Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Good corporate citizen? Profile of Ratner in the Forward quotes Atlantic Yards opponents and mentions Kruger charges

Here's some news unmentioned in The Real Deal's sycophantic profile of Bruce Ratner last week: as headlined in the Forward, the weekly newspaper geared to a Jewish audience, From Humble Lumber Sellers to Clout-Wielding Developers: An Immigrant Tale: Federal Indictment of a Local State Senator Shines Light on Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Redevelopment Project.

The piece, by Neil deMause of the book and blog Field of Schemes, recognizes Ratner's history of gaining government support and gives reasonable credence--and the last word--to Ratner's opponents, notably Candace Carponter of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.

Still, I'd contend, the article could have been even tougher. I posted a comment:
“I think all of this stems from his sense of what it means to be a good corporate citizen,” said [Joe] DePlasco.

DePlasco is the developer's paid spokesman. Of course that's what he thinks.

I think, based on an examination of the record, that Forest City Ratner has long made compromises and pursued policies that privileged its bottom line over corporate citizenship. (That's not surprising; FCR's obligations are first to its parent company and shareholders.)

The question for readers and journalists caught in the "he said, she said" back-and-forth is whether the developer, by dint of its track record, deserves more or less credence.

I'd argue for less. Take, for example, the developer's history of deceptive promotional brochures and publications.

Or consider a Bruce Ratner statement, in language that surely would be slammed by allies like ACORN's Bertha Lewis had it come from Atlantic Yards opponents, that the bleak design of the Atlantic Center mall in Brooklyn resulted from “Look, here you’re in an urban area, you’re next to projects, you’ve got tough kids.” The irony is that Ratner has blamed himself, telling NY Magazine that he rejected a first design by Philip Johnson and instead chose a less expensive "developer architect."

As for Michael Ratner, he's understandably admired for his career as a radical constitutional lawyer, but, when it comes to the interplay of New York politics and real estate, family relationships trump ethical considerations, much less radical politics. He gave campaign contributions to Kruger, and also to other clubhouse pols, including Ed Towns, Roger Green, and Clarence Norman.

Moreover, three contributions each from Michael Ratner and his wife Karen Ranucci appear in the state campaign finance database as being sent not from their home in Manhattan, but from 1 Metro Tech Center North, the same building where Forest City Ratner has its headquarters. (He's an investor in the Nets, too.)

Michael Ratner wouldn't comment when I first wrote about this in September 2006. I suggested that he was carrying water for his brother Bruce, who for a stretch was a "refusenik" from campaign contributions.

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