Friday, May 28, 2010

Assphalt Backwards

The Queens Tribune also weighs in on the hoopla over the opening of a city owned pothole filling facility in Willets Point-and raises some of the questions we have asked: "The City is hoping to make pothole repairs more efficient and environmentally friendly, using the plant, which uses recycled asphalt, to dispatch repair trucks and asphalt that are closer to the Bronx, Queens and Upper Manhattan. However, the City also has plans to redevelop the area directly adjacent to the plant, removing and relocating the industrial businesses that currently reside there. Previously, the City Council passed a redevelopment plan for the "Iron Triangle" at Willets Point, a process that lurched forward in June 2008 when Community Board 7 approved the project; it established a precedent for trying to buy out all of the industrial companies there to make room for the redevelopment."

But does this make any real sense? The Tribune quotes our take: "Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for Willets Point United, said this was "Par for the course with the City," stating that it was operating "asphalt backwards" in purchasing and using an industrial plant while to trying to relocate others from the same neighborhood."

But the traffic irrationale caught the Tribune's attention: "The City states that the purchase of this plant will save more than 2 million miles of annual truck trips that are used to carry milled asphalt to landfills, reducing congestion and wear and tear on streets. However, the already clogged streets in the immediate neighborhood will be getting a more active plant with more trucks coming and going."

Our point exactly-a double entendre, to coin a phrase. Our previous observation bears repeating: "So, let’s get this straight. They are going to build this plant next to the 9 million square foot Willets Point development-the one that will generate 80,000 car and truck trips a day-and there rationale is, “reducing congestion?” Is there a better reason for believing that the term city planning is an oxymoron?"

And the beat goes on-underscoring just why the EDC-led development efforts need to be reined in, as Comptroller Liu has stated. Crain's Insider makes the point: "City Comptroller John Liu says the Economic Development Corp.'s influence in taxpayer-subsidized economic development is too big and the process by which it approves projects too opaque."

The entire development/land use process needs to be overhauled-in spite of all of the "merit system" rhetoric we keep hearing from the mayor. Apparently merit-kinda like blight-is in the eye of the beholder.

Lindsay's Legacy and Mike Bloomberg's Inheritance

We were waiting for the NY Times to wax eloquent about the John Lindsay years-and airbrush the real legacy of the dilettante reformer. It’s a good thing that we actually lived through the years of Lindsay’s, “Fun City,” reign so that we can help narrate what his real legacy really was.

The occasion for the Times editorial is an exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. As the Times points out: “The potent graphics of Lindsay campaigning — caught on a new WNET video, “Fun City Revisited” — set the style for a generation of candidates who strutted the streets with rolled up shirt-sleeves and suit jacket flung over the shoulder. Mayor Lindsay walked his tinder box in earnest, most honorably in Harlem on the night the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and he tamped down potentially riotous grief. At the Museum of the City of New York, a gathering of talking-head contemporaries has the feel of the opening of “Broadway Danny Rose,” with colleagues still wondering who Lindsay really was. Museum visitors face the travails of his tenure, beginning with the transit strike chaos of his inaugural midnight. “I still think it’s a fun city,” the new mayor declared.”

We wonder why the wonder-and the talking heads choir that we saw on NY1 had a distinctive one sided liberal tone that, because of the trained incapacity that also animates the perspective of the Times editorial board itself, fails to capture the Lindsay legacy that haunts us to this day.

The Times does allude-in sotto voce it’s true-to some of the Lindsay policy calamity: “Things rarely get any better: garbage and teachers’ strikes, hostage taking in the city prison, poverty and soaring budget gaps (that his labor contracts and “superagency” initiatives helped compound), the now folkloric enmity of residents beyond Manhattan, those neglected by City Hall in snow removal and philosophy.”

“Folkloric enmity?” Now where do you suppose that could have come from? Perhaps it devolved from an almost complete disregard and utter disdain for the righteous concerns of outer borough home owners and tax payers who saw just how Lindsay’s policies targeted their quality of life-from Ocean-Hill Brownsville to Forest Hills (read; Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn Against Liberalism  for a glimpse of the milieu that Lindsay cultivated through his demeanor and policies).

And then there’s the unexplained, “soaring budget gaps,” that speeded NYC into its near catastrophic fiscal collapse just a few years after the Lindsay supernova burnt out (read Ken Auletta’s The Streets were Paved with Gold for the harrowing truth of Lindsay’s misplaced empathy and near imbecilic earnestness).

It is a legacy of liberalism on steroids, with policies that assumed-in Auletta’s words-that NYC could institute a socialist outpost within the confines of a capitalist economy. It was a city where crime metastasized and welfare became a way of life-and if anyone called out in horror as the parade passed by, they had to be retrogrades or worse, Neanderthals with vicious streaks of racism.

The Lindsay, “scatter site” housing program exemplified the entire mindset: “Aug 19, 1971. The Board of Estimate passes a motion to begin work on three 24-story apartment buildings to house 2,000 low-income and elderly citizens in Forest Hills, Queens, a middle-class community, as part of the Lindsay administration’s “scatter-site” housing initiative to promote mixed-income neighborhoods. Local Forest Hills residents, many of whom left Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Crown Heights sections when the poor populations of those areas mushroomed, are adamantly opposed to the new development. Protests ensue.”

Indeed they did-and then there was Ocean Hill Brownsville and the disaster of the community control of the schools experiment (read Diane Ravitch’s The Great School Wars: A History of the New York City Public Schools). Ineptitude built on a foundation of Lawrence of Arabia style condescension for the less fortunate-without Lawrence real affinity for his new found brethren.

Lindsay was a monument to liberal excess-and in Obama-like style triggered a massive counter-reaction. Much of what constituted domestic neo-conservatism-from Irving Kristol to Daniel Moynihan- owes a debt to John Lindsay and his policies. And the election of Rudy Giuliani was a culmination of that counter revolution-a movement that, in Rudy’s first term demonstrated that there was a more sensible approach to urban governance.

It is on Rudy’s legacy that Mike Bloomberg has succeeded in solidifying his three term reign-and without the successes that Rudy wrought, Bloomberg would never have gotten past the first term. The reason lays with the fact that Bloomberg, in his heart, is way more Lindsay than Giuliani. Yet it is the successful counterrevolution that Giuliani implemented-in reducing crime and welfare against the bitter protestations of the bien pensants at the NY Times-that has allowed Bloomberg to putter around with indoor smoking regs, trans fat banning, and other intrusive nanny-like behaviors; while at the same time raising taxes and racking up huge government payrolls and long term debt.

Bloomberg’s liberal dilettantism, so much like Lindsay's, survives because of the battles that Giuliani fought against entrenched interests and a mindset that believed that the issues of crime and chronic intergenerational welfare were insurmountable-and even if they could be overcome, the costs of the battle were too much for the status quo defenders to entertain.

To be fair, the Bloombergistas are a way more competent bunch-and certainly less idealistic and grandiose than the Lindsay kiddie corps. But the fact remains, that Bloomberg and Lindsay are really political soul mates. And if wasn’t for the successful reaction against the Lindsay mindset, Bloomberg wouldn’t have been able to govern.

But the Lindsay legacy is also seen in the current Tea Party movement as well-the reaction against overweening national and local governments that try to go way beyond the constraints that fiscal probity dictates. When we look at the president’s ambitious agenda-and the vitriolic reaction to it- we hear the echoes of a distant past. Once again, the Lindsay mindset is being exposed as dangerously inadequate to meet the political and social needs of a general populace that understands that too much government is never a good thing-and is always a threat to basic individual liberty.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

AssFault Rationality

Is it only us? Are we the only people who think that siting an asphalt plant next to Willets Point isn’t the best idea? Apparently we aren’t since the folks over at Queens Crapper forwarded us this report from the local papers-along with the following comment: “Stupid is as stupid does. Let's develop Shangri-la next to an asphalt plant…”

How right they are. But it actually gets even more ridiculous because of the justifying statement made by Mayor Bloomberg: “The new facility will allow us to resurface and repair more streets faster, in a more environmentally sound fashion and at a lower cost at a time when we are looking at all possible options to reduce expenses,” the mayor said. “By producing more recycled asphalt, we’ll avoid 2 million miles of annual truck trips that are used to carry milled asphalt to landfills, reducing congestion, pollution and wear-and-tear on our streets.”

