Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Times takes belated but critical look at Markowitz's charity strategy; Forest City largest donor; BP claims criticism irrelevant, but what about his shilling for Atlantic Yards?

The New York Times today offers a tough--but not tough enough--front-page (in the New York edition) story about Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's remarkable method of fundraising outside the campaign system.

It's headlined From Brooklyn Office, Mixing Clout and Charity. And yes, the largest amount--$2.4 million--comes from developer Forest City Ratner and Atlantic Yards-related firms.

An excerpt:
Yet in recent years, Mr. Markowitz has found another way to tap into those donors. He has established a network of four charities that has reaped at least $20 million since 2003, and probably more, according to interviews and an analysis of city records.

That amount — remarkable for any local politician, let alone one who does not hold citywide office — is a testament to Mr. Markowitz’s stature as a Brooklyn power broker and to his intense focus on building these nonprofit groups. They have in turn played an important role in burnishing his public profile.

When the charities hold public events, Mr. Markowitz, who has been borough president since 2002, is typically in the spotlight. His free summer concerts, during which he is master of ceremonies, offer a chance to “Party With Marty,” as the slogan goes.

The donors to the nonprofit groups range from huge corporations like Wal-Mart and TD Bank to local entrepreneurs, but they usually have one thing in common: They have a stake in city legislation, real estate projects, zoning disputes and other Brooklyn issues.

Mr. Markowitz has often personally cajoled wealthy executives to give tens of thousands of dollars at a time to his nonprofit groups. Some recalled that he was relentless, seemingly unable to take no for an answer.

...As borough president, Mr. Markowitz has limited power. Many decisions on local issues are made by the mayor and the City Council. But Mr. Markowitz can make recommendations on zoning and on capital spending, and he appoints members to community boards.

More important, Mr. Markowitz has made himself a key player in Brooklyn by forming alliances and excelling at public relations. Businesses, if not seeking official approval from him, rely on him to cut through the city bureaucracy to help make projects happen or make problems disappear. With his outsize presence in the news media, real estate developers prefer to have him on their side.
Why it matters

The Times mentions that Markowitz is considering running for Mayor in 2013, but that seems unlikely--and thus the focus seems a little late. Also, the Times mentions Markowitz's ethics troubles--fines for using his chief of staff as lawyer and his wife's foreign trips--before concluding:
But Mr. Markowitz’s role in fund-raising for his nonprofit groups has gone virtually unquestioned.
No, it hasn't. It has gone virtually unquestioned by the Times. The New York Daily News (9/15/08), the Brooklyn Paper (9/18/08), and the New York Post (10/10/08) were all on this topic three years ago,  before Markowitz's re-election to a third term, albeit not in such a thorough manner.

A lame take on the Ratner connection

The anecdotes in the article all concern companies other than Forest City Ratner, so Markowitz's favorite project--and biggest source of donations--gets mentioned only at the end:
Forest City Ratner Companies, which is building the Atlantic Yards complex, has long relied on Mr. Markowitz’s backing for the huge project in the face of neighborhood opposition. Forest City is one of the biggest contributors to Mr. Markowitz’s charities, having given approximately $1.7 million.

“Sometimes, the borough president in his advocacy has blurred the lines between the role of private industry and government,” Councilwoman Letitia James of Brooklyn, an opponent of the project, said. “He is taking advantage of a loophole in the law.”

Mr. Markowitz, who has not yet decided whether to retire from politics or to run for mayor in 2013, called such criticism absurd.

[The original final paragraph]: “I have everything that I could have,” he said during an interview. “I don’t need anything. I don’t need any of you! I have done this. I loved it. You could raise all the issues you want — the people in Brooklyn know me, they love me.”

[The updated final paragraph] “I have everything that I could have,” he said during an interview. “I don’t need anything. I don’t need any of you! I have done this. I loved it. You could raise all the issues you want — the people in Brooklyn know me. You don’t understand that. They know me.”
That's a nonsensical, evasive response, ultimately, and the Times shouldn't have let him get away with it.

Markowitz does suggest, not inaccurately, that many who know him superficially love his showmanship.

Those who know him better--say, they've seen him shill for Forest City Ratner on video, claiming "Brooklyn is 1000 percent behind Atlantic Yards"--may think differently.


In fact, blame the Times and other media outlets for not helping Brooklynites know Markowitz better by reporting on that video.

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