Thursday, October 22, 2009

An asterisk attached to the Village Voice's praise for Richard Brodsky: what about Atlantic Yards?

The Village Voice's Best of NYC 2009 issue honors Richard Brodsky as the Best Assembly Mouth That Roars

First the citation, then my asterisk.
If Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky could run for office in New York City, Mike Bloomberg's brazen bid for a third term might really be on the ropes. Back in January, Brodsky—a 27-year veteran Assemblyman—gave the Bloomberg administration its toughest case of conniptions yet when he released a series of startlingly embarrassing e-mails between top city aides and lawyers for the New York Yankees in their negotiations over the new gold-plated stadium. At the time, the city was getting ready to hand the Yankees another $370 million in tax-free bonds, in addition to the $1 billion it had already provided. But Brodsky, the ever-innovative chairman of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions, started digging, and came up with a treasure trove of e-mails back and forth between Bloomie's bureaucrats and Yankees lawyers. Turned out the big fight wasn't over how much to give the world's richest sports franchise, but whether or not the Spankees were going to give the city its own special luxury stadium box—plus food! Brodsky subpoenaed some very unhappy Yankees brass and city bigs to testify before him and Brooklyn Assemblyman James Brennan. The show was every bit as good as a Yankees–Red Sox face-off. Brodsky, who has been shining his legislative light into the dark corners of everything from the MTA to Indian Point for years, singlehandedly disproves the claim that no one in Albany knows how to legislate.
But what about Atlantic Yards?

Sure, Brodsky has done yeoman work on Yankee Stadium and, more importantly, led the charge for yet-unresolved reform of public authorities.

But his Yankee Stadium investigation came after the fact, generating many headlines but relatively little impact on the new stadium and its funding.

Meanwhile, faced with a pending and similar funding plan for the Atlantic Yards arena, Brodsky has kept his distance, in August saying, "There are a lot of very reasonable questions about the role of the assessor's office in these large authority deals, that are currently under review."

In June, however, he was more forceful: "So you go ahead and create a PILOT--a payment in lieu of taxes. And that you securitize. And that’s what the [Yankee] stadium deal and the Mets deal and the Nets deal is probably going to be. That is diversion of tax money into debt without any elected officials looking at it. That is an extraordinary kind of thing."

He was speaking at a law school conference, perhaps unaware he was being recorded. He has not tried to investigate Atlantic Yards.

At that same conference, he said, "[T]he Nets are going to ask the MTA to take less money for the Nets arena. I believe that the decision to accept that offer would be a violation of the fiduciary duty of the board members."

Such a deal, in fact, occurred later in June, with Brennan testifying but Brodsky conspicuously absent. And last week, when four legislators joined Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and the Straphangers Campaign in suing the MTA over the Atlantic Yards deal, Brodsky was absent.

The Silver factor

Brodsky, a notably pugnacious and smart legislator, has been cagey regarding Atlantic Yards. Why?

The best explanation I've heard is that, because Brodsky wants to run for Attorney General--he hedged when asked earlier this month--he doesn't want to offend all-powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, an Atlantic Yards supporter (and receiver of Forest City Ratner largesse).

Here's some criticism and praise of Brodsky from the reformers at The Albany Project.

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