So, let’s get this straight. They are going to build this plant next to the 9 million square foot Willets Point development-the one that will generate 80,000 car and truck trips a day-and there rationale is, “reducing congestion?” Is there a better reason for believing that the term city planning is an oxymoron?

Not to be outdone, NYC’s own Sadik weighs in as well: “Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the DOT, said the new plant will help the city keep pace with design and repair demands without sacrificing time and money. “Continued investments that combine the safety and good repair of our streets with the need to reduce our city’s carbon footprint are helping New York City remain an international leader in sustainable practices,” she said.”

And to show we have a sense of humor, we will put the “sustainable practices,” asphalt plant right next to an unsustainable Willets Point. But there is some logic to all this-although it has a strong flavor of the kind of crackpot rationality that C. Wright Mills wrote about. Since the city is doing so much auto-dependent development in and around where the plant will be operating, it actually does behoove the green mavens to have asphalt nearby to fix the proliferating potholes that will surely be a product of all of this faux sustainability.

But imagine if the Willets Point development ever does get built-an eventuality that we believe is as realistic as the sustainability goals of PlaNYC 2030. If it does, we will have yet another vehicle generating facility that will add to the traffic burden that the local roads and arterials are unable to handle under present conditions-right next to, as Queens Crapper says, “Shangri-La.”

Real Sustainable Development in Flushing is Possible

We have been highlighting some of the drawbacks of the TDC/Rockefeller plan to develop the Muni Lot 1 in downtown Flushing-in particular, its flawed traffic analysis that downplays the kind of gridlock that the project will generate. But the weakness of the traffic study is only a symptom of the flawed nature of the project itself-the placement of 250,000 sq. ft. of, “destination retail,” at the center of the development.

It is this kind of retail shopping-auto and parking dependent-that makes Flushing Commons both untenable and a potential death knell to the traditional neighborhood shopping that has characterized this neighborhood for the better part of two decades. It is the destination retail that will gobble up a huge majority of the planned for parking spaces. Remember that the original call for 2,000 spaces-memorialized in an agreement between Doctoroff and Liu-has been whittled down to1,600.

According to traditional estimates, 250,000 sq. ft. of retail will demand around 1,000 parking spaces-but the developer’s EIS only assigns 300! for the retail. This is one slippery slope that could well end up depriving the existing neighborhood retailers of their parking lifeblood-but the EIS sees no “indirect displacement,” of current retail firms. Of course it doesn’t, because it provides only a cursory and inadequate review in its section on Socioeconomic Impacts.

That is why Flushing Commons needs a fuller and more independent economic impact study-and this will be on the agenda today of the Flushing BID. BID Chair Jim Gerson tells us that it is more than likely that the Peter Koo-led forces (new councilmember Koo) will turn down the funding request because Koo himself has promised to conduct (fund?) his own study; or perhaps one that is sponsored by the disinterested party over at EDC. Just what we need another, phony self serving,evaluation from the agency that has made such reviews famous.

The reason why the proposed development represents a knife in the heart of small business Flushing is not the usual variable of competition that is a staple of most of these environmental reviews. Gerson himself, in a correspondence with us, lays out the underlying concerns that devolve from parking and traffic:

I believe the impact will be devastating to local businesses especially during the evening hours. Just as in most other metropolitan areas or neighborhoods, there is a core focus which draws people and supports the non-core businesses. In the case of Flushing I believe the core is the quantity and variety of reasonably priced ethnic food (not unlike other "Chinatowns" around the world). These restaurants depend heavily on affordable parking. It is not logical to assume that a family will wait 10mins to 1/2 hour to take a bus with their family to go to dinner. The result will be a gradual, or perhaps precipitous decline in the number and variety of restaurants. Those that remain will have to raise their prices to accommodate "parking vouchers" from the developer, probably making them uncompetitive with other restaurant choices in Queens.

The restaurants are a source for many other kinds of shopping as people are already "there" and, one of the attractions of shopping in Flushing is that you can combine it with an interesting and affordable meal. Bus and subway service is diminishing especially during non rush hours. It is entirely unreasonable to expect that customers take public transportation to Flushing during those times. Affordable parking is the most important key to keeping Flushing vibrant.

During the day Flushing will lose their customers in one of two ways. Gridlock will frustrate some. Others will go to shop in nearby malls or other areas where parking is free. Our residential neighbors will not be immune from this either. As Flushing business declines, real estate values will tumble and the neighborhood will start to deteriorate resulting in an exodus of residents which will then compound the problems. Witness Jamaica another "transit hub" which took massive amounts of government support just to start to "come back".

The retail component of Flushing Commons is the toxic element in the development. A few blocks west, where Muss is developing his massive mixed use Sky View Parc, an additional 300,000 sq. ft. of big box retail is still yet to come. There is simply no need to compound the traffic and parking misery in the center of downtown Flushing-and in the process overwhelm what makes the character of the neighborhood so unique.

And Muss’s well chronicled troubles-at both leasing condominium as well as retail space-should be seen as a cautionary tale for Flushing Commons; particularly in the current recession. There are two dangerous possibilities inherent in what TDC wants to do. The first one-traffic and parking-we’ve already discussed. But the second possibility is equally ominous: the developer’s inability to tenant the property and a consequent drawn out deadly delay in the provision of parking for the existing stores.

Isn’t it time to do real planning in Flushing? In subsequent discussions we will lay out some alternative development concepts-ones that are more responsible and sustainable than the current proposal wending its way through the land use process. Kinda makes you wonder what the mayor was talking about when he described his “merit system-based” economic development policy.

It's Alive!

 In spite of mayoral skepticism, the living wage campaign got a spirited launch on Tuesday-and as City Room reported Mike Bloomberg wasn’t a happy camper: “Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg walked toward City Hall on Tuesday, squinting into the sun, as dozens of protesters standing on the steps turned toward him to shout a battle cry. “What do we want? Living wage! When do we want it? Now!” Mr. Bloomberg smiled tightly as he climbed past the sea of demonstrators swathed in blue T-shirts to enter the building. It is a refrain that is likely to echo across City Hall in the coming months, creating a political headache for Mr. Bloomberg. Two Bronx council members were to introduce a “living wage bill” on Tuesday that would guarantee salaries of at least $10 an hour, nearly $3 above the minimum wage, to all workers at development projects receiving public subsidies.”

But are the mayor’s objections legit? The Drum Major Institute doesn’t think so: “Mayor Bloomberg's comments on a new bill being considered by the City Council are not just disingenuous, they're also flat out wrong. Yesterday, Bloomberg slammed the new bill--which would require employers to pay living wages to all workers at city-subsidized projects--saying that the requirement would stop new development deals from going through. "It's a nice idea but it's poorly thought out and will not work... the economics don't work if you have to pay more." It seems the mayor has a short memory. Just last year the city agreed to include wage requirements as part of the redevelopment of Coney Island--prevailing wages for hotel and building service workers and living wages for other workers.”

And DMI goes on to point out: “But if the "economics don't work," as the mayor claimed yesterday, then why did the administration agree to these requirements for Coney Island? Unless Bloomberg is purposefully trying to kill the redevelopment plan, there must be some disconnect in the mayor's logic.”

So what does the bill actually say. The Observer lays it all out: “The bill, dubbed the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, would force most every development receiving city subsidies of at least $100,000 to require a minimum wage of $11.50 an hour (or $10 and benefits) for anyone working in the development, a mandate that would mostly affect retail jobs (which tend to be low wage).”

The campaign really generated strong support Tuesday-led by the RWDSU’s Stuart Appelbaum. Here’s City Room again: “Stuart Appelbaum, president of the national Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union , responded to Mr. Bloomberg at Tuesday’s rally. “Mr. Mayor, that is the same thing they said about the minimum wage and Social Security,” he said. “They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.” More than 20 council members from all five boroughs have already signed on to support the bill, according to Councilman G. Oliver Koppel, one of its two authors. They would need 34 votes to override a veto by the mayor if the bill were passed, he said.”

