Skip to main content

Ratner, no longer a campaign contribution "refusenik," is already investing in Cuomo and DiNapoli 2010

Those studying the history of campaign finance reform might conclude, by reading a 2002 book (described below) by reformer and former New York City Comptroller Mark Green, that Brooklyn developer Bruce Ratner is a prominent "refusenik," having set himself apart from the sullied system that gets candidates elected in New York.

They'd be wrong. Ratner has long been back to playing the game. As I wrote way back in February 2008, Forest City Ratner notably gave $58,420 to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee's Housekeeping account, part of soft money system the New York Times editorial page later dubbed (without reference to Ratner) "sewer money."

And there are more gifts from his company and a relative to Housekeeping accounts, as I write today, even as Gov. David Paterson proposes major campaign reform legislation.

There's more. On 1/23/09, I reported on Bruce Ratner's $3000 campaign contribution to Assemblyman Darryl Towns. Ratner (as did others from Forest City Ratner) gave $3000 to Mill Basin Assemblyman Alan Maisel, who reliably supported AY at the Empire State Development Corporation public hearing last July. He gave $3000 to Assemblyman Karim Camara.

Looking ahead to 2010

More recently, in a look ahead to next year's statewide elections, Ratner gave $5000 to Andrew Cuomo 2010. (He hasn't given to Gov. David Paterson's campaign, though Cuomo, now Attorney General, is expected to challenge the sitting Governor.)

And he gave $2000 to DiNapoli 2010, the campaign committee for Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. (Both Cuomo and DiNapoli have been asked by state Senator Bill Perkins to weigh in on the legality of the Brooklyn Arena Local Development Corporation, or BALDC).

Both such gifts would be banned if Paterson's reform legislation limits contributions to $1000.

Green's hagiography

In his book Selling Out: How Big Corporate Money Buys Elections, Rams Through Legislation, and Betrays Our Democracy, Green groups Ratner under "The Refuseniks," in a section titled "Bruce Ratner: From Donor to Reformer." The book, however, focuses on Ratner's role in campaigns for city office, not for state office.

Drawing on a Village Voice report, Green notes that Mayor Rudy Giluiani's campaign staffers described Ratner as "The Man" in a seating chart for a 1997 fund-raising dinner.

Ratner four years earlier had been a top fund-raiser for incumbent Mayor David Dinkins when he four years earlier had defeated Giuliani, but the issue went way beyond ideology. In fact, Ratner raised more than $100,000 for Giuliani that year.

Perhaps because it would detract from his heroic narrative, Green leaves out a tidbit from Wayne Barrett's 4/29/97 article, headlined GOTTERDAMMERUDY: OPERATIC FUNDRAISER HITS LOW NOTE OF COMPROMISE:
Despite his many publicly assisted projects and campaign extravagance, Ratner, a onetime Liberal Party district leader and consumer commissioner, was so camera-shy that he spent much of the evening ducking a Voice photographer.
That's par for the course for Ratner in the AY saga.

In the system

After describing how Ratner moved from the Department of Consumer Affairs to the development business, Green shows how Ratner became enveloped in the system:
He was first solicited for a campaign contribution by his former boss, when Koch was running for a third term in 1985. Ratner gave out of loyalty and friendship, but in doing so, he opened the floodgates.

In an interview at Forest City's headquarters at MetroTech, Ratner described why he became one of New York City's biggest fundraisers--and why, after a career that included a night in the Lincoln Bedroom, he's no longer in the money game.

"Once it's known that you give," Ratner began, "everybody solicits you. When you do business with the city, you get solicited by everyone from U.S. senators down to members of the City Council." He gave generously to a variety of candidates. "There was an anxiety that, if we didn't give, we might not be able to get a meeting, that it might hurt our development efforts, hurt our access."

...So Ratner fund-raised because he felt he had to, but he didn't like it. "It was very unpleasant. I didn't enjoy it. It's very difficult to ask people to give to someone that they may not believe in, and very few people want to contribute the amounts that were being requested. I would much rather ask people to give to a charity that I'm involved with.
Charity, of course, has been another Ratner strategy, for example giving via the company's foundation to Borough President Marty Markowitz's concert series and borough institutions like the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Business vs. personal

Green writes:
While his fund-raising in New York City was business, the Democrat's fund-raising for Bill Clinton was personal.
Indeed, Ratner gave $4600 to Barack Obama's campaign, while many others in Forest City Enterprises gave to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's less likely bid. But Richardson just happened to support a major Forest City project in his home state.

