Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why does Ratner not contribute to local races? Maybe because contributions keep the line open to Cuomo, the next governor

A couple of people have asked me: if Bruce Ratner is no longer a campaign contribution refusenik, why isn't he giving money to Mark Pollard, who's challenging Atlantic Yards opponent Velmanette Montgomery in the 18th Senatorial District and has gained the support of some Atlantic Yards backers?

Well, maybe it's purely pragmatic; Montgomery has endorsements galore and a record of achievement.

Even a strong candidate--and I don't think Pollard qualifies, having started his campaign only in May, rather than building momentum over time, and relying disproportionately on charter school backers outside the district--would have trouble beating a veteran like Montgomery, even in this anti-incumbent political climate (and her failure to fully embrace reforms in Albany).

(When the 11-day pre-primary reports are made available on Friday, we'll see if Ratner's changed his tactics.)

Influence at the top

Ratner is not averse to contributions in local races, but maybe it's purely pragmatic on another level.

Ratner, I suspect, doesn't worry much about local elected officials; his concern is the governor, who controls the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the unelected agency that's shepherding Atlantic Yards and not looking too hard.

So that's why Ratner gave $5000 to the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo in February 2009, plus another $7500 this past May.

From Ratner's perspective, Montgomery may be a pest. But as long as the man at the top takes his calls, he'll be fine.

Another contribution: New York Uprising

Ratner also gave $10,000 to New York Uprising, the clean-up-Albany project spearheaded by former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Citizens Union Director Dick Dadey, and former New York City Parks Commissioner and New York Civic Director Henry Stern.

I suspect that Ratner's contribution was generated less by desire to support candidates signing New York Uprising's worthy three-part pledge (Non-Partisan, Independent Redistricting; Responsible Budgeting; and Ethics Reform), than by his relationship with his old mentor Stern, an often-useful civic watchdog whose critical scrutiny has reliably bypassed Atlantic Yards.

To the Times's new Public Editor: Get up to speed on Atlantic Yards

Arthur Brisbane, the New York Times's new (and fourth) Public Editor, wrote his debut column, Why I Would Do This, on August 29.

I posted a comment, which appeared yesterday:
Mr. Brisbane, welcome.

Please consider reconsidering one of your fundamental beliefs: "I believe there is no conspiracy. Neither Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. nor Bill Keller is the Wizard of Oz, dictating an agenda from behind a screen."

Well, I don't believe Keller dictates an agenda. But the impact of a non-agenda--an unwillingness to devote consistent resources and attention to a controversy like Atlantic Yards, the massive development project in Brooklyn--means that coverage gets scanted.

Consider that, at the arena groundbreaking in March, the Times sent a reporter who had never covered the project and swallowed whole some dubious predictions.

And it's naive to say that Sulzberger's views don't hold sway. As editorial writer Carolyn Curiel once said, "Our goal is to reflect the spirit of the Times and the opinion of the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr."

Is that an agenda? Not always. But consider that Atlantic Yards is the work of the developer Forest City Ratner, business partner of the New York Times Company in the recently constructed Times Tower. E&P wrote about how the newspaper guaranteed a loan to the developer but never disclosed it.

While the Times editorial page generally favors Atlantic Yards, it argued three times that direct city and state subsidies were unnecessary, and that developer Bruce Ratner should pay his own way. That was not to be.

Then the public subsidy increased. In March 2007, after the city subsidy more than doubled, the Times passed on an opportunity to restate its stance. And last year, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority revised a deal in Ratner's favor, the Daily News endorsed it, the Post criticized it, and the Times was rendered mute. More here.

I know, I know. As a new Public Editor, you only look forward, not back. But you should know that the Times, in editorial, op-ed, and news coverage of Atlantic Yards, has not come close to meeting its standards.

(I write this having examined and critiqued the Times coverage for more than five years and, yes, having an op-ed on Atlantic Yards finally published this past June.)

Your predecessors as Public Editors have not distinguished themselves regarding Atlantic Yards, either offering weak defenses of the newspaper or ignoring issues completely.

(The Times followed up on the ACORN/Forest City Ratner story six months later, parenthetically.)

Yes, 752 Pacific is worth more to Forest City Ratner intact than demolished, at least for now

Remember how I (quoting court papers) predicted that, despite Forest City Ratner's stated plan to immediately demolish all buildings in Phase 1 of the Atlantic Yards condemnation plan, the staunch six-story building on Pacific Street long owned by Henry Weinstein was likely to be used as construction offices?

As stated in the Empire State Development Corporation's Construction Update for the weeks beginning August 17 and August 23, and the latest Construction Update issued yesterday:
The building at 752 Pacific Street will be used temporarily for construction shanties. During the next two week period, the former occupants’ trash will be removed from the building to prepare for construction teams.

Monday, August 30, 2010

In 18th District, Citizens Union prefers Pollard over Montgomery, who's reticent about addressing some reforms; challenger tries to thread AY needle

State Senator Velmanette Montgomery can point to some real achievements, as noted in a campaign mailer (right; click to enlarge), such as reforming the juvenile justice system and the Rockefeller drug laws.

But her reluctance to sign onto a full suite of Albany reforms means the 26-year incumbent, who has the support of veteran Brooklyn pols like Council Member Al Vann, may be sweating just a bit.

The Citizens Union last week announced it supported the reelection of only six incumbents, issued a "no preference" in several races, and endorsed several challengers, including Montgomery rival Mark Pollard.

(Pollard hasn't yet noted this on his web site. Montgomery doesn't have a current campaign web site--the one from the previous election has not been updated. Neither are particularly nimble in cyberspace; are they convinced that getting out the vote for the September 14 primary represents retail politics? Update: a commenter notes that Montgomery has a new web site, though I'll point out it was not listed on her campaign material.)

While the CU did not elaborate on the Montgomery race (and some others), Executive Director Dick Dadey said the CU's preference "provide a clear signal to voters which incumbents have made an effort to bring change to Albany and which ones have stood in the way of reform and need to be replaced."

The CU doesn't hold the power it once had--its endorsement, for example, of Evan Thies in the 33rd Council District last year meant little--but it does aim to set benchmarks for good government practices.

(Eric McClure of NLG reminds us: Neither does the CU have the reputation for integrity it once had, since it refused to take a strong stance against Atlantic Yards, despite the project's lengthy list of vices.

Indeed, I've pointed out the group's resistance to challenging AY and Mayor Bloomberg.)

The reforms at issue

Montgomery, in her CU questionnaire, avoided several questions, failing to answer "Support" or "Oppose" nor elaborating on the reason for her stance. For example, she took no position on:
  • maintaining the current redistricting process
  • banning contributions from corporations (while allowing them to form separate political action committees)
  • limiting transfers from party committees to candidates
  • requiring that two campaign finance reports be filed during the legislative session
  • stricter requirements on the use of campaign contributions for non-campaign related activity
Pollard, in his questionnaire, opposed the current redistricting process and supported the other measures. So did state Senator Bill Perkins, a legislator who's worked with Montgomery on Atlantic Yards and other issues, in his questionnaire.

Track record

Montgomery--or her campaign--also missed an opportunity in filling out the CU questionnaire, failing to list her previous campaign promises and results.

By contrast, in her questionnaire for the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID), Montgomery elaborated on her accomplishments:
As chair of the Senate Committee of Children and Family Services I introduced a bill, now enacted into law that allows local districts to delay petitioning for termination of parental rights for parents who are incarcerated or in residential drug treatment programs.

I introduced a bill, now law, that would allow foster children who are in foster care to be reunited with their parents if they have not been adopted by the age of 14.

Juvenile Justice reform is my main focus. One of the bills I introduced is on the finance committee agenda next week. It would redirect public funds to prevention rather than incarceration.
CBID endorsed Montgomery. It doesn't look like Pollard filled out a questionnaire, but his campaign likely didn't begin until after such questionnaires were due.

Montgomery's campaign goals

Montgomery's top campaign promises or goals, to the CU:
  • support and expand school-based health/mental care
  • reform the juvenile justice system
  • work toward more affordable housing
  • school-based health/mental health clinics
  • fight transportation cuts
The first and fourth seem redundant.

Pollard's campaign goals

Pollard's top five campaign promises or goals, to the CU:
  • expanding support for small businesses and health care
  • expanding availability of mental health care
  • calendar transparency and full disclosure of outside income
  • keeping a sharp eye on Atlantic Yards
  • a second-chance (expungement of record) for nonviolent offenders
That seems rather disingenuous, given that most of Pollard's contributions come from Manhattan-based charter school supporters. Pollard's web site lists "supporting education" as one of his top issues, but the focus is on SUNY and CUNY, with no mention of charter schools. (Ditto for his palm card.)

Also, Pollard's answer to the CU on mental health care is not part of his list of issues on the web.

Pollard's AY stance

From his questionnaire:
Keeping a Sharp Eye On Atlantic Yards Development: from expanding and enforcing community benefit agreements to mitigating disruption to local traffic and commercial strips during construction, and from leading muscular apprenticeships in the building trades to protecting commitments made to affordable housing, I will have staff in Brooklyn and in Albany dedicated to the Atlantic Yards Development.
That sounds like a Hakeem Jeffries-esque attempt to thread the needle, to ensure the vaguely-defined benefits while mitigating unwelcome effects.

No legislator has proven particularly successful at such a balance, perhaps because no legislator has been able to exercise significant oversight. Even firm opponents like Montgomery and Perkins, at the one state legislative oversight hearing last year, were relatively gentle (and not well-prepared) when confronting state officials.

It's a reasonable bet that Pollard, who's had help from several Atlantic Yards supporters (though not developer Forest City Ratner), would lean in the community benefits direction, especially since he's said he seeks support (as per City Hall News) of "trade unions alienated by Montgomery’s opposition to the Atlantic Yards development."

A footnote from 2006

By the way, the campaign of Montgomery challenger Tracy Boyland paid $2250 in fines--30 times $75--for posting violations in 2006.

Ziggy for Pollard: a not-quite-Atlantic Yards connection in the 18th District Senate race

State campaign finance filings (32-day report, July periodic report) show that Mark Pollard, the pro-Atlantic Yards challenger to state Senator Velmanette Montgomery, has paid $8000 in consulting fees to Brooklyn Sports MMM, which just happens to share the same address as Brooklyn USA Basketball.

Both Brooklyn Sports Management, Marketing, and Memorabilia and Brooklyn USA Basketball are the work of Thomas (Ziggy) Sicignano, coach of a traveling basketball team that's gotten $10,000 in funding from Forest City Ratner and whose players have bolstered some Atlantic Yards rallies.

(He's also notorious for cooperating in a federal investigation of racketeering at an Atlanta strip club he managed. Correction August 31: Sicignano points out that he did not receive probation, as reported in the Brooklyn Paper.)

Family connection

Sicignano, who told me he got his start in politics in several 1970s political races, said he's worked on a few races more recently.

His work for Pollard--organizing petitions, volunteers, campaign advice--stems from a familial connection to the candidate; Sicignano said his father, a retired court officer, and attorney Pollard are friends.

Ratner connection?

Sicignano said he's not working for Pollard at the behest of FCR, though he does think it would be "good for Brooklyn that we have a Senator who can deal with the developer."

He noted that he's also working for Andre Soleil, who's challenging Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, an AY supporter, in the 50th District. "As a consultant, Atlantic Yards is not dictating who I work for," he said.

Pollard's campaign manager is Jennifer Joseph, who's worked on several judicial races in recent years.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Our Cities Ourselves: 10 Principles for Transport in Urban Life (and the AY contradiction)

A nifty exhibition,Our Cities Ourselves, is on view until September 11, 2010 at the Center for Architecture in Greenwich Village (Mon-Fri: 9am to 8pm; Sat: 11am to 5pm).

It shows ten architects' treatment of potential changes in ten world cities--nearly all in developing nations.

Accompanying the exhibition is a publication titled "Our Cities Ourselves: 10 Principles for Transport in Urban Life," written by internationally famous Danish urbanist Jan Gehl and Walter Hook, Executive Director of the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

"Cities of the twenty-first century should be lively cities, safe cities, sustainable cities and healthy cities," said Gehl in a news release. "All of these qualities can be achieved if we embrace these ten principles, which means putting people first."

The principles and Atlantic Yards

Notably, two of the ten principles of sustainable transport don't quite work when it comes to Atlantic Yards.

The project would not have "small-size, permeable buildings and blocks" that enhance pedestrian life, as suggested above. In fact, it would create two superblocks.

And while the project would involve density around transit, as suggested at right, that won't necessarily make it a desirable urban district, given the level of density intended, the parking included, and the attendant traffic.

The principles

1. Walk the walk: Create great pedestrian environments.
2. Powered by people: Create a great environment for bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles.
3. Get on the bus: Provide great, cost-effective public transport.
4. Cruise control: Provide access for clean passenger vehicles at safe speeds and in significantly reduced numbers.
5. Deliver the goods: Service the city in the cleanest and safest manner.
6. Mix it up: Mix people and activities, buildings and spaces.
7. Fill it in: Build dense, people and transit oriented urban districts that are desirable.
8. Get real: Preserve and enhance the local, natural, cultural, social and historical assets.
9. Connect the blocks: Make walking trips more direct, interesting and productive with small-size, permeable buildings and blocks.
10. Make it last: Build for the long term. Sustainable cities bridge generations. They are memorable, malleable, built from quality materials, and well maintained.

The proposal for New York

From the Project Architect: Terreform and Michael Sorkin Studio:
New York has continually been characterized by transformation and rapid change and become a template for American society and cities around the world. The impact of New York’s physical structure and the density of its population becomes most evident when assessing its transport system and mobility patterns.

Site
Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, a no-man’s land of spaghetti highways and parking lots. The elevated southbound FDR Drive dominates, despite carrying minimal traffic south of the bridges, even in rush hour. Originally restricted to mass transit, the Bridge is now open only to private cars. Some 4,000 pedestrians and more than 2.600 cyclists cross it every day.

Proposal
Create two-way lanes for cyclists on the lower level of the Bridge and free up the elevated walkway for pedestrians only. Remove FDR Drive from the south side of Manhattan Bridge and create a green public space with shops and cafes at the anchorage to Brooklyn Bridge. Make Lower Manhattan an ‘eco-zone’, with vehicle access fees and restrictions to only ultra-clean cars and trucks. Freight is delivered by barge to a new transfer terminal.
The cities and the architects
  • Ahmedabad, India/HCP Design and Project Management
  • Budapest, Hungary/Varos-Teampannon and Kozlekedes
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina/PALO Arquitectura Urbana
  • Dar es Salaam, Tanzania/Adjaye Associates
  • Guangzhou, China/Urbanus Architecture & Design
  • Jakarta, Indonesia/Budi Pradono Architects
  • Johannesburg, South Africa/Osmond Lange Architects, Ikemeleng Architects
  • Mexico City, Mexico/arquitectura 911sc
  • New York, NY, USA/Terreform and Michael Sorkin Studio
  • Rio De Janeiro, Brazil/Fábrica Arquitetura and CAMPO aud

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Paterson's penchant for fudging facts seen as context for potential perjury charges; Atlantic Yards episode deserves a mention

Now they tell us. An article in today's New York Times, headlined With Paterson, the Simple Facts Can Get Complicated, begins:
A thoroughly honest politician has pretty much always been considered an undiscovered species. But for Gov. David A. Paterson, the distinction between the truth and an untruth can get unusually murky.

Once asked if a statement was accurate or inaccurate, Gov. David A. Paterson replied, “Neither.”

On Thursday, an independent counsel asked the Albany County district attorney to determine whether Mr. Paterson intentionally lied to investigators about paying for baseball tickets, something that could lead to the governor being charged with perjury.

