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Forest City's strategy in trainees' lawsuit? Blame BUILD/Caldwell & emphasize distance. But BUILD was close, compliant ally when needed.

The "modern blueprint"--the New York Times's fancifully deceptive claim about Forest City Ratner's efforts to "harvest" community support from groups mostly formed to "negotiate" Atlantic Yards--has devolved even further.

Remember the lawsuit filed by would-be construction workers who claim they were promised Atlantic Yards construction jobs and union cards after going through a coveted pre-apprenticeship training program (PATP) organized by Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD)?

It's moving toward an important oral argument, on May 30 [updated] on July 3 in federal court. In an effort to limit liability and potential payout, Forest City Ratner and affiliate companies, individual defendants Bruce Ratner and Jane Marshall, BUILD, and former CEO James Caldwell have asked for most of the case to be dismissed.

The strategy: the trainees may have been misled, but if so, it's BUILD's fault, because Caldwell and colleagues went rogue.

So far the main set of defense papers has been filed. Defense lawyers argue that Caldwell and others made promises to the trainees--20 of 36 have joined the class-action suit--that they couldn't back up. The PATP, lawyers say, distinctly diverged from Forest City's direction.

The upshot: if just Caldwell and the now-defunct BUILD are liable for the potential lost wages from a union career, well, that's not much of a payout.

But there's a complicating factor: at least some of the trainees claim that Forest City executive Marshall also made some promises.

Forest City's distance from BUILD

The plaintiffs' attorneys are arguing that Forest City--which funded but didn't direct the nonprofit BUILD--should be responsible for BUILD's promises.

In defense papers, Forest City vigorously attempts to distance itself from BUILD: it had no control over the PATP and "consistently ceded to BUILD's vision"-- an organization, it should be noted, with no track record in job training--"of how the program should be run."

Maybe that's true, though upcoming response papers from the plaintiffs' attorneys presumably will offer some countervailing evidence.

After all, Forest City is trying to have it both ways. If BUILD went rogue, that's partly because Forest City never hired the Independent Compliance Monitor required by the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to report back on the progress of initiatives like the PATP.

And the CBA, which Forest City and supporters have long called "historic," a "model," and transformative of the communities left behind in Brooklyn's boom, seems even more tainted.

Also, there's something icky about having one set of lawyers represent both Forest City and BUILD/Caldwell, with the latter--who agreed to have his former benefactors pay for the lawyers--getting all the blame.

When BUILD mattered

Notably, Forest City's attempt to distance itself from BUILD contrasts enormously with its use of the organization, and Caldwell, to establish community credibility. I can quickly count five examples, three of which I'll detail further:
  • FCR offered its offices to BUILD and others to organize the CBA, with Bruce Ratner thanking them for their support
  • One of five amicus briefs backing the defense in the Kelo vs. New London eminent domain case London came from BUILD, joined by the Rev. Herbert Daughtry and the Carpenters Union.
  • an advertisement featured Caldwell and other CBA signatories
  • a TV appearance by BUILD's Marie Louis
  • Forest City's provision of a p.r. spokesperson for BUILD
Beyond these, of course, BUILD regularly supplied supporters to cheer for the project at rallies and to testify at public hearings. Caldwell numerous times cheered Atlantic Yards and referred to Ratner as like "an angel sent from God."

Now, that angel is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on attorneys' fees to avoid--presumably--having to pay out millions to poor people who claim they were rooked by the "modern blueprint."

Caldwell in the advertisement

Consider the below advertisement touting Forest City's deposit in the black-owned Carver Federal Savings Bank,with BUILD's Caldwell and other CBA signatories, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry and Bertha Lewis.

It appeared in the June/July 2005 edition of Forest City Ratner's promotional Brooklyn Standard "publication," as well as (I believe) some other local newspapers.

A deposit is fairly meaningless; Forest City was just parking its money there, not "giving back to the community." But Caldwell was there to send a message.

BUILD as preferred Forest City mouthpiece

When CUNY-TV host Brian Lehrer (best known for his WNYC radio show) called Forest City Ratner in September 2005 for someone to discuss Atlantic Yards, he was directed to BUILD.

"So when we called them, and told them we were going to do this segment and who would they like to refer us to as a spokesperson, they referred us to your group," Lehrer told BUILD Chief Operating Officer Marie Louis in the 9/21/05 segment, as noted by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.

"Because they know that we're, first of all, we're one of their partners now especially since we signed the Community Benefits Agreement," responded Louis. (She has since passed away.)

Forest City provides BUILD with mouthpiece

IRS documents suggested BUILD expected $5 million from Forest City. That wasn't true, but Forest City's spokesman and BUILD both lied when they said there had been no payment as of September 2005.

So BUILD and other CBA signatories needed a p.r. agent, Forest City hired one, though Caldwell at one point professed ignorance. The New York Observer reported 9/29/05:
As for the public relations firm that is representing them, Caldwell said he didn’t know who was paying them.
“The Terrie Williams Agency just called us up one day and said they would be doing our p.r.,” he said.
Back then, the relationship seemed a lot closer.


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