Saturday, February 05, 2011

Brutally weird: Post has Lewis, James jump on Gilmartin's "cleaning lady" comment; all ignore the bigger EB-5 story

Brutally weird.

The most extensive recent coverage of Forest City Ratner's astounding attempt to gain $249 million in financing by essentially selling green cards to Chinese millionaires (under the EB-5 visa program) comes via a manufactured flap over political correctness.

The New York Post, in Atlantic Yards' foot-in-mouth veep, reports:
A top official overseeing Brooklyn’s $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project is being accused by one of its biggest supporters of making insensitive comments about a green-card program being used to raise funds for the cash-strapped plan.

Former ACORN boss Bertha Lewis — who was largely responsible for garnering key grass-roots support for the planned Prospect Heights development that includes an NBA arena – told the Post yesterday that she wants developer Forest City Ratner’s vice-president MaryAnne Gilmarten to apologize for comments reportedly made at a recent Manhattan public event.

"As citizen Gilmarten, I’m not sure how I feel about it. This is not your cleaning lady’s green card program," Gilmarten is quoted in the New York Observer saying while speaking at the New York Commercial Real Estate Woman Inc. event.

She was referring to the federal "EB-5" program, which gives green cards to investors of at least $500,000 in US job-creating projects. FCR expects to raise $249 million through 498 Chinese and South Korean nationals buying their way into America.

Why is she dragging cleaning ladies into this?" Lewis said. "It makes me sad because my aunts and grandmother were cleaning women, and there's a lot of educated people in this country who are cleaning women.

"What is she saying? That rich people can buy their way into the country but the heck with the poor?"
So either the Post called Lewis for a comment or Lewis wanted to get her name in the paper.

I don't think Gilmartin--neither the Post nor the Observer got her name right--was quite saying "rich people can buy their way into the country but the heck with the poor."

(The Post has corrected the spelling.)

Rather, she was saying "rich people can buy their way into the country and that's kinda crazy that it's allowed, since poor people like my and my friends' cleaning ladies have to use other avenues that are more difficult, but we need to raise cheap capital to answer to Cleveland so that's what we'll do."

The real issue

And if Lewis has a problem with rich people buying into the country she should not be criticizing Gilmartin's comments so much as criticizing:
  • the existence of the program in the first place;
  • the willingness of Forest City Ratner's partner, the New York City Regional Center, to misrepresent the project, and
  • the willingness of both parties to claim job creation--the quid pro quo for green cards--when no new jobs would be created and they're stretching the spirit if not the letter of the law, since they're crediting Chinese millionaires with jobs created by money allocated long before the investment immigration program started.
Or, how about the "foot in mouth Beep," given that Borough President Marty Markowitz claimed, on video, that Brooklyn was "1000 percent behind Atlantic Yards."

James weighs in

The article continues:
Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn), a staunch Atlantic Yards opponent, said "this is a rare case" where she agrees with Lewis and also called on Gilmarten to apologize for "insensitive remarks."

"These comments disrespect the dignity of working-class people, who Forest City Ratner and the Atlantic Yard project have displaced to create their version of an ‘urban oasis’ — one that apparently doesn’t include cleaning ladies," James said.
Oh, come now. FCR displaced some working-class people, with relatively small buyouts, and paid more handsomely some middle- and upper-class condo owners to go away and shut up. Surely some of the market-rate housing at the project will be cleaned by cleaning ladies (and cleaning men).

Gilmartin's comments were, to my mind, snooty--the reference to "not your cleaning lady's green card program" implies that those in her circle typically have cleaning ladies.

(Paging John Holt of the Carpenters Union, who, at an Atlantic Yards public hearing, famously targeted Atlantic Yards opponents: "We don't have people coming in to clean our houses. And if they did, we won't be like you people and pay taxes on them.")

But Gilmartin's comments are hardly the most offensive comments made regarding the EB-5 program. I think the false promises made to potential investors are far more important.

DePlasco spins

The article continues with FCR spinmeister "dark genius" Joe DePlasco, who tries hard:
FCR spokesman Joe DePlasco said Gilmarten realizes her comments were "inappropriate" but says they "were taken completely out of context." DePlasco said Gilmarten was talking about how best to raise money for a project “expected to bring the city thousands of units of affordable housing.
Ah, back to the "affordable housing" mantra. The money would be used, according to Gilmartin, for a new railyard and possibly to pay off a land loan. Evidence points to the latter. Neither have anything to do with affordable housing.

The policy issue

The article closes with a little background:
The two-decade-old federal cash-for-green cards program has rarely been used in the Big Apple, but the city-run Brooklyn Navy Yard last year also tapped into it to help raise $125 million for projects there.

Former Gov. Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg and Borough President Marty Markowitz all assisted FCR in its campaign to attract overseas investors through EB-5, and some critics have charged that the potential investors were given misleading data by FCR about the benefits of Atlantic Yards.
Not quite. They were given misleading data about:
  • their chances of getting green cards
  • the likelihood of getting their investment back
  • the subject of their investment.

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