Skip to main content

The unseemly Ratner alliance with Silver and Rapfogel gets aired in Times's long look at stagnant Seward Park renewal area

The cover story in the Times's Metropolitan section tomorrow is They Kept a Lower East Side Lot Vacant for 47 Years, concerns the alliance between Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his longtime--now indicted and finally estranged--pal William Rapfogel (husband of his chief of staff Judy), with a major cameo by favored developer Bruce Ratner.

The story concerns a site on Delancey Street cleared in the 1960s, and the Silver/Rapfogel effort to fight affordable housing that would dilute their local power base of religious Jews. The gist:
Mr. Silver has long characterized his role in plans for the site, known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, or Spura, as limited to insisting that all groups have a voice in the outcome, not promoting a specific plan or developer.
...But an extensive review of the archives of four mayors and more than two dozen interviews show Mr. Silver and Mr. Rapfogel diligently working behind the scenes to promote specific plans and favored developers. Mr. Rapfogel made clear that the goal was to maintain the area’s Jewish identity, seemingly at the expense of other communities.
Mr. Silver and Mr. Rapfogel steadfastly opposed any mention of affordable housing, which would have altered the demographics of the neighborhood and put Mr. Silver’s political base in question. And Mr. Silver appears to have occasionally misrepresented the desires of his Chinese and Hispanic constituents in conversations with city officials to quash housing plans for the site.
The Ratner alternative

In the early 1990s, Silver claimed--in response to housing advocates--he wanted “a buildable consensus plan” in a neighborhood that was riven. The Times drills down:
But months later, he and Mr. Rapfogel quietly put their weight behind yet another new plan, from a handpicked developer who included no housing. According to official memos, Mr. Silver asked city officials to approve a “big box” store, like Costco, on the site. The developer, Bruce Ratner, would build it. The sponsor would be the South Manhattan Development Corporation, which Mr. Rapfogel then headed.
The project didn't happen. 

The Ratner connection

But the plot thickened, as the Times reported:
And the ties between Mr. Silver, Mr. Rapfogel and Mr. Ratner strengthened.
The Rapfogels’ eldest son, Michael, finished law school in 2005 and soon went to work for Mr. Ratner. The job was seen internally as a way to please Mr. Silver, say people familiar with the son’s work; Mr. Ratner’s company rejects the notion.
“Michael Rapfogel was hired in 2005 as a young lawyer because he is smart, a hard worker and interested in community and economic development,” said Ashley Cotton, a senior vice president at Forest City Ratner Companies. “He is a valued member of our staff.”
This of course is impossible to adjudicate. Surely Michael Rapfogel--whom I once dubbed Forest City's "designated lurker"--is reasonably competent. And surely his family ties helped. (Think how Khalid Green, son of Assemblyman Roger Green, got a job with the Nets.)

The Times describes more ties, which I've described in this blog:
In 2006, the Public Authorities Control Board, over which Mr. Silver has significant control, approved Mr. Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. Intervention by Mr. Silver and others enabled the project to retain a lucrative tax break, even as that break was actually being phased out.
In 2008, Forest City Ratner, which compared to other developers makes few political contributions, gave $58,420 to the Democratic Assembly Housekeeping Committee, which is controlled by Mr. Silver.
That same year, Mr. Ratner helped raise $1 million for Met Council and was honored at a luncheon given by Mr. Rapfogel and Mr. Silver. “Bruce is responsible for much of the development and growth that’s gone on in Brooklyn and in Manhattan,” Mr. Silver said at the event. “He is a major force in New York City for the good.”
Much of the development in Manhattan? That's grade inflation.

One element unmentioned is that, when Ratner last year sponsored a concert of Jewish cantorial music at the Barclays Center, profits went to support Rapfogel's Met Council. The press, notably the Times, unskeptically reported that the concert emerged from Ratner's love of cantorial music rather than, at least in part, political calculation.

I suggested that the evidence suggested an effort to bolster ties with a charitable ally, Rapfogel, and the powerful Silver. I even predicted that Forest City might even wind up partnering with the Met Council on a bid to develop the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. And I was right--though the bid, evaluated after Rapfogel was busted, obviously didn't succeed.

The denouement

Now, there's finally a plan:
By 2011, with all the neighborhood changes, consensus finally seemed possible. The local community board adopted development guidelines that included 800 to 1,000 apartments, with 20 percent, or as few as 160 units, set aside for low-income tenants. Mr. Silver gave the guidelines his blessing. Longtime advocates went along, seeing a portion of something as better than all of nothing.
...Developers bidding for the Seward Park site were required to team up with a local nonprofit. Mr. Ratner chose Mr. Rapfogel’s Met Council. As the process was nearing a close last year, Mr. Rapfogel was arrested. On Sept. 18, another bidder was selected.
In announcing the new plan, the city said priority would be given to some of the mostly Puerto Rican families displaced four decades ago. Construction is expected to begin next year.
...Mr. Silver has steadfastly stood by Judy Rapfogel. But as to his long alliance with Mr. Rapfogel, that is done. “Let’s be clear,” he said in a recent interview, “I have nothing to do with Willie Rapfogel.”
That sounds like some pretty remarkable compartmentalization.

Last year, Rapfogel, as the Times noted, "was arrested and charged in a scheme that had allegedly looted more than $7 million in kickbacks from Met Council’s insurance broker over the years," money used to support political candidates and help one of his three sons (it's unclear which one) buy a home.

What's next?

Rapfogel "is due back in court in April."

At Forest City Ratner headquarters and elsewhere, I suspect some are wondering: does Rapfogel have any dimes to drop?

When Rapfogel was arrested, I suggested there were four potential Forest City angles:

  • The Seward Park bid
  • The cantorial concert
  • Michael Rapfogel's hring
  • Whether Forest City--or knowledge of its interests--played any role in Rapfogel's direction of campaign contributions. As I pointed out, why would an employee of the Met Council's insurer contribute to Delia Hunley-Adossa's longshot 2009 challenge to popular 35th District Council incumbent Letitia James, the leading Atlantic Yards opponent?




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…

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…

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…

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…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…