limits profile on Gioia.

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