Friday, January 13, 2012

Forest City Ratner's designated lurker, the powerful Rapfogel family, and the developer's ties to Sheldon Silver

Forest City Ratner's designated lurker at certain public events is easy to spot, a round-faced young guy who wears the kipah of an observant Jew: Michael Rapfogel, who comes from a family thisclose to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Rapfogel, who works in FCR's government relations department, was taking notes outside an April 2010 courthouse interview after Atlantic Yards opponent Daniel Goldstein settled and agreed to move--the latter's attorney called it spying.

Rapfogel was, curiously enough, at Brooklyn Borough Hall just before the 12/12/11 meeting concerning a Transportation Working Group, though he didn't stay for the event.

And Rapfogel was across the street (with basketball coach/political consultant Thomas "Ziggy" Sicignano) on 11/15/11 watching the press conference held by Council Member Letitia James announcing a lawsuit filed by seven people who said they were promised construction jobs and union cards after going through an FCR-paid training program.

The Rapfogel connection

Rapfogel holds the title of Vice President--relatively low on the totem pole where such titles later get prepended with "Senior" and "Executive"--but I doubt he's a random hire. Sure, he's got a law degree, so he's competent, but he's also part of a family with crucial political ties. And he's survived while Forest City Ratner has downsized its staff.

His father William Rapfogel serves as the head of a major charity, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, and is an old friend of Silver, and his mother Judy Rapfogel is Silver's chief of staff.

This week Fake Sheldon Silver Tweeted a request to Judy Rapfogel to crack down on New York Times columnist Michael Powell for writing critically about Forest City Ratner, and included a link to an August 2008 photograph excerpted at left, showing Bruce Ratner (l.) and key aide Bruce Bender--mentioned in Powell's column--flanking Silver at a Met Council event.

The importance of Silver

In November 2008, I wrote about the ties between Silver, the Met Council, and Bruce Ratner. Ratner has directed campaign contributions to Silver's Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, the legislature has assisted Ratner, and Ratner has been honored by the Met Council. (I didn't mention Michal Rapfogel because, as far as I know, he wasn't yet working for Forest City.)

Silver might well be an Atlantic Yards supporter even without these connections. But they surely help cement that support. Indeed, more than one person involved in Brooklyn politics has indicated to me that Silver serves as legislative firebreak for Ratner, and I'll continue to contend that Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a vocal critic of Yankee Stadium, steered clear of Atlantic Yards because of his desire to stay in Silver's good graces.

Silver, who of course approved state funding via the Public Authorities Control Board, either actively or simply because of Assembly hierarchy has stymied legislative investigation into Atlantic Yards on the Assembly side. Remember the public hearings in 2009 and 2010 that focused or touched on Atlantic Yards? They were run by state Senator Bill Perkins, taking advantage of temporary Democratic sway in that body.

In a 6/20/07 profile of Silver, the New York Times reported:
Among the most favored beneficiaries in the last fiscal year was the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and its affiliated organizations, which received nearly $1 million. The group’s chief executive, William E. Rapfogel, is the husband of Mr. Silver’s chief of staff, Judith Rapfogel. The council is widely acknowledged to provide useful services to all ethnic and racial groups throughout the city, and has long received generous public financing.
Though government watchdog groups criticize member items as unregulated pork, Mr. Silver says they are a legitimate way to finance worthy causes that do not get into the state budget. “Those who look at process are na├»ve,” he said of the system’s critics
New scrutiny

William Rapfogel has recently been in the news, cited in a 9/9/11 article by the Wall Street Journal headlined Charity Probe Questions: State Inquiry Could Scrutinize Pay at Nonprofit Overseen by Governor's Sister:
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's probe of executive pay at nonprofits is bumping up against some of the state's best-known charities with strong ties to the most powerful people in Albany, including the speaker of the Assembly and the governor himself.

Two weeks ago, a state task force named by Mr. Cuomo began asking nonprofits to submit detailed information to the Cuomo administration about their executive pay levels and compensation policies. The task force said it is collecting information on a rolling basis from all nonprofits that receive funding from the state.

...Meanwhile, one of the first groups to get the request was the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, a social service group run by William Rapfogel, the husband of the chief of staff to Democratic Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver. Mr. Rapfogel received a $435,000 pay package in 2009, tax filings show.
The Rafogels' back story

In a friendly 6/29/11 article headlined Power Couple Also Powers Down, Our Town reported on the Rapfogels:
Judy and William Rapfogel got married at age 18 and have spent their whole adult lives together. They went to different colleges in the city, ran a newspaper together and eventually settled into demanding jobs. She is the longtime chief of staff to an Albany powerhouse, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and he, the CEO of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. They’ve had jobs that have taken them out of their beloved Lower East Side neighborhood and they spend most of their time working, but one thing has kept them together for 38 years.
In separate telephone interviews, both said their Judaism is a key to staying together. Observing the Sabbath every week means their jobs don’t completely consume their lives.
...The next year the Rapfogels started running their own newspaper, Jewish People.
“We were young and more idealistic about the journalism than we were interested in the business end,” William said. “You can’t pay the bills that way.”
It's much easier to try to work the press, apparently

William Rapfogel worked in city government before the Met Council, while Judy Rapfogel started with Silver as a campaign volunteer and has been there more than 30 years.

The next generation

The article noted:
Michael, 26, is raising his two daughters with his wife, Ora Rapfogel, in the same Grand Street Houses building as his parents, who somehow find the time—occasionally—to baby-sit. He works on government relations at Forest City Ratner, a Brooklyn-based developer whose projects include a Spruce Street school and a residential tower about to open on Lower Manhattan’s East Side.
That, by the way, is the same building: 8 Spruce Street (aka Beekman Tower), more accurately described as part of Lower Manhattan.

There was no mention of Michael's work, or lurk, in Brooklyn.

He hasn't been in the press much, but he was quoted in this 9/18/10 New York Times article about Forest City Ratner's policy of preventing groups of four or more young people under 21 to hang out: “When kids gather in groups, they can get kind of rowdy; they can cause trouble."

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