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Showing posts from February, 2012

What the Times put in the Metro section instead of covering the Yonkers corruption case involving Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill project

Just in case you're wondering what articles New York Times editors decided to put in today's Metro section while continuing to avoid the Yonkers corruption trial involving Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill project, consider the following.

The first weighty article, in fact, appeared on the section front, as indicated at right.

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Ridge Hill trial: Forest City execs pushed payment for no-show job despite internal resistance; prosecution's case complicated by Bender's agreement that developer convinced Annabi to switch vote

In the third and likely final day in which Forest City Ratner (ex-)employees testified in the Yonkers corruption case, a federal jury yesterday heard more evidence that the developer had behaved in a questionable manner.

After all, testimony yesterday indicated that Forest City executives had no problem with Zehy Jereis's seemingly no-show job and, even though he hadn't submitted required monthly reports and a lower-level employee had raised a red flag, two of the firm's top government relations executives, Bruce Bender and Scott Cantone, ordered that he be paid $15,000.

But the developer's not on trial, and the jury might now be wondering why Jereis and Sandy Annabi face corruption charges, while Forest City, the beneficiary of Annabi's changed vote to green-light the Ridge Hill project, is unscathed. (Jurors of course can be instructed to address only the culpability of the defendants, not any other parties.)

Helping prosecution or defense?

Also, though a prosecut…

Did Forest City Ratner get "bilked" by Yonkers defendant (as suggested in 2010 Times coverage)? Trial testimony indicates the opposite

You haven't read it in the New York Times, because the newspaper has chosen to avoid recent coverage of the Yonkers corruption trial (though not saturation coverage of the latest Pale Male twist).

But in the past few days, two Forest City Ratner witnesses demolished the sloppy, dishonest phrasing in the Times's 1/6/10 report, Ex-Official in Yonkers Faces Charges of Corruption.

Back then, the Times suggested that Zehy Jereis, the go-between accused of engineering Ex-Council Member Sandy Annabi's vote to green-light the Ridge Hill project, was "accused of bilking" Forest City.


Got "bilked"?

Any fair reading of the indictment and the term "bilk" should have let a sentient being conclude that Forest City did not get bilked.

Indeed, as Michael D.D. White pointed out in his Noticing New York blog, it strained credulity for the Times to report that "Forest City Ratner, a real estate firm whose specialty is collecting government subsidies through …

NY Post: Forest City didn't conduct background check into Jereis, spokesman claims they had "no way of knowing" his criminal past

In We didn't know we hired a crook: Ratner firm, the New York Post has a mini-scoop regarding one of the two defendants in the ongoing Yonkers corruption trial, the go-between who helped get Council Member Sandy Annabi to change her vote to green-light Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill project:
Forest City Ratner officials told The Post that they never conducted a background check in 2006 on then-Yonkers Republican Party Chairman Zehy Jereis before awarding him what amounted to a $5,000-a-month no-show job. This was after they learned of the political crony’s criminal record from a reporter.
...Shortly after testifying in Manhattan federal court Monday, Scott Cantone, FCR’s senior VP for government affairs, told the Post the company was unaware of Jereis’ shady past and never did a background check on him.
FCR spokesman Joe DePlasco said the firm had “no way of knowing” Jereis had a criminal record because “he was the leader of the Yonkers Republican Party.” Um, being the Chairm…

The dailies ignore the Yonkers corruption trial; what's wrong with the Times?

So Bruce Bender, long the top government relations official for Forest City Ratner and former Chief of Staff for Council Speaker Peter Vallone, testifies yesterday in federal court about the developer's nearly desperate search for the vote that green-lighted the Ridge Hill project in Yonkers--a process that led to corruption charges against two others--and what do the New York dailies do?

They ignore it. (The suburban Journal News has been covering the story.)

You can almost understand the New York Post, which did have a reporter there (and did cover the testimony last week of Bender's colleague Scott Cantone), and the New York Daily News, which didn't send a reporter.

The tabloids want juicy headlines, though, by my lights, Bender's memo to lobbyist Mike Spano, now the mayor of Yonkers, qualifies as juicy insight into how development and politics really work:
"No fucking around. Get Sandy on board. Tell your brother we need help now." Sandy would be Council M…

The latest Atlantic Yards Construction Alert: efforts redoubled at rodent control; cover on dirt pile finally noted

Below are some excerpts from the latest two-week Atlantic Yards Construction Alert, dated 2/27/12 and released yesterday by Empire State Development after preparation by Forest City Ratner.

I've bolded the notable changes from the previous alert. Note the increased efforts at rodent control, a huge issue for the surrounding community, and belated efforts to cover a dirt pile, which was cited by Atlantic Yards Watch.

The same additional language in the section immediately below about rodent control was added to the sections regarding work on the new transit entrance and the rail yard.

From the alert

Rodent Control Measures Taken
• Hunt and FCRC continue to review and implement actions to supplement the site and adjacent neighborhood’s rodent protection activities. Hunt has more than 225 rodent bait stations within the arena work site and Block 1129 that are being monitored and maintained on a weekly basis. Across the site, additional measures are being instituted to redouble effort…

Forest City's Bender, Cantone testify in Ridge Hill trial; no quid pro quo in Jereis hiring, but they strung him along until Annabi voted; developer nearly desperate, ordered Spano to get his brother's help

Today was no red-letter day for developer Forest City Ratner. Though not charged in the Yonkers corruption case, two key Forest City executives involved in the $650 million Ridge Hill project--Scott Cantone and Bruce Bender--took the stand and had to explain the company's curious and even desperate behavior in ensuring the project's approval.

Surely the federal jury must have wondered why exactly the developer--the greatest beneficiary of the alleged bribes paid by defendant Zehy Jereis, a former Yonkers Republican chairman, to defendant Sandy Annabi, a former Yonkers Council Member--remains unscathed.

After all, they were concerned about Jereis's persistent requests for a consulting gig, which began before Annabi's vote, so they strung him along, and finally signed him up a few months after Annabi changed her vote in mid-2006 to green-light Ridge Hill.

Defense attorneys did get the Forest City government relations executives to acknowledge that Jereis never requested …

Assemblyman Joe Lentol, some curious connections, and the Ridge Hill/Yonkers corruption trial that resumes today

So, who knew Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol had played a key cameo in the machinations that led to passage of Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill development in Yonkers? Not until testimony last Thursday in a federal corruption trial did that surface, and only glancingly so.

The upshot: Lentol, an Atlantic Yards supporter, seems closer to Forest City than most people knew.

The reasons? Unclear, but Lentol's close relationship with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, himself a key Forest City ally, probably doesn't hurt. (Lentol chairs the Brooklyn delegation and the Codes Committee, both key positions.)

The linkage? The go-between who connected Lentol, Forest City, and defendant Zehy Jereis--charged with bribing Council Member Sandy Annabi to change her vote--said he knew the Assemblyman from the very mainstream Lions Club.

But both the go-between, Joseph Galimi, and Lentol also have been reported to have connections, however indirect, with organized crime figures, factoids that…

Next Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting: March 15, not March 1 (and ESD's Ken Adams will be there); Transportation Focus Group to meet March 8

The Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meetings, held about every two months, are usually interesting, since they provide an opportunity for involved agencies interact, and for Forest City Ratner to undergo questioning by the few elected officials (and their designated staffers) who care.

And some news--such as plans for Transportation Demand Management, or affordable housing--tends to surface.

At the last meeting, held 1/26/12, it was announced that the next meeting would be Thursday, March 1. That date, less than two months away, has now been pushed back to Thursday, March 15, from 9:30 to 11 am at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

Why? To accommodate the schedule of Kenneth Adams, the CEO of Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency in charge of the project. Adams has offered genial support for the project and thus no particular change in policy, but as a Brooklynite has pledged to be more responsive.

The meetings are chaired by Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, for …

Why so few larger apartments in first planned tower? Maybe it has to do with not gambling on the market-rate units

Remember how Forest City Ratner said last month that the "goal"--actually a promise--of ensuring half the subsidized apartments (in square footage) would be larger units wouldn't be met in the first tower?

FCR executive said it had to do with the way city subsidies work. Perhaps, but consider that the 175 subsidized units would be the same configuration (mostly studios and one-bedrooms) as the market-rate units. And it's a lot less risky to rent smaller market-rate units than larger ones.

As the Wall Street Journal reported in a 2/13/12 article on market-rate condo units, Brooklyn Feels a Pinch: Few Family-Size Apartments in Borough:
Developers are often loath to gamble on larger units, especially in neighborhoods that are considered up-and-coming. A $1 million three-bedroom unit that doesn't sell is a much greater liability than a smaller unit.After all, who's going to want to pay market-rate rents to live next to an arena? Likely those who value the location…

A house ad in the Times and a question mark about coverage of Forest City Ratner's role in the Yonkers corruption case

It was curious that, after a Forest City Ratner executive testified last Thursday about the developer's questionable behavior connected to its Ridge Hill project, a key part of the corruption case against two Yonkers figures, no article appeared in the New York Times.

(The New York Post covered it, alone among the mainstream city media, while the suburban Journal News has steadily examined Yonkers corruption issues. Consultant/activist Gary Tilzer, in his True News blog, has steadily criticized the local media for ignoring the case.)

After all, the Times had two reporters in the courtroom and, by any objective standards, the goings-on were more newsworthy than, say, coverage of promotional efforts by the Nets. After all, also taking the stand was the current mayor of Yonkers, Mike Spano, a former lobbyist for Forest City.

And the Times, presumably, has unfettered space online in its CityRoom blog.

Space unused in print

It seemed even more curious after a look at the print paper Fri…

Betsy Gotbaum's birthday present for Bruce Ratner: a letter to the Times

Remember how former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum wrote that fawning letter to the New York Times last month defending Bruce Ratner from the slings and arrows of columnist Michael Powell?

Well, it was published on Wednesday, 1/18/12, and thus made a nice--if unintended as such--birthday present for Ratner. I just noticed that the New York Post reported 1/20/12 on its Page Six gossip column:
We hear...
That Bruce Ratner, developer of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for the Nets, had a surprise birthday party at Stand Up New York on West 78th Street on Wednesday. Marty Markowitz and wife Jamie, Betsy Gotbaum, journo Lizzy Ratner (Bruce’s daughter) and Fox News’ Ellen Ratner (his sister) were among a group of 30. So, Markowitz and his wife made the top 30?

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'…

FCR's Cantone testifies: defendant Jereis probably wouldn't have gained no-show job had he not gotten defendant Annabi's vote switch on Ridge Hill; also, Brooklyn Assemblyman Lentol played key cameo

Yesterday, in a Lower Manhattan federal courtroom, developer Forest City Ratner was for the first time forced to publicly explain its dubious role in the machinations that provoked the ongoing corruption trial centered around Yonkers.

Forest City has not been charged, but the developer was arguably a bigger beneficiary than the two defendants: ex-Council Member Sandy Annabi, charged with taking bribes to approve two projects, one of them FCR's Ridge Hill, or her distant cousin Zehy Jereis, charged with funneling her some $174,000 in cash and gifts, essentially keeping her on retainer.

Forest City hired Jereis in 2006 for a virtual no-show job not long after Annabi had switched her stance to approve Ridge Hill, an 81-acre, $650 million development with 1.3 million square feet of retail, plus residential and office space.

Jereis, Annabi's political mentor, after organizing a meetings between her and the developer and then getting her on board, then pestered Forest City Ratner fo…