A number of interesting follow up questions emerge from the NY Times story-and our own post-on the illegal lobbying operation that was set up by the city to push for the Willets Point development. In our view, some of these questions are of a political nature, and should be addressed by the various local and city wide campaigns; but others are of a legal nature-and these should be carefully scrutinized by law enforcement at all levels of government.
(1) Claire Shulman's continued role: If, as Shulman says, she was hired to do lobbying from the get go, and this is allegation is disputed by EDC and the mayor's office, than why is the city continuing to fund someone with money that she is clearly using for lobbying (as her lobbying registration suggests)?
(2) If Shulman failed to register as the lobbyist for the FWPC LDC, why wasn't she fined $59,000, as was the LDC itself?
(3) Was the groups' failure to note that it would be lobbying in its federal tax filing a criminal violation, and/or does this effect its not-for-profit status?
(4) Who are the members of the board of this LDC, and what were they promised to pony up the matching funds?
(5) Does the fact that these companies stand to benefit from the LDC's lobbying activities, mean that each and every one of them should have been listed-under the requirements of the state's lobbying statute-as "third party beneficiaries?"
(6) Does the fact that the city is funding illegal astroturf groups with tax payer money violate any provisions of municipal law?
(7) Can the Willets Point businesses sue these colluding companies-along with the city-under the provisions of the civil RICO laws?
(8) Does the use of an illegal lobbying group to aid and abet the city's Willets Point land grab invalidate the ULURP application that was passed last year by the city council? And should this challenge be added to the existing Article 78 proceeding that will first be heard today in state court?
All of these issues need to be addressed-and we're hopeful that the AG will act expeditiously here. We're also hopeful that the issues raised in the Article 78 proceeding-covered well by the Crain's Insider yesterday-will bear fruit and give further evidence of just how nefarious this entire land grab scheme has been.
As the Insider pointed out yesterday: "Tomorrow, for the first time, opponents of the Bloomberg administration’s Willets Point project will make their case in state court. Their attorneys will say the environmental impact statement for the proposed redevelopment has gaping holes, notably a failure to address the effect on the Van Wyck Expressway.
“This is going to cause traffic problems of unprecedented proportions that will stop emergency response vehicles in their tracks,” says Nelson Johnson, counsel at Arnold & Porter and a specialist in environmental law. “The [impact statement] did not consider it at all.” A comprehensive study is mandated by state law."
Of course, these kinds of issues were effectively being tamped down by Shulman's astro-turfing operation. But no one should be forced out at the point until, and if, the ability of this project to go forward is ascertained. As the Insider makes clear: "The lawyers will tell state Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden that the project requires two new ramps to the Van Wyck, triggering the need for Federal Highway Administration approval, which is far from certain. They’ll also argue that the impact statement should not have been prepared by Deputy Mayor Bob Lieber. The agency compiling the EIS must be the one that carries out, funds or approves the project. “The deputy mayor’s office wasn’t any of those things,” Johnson claims."
All in all, a corrupt process threatens hundreds of businesses and thousands of workers in the worst economic recession since the 1930s. There's no certainty that the approvals will be forthcoming, or that the money for the remediation and development will be available. Until those things are manifest, everyone should keep their dirty hands off Willets Point.