In a 4/6/08 column headlined Speaker Quinn and her pork pool, Louis wrote:
It seems there is no limit to how much of the public's money politicians will steal, waste and abuse if we don't keep a close and skeptical eye on them. The piggies have been busy lately, and it's going to cost us plenty.
What we know so far about the budget scandal engulfing the City Council is that the Council has, since 2001, allocated $17 million by giving grants to nonexistent organizations.
Remember Louis's exchange about subsidies with Assemblyman Richard Brodsky in September 2006. The “local selfishness” regarding subsidies, Louis said, is something “I accept as the lay of the land… If they’re going to get a billion-dollar TIF [tax-increment financing] deal in Rensselaer County, I think where I live, in Kings County, if somebody wants to bring a billion-dollar deal there, with way too much paid per job, in my neighborhood, where there’s a lot of unemployment, personally, I would say, ‘You know what? I’ll take that.’”
Brodsky was unimpressed. “That is a prescription for a bigger disaster. ‘My pork is good. Your pork is bad.’ is not a principled response to the pissing away of billions of dollars.”
A day after Louis's column about Quinn, I reported that, despite $305 million in pledged direct public subsidies for Atlantic Yards, a top executive told investment analysts that "we still need more” subsidies.
Will Louis address that? Nah. A column last month about Atlantic Yards suggested that "those who want prosperity and progress in Brooklyn" project should, among other things, "negotiate improvements to the plan with Ratner."
And today, rather than criticize the "Atlantic Yards pork pool," Louis, in a column headlined Building a better economic outlook, writes a valentine to Avi Schick, acting CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation, an "unsung hero" who keeps "the machinery of growth humming in good times and bad."
Louis quotes Darnell Canada of Rebuild:
"I had 10 guys straight out of the community who we trained to be apprentices in construction safety, and another 10 in line behind them," Canada tells me.
All the trainees were unemployed, says Canada, half of them living in the Fort Greene housing projects (as does Canada). They took courses on the ins and outs of construction safety, including spotting when a crane is leaning dangerously and learning how to prevent tons of dirt from spilling and suffocating workers.
The first of Canada's trainees were hired at Atlantic Yards but recently got laid off as the souring economy caused the project's developer, Bruce Ratner, to delay the project. According to Ratner, it will take longer than anticipated to build the commercial skyscraper and 6,400 apartments that will surround a planned basketball arena.
"These were real good jobs. After a year as an apprentice, you take a test and start making $55 an hour - not just a worker's position, it's management. And there's so much need for safety management on these sites, it's crazy," Canada says.
(Canada, a veteran community activist, is also known for his ominous "You're the victim" speech at the hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement, captured in the film "Brooklyn Matters." Next screening May 1.)
Looking more closely
Louis's summary--"According to Ratner, it will take longer than anticipated"--is supremely sketchy, given the longstanding lack of affordable housing bonds and the fact that the project, when it was approved in December 2006, was behind the announced construction schedule.
As for the jobs, it's not at all clear how many people have been hired from the Fort Greene projects and how many of those jobs are on the $55/hour track.
According to a February 6 Report to the Downtown Brooklyn Advisory & Oversight Committee prepared by Forest City Ratner, about $46 million in contracts had been awarded at the time, with 21 placements from the Community Labor Exchange.
That's about one local job for every $2.2 million in contracts. (Of course there are more jobs in total. Then again, at least $55 million in public funds has already been distributed.) There were only three jobs from any one zip code, including that containing the Fort Greene projects (11201).
A less contentious process for developing at the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard might have resulted in a smaller project but one that proceeded more rapidly, with jobs for community members.
But in this case, rather than "keep a close and skeptical eye" on the politicians, Louis essentially endorses the concept of "My pork is good. Your pork is bad."
He quotes Schick:
"What regular people want is for development to happen," Schick says. "They're not interested in whether it satisfies every critic and whether it's the most perfect thing. They say life is difficult, there's not enough apartments, not enough jobs, not enough transportation and they want better. They just want it delivered.
Maybe they do. And maybe developers want more subsidies, too.