So the battle lines are joined and the campaign has its work cut out for itself-given the mayor’s opposition along with the real estate community and the building trades. Here’s the relevant passage from the bill-courtesy of the Observer-and we’ll give the legislative language the last word: “It is the policy of the city that jobs supported with financial assistance, whether conferred directly by the city or indirectly by a city economic development entity, should pay wages that allow working New Yorkers to support themselves with dignity. In furtherance of this policy, covered employers shall pay their employees no less than a living wage."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Power of Money

The Wall Street Journal follows up on its story about the way in which the mayor’s public and private lives intertwine-and how his money buys the twine. And mirabile dictu! Bloomberg has given himself a pass-and in doing so ironically speaks the truth: “Mayor Michael Bloomberg rejected Tuesday strong criticism from government watchdogs that he's inappropriately blurred the lines between his public and private lives by personally paying government employees who moonlight for him."The mayor's life is so intertwined, his personal life, his business life," Mr. Bloomberg said in response to a report about the issue in The Wall Street Journal. "You can't really separate them."

Just as you can’t separate Bloomberg from his fortune-although there’s no limit to the number of sycophants and retainers who will exhaust themselves in the attempt to extract something from the mayor’s unlimited funds. That points directly to the crux of the problem-and the blurring between public and private serves to erase any distinction between the mayor’s self interest and that of the public’s.

The best analysis of the problem is, ironically no doubt, contained in Karl Marx’s essay, “The Power of Money in Bourgeois Society.” As he points out: “That which is for me through the medium of money – that for which I can pay (i.e., which money can buy) – that am I myself, the possessor of the money. The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my – the possessor’s – properties and essential powers. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness – its deterrent power – is nullified by money. I, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless?”

Read the whole thing. But the larger point is how the mayor’s money tends to corrupt honest judgment-about Bloomberg himself, as well as his policies. Who else but a billionaire mayor could give lockjaw to the loquacious Al Sharpton? Whether its charter schools, term limits, or congestion pricing, the ersatz outpouring of support was an epiphenomenon-bolstered by the cash nexus.

But, after his burst of honesty, the mayor couldn’t help himself when coming to the defense of the city’s conflict of interest board: “Mr. Bloomberg said he saw nothing wrong with his paying government employees for private work. This type of financial relationship is barred by the City Charter, but the mayor sought and obtained a waiver from the Conflicts of Interest Board, a panel he appoints exclusively… The board has declined to comment on the ruling, but advocates at good government groups said they think it's inherently coercive for a boss in government to have a financial relationship with a subordinate. Some critics said the conflicts board would have greater credibility if the mayor yielded sole discretion to appoint its members. Mr. Bloomberg said he has no interest in giving up his appointment power. "That's ridiculous," he said. "The COIB is a group of independent people. And they've certainly...acted that way."

And there are those who say that Mike Bloomberg lacks a sense of humor? Still, we are stuck with this grand fellow for a bit more than three years, and it will only be the Owl of Minerva that will be able to unravel all of the back stories and backroom deals that, once revealed, will underscore just how egregiously Bloomberg blurred the line between public and private-between his own interest and the general welfare.

Nothing to See Here

The blurring of the lines between the public and private persona of Mike Bloomberg is being revealed once again in the effort to uncover the truth about what happened to the $1,200,000 that the mayor funneled to a key campaign aide right before the last election. As the Wall Street Journal reports: “An assistant to Mayor Michael Bloomberg—who is on the city payroll, the mayor's private payroll and volunteered on his last campaign—is a key witness in a criminal investigation into what happened to $1.2 million that Mr. Bloomberg paid from his personal fortune to a state political party, people familiar with the matter said. Allison Jaffin, a City Hall aide whom Mr. Bloomberg pays extra out of his own pocket to plan his private events and coordinate them with his public functions, was directly involved in the decision to send the money to the Independence Party of New York, the people said. The party. which supported the mayor's 2009 re-election campaign, then funneled $750,000 of the money to a firm operated by John Haggerty, a Queens Republican operative who is now the target of a probe by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.”

We have already commented on the Haggerty affair-and Adam Lisberg’s reporting on the money trail: “Adam Lisberg continues his incisive reporting on the fate of the Bloombucks that got funneled off to a shady GOP operative-and then apparently disappeared: "By now, we all know how much Mayor Bloomberg spent to win office: $108 million last year, $85 million in 2005, $73 million in 2001. However, we still don't know where it all went. Prosecutors are asking what happened to $750,000 paid last year to a shell company run by Queens operative John Haggerty, six days before he bought a $1.6 million house. Haggerty was supposed to hire Election Day poll watchers, but can't account for as much as $400,000 of it. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has subpoenaed him to find out more."

But the role of Ms. Jaffin underscores the potential for abuse that derives from the ability of the city’s richest man to utilize his fortune in the pursuit of his own personal-as opposed to the public’s-goals. The WSJ captures this: “Ms. Jaffin's involvement with the payments—and the fact that the mayor is paying a government employee on the side with his own money—revive criticism of the blurred lines between Mr. Bloomberg's public and private lives. "This is actually part of the pattern—a complete blending of the private and the public for this mayor and his staff," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a good-government group.”

The Bloombergistas defend their patron, of course: “Mr. Loeser said Mr. Bloomberg believes there is nothing unethical about his paying a government employee for private work, and, in fact, Mr. Bloomberg believes it is the right thing to do. Mr. Bloomberg, a multibillionaire, pays Ms. Jaffin, who earns $117,818 in her City Hall job, at time and a half over her government paycheck for the 20 to 30 hours per week he asks her to moonlight, according to city records. Mr. Loeser declined to specify how much she has earned privately from the mayor.”

And equally unsurprising is the ratification of all of this subornation of a public official by the Three Blind Mice COIB: “In 2006, the mayor sought and received a waiver from the city's Conflicts of Interest Board to pay Ms. Jaffin, who is 34 years old, from his personal funds. In the absence of a waiver, the City Charter prohibits an official from entering into a financial relationship with a subordinate. The waiver makes no mention of Ms. Jaffin having a role in the mayor's political and financial affairs. If she is doing that, it would be on her own time, mayoral aides said.”

All of which highlights how the mayor’s personal wealth-and his political uses of it-create unheard of ethical issues that most observers have difficulty in coming to grips with (the blindness of the COIB aside, since the board is a running joke when it comes to any real oversight of the mayor). But the kneejerk support from those lions of reform- former mayor Ed Koch and the hoary Henry Stern- does underscore why this Bloomberg blurring is so hard to really categorize.

As the WSJ points out: “Former Mayor Ed Koch, who served at City Hall from 1978 to 1989, chuckled when asked if he ever employed a government worker to perform personal duties for him. "I was not independently wealthy," he explained. Mr. Koch defended Mr. Bloomberg and the Conflicts of Interest Board. While the board "can make errors," Mr. Koch said, "I wouldn't second-guess" the panel's judgment. "He has every right to rely on their opinions," Mr. Koch said of Mr. Bloomberg. Henry Stern, a civic leader who is a former councilman and a former parks commissioner, said he believes Mr. Bloomberg is paying Ms. Jaffin "out of an abundance of caution. It passes the nose test of propriety," he said.”

Propriety is obviously in the eyes of these Stevie Wonder wannabees and Stern, for his part, couldn’t smell pigs in a pig pen: “Indeed, public officials in New York and around the country have found themselves in serious criminal trouble for asking government employees to perform personal work for them. In 2006, Alan Hevesi resigned as state comptroller and pleaded guilty to defrauding the government for using a state worker to chauffeur his ailing wife.”

So the mayor and his money rolls on-with the more egregious uses of it, to placate foes and induce political support for his legacy projects, still flying below the political radar. We encourage DA Vance to continue to examine under this Bloomberg rock-it offers a small glimpse of how democracy in this city is sacrificed on the the mayor’s golden calf altar.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Columbia's Tarnished Gem?

Kudos to the NY Post. The paper affords some editorial space for Nick Sprayregen to discuss the upcoming Court of Appeals hearing that will be held in Albany a week from today. And Nick uses the opportunity to highlight one important aspect of the Appellate Court’s decision that the Appeals Court will be reviewing: “A lot rides on how the court decides the case. In a little noticed section of the decision, Judge James Catterson ruled against the state's use of eminent domain on the grounds that Columbia's expansion is not a "civic project." The judge agreed with us that a private university doesn't constitute facilities for a "civic project."

