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Showing posts from August, 2010

Why does Ratner not contribute to local races? Maybe because contributions keep the line open to Cuomo, the next governor

A couple of people have asked me: if Bruce Ratner is no longer a campaign contribution refusenik, why isn't he giving money to Mark Pollard, who's challenging Atlantic Yards opponent Velmanette Montgomery in the 18th Senatorial District and has gained the support of some Atlantic Yards backers?

Well, maybe it's purely pragmatic; Montgomery has endorsements galore and a record of achievement.

Even a strong candidate--and I don't think Pollard qualifies, having started his campaign only in May, rather than building momentum over time, and relying disproportionately on charter school backers outside the district--would have trouble beating a veteran like Montgomery, even in this anti-incumbent political climate (and her failure to fully embrace reforms in Albany).

(When the 11-day pre-primary reports are made available on Friday, we'll see if Ratner's changed his tactics.)

Influence at the top

Ratner is not averse to contributions in local races, but maybe it's pur…

To the Times's new Public Editor: Get up to speed on Atlantic Yards

Arthur Brisbane, the New York Times's new (and fourth) Public Editor, wrote his debut column, Why I Would Do This, on August 29.

I posted a comment, which appeared yesterday:Mr. Brisbane, welcome.

Please consider reconsidering one of your fundamental beliefs: "I believe there is no conspiracy. Neither Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. nor Bill Keller is the Wizard of Oz, dictating an agenda from behind a screen."

Well, I don't believe Keller dictates an agenda. But the impact of a non-agenda--an unwillingness to devote consistent resources and attention to a controversy like Atlantic Yards, the massive development project in Brooklyn--means that coverage gets scanted.

Consider that, at the arena groundbreaking in March, the Times sent a reporter who had never covered the project and swallowed whole some dubious predictions.

And it's naive to say that Sulzberger's views don't hold sway. As editorial writer Carolyn Curiel once said, "Our goal is to reflect the spir…

Yes, 752 Pacific is worth more to Forest City Ratner intact than demolished, at least for now

Remember how I (quoting court papers) predicted that, despite Forest City Ratner's stated plan to immediately demolish all buildings in Phase 1 of the Atlantic Yards condemnation plan, the staunch six-story building on Pacific Street long owned by Henry Weinstein was likely to be used as construction offices?

As stated in the Empire State Development Corporation's Construction Update for the weeks beginning August 17 and August 23, and the latest Construction Update issued yesterday: The building at 752 Pacific Street will be used temporarily for construction shanties. During the next two week period, the former occupants’ trash will be removed from the building to prepare for construction teams.

In 18th District, Citizens Union prefers Pollard over Montgomery, who's reticent about addressing some reforms; challenger tries to thread AY needle

State Senator Velmanette Montgomery can point to some real achievements, as noted in a campaign mailer (right; click to enlarge), such as reforming the juvenile justice system and the Rockefeller drug laws.

But her reluctance to sign onto a full suite of Albany reforms means the 26-year incumbent, who has the support of veteran Brooklyn pols like Council Member Al Vann, may be sweating just a bit.

The Citizens Union last week announced it supported the reelection of only six incumbents, issued a "no preference" in several races, and endorsed several challengers, including Montgomery rival Mark Pollard.

(Pollard hasn't yet noted this on his web site. Montgomery doesn't have a current campaign web site--the one from the previous election has not been updated. Neither are particularly nimble in cyberspace; are they convinced that getting out the vote for the September 14 primary represents retail politics? Update: a commenter notes that Montgomery has a new web site, tho…

Ziggy for Pollard: a not-quite-Atlantic Yards connection in the 18th District Senate race

State campaign finance filings (32-day report, July periodic report) show that Mark Pollard, the pro-Atlantic Yards challenger to state Senator Velmanette Montgomery, has paid $8000 in consulting fees to Brooklyn Sports MMM, which just happens to share the same address as Brooklyn USA Basketball.

