Saturday, May 29, 2010

Noticing New York's White puts the AG candidates on the spot re Atlantic Yards; Brodsky's in high dudgeon over suggestion he went easy on AY

In Touchstone For Whether There Will Be Change In Albany: Attorney General Candidates on Atlantic Yards and Eminent Domain, Michael D.D. White offers a long but important-to-read post. The summary:
The good news with respect to the possibility of change is that at least two of the candidates for state Attorney General (the Erics) think that the job of Attorney General should entail actions designed to stop Atlantic Yards dead in its tracks. That includes, in the case of state senator Eric T. Schneiderman, investigation of likely violations of law and, in the case of former state insurance superintendent Eric R. Dinallo, use of the Attorney General’s power to issue opinions and rulings to make clear that the law is not being properly interpreted when eminent domain is abused by state officials. (We will be quoting both at length further on.)

The bad news is that if the Erics are correct and that addressing these Atlantic Yards abuses should be part of the Attorney General’s job (or at least within the AG’s discretion), none of the current AG candidates are willing to say that it is improper for gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, the current holder of the AG position, to be taking campaign money from Forest City Ratner, the mega-project’s developer. That this is not improper notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Cuomo has been asked to investigate Atlantic Yards and issue rulings on the conduct by the public authorities facilitating it. That it is not improper notwithstanding the questions that lurk: Is Mr. Cuomo taking action on Atlantic Yards and is Mr. Cuomo taking appropriate action?
Atlantic Yards as "Superlative Touchstone"

White calls Atlantic Yards "the superlative touchstone to detect for true reform-mindedness," comparing it to Yankee Stadium, the Aqueduct "racino," the destruction of the Coney Island amusement area, Willets Point, Columbia University's expansion, and putting it in the context of public authority reform and campaign finance, state ethics and lobbying reform.

He notes that, while Cuomo has given back some campaign contributions, he's failed to return a contribution from Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner, nor has he issued some publicly requested opinions on AY.

Silver and Brodsky and AY

White points to my suggestion that Assemblyman Richard Brodsky had pursued an investigation of Yankee Stadium but not Atlantic Yards because of his desire to maintain comity with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who ultimately endorsed him.

Brodsky's response:
As the only non-Brooklynish guy who even got his feet wet in the Atlantic Yards thing, as the guy who stopped these kinds of deals from going forward in the future, as the guy who did the investigations of the MTA and held their feet to the fire on Atlantic Yards, I find the question one of those things in which you engage in circular insanity. I will not defend my integrity based upon innuendo, rumor and who I happen to have been endorsed by. If I take money from Forest City Ratner, nail me. If anybody here is taking money from Goldman Sachs, nail them. If anybody here is taking money from Leo Hindery, nail them. My record of integrity and my activism on Atlantic Yards is unique for a nonworking person. And while these are open forum and I welcome the right of anyone to ask questions, let me suggest that the endorsements I’ve gotten have nothing to do with my ongoing light on anything. It’s the first time in my life anyone ever accused me of being diplomatic.
White later emailed Brodsky and got a follow-up:
Alone among the candidates, I worked with the committee members and leaders for many years to try to remove the unfairness in the eminent domain laws. I authored legislation which has been signed into law which would make below market asset sales of the kind that the MTA entered into illegal. I will continue to exercise my authority over the MTA to make sure that MTA property is not given away and that the interest of riders is the top priority. I also led investigations into New York City's use of public money to build sports facilities. No other candidate has a record on these issues close to those consistent and successful reform efforts.

We will let the reader conclude how responsive this is to the characterization that Assemblyman Richard Brodsky is “known for pursuit of public authorities reform and criticism of the Yankee Stadium deal (but not the similar Atlantic Yards deal)” and is widely believed not to have pushed “on Atlantic Yards . . so as to not offend Silver.” If it isn’t responsive, then I note that the irksome thing about bloggers is that bloggers are prone to getting the last word.
My response

C'mon. Brodsky does have a significant record regarding reform of eminent domain and public authorities.

However, that doesn't excuse his performance on Atlantic Yards.

Brodsky last June warned, “I believe that the [Metropolitan Transportation Authority's] decision to accept that [renegotiated Vanderbilt Yard] offer would be a violation of the fiduciary duty of the board members.”

However, he didn't show up at either of two MTA board meetings regarding that offer. And "non-Brooklynish" State Senator Bill Perkins, who represents Harlem and has been Brodsky's partner on public authorities reform, did send a representative who offered harsh criticism.

As White puts it higher up in the post:
We should add that our own take is that it does not take much careful analysis before it is appropriate to conclude that Assemblyman Brodsky did not pursue Atlantic Yards anywhere nearly as aggressively as he pursued Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium is a good and a well-deserved target for anyone making a point about abuses by public authorities but Atlantic Yards is a far better, far juicier one. We should also note that Mr. Brodsky did excellent work on Yankee Stadium as a result of which he got, in our assessment, a lot of good press in that regard from Mr. Oder. We think Mr. Oder probably wrote more good press for Mr. Brodsky than anyone else in the state covering these issues.
As for the suggestion that Brodsky's posture is tied to his relationship with Silver, I can offer only circumstantial evidence and the not-for-attribution comments from some people who know the ways of Albany far better than I do.

Brodsky on blight

White quotes Brodsky as quipping that blight "as we say in the old country is Yiddish for poor people." That drew claps, but it's no longer fully apt.

"Blight" is just as likely to mean "coveted" (in the words of the Institute for Justice's Bob McNamara), like the "great piece of real estate" (in the words of Forest City Enterprises CEO Chuck Ratner) in Prospect Heights.

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