This issue gets to the heart of the distinction between, “public use,” and “public benefit,” and underscores how courts have been undermining property rights through the evolution away from strict a strict public use standard. As Sprayregen points out: “A designation that a development is a "civic project" allows the state to "take" people's homes and businesses and add their land to certain specific types of projects. In the past, the courts have routinely held that "civic projects" should include significant public use of the facilities. Examples include a public park, a convention center, even a professional sports arena -- and, of course, a public school.”

But Columbia is a private college, and as we have been pointing out on numerous occasions, the university has consistently refused to negotiate with Sprayregen for an affordable housing swap that would have actually given the development project a smidgen of public benefit. In addition, Columbia, unlike her Ivy League sister schools, devised its development plan with little or no input from any community stakeholders-Columbia ubber alles has been the central theme (as the collapse of the CBA for this project affirms)

A theme that Sprayregen-and the Appellate Court has captured: “As the judge noted, "Columbia is virtually the sole beneficiary of the project. This alone is reason to invalidate the condemnation especially where, as here, the public benefit is incrementally incidental to the private benefits of the project." In short, as a matter of New York law, there is simply no precedent for designating a private university's project a "civic project."

So, all eyes in the world of NY eminent domain law will be on Albany next week-and a court ruling that upholds the lower court would be a shot heard out in Willets Point; and the city’s cavalier approach to property confiscation may soon be hearing Taps on the WPU bugle. On the other hand, if the Court of Appeals knocks down the Appellate decision, it could well mean open season on property in New York.

We’ll give Sprayregen the last warning word on this possibility: “If the Court of Appeals overturns this ruling, it could very well open the floodgates, for the first time ever, of excessive and aggressive expansions by any wealthy, well-connected private school. You could find yourself losing your home or business, wholly against your will, merely because the private school next door wants to build a larger gym or a new cafeteria. This is wrong."

Bloomberg's Living Wages of Sin

The battle over a living wage is about to begin-with a kick off presser at City Hall this morning. And if anyone thought that this was gonna be a cakewalk, they were underestimating our "five borough economic plan," mayor. Here's Bloomberg in Daily Politics: “The issue here is there are a bunch of projects that don't work on their own, and the city thinks that they have merit, and so we subsidize them. Those are not projects that could stand higher costs. If anything, they have lower costs. And I think if you had a bill like that, just a lot of them just would not go through. And we're trying to build more affordable housing. We're trying to provide more services for the elderly. A lot of those jobs just, the economics don't work if you have to pay more.”

Ah, something that we hadn’t quite understood-the fact that the city’s mega project mania was being governed by the merit system. Just like the no-bid Gateway Mall in the Bronx and the same no bid scenario for Gateway 11 in Brooklyn; that could turn into a meritorious Wal-Mart. And who got these merit-based efforts? None other than Dan Doctroroff’s old friend Steve Ross of Related.

Funny how the merit system works in Bloomberg World. The nature of the Bloomberg merit system is so unique that it has been given a distinguishing moniker of its own-“patricianage.” With special interest being awarded to those of a particular coterie of rich friends.

But listen, don’t take our word alone on this putative merit-based economic development policy. Remember that it was the Citizens Budget Commission that issued the, “money for nothing,” evaluation of the Bloomberg mega mania. Which gets us to the rub of the criticism-and what rubs us the wrong way.

The Bloomberg development policies have been devastating to both neighborhood retailers and communities-providing subsidized competition for the latter and traffic choke streets to the former. Willets Point and Flushing Commons are witnesses for the prosecution here; but the Gateway Mall in the Bronx-built on the carcass of the Bronx Terminal Market-is another indictment of the mayoral philosophy of aggrandizing the wealthy at the expense of small minority businesses.

But let’s return to the question at hand-and the mayor’s idea that the projects that are subsidized won’t work with the living wage add-on. What’s funny to us here, is that the critics chafe over subsidizing wages, but are totally sanguine about subsidizing retail chain stores that threaten the viability of Mom and Pop retailers-in a cannibalizing example of the old zero-sum game. But Bloomberg remains clueless-totally out of touch with neighborhood reality.

Here’s his comments in the NY Daily News: “Mayor Bloomberg scoffed Monday at a plan requiring a $10 hourly minimum wage for jobs in city-subsidized developments, saying companies can't afford it. "It's a nice idea but is poorly thought out and will not work," he said. "The economics don't work if you have to pay more."

If so, than the so-called merits of the deal are simply fraudulent-and city hall needs to do a better job at cost benefit analysis. Regardless of how you feel about paying a living wage, Bloomberg has not sold us on the economic benefits of his mega building. And his off message non sequitor on, “more services for the elderly,” is completely misdirection, because it is all of the unaccounted for money that he has spent on boondoggles like Willets Point, that have redirected money from essential services to Bloomberg legacy projects.

One final thought from our small business perspective-and we have our Korean and Chinese retailers from Flushing in mind when we say the following: Subsidizing chain retail, as is the case of Flushing Commons; and providing for poverty retail wages in the process, serves to destroy minority entrepreneurs whose blood, sweat and tears provides for extended immigrant families-giving them a leg up on the rung of the American Dream.

The failure to understand this is what skews the mayor’s perspective on this issue-and his wrongheaded view of what happened at Kingsbridge Armory exemplifies this: “And I think you saw the damage that can be done when Kingsbridge Armory was the case. Instead of having some jobs for people that may not pay as much as they would like but at least give them a leg up in starting up the economic ladder, and without having the stores that would have given people in the neighborhood the ability to buy more things cheaper and more closer to home, we have nothing. And that's exactly what this bill would do. It's a nice idea, but is poorly thought out and will not work."

Small business success is the quintessential New York variant of the “leg up.” To subsidize the assault on this sector-as Bloomberg’s policy does-is not good government. But if that’s the road he wants to take, we really need to join with Stuart Appelbaum of the RWDSU and say, “not for nothing.” We’ll give Stuart’s cable ad the last word: "Development that merely creates permanent poverty wage jobs accomplishes nothing. Too many people in this city are hurting, worrying about how they will survive, unable to find good jobs. We need to put the interests of the people of this city above those of private developers. When the public's resources are used to support private development, the public has the right to expect something in return - and for us that means good jobs, jobs that pay living wages

Not For Whose Profit?

We have been making the point that the accusations against state senator Pedro Espada are a case of selective outrage. As we said in January, critiquing the NY Post’s obsession with the senator: “The NY Post is at it again-singling out Senator Pedro Espada for ridicule and leaving out any of the context that would, if understood, make mockery of the paper's invidious campaign of slander: " As for “controlling government spending” — let’s just say he’s trying to control as much of it as he can. Soundview, a nonprofit, relies heavily on Medicaid dollars — yet Espada appears to run it as a personal and political piggy bank. He took home a $460,000 salary in 2007, while Soundview pays his for-profit custodial outfit nearly $400,000 a year, far more than the job should cost.”

To which we replied: “Now for the missing context-and also missing is the fact that neither the Post's Rupert Murdoch, whose paper delights in making sport of Bronx pols, nor the attorney general-have ever done a damn thing to bring health care to the underserved South Bronx; something that Espada's Soundview HealthCare Network has done for over thirty years. The NY Times captured this last year in an article that AG Cuomo's folks would do well to read carefully: "But on White Plains Road in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx, State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. is a central figure, to some a populist crusader, in a health care system that every year provides care to 25,000 poor people who have long been ignored by the medical establishment."

And Soundview does a lot of good for a lot of folks: “So Espada and Soundview are doing an immense amount of good things for the medically underserved communities of the South Bronx. As the Uptown Chronicle reports: "With 2,832,287 people in New York City eligible for Medicaid this year, according to New York State’s Department of Health and Human Services, there is a disproportionate number of patients receiving subsidized healthcare in the city’s poorer neighborhoods. In the South Bronx, where unemployment hovers above 13 percent, it’s the small conveniences that make Soundview so appealing to residents in the neighborhood. “It’s a big reason why I come here,” Rodriguez said. “They don’t hassle you. This place is meant for people who are poor. It’s not a big surprise to them or anything.”

