Thursday, February 09, 2012

Journal News columnist: timing of Bender resignation seems curious, spokesman won't say whether he'll testify in upcoming trial; Forest City issues "terse kiss-off," names Bloomberg official to new external affairs role

In the Journal-News, which serves the northern suburbs of New York, columnist Phil Reisman suggested that Forest City Ratner exec's resignation conjures up Sandy Annabi case and, while he didn't find any smoking gun, he sure found some circumstantial evidence.

Like me, Reisman thought that it was curious for Forest City executive Bruce Bender to leave his job just before the federal corruption trial involving the firm's Ridge Hill project, since Bender played a key role in getting the project going.

Unsatisfying answers

Reisman writes:
Even though no one at Forest City has ever been implicated in the bribery scandal, questions about what Bender (and possibly others) knew about the scheme have lingered ever since U.S. Attorney Preet Bharra announced the indictments two years ago.

Will Bender be called to testify?

I put the question to Bender through a spokesman, George Artz, but did not receive a response Wednesday.

...Asked if the upcoming Ridge Hill trial had anything to do with his exit, Artz said it did not.

“He’s long wanted to do it,” Artz said. “There is always something happening every moment of time — and 12 years is a long time for anyone to be in one place.”

Forest City issued a terse kiss-off Wednesday: “Bruce Bender has decided to leave Forest City Ratner Companies to pursue other opportunities. Everyone at FCRC wishes him the best.”
Reasons for doubt

OK, we have:
  • no answer regarding whether he'll testify
  • neither Forest City nor Bender's new firm coordinating the news (I contacted Forest City two nights ago but never heard back)
That doesn't look like a comfortable situation. Even if Bender does not testify, I bet his name will come up during testimony. Wouldn't it be better for Forest City if Bender were now at a safer distance? If so, then did the developer give him some severance or otherwise help with a soft landing (see, departure of Stuckey, Jim)?

Bender's replacement?

Crain's Insider reports:
Ashley Cotton, a senior policy adviser in the Bloomberg administration, will join Forest City Ratner Cos. as its vice president for external affairs. Her arrival coincides with the departure of executive Bruce Bender, who left to set up his own consultancy.
It's not clear whether Cotton is replacing Bender and/or Scott Cantone, who left with Bender to set up a new firm, but it suggests that musical chairs were being contemplated for a while.

The term "vice president" gets tossed around pretty frequently, while Senior and Executive VPs have more clout.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Cotton comes out of a somewhat less rough-and-tumble background than Bender and Cantone, who came out of the legendary Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club in Southern Brooklyn.

A graduate of the prestigious Phillips Academy, she earned her BA from Bowdoin College in 2001 and her MPA from Columbia University - School of International and Public Affairs in 2009.

She served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Andrew Cuomo for Attorney General for three years,  worked for the newly-elected Cuomo for two years, and then spent a little more than a year as Vice President, Government & Community Affairs for the NYC Economic Development Corporation.

Since March 2010, she's been Senior Policy Advisor in the Mayor's Office. That means she's got pretty good connections to both city and state officials who might decide on, say, helping Forest City get its modular housing program off the ground.

In September 2009, Cotton was named one of the "40 Under 40" rising stars by City Hall magazine, which described "the former Bowdoin College ice hockey star" as getting her "start in politics working on the 2002 campaign of Charlie King, who was then running for the distinctly out-of-the-limelight job of lieutenant governor."

(Photo from SIPA web site.)

City Hall asked, "Five years from now, what will it say on your business card?"

"I have no doubt that I’ll still be trying to find ways to make government work more effectively for the people who rely on it," Cotton replied. "That’s probably too much to put on a business card—but I’ve got five years to condense it down, right?"

Well, it's been almost 2.5 years, and she's now at Forest City.

1 comment:

  1. The revolving door spins swiftly.

    Even if Bender left only because it was "time to go" to start his new venture, a BIG IF, there can be little doubt that FCR is happy to see him go with next week's trial starting.