Saturday, June 26, 2010

Catching up on AY-related campaign contributions to Andrew Cuomo, and reasons to expect little reform when it comes to developers

As with Attorney General-turned-Governor Eliot Spitzer, it's unwise to expect Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the gubernatorial front-runner, to enact fundamental reforms when it comes to developers.

The campaign finance system is just too entrenched.

And while Cuomo has said nothing about Atlantic Yards, and taken campaign contributions from those associated with the project, he--assuming he's elected--would have a significant role in overseeing the project via the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and the proposed (and yet undesigned) governance entity.

His lengthy campaign platform does not discuss reform of the ESDC when it comes to projects like Atlantic Yards. Nor does it address reforms regarding eminent domain, even though New York is an outlier among states that have tightened their laws in the last five years.

Even without following the advice of libertarians like the Institute for Justice, Cuomo might conclude that cases like that regarding the expansion of Columbia University show that the eminent domain system needs a second look.

Spitzer flashback

Once upon a time a powerful New York State Attorney General was a shoo-in for the governorship. "Day One, Everything Changes," was Spitzer's slogan.

Now Spitzer did push for certain reforms, before he was done in by his own recklessness and hubris, but in the case of Atlantic Yards, he was comfortable with business as usual.

In October 2006, when he was the campaign frontrunner, the uninformed Spitzer said that he considered a promised 8% reduction in the Atlantic Yards project a "reasonable compromise," thus suggesting he had no idea that the cutback would bring the project back to the square footage originally proposed.

In December 2006, when groups like the Citizens Union and Regional Plan Association--clearly not opponents of Atlantic Yards but supporters of good government--asked for a delay in the vote by the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), Spitzer was silent.

Enter Cuomo

As Attorney General, Cuomo has remained singularly uninterested in Atlantic Yards. State Senator Bill Perkins last December asked Cuomo for a written opinion regarding the Atlantic Yards bond deal, focusing on the absence of a PACB review.

As far as I know, no formal response was issued.

The money rolls in

On June 24, in an article headlined Cuomo Accepts Millions From Interests He Assails, the New York Times reported:
Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, declaring his candidacy for governor of New York, could not have been clearer.

“The influence of lobbyists and their special interests must be drastically reduced with new contribution limits,” Mr. Cuomo said last month. “We will be taking on very powerful special interests which have much to lose. We must change systems and cultures long in the making.”

But as he delivered his announcement, Mr. Cuomo was sitting on millions in campaign cash from the very special interests whose influence he said he wanted to limit.

An analysis by The New York Times shows that of the estimated $7.1 million that the Cuomo campaign has received from political action committees, associations, limited liability corporations and other entities, more than half has come from the biggest players in Albany: organized labor, the real estate and related industries like construction, the health care sector and lobbying firms
Unmentioned, a $5000 contribution from Bruce Ratner (once a campaign contribution "refusenik").

I suggested in February that, if Cuomo has the strictest policy in the state on such gifts, he should give it back. (This was without even mentioning questions raised about the Ridge Hill indictments, in which Forest City Ratner is enmeshed but not included.)

One AY connection

The Times article did mention one Atlantic Yards connection:
Kenneth L. Shapiro, managing partner of the Albany office of the law firm Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker L.L.P., is also not put off by Mr. Cuomo’s remarks.

...A political action committee of Mr. Shapiro’s firm and the partnership itself — whose clients have included the Atlantic Yards Development Company, Consolidated Edison, the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association and numerous hospitals — has contributed about $59,200 to the Cuomo campaign.
The firm got $36,000 last year from the Atlantic Yards Development Company, not nearly the largest AY contract, but enough to keep some powerful lobbyists on retainer.

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