Both Brooklyn Sports Management, Marketing, and Memorabilia and Brooklyn USA Basketball are the work of Thomas (Ziggy) Sicignano, coach of a traveling basketball team that's gotten $10,000 in funding from Forest City Ratner and whose players have bolstered some Atlantic Yards rallies.

(He's also notorious for cooperating in a federal investigation of racketeering at an Atlanta strip club he managed. Correction August 31: Sicignano points out that he did not receive probation, as reported in the Brooklyn Paper.)

Family connection

Sicignano, who told me he got his start in politics in several 1970s political races, said he's worked on a few races more recently.

His work for Pollar…

Our Cities Ourselves: 10 Principles for Transport in Urban Life (and the AY contradiction)

A nifty exhibition,Our Cities Ourselves, is on view until September 11, 2010 at the Center for Architecture in Greenwich Village (Mon-Fri: 9am to 8pm; Sat: 11am to 5pm).

It shows ten architects' treatment of potential changes in ten world cities--nearly all in developing nations.

Accompanying the exhibition is a publication titled "Our Cities Ourselves: 10 Principles for Transport in Urban Life," written by internationally famous Danish urbanist Jan Gehl and Walter Hook, Executive Director of the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

"Cities of the twenty-first century should be lively cities, safe cities, sustainable cities and healthy cities," said Gehl in a news release. "All of these qualities can be achieved if we embrace these ten principles, which means putting people first."

The principles and Atlantic Yards

Notably, two of the ten principles of sustainable transport don't quite work when it comes to Atlantic Yards.

The proj…

Paterson's penchant for fudging facts seen as context for potential perjury charges; Atlantic Yards episode deserves a mention

Now they tell us. An article in today's New York Times, headlined With Paterson, the Simple Facts Can Get Complicated, begins: A thoroughly honest politician has pretty much always been considered an undiscovered species. But for Gov. David A. Paterson, the distinction between the truth and an untruth can get unusually murky.

Once asked if a statement was accurate or inaccurate, Gov. David A. Paterson replied, “Neither.”

On Thursday, an independent counsel asked the Albany County district attorney to determine whether Mr. Paterson intentionally lied to investigators about paying for baseball tickets, something that could lead to the governor being charged with perjury.

But how do you sort that out? After all, according to many people who deal with Mr. Paterson, it’s not always clear when he might be intentionally lying and when he is just saying wrong things. Or doing something that, by his reckoning, is neither lying nor telling the truth.And it contains this summation: But these sa…

From City Pragmatist: behind the Charter Revision Commission, an effort to shift power to the mayor

So, it turns out that the Charter Revision Commission did nothing--beyond a hearing--to grapple with issues like land use reform. And while a complicated term limits vote is one of the two proposals on the November ballot, the real import of the Commission's work is the second proposal, which--despite a fig leaf of reform--would essentially strengthen an already strong mayor.

Credit CityPragmatist blogger Alvin Berk, who's been following the Commission closely, concluding, NYC Charter Revision Proposals: A Hobson’s Choice.

He writes: Here are the proposals being placed on November’s ballot by the New York City Charter Revision Commission. The commission has restricted voters’ options by lumping the changes into just two ballot questions, putatively because this year’s new paper voting forms are too small to show the proposals individually.
He's skeptical--and any serious reader of these long and thus confusing ballot questions would have reason to agree. (The Daily News …

Why did the Flatbush Avenue lane closure get extended until "Summer 2012"? A not-quite-explanation surfaces

So, why did a lane closure on Flatbush Avenue between Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue for the Atlantic Yards project get extended from "early 2012" to "Summer 2012," as we learned last week in a Forest City Ratner mailer?

The answer I got from the Empire State Development Corporation was not quite an explanation, and, as of today, the Department of Transportation (DOT) still states, on its page of Weekly Traffic Advisories (excerpt at right), that the lane closure is expected to "continue through early 2012."

From "early" to "Summer"

Let's recap. The original announcement, in late July, was "early 2012." Given Forest City Ratner and the ESDC the benefit of the doubt, I said the announcement of "Summer 2012" meant at least 17 months, to the beginning of January 2012.

Given that "early 2012" could extend through the end of the first quarter, I should have also suggested it could extend to the end of March…

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee shuns Montgomery (among few incumbents); could Sampson's Atlantic Yards support be the reason?

There was a unexplored angle to a City Hall News article yesterday headlined DSCC Spends On Consultants, WFP, But Not Espada.

The main news was that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee was not helping scandal-tinged Majority Leader Pedro Espada but helping incumbents with safe seats as well as incumbents faced with primaries but in districts that will remain in Democratic hands. (Shouldn't the DSCC be stressing seats that could be lost to the Republicans? Not in New York.)

However, if Senate Democrats are spending on "nearly every incumbent facing a primary," it was notable that Espada was joined on a very short list of the "outs" by his Bronx ally Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr. and 18th District Senator Velmanette Montgomery, who represents Central Brooklyn.

The AY connection

I haven't been able to learn why Montgomery got the short end of the stick--there could be internal political dynamics at work--but it's worth noting that Senate Democratic Conference Lead…

In the Atlantic Yards footprint today, new ESDC project manager Arana Hankin

A Prospect Heights resident leaves me a message: Arana Hankin, the new Atlantic Yards project manager for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), was spotted walking around the project site today accompanied by Forrest Taylor, the ESDC's ombudsman, who presumably has a few more trips around the footprint under his belt.

If she wants to know what things looked like before today, I'd send her to Tracy Collins's photos.

There were no details on whether Hankin thinks the project would take "decades," as stated by former ESDC CEO Marisa Lago, in an unguarded moment of candor.

A clarification on "The Battle Over Atlantic Yards," a look back at The Civilians' first AY performance (with video), and a look forward

Some more coverage of The Civilians' upcoming (and updated) show about Atlantic Yards left me confused as to whether TheaterMania and the Times got it wrong in calling it "In the Footprint: The Battle Over the Atlantic Yards," rather than the more precise "In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards," as noted in the bottom document from The Civilians' web site.

Answer, according to a Civilians rep: the press got it wrong. And that makes a difference, because "Atlantic Yards" is a project, and a marketing term, not a place.

Flashback

I also went to the group's YouTube channel to watch a segment from the 2008 show, "Brooklyn at Eye Level." However imperfect, it's riveting stuff.



There's anti-project activist Jezra Kaye saying "I come from a class where you don’t usually get fucked over in such an obvious way.”

"You can't talk about Atlantic Yards unless you can talk about the rest of Downtown Brooklyn," sna…

Governor's spokesman re ESDC appointment: "Ms. Hankin directly supervised all broad policy matters related to ESDC in the Governor's Office"

So this is how news works, apparently.

More than a day after my article on Arana Hankin's appointment as Atlantic Yards project manager appeared, the Daily News followed up with a blog post that wasn't merely a one-line cite but essentially a rewrite with no new information (and pretty much my critical perspective, calling her a "loyalist").

The Daily News didn't wait for a confirmation or comment from the Empire State Development Corporation, nor was the agency asked the obvious question: why was the job not advertised?

But Morgan Hook, a spokesman for Gov. David Paterson, did respond later today:
"Arana Hankin has worked tirelessly on behalf of the State of New York for more than six years, including better than three years in the Governor's Office during the Spitzer and Paterson administrations. As part of her vast portfolio, working under the guidance of Deputy Secretary Tim Gilchrist, Ms. Hankin oversaw all economic development in downstate New York…

The Empire State Building vs. 15 Penn Plaza: the battle over views recalls Miss Brooklyn vs. the Willy B (except there were promises from FCR)

After a hearing yesterday, the New York City Council is expected to vote Wednesday to approve a new, 1216-foot tower, 15 Penn Plaza, across the street from Penn Station and two blocks away from the iconic, 1250-foot Empire State Building (ESB).

The ESB's owner, Anthony Malkin [updated], protests that the new tower would block a unique asset on the city's skyline--an argument that depends, of course, on perspective, as the renderings below (via the Times) suggest.

And the campaign against that new tower by the ESB's owner, on a web site and in full-page newspaper ads, sounds a little like the criticisms about the impact of Frank Gehry's Miss Brooklyn tower on the iconic Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

There are a few key differences, however:
in Brooklyn, there was a much stronger case against the new tower, given that Forest City Ratner promised at the start that it wouldn't block the bank's iconic clockin Brooklyn, the new building would be positioned on perhaps the m…

Following up (or not) on the ESDC and Arana Hankin; former CBN co-chair recalls getting stonewalled by Hankin

So, after I yesterday broke the (anonymously sourced) news that Arana Hankin would be named the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) Atlantic Yards project manager after, a job that apparently wasn't advertised, did anyone follow up?

Nah.

Yes, the story was linked yesterday by the New York Observer, The Real Deal, and Curbed.

But the ESDC issued no statement, and no one chose to follow up. Perhaps, they think, the Atlantic Yards story is ovah. Except it's not.

Hankin's AY history

It turns out that Hankin has intersected with Atlantic Yards, though not in a way that gave assurance to project critics and opponents.

After David Paterson became governor in early 2008, the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) and other groups pressed to meet with him, Terry Urban, former CBN co-chair, told me.

Paterson promised that Tim Gilchrist, who was in charge of economic development for his office, would attend that August 2008 meeting. "[Architect] Marshall Brown flew in …

Exclusive: Paterson loyalist with thin résumé to be ESDC's first official Atlantic Yards project manager; why wasn't position advertised?

The news of the appointment is based on sources believed reliable; the rest of the article is based on public sources. The ESDC confirmed that an announcement about a new project manager is coming this week, though no name was mentioned.

After years with no individual formally overseeing Atlantic Yards, the government agency in charge of the project, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), will soon name a project manager.

However, that new staffer--at least according to the minimal publicly available evidence--lacks experience facing up to developers like Forest City Ratner and scrutinizing complex development projects, much less engaging the public.

And that may be the point, given that the ESDC has dutifully found blight on the project site, overstated expected economic benefits, and insisted in court that the official ten-year timetable is reasonable.

Getting a loyalist in place

This week, the ESDC is expected to name 33-year-old Arana Hankin, who has a relatively thin résumé…

What a difference three weeks makes: ads indicate how lane closure time period was extended

I wrote about this change two days ago, but the juxtaposition is telling.

(Click on graphics to enlarge. Highlights are added.)

From the July 30-August 5 back page of the Brooklyn Paper:



From the August 20-26 back page of the Brooklyn Paper:

Yormark says Barclays deal was crucial to arena project (duh); note how FCR not only renegotiated but sweetened the pot

I don't have access to Comcast, but the NetsDaily summary of an interview with Nets CEO Brett Yormark quotes him as saying, if Barclays had pulled out of the Brooklyn arena naming rights deal, "we wouldn't be here today."

Remember, the once-announced $400 million deal was reduced to $200-plus million, still crucial funding for arena construction.

And not only did the state simply give away naming rights, that benefit to Forest City Ratner (and now Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim group) was never counted as a subsidy, not even by the New York City Independent Budget Office.

Renegotiating the deal

No wonder Forest City Ratner and Yormark were so willing to renegotiate the deal. Barclays, Yormark once told favored interviewer Alexis Glick, had never wavered--though that was before starchitect Frank Gehry left the project.

Two other signs of FCR's effort to sweeten the pot:
the subway/LIRR station naming rights agreement, paid for by the developer (not Barclays), to add Bar…