But how do you sort that out? After all, according to many people who deal with Mr. Paterson, it’s not always clear when he might be intentionally lying and when he is just saying wrong things. Or doing something that, by his reckoning, is neither lying nor telling the truth.
And it contains this summation:
But these same people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they continue to deal with his administration, say Mr. Paterson tends to fudge facts, as well as to tell one group one thing and another the opposite.
The AY angle

Those of us who saw Paterson (at the Atlantic Yards arena groundbreaking) claim, ridiculously, that Atlantic Yards would "have job creation the likes of which Brooklyn has never seen," got a pretty strong hint of all this in March.

But that anecdote didn't make the Times today. After all, the reporter on the scene took Paterson's claims at face value.

Then, and now, that was unwise.

An editorial

The Times today editorializes, Mr. Paterson's Disappointing Tenure:
To add to his troubles, the state integrity commission is seeking $93,000 in fines from the governor for violating the state gift ban. The ban prohibits officials from taking anything from a lobbyist of more than minimal value, like a cup of coffee.

Mr. Paterson’s lawyer has said that the governor “did not lie” or intend to lie about the tickets and that he expects his client to be completely exonerated. The governor told the Commission on Public Integrity that he always planned to pay for the tickets, including those for his son and his son’s friend. Others testified he decided to send a check for two tickets only after a New York Post columnist called to ask who paid for the $425 seats.

If District Attorney Soares pursues Governor Paterson on these charges, it will be an ignominious conclusion to his hapless term as governor. But it offers yet another reminder that Albany needs not only basic reforms but also a whole new culture: one that is not about reaping perks, like a seat in Yankee Stadium, but about truly serving the people of this state.

To that end, maybe they might want to write about Arana Hankin.

From City Pragmatist: behind the Charter Revision Commission, an effort to shift power to the mayor

So, it turns out that the Charter Revision Commission did nothing--beyond a hearing--to grapple with issues like land use reform. And while a complicated term limits vote is one of the two proposals on the November ballot, the real import of the Commission's work is the second proposal, which--despite a fig leaf of reform--would essentially strengthen an already strong mayor.

Credit CityPragmatist blogger Alvin Berk, who's been following the Commission closely, concluding, NYC Charter Revision Proposals: A Hobson’s Choice.

He writes:
Here are the proposals being placed on November’s ballot by the New York City Charter Revision Commission. The commission has restricted voters’ options by lumping the changes into just two ballot questions, putatively because this year’s new paper voting forms are too small to show the proposals individually.
He's skeptical--and any serious reader of these long and thus confusing ballot questions would have reason to agree. (The Daily News also slammed the decision.)

City Question 1. Term Limits:

The proposal would amend the City Charter to:
  • Reduce from three to two the maximum number of consecutive full terms that can be served by elected city officials; and
  • Make this change in term limits applicable only to those city officials who were first elected at or after the 2010 general election; and
  • Prohibit the City Council from altering the term limits of elected city officials then serving in office.

Shall this proposal be adopted?

Berk notes that the two-term limit won’t take full effect until 2021, but if the proposal is rejected--in other words, if people vote "against" term limits--the current three-term limit enacted by the Council and the mayor in 2008 stays in effect.

Berk: "A lot can happen between now and 2021. We don’t think Question 1 deserves your vote."

The second ballot question is a very long one.

City Question 2. Elections and Government Administration:

The proposal would amend the City Charter to:

  • Disclosure of Independent Campaign Spending: Require public disclosure of expenditures made by entities and individuals independent from candidates to influence the outcome of a city election or referendum;

Berk: "Sounds like motherhood and apple pie, but it doesn’t affect candidates who are wealthy enough to fund their own campaigns"

  • Ballot Access: Generally reduce the number of petition signatures needed by candidates for city elective office to appear on a ballot;
Berk: "This would make it easier for newcomers to challenge party regulars, and for third-party candidates to unseat Democrats and Republicans. Several critics, including Jim Brennan, who heads up the State Assembly committee that oversees municipal charter revisions, have cautioned against it. Yes, he’s a Democrat."
  • Voter Assistance and Campaign Finance Board: Merge voter assistance functions, including a reconstituted Voter Assistance Advisory Committee, into the Campaign Finance Board, and change when Campaign Finance Board member terms begin;

Berk: "This makes sense, but ultimately it won’t affect who gets elected."

  • Conflicts of Interest Law: Require all public servants to receive conflicts of interest training, raise the maximum fine for a public servant who violates the City’s conflicts of interest law, and allow the City to recover any benefits obtained from such violations;

Berk: "This proposal is intended to get voters to vote “yes” for the two proposals that follow it, which voters might not do without a “good-government” sweetener. Mandatory Conflicts of Interest training and increased fines would have minimal effect on how well our government works. The third provision — recovery of benefits — never was discussed by the charter commission members; we don’t know how it would work."

  • City Administrative Tribunals: Authorize the Mayor to direct the merger of administrative tribunals and adjudications into the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings and permit the Department of Consumer Affairs to adjudicate all violations issued by that department;

Berk: "This is about more centralization of mayoral control, and about applying a “one size fits all” approach to diverse agencies through the unified selection and training of Administrative Law Judges. It may violate collective bargaining agreements. It also could make it easier for future mayors to use their political influence to control ALJ selection or assignment. Not a good idea."

  • City Reporting Requirements and Advisory Bodies: Create a commission to review requirements for reports and advisory bodies and waive the requirements, subject to City Council review, where the commission finds they are not of continuing value;

Berk: "The devil is in the details. The way the rules are written, the City Council could enhance or expand reports required of the mayor only if such enhancement or expansion was first approved by a commission controlled by the mayor. Not a good idea."

  • Map for Facility Siting: Include in the City’s facilities siting map those transportation and waste management facilities operated by or for governmental entities, or by private entities that provide comparable services.

Berk: "Sounds good, but this information already is publicly available. Doesn’t get at the real Fair Share problems, especially City Hall’s ability to withhold siting information from the public until the last minute, thereby squelching effective public opposition."

Shall this proposal be adopted?

Berk: "Lumped together like this, absolutely not."

The power shift

Earlier he wrote:

A second, omnibus, ballot question will ask each voter to cast a single vote to approve an array of “good government” initiatives lumped together with unrelated “efficiency improvements.” Some of these could subtly shift power from the Council to the mayor.

...Although speaker after speaker implored the charter revision commission to avoid combining any unrelated ballot proposals, commission chair Matthew Goldstein justified his group’s decision by blaming the city’s new computerized voting machines, which, Goldstein asserted, provide insufficient space on their paper ballot forms for individual charter proposals.

...We can expect editorials from the Times, the News, and the Post to apologize for Goldstein’s decision, but to urge voters to vote “Yes” on Question 2 nonetheless. History suggests that media owners want the mayoralty to be as strong as possible.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why did the Flatbush Avenue lane closure get extended until "Summer 2012"? A not-quite-explanation surfaces

So, why did a lane closure on Flatbush Avenue between Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue for the Atlantic Yards project get extended from "early 2012" to "Summer 2012," as we learned last week in a Forest City Ratner mailer?

The answer I got from the Empire State Development Corporation was not quite an explanation, and, as of today, the Department of Transportation (DOT) still states, on its page of Weekly Traffic Advisories (excerpt at right), that the lane closure is expected to "continue through early 2012."

From "early" to "Summer"

Let's recap. The original announcement, in late July, was "early 2012." Given Forest City Ratner and the ESDC the benefit of the doubt, I said the announcement of "Summer 2012" meant at least 17 months, to the beginning of January 2012.

Given that "early 2012" could extend through the end of the first quarter, I should have also suggested it could extend to the end of March, which would have been 20 months.

By no stretch of the imagination is the summer the "early" part of the year, so the extension to "Summer 2012" is at least three months (based on an end-of-March deadline for the previous estimate) and at most six months (based on a beginning-of-January deadline for the previous estimate), assuming that "Summer" means June 2012.

Of course, if "Summer" means September, add three more months.

Looking for an explanation

I asked the ESDC and the DOT if they had any explanation for the change from "early 2012" to "Summer 2012."

I haven't heard back from the DOT.

ESDC spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell responded:
The lanes of traffic may be able to be restored a few months before the transit entrance and the arena open in the second quarter of 2010. We have been told that FCRC will restore whatever they can back to the public domain for vehicles and pedestrians as soon as possible.
That doesn't answer the question. What it sounds like is this:
  • Forest City Ratner originally said "early 2012."
  • They want some flexibility, so now they say "Summer 2012."
  • If work proceeds on schedule, they can beat their goal and be "early."
That recalls... Forest City Ratner's plan to increase projected size of Atlantic Yards, only to garner overstated headlines with a scaleback.

Arena opening: summer or fall?

Also, it's hardly clear that the arena would open for use--as opposed to testing--in the second quarter of 2012.

In April, FCR executive MaryAnne Gilmartin said in an affidavit:
Furthermore, it takes at least three to four months to commission an arena like Barclays Center--i.e., to test and refine the various buildings systems and the various operations (such as security and food services) that must be performing properly and efficiently before the arena can be opened for the professional basketball season. In other words, it is essential that the arena be completed by early July 2012, so that the commission process can be completed by the opening of the basketball season in October 2012.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee shuns Montgomery (among few incumbents); could Sampson's Atlantic Yards support be the reason?

There was a unexplored angle to a City Hall News article yesterday headlined DSCC Spends On Consultants, WFP, But Not Espada.

The main news was that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee was not helping scandal-tinged Majority Leader Pedro Espada but helping incumbents with safe seats as well as incumbents faced with primaries but in districts that will remain in Democratic hands. (Shouldn't the DSCC be stressing seats that could be lost to the Republicans? Not in New York.)

However, if Senate Democrats are spending on "nearly every incumbent facing a primary," it was notable that Espada was joined on a very short list of the "outs" by his Bronx ally Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr. and 18th District Senator Velmanette Montgomery, who represents Central Brooklyn.

The AY connection

I haven't been able to learn why Montgomery got the short end of the stick--there could be internal political dynamics at work--but it's worth noting that Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, some major contributors, and the Senate Democratic Conference's prime strategist are supporters of Atlantic Yards or have ties to Forest City Ratner.

Sampson, notably, was the beneficiary of a fundraiser held at Forest City Ratner offices and signed a letter to Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov calling Atlantic Yards "a major economic development venture that is vital to the economy and the future of Brooklyn."

He didn't attend the arena groundbreaking in March but sent his regrets.

Forget charter schools

The issue can't be Montgomery's opposition to charter schools, since Senators Bill Perkins and Shirley Huntley, the other two legislators targeted by charter school proponents, are getting DSCC help for the primary, even though the districts are in safe Democratic hands.

Crain's Insider reported (as noted in this comment) that Montgomery did ask for help:
Insiders say Sampson must bend to members' campaign requests because he needs every one of their votes to pass bills in the narrowly divided Senate.
So if he's ignored Montgomery, that's telling.

The Melvin Lowe connection

City Hall News reported on the DSCC's spending:
The money includes a total of $59,000 paid to G&L consulting, one of the two companies of Melvin Lowe, the consultant who also received $20,000 into Prestige Strategic Consulting from Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson’s personal campaign committee.

According to a DSCC source, this money—which brings Lowe’s total to about $375,000 since he was brought on in the wake of last year’s Senate coup—is to pay for Lowe’s work as a principal advisor, guiding the conference’s political activities.
The shadowy Lowe--whose work was a mystery to several people connected to the DSCC, as City Hall News reported--is a former lobbyist for Forest City Ratner and worked for Montgomery's last opponent, Tracy Boyland, in 2006.

Sampson has own ethics cloud, as the Times reported August 18:
Now it appears that Mr. Sampson also used a Senate staff member on at least one occasion to aid in his representation of Mr. Ahmad, potentially running afoul of state ethics laws.
Montgomery and her rival

Even though she asked the DSCC for money, Montgomery's doing all right; she's got the advantage of incumbency. She's been able to raise $90,000 since the beginning of 2009 and spent nearly $66,250 in that period.

Meanwhile, her rival Mark Pollard has raised $100,730, more than 80% from outside Brooklyn (primarily charter school supporters) and spent $52,405.

A few people involved in Pollard's campaign have AY connections. Pollard paid $160 to Community Benefits Agreement Chair Delia Hunley-Adossa (who last year ran against Council Member Letitia James, a Montgomery ally) for campaign work.

He paid $3000 to BUILD co-founder, Fort Greene activist, and noted public threat-maker Darnell Canada for petitioning.

(Why hasn't there been a debate in this race? You'd think Pollard--who, beyond the policy differences on issues like AY and charter schools, has the legitimate argument that veteran incumbents deserve challenge--would be calling for one, or that some local institution or media outlet would sponsor one.)

McKissack and other construction supporters


Various entities associated with the McKissack Group, the Philadelphia-based construction firm that worked on the railyard for Atlantic Yards, have contributed, in the past year, $2000 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and $5000 to its Republican counterpart, as well as $300 to the Associated General Contractors PAC.

The DSCC has received steady funding from groups like the Association of General Contractors of New York State ($1500), consultant KPMG ($6250), the New York State Laborers PAC ($60,000), the New York City District Council of Carpenters ($20,000), and the Real Estate Board ($20,000).

All might have reason to look askance at Montgomery's anti-AY stance.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In the Atlantic Yards footprint today, new ESDC project manager Arana Hankin

A Prospect Heights resident leaves me a message: Arana Hankin, the new Atlantic Yards project manager for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), was spotted walking around the project site today accompanied by Forrest Taylor, the ESDC's ombudsman, who presumably has a few more trips around the footprint under his belt.

If she wants to know what things looked like before today, I'd send her to Tracy Collins's photos.

There were no details on whether Hankin thinks the project would take "decades," as stated by former ESDC CEO Marisa Lago, in an unguarded moment of candor.

A clarification on "The Battle Over Atlantic Yards," a look back at The Civilians' first AY performance (with video), and a look forward

Some more coverage of The Civilians' upcoming (and updated) show about Atlantic Yards left me confused as to whether TheaterMania and the Times got it wrong in calling it "In the Footprint: The Battle Over the Atlantic Yards," rather than the more precise "In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards," as noted in the bottom document from The Civilians' web site.

Answer, according to a Civilians rep: the press got it wrong. And that makes a difference, because "Atlantic Yards" is a project, and a marketing term, not a place.

Flashback

I also went to the group's YouTube channel to watch a segment from the 2008 show, "Brooklyn at Eye Level." However imperfect, it's riveting stuff.



There's anti-project activist Jezra Kaye saying "I come from a class where you don’t usually get fucked over in such an obvious way.”

"You can't talk about Atlantic Yards unless you can talk about the rest of Downtown Brooklyn," snarls Bertha Lewis, asserting that ACORN and allies created enemies because they made a deal without a political broker. But she's right when she asserts that the project was not dying.

"What community are they talking about?" asks an angry David Sheets, one of some 18 remaining residents of the footprint.

And then there's the wistful, kitchen-sink closing song that name-checks places and phenomena ("The TimeOut article/The day the rents doubled"). Renovated buildings like Spalding and Atlantic Arts are now doomed, shrouded by scaffolding.

The last line of the song, however, is, in retrospect, rather naive: "You are only entitled to the space that you have/You're not entitled to the space that's around you." Because the eminent domain cases are over, and eminent domain is in fact about that space.

Looking forward

When I reviewed the earlier show, I observed it was lacking perspective from Forest City Ratner. I'll add that it mostly ignored the role of the Empire State Development Corporation.

So the danger of a play about neighborhood people and community passions is that it misses those who more quietly wield the levers of power. We'll see in November how much more complicated the show gets.

The Civilians - In the Footprint

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Governor's spokesman re ESDC appointment: "Ms. Hankin directly supervised all broad policy matters related to ESDC in the Governor's Office"

So this is how news works, apparently.

