Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lhota's charges against de Blasio on Atlantic Yards generate (vague) pledge from Democrat; Republican has own accountability issue regarding MSG

So, Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota garnered some headlines for his attack yesterday on Democratic front-runner Bill de Blasio's stance on Atlantic Yards, and though his charges were not all on point, he did drive home the fact that de Blasio has been quiet about developer Forest City Ratner.

Most of the subsequent articles turned into a he-said, he-said account, with de Blasio pointing to Lhota's apparent hypocrisy--the former MTA head did praise Atlantic Yards effusively last year--without adding that Lhota is trying to thread the needle and point to lapses since then.

Then again, Lhota last year could have pointed to delays in affordable housing as well as de Blasio's failure to criticize Forest City Ratner for failing to hire a compliance monitor for the Community Benefits Agreement.

The fact is, the delays do not violate state contracts, but de Blasio is vulnerable to not criticizing the failure of Forest City to meet the CBA's promises regarding affordable housing configuration in the first tower, which is under construction.

So his stance is partly expediency, though yesterday Lhota also pointed to a previously unmentioned episode that apparently hardened his stance toward the developer: Forest City's alleged near-default on promises to start the new railyard, an obligation that was deferred in 2012 and again this month.

And while it's certainly plausible for Lhota to suggest that Forest City Ratner's support has hindered de Blasio's criticism, it's equally plausible that de Blasio has backed off Atlantic Yards because of obligations to supporters like ex-ACORN head Bertha Lewis and her allies in the Working Families Party--another AY thread that most journalists haven't picked up (though WNYC's Matthew Schuerman did last month).

A blow to Lhota's stance on accountability

Also, Lhota's stance on accountability toward his old employer, Madison Square Garden, took a hit in a New York Times profile today:
The Lhota press conference, interestingly enough, was ignored in the Times, though I suspect it may come up in future articles.

The coverage: AP

Likely the most widely circulated article came from the Associated Press: Lhota: Atlantic Yards Developers "Bought" de Blasio, with the deck "Lhota said his opponent has not fulfilled promises to create affordable housing as part of the massive $5 billion Brooklyn project."
Lhota, the Republican nominee, tried to the move to the left of the liberal de Blasio, saying the Democrat has not fulfilled promises to create affordable housing as part of the massive $5 billion project, which includes the Barclays Center, the home of the Brooklyn Nets.
"Bill de Blasio has been all talk and no action when it comes to affordable housing," Lhota told reporters. "Bill de Blasio has been absolutely silent. He's been silent because he's been bought."
I'm not sure it's actually a "move to the left" but rather an effort toward accountability--though, as noted, Lhota has his own problems.

And Atlantic Yards should not be a proxy for affordable housing, because it's a single project based on a carefully negotiated contract with the state, rather than an overall city policy. It should be sufficient for Lhota to say de Blasio has been elastic and opportunistic," to quote NY magazine's Chris Smith

It was the latest in a string of attacks in recent weeks that Lhota has bombarded de Blasio with, including on such issues as public safety and charter schools. But Lhota has yet to make a dent in the Democrat's commanding lead in the polls.

The Democrat's pledge

The AP reported:
De Blasio, now the public advocate, voted for the project in 2006 while a city councilman. He acknowledged Monday that the affordable housing meant to be built as part of Atlantic Yards, which will also include commercial and office space, has fallen behind schedule. But he defended his role in supporting the project, which drew opposition from many local community groups.
"From the beginning of the process around Atlantic Yards, I have fought for maximum community benefits," said de Blasio, who said he has held the `"feet of the state and the developer to the fire" to push the housing though. "On my watch, it will happen."
Actually, de Blasio did not "vote for the project," since it didn't go through the city approval process. All he did was approve an overall city budget, with no line-item veto, that included subsidies for the project.

As to whether de Blasio has "fought for maximum community benefits" and has "held" anyone's feet to the fire, that demands follow-up. How? There's no evidence.

The toughest coverage: Daily News

Interestingly enough, the toughest article came from the New York Daily News, which (via other reporters) is generally generous toward Forest City Ratner. (The New York Post, which is more pro-Lhota, ran a brief article that gave de Blasio no chance to respond.)

The Daily News article was headlined Joe Lhota slams Bill de Blasio over being quiet on affordable housing in Atlantic Yards:
“He was silent because he was bought,” said Lhota, standing across the street from the gleaming Barclay’s Center, the anchor of the $5 billion development.
“The people who built the Barclay’s Center and promised to build all of the affordable housing have given contributions to him over and over again.”
As a City Council member from Brooklyn and then as the city’s Public Advocate, de Blasio bucked neighborhood opposition and supported the controversial project.
Ratner has received tax breaks and loans worth more than $760 million to build the project, which is supposed to include the 2,250 units of affordable housing. But nearly eight years after the project was approved, the first 181 affordable housing units won’t break ground until next year. And there is no concrete timetable for the other units.
Actually, the first building broke ground last year, but won't open til next year. The article says Ratner and associates "have raised more than $73,000 for de Blasio’s campaign," a total I hadn't previously found.

de Blasio's response, and a rebuttal

The article continued:
De Blasio on Monday acknowledged that the affordable units are “clearly behind schedule” and blamed “missteps by everyone involved.” He said “the city and state should have played a more active role.”
Contacted by the Daily News, neighborhood activists who’ve long opposed the project lashed out at de Blasio on Monday.
“Bill has not stuck his neck out at all on this,” said Candace Carponter, legal counsel for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the coalition of groups that has long opposed Ratner’s plan.
“Bill has been a complete political opportunist and has not stood up for his constituency.”
Well, de Blasio defines his constituency differently. But Daniel Goldstein, co-founder of Develop Don’t Destroy, was surely on point in saying,  “I don't expect a de Blasio administration to be very tough on Forest City Ratner.”

Other coverage

Capital New York ran Lhota accuses de Blasio, again, of being soft on Bruce Ratner, which cited Council Member Letitia James's criticism of Atlantic Yards and quoted Lhota as saying Community Benefit Agreements must have clawbacks.

Actually, that should be in the development agreement signed with public parties.

Politicker published Lhota Says Developers Have ‘Bought’ de Blasio’s Silence on Atlantic Yards, suggesting "Lhota tacked to the left." Actually, Atlantic Yards is less a left-right issue than about accountability.

The article ended with a quote from a de Blasio spokeswoman but no concrete statement from de Blasio about how he will make sure "Atlantic Yards delivers the affordable housing that was originally planned." As I've said, that could mean more subsidies.

Newsday published Joe Lhota: Atlantic Yards developers 'bought' de Blasio, noting tellingly, "Neither candidate detailed how they would hold the developer accountable."

There are carrots and there are sticks. One way to pursue accountability is to hold tight to the carrots, such as affordable housing subsidies, which are negotiable, as we have learned.

The importance of timing

Crain's reported on late-arriving real-estate industry contributions to de Blasio:
"Somewhere in de Blasio's camp, someone is keeping tabs on who gave what and when," one real estate source said. "And there is no chance whatsoever that money now is worth what money was in June when he was at 10% in the polls. That certainly applies to the late-arriving unions, as well businesses and some real estate. The real winners are the early endorsers and early donors. Buying de Blasio stock at its 52-week high isn't going to produce a bonanza of goodwill."
That would make early donor Bruce Ratner a winner.

Was Atlantic Yards the wrong issue?

No comments:

Post a Comment