Skip to main content

A Washington insider: "Virtually no one walks in your door trying to educate you about the public's argument" (and what about Big Real Estate/Big Sports in NY?)

When I wrote in May 2009 about Brooklyn singer-songwriter John Pinamonti's new album, I cited "It Wasn't the Rain," a mix of elegy and fight song, about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans: "It wasn't the rain/it wasn't the wind/it was just greed and power/winning again."

That song could be the soundtrack to George Packer's richly reported piece in a recent New Yorker, Washington Man: He transformed himself from public servant to rich lobbyist. When the financial crisis hit, he remembered who he was.

The profile of Jeff Connaughton, a political insider, lawyer, and lobbyist, is not online, but here's part of the summary:
After the financial crisis happened in 2008, he left lobbying, eventually going to work as the chief of staff for his friend Ted Kaufman, who had inherited Joe Biden’s senate seat. Connaughton, angry at Wall Street, worked with Kaufman to try and pass financial reform legislation. The legislation they drafted was either ineffective or failed to pass. Disillusioned and exhausted, Connaughton left politics and moved to Savannah, Georgia, where he wrote a book about his experiences called “The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins.”
The asymmetry: no one talks "about the public's argument"

If Wall Street always wins, so too--nearly always--do Big Real Estate and Big Sports in New York, for some of the same reasons, the power of money and the way it can can be deployed. Which is why, for example, Times critic Michael Kimmelman's criticisms of Atlantic Yards may be welcome, but ineffectual.

Packer writes:
But in the three decades since he'd felt that initial optimism [about politics], Washington had been captured by the money power. He had been captured as well, and until now he hadn't fully apprehended how much the "influence industry"--the lobbying, the media campaigns, the grasstops, the revolving door--had transformed Washington. "When you go back into government, you realize how dramatically asymmetrical it has become with the public interest," he said. "Virtually no one walks in your door trying to educate you about the public's argument."
Consider how Empire State Development, the state agency assigned to both oversee and shepherd Atlantic Yards, has long leaned toward the latter. (Check out video of the official directly in charge of Atlantic Yards promoting the Sensation dance event.) Consider Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's reflexive backing for the Nov. 1 game.

And that's why I argued that an upcoming article on the "Atlantic Yards opposition" should be sure to recognize the issue of press oversight, serving as a counterweight to the huge effort by developer Forest City Ratner (lobbying and public relations) and its government allies (p.r.) to promote Atlantic Yards.

The value of dissent

There's a dismaying account of the effort at breaking up the biggest banks, an idea opposed by the Obama Administration's top advisors and the most connected senators. Kaufman steers clear of Biden, deeming his old friend as having his plate too full:
Connaughton couldn't get over it: their former boss held the second-highest position in the country, and still they couldn't' do a damn thing about Wall Street. "You might as well be beholden to the permanent class if you're going to pull your punches at a moment of national crisis," Connaughton said.
In late April, Kaufman and Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, introduced an amendment to Dodd's bill that would limit certain liabilities of banks to two percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. In effect, Brown-Kaufman would force banks that grew beyond a certain size to be broken up. The Senators took the floor. Spectacles perched on the end of his nose, Kaufman chopped the air as he spoke without a script. "In 1933, we made a decision that helped us through three generations," he declared, in a trembling voice. "Why are we not passing legislation that'll work over the next two or three generations?"
... Later, Connaughton sent Kaufman a note: "There's nothing more honorable than standing up as the sole dissenting voice as a matter of principle."
In Rolling Stone

Matt Taibbi, in his Taibblog, wrote about Connaughton's book in a 9/18/12 piece headlined, A Rare Look at Why the Government Won't Fight Wall Street:
There are some damning revelations in this book, and overall it’s not a flattering portrait of key Obama administration officials like SEC enforcement chief Robert Khuzami, Department of Justice honchos Eric Holder (who once worked at the same law firm, Covington and Burling, as Connaughton) and Lanny Breuer, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
Most damningly, Connaughton writes about something he calls "The Blob," a kind of catchall term describing an oozy pile of Hill insiders who are all incestuously interconnected, sometimes by financial or political ties, sometimes by marriage, sometimes by all three. And what Connaughton and Kaufman found is that taking on Wall Street even with the aim of imposing simple, logical fixes often inspired immediate hostile responses from The Blob; you’d never know where it was coming from.
...Similarly, when Kaufman tried to advocate for rules that would have prevented naked short-selling, Connaughton was warned by a lobbyist that it would be "bad for my career" if he went after the issue and that "Ted and I looked like deranged conspiracy theorists" for asking if naked short-selling had played a role in the final collapse of Lehman Brothers.
...Essentially the same thing happened in Kaufman’s biggest reform attempt, the amendment to the Dodd-Frank bill he co-sponsored with Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, which would have broken up the Too-Big-To-Fail banks. But the Brown-Kaufman amendment, which was really the meatiest thing in the original Dodd-Frank bill, the one reform that really would have made a difference if it had passed, just died in the suffocating mass of the Blob. The key Democrats one after another failed to line up behind it, and in the end it was defeated soundly, with Dick Durbin, the number two man in the Democratic leadership, giving it this epitaph: "a bridge too far."

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …