Skip to main content

Bertha Lewis and the G Project: not so credible (also, she claimed Ratner could build all market housing)

Is former New York ACORN head Bertha Lewis, one of Mayor Bill de Blasio's biggest supporters--and, of course, Forest City Ratner's key partner (and backer) on affordable housing, not credible?

City & State columnist Seth Barron convincingly makes that case in To G Or Not To G, an analysis of the "G Project"--Generation Project--organized by the Black Institute Lewis runs, regarding black immigration.

And that raises questions about a pattern in which Lewis has made not-so-credible statements regarding Atlantic Yards, as shown below in a previously unreleased video.

Pursuing a new agenda

The Black Institutes “action tank” has produced a video spot featuring de Blasio's wife Chirlane McCray, whose grandparent immigrated from Barbados, and children Dante and Chiara. Writes Barron:
Mayors’ wives and children do not typically endorse specific charities or nonprofits. Donna Hanover and Joyce Dinkins, the city’s previous two first ladies, appeared in occasional commercials on behalf of noncontroversial causes such as breast cancer or literacy, but rarely if ever on behalf of a specific organization tied so closely to a political associate of one of their husbands, nor one that takes a peculiarly ethno-nationalist approach to broad policy questions.
Lewis, co-founder of the New York chapter of the Working Families Party, and the former head of ACORN, created the Black Institute in order to promote issues of concern to African-Americans, including education, economic fairness and immigration. The language of the Black Institute’s website strikes a distinctly pre-post-racial tone, somewhat reminiscent of the Black Nationalist rhetoric of the 1970s.
Is Lewis out to lunch?

Barron notices a particularly incredible claim, then finds Lewis doubling down rather than backing off:
The website also makes the odd claim that “the African American vote for the first time exceeded the White vote in 2012,” a contention Lewis repeated last September in a speech before the Black Congressional Caucus, stating, “African-Americans outvoted white Americans. Oooh. That’s the fear of the white man.”
From The Black Institute 
In regard to the G Project’s implicit concern that black political power faces a decline in relation to growing Latino and Asian influence, Lewis stated unequivocally to City & State that blacks outvoted whites in the 2012 national election. Asked if she was speaking about the percentage of voter turnout among blacks, which was indeed higher than whites, Lewis said, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Darling, look it up. Black votes outnumbered white votes: More black people cast votes than white people.”

From the U.S. Census Bureau
According to the U.S. Census, in 2012 white non-Hispanics cast 98 million votes, blacks cast 17.8 million votes, and Hispanics cast 11.2 million votes.
Indeed, as shown at right, those facts are easily checkable.

The Advance Group connection

Barron discovers another tie between Lewis and the mayor:
It is interesting to note that the Black Institute shares office space with the prominent consulting firm the Advance Group, which has deep ties to Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and WFP candidates generally. Until her recent departure from the Advance Group, both the firm and the Black Institute had the same spokeswoman, Chelsea Connor, who handled press inquiries for both organizations. The Advance Group, run by Scott Levenson, made headlines recently for its campaign work in the 2013 elections, during which the firm apparently took campaign dollars from individual campaigns as well as from outside groups supporting the same candidates through independent expenditures. Assurances that there was no improper coordination of resources have been met with skepticism by some observers (and possibly regulators)
Levenson's bio on the Advance Group website mentions his previous work for Jesse Jackson, David Dinkins, Mark Green, and Ruth Messinger, but not his work as national spokesman for ACORN.

Unearthing a pattern?

It's not clear why Lewis had to simply make up the facts noted above. But it's a reminder that Lewis comes out of a theater background, and can appear to be be dramatically convincing when it serves her needs.

Consider her performance at a Community Board 2 meeting (I believe it was November 2004), filmed by the producers of the Battle for Brooklyn documentary. This was early during the public rollout of Atlantic Yards.

"I’m the executive director of New York ACORN and we have negotiated what we believe is the real jewel in this crown: not an arena, a 50/50 housing program, the only program of its type in this country," Lewis said, at the beginning of the video clip.


(Video from Battle for Brooklyn producers)

"No other developer has ever committed to 50% of their housing," she continued, praising Forest City Ratner. "As of right, which they could do, they could all do market housing, [but] 50% of it is affordable.

(Emphasis added)

Not true.

Forest City couldn't build housing in the first place on most of the site, since it was zoned for manufacturing.

Moreover, the part that was zoned for housing allowed only relatively small buildings. They couldn't build the giant Atlantic Yards project they were touting.

That's why Forest City needed a state override of zoning for Atlantic Yards, to allow housing, and to allow the bulk and density they wanted.

And Lewis helped rally public opinion and get them that override.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.