But now, as the NY Post reports, there are a whole slew of not-for-profits that are living quite large-and the paper calls them, “culture vultures” “Taxpayer-funded museums and cultural attractions suffered their worst economic crisis in decades but still paid executives fat salaries and bonuses -- and doled out perks like housing allowances and club memberships, The Post has learned. Hammered by the recession, with donations down and endowments shrinking, the institutions saw revenue drop by 50 percent in some cases, according to tax filings for the year ending June 30, 2009. The groups cut hundreds of jobs and slashed programs. Yet bosses at many of the 33 museums, zoos and other attractions hardly felt the hit.”

And how about our old pal John Cavelli? Compare his situation with that of the the hassled Espada: “There were no pay cuts for execs at the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium and other zoos, but pay has been frozen since 2008. And while budget crunchers were threatening to fire the Bronx Zoo's porcupine, Society Director Steven Sanderson's salary and benefits were $1 million in 2008, including an Upper East Side apartment. John Calvelli, the society's p.r. chief, got a $41,283 bonus in 2008, bringing his total pay to $485,635. The bonus was "in recognition of extraordinary accomplishments," the group's tax filing says.”

So, let’s get this straight. Espada the profiteer is being out-earned by a flack at the zoo? Not to mention all of the other swells with expanding waist lines: “The Metropolitan Museum of Art handed out hefty pay hikes in July 2008, the start of a fiscal year that would see a 40 percent drop in revenue. Suzanne Brenner, the Met's chief investment officer, got a $354,923 bonus, bringing her total compensation to $1.2 million in 2008, the museum's tax filing shows. Yet the income from investments she supervised plummeted from $270 million to $112 million.”

It is certainly quite interesting too us that the guy supplying medical care to the South Bronx is targeted, while all of the culture vultures are given a pass. In our view, the conduit for flu shots deserves a better break than the wildlife and art lovers are being given. It makes you think that there might even be a double standard at work.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Tribute to Danny Pearl?

The president signed the, “Daniel Pearl Freedom of Press Act,” and you’d be hard pressed from the chief executive’s words-or from the following AP story, to determine just why the legislation might be significant: “President Barack Obama has signed a law intended to provide more protections for a free press around the world. The law, the Daniel Pearl Freedom of Press Act, expands efforts to identify countries where press freedom is being violated. The law is named after Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was beheaded by militants in Pakistan in 2002. The law expands an annual report on human rights practices to include information about media treatment, and identify countries where the media is being repressed. Obama said the law would be a signal to governments around the world that their actions, including treatment of the media, are being watched.”

What, no stirring quote from the silver tongued Obama? Well, actually the president did say a few words, but the tribute was so lame that the AP felt the need to cover for him by excluding the less than stirring statement. Mark Steyn gets the essence of this: “Obviously, the loss of Daniel Pearl was one of those moments that captured the world's imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is."

So now we need to put the Daniel Pearl story into an episode of, “Lost.” Can Obama get mealier mouth about this gruesome event, one that symbolizes a great deal more than a tribute to the legacy of Peter Zenger? Steyn again: “First of all, note the passivity: "The loss of Daniel Pearl." He wasn't "lost." He was kidnapped and beheaded. He was murdered on a snuff video. He was specifically targeted, seized as a trophy, a high-value scalp. And the circumstances of his "loss" merit some vigor in the prose. Yet Obama can muster none.”

Daniel Pearl was singled out, first as an American and second as a Jew-and the reason he was targeted is precisely why we are fighting over in Afghanistan and why all of the terror tourists are checking out the NYC subway system and Times Square. But, just as AG Holder can’t get himself attuned enough to accurately label the Times Square bomber, so the president downplays and circumlocutes.

And instead of real eloquence, we get this: “But what did the "loss" of Daniel Pearl mean? Well, says the president, it was "one of those moments that captured the world's imagination." Really? Evidently it never captured Obama's imagination because, if it had, he could never have uttered anything so fatuous. He seems literally unable to imagine Pearl's fate, and so, cruising on autopilot, he reaches for the all-purpose bromides of therapeutic sedation: "one of those moments" – you know, like Princess Di's wedding, Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction, whatever – "that captured the world's imagination."

And, as Rich Richman adds: "Pearl was beheaded by the architect of 9/11, on video, immediately after he pronounced himself an American Jew. No one watching it was reminded of how valuable a free press is; nor did it capture anyone’s imagination, other than that of the jihadists who downloaded it to congratulate themselves, re-energize their efforts, and recruit others. It came five months after jihadists flew two aircraft into the World Trade Center, murdering 3,000 people, and two months before a jihadist murdered another 30 people (the demographic equivalent of 1,350 people in a country the size of Israel) during a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya. These were not moments reminding us of the importance of tall buildings and nice hotels."

All the president’s men-and women-are circumlocuters; and fearful of offending the offenders at the same time. They’re worried about how we will be perceived in the Arab capitals of the world. In the process of blatant obfuscation, the danger to us all metastasizes; and we are slowly dragged into the coming dhimmini world of South Park censorship.

A Bloomin' Liar

Wayne Barrett has a hilarious piece in the Village Voice on the prevarications of Connecticut's Attorney General Richard Blumenthal about his alleged service in Vietnam: “Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general running for senate, has been channeling our own David Paterson, blasting the Times rather than owning up to his own blunders. The only "Vietnam vet" to confuse Da Nang with the Harvard Swim Club, Blumenthal either actively or passively abetted a spellbinding memoir of his early days, a bio so false it would have led to material misrepresentation charges had he been investigating it rather than encouraging it.”

An excellent point, one that Salon has also hit upon in a scathing expose of the AG’s hypocrisy: “Richard Blumenthal, the attorney general of Connecticut, has a problem. He's running for the U.S. Senate, and he's been caught on video implying falsely that he served in Vietnam. He'd like your understanding as he explains that he simply "misspoke" about his service. He'd like you to give him a break. But Blumenthal has never given anyone a break. He has made a career out of holding others to the strictest standards of truth—and mercilessly prosecuting them when they fall short.”

In short, aside from being a bully, he is also a stone phony-holding everyone but himself to the highest standards: “Last fall, Blumenthal launched an investigation of food companies that put a "Smart Choices" logo on their products. He called the labels "potentially misleading" and decried marketing gimmicks that "blur or block the truth." Though the labels made no explicit claims, he protested that they "misguided" the public and sowed "confusion." He pledged to teach companies, through his investigation, that "labeling must be completely truthful and accurate without hype or spin." And he depicted the industry in the harshest terms: "Big Food has been feeding big lies to consumers about nutritional value." Today, Blumenthal said he merely "misspoke" about his service, using the wrong preposition in a small and "unintentional" oversight.”

And in the, “no misrepresentation is too small to prosecute,” category: “Last fall, Blumenthal threatened legal action against a hotel and a musical performance company for calling their tribute show "An Evening With the Platters." He said it was "unclear" whether the company owned the rights to the Platters' name. After the hotel backed down and renamed its show "A Tribute to the Platters," Blumenthal declared victory but warned, "I will continue fighting to enforce Connecticut's truth-in-music law." Today, Blumenthal accused his critics of nitpicking his record and missing the big picture.”

And on and on (read the entire story). But back to Barrett-an equal opportunity basher who holds no partisan water for dirtbags: “In addition to his own occasional public claims that he "served in Vietnam" or "returned" from it, Blumenthal has been inaptly depicted as a war vet in eight profiles over the last six years, and captain of the swim team in two.

The AG with a steel-trap mind can't recall if anyone ever attempted to correct his own pulsating narrative. I tried to determine if Blumenthal's obvious failure to napalm this convoy of lies was simply a reflection of his deep first-amendment respect for the right of almost every newspaper in his state to get it wrong. So I called the press office to ask co-director Chris Hoffman if it had ever contacted a news organization about any reporting it regarded as inaccurate about the actual work of the office. Two days of haggling produced no answer.”

