Monday, October 28, 2013

Across from arena, Lhota slams de Blasio (again) on Atlantic Yards, claims Ratner close to default on MTA railyard last year (video)

Seeking to shore up a campaign deeply behind in the polls, Republican mayoral nominee Joe Lhota came to the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street this afternoon, with the arena and the site for the first housing tower in the background, and again slammed rival Bill de Blasio, the Democratic nominee, regarding his failure to criticize Atlantic Yards while taking contributions from the developer.

"Bill de Blasio has been all talk and no action when it comes to affordable housing," said the former MTA head, pointing to a quote from the then-Council Member regarding the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement: “It’s the responsibility of all of us, and especially of we elected officials, to ensure that it is scrupulously adhered to.”

Lhota got some traction--he was his most pointed yet in targeting de Blasio's failure to follow through on the CBA, including developer Forest City Ratner's failure to hire a promised Independent Compliance Monitor.

And he called "the most important statement" was one from de Blasio ally Council Member Letitia James, who's set to be the next Public Advocate, as criticizing de Blasio and others as getting duped. (Of course James surely wasn't saying that in support of Lhota.)



Threading the needle

But Lhota was also forced to thread the needle. Before the press conference, the de Blasio campaign pointed to an interview (with photo) Lhota gave the New York Daily News last year, before the arena opened, when he declared, "How long are people going to criticize this project before they realize this is good for New York City?”

Confronted with that, Lhota said, "If this project as envisioned went forward, it's a great project." (That of course endorses the project at the scale approved, which is very questionable.)

Though Lhota said he supported "clawbacks," or penalties if promises are not fulfilled, he was, understandably, fuzzy about what actually could be done at this point. The main deal, the Development Agreement, is with the Empire State Development Corporation, a state agency, and no public agency was party to the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement, a private contract that only the parties can resolve. So the only oversight over the latter is rhetorical.

But his remarks, at least, suggested a different rhetorical posture: a willingness to be more adversarial and more critical than de Blasio.

"He's been silent because he's been bought," Lhota said of de Blasio, though arguably de Blasio's dependence on ex-ACORN head Bertha Lewis--who signed the Atlantic Yards housing deal--and her allies in the Working Families Party is as important if not more so.

An Atlantic Yards revelation (of sorts)

"It's no surprise the de Blasio campaign's pointing out you praised this project," one reporter noted.

"When I was at the MTA, I held Forest City Ratner's feet to the fire to fllow through on agreements that were made with the MTA," Lhota responded. "We were within hours of a default, where he was not following through on building the railyard that he promised to build."

"I love the fact that we have in my neighborhood this facility," said Lhota, who lives in not-so-close Brooklyn Heights, but said "I deplore the fact that the developer did not follow through on what he said. Anybody who tells you I've applauded this project is sadly mistaken"--seemingly contradicted by that quote to the Daily News--"because I'm on the record as holding his feet to the fire, something Bill de Blasio wouldn't understand."

I asked him to follow up. Lhota said Forest City hadn't started the railyard "at the time they were supposed to start" and he got additional guarantees from them.

I'm not quite sure that shows the MTA as cracking down on Forest City, but Lhota was also answering to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who's essentially a project supporter. Forest City got the official start date for the railyard put off 18 months, with the deal announced before the official start date.

In exchange, Forest City put down a $10 million completion guarantee for that interim work. The MTA portrayed that as essentially leaving them in as good a place.

I spoke to Lhota briefly after the press conference and mentioned that Forest City had recently again renegotiated, getting the MTA to push back the official start date for six months, to June 2014. He said he didn't know about it. Maybe that's because no news outlets followed up.



The press release 

This had paragraph breaks when presented to the press, but not on the website:
Lhota: de Blasio all talk, no action on affordable housingDespite Pledging to Ensure Affordable Housing, de Blasio Remained Silent While Taking Thousands in Campaign Contributions From DeveloperBrooklyn, NY–October 28th…Bill de Blasio is all talk and no action when it comes to the creation of affordable housing, Mr. Lhota today charged. Standing at the intersection between Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street, the proposed site of Atlantic Yards housing development project, Mr. Lhota condemned his opponent’s failure to follow through on his commitment to ensure affordable housing, while accepting thousands in campaign contributions from the project’s developer.
As City Councilman, Mr. de Blasio was a key ally in the Atlantic Yards deal, amid much local opposition, praising an agreement the developer signed with community groups promising the creation of affordable housing. At the time of the agreement, Mr. de Blasio tasked himself with the job of policing the developer to follow through with his commitment. He stated, “It’s the responsibility of all of us, and especially of we elected officials, to ensure that it is scrupulously adhered to.”
Despite promising he would make sure the community benefits agreement was fulfilled, Mr. de Blasio has been silent while seven years have passed and the affordable housing has yet to come to fruition. During this same time period, he has taken thousands in campaign contributions from the project’s developer, Forest City Ratner, and his associates. In 2011, Bruce Ratner co-chaired a 50th birthday fundraiser for Mr. de Blasio.
“Like everything else in his campaign platform, Mr. de Blasio makes promises that he can’t or won’t fulfill,” said Mr. Lhota. “He talks a good game about the need for affordable housing and rails against private developers, but his actions have proved the exact opposite. He broke his promise to the taxpayers, capitulated to the developer and zipped his lips while taking thousands in campaign contributions. Is he going to be that easy to roll over as mayor?”
Even Mr. de Blasio’s political ally and presumptive successor in the public advocate’s office has been frustrated with his failure to deliver, stating “So many elected officials gave to that project and were instrumental in getting it financed,” said Letitia James. “Not one has made any comment with regard to the fact that New Yorkers and taxpayers were basically duped. And that includes the current public advocate, Bill de Blasio, and others.”

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