Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Times columnist sees how Bloomberg alienated Stuy Town residents; could a Thompson focus on AY have had an impact?

In a column today headlined What to Make of a Big Deal Gone Sour, New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer finds residents of Stuyvesant Town angry at Mayor Mike Bloomberg for his blase, let-the-market-work attitude toward residents vulnerable to loss of their apartments under new owner Tishman Speyer, whose principal led the push for a third term.

Dwyer writes:
If the considerations were strictly economic, it would be simple to say that the owners of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper had every right to get the highest price for their property. They had earned their market. But one of the lessons of the last two years is that there are few purely economic questions. Public and social interests can be ignored only until a bailout is needed.

The wealth in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper was created, in significant part, by the city of New York: 60 years ago, the city acquired the land under eminent domain and turned it over to Metropolitan Life for development.

By 2006, when the insurance company put the property up for sale, it would have been difficult to assign a dollar value to the public investment of land and tax abatements that made Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper possible.
What about AY?

And how much is the dollar value of public investment in Atlantic Yards? Well, the Independent Budget Office (IBO)--which Bloomberg in this case decries--calculates that the arena would be a net loss to the city but a major gain for developer Forest City Ratner.

And what's without even factoring the reported $400 million (over 20 years) naming rights that the state simply gave away.

Had Dwyer come to Brooklyn, he would've found voters angry about Atlantic Yards divided about whether Thompson represented a viable alternative. And Thompson's posture toward AY was a sign of (take your pick) the challenger's ineptitude or the difficulty of taking on a project that still retains some powerful backers.

The complications for Thompson

Could a challenger to the mayor have gotten mileage out of "The Kiss," when ACORN's Bertha Lewis kissed a surprised and resistant Bloomberg on the mouth upon the signing of the Atlantic Yards Housing Memorandum of Understanding?

Well, maybe. Then again, a Democratic candidate in New York--especially a black man from Brooklyn--doesn't want to dis ACORN.

Still, a candidate critical of Atlantic Yards at least could've pointed out the contradiction of Bloomberg "signing" the AY Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) and later pronouncing himself "violently opposed" to such CBAs.

Thompson might alienated some supporters had he come out against Atlantic Yards. But, unlike in 2005, when ostensible Freddy Ferrer supporter Al Sharpton criticized the Democratic candidate for being against "jobs," this time Democrat Thompson could have cited the credible IBO.

And the mayor at least would've had to defend a project so radioactive he wouldn't even mention it on his campaign web site.

In 2005, Bloomberg got 723,635 votes (59%), while Ferrer got 477,903 (39%.) In yesterday's election, Bloomberg got 557,059 votes (50.6%), while Thompson got 506,717 (46.0%).

Thompson didn't do much better than Ferrer. A lot of people simply stayed home, alienated by Bloomberg's massive spending and push to overturn term limits, and uninspired by Thompson's lackluster campaign.

(Some Democrats tell the Daily News that more support from prominent Dems, including President Barack Obama, might have made a difference, and I agree that would've driven more voters than a stand on Atlantic Yards.)

What next?


Now, according to some political consultants, stalled projects like Atlantic Yards are going to go back on schedule.

Somehow I don't think Bloomberg can completely wave that magic wand. But the mayor can continue to make concessions and slip additional sweeteners into the budget. (In a roundup today on real estate and economic development, the New York Observer's Eliot Brown omits AY.)

So let's see if Democratic Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Democratic Comptroller John Liu serve as the watchdogs they claim to be.

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