Saturday, August 31, 2013

Giant sculpture with "gritty vibrancy" arrives at Barclays Center, gets big promotion from Times Arts section (looks like mesa, flames, or gyro?)

Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times
Well, you can't blame the New York Times for glomming onto an exclusive, coverage of the new sculpture at the Barclays Center plaza, headlined (on the first Arts page) today, All Eyes on Her: ‘Ona,’ by Ursula von Rydingsvard, Arrives in Brooklyn, complete with an eight-photo slideshow.

After all, the Wall Street Journal got the exclusive preview in August, and it is worth explaining to the public.

But it's curious how the Times finds it easy to prominently cover this uncomplicatedly promotional story while ignoring, say, the impact of the MTV Video Music Awards on Prospect Heights neighbors or parent Forest City Enterprises' self-serving Corporate Social Responsibility report.

Or, as I wrote in April, distracting from the delays in delivering benefits such as subsidized housing or the jobs that were supposed to come with the office tower looming over the arena.

Consider: the sculpture likely cost less than $1 million, the upper end for one of von Rydingsvard's works. How many millions did developer Forest City Ratner save on real estate for the project, such as the cost of Pacific Street near the parking lot? Surely much more.

What does it look like?

From the article:
The piece has a bumpy, richly textured surface flecked with earth tones, and its shape can evoke the rocky outcroppings of a Western mesa or stylized flames, depending on your point of view.
Commenter Eric McClure suggests it looks like a gyro.

Some excerpts

From the article:
Just before midnight on Thursday, a truck pulled up in front of Barclays Center in Brooklyn with a nearly 12,000-pound delivery: a monumental cast-bronze sculpture called “Ona,” which means “she” or “her” in Polish.
A crane was standing by, and, as dozens of people looked on, it lifted the 19-foot-high abstract sculpture into place, right under the Center’s distinctive “oculus” overhang. By sunrise on Friday, “Ona,” by the artist Ursula von Rydingsvard, was greeting surprised passers-by.
...Ms. von Rydingsvard, who was born in Germany to Polish and Ukrainian parents, said that this prominent new public art was meant to be “democratic,” and that it was placed to face people as they emerged from the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center transit station.
“You don’t have to pay a fee or enter a museum, and no guard will tell you not to touch it,” she said, adding: “I would actually love people to touch it. The acid from fingers polishes it, like the Buddhas getting their bellies rubbed.”
...Like the Brooklyn brand, which has become famous the world over, it is self-consciously and deliberately rough-edged, and yet still something of a luxury product. (Barclays Center executives declined to disclose the project’s cost.)
The article goes on to discuss the evolution of Brooklyn as a place for public art, how Ona was built, and whether visitors will pay attention. And Forest City General Counsel David Berliner, the arena's art maven, was on message:
“It’s also the work itself,” Mr. Berliner said. “It is very powerful, it has an elegance, but it is very tough, and that is also very reflective of Brooklyn — it’s got a gritty vibrancy.”

Friday, August 30, 2013

Isn't that special: anonymous missive from not-invited MTV thanks locals for being "exceptionally kind hosts" for VMAs

From Atlantic Yards Watch
Isn't that special: MTV yesterday sent a message (below) to various officials and residents in and around Prospect Heights, Brooklyn:
"We'd like to extend our sincere thanks for playing host to MTV in your beautiful neighborhood over the past week. You were exceptionally kind hosts and we are grateful for your gracious hospitality."
As with previous MTV missives regarding the Video Music Awards, the letter was unsigned by a named human being.

Of course, the residents weren't exactly hosts--they didn't invite MTV, but rather had MTV's presence imposed on them, with no public meetings involving MTV and the city's office of broadcast/tv/film.

And MTV somehow didn't acknowledge the reports on Atlantic Yards Watch (excerpted above) about the imposition on the community, including threats from a visitor, a garden trashed, lots of illegal idling/parking, and garbage left behind.

Then again, the Dubai Mini Mart at the corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, according to the Daily News, is hawking a piece of the red carpet on Ebay. (Its business suffered, since most people just wanted the bathroom.)

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.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Forest City Enterprises' first Corporate Social Responsibility Report gets Atlantic Yards wrong, ignores Ridge Hill, omits data on campaign contributions, displacement, government assistance

Forest City Enterprises, parent of Forest City Ratner, on Aug. 27 released Built on Purpose, its first Corporate Social Responsibility Report. According to the press release:
Forest City Enterprises, Inc., (NYSE: FCEA and FCEB) today announced that the company has released its first Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Report. Titled "Built on Purpose," the report received an Application Level B in accordance with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) G3.1 Guidelines. GRI is the leading global framework for CSR reporting.
Such technical gobbledygook doesn't tell us anything, but the report, according to the press release, "highlights Forest City's many significant accomplishments, including:
  • More than 30 LEED-certified buildings completed or planned
  • Associate contributions totaling more than $630,000 to the United Way in 2012
  • $6 million in energy efficiency savings since 2011
  • Over six megawatts of renewable power capacity installed
What's missing: click to enlarge
The document (full report) highlights Forest City Ratner's contributions after Superstorm Sandy, as well.

What's missing

The report offers one page on Atlantic Yards, with information that is oddly stale and misleading, as I'll describe below.

More importantly, there are certain aspects of the Global Reporting Initiative Guidelines that Forest City chooses to ignore, and they touch on some of the most sensitive aspects of a corporation that relies on public-private partnerships:
  • Total value of financial and in-kind contributions to political parties, politicians, and related institutions by country.
  • Operations with significant potential or actual negative and positive impacts on local communities.
  • Prevention and mitigation measures implemented in operations with significant potential or actual negative impacts on local communities.
  • Number of persons voluntarily and involuntarily displaced and/or resettled by development, broken down by project.
  • Significant financial assistance received from government. 
What's missing: click to enlarge
Does this have to do with "Application Level B"? Can't tell. But it's a major gap.

