In the 1990s, lobbyist Richard Lipsky fought ferociously on behalf of small business owners against building a Pathmark supermarket in East Harlem, and, a decade later, against a Walmart store on Staten Island. But the underdog narrative that ran through his three-decade career became muddied more recently as signs emerged that Mr. Lipsky was following the money rather than his principles.Um, I think Atlantic Yards critics and opponents were pointing that out well before charges surfaced last week.
Forest City Ratner hired him in 2006 for its $5 billion Atlantic Yards megaproject in Brooklyn, and a related corporate entity snagged him to pave the way for an East Harlem shopping mall whose anchor is a Target superstore. Those moves were widely attributed to the developer's desire to prevent Mr. Lipsky from stirring up and advocating for the little guys, his traditional constituency.
He aligned himself with four rogue legislators who upended the Democrats' tenuous hold on the Senate in 2009. And he recently signed on with the Committee to Save New York, a big-business alliance backing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's fiscally conservative agenda.
“He was serving far too many masters,” said a Democratic operative. “You could purchase his position on an issue.”
An aggressive style
After earning a doctorate in political science and working for Assemblyman Louis Nine of the Bronx, Mr. Lipsky launched his lobbying career in 1981. Last year, his one-man shop raked in $362,500, according to public filings. Among his clients were Walmart foes Red Apple and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; and Willets Point United, an organization of businesses opposed to the city's plan to redevelop the rundown area adjacent to Citi Field.It's curious how simple it is to get some issues on the agenda--and some (EB-5, an independent compliance monitor) don't make it.
Mr. Lipsky was a fixture on the steps of City Hall and outside Room 9, where reporters ply their trade. With a Bluetooth device hooked to his ear, he would move from there to meetings in diners, Starbucks and parking lots, calling a list of reporters to make sure they were up-to-date on whatever topic he was trumpeting.
“Folks whose issues would otherwise have been over and done with, he managed to crank out stuff every day to guys in the press to keep it alive,” said Walter McCaffrey, a former councilman and now a political consultant who hired Mr. Lipsky to fight congestion pricing. “I'd always know that when I was doing a hearing, he was going to have folks coming up to the table to testify.”
Councilman Lew Fidler, D-Brooklyn, added: “He thought nothing of walking right past the receptionist in your office and barging in, no matter who you were sitting with.”
The Ratner connection
It isn't clear when his relationship with Mr. Kruger developed, but observers suspect their ties solidified around 2006, when Mr. Lipsky signed on with Forest City Ratner. Its executive vice president for government affairs, Bruce Bender, has known Mr. Kruger for decades.That's pretty fair warning from Schrader, isn't it?
Friends didn't understand Mr. Lipsky's loyalty to Mr. Kruger, whose fundraising was being probed by federal prosecutors, and tried to persuade him to distance himself.
“I said to Richard more than once, "Kruger's going to be led out in handcuffs,' “ said Richard Schrader, New York legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a former city commissioner of consumer affairs.
But Mr. Lipsky defended Mr. Kruger and as recently as last month, drove to 18th Street and Fifth Avenue to meet him and hand over what agents watching believe was a check. Last Monday morning, they arrived at the lobbyist's home with a search warrant. The giant killer was being taken down.