Monday, September 09, 2013

On the mayoral race and Atlantic Yards: would anyone pursue accountability?

Some people have asked me about the mayoral candidates' postures on Atlantic Yards, and though I recognize that are many reasons for choosing a candidate (see NYT issues page and Nicole Gelinas's analysis), it's worth reviewing how bad the three leading--at least according to the (flawed) polls--candidates have been on Atlantic Yards.

Everyone recognizes things didn't go as promised, and they've even been reminded, such as at a January mayoral forum in East New York, that mention of Atlantic Yards to the hoi polloi can generate scorn.

But none of the mayoral candidates have tried to pursue accountability, as I've written, with Public Advocate Bill de Blasio notably failing to even comment that the Community Benefits Agreement he champions has the promised Independent Compliance Monitor.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn failed to approve any Council oversight hearing on the project, though Council Members Letitia James and Brad Lander wanted one.

And former Comptroller Bill Thompson, in his 2009 campaign and since then, has been a cipher.

At a forum in Park Slope in May, as I wrote, Comptroller John Liu did pointedly state the benefits were not worth the costs, though he hasn't done anything to audit the project. Former Council Member Sal Albanese said there should be penalties/clawbacks, but hasn't otherwise entered the AY fray.

Albanese has no chance to make a runoff. According to the polls, Liu doesn't have a chance, either, but, as Errol Louis recently wrote, both Liu and Thompson complain that their support is underestimated. (Liu has strength in the black community--he was endorsed in Central Brooklyn by Our Time Press, which presumably would back Thompson.)

As I've written, Thompson, de Blasio, and Quinn have received campaign contributions from people connected to Forest City Ratner.

de Blasio's AY stance to outside eyes

On 9/7/13, Slate's Matthew Yglesias, taking off on a Wall Street Journal article, wrote, Bill de Blasio Supports Real Estate Development—As He Should, asserting, "What I can say for sure is that there's no tension between a pro-development stance and his campaign's focus on inequality," citing, among other things, his support for Atlantic Yards.

However, simply increasing supply by signing off on Atlantic Yards abdicates responsibility.

One commenter noted:
All that said, the problem we've been having in this discussion is how to get more affordable housing while keeping the city vibrant. Conservatives and libertarians don't regard this as a valid government interest. Neoliberal Democrats tend to hedge, take real estate/developer campaign money, and then talk a good talk on forcing developers to build more affordable housing. In the case of Atlantic Yards, which motivated this piece on de Blasio, the affordable housing still isn't built, although the basketball arena has been open for a year. We'll see how little the developers can get away with on this score, since the main financial draw for them is already complete.
I don't think that the arena is necessarily the main financial draw, but the arena was needed to staunch the enormous, steady losses by the Nets. The housing could be put off.

Another commenter drilled down:
Oh please. How simple can you be? Opposition to Atlantic Yards has never been about "anti-development." To the contrary, the community was aching for development. The issue was about public subsidies to a connected developer with a terrible track record avoiding any kind of meaningful public review and oversight; using public domain to move renters and small businesses for an arena that could have easily been built elsewhere; no plans for public services to support the proposed mini-city that was to be dropped between two mid-rise neighborhoods that could have benefited from a thoughtful project aimed at bridging and uniting the area. Public subsidies for this boondoggle have resulted in unfulfilled promises to build affordable housing and provide jobs and has resulted in developers blight of empty unusable space. Where was the public advocate on this mess?

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