What about corruption?

Also note "no reported incidents of corruption during the [2012] reporting period." Well, in 2012, there happened to be a big corruption trial regarding Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill project in Yonkers.

The company was not charged, but its ethics were questionable.

As I reported, Forest City's agreement to pay a fixer after he got a City Council Member to change her vote, however legal, sounded close to a violation of parent Forest City Enterprises' Code of Legal and Ethical Conduct, which warns against any “bribe, kickback or other improper payment.” (Both the fixer and the ex-lawmaker were convicted of corruption.)

Regarding Atlantic Yards

The page (below) regarding the Atlantic Yards project begins:
The $4.9-billion Atlantic Yards project is one of the most important public/private development initiatives in New York City today. This groundbreaking 27-acre, mixed-use project will create a vibrant, sustainable, 24/7 destination featuring a new home for the Brooklyn Nets, office space, housing, open space and substantial community benefits. Situated in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn, at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, the project’s 17 buildings will span more than seven city blocks. The Barclays Center, a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose, 18,000-seat sports and entertainment venue brings the Nets and major professional sports back to Brooklyn. To help meet the City’s need for housing, Atlantic Yards will create more than 6,400 mixed-income residential units; 2,250 of the rental units will be designated for low- and middle-income families. The plan also includes 247,000 square feet of retail and eight acres of public open space.
Um, the site is 22 acres, not 27. The arena begins at the edge of Downtown Brooklyn and backs into Prospect Heights, with the rest of the project (except for Site 5) clearly in Prospect Heights. Atlantic Yards won't "create" anything on its own.

The document states:
In the coming year, Forest City will proceed with site preparation including the demolition of existing structures, the construction of a temporary storage yard for the MTA/Long Island Railroad, and the relocation and upgrading of public and private utilities.
Hello, the arena's open. Doesn't anyone in the Cleveland office update the file?

The document states:
History and Culture:
Forest City signed a historic, legally-binding Community Benefits Agreement [CBA] to ensure significant, on-going participation in the project by community stakeholders.
Local Economic Benefits:
An economic engine for Brooklyn, New York City and the State, Atlantic Yards will generate over $5.6 billion in new tax revenues over the next 30 years.
The project will also create thousands of new jobs: 15,000 union construction jobs, up to 6,400 permanent office jobs, as well as arena, retail and residential jobs.
Philanthropy: click to enlarge
The CBA has been significantly discredited, given the developer's failure to hire an Independent Compliance Monitor, the moribund nature of several signatories, and the closing of BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development).

The "economic engine" is based on a report Forest City paid for, which is based on a configuration that doesn't exist.

The projection of office jobs is based on a now-abandoned configuration of the project. The projection of construction jobs is based on a now-abandoned plan, preceding the modular plan.

About philanthropy

The document states:
Forest City’s commitment to investing in our communities is reflected both by our volunteerism and by our philanthropic contributions. We are known for our generosity.
We invest philanthropically because we care about the success of our communities. This demonstrates to our communities that we know we are linked together in a shared future. We see returns in our social license to operate, acceptance within our core market areas, and the success of our development projects.
  • To support our commitment to diversity and inclusion, Forest City gave approximately 8% of overall charitable giving to support organizations targeting multicultural needs.
  • Super Storm Sandy caused unprecedented flooding and damage to the east coast of the United States. Forest City associates donated their time, talent and treasure to help their colleagues, neighborhoods and cities fight back from devastation of the storm. When you add in Forest City’s matching corporate donation, along with donations from our Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) associates in New York, our total giving to the American Red Cross was more than $55,000.
  • In New York, associates donated $7,380 to four different local charities involved in relief efforts with Forest City matching donations dollar for dollar.
  • FCRC, along with Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets, donated $100,000 each to the Brooklyn Recovery Fund.
That does seem generous, but... without any information regarding the company's spending on lobbying, p.r., and campaign contributions,  we really don't get to see the full picture of the developer's public presence.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In 35th District, Jobs for New York spending provokes "No 2 Cumbo"; video shows candidate saying "blow the whistle" on PAC spending (though she didn't until pushed)

From The Real Deal; click to enlarge
The impact of the Jobs for New York political action committee (PAC) on City Council primary races, including the race to succeed Letitia James in Brooklyn's 35th District, is profound.

For 11 Council candidates, independent spending by the PAC--represents from 88% to 404% of the money the candidates have been able to spend themselves, as The Real Deal reported.

For example, the seven fliers touting 35th District candidate Laurie Cumbo, as reproduced at bottom, represent spending of nearly $80,000, as of Aug. 9. That's 95% of Cumbo's own spending.

Jobs for New York has become the central issue in the 35th District Democratic primary Sept. 10, which is tantamount to election. Each of Cumbo's four rivals last week issued tough criticism at a debate, as described below and in Daily News coverage.

The PAC is funded exclusively by members of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), which, among other things, seeks a development-friendly council. Tenants PAC treasurer Michael McKee calls Jobs for New York a REBNY front: "reprehensible people who would eliminate tenant rights.”

Jobs for New York offers much bang for the buck. Typically, candidates don't spend money on direct mail until they write checks for office spaces, fundraising, staff, petition-gathering and more.

Jobs for New York, however, has put most of its money into mailings, which don't disclose the role of REBNY. And it has not even spent a quarter of the money it's raised, which is why it's been sending door-to-door canvassers on behalf of Cumbo (photo at right).

PAC role key

Tenants PAC, which said it wouldn't endorse any candidate receiving Jobs for New York funds unless they repudiated it, recently endorsed 35th District candidate Ede Fox.

Cumbo, already the leading fundraiser, has the most endorsements, including the United Federation of Teachers, the Working Families Party, and 1199 SEIU. Fox, second in fundraising, recently picked up the Citizens Union and StreetsPAC. Olanike Alabi has the support of DC37, the city's largest public employee union, as well as some prominent ministers.

While Cumbo belatedly issued requests for Jobs for New York to stop supporting her campaign, Jobs for New York has since paid not only for canvassers but also polling on behalf of Cumbo, according to rivals.

Cumbo has moved from "respectfully" asking the PAC to stop to denouncing it. "This is horrible," Cumbo told DNAinfo yesterday. "Their so-called support of my campaign has done more harm than good in the community."

From her rivals' perspective, however, Cumbo can't lose: she now can profess opposition to the PAC, while gaining incalculable advantage from the spending on her behalf.

Negative advertising and misleading record

From Jobs for NY mailing
Perhaps, as in the neighboring 36th District, Jobs for New York will soon start negative advertising, sending mailers slamming its preferred opponent's rivals.

Jobs for New York also has misleadingly described Cumbo as a "small business owner"--a term she herself has used (in the present tense) at forums, and on her website under the confusing term "small business owner working in the not-for-profit sector."

That's untrue on two counts. First, though Cumbo had to meet a budget and manage employees at  the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA), it's a non-profit organization, reliant far less on customer revenues than on fund-raising from government, business, and foundations.

Second, she left MoCADA at the end of last year. (Oddly, there's no mention on the MoCADA web site that James Bartlett was hired nearly a year ago as executive director.)

From Cumbo's web site
Cumbo's record as founder of MoCADA--a significant addition to the district and borough--is impressive enough to have generated considerable support from the arts and nonprofit communities, among others. So it's curious that's she and Jobs for New York have to distort it.

A video surfaces

An anonymous Cumbo critic recently circulated a video of her urging people to "blow the whistle" on Jobs for New York support--an implicit contrast with her belated, initially friendly response.

Someone using the email account "Partners 4 Progress" and the subject line "No 2 Cumbo" circulated the video below (which I posted on YouTube) of the candidate clearly denouncing Jobs for New York when asked at a June 5 forum if her campaign would accept support.

(It's a sneaky tactic to send the video in that way--surely, one or more of Cumbo's opponents are involved--but the tape speaks for itself.)

"I would say the strength of my campaign that we have raised funds from over 700 contributors," Cumbo said. "I would ask you as a community... to make sure that you blow the whistle when you see candidates that are receiving that type of money, that you don't support candidates that are engaging in that type of activity. Because when you stop it, then that's when that type of activity ends, and we end the theory that money dictates the entire race."

"I'm glad you said that, sis," followed up skeptical sounding rival Jelani Mashariki.

At a debate

Cumbo's rivals have been piling on.

Jobs for NY mailer for Cumbo; full document at bottom
"To have a PAC infuse over $80,000 into this race is disgusting, and it shouldn't be tolerated," stated Occupy veteran Mashariki at an Aug. 21 debate held at the St. John Fire Baptized Holiness Church in Clinton Hill. "My main issue... is that the people who built Brooklyn should be able to stay in Brooklyn. REBNY would never be backing me, of course.... It's a quid pro quo system that they're engaging in."

REBNY likely wouldn't back Mashariki, who directs a men's shelter in Bed-Stuy, but that didn't stop Jobs for New York using nearly the same rhetoric in a mailing for Cumbo, right.

(Cumbo's housing platform surely sounds progressive, though rivals charge she'd owe developers too much. Though housing represents a fraction of her platform, it was the sole subject of two of her seven Jobs for New York mailers, as well as a key component of a third mailer, at bottom. Based on their websites, Mashariki and Fox pay the most attention to housing and development. Here are links to the platforms of Alabi, and F. Richard Hurley.)

Ede Fox
"Jobs for New York represents an organized, concerted effort to take away the diversity of New York City, and push working and poor people out," declared former Council aide Fox at the debate, suggesting that Crown Heights complexes like Tivoli Towers and Ebbets Field Houses "are very vulnerable."

"I think housing is the issue that is pressing in the 35th Council District," continued Fox, a member of Community Board 8. "If we're unable to talk about housing, and real plans for creating and preserving affordable housing, then we are out of touch."

With a dig at Cumbo, who stresses the community impact of MoCADA, Fox added, "If you don't have a place to live, nothing else matters, no after-school programs, no arts, nothing."

Richard Hurley
"I said from the very beginning, If you build in Brooklyn, you must hire from Brooklyn," added attorney Hurley, who stresses his Crown Heights civic work, including finding jobs for wayward youth.

Hurley, noting that Jobs for New York never asked Cumbo's permission, observed, "To some extent, it's unfair to Laurie. But at the same time... you have to publicly come out and say, Listen, I don't want any of your money, I don't want anything to do with you."

Alabi, a former District Leader and Assembly candidate with a long political history in the 35th, also criticized Jobs for New York, but came late to the debate.

Jobs for New York has union components, but is funded entirely by the real estate industry, though that's hardly clear from its mailers for Cumbo, which mention other endorsers of the candidate.

At one point in the debate, Mashariki pressed Fox on her endorsement by the United Food and Commercial Workers, a component of Jobs for New York. Fox countered the union hadn't funded the PAC. (As noted by Council Member Brad Lander, all Jobs for New York board members are connected to REBNY.)

Olanike Alabi
Alabi and Fox may be Cumbo's strongest rivals, though, with no public polls, it's tough to predict. Also influential, of course, are door-to-door campaigning and get-out-the-vote efforts.

An absent target

Cumbo didn't attend the debate--she told the Daily News she had another obligation, though debate organizer Schellie Hagan, who once contributed to Cumbo, suggested on Patch that Cumbo was evasive:
On July 25th we invited the five candidates on the same email to the FIRST & ONLY debate of the campaign. By the next day four candidates had confirmed for August 21st, one of three nights we suggested. Laurie didn't answer. We wrote her again to say if she had a conflict for the 21st, we would go for another night when all five could be aboard. She didn't respond.
The week before the debate, we contacted her campaign manager, reissuing the invitation. He wrote back saying she wouldn't be able to come due to "a prior commitment made a month ago."
We wrote to Laurie herself: Why didn't you tell us you were already booked a month ago for the 21st when we wrote you a month ago? (Whoops!)
The debate was well attended and achieved what we were looking for in liveliness, audience interaction and impressive argument and oratory from candidates Richard Hurley, Ede Fox, Jelani Mashariki and Olanicke [sic] Alabi -- but the most powerful statement of all was Laurie Cumbo's: An empty chair.
It's plain Laurie Cumbo intended to blow off the debate. In a little church full of little people. She didn't need them.
Cumbo may recognize she gains little from being a target. Instead, she's been stressing recent endorsements from Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clarke, and Assemblyman Walter Mosley.

Disproportionate role

However disproportionate Jobs for New York's role, it likely will have even more impact.

As of the most recent filing deadline, Aug. 9, the PAC had raised $6.3 million from large real estate companies but spent only $1.35 million. It may spend up to $10 million. The key is the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the door to unlimited PAC spending on behalf of--though not directly to--a candidate.

Though there's no city ceiling on independent expenditures, Jobs for New York has said it would follow by state contribution limits, $150,000 from individuals. In New York, LLCs are considered individuals, and multiple contributions from different LLCs controlled by the same company can be a force multiplier.

But there's a $2,750 limit for individuals, companies, and unions to a Council race, and that limit is cut to $250 if the company does business with the city.

As noted by Crain's, Jobs for New York can't work with campaigns, but, based on research, supports "candidates who we think are most likely to support the issues that are important to us," according to a consultant working with the group. The largest contributors to Jobs for New York so far:

This week, Council Member Brad Lander suggested a reform, as reported by Crain's and the Daily News, including closing "the LLC loophole," requiring that such independent expenditures, as in Connecticut, require the identity of the top five donors to be listed, and requiring a disclosure statement on each communication. This would apply not only to Jobs for New York but any other such PAC.

Cumbo's shifting responses

While some candidates receiving support from Jobs for New York have embraced it, others have had more complicated reactions. The Real Deal reported that Cumbo "asked the group on July 29 to stop spending on her behalf, the campaign said."

The Daily News was somewhat tougher, saying she "swore off the group last month, but only after it had poured $80,000 into campaign literature for her bid."

As I reported in my Brooklyn Bureau article about the 35th District race, Cumbo only responded after public criticism was raised by Patch blogger Gib Veconi (a Fox supporter), and her initial response was quite welcoming to Jobs for New York and its component groups.

July 30
Cumbo's first public statement, on July 30, appeared on Facebook and in a message to her mailing list titled "Setting the Record Straight."

"Yesterday, the Jobs for New York PAC announced their official round of endorsements," she said, adding that  she had "officially and respectfully asked JOBS NY to immediately discontinue spending any independent funds in support of my campaign."

Cumbo also expressed enthusiasm for the support: "I thank JOBS NY for its excitement and belief in this campaign and I look forward to working with its various constituencies as your next City Council Member."

(As noted by Politicker, though Jobs for New York was founded as a counterweight to the Working Families Party, in its quest to support expected winners, it wound up endorsing some candidates, including Cumbo, who have the WFP nod.)

Fox was the first rival to lob criticism:
After receiving tens of thousands of dollars from Jobs for New York for glossy slick brochures claiming her as their candidate, Ms. Cumbo now wants to disavow any association with them. It's just too little too late.
(Actually, Cumbo did not receive any contribution, since the PAC makes independent expenditures.)

Alabi commented that "denouncing Jobs for New York after 5 mailings is disingenuous."(In comments on her blog, check out some spirited accusations from some pseudonymous supporters of various candidates.)

Cumbo later that day issued a statement titled "Cumbo Calls on Jobs for New York PAC to Discontinue Support of Campaign, omitting the statement of thanks and how she was looking forward to working with its various constituencies.

Aug. 5
After further criticism surfaced, Cumbo, on Aug. 5, issued a more strongly headlined statement (right), "demanding" that REBNY stop spending in support of her campaign.

Last week Our Time Press quoted Cumbo:
“They are an independent body doing what they want to do and their support has no bearing on how I will function as a City Council member in January, but also at the same time I look forward to working with REBNY members for organic development that’s in the best interest of the community.”
I'm not sure REBNY is known for "organic development."

On Aug. 26, DNAinfo described Cumbo--presumably based on an interview--as "an unwelcome recipient of Jobs for NY’s support. which she said is 'undermining the democratic process.'"

Cumbo said she supported Lander's bill. “Our campaign was moving full-speed ahead,” Cumbo told DNAinfo. “Now I have to answer questions every time I walk out my house, did I receive $80,000 from the Real Estate Board... And the answer is no. I have no control over what they do.”

A response from Fox

Fox wrote Aug. 26:
JOBS FOR NY has come to Brooklyn and endorsed my opponent Laurie Cumbo. They support her because her platform is an artsy version of the Bloomberg legacy – building a mix of luxury, market rate and affordable housing and promoting tourism. The real estate industry also talks about a “mix of luxury and affordable housing.” In reality, this has meant our tax dollars going to luxury housing at the expense of affordable housing.
I speak forcefully about this because it is the central issue in the district I am running in.
Or, perhaps, Jobs for New York endorsed the candidate who had a good chance to win and whose platform, if not congruent, was less unacceptable than some others.

Forest City/Atlantic Yards role?

It should be noted that Forest City Ratner is not a contributor to Jobs for New York. All the candidates, including Cumbo, have criticized Atlantic Yards, though she's indicated more of a willingness to negotiate for benefits.

While no one from Forest City has given to her campaign, Cumbo did get $500 in contributions from construction executive Joe Coello, who also heads an essentially inactive Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement signatory, Brooklyn Voices for Children.

Criticism of Jobs for New York, via Cumbo's consultant

The criticism from Cumbo's rivals regarding Jobs for New York pales in comparison to criticism aired by some other Brooklyn Council candidates, who, curiously enough, are represented by the Advance Group, the same political consulting firm that represents Cumbo.

For example, 48th District candidate Igor Oberman called rival Ari Kagan "a hypocrite, having promoted an affordable housing agenda, he is now taking money from an organization dedicated to destroying rent stabilization laws."

John Lisyanskiy, a candidate in the 47th District, said that, now that candidate Mark Treyger "is bought and paid for, he will surely become a yes-man puppet for ruthless real estate interests."

Presumably if the Advance Group were representing a Cumbo rival, she might be dubbed a "puppet for ruthless real estate interests."

The No 2 Cumbo effort

The pseudonymous Partners 4 Progress email seeks a candidate "who believes in responsible development, who will stand up to the real estate industry and who will serve as our voice, not the voice of rich people who see our neighborhoods as dollar signs."

As strategy, the message seems preliminary. With four candidates besides Cumbo, simply voting "No 2 Cumbo," as two emails have stated, runs the risk of having the "No" votes canceling each other out.

So we'll see if there are any attempts to narrow the field. In the Queens Borough President race, two candidates dropped out.

Cumbo on the High Road?

Cumbo recently issued a statement about avoiding negative attacks:
Taking the High Road has its challenges… It means staying positive and focused on the issues even when other candidates are tearing down your posters, making false accusations about your character, training young people to go door to door to talk about you negatively, sending negative emails about your campaign and pitching negative stories about you to newspapers... The challenge with negative campaigns is that it distracts the voters from the real issues that matter.
Cumbo has a point, but the statement's also disingenuous.

Surely Jobs for New York is one of "the real issues" in the campaign, especially if--to quote a statement circulated by the Advance Group--it's "dedicated to destroying rent stabilization laws." And Jobs for New York, which is responsible for negative mailings in the 36th and, as Alabi has suggested, for a negative push poll in the 35th, sure isn't taking the high road.

Also, as more than one rival charged at the Aug. 21 debate, Cumbo's own supporters have been tearing down rivals' posters.

Cumbo's on stronger ground when criticizing a couple of articles in the New York Post apparently planted by a rival, Key aide to top contender in B'klyn council race asked to resign over 'ghetto' Facebook rant, claimed in vulgar post 'The south shall rise again!!!!!!!!' and then Pol’s bleeping aide rises again.

I'm not sure private Facebook posts by a temporary campaign worker, no matter how dumb and damning, touch on the "real issues."

Cumbo wrote on Facebook about how her campaign first asked for the aide's resignation, then "decided that doing so would continue to leave a gapping [sic] hole in educating our community. Alternatively, I accept this as a challenge and a teachable moment for my campaign team and our community."

Or, perhaps, she needed his expertise and/or didn't want him to go work for someone else.

What about Fox's complaint, hyped in the Daily News as "Art scandal rocks" Council race, that Cumbo's campaign under-reported the value of art donated for a fundraiser?

The Daily News quoted one expert as saying the Campaign Finance Board already ruled that such tactics are OK, while another speculated that the board might revisit its ruling. So it seems to adhere to the letter of the current law, even if it stretches the law's spirit.

Cumbo's Jobs for New York mailers

Will there be any more mailers by Jobs for New York on behalf of Cumbo?

We can't be sure, because Jobs for New York hasn't answered questions, but given the ongoing canvassing, it's likely. Even if they're not sent by the next filing deadline, Aug. 30, it's quite possible there will be a flurry in the final moments of the campaign.

The 120 or so mailers sent out by Jobs for New York for its suite of 19 Council candidates seem generic. They mix and match platitudes about progressive policy. Everyone sounds good. At the point, for most people, it's all about name recognition.

Cumbo mailer middle class, sent July 22, cost $14,061.40

Cumbo mailer housing, sent July 24, $14,061.40

Cumbo mailer health, sent July 26, cost $5454.96

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Prospect Heights verdict on the VMAs pre-show: "block party to end all block parties" or locals "soured to the experience"? (and clean-up unfinished)

So, was the MTV Video Music Awards and pre-show at the intersection of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue "the block party to end all block parties," with surmountable hassles,  according to a report from International Business Times, Living Inside the MTV Awards, from the very exclusive territory of Dean just west of Sixth? (I was with the majority of locals east of Sixth on Dean.)

