Friday, August 30, 2013

What is he, chopped liver? Bill de Blasio's Atlantic Yards problem

Update: see Capital NY's coverage, Bill de Blasio, development pragmatist.

Now that Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has vaulted to the top of the mayoral polls, there's been a spike of interest in examining his record.

So I got a couple of queries yesterday about his role boosting but not overseeing Atlantic Yards, about which I've written at length. My analysis is summarized/linked here, and I'm sure others will pursue this further.

But here are a couple of recent money quotes regarding Atlantic Yards:
  • "I think government has to hold the developer's feet to the fire to get it done, and on a real timeline." 
  • "Government I don't think has done a very good job of following through on that goal, and I think the next mayor has to do that very aggressively."
What is de Blasio, chopped liver?

He's government too, and he has avoided every opportunity, for example, to criticize developer Forest City Ratner for failing to hire the Independent Compliance Monitor required by the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) or to raise questions about the project's delayed timeline or the failure to meet the affordable housing pledge.

Note: I wouldn't say that other leading candidates, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former Comptroller Bill Thompson, have a better record on Atlantic Yards or, for that matter, the real estate industry.

They never professed much desire to understand and oversee the project, so, because of such low expectations, they're just a quantum less slippery than de Blasio. (John Liu and Sal Albanese are toughest on Atlantic Yards.)
In Newsweek/The Daily Beast,  David Freedlander quoted an unaffiliated Democratic operative, who said de Blasio "is much closer to Machiavelli than to Marx."

de Blasio's big speech: what's missing

Here's an excerpt from de Blasio's 7/31/12 speech on economic growth:
When I looked at Atlantic Yards, I saw all the things my neighbors did: the traffic, the big shadows cast by buildings, the crowds, the disruption during and after construction. I didn’t dismiss those concerns at the time and I don’t dismiss them now. But I also saw the chance to build a staggering amount of affordable housing and put thousands of people to work. As an elected official representing neighborhoods where the cost of housing was driving families out, where the loss of jobs in warehousing and the trades had cost people their livelihoods, I saw a choice—to build, or not to build; to grow or not to grow. And as an act of economic equity and opportunity, there was no question in my mind about the right thing to do. When it came time to make an up or down decision, I supported the project—including its use of eminent domain. It did not make it easy to walk down Seventh Avenue in Park Slope; the critics were many and they were vocal. I also emphasize they were usually very well-intentioned. But when it came to the criteria that mattered above all others—good jobs and affordable housing—it was clear that Atlantic Yards would help stanch the bleeding in an area facing huge problems of affordability.
But the critique of Atlantic Yards was not just impacts vs. benefits. It was about good government vs. sweetheart deals.

It's that the benefits, like the commitments purportedly "guaranteed" by the CBA, were in doubt, part of a major p.r. campaign by the developer and its allies, and a process with little accountability then and now.

Does de Blasio know that even the New York Times, not known for consistently skeptical coverage of Atlantic Yards, last September described developer Bruce Ratner as having a "reputation for promising anything to get a deal, only to renegotiate relentlessly for more favorable terms"?

Oh, Ratner in June 2011 hosted a birthday party/fund-raiser for de Blasio. FCR construction chief Bob Sanna, as intermediary has raised a total of $13,600 for de Blasio. Maybe de Blasio knows. But with that kind of contribution, and support from groups like ACORN (and its successors) that signed the affordable housing deal with developer Ratner, he knows which side he's on.

7 comments:

  1. Anonymous7:33 AM

    I don't understand the ACORN reference here. What's the connection between that now-defunct group and developers like Ratner?

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    Replies
    1. Sorry for the shorthand. NY ACORN was Ratner's partner on the Atlantic Yards affordable housing, and pledged to support the project in exchange for Ratner's affordable housing pledge (which has not exactly been followed).

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    2. Also, one of Bill de Blasio's supporters, Scott Levenson, was the former spokesman for ACORN. See also : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UC-g7XAaIuM

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  2. Anonymous9:58 AM

    "Leading candidates" ??? that is the same spin they used to ram the Yards down our throats.

    Voting Liu and volunteering for him too.

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    Replies
    1. Leading in the polls. But yes, John Liu and Sal Albanese are toughest on Atlantic Yards.

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  3. I'm a supporter of DeBlasio because he is the most reliably progressive candidate, by far.

    But your criticism is well directed, and I hope he listens to it.

    His record isn't perfect, but he is the candidate most likely to stand up to the developers and other corporate interests who have been sucking our city dry for decades.

    And it is abundantly clear that when he is elected, he will not be beholden to the corporate establishment which has been trying to defeat him, but to the people. And he knows that.

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  4. Daniel Goldstein3:17 PM

    Atlantic Yards is a great litmus test, especially for self-proclaimed "progressive" pols. And Mr. deBlasio fails the test even worse than the rest of the bunch.Not once has he railed against the sweetheart deal, the complete override of the city charter and zoning to get the project done. Not once has he tried to "hold the developer's feet to the fire." Not once did he stand up for those who would be displaced by a highly questionable use of eminent domain. And not once has he admitted that the project and the developer's PR job on jobs and affordable housing has failed miserably. And this is in his backyard, unlike the other candidates.

    Process matters. It doesn't seem to have mattered to Mr. deBlasio. Machiavelli indeed...except the ends have not even justified the means in the case of AY.

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