Thursday, March 01, 2012

Times finally publishes article on Ridge Hill trial, lets flack DePlasco defend Forest City against unidentified "critics," downplays developer's dubious behavior

So, after three days of testimony from Forest City Ratner officials, and a one-day grace period, the New York Times today finally publishes a Metro section lead article about the Ridge Hill project and Yonkers corruption, Window Into Developer’s Relentless Quest to Get a Yonkers Project Approved.

It's a serviceable, but way too truncated summary of the drama in the federal case against consultant Zehy Jereis and ex-City Council Member Sandy Annabi, which I've covered at length on this blog.

Because several days of testimony are compressed into one article--rather than publishing daily articles, even online--key details are lost. But it's just enough for the Times to be able to defend itself against charges it had ignored the project.

Leaning Ratner's way

The ending does lean Ratner's way:
A Forest City spokesman, Joseph DePlasco, said on Wednesday that critics had focused unfairly on the developer’s role. “This is really about a company trying with great difficulty to navigate the byzantine maze of politics in Yonkers,” he said.
Well, no critics are mentioned in the article, so the Times let DePlasco leave the impression that the developer's facing a phantom.

The Times did not disclose, as has been its intermittent practice, and presumed policy, that the newspaper's parent company and Forest City were partners on the recently constructed Times Tower in Midtown.

Lame ending ignores developer's dubiousness

The article closes:
As for [ex-Forest City executive] Mr. [Bruce] Bender, he testified that he had always been hopeful that the developer would prevail in its lobbying effort.

“In my experience in over 30 years of government,” he said, “when it comes to politics, there is nothing impossible.”
That's a completely lame conclusion.

The central mystery of Ridge Hill, still extant, is why Forest City, the main beneficiary of Annabi's vote change, emerges unscathed.

The developer was not charged with wrongdoing, but it clearly behaved dubiously--details omitted from the Times coverage.

Its representatives strung along Zehy Jereis, nervous about giving him the job he requested, since that would be a quid pro quo, but afraid that not giving him a job would scotch efforts to flip Annabi's vote.

They didn't bat an eye after Jereis said he might take care of paying the change fee on an Annabi plane ticket.

They didn't do a background check on Jereis to learn of his criminal past.

They backdated his consulting contract.

They passed along his sketchy invoices and insisted he get paid, even though he hadn't turned in required reports.

They did not, above all, get "bilked."

A blunt response?

At one point in the article, the Times notes an email sent by Bender:
"Mr. Bender responded bluntly: “get sandy on bd tell your brother we need help now.”
Mr. Bender was actually a lot more blunt. He preceded that sequence with the phrase "no fucking around."

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