Saturday, August 10, 2013

Crain's: "Forest City was recruited by government to build the Barclays Center" (not quite)

An editorial in Crain's New York Business, Double standard on 'reform', criticizes watchdog groups for targeting business spending on political campaigns while ignoring the fact that unions can offer significant help via manpower.

The editorial contains this curiously ahistorical passage:
Cause of Action, a self-styled "government accountability" group, got into the act last week, saying that Forest City Ratner executives donated to elected officials who supported their projects (the group might have noted that Forest City was recruited by government to build the Barclays Center, a big hit in Brooklyn). 
That's a rather potted history. After all, we could just as easily say that, "though the Barclays Center in Brooklyn has gained praise, government--in the form of the New York City Independent Budget Office--has estimated that it would be a net loss to city taxpayers."

Looking more closely

Yes, the official story is that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz encouraged developer Bruce Ratner to buy the New Jersey Nets and move them to Brooklyn.

(Markowitz, by the way, has not received campaign contributions but has received lots of funding from Forest City outside the campaign finance system, via his nonprofit, unmentioned in the Cause of Action report.)

But Markowitz's office was not the main layer of "government" that Forest City Ratner had to work with to get approval of Atlantic Yards, a far larger project than the arena.

The state approved and oversees the project, while city agencies are also key. Both gave/approved subsidies and tax breaks. There was no RFP for an arena, or for a major development project. It was a sole-source deal, except for a belated RFP for the key piece of public property within the 22-acre site, the 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yard. And Ratner always had the inside track.

Some of that relationship, as I've written, didn't depend on Forest City Ratner campaign contributions, which is part of why I found the Cause of Action report simplistic.

But some likely did. Why else did Forest City in 2008 make a $58,420 "soft money" donation to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee's Housekeeping account, circumventing the typical $5000 corporate contribution limit?

And why did developer Bruce Ratner's brother Michael Ratner, a famed radical lawyer, give campaign contributions to Brooklyn political hacks?

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