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Payback? Yassky asks City Council to give BUILD $3M to fulfill Ratner's CBA

It looks a lot like payback. Council Member David Yassky, the only white candidate (of four Democrats) in a heated campaign to win the open seat in the black majority 11th Congressional District, on May 7 announced the support of several community activists, including three signatories to the controversial Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement, or CBA. (None of the three, who are black, were identified in Yassky’s press release as associated with the organizations that signed the CBA.) Within ten days, Yassky filed a City Council Priorities Request asking taxpayers to send $3 million for job training to Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), the most controversial of the CBA signatories, which is headed by James Caldwell, one of those supporters at Yassky’s press conference. (Photo from

The proposal was quickly derided by fellow Council Member Letitia James, who called Yassky's move "pandering," and Bill Batson, chair of Community Board 8's Atlantic Yards Committee, who questioned Yassky's embrace of an untested organization.

The funding request, which includes a pre-apprenticeship program, a first source hiring program, an MBA intern initiative, and a technical assistance service for small businesses, was revealed at a CB8 meeting Thursday night by BUILD chief operating officer Marie Louis, a CB8 member. She asked board members to lobby Council Speaker Christine Quinn in support. (Click for a larger version.)

A Yassky spokesman was unwilling to discuss the request, but it appears to substitute for funds once expected of Forest City Ratner for the Atlantic Yards project, neither of which are named in the document. BUILD indicated in an Internal Revenue Service filing that it anticipated $5 million from the developer over two years. Once that document came to light, BUILD officials denied that the developer had supplied money, but later acknowledged receiving $138,000. [Update 6/12/06: A reader points me to the Community Benefits Agreement (p. 15), which states, regarding job training: The Project Developer and BUILD will work to seek and secure public and/or private funding for this program. Emphasis added.]

Asking for help

Commented Batson, “I’m quite shocked that a project that has no Community Board input and no city oversight is now requesting the Community Board to support the requesting of additional city money to a project that’s already oversubsidized.” While the document from Yassky’s office describing the “Community Benefits Catalyst Initiative” doesn’t mention the developer or the the Atlantic Yards project, the initiative's title seems a clear reference to the CBA.

The document claims, “BUILD has both the expertise and capacity to see this project through successfully.” However, BUILD has no actual experience in job development, and the New York Observer reported last December that representatives of other agencies doing such work were perplexed at BUILD’s inclusion in the CBA.

“Yassky’s association with BUILD is troubling,” said Batson, also a candidate for the open seat in the 57th Assembly District, which, like the 11th Congressional District, would include the Atlantic Yards footprint. “Hasn’t he looked at their track record? They don’t have one."

Besides symbolic help, BUILD may offer Yassky some political connections; its office last year was a hub of political work, and there has been overlap between BUILD staffers and an organization called Community Leadership for Accountable Politics.

AY posture

Regarding the Atlantic Yards project, Yassky has straddled the fence, sometimes vague enough to confuse reporters. Last September he called for the project to be scaled down significantly and also said in March that, “unless there’s a serious and concrete plan” regarding traffic, “I think the project has to be resisted on that ground alone.”

Of Yassky's rivals, Chris Owens, son of the retiring Rep. Major Owens, opposes the Atlantic Yards project, while Carl Andrews and Yvette Clarke have expressed support. As for the racial calculus, consultant Hank Sheinkopf told the Daily News, "White voters need to feel that blacks will not be upset if they vote for Yassky."

Any chance in Council?

James, whose district includes the Atlantic Yards footprint, criticized Yassky for seeking city funds for a community rather than a citywide issue. “I can think of about 50 other citywide projects where this $3 million could be better spent,” she said, noting that Speaker Quinn had asked Council members to submit initiatives for citywide issues.” Each Council member was allowed four such requests, and hers included support for the Red Cross, afterschool programs, fire marshal, and public housing.

Observed James, an opponent of the Atlantic Yards project, “He’s obviously pandering to a certain constituency and to maintain the support of a certain organization.” Still, she noted that Yassky has not actively lobbyied for the BUILD initiative and seems more concerned about health care funding for small businesses. The budget must be passed by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Asking Yassky

After learning secondhand of Louis's presentation, I called Yassky spokesman Evan Thies for comment and was told, “We won’t be discussing any of our items.” He would not confirm or deny whether the funding request had been submitted, nor discuss the rationale for the request. “It’s an internal discussion between the council member and the speaker,” he said.

Later, after I got a copy of the document excerpted above, I called Thies back and gave him an opportunity to comment further. He declined.

Council members and advocates have been discussing the budget requests. A 6/8/06 New York Times article headlined New Council Speaker Has Chance to Rein In Freewheeling Budget Process, cited spending priorities submitted by council members, noting that now each new item must gain endorsement from at least ten council members from at least three boroughs--an effort to stave off frivolous requests. Among the initiatives cited in the article was, in fact, Yassky's $10 million request to help subsidize the health care expenses of small employers.

Brooklyn's curious CBA

So how much has Forest City Ratner pledged to BUILD? When asked at the CB8 meeting, Louis was unable to supply that information. Nor would Forest City Ratner Joe DePlasco, when asked yesterday by the New York Observer, specify how much CBA signatories have received.

It’s an odd sequence. If the city wants to fund job training, it has existing vehicles to do so. In this case, BUILD, a new organization, offered public support to Forest City Ratner's project, then got paid by the developer. Now that Forest City Ratner apparently will not--or would not like to--fully support the initiatives in the CBA, BUILD seeks public support.

No matter the funding source, the process runs afoul of the standard set in pioneering CBAs in Los Angeles, where signatories don’t accept funds from the developer and don’t benefit directly. As James commented, “It’s not a CBA. It’s an IBA: Individual Benefits Agreement.”


  1. ...was revealed at a CB8 meeting Thursday night by BUILD chief operating officer Marie Louis

    Chief Operating Officer?!?

    I'm sure there are quite a few "operators" in the BUILD organization, but that's a novel application of that title.


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