Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Parsing the Daily News story on the 35th District; Hunley-Adossa, treated unskeptically, says Ratner gave $400,000

While Delia Hunley-Adossa mostly steers clear of Atlantic Yards on her campaign web site, and has disingenuously claimed that her candidacy for the 35th Council District has nothing to do with the project she supports, the Daily News today places the project front and center--and does an inadequate job by not looking closely enough at her statements regarding the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).

The article, which also covers the 34th District, is headlined Brooklyn elections for borough Council districts pit incumbents against upstart challengers and begins:
It's a battle over Atlantic Yards in the race for the 35th District seat.

Incumbent Letitia James is one of the most vocal opponents of developer Bruce Ratner's plan for a Nets arena and 16 towers in Prospect Heights. She faces challenge from Delia Hunley-Adossa, a project backer whose nonprofit, Brooklyn Endeavor Experience, is funded by Ratner under a community benefits agreement.

"Being in opposition and not sitting at the table or attempting to negotiate with the developer on behalf of the community is unacceptable," said Hunley-Adossa, who is also president of the 88th Precinct Community Council.

"Her position is one way: 'I'm against it. I don't care who's for it. I don't care what everybody's saying that needs jobs, that needs housing,'" she said.

Hunley-Adossa didn't negotiate much--after all, the developer is in compliance with the environmental component of the project, which Brooklyn Endeavor Experience (BEE) is supposed to monitor, by following the state-mandated process.

Now it's $400,000

The Daily News allows Hunley-Adossa to spin regarding FCR's contributions:
Hunley-Adossa said her group got about $400,000 from Forest City Ratner. Its biggest single expenditure has been her salary - $51,000 over six years, she said.

"I'm not ashamed," she said, adding the money has gone to pay for air conditioners and rat abatement for homes near the construction site, environmental awareness classes, and sending kids to summer camp.

In a recent debate, Hunley-Adossa said, “When we negotiated the CBA, we had negotiated for a two-year budget, which is a little over a couple of hundred thousand dollars, that would last us through. That would be for our overhead, office space, it’s all in the CBA. Salaries and different things--and it’s written in the CBA."

First, $400,000 is a lot more specific than "a little over a couple of hundred thousand dollars." That's news. The 2007 IRS Form 990 report, the only one so far made public, shows $173,000. Hunley-Adossa should make the subsequent Form 990 report public, so we can see how the money was spent. If it won't be filed until later this year, she still should explain the spending.

Second, her organization was not incorporated until 2005. Third, the organization no longer has office space. Fourth, none of the claimed spending above is written in the CBA.

More reasons for skepticism

Also, she'd never before said that the money went to rat abatement or air conditioners--both the responsibility of Forest City Ratner under the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, with no mention of its CBA partners. Nor does the BEE web site claim such spending.

(As shown at right, Forest City Ratner, not BEE, was offering homeowners such air conditioning.)

(Update 3:25 pm: ESDC spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell explains: "While ESDC tracks some community benefits in our Project Plan such as job levels and minority hiring, we are not party to the Community Benefits Agreement and do not formally monitor the commitments of that agreement.

With respect to the environmental commitments, ESDC does monitor Forest City Ratner's adherence to the environmental commitments through reports by a third party consultant with expertise in this area. ESDC does not however, investigate who Forest City Ratner hires or the compliance of subcontactors unless the question of compliance pertains to an environmental commitment.")

Also, the Daily News didn't ask why members of her board are family members and friends, didn't ask Hunley-Adossa about her experience and expertise with environmental issues, and didn't ask why she led rallies for the developer.

And the others?

Only in the final paragraphs does the article leave Hunley-Adossa:
James made no apologies for attacking the troubled project, saying: "It's important that someone speak up loudly against those that would want to destroy this community."

A second challenger, political newcomer Medhanie Estiphanos, opposes the arena but criticized James for focusing on it at the expense of issues like unemployment and high school dropout rates.

But James said she's created new school libraries, affordable housing and bike lanes, and fought to save senior centers.

So, it's all about Delia Hunley-Adossa? If so, then the press has got to be more skeptical. Maybe they should watch the debate and see how she explained her previous inaccessibility.

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