Or as reported, in No Sleep For Brooklyn: MTV VMAs Disrupt Neighborhood Surrounding Barclays, were residents "particularly soured to the experience and worried it would set an ugly precedent for future events of this scale"?
Pacific Street this morning, via AY Watch

Maybe both. A lot of people had mixed feelings--see 13 interviews of Dean Street residents, some pleased, some very frustrated--and for fans there was surely enough of a thrill to make it enjoyable. But Dean Street west of Sixth had much tighter security, so people there were not inundated by visitors nor (I believe) the same level of cheering, screaming extras on their sidewalks and stoops.

Also, neither article dealt with such things as the numerous limos idling on neighborhood streets, roaring down Dean Street after the show--or the delays in reopening and cleaning streets.

Pacific Street this morning, via AY Watch
Also, on the second morning after the event, as noted by Atlantic Yards Watch, much has yet to be cleaned up: "VMA Strike not complete french barriers, fencing, trash, barrier screen attached to Dean St park & other mtl remains for a 2nd day."

Not for everyone

And for those with little kids, it just wasn't fun. reported:
“It was a huge interruption to the community for what was essentially a 90-minute segment that they did,” Taniya Gunasekara, who lives on 6th Avenue between Dean and Bergen Streets with her 18-month-old son Walter, told “I had to call in late to work today (August 26) because it was not a good night for trying to get him to sleep.”

Gunasekara said that, while fans thronged and music pumped through the street, she had to remove the air conditioner in her toddler’s room and move a piece of furniture in front of the window there in order to block the noise. He usually falls asleep around 7 p.m. “We had to stop everything that we needed to do for our lives.” 
...Saturday night, when large lights were pointed at Gunasekara’s building, [Forest City Ratner's Ashley] Cotton came by her place offering window covering that would blackout the light. But the black cloth she received did not cover her windows. She also noted that the only flier she received was slid under her door on August 19, informing her of how to park cars during the event; badges would be provided to residents for parking in the Barclay’s lot.
Sixth Avenue this morning, via AY Watch
Gunasekara added, in response to my inquiry:
Personally I was offended by the way residents were treated. We did not get the simple curtsy from our local authorities (mayor's office or the PD) about any protocol as to what is needed to enter the block we live in/work at or visit friends. Sat and Sun night MTV had super bright lights pointed on Sixth Ave houses to use as their backdrop and set for the red carpet performance; and one of those lights were directly pointed at my son's (18 months old) bedroom and our bedroom. The consideration I got was 3 pieces of black cotton fabric that were too short to cover the windows. I had to move furniture to block the windows. My point really is that when big events (not every concert) take place that disrupt our lives I would like authorities, event organizers and most of all the Barclays Center to consider how our lives are impacted by them. They NEED to do a better job informing us and get better organized. They may just work here, but we LIVE here and we DESERVE better.
The neighborhood impact

Dean Street playground still has tarp, via AY Watch quoted Dean Street Block Association president Peter Krashes:
“It’s another example that, if an economic incentive exists, then the ability of the community to mitigate effects of the event lessens and lessens on behalf of the community,” Krashes said. “A lot of people had no choice during this event to either simply stay at home, to leave completely, or to go the event itself. There was no ability to move about the neighborhood.”
The arena defense:
On part of the Barclays Center, Ashley Cotton, a representative from the arena, said there were many lines of communication in place, including two letters that went out into the community and a hotline and email for locals to contact. She also mentioned community meetings for dean street residents, lots of one on one meetings and calls, the regular Atlantic Yards quality of life meeting, Barclays Reps going to local meetings, and a representative available 100 percent to answer questions.
Dean Street at Sixth Avenue, via AY Watch
Two letters from MTV, with no name behind them. One community meeting for select residents at the Newswalk building. "One on one meetings" don't do much. One not so informed Barclays rep at the Quality of Life meeting and a Dean Street Block Association meeting.

Krashes told that the information was inconsistent, which it was.

The concert, and concert noise

The article quoted me: "But it’s fair to say there was never any announced plan for a concert outside on the southeast corner of the arena block, right across from people’s houses.”

I spoke before the event, and was referring to the admission that there would be "concert-loud noise." offered this response:
A source close to the issue, who asked to be cited anonymously, said on Saturday that complaints about “an unannounced concert” outside the arena on the day of the event are not relevant, because there was no concert, categorically. Rather, DJ duo Nervo were behind the decks, on a platform above the red carpet near the 6th Avenue and Dean Street intersection.
“There will be a DJ playing music during the red carpet and a singer briefly performing,” the source said. “To call it a concert would be inaccurate, and it is the policy of our office that these types of events are not pre-announced to prevent crowds from forming. It is the best interest of public safety that this so-called concert is not publicized as it would be imprudent for crowds to gather for a non-existent concert.”
Dean Street, via AY Watch
No rebuttal, or video from the event, was offered.

It wasn't a concert, but it was definitely concert-loud, for hours, and they didn't tell anyone about that until the week of the event, and they didn't mention the screaming extras. Check out Austin Mahone's appearance here.

"It is the best interest of public safety that this so-called concert is not publicized as it would be imprudent for crowds to gather for a non-existent concert.”

That's Orwellian, almost.

Everyone knew the pre-show would be live at Dean and Sixth. The cops barricaded the neighborhood. Crowds would not have gathered beyond the substantial crowds organized by MTV. The issue isn't whether it was "publicized." The issue is whether neighbors were substantially informed.

Isn't it suspicious that the "source" wouldn't be quoted by name?