More than a day after my article on Arana Hankin's appointment as Atlantic Yards project manager appeared, the Daily News followed up with a blog post that wasn't merely a one-line cite but essentially a rewrite with no new information (and pretty much my critical perspective, calling her a "loyalist").

The Daily News didn't wait for a confirmation or comment from the Empire State Development Corporation, nor was the agency asked the obvious question: why was the job not advertised?

But Morgan Hook, a spokesman for Gov. David Paterson, did respond later today:
"Arana Hankin has worked tirelessly on behalf of the State of New York for more than six years, including better than three years in the Governor's Office during the Spitzer and Paterson administrations. As part of her vast portfolio, working under the guidance of Deputy Secretary Tim Gilchrist, Ms. Hankin oversaw all economic development in downstate New York, including Atlantic Yards and lower Manhattan development. You correctly write that ESDC oversees the project, but fail to point out that as part of her portfolio, Ms. Hankin directly supervised all broad policy matters related to ESDC in the Governor's Office. Additionally, Ms. Hankin worked as a senior member of the Governor's stimulus cabinet, tasked with the distribution of billions of dollars in federal aid to New York. Ms. Hankin is more than qualified for her new position. To characterize her appointment in any other way is both factually inaccurate and unfair."
I don't doubt that Hankin had her hand in various policy matters. But if she really oversaw economic development in downstate New York, how could she let Paterson claim, ridiculously, that Atlantic Yards would "have job creation the likes of which Brooklyn has never seen"?

A note on the Daily News

Whatever my criticisms of the Daily News, at least they did the professional thing and cited their source. The New York Post, as a reader points out, is notorious for ripping off blogs.

The Empire State Building vs. 15 Penn Plaza: the battle over views recalls Miss Brooklyn vs. the Willy B (except there were promises from FCR)

After a hearing yesterday, the New York City Council is expected to vote Wednesday to approve a new, 1216-foot tower, 15 Penn Plaza, across the street from Penn Station and two blocks away from the iconic, 1250-foot Empire State Building (ESB).

The ESB's owner, Anthony Malkin [updated], protests that the new tower would block a unique asset on the city's skyline--an argument that depends, of course, on perspective, as the renderings below (via the Times) suggest.

And the campaign against that new tower by the ESB's owner, on a web site and in full-page newspaper ads, sounds a little like the criticisms about the impact of Frank Gehry's Miss Brooklyn tower on the iconic Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

There are a few key differences, however:
  • in Brooklyn, there was a much stronger case against the new tower, given that Forest City Ratner promised at the start that it wouldn't block the bank's iconic clock
  • in Brooklyn, the new building would be positioned on perhaps the main view corridor for the older building
  • in Manhattan, unlike Brooklyn, the owner of the older building spent money on a public campaign to raise awareness
The view from Vornado


The view from the ESB's owner


The dispute

From the ESB web site:
It is not ESB’s height that makes it New York’s most iconic structure. There have been and will be other big buildings in New York City. The World Trade Centers were taller than ESB, and the long-awaited 1 World Trade Center will be taller still. It is not height alone which defines ESB, but its place in the skyline and in the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions around the world.

The proposed development at 15 Penn Plaza—less than two blocks away from ESB—will dilute the distinction of New York’s skyline, our city’s public face to the world. In considering this development, the City Council is poised to rule on an adverse impact on the public face of New York to the world. The impact of 15 Penn Plaza as proposed on the unique setting of New York City’s largest Landmark has to be prominently considered.

This is not about banning tall buildings, but about preserving the very uniqueness of the New York City skyline with ESB visible from its midpoint to its spire, its slender shape during the day and its lights at night, its iconic stature which has become the iconography of New York City. To set precedent to allow ESB to be crowded out by nearby buildings of equal height is to set New York City on a path of Beijing or Shanghai and drown out its uniqueness. Similar to the loss of Penn Station, but at a much more visible scale, this is a precedent which should not be allowed.
The likely resolution

This is not an as-of-right development (to replace the Hotel Pennsylvania) but rather a tower with a 56% density bonus, approved by the City Planning Commission--which answers to Mayor Mike Bloomberg--but disapproved by the local community board, which, according to the Times, cited the lack of a rationale for the density bonus and the potential for long delays.

Vornado would put some $100 million into transit improvements and, of course, has the support of construction unions.

The Times story concluded:
Councilman Leroy Comrie posed a final question at the meeting on Monday that seemed to foretell how he would vote: “Is New York City a snapshot taken in 2010 to be held in perpetuity, or is New York City an evolving, dynamic entity?”
Of course the city is an evolving, dynamic entity; the question, rather, is how and under what rules does it evolve.

The Post editorialized:
[ESB owner Anthony] Malkin needs to get over it.

This isn't an endorsement of the Vornado project per se. Given the torturous New York City project-review process, it's hard to say what the building ultimately will look like.

But it most certainly is a rejection of Malkin's bizarre assertion that his skyscraper deserves such protection.

It's NIMBY-ism gone mad.

Skylines do change. Alas, sometimes for tragic reasons -- as seen on 9/11.

But mostly for positive ones.

Great cities are organic -- vibrantly reflecting the aspirations of the people who live in them.
Except spot rezonings aren't so organic.

