Skip to main content

Democracy deficit: Gargano stonewalls the Voice; ESDC embraces transparency

Charles Gargano, former chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), is generally unafraid of the press. He even called reporters in for a semi-melancholy valedictory press conference at the end of December.

But he won't answer questions now about the dubious involvement of his nephew in a development deal, even as agencies under new Governor Eliot Spitzer embrace a new transparency.

Gargano, who gained his appointment after serving as former Governor George Pataki's chief fundraiser, remains on the board of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey. From that position, according to Tom Robbins' Village Voice investigation (headlined A Seamy Tale of Nepotism on the Brooklyn Waterfront), Gargano told a Red Hook container terminal owner that "maybe there's another way" to ensure that the state kept the property assigned to shipping rather than pushing for a condo-filled mixed-use development.

A few weeks later, a man introducing himself as "Charlie's nephew" called terminal owner Sal Catucci, and that nephew, Frank Gargano, soon gained an $8500 monthly retainer to "handle" his uncle. Catucci paid for ten months, but saw Port Authority policy get even less friendly toward his interests.

Frank Gargano asked for more money. Instead, Catucci cut him off. "I don't know how my uncle is going to take this," Frank Gargano told Catucci.

Conflict no longer OK?

Notably, the seeming conflict of interest was perfectly legal under the state's weak disclosure laws regarding public authorities.

Now, writes Robbins:
New governor Eliot Spitzer has vowed to change all that, bringing oversight of the authorities into line with strict laws already covering the state's legislature where lobbyists are obligated to file regular disclosure reports.

Port Authority spokesman Steve Sigmund told the Voice:
"The Port Authority demands the highest ethical standards, and we expect that anyone who represents the agency disclose any potential conflict of interest. We will continue to strengthen our policies going forward, including tightening disclosure requirements for commissioners and employees alike."

That invites the question: how much unreported lobbying of the ESDC was there regarding Atlantic Yards.

ESDC invites comment

Meanwhile, the ESDC has somehow acknowledged that it is responsive to the public rather than some kind of clubhouse. As Matthew Schuerman reports in the Real Estate Observer:
The Empire State Development Corporation used to send out meeting notices to the press that read:
"Meetings are open to the public for observation, but not for direct participation."

Earlier this week, the state economic development agency sent out one for Thursday morning's board meeting--the first under Gov. Sptizer's co-chairmen Patrick Foye and Dan Gundersen--that read:
"The meeting is open to the public for observation and comment."


Imagine if that policy had been in place during the 12/8/06 meeting of the ESDC board, which showed itself generally uninformed about Atlantic Yards, approved the project in just 15 minutes. Surely the public would have offered considerable observation and comment.

And perhaps the ESDC would have made available the comments it received after the issuance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, rather than requiring me to file a Freedom of Information Law request.

ESDC posts agendas

Also, Schuerman reports, the ESDC plans to post meeting agendas three days ahead of time. During the Gargano era, an announcement of a meeting was issued, but the agenda was made available only on the morning of the meeting.

This, remember, is the agency under challenge in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case. While a lawyer for the ESDC said in court earlier this month that the authority was legislatively empowered to pursue condemnations, that doesn't necessarily prove that this eminent domain finding was reached after an open legislative process.

At the very least, the change in ESDC procedures suggests a recognition that there has been a deficit of democracy.

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.


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 …

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…