(I wrote Tuesday that Siegel hadn't responded; I had queried him directly but had not cc'd his campaign. Note that the Independent Budget Office is somewhat less skeptical than I am on this issue.)
What can the Public Advocate do?
My answer to your question is yes, the Department of Finance’s assessment of the Atlantic Yards footprint is a matter of great concern to me. As many readers of your blog know, I opposed the Atlantic Yards project from the beginning and served as counsel to Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn in the effort to stop the project. I am also involved with community groups opposing the New York Yankees’ broken promises to replace park space in the South Bronx that was taken over by their new stadium. The favorability of the Department of Finance’s assessments to the developers in both these cases is extremely troubling. It highlights a primary reason that the abuse of eminent domain in the case of Atlantic Yards is unconstitutional – the negotiations have not been undertaken in good faith, and they have been completely developer-driven from the get go.
There is a lot that the Public Advocate can do to hold the Department of Finance accountable, because the Public Advocate has the responsibility to oversee all city agencies. While I hope that other elected officials would support me in this effort, there has not been enough focus on the Administration or Department of Finance from the more powerful, citywide office holders. One of the most important features of the Public Advocate’s office is its authority to hold public hearings. When dealing with City agencies accused of wrongdoing, one can be assured that holding hearings is a tool I will use liberally. If I were Public Advocate, I would have already called for multiple public hearings into the city’s most roiling development projects, such as Atlantic Yards, the new Yankee Stadium, Columbia University’s expansion, and the Willets Point plan. In many of these cases public hearings aren’t sufficient to discern what discussions really occurred between government officials and developers and whether they indeed constituted bad-faith negotiating; New York law also allows the Public Advocate to petition for judicial public hearings when there has been any showing of government impropriety, which allows the public to hear the acts in a court of law. As a civil rights attorney representing taxpayers I used this process to bring public attention to the City Council “slush fund” that had been budgeting city money to fictitious organizations. The incumbent has never asked for judicial hearings; I will show no such reluctance in attempting to expose improprieties, especially if any were responsible for any irregularities in the assessments issued by the Department of Finance.