Friday, May 13, 2011

Cognitive dissonance in Ratner-land: is Bruce Ratner a corporate hero or a guy who plays the system? It depends what you read

The first two weeks of May have featured a high level of Ratnerian cognitive dissonance: two media mentions that buff developer Bruce Ratner as a white knight, countered by two other mentions that raise serious questions and qualms.

First came Ratner's refute, that sycophantic cover story in The Real Deal. Then comes word (via The Graduate Baruchian and No Land Grab) of Ratner's well-received appearance at the Baruch Business School's Zicklin Leadership Series.

Business ethics

NLG's Eric McClure pointed to this excerpt:
What can an organization do to encourage good business ethics?
BR — It starts from the top. Ethics is an issue of culture. That comes directly from the executives and people who run the company. Lectures turn people off. Leading by action sets the tone. At FCRC a balance between life and work is strongly encouraged. The job is important, but friends and family come first. When people recognize that work is not everything, they become less susceptible to temptation and making poor decisions. Moreover, a culture of fairness further creates an environment where people can make good decisions.
If Forest City Ratner and parent Forest City Enterprise really believe in ethics, well, wouldn't they:
--stop issuing wildly misleading brochures
--not pay consultants (who later get indicted)for no-show jobs
--feel some chagrin about disruptions made in their name

The list could go on.

I would point out that the statement "friends and family come first" may be seen as a tacit agreement that it was fine for Executive VP Bruce Bender to say "fuck the [Carlton Avenue] bridge," for which FCR sought state money, and instead lobby state Senator Carl Kruger for a project in Prospect Park pushed by his wife.

Some skepticism

Meanwhile, Neil deMause's profile in the Forward takes an appropriately skeptical view of Ratner, and could have gone even farther.

And Common Cause/NY issued a report this week pointing to the real estate industry's outsize role in campaign contributions:
Twelve major residential real estate developers -- The Donald Zucker Company, Durst Fetner Residential, Extell Development Company, Forest City Ratner, Jack Resnick & Sons, Milstein Properties, Rose Associates, Rudin Management Company, The Brodsky Organization, The Related Companies, Tishman Speyer Properties, and Two Trees Management – and the Real Estate Board of New York made over $3 million in New York campaign contributions in 2010. This figure is triple the amount of contributions made in 2009 and almost double the amount of contributions made in 2008. Crucial policies up for renewal in Albany this year, such as rent control and the extension of the 421a subsidy, are likely fueling the record spending.
As it turns out, Forest City Ratner, with a total of about $180,000, came in last among the 12 in terms of spending. (Click on graphics to enlarge.)

However, that deserves an asterisk. After all, FCR has often outspent fellow development companies on lobbying, which is another way of using money to influence policies. See for example my report earlier this month.

Augmenting the Common Cause list

Beyond that, the Common Cause list is slightly incomplete. For example, researchers missed an 11/3/08 contribution of $10,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee from Audrey Ratner of Cleveland, OH. Her address is listed as 50 Public Square, which just happens to be the headquarters of Forest City Enterprises. Audrey Ratner is the wife of Albert Ratner, co-chairman of FCE.

And while the list includes contributions from Bruce Ratner's brother Michael, it excludes contributions made by Michael's wife Karen Ranucci, which typically matched her husband's checks and were given from Forest City Ratner's corporate address.

The list includes one contribution by Bruce Ratner's wife Pamela Lipkin, but excludes others.

The Common Cause list (click to enlarge)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for pointing out the missing donations. New York State's campaign finance laws are extremely opaque -- unlike Federal rules, contributors are not required to list their employer/corporate affiliation. So to get the full picture for each corporation, one has to be a private detective and seek to uncover the important executives, board members, and their spouses.

    We were hurrying to get this out before last week's May 12th rally---so the numbers for each developer are conservative estimates since I'm sure we missed an executive, spouse, brother/sister, daughter/son or two for each one.

    - Brian Paul, Common Cause/NY