Distaste with system

Green describes Ratner's growing distaste with the campaign finance system:
By 1997, he says, "the fund-raising got out of control. I found myself giving and raising money for candidates that I didn't necessarily believe in and didn't believe that they would do the best job." In one case, the Brooklynite [sic--Ratner lives in Manhattan, works in Brooklyn] recalls with distaste giving thousands of dollars to a state legislator, with whom he had little in common politically, because another politician he supported had asked him to do so...
Isn't this exactly what his brother, the constitutional lawyer Michael Ratner, began doing in recent years, supporting Brooklyn machine candidates?

Change of heart

Green writes of the developer's change of heart:
After the 1997 mayoral election, he had had enough. He quit, cold turkey (except for a few favored personal friends).

...Rather attributed his change of heart to the "huge quantities of money that were being raised," to "the public's loss of faith in government"--and to the connection between the two. He was also worried about his company's public reputation, which he feared was suffering as a result of his high-profile political fund-raising.
And Ratner in 1998 helped bankroll an effort to get full public financing of elections on the ballot, an initiative that didn't make the ballot but helped lead to City Council reforms of the campaign finance system.

Perception and reality

Green concludes:
Calling the new law a "tremendous victory," Ratner said he was "overjoyed" to have supported the effort. In his view, public financing is "seminal to a democracy because you can't have a small group of people with a few agendas dominate the political process. It goes against democracy and it happens all over the country," he concluded. "The average citizen will see it that way and it really gives them a lack of faith in government and democracy. The perception is an important as the reality." And the reality, as few know better than this former fund-raising phenom, is that contributions buy friends in high places.
What's missing

Well, the city--rather than state--campaign finance system has been reformed significantly. But the full story includes contributions by Ratner, his colleagues, and his company to candidates for not just city offices, but more importantly state and even federal ones.

After all, while Forest City Ratner in the 1990s was building big box stores and thus especially needed access to city officials, in the current decade a project like Atlantic Yards, overseen by the Empire State Development Corporation, is the province of state officials like the Governor, the Comptroller, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

And state campaing finance laws haven't been reformed. So Forest City Ratner is even hosting fund-raisers for the likes of Senator John Sampson.

Post-AY coverage

So an article published shortly after the Atlantic Yards project was announced is now well out of date. Newsday reported (Ratner Breaks the Mold, 1/23/04):
Though [Bruce] Ratner’s company still spends significant funds to lobby City Hall, Ratner a few years ago sharply cut back on donating funds to political campaigns - an unusual move for a real estate developer.
“He decided this was getting him into trouble, because every time he won a project, people would say it was because he gave money,” said former city Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, who has known Ratner for 34 years.
Ratner's still giving.

Another look at the old Bruce Ratner


In her 1996 memoir Who Said It Would Be Easy?: One Woman's Life in the Political Arena, former Congresswoman, Brooklyn DA, and city Comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman writes approvingly of Ratner:
Other contributors seemed to expect favors, although I can recall one exception. Bruce Ratner, a former commissioner of consumer affairs in New York City, because a successful developer. He supported me in my initial bid for comptroller and even raised money for my campaign. After I took office, I had to vote on a development project of Bruce's in the Rockaways. I considered Bruce to be a very responsible and thoughtful person, but in this case environmental questions arose about the development, and I ended up voting against it. Bruce was angry at my vote. But he still supported me and told a friend that it was important to have people in office who will vote against their contributors. Most contributors aren't as broad-minded.
Well, maybe, maybe not. Remember that scene from the New Yorker profile of Borough President Marty Markowitz in which the developer, not the BP, seemed in control:
“Yes, sir, how are you doing, Bruce?” Markowitz said, picking up the handset and falling silent as he listened. Bruce Ratner, it appeared from Markowitz’s responses, had some urgent questions about the way discussions concerning waterfront development in Williamsburg and Greenpoint might affect his own project. Markowitz, whenever he could get a word in, tried to be both conciliatory and upbeat. “I understand,” he said; and then, “I wish I knew, but I don’t know”; and “It’s hard for me”; and “That’s absolutely right.” Finally, he told Ratner to call someone in his office—better yet, he would have that someone call Ratner.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming (post-dated pinned post)

Click on graphic to enlarge. This is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change, and the project is already well behind that tentative timetable.


Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …