Skip to main content

Orchestrating the grassroots: "agents of the city" document dump shows fevered response to my #DNC2016 op-ed

A pre-Thanksgiving document dump in response to a lawsuit from media outlets shows the consultant BerlinRosen and its co-leader Jonathan Rosen intimately involved with its client Mayor Bill de Blasio, which raises questions because the firm also represents firms doing business with the city, like Forest City Ratner, which then owned a majority share in the Barclays Center operating company.

Notably, the documents (posted in full by NY1) show BerlinRosen and mayoral advisors, in January 2015, feverishly responding to my online op-ed in the New York Times arguing against having the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Brooklyn, drafting op-eds, letters, and tweets from supportive public officials and business people.


"How many immediately surrounding local businesses can we get lte's [Letters to the Editor] in today?" wrote Rosen to colleagues and de Blasio advisors on 1/21/15, the day of my essay. "How many do we have ready to pitch a counter story to ny1 or another outlet - we need to isolate Norman and these groups?" (H/t Seth Barron.)

The term "these groups" surely refers to the newly formed Barclays Center Impact Zone Alliance (BCIZA), which expressed concern about the convention's local impact.

Interestingly, as with the letters that the Times did publish (in print), none of the responses directly responded to my point that "The convention would ripple farther than boosters admit." (Here's my take on those Times letters.) In the end, as I wrote last July, for NY Slant, de Blasio was probably glad the DNC didn't come to Brooklyn, given the protests and logistical challenges in Philadelphia.

Orchestrating the grassroots

BerlinRosen, as noted by the Post, "was being paid by the mayor’s nonprofit, Campaign for One New York to promote the city to the Democratic National Committee." It also represented the Barclays Center, the proposed venue, and developer Forest City Ratner.
As shown in the email string at left, BerlinRosen's Dan Levitan wrote, "Preference on our end to start for now with grassroots effort - letters to Times and comments to Dana Rubinstein at Capital -- a few tweets at her would be great too."

A little later, mayoral Chief of Staff Laura Santucci wrote, "Mayor just said he wants a counter op-ed too. Any reason not to do both?"

BerlinRosen's Andrew Friedman even suggested, "Is a joint Op-Ed from [Brooklyn Borough President] Eric Adams and [former BP] Marty Markowitz feasible? have them say that events of this magnitude are no problem for Brooklyn."

BerlinRosen worked fast. Later that day, as Levitan wrote to colleagues and mayoral advisors, the firm had drafted letters to the Times from several people, and were asking for "supportive tweets," gaining at least one quickly from the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District in Park Slope.

An op-ed signed by Adams and local businessperson Francine Stephens (of Franny's and BKLN Larder) was circulated, apparently rejected by the Times, and eventually published in the Daily News. Just as Midtown stays open for business during the week-long United Nations General Assembly every year, so too will Brooklyn during the four-day convention."

The fact was/is, no event of that magnitude had occurred successfully, and City Hall had not explained how many streets would have to shut down while Brooklyn stayed "open for business."

The Cumbo effect

The document dump reveals that Council Member Laurie Cumbo didn't quite deliver what City Hall wanted. "Can we get her to draft a LTE that we can give to the Times focusing on the community benefits?" Mayoral aide Chandan Sharma wrote.

Meanwhile, she was drafting an overblown 1,076-word op-ed, which somehow claimed, "Not selecting Brooklyn to host the Democratic National Convention would be a loss of insurmountable and epic proportions." a prediction that didn't exactly come true.

She also brought up an issue surely way off topic to City Hall: "Tragically, the brutal murder of NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, by a man who has a long history with mental illness, has brought the City of New York to a level of deep morning [sic] and reflection."

That got whittled down to a shorter letter claiming, "But since the arena opened, the Barclay’s Center [SIC] and the NYPD have done a tremendous job listening to and addressing community concerns. We have hosted some of the biggest events of the last few years with minimal disruption." Again, that avoided the question of the much larger ripple effect of such a convention. 

"We should be very sensitive to her version," wrote mayoral advisor Michael DeLoach at one point. "She has worked on it for a while and sent to many council members to edit/review. Fine with changes but we should try to be respectful -- she has great pride in authorship."

The mayor and Jason Collins

Another document shows de Blasio in March 2014 bringing up the optics of honoring Jason Collins, the Net who was the first (openly) gay player in the NBA. "Nets are back in bklyn tmrw -- first time since he signed. Do we want to do anything to honor him?" wrote de Blasio. "Cc'ing Rosen since he represents Barclay's Center."

Indeed, Rosen was wearing a couple of hats there. He suggested that de Blasio and son Dante "buying cheap regular guy tix up in the stands to watch and he tweets" during the first  etc. Big schedule commit obviously. Checking with Nets if they have anything else planned."

That apparently didn't happen, though de Blasio did welcome Collins in a tweet.

(Update: the New York Post. in De Blasio consultant reportedly used City Hall to promote clients, cited the above episode, among others, getting the deflective response from Rosen: aid, “Like all PR firms we regularly deal with the press offices of elected officials to coordinate scheduling, event logistics and to respond to information requests." Rosen did more than that, but rather suggested strategy.)

The coverage

From NY1's Grace Rauh, Mayor's Office Releases Hundreds of Pages of Emails Between de Blasio and 'Agent of the City' (which includes links to the document dump):
Jonathan Rosen's influence extends deep inside City Hall in ways more extensive than previously known.
New emails released by the mayor show Rosen is invited to major policy meetings and included in high-level internal discussions.
But while he may be treated like a top City Hall advisor, he is far from an official one. He runs an influential private consulting firm, BerlinRosen, with clients who have business before the city, including powerful real estate firms. And the state now considers some of the work he does to be lobbying.
From the Wall Street Journal, Mayor Bill de Blasio Releases Some Email Correspondence With Political Consultant:
The emails showed close ties between Mr. Rosen’s firm, BerlinRosen, and a number of city efforts, like a failed push to have the city host the Democratic National Convention and an unsuccessful effort to secure a tax increase for universal prekindergarten. Mr. Rosen frequently had access to top City Hall aides, including the budget director, the mayor’s top political aide, the mayor’s scheduler and a number of his top communications officials. His firm often corresponded with City Hall about clients or scheduling events.
In one email, Mr. de Blasio himself emails aides about Barclays Center, a Brooklyn basketball arena, and adds Mr. Rosen, telling his staff that Mr. Rosen represents the facility.
It showed BerlinRosen helping an effort to criticize other cities competing for the Democratic National Convention, particularly Philadelphia, which eventually won the bid.
From the New York Times, Emails Released by Mayor de Blasio’s Office Detail Reliance on Outside ‘Agents’:
While the emails do not provide new information related to the state and federal investigations into Mr. de Blasio’s fund-raising, they shed light on the details of assembling favorable commentary from those who are aligned with the mayor’s causes or have donated money to him. One email contained a list of hundreds of official “validators” — people who could be counted on for a good quote.
“Here’s who I am shooting for,” Ross Offinger, a fund-raiser for the mayor, wrote on January 2014 about providing a list of prominent real estate and business leaders. The list included donors and bundlers for Mr. de Blasio whom the mayor was going to contact in connection with the his universal prekindergarten program. The email went to the first deputy mayor, Anthony E. Shorris; two top aides; and Mr. Rosen.
“Can we take this off official thread please,” one of the aides, Peter Ragone, replied. (Mr. Phillips said that Mr. Ragone had been acting cautiously but that the conversation was “entirely appropriate for government email.”)
The New York Post's article, Lobbyist acted as member of de Blasio admin, email dump shows, shows the prominence of Bruce Ratner, who was listed as one of the four developer's already on-board:
A high-powered lobbyist was treated as a member of the administration and included in discussions with senior mayoral aides...
...Other email strings reflect the blurred lines between de Blasio’s fundraising operation and governing. In one string from Jan. 21, 2014, campaign aide Ross Offinger forwards a list of “real estate and business leaders “I am shooting for” to Wolfe, Shorris, Rosen and Ragone.
The list includes developers Bruce Ratner and Jed Walentas, as well as Gina and Tony Argento, whose company Broadway Stages is now being probed by the feds. Offinger was approaching them to raise money for de Blasio’s political non-profit Campaign for One New York, which is also under federal investigation.
After Offinger sent a list of more than a dozen potential donors to hit up, Ragone suggests that perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to communicate over official channels.
“Can we take this off official thread please,” he wrote.
From Politico NY, City Hall releases hundreds of pages of emails with top political consultant:
Rosen's staff consulted at length with City Hall over planning press conferences in which BerlinRosen clients were participating. Rosen also was involved in two of the mayor's early priorities: the successful effort to expand pre-kindergarten and the failed attempt to host the Democratic National Convention. In those cases, Rosen was also working for the mayor's now-defunct political organization, Campaign for One New York, which is under federal investigation.
More details

Preparing for a 1/30/15 visit to New York and Brooklyn by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, mayoral advisors and BerlinRosen staff discussed "flacking Celeste," or giving Daily News columnist Celeste Katz details on the visit, as she sought "anything like something she'll eat, whether barclays will be lit up with anything special on the jumbotron, anything like that -- story really needs a little more color."

According to the itinerary, when Schultz's "motorcade leaves Penn Station, Dan Gross will call [the Barclays Center's Terence] Kelly to turn on DNC sign at [the arena] oculus." After the Barclays Center tour, a community meeting at the Cubana Cafe in Park Slope was to include an o
verview of community outreach, including "acknowledgement and explanation of community opposition / concerns."

"Other major points to hit by TBD: ability to handle large scale events on a regular
basis, community experience in proximity to Barclay’s center," the memo said.


In another email, Rosen circulated the transcript of a Ratner interview on Bloomberg TV, in which the mogul defended the mayor's plan, as stated by the anchor, to "tax the rich."

"I don’t mind it – I can afford it," Ratner said. (My coverage of other aspects of the interview.)

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.