Brooklyn Paper on Atlantic Yards sale quotes DePlasco: "“The delays were caused primarily by the multiple lawsuits that were brought against the project" (sure)

The Brooklyn Paper, which once upon a time had skeptical/oppositional Atlantic Yards coverage, today offers Atlantic Yards goes public! Ratner puts a major chunk of the project on the chopping block, but vows to keep control, following up on news that broke last week.

The key paragraph:
“The delays were caused primarily by the multiple lawsuits that were brought against the project,” said company spokesman Joe DePlasco.
My comment:

In 2009, Forest City decided to renegotiate settled deals with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to allow a 21-year purchase schedule for the Vanderbilt Yard and Empire State Development Corporation to allow a 25-year buildout. Could the culprit have been Forest City's unrealistic projections?
Said Chuck Ratner, then-CEO of Forest City Enterprises, in 2007, "We’re very good at estimating markets, we’re very good at estimating rents, at estimating lease-ups, and estimating costs. We are terrible, and we’ve been a developer for 50 years, on these big multi-use, public private urban developments, to be able to predict when it will go from idea to reality. All we know is that if we pick the right place and we’re in with the right people, that over time we’re going to create tremendous value."
And Bruce Ratner claimed in 2010, according to the WNYC, regarding the 10-year timetable: “That was really only an analysis as to what the most serious impacts [would be], if all the other planned development in downtown Brooklyn happened right away,” Ratner says. “It was never supposed to be the time we were supposed to build them in.”
WNYC, with a wee bit more skepticism than the (current) Brooklyn Paper, pointed out, "But the 10-year-timeline was also used by the city, state and Ratner’s own consultant to determine that the financial benefits to the public outweighed the roughly $300 million in direct subsidies the project is receiving."
In November 2011, he talked up his firm’s plan to build the world’s tallest pre-fabricated towers, an innovative, risky, and money-saving tactic, one that initially infuriated construction workers who’d aggressively rallied for Atlantic Yards.
The Wall Street Journal, without raising an eyebrow, in 2011 reported Ratner’s rationale for modular construction: “that the existing incentives for developments where half the units are priced for middle- and low-income tenants ‘don't work for a high-rise building that's union built.’”
Of course, that’s exactly what Ratner proposed and the state approved--twice.
Also, you didn't mention the ongoing pressure from the pending Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement.
Guess that's what happens when your sources are: FCR's Ashley Cotton, Chris Havens, Joe DePlasco. DePlasco works for Cotton's firm and Havens is philosophically on the same team.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The VMAs come to Brooklyn, with the pre-show at Sixth and Dean; limited access for locals, party atmosphere on Flatbush (plus video)

Photo and set by Tracy Collins
The MTV Video Music Awards came to the Barclays Center last night, with the pre-show red carpet event at the corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue shutting down those streets and requiring residents to go through police checkpoints--and, in some cases, to take a very indirect route to reach the subway or stores.

It was a mixed bag for locals, especially those on Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, the two streets that were shut off--Dean from Flatbush to Carlton Avenue, and Sixth from Bergen Street (more or less) to Atlantic Avenue.

The red carpet; photo by Norman Oder
Some enjoyed the pre-show from 8-9 pm, turning their apartments and sidewalks into a party, while others were frustrated by the intrusion of visitors and extras, including the failure of police or security guards to keep people off their stoops.

And here's a mostly enthusiastic take from a couple of reporters living literally across the street from the arena, on Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth avenues, saying the consensus was "this was the block party to end all block parties," and the hassles were surmountable, even if the celebrities were not all friendly.
A surreal event

But it truly deserved the descriptor surreal.

Photo and set by Tracy Collins
There were Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry and Austin Mahone gamboling on the red carpet--not the red carpet hugging the arena sidewalk, the strip that led through the faux Brooklyn Bridge next to the faux (gray) brick wall, to the stage that near the former location of the beloved (and relocated) Freddy’s Bar and Backroom.

This was the red carpet in the street, which led past the Dubai Mini Mart and Engine Company 219, with the low-rise brownstones and brick buildings indelibly signaling Brooklyn.

From the window of an apartment near that corner, the scene was the same, only louder, much louder. Roaring their approval were hundreds, maybe thousands, of orchestrated extras, mostly teens, plus some fraction of locals and the guests they’d eased past the police barricades.

So, were the extras/visitors screaming their heads off? Sure they were. And no, it was not explained that "red carpet activity" would include that screaming.
From MTV handout to neighbors
Below is the reaction to Miley Cyrus on the red carpet.

Below is the reaction to Austin Mahone on the red carpet.

Other coverage

Here's coverage of the overall show/scene from the Brooklyn Paper.

Here's Jody Rosen's review on NY magazine's Vulture, focusing on Miley Cyrus's "minstrel show."

Um, that's a photo of a TV broadcast reported:
By tapping the Barclays Center to host the awards program, MTV became the latest media giant to recognize and ratify what everybody in the New York metropolitan area knows: Brooklyn is on the rise. The network gave a bear hug to the borough, rounding up locals to dance to the performances and broadcasting clips of Brooklyn-based movies on the monitors between performances. Timberlake made good use of the full arena (including its elevators and concourses) during his mini-set.
Even the award itself was redesigned by a Brooklynite: artist KAWS, whose leaning Moon Man with X-ed out eyes took the place of the previous trophy
Voices from Dean Street

Photo and set by Tracy Collins
Crowds had gathered by the morning, before the cops clearing some people away, but by 6:15 pm everything was set:, the sidewalks were jammed with extras, the house music was pounding, and the crowd roared on cue, getting pumped for the big event.

For a good number of people on Dean Street, it was a party, inviting friends for exclusive views. Others scored free tickets in a last-minute goodwill gesture from the Barclays Center.

But another contingent of residents--as captured by block association president Peter Krashes on video (further below)--were frustrated by the inability to even cross the street, or by people congregating on their stoops. One resident reported she spent the afternoon repeatedly asking people to stay off her steps:

They were drinking and eating, and impeding the path of our tenants entering and leaving our building,
At one point, approximately 3:00, I asked a group of people "please don't sit on the steps." After having to repeat myself at least twice, one of them asked me if it was my house. I said yes, and again firmly said "Please don't sit on the steps". After they finally got up, a man in the group walked up to me and yelled that he didn't like the way I  told his daughter to "get off the steps", he said he didn't care if I lived there and I had no right to talk to them that way. I reminded him  that I had to ask several times for them to not sit on the steps before  they got up.

After ranting in a every aggressive and threatening manner, he insinuated that "maybe tomorrow he would come back and I wouldn't have a house any more, he would take care of that". A neighbor of mine stepped in and asked the man to back off and move away. As my neighbor is a man, and as the police came down the street at the same time, the man  left, gently escorted by the police.

...We were promised that only residents would be allowed on our street.
“The network gave a bear hug to the borough,” according to one report, citing the deployment of Brooklyn imagery and local extras. If so, it was a bear hug with limited outreach to those whose homes would provide such an authentic backdrop.

As Krashes observed, "the information about the number of people let into the block was significantly understated." Also, he said, "we were told they were going to bleachers... they were on people's stoops."

The aftermath

“Money talks,” observed a world-weary resident after the crowds had gone, as we surveyed litter on the sidewalk.

The view this morning (by AYInfoNYC)
MTV provided porta-potties for extras in the holding lot, but I heard several reports of visitors relieving themselves where they could or knocking on doors in desperation.) 

This morning, I'm told, the street clean-up is less than complete, and, though all streets were supposed to be open by midnight, that wasn't so.

After the show, money kept talking. Dean Street was still blocked off, except to admit an armada of limos that had double-parked on nearby streets. Then, after being waved in, those VIP vehicles zipped west down Dean--the wrong way, on this one-way street--past Sixth Avenue to the arena, picking up their precious cargo.

VIP vehicles

There were more idling and double-parked limos/vans on Prospect Heights streets waiting for the show to end than I'd seen for any other event, including Barbra Streisand and the Rolling Stones.

There was a line on Carlton Avenue, as noted in the video below.

In the video below, vehicles are being waved from Carlton onto Dean to go west--wrong way on the one-way street--to the arena.

This Atlantic Yards Watch report points to numerous examples across Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope.

Flatbush as mall

Here's another Atlantic Yards Watch report, regarding the east side of Flatbush Avenue:
On the east side of Flatbush  (by AYInfoNYC)
Versailles clothing store had a promotional party going on, tied in with the MTV awards, with amplified music blasting onto the street and a large, milling crowd partying on the sidewalk. One storefront over, at 198 Flatbush, they erected a photo backdrop and photographers (apparently hired by the store) were working from the middle of the sidewalk. The entire sidewalk was crowded to the point of impeding pedestrian traffic either physically or by intimidation (because of the large crowd, not because of any threats. It was a party atmosphere).
One visitor counted more than 50 vendors or promotional people handing out flyers and other souvenirs on Flatbush Avenue between Bergen and Dean Streets.

Neighbors on video

The resident in the video below was frustrated by the cops: "How many times do I have to show my ID for them to recognize that I live here?"

"Show some respect," said the interviewee below, noting he was frustrated at having to show ID numerous times. Note Krashes' observation:
Note: It was the Mayor's Office and MTV who did not attend any public meetings in advance of this event. Compared to the other entities involved in the planning of the VMAs, the local precinct was relatively accessible to the local Block Association.

NYPD was visible on the ground implementing the security plan for a production given wide latitude in the middle of a residential neighborhoods by Commissioner Oliver and the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment. Because they are on the ground, they end up being the focus of the criticism even though it is the Mayor's Office who approved MTV's plan.

This resident blamed MTV for an event that was "kinda like a shitshow... we accommodated them, and they did not accommodate us."

This resident said the strictures were "not too bad."

"We're giving up our lives for something I do not benefit from, at all," this resident said.

This resident said, "I felt like a prisoner, can't even go to my corner store."

Sunday, August 25, 2013

On Fifth Avenue, a landlord seeking Barclays boost jacks up rent

Well, it's tough to extrapolate from one anecdote, but Crain's concludes that Retailers wilting in Barclays Center's shadow

The Chocolate Room, which has operated its dessert cafe/retail outlet at 86 Fifth Avenue in Park Slope for ten years faces a $13,500 rent, but instead counteroffered $7,000, which suggests the proposed rent is more than double the current rent. The Chocolate Room may move.

Landlords believe the proximity of the arena justifies a rent hike, but The Chocolate Room, like many other retailers, haven't seen a spike in business. That said, there has been a spate of bars closer to the arena, so maybe The Chocolate Room's landlord will end up with a new tenant: a bar.

Before the MTV VMAs: employees go through metal detectors; red carpet at Dean/Sixth; trailers idling on Dean

Some videos shot early this afternoon during the set-up for the MTV Video Music Awards

Employees go through metal detectors on Flatbush Avenue, near Dean Street

Red carpet for pre-show viewed from Sixth Avenue below Dean Street

Red carpet at Dean Street east of Sixth Avenue

Trailers idling mid-block on Dean Street outside residences