A budget caution from the Daily News

The Daily News editorialized against the ESB's perspective but did issue a caution:
The Council should shrug off his attempt to determine whether a skyscraper should go up based on how it would look in a postcard of the Empire State Building. That said, the Council needs to closely measure Roth's plans using a more mundane yardstick: money. He wants to trade transit improvements for a boost in the normally allowed scale of the tower. The Council must determine, in a transparent manner, that the cost and benefits of the transit investments merit the zoning bonanza.

His plan calls for building subway entrances on Seventh and Sixth Aves., installing or improving stairways, widening subway platforms and putting in elevators and escalators. Roth would also reopen a pedestrian passage that crosses underground from Seventh to Sixth, the Gimbels Tunnel.

Closed in the 1980s, the passage would be a shopping strip that relieves sidewalk crowding and provides climate-controlled movement all year.

All big pluses. But, as the community board concluded, most of the improvements would be necessary or beneficial to Roth's two moneymaking propositions: the new building and the Manhattan Mall. The planning commission ruled that Roth's transit investments justified a zoning bonus. The Council needs to be sure.
And did the numbers work for Atlantic Yards? Official city and state agencies never did a rigorous analysis.

The Willy B flashback


Plans for the flagship Atlantic Yards tower, now known as Building 1, are on hold, but, at as I wrote 12/22/06, Miss Brooklyn, though shorter, would still block the clock.

Forest City Ratner agreed to lower the announced 620-foot Miss Brooklyn tower a sliver below that of the iconic 512-foot Williamsburgh Savings Bank nearby, meeting the request of Borough President Marty Markowitz, who had called for the bank to remain the borough's tallest building.

But many residents also asked that architect Frank Gehry's self-described "ego trip" not block the bank's signature clock tower. To achieve that, the developer would have had to make a much greater sacrifice: make the tower even smaller and/or move its footprint.

(Graphic of 620-foot Miss Brooklyn from Final Environmental Impact Statement. Click to enlarge.)

And moving Miss Brooklyn, apparently, was not on the table, even though Forest City Ratner in its initial project announcement on 12/10/03, promised to do just that: The northernmost building on the site, an office building, will be set back slightly from the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, to maintain the view corridor to the Williamsburg Bank building.

The defense came from Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which observed that moving the building east wouldn't be feasible from an engineering point of view and, anyhow, any private owner on that plot could build at that height. (Of course, the private owner is Forest City, so they could follow their own pledge.)

Isn't that called a bait-and-switch?

The Beekman Tower

Interestingly, Gothamist cited another Forest City Ratner building, Gehry's downtown Beekman Tower, which is blocking some views of the iconic Woolworth Building but not generating controversy, in part because it has drawn praise from architectural critics.

In other words, new buildings can coexist if they earn their place. Fair enough. Except there were no promises in Lower Manhattan, were they?

Following up (or not) on the ESDC and Arana Hankin; former CBN co-chair recalls getting stonewalled by Hankin

So, after I yesterday broke the (anonymously sourced) news that Arana Hankin would be named the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) Atlantic Yards project manager after, a job that apparently wasn't advertised, did anyone follow up?

Nah.

Yes, the story was linked yesterday by the New York Observer, The Real Deal, and Curbed.

But the ESDC issued no statement, and no one chose to follow up. Perhaps, they think, the Atlantic Yards story is ovah. Except it's not.

Hankin's AY history

It turns out that Hankin has intersected with Atlantic Yards, though not in a way that gave assurance to project critics and opponents.

After David Paterson became governor in early 2008, the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) and other groups pressed to meet with him, Terry Urban, former CBN co-chair, told me.

Paterson promised that Tim Gilchrist, who was in charge of economic development for his office, would attend that August 2008 meeting. "[Architect] Marshall Brown flew in from Chicago to present the UNITY plan, and several representatives from the larger community groups were there to show the extent of support for it, and to put a reasonable face on our suggestions for changing the proposed project, and demonstrate our willingness to work with the new leadership," Urban recounted.

"Gilchrist was a no-show. Ms. Hankin, as a Paterson aide, explained that she worked in the city office, and so chaired the meeting in his absence," Urban stated. "With the low-level staff on hand, she listened politely, and said she'd re-schedule with Gilchrist. She never did. Unfortunately for us, it was a competent stonewalling maneuver, merely another of many to which we were accustomed."

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

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What a difference three weeks makes: ads indicate how lane closure time period was extended

I wrote about this change two days ago, but the juxtaposition is telling.

(Click on graphics to enlarge. Highlights are added.)

From the July 30-August 5 back page of the Brooklyn Paper:



From the August 20-26 back page of the Brooklyn Paper:

Yormark says Barclays deal was crucial to arena project (duh); note how FCR not only renegotiated but sweetened the pot

I don't have access to Comcast, but the NetsDaily summary of an interview with Nets CEO Brett Yormark quotes him as saying, if Barclays had pulled out of the Brooklyn arena naming rights deal, "we wouldn't be here today."

Remember, the once-announced $400 million deal was reduced to $200-plus million, still crucial funding for arena construction.

And not only did the state simply give away naming rights, that benefit to Forest City Ratner (and now Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim group) was never counted as a subsidy, not even by the New York City Independent Budget Office.

Renegotiating the deal

No wonder Forest City Ratner and Yormark were so willing to renegotiate the deal. Barclays, Yormark once told favored interviewer Alexis Glick, had never wavered--though that was before starchitect Frank Gehry left the project.

Two other signs of FCR's effort to sweeten the pot: