Monday, August 23, 2010

Exclusive: Paterson loyalist with thin résumé to be ESDC's first official Atlantic Yards project manager; why wasn't position advertised?

The news of the appointment is based on sources believed reliable; the rest of the article is based on public sources. The ESDC confirmed that an announcement about a new project manager is coming this week, though no name was mentioned.

After years with no individual formally overseeing Atlantic Yards, the government agency in charge of the project, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), will soon name a project manager.

However, that new staffer--at least according to the minimal publicly available evidence--lacks experience facing up to developers like Forest City Ratner and scrutinizing complex development projects, much less engaging the public.

And that may be the point, given that the ESDC has dutifully found blight on the project site, overstated expected economic benefits, and insisted in court that the official ten-year timetable is reasonable.

Getting a loyalist in place

This week, the ESDC is expected to name 33-year-old Arana Hankin, who has a relatively thin résumé but close connections to Governor David Paterson--a staunch, if misinformed, Atlantic Yards supporter--to this new, unadvertised position.

(Though the ESDC wouldn't say so, it looks like a volunteer, attorney, Susan Rahm, served as project manager during a two-year stint that ended last year.)

Is the appointment of Hankin (right in photo, at 11/24/09 meeting of the board of the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation), nearly five years after the agency began evaluating the project, an effort to impose order on Atlantic Yards?

That may be the ESDC's posture. Equally important, however, may be the governor's desire to place a loyalist in an ongoing position after his administration ends this year.

(Didn't Paterson impose a hiring freeze? Maybe there will be vacancies at the ESDC if some staffers take a state incentive program to retire. But shouldn't a position like this new one be announced and advertised, as was the ombudsman job?)

Though Hankin's been a Paterson aide in two stints, the only press account of her government service I could find--as described further below--suggests her willingness to pursue her boss's agenda, pressing the ESDC to move forward in funding a questionable project led by Elsie McCabe, wife of then-New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson.

Policy and parties

Hankin has worked for Paterson twice, serving as Paterson's Assistant Secretary for Cultural and Economic Development for the past two-and-a-half years. That surely has put her in contact with various government agencies and processes, including the ESDC. She's an ex oficio member of the board of the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

However, searches of the local press and Google show more about her activity on the charitable and party circuits than her policy achievements. That's not uninstructive but hardly definitive; we just don't know much about her government service.

Hankin and her family--her father Noel Hankin is chairman of the New York Urban League, and has an respected history in philanthropy--are not only Paterson supporters but members of the state's black elite. One party they attended honored lawyer and investor L. Londell McMillan, who also happens to own a piece of the New Jersey Nets and the Atlantic Yards project.

AY governance?

Now Hankin's positioned to head a future Atlantic Yards governance entity, should the vaguely worded legislation--far different from last year's version--pass.

While a team of ESDC staffers works on Atlantic Yards, the only employee assigned full-time to Atlantic Yards up until now is ombudsman Forrest Taylor, who's rendered ineffective--in the eyes of project critics and opponents--because he's a disempowered liaison.

(Why isn't there an ombudsman blog or web page to inform the public, via two-way communication, of changes like this and the reasons behind it? Because, apparently, the ESDC doesn't want it.)

Hankin, who bought a co-op in Fort Greene in June 2007, presumably adds a dash of authenticity via her address, though she would certainly fit in the category of "newcomer" criticized by Atlantic Yards supporters.

Timeline and background

After graduating from Howard University in Washington, DC in 2000, Hankin, according to her LinkedIn profile (right), served as arts and cultural liaison for the state Senate from 2001 to 2003. It's unclear whether the job was connected to Paterson, then a state Senator.

She then earned an anthropology and archeology master's degree from Stanford University in 2006.

Hankin and her sister owned an apartment in Washington, DC, which they they sold in June 2006. She's been in Fort Greene for more than three years, but has not, to my knowledge, been involved in Atlantic Yards.

Before then, in the summer of 2006, Hankin did some work for Paterson's campaign for Lieutenant Governor. The campaign finance report due 32 days before the general election shows her--with a Manhattan address--receiving more than $560 in reimbursements in August and September; as well as a notation regarding $375 in Election Day expenses and $100 in primary GOTV ("get out the vote") expenses.

According to state campaign finance reports, Hankin in July 2006 and March 2007 gave small contributions, totaling $150, to the campaign of Brooklyn state Senator Kevin Parker.

At some point she got a job with Paterson. In May 2007, when she gave $100 to the campaign of here then-local Harlem Council Member Inez Dickens, she described herself (above) as a Senior Policy Advisor to Paterson.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Hankin was named Assistant Secretary for Cultural & Economic Development, shortly after Paterson was elevated to office in March 2008 following Eliot Spitzer's resignation.

However, when making a July 2008 campaign contribution to Obama for America, Hankin described herself as a student and not employed.

By November 2008, according to the North County Gazette, Hankin had received a pay raise and job change, rising from project assistant, earning $71,767, to $108,150. (The title of project assistant is not part of Hankin's LinkedIn public resume, nor have I seen this figure elsewhere.)

Last month, Hankin gave $250 to the insurgent campaign of Gustavo Rivera, who's trying to unseat scandal-tinged Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, the Bronx Senator and chief Paterson antagonist responsible for gumming up state government this summer.

Family political connections

Hankin's parents have contributed multiple times to Paterson's recent campaigns. While there's no indication that family support led to a job with Paterson (and it came after her first stint in state government), such support, along with Hankin's campaign work, likely helped keep her on Paterson's radar screen.

Her mother Gwendolyn Hankin gave a cumulative $2500 to the Paterson campaign on three occasions between October 2004 and July 2006.

Her father Noel Hankin gave $1000 in July 2006 to Paterson's campaign for Lieutenant Governor, as well as nearly $6000, on three occasions between May 2009 and January 2010, to Paterson's campaign for Governor.

(He also praised Paterson, in this 1/2/10 comment on the Times's CityRoom blog, for "having the will and courage to take decisive steps to balance the state budget." The Times's editorial page agreed.)

Paterson's campaign, officially launched in February 2010, was quickly aborted in the wake of investigations regarding his office.

A well-placed father

According to a Noel Hankin biographical statement:
Noel Hankin is a marketing professional with over 35 years experience at major advertising agencies and beverage companies managing some of the world’s most successful brands. He currently serves as Sr. VP Multicultural Relations for Moët Hennessy USA where his leadership helped brands such as Hennessy and Moët & Chandon enjoy above average usage among multicultural consumers.
Noel Hankin, not surprisingly, intersects frequently with political leaders in the state, especially those from the black community, such as at the 100th anniversary celebration of the Amsterdam News this past January, or the West Indian Day Carnival/Parade last September, where he was an "Honored Guest."

Few public mentions

I couldn't find any mention of Arana Hankin in the New York Post, New York Daily News, or Albany Times-Union, searching on either her name, or "Arana J. Hankin." The only time she appeared in the New York Times was in a 5/7/06 party photo from a Brooklyn Museum fundraiser.

A state government web search turns up a few mentions, including her role as an observer of the Empire State Stem Cell Board and a staff member of the New York State Small Business Task Force. Here's mention in the state directory.

While Hankin's a member of the board of the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation (BALDC), there's no official mention of that BALDC role on any state web site. As with the other board members at the 11/24/09 BALDC meeting, she said little.

Parties and an AY connection

A Google search turns up more party pictures of Hankin (here and here) than news coverage.

This past June 26, Hankin and her family attended a gala honoring entertainment attorney and entrepreneur L. Londell McMillan, who won the Reginald F. Lewis Award, which honors African-American entrepreneurs who succeeded internationally in business before the age of 50.

