Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ex-Yonkers Council Member: "Forest City Ratner games the system and does not play by the rules"

Well, the New York City press was surprisingly quiet on Friday regarding the Yonkers corruption trial--only one mainstream article, from the Post, though the Times had two reporters in the audience--but the Journal News, which covers Yonkers and the region, at least has been giving the issue, and the trial, steady coverage.

Today the Journal News offers an overview article on the developer, Forest City known for tough political skills around region. The toughest critic is a local:
Forest City Ratner has “little or no regard for public opinion,” said John Murtagh, a former Yonkers councilman and opponent of the Ridge Hill project who recently testified in the trial. “Their entire business model is to exploit every tax loophole and taxpayer-funded subsidy that they can. Promise the world and deliver far less, and do it all by manipulation.”
Among those praising the company is Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn, who helped arrange the developer's meeting with Zehy Jereis, who's charged with bribing Council Member Sandy Annabi to get Ridge Hill passed, and soon got a no-show job with the developer: “The company is a good one as far as I’m concerned. They definitely have a good track record as developers as far as efficiency and getting things done.”

But efficiency and getting things done also have to do with tactics, and I'm quoted in the article as saying, “Forest City Ratner, however community-friendly it aims to appear, plays hardball when it counts.”

Support for AY?

The article allowed a paid flack to claim public support for Atlantic Yards:
“I think there’s been tremendous support for Atlantic Yards,” said Joseph DePlasco, a Forest City spokesman. “There was a vocal opposition that was opposed to part of the project. There are many who support it.”
Many of the most vocal supporters are financially dependent on the developer, and the last poll, by Crain's New York Business in 2006, contained leading questions--about benefits that we now know have been long delayed. Nevertheless, it was embraced by the company.

If not criminal, unethical?

DePlaso told the newspaper, understandably, that Forest City is not accused of wrongdoing in either the Yonkers or the Carl Kruger/Richard Lipsky corruption case, nor is a target or subject of the investigations.

But that doesn't make them clean:
But Murtagh sees many parallels between Atlantic Yards and Ridge Hill, including the silencing of community groups and backroom deals. Years after his first encounter with Forest City, and with the most recent allegations, Murtagh said he feels vindicated in his opposition to the project.
“Unfortunately, what’s coming out in this case now vindicates what we ... were saying about this company and this project five years ago,” Murtagh said. “In the court of public opinion it should be obvious to anyone that Forest City Ratner games the system and does not play by the rules.”
Similarly, I told the Journal News, in an unpublished comment:
Until Thursday's testimony, Forest City Ratner had never explained or justified the no-show job given to Zehy Jereis. The developer was content to fall back on the statement that it had not been prosecuted. Well, the absence of criminal charges does not, however, mean that the developer behaved ethically; a Forest City representative in court acknowledged that Jereis provided nothing of value beyond helping with Annabi's vote.

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