As stated in the official press release, McMillan has another distinction:
Mr. McMillan, who has represented such luminaries as the late Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Usher, LL Cool J, Roberta Flack and Spike Lee, joins the likes of Sean "Diddy" Combs and real estate mogul R. Donahue Peebles, past recipients. He is also one of the co-owners and partners with real-estate developer Bruce Ratner and hip-hop icon Jay-Z in the New Jersey Nets and the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, future home to the NBA team.
(Emphasis added)

The McMillan connection is likely why Roberta Flack appeared at an August 2006 press conference Forest City Ratner held to support Atlantic Yards.

Does Hankin's attendance at a party honoring McMillan disqualify her from working on Atlantic Yards? No; she was working for the governor at the time, not for the ESDC.

But it suggests that McMillan (and his partners) might find it easier to get Hankin on the line than, say, project opponents.

There's no rule against going to parties; state ethics laws are vague:
An officer or employee of a state agency, member of the legislature or legislative employee should not by his conduct give reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence him or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties, or that he is affected by the kinship, rank, position or influence of any party or person.
The Thompson connection

Hankin's fealty to Paterson is suggested in a 1/5/10 Village Voice article, headlined Bloomberg and Thompson: The (Really) Odd Couple Now it can be told: The surprising ties between the billionaire mayor and the poor slob who ran against him.

The article describes Hankin as participating in some questionable state support for the Museum for African Art project run by then-Comptroller Bill Thompson's wife Elsie McCabe.

(Hankin's public Facebook page, as in screenshot at left, shows that she "likes" Thompson. She also "likes" Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnick, a supporter of Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill project, the subject of indictments in which the developer is enmeshed but not mentioned. Note that Facebook's "Like" function, which replaced the "Fan" link, indicates approval, but not necessarily close connection, and that Facebook, an informal public presence, does not sum up a professional résumé.)

As Wayne Barrett wrote, Thompson's role, from the perspective of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, was "to help force the feared congressman, Anthony Weiner, out of the race. And we learned Bloomberg "directed or triggered between $43 million and $51 million in public and personal subsidies" into McCabe's project.

The state role, and Hankin

Barrett described a crucial intersection between the ESDC, Hankin, and support for this favored project.

He wrote:
Thompson's quiet help for the museum did not, however, stop with city officials. A high state official in the Spitzer administration who asked not to be identified said that Thompson called him pursuing aid from the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). Though Thompson did not reveal his ties to McCabe-Thompson, "anyone who was involved knew what was going on," said the official. The state has either awarded or is poised to award $17 million in construction support for the new site...

But it took a jolt from Paterson, after Spitzer's resignation in March 2008, to actually get the state money flowing. Four months after Paterson became governor, he directed ESDC to begin processing the first $6 million in funding for the museum. Paterson declined to answer Voice questions about any contacts he might be aware of that Thompson had with him or other state officials, but he did tell a source that discussed this story with him that "Billy called everyone." ESDC chief Avi Schick wrote McCabe-Thompson on July 2, 2008, saying he was "pleased to inform her" that Paterson had "recommended" a $12 million Art & Culture grant for the museum. "To commence processing of this grant," Schick urged her to apply, putting a very loaded cart before the horse.

An ESDC vice president wrote her again in April 2009 "to invite her to apply," and ESDC officials then guided the museum step by step through a long application process. When the agency tried to calendar the first $6 million grant for a board meeting, an official had to ask McCabe-Thompson twice for a memo explaining why it was "urgent" that the funding be approved... An assistant secretary to the governor, Arana Hankin, repeatedly and atypically contacted ESDC about the project, and Paterson personally attended the August 2009 board meeting when the grant was approved, a rare occurrence for any governor. After the grant was approved, the museum inquired about the second $6 million, and an ESDC e-mail suggested: "Maybe you should inquire directly with the Governor's office." ESDC says that the museum has also applied for a $5 million Downstate Revitalization grant, which would come atop the $12 million, and that funding decision is pending.
(Emphases added)

The current ESDC organization chart

ESDCOrganizationChart62810

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