And Barrett also mines the hypocrisy theme: “A brief search of the really extraordinary Blumenthal record (it takes an afternoon to scroll through the press releases) uncovered a few cases that cut so close to Blumenthal's own failings as to suggest that he might have put a target on his own back. He's brought cases against lawnmower companies for mislabeling tractor horsepower, travel scammers, and even an "imposter pastor" who "with unconscionable and unprecedented gall" claimed to run a church he didn't.”

Hello, Reverend Blumenthal! But the good AG is the gift that keeps on giving-and as folks who hate prosecutorial nannies, we are thrilled at the AG being hoisted on his own petard. And the Times, responding to the gauntlet that Blumenthal laid down, responds with yet another zinger: “Broader newspaper archival searches continue to turn up instances in which Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut portrayed himself as a Vietnam War veteran even though he did not serve in the war. The most recent article unearthed is one published in The Milford Mirror, a weekly, describing an appearance he made at a May 2007 Memorial Day Parade in Milford, Conn., attended by local officials, military people and the relatives of a local man killed while serving in Iraq. As people gathered around a bandstand to give praise to fallen veterans, the article said, Mr. Blumenthal recalled his days during the Vietnam War. “In Vietnam,” Mr. Blumenthal said, according to the article, “we had to endure taunts and insults, and no one said, ‘Welcome home.’ I say welcome home.”

Oy vey! But why do Connecticut Dems continue to support this lame candidate? There are plenty of others more worthy and less damaged. In our view, if they circle the wagons around Richard Blumenthal, it will soon be General Armstrong Custer time for the Connecticut Democratic Party

Living Wage Set For Debut

The city wide Living Wage Legislation is set to debut with a press conference on Tuesday at City Hall. The legislation is an outgrowth of the land use battle over the Kingsbridge Armory. Crain’s has the back story: “A dispute over wages that derailed the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx late last year is set to spread citywide: A bill to be introduced in the City Council on Tuesday would mandate wages of at least $10 an hour, plus benefits, for all jobs created by city-subsidized projects slated, according to a story to be published Monday in Crain's New York Business.”

The following is from the press advisory of Living Wage NYC, the coalition that is spearheading the presser tomorrow: “Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., labor leaders, community groups, and elected officials will hold a press conference to launch the Living Wage NYC campaign. The goal of the campaign is to pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act to ensure that New York City subsidies for economic development create living wage jobs.”

The coalition, still in formation and growing, includes the following partners: Families United for Racial and Economic Equality; Fifth Ave. Committee; Good Old Lower East Side; Make the Road NY; Micah Institute; National Employment Law Project; Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition; Retail Action Project; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

What the Kingsbridge battle taught many of us was that the battle for wage equality is more difficult on a case by case basis-and within the parameters of the city’s restricted land use process. As Crain’s Points out: “If the Kingsbridge battle is any indication—elected leaders in the Bronx and City Council ultimately squashed a project that would have yielded 2,200 jobs—the bill will be met with a frosty reception by the Bloomberg administration. It repeatedly argued that transforming the empty armory into a retail mall wouldn't be economically viable if the mandate for what proponents call a “living wage” was attached.”

With a city wide mandate, all development projects that are subsidized would be competing on a level playing field: “With proponents of the new living wage bill seeking to cover all jobs created across the entire city via subsidized projects, the stakes will now be higher. The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, which is expected to be unveiled by council members Oliver Koppel and Annabel Palma, both Democrats from the Bronx, at the behest of their borough's president, Ruben Diaz, Jr., would require developers of a project that receives more than $100,000 in city subsidies—such as bond financing, tax abatements or infrastructure improvements—to guarantee a minimum wage of $10 an hour plus benefits, or $11.50 without benefits.”

The NY Times offers this preview of some of the pitfalls that lie ahead: "In what could set off a major City Hall battle, two City Council members from the Bronx plan to propose a bill on Tuesday that would guarantee wages of at least $10 an hour, nearly $3 above the minimum wage, to all workers at development projects receiving public subsidies. The bill is likely to draw strong opposition from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who vigorously fought, and ultimately lost, a struggle last year over similar wage requirements at a mall that was planned to be built inside the city-owned Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx."

Big real estate will oppose the bill-but the national trend is going to be hard to stop: "Real estate groups typically oppose so-called living-wage requirements, arguing that they stifle development and hinder private investment. Roughly 140 municipalities across the country have passed similar legislation, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Fe, N.M., said Robert Pollin, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst who has studied living wage issues."

In our view, the argument for the living wage concept is buttressed by the fact that the tax subsidies, and other inducements for retail developments, create collateral damages for other nonsubsidized retail employers in the project’s catchment area. In addition, many of the developments that the city promotes are auto dependent and cause environmental harm to the host communities. To do so, and to create retail employment that can’t sustain families in NYC, makes very little public policy sense.

In fact, the living wage campaign offers an opportunity for the city council to better understand the limitations of the Bloomberg economic development policies-and the need for a better oversight policy that forces EDC and selected developers to do a better job at evaluating the negative impacts that some of their projects have on exiting small businesses and neighborhoods.

Case in point: Flushing Commons. With all of the usual hoopla about job development, EDC has not yet even tried to examine what kind of impacts will ensue from closing the municipal lot for three years while the project is under construction. And let’s not forget that the property is being conveyed at a less than market rate.

Muni Lot 1 is the lifeline for the local Korean and Chinese businesses-and even after construction, the rates that TDC will charge will, in effect, turn privatize the public facility to the detriment of 400 minority entrepreneurs. The EDC response? A $2 million dollar fund that is so minimal that it is embarrassing that the agency has advanced the small sum-a number that, when divided among the 400 merchants, and amortized over the construction period, amounts to less than $140/month. This for merchants with a monthly overhead of around $10,000!

In our view, the city’s entire economic development strategy is badly in need of an overhaul-and a stringent review, as the Citizens Budget Commission has suggested. The mayor has been busy for eight years building large retail malls that aggrandize a small number of developers at the expense of communities and the small businesses that are vital to the city’s economy.

If, as Crain’s points out, the Bloombergistas believe that projects like the Kingsbridge Armory, “… wouldn't be economically viable if the mandate for what proponents call a “living wage” was attached,” than they probably aren’t worth doing in the first place.

Cuomo Hits All the Right Notes

Andrew Cuomo launched his bid for NY State governor by hitting all of the right notes-something that we foreshadowed earlier this year: “Which is why we believe that a tax revolt may be on the horizon-even in as liberal a state as New York…That is, unless we get a new sheriff who can use the current crisis to implement a new governing paradigm. And the talk we heard from Andrew Cuomo the other day surely looks like the kind of approach we're talking about. As Liz pointed out last week: "AG Andrew Cuomo sounded a distinctly pro-business and centrist note at a Tuesday night fundraiser organized for him by Republican supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis, according to an attendee at the event..."It was almost as if he was reading the tea leaves of some of the results in Nassau and Westchester counties," said my source. "He talked about lowering the cost of government and business, how we can't be taxing people in the middle of a recession. It was the right tone for the time, and the right tone for a business audience."

And Cuomo stayed true to this theme in his announcement over the weekend. As the Wall Street Journal reported: “New York State is upside down and backwards; high taxes and low performance," he said. "The New York State government was at one time a national model. Now, unfortunately, it's a national disgrace."

And forget the Ravitch borrowing plan: “For the first time Saturday, Mr. Cuomo unveiled a tough stand on the state budget crisis. New York faces a deficit of more than $9 billion, and the budget is now nearly two months overdue."I do not support the current plans for the state to borrow as much as $6 billion to pay operating expenses. We must reduce costs, not raise them," he says in the video. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Mr. Cuomo planned to freeze state worker salaries and introduce a state spending cap.”

This is indeed good news-and Cuomo’s public support for government retrenchment is an indication that he’s willing to say what needs to be said, no matter what the audience. The outstanding open question, however, is whether he can alter the dysfunction that he so eloquently has castigated.

Josh Greenman of the NY Daily News, wonders the same thing: “In fact, the smart money is all on Andrew. Like it was on Spitzer in 2006, like it was on Hillary Clinton in 2008. Which is to say: The odds are he'll successfully position himself as an anti-Albany crusader. The odds are he'll win. And the odds are he'll lead with authority. But as Spitzer and Clinton proved, the best-laid plans can unravel.”

But Greenman also lauds Cuomo’s ambitious agenda-and the dire need that New Yorkers have for a caped crusader: “Ever since our last would-be savior got his cape caught in his own zipper, with his socks on, New York State has been holding out for a hero. We're staring at a $9 billion deficit and saddled with a political class that always covers up red ink with gimmicks, tax hikes and borrowing - never tackling the chronic spending beneath it all. Meantime, a steady stream of corruption scandals has made the worst legislature in the nation look even more deplorable. We've watched Gov. Paterson, well-intentioned though he may be, bumble his way through, played for a chump. No chump is Andrew. He's got charisma and political skill to spare and is using them to run against All Things Albany.”

So, in our view, this is an auspicious beginning-Cuomo is boxing in his potential Republican opponents with a fiscally conservative approach that the state really needs. When you add the Augean Stables theme about corruption into the mix, you have a dynamic head start on a successful campaign.

But Albany has proven to be resistant to real substantive change in the past, in order to alter the status quo dynamic, Cuomo will need all of the skills that he has learned up until this point-but, even more so, he will need to have the galvanized support of New Yorkers. The reform of government effort, in order to achieve the kind of success that the state needs, must enlist grassroots New Yorkers-the homeowners, tax payers and small business owners-so that the sword wielding chief executive can impress the political class that the changes being sought are those that the voters want desperately to be implemented.

Now we find out (and we read this after making the point), that Cuomo plans to do just that-as the NY Times reports: "Borrowing a page from Barack Obama —and a consultant in new media, Stephen Geer, from Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign — Mr. Cuomo wants to create a cadre of grass-roots activists to pressure lawmakers from the bottom up, backed by an advertising campaign that aides said would focus more on Mr. Cuomo’s platform than his already well-known biography."

Wow, great minds, and all that; a lethal combination of a charismatic crusading governor and a fed up public, that will be able to really shake things up and turn NY in a direction where we will, in Cuomo’s words, have a government that we all can be proud of: “We're tired of seeing New Yorkers victimized by corporate greed on Wall Street," he said. "We're tired of seeing New Yorkers victimized by government corruption in Albany. We're tired of seeing New Yorkers leave the state because they can't pay their taxes anymore."
 
And by doing so, Cuomo steals the kettle right from under the tea party-an example of imitation flattery: "You start with the assumption that you were supposed to go through them,” Mr. Cuomo said of lawmakers at a news conference in Manhattan after the parade “I don’t start with that assumption. I think you do it the other way around,” he added. “I think you go to the people first, and you get the people on your side. Not just on your side generically, but you get the people supporting a specific set of reforms.”

Let’s hope that he can galvanize the public in this manner, and lead New York out of its unsustainable morass.

Friday, May 21, 2010

More Handwriting on the Wal-Mart

The rumored entry of Wal-Mart into Brooklyn is already generating a great deal of controversy. As the NY Daily News reports: “Sofi Rosenblun couldn't care less about Wal-mart's low-low prices. ”There's more to life than cheap underwear," said the 39 year-old Brooklynite Thursday. The retail giant has set its eyes on East New York's Gateway II mall as the site for the city's first Wal-mart. Although the plans are still in the early stages of development, the idea has already left some residents furious.”

And there’s a genuine concern over the fate of neighborhood small businesses: “Rosenblun said a newly constructed Wal-mart would drive out all other businesses and leave the neighborhood's residents with low-wage jobs, most likely at the controversial retailer.”

Of course, the nagging issue for the Walmonster is how they mistreat their workers: “Dozens of angry Brooklynites, lead by a nonprofit group, New York Communities for Change, rallied against Wal-mart's plans to become their newest neighbor Thursday in Starrett City.

Protestor Pat Boone, 59, of East New York said Wal-mart's low prices can be tempting, but they come with a price. "Everyone wants to save money these days," she said during the rally. "But not at the cost of supporting a place that mistreats its employees." Maria Maisonet, 50, of New York Communities for Change, expressed the same sentiments as Boone while adding her biggest problem with the store is its alleged underpayment of employees. "New York is already an expensive city," Maisonet said. "People with families can't live off those wages and [WAL-MART] knows that."

The controversy isn’t going to go away any time soon-as we have pointed out already. There’s the little issue of the state owned portion of the development that has yet to be conveyed to Related, the developer of Gateway Estates. There is a great deal of conversation occurring today that will be directed at using the conveyance issue-and the developer’s desire for a bargain on the sale price-as leverage to prevent the retail giant from encroaching on the East New York neighborhood.

Further discussions with city and state officials concern the possibility of holding oversight hearings on the conveyance issue- and the propriety of having Wal-Mart as a tenant in Gateway. But we’ll give one of the Wal-Mart protesters the last word: “The construction of New York's first Wal-mart has not been approved by the City Council and some Starrett City residents are working hard to keep it that way. "We're going to keep fighting to make sure that place doesn't destroy our home," Maisonet said.

Credit Where It's Due

The Alliance has been probably the biggest Bloomberg critic through his first two terms-but when the Bloomberg administration does something right, we need to congratulate it. As the Crain's Insider is reporting (subsc): "Mayor Bloomberg is trying to do for business what he's already done for individual New Yorkers: bring a spirit of customer service to government bureaucracy. But it's not as simple as setting up a 311-style hotline—which, in fact, they hope to make more responsive to businesses' needs. At least 20 agencies are already knee-deep in the process. A website, NYC Business Express, is one of the first offerings. It spells out the permits and licenses that entrepreneurs will need in order to open their businesses. A restaurateur who wants to serve alcohol and have a pool table, say, needs no fewer than 11 city permits and licenses."

Now one of our biggest gripes with the Bloombergistas has been onerous regulations-and an unfair adjudication system that goes with the regs. But apparently, some positive changes are in the works:-ones that go beyond those proposed by Speaker Quinn "City officials say merchants slapped with violations often complain, “I've never heard of that rule.” In part, that's because agencies issue hundreds of rules each year. Many are redundant or contradictory. Anthony Crowell, counselor to the mayor, says the administration is streamlining the city's rules to make it easier for businesses to comply with them. Part of the challenge is cultural. City lawyers are being asked to consider how the rules they write to implement municipal law may overburden small businesses. Agency inspectors who hand out fines may soon find themselves in training sessions that stress customer service. The administration hopes to allow businesses to be able to pay or adjudicate violations online within 18 months. But the day when business owners won't need expediters to deal with the city may not come until after the mayor has left office."

Make no mistake about this. If the mayor's people follow through-and we've been calling for the revamping of the municipal code for years-this will be a real boon for the city's struggling Mom and Pop retailers; and suggested streamlining of the licensing procedures is another potential benefit here as well: "The vision in the mayor's office is to eventually provide business owners with one-stop shopping for permits and licenses. Thirty-three licenses can now be applied for online, but that leaves more than 400 paper-based city licenses, permits and certifications, and exams."

Now, if we could only find a way to reduce the city's crippling tax burden, things would really be looking up. But even without the needed tax relief, this is a real positive change of direction, and we wish that the mayor had started this eight years ago. That being said, our hats are off-credit, where credit's due.

Comet-Like Opposition to Willets Point

The Times Newsweekly of Queens covers Willets Point United's county-wide tour against the EDC effort to wrest their property away against their wishes; and we get the featured role in the story:

"The spokesman for a group of Willets Point businesses stopped by the Communities of Maspeth of Elmhurst Together’s (COMET) May 3 meeting at Bethzatha Church of God in Elmhurst. Richard Lipsky, representing Willets Point United, has been making the rounds at civic associations throughout the city (including the Juniper Park Civic Association, as covered in last week’s issue of the Times Newsweekly). Telling COMET that his group is “fighting for everyone’s right in this city to protect their property,” he urged the group to support businesses at Willets Point by joining their fight to save the area from a city project that includes the use of eminent domain to seize “blighted” properties. His group is pushing legislation that would expound on what it means for an area to be “blighted,” claiming that currently, “if the city says it’s blighted, it is blighted.” Lipsky claimed that the project would cost $1.5 billion in city finds at a time when money is lacking, and charged that the city has yet to fully flesh out their plans. “Whatever you read in the paper, don’t believe it,” he stated. “There is no development, and there is no plan. They’re closing libraries, firehouses,” said Lipsky. “Why are we going to spend $1.5 billion to take out 200 businesses and 2,500 workers who are employed by those businesses and who pay taxes themselves?”

Comet also listened to one of the property owners from Willets Point describe her frustrating plight: “He then passed the microphone to Irene Prestigiacomo, a Willets Point property owner. Having taken over her late husband’s property and business (she would eventually rent out the property), she claimed to have spent years lobbying to have the area rehabilitated. “I set about fighting the conditions that he himself fought,” she said. She went to a local lawyer, who referred her to an architect who pledged to work with Prestigiacomo to lobby city officials. “I wanted to correct the conditions: the streets, the lights, the sewers,” she said. “There’s nothing there, but yet we’re paying the taxes.” Eventually, however, the architect began to avoid her phone calls; eventually reached by Prestigiacomo, he told her that “‘the city greases its own way. ... I cannot help you.’ That’s when the light bulb went on and I had to stop.”

And the paper focused in on the WPU's ramp crusade: "He then explained Willets Point United’s plan to derail the city development project by focusing on two vehicular ramps the city intends to build leading to and from the nearby Van Wyck Expressway. According to Lipsky, persuading the state not to approve the construction of the ramps would effectively kill the project, which he called “a colossal boondoggle and a waste of money.” At President Rosemarie Daraio’s urging, COMET voted for a resolution urging the state to delay the con- struction of the ramps, citing a bad economic climate."

This makes it eight for eight-and the only civic to fail to endorse an independent ramp review is, ironically, the one closest to the development. It is, however, not only ironic but tragic-and reflects the blow back efforts from the Queens BP who, quite frankly, ought to be ashamed of herself for her interference with the expressed wishes of her community. Make no mistake about it. When we visited the East Elmhurst Corona Jackson Heights Civic Association earlier this year, the assembled members were aghast at what we told them about the traffic impacts of the Willets Point development.

Now, let's keep in mind the fact that we were simply asking the civic to endorse an independent review-and not come out four square against the plan. Such a review is an integral part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the state's leading environmental organization is supporting such a review because the applicant, EDC in this case, can't be relied on to do a righteous review-something that WPU has already proven to NYSDOT; that is why the local agency has been forced to revise its ramp traffic report. That BP Marshal is muscling her own local community is beyond shameful-and is indicative of the larger fear, from the mayor on down, that an independent review will kill the Willets Point plan because the ramps simply do not work.

But a state hearing on the matter is being scheduled for the end of June-and we hope that the well meaning Lynda McDougald, who heads the civic, will bring her group down to listen to the testimony and hear both sides. WPU isn't afraid of a real debate on the traffic issues-but we certainly know why EDC and Helen Marshall are terrified of the facts.

Flushing Merchants Really Turn Out Against Development

The Flushing Times covers last week’s City Planning Commission hearing on the Flushing Commons development-and highlights the turnout of Korean small business owners who are fearful that the project will simply wipe them out: "More than 100 people packed the city Planning Commission’s Manhattan hearing chamber and adjacent rooms last week in order to speak their minds about Flushing Commons, a more than $800 million, mixed-use development project proposed for downtown Flushing...Several Korean merchants and residents, many of whom rode together into Manhattan on a bus from Flushing, were brought to tears during the proceedings, warning that the project and what they describe as its insufficient parking would crush their small businesses. “There are so many places to develop, but this place is already booming. Why did you choose this place to develop?” asked Park Soon, who owns a business near the municipal lot and is concerned about parking but was dry-eyed during his testimony, which was translated from Korean. “We are paying enough taxes. Please don’t destroy our businesses.”

This project has so many deleterious impacts that it is a wonder that its supporters have yet to see just what a danger it poses to, not only down town Flushing and its retailers, but to the already gridlocked surrounding neighborhoods. Make no mistake about it, the developer's traffic study itself predicts that Flushing will have unmitigatible traffic conditions-and that's with a study that underestimates the number of car and truck trips, while predicating needed mitigation on one way Main Street and Union Street changes that have been taken off of the drawing board by DOT.

In the three to five years that the project will ultimately take to be built, the local businesses will essentially be suffocated by the absence of any parking for their businesses-and the alternate sites offered are either full, or are too far away to provide any relief. In the current economic downturn, even a six month period without any customer parking could prove to be fatal. And then there's the EDC underhanded sabotaging of the original parking deal crafted between then Deputy Mayor Doctoroff and John Liu. The deal called for 2,000 parking spaces and an, "in perpetuity," cap on the rates-after all, Muni Lot 1 is a public parking facility.

Now, however, demonstrating that a deal with the city isn't worth the paper it's printed on, parking has been reduced to 1,600 spaces; and rates will rise precipitously shortly after construction is completed. But the 1600 is itself insufficient to accommodate all of the residents from the condos on the drawing board, let alone for the customers of the 250,000 square feet of retail space designed for, "destination retailers"-a woefully inadequate number that will prompt disgruntled shoppers to meander endlessly around downtown in search of parking.

And as far as these so-called national retailers are concerned, the developer hasn't offered a clue as to the potential tenants. And it is our suspicion that national chains will be reluctant to go to this crowded and inaccessible site-owing to the traffic gridlock. If this happens, then the tenanting of the site will be by stores owned by direct competitors of the existing firms-cannibalizing the Flushing businesses and not offering any value added.

EDC has not-as is par for its course-either examined the collateral damages that the project will generate; or offered any real compensation for merchants that will be devastated during the construction phase. And, as far as we know, the agency hasn't negotiated any contractual guarantees that will insure that developer TDC will actually live up to its promises. Minimally, there needs to be an agreement that protects the city from the bait and switch tactics of the real estate giant; one that allows the city to take back the property should the developer fail to live up to the terms.

It goes without saying, though, that should there be national chain stores in the mix, that they should be mandated to pay a living wage. In our view, the city is selling a public use facility for a low balled price-and the development will cause severe hardship to small businesses and the neighborhoods. Given these impacts, if the jobs created are poverty level wage ones, EDC will have added injury to insult to injury.

Flushing Commons is one gigantic mess-and its supporters have been deluded to believe that the economic benefits outweigh the damages. But without any adequate independent review of the traffic, and the absence of an economic impact study, means that supporters are simply operating on blind faith-with the fate of 400 struggling businesses, and an already car choked community hanging in the balance.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Smikle-Head

It's great to see that the NY Post-arguably the most conservative voice in local media-is jumping in with both feet in favor of the Basil Smikle challenge to Senator Bill Perkins: "Political consultant Basil Smikle officially launches his campaign today to try to unseat state Sen. Bill Perkins in the Democratic primary -- slamming the Harlem incumbent as a weak leader and an opponent of charter schools. "We've been suffering for a long time from a lack of leadership from Senator Perkins, who has pitted parents and families against each other to serve his own interests," Smikle said. "We need constructive leadership in Albany. Harlem deserves a better advocate."

Perkins couldn't ask for a better foil for his own re-election bid than the Post; and the challenger, for his part, is making charter schools his signature issue (only issue?): "He said school choice will be a major campaign issue.”I'm for improving achievement across the board for all children -- charters and traditional public schools," Smikle said."

But there are other issues, as the Post is forced to concede: "Housing and development could be another hot-button issue between the two. Perkins has opposed condemnation proceedings to allow for Columbia University's expansion. Smikle -- who initially was hired by Columbia as a community consultant -- supports the project."

Are we starting to get the feeling that Smikle might really be a stalking horse for other interests? The Post explains: "Smikle, 38, is a former aide to both Hillary and Bill Clinton and has ties to Mayor Bloomberg. Perkins has long been a City Hall antagonist who last year opposed the law renewing mayoral control of the city school system."

How is Basil Smikle tied to Mike Bloomberg? The Post doesn't say-but between being aligned with the mayor and Columbia, we can't quite see how Smikle generates real grass roots support. And the Post seems to agree: "Harlem politicos said Perkins -- a former city councilman who has deep ties to community activists and political clubs and is a visible presence in the district -- is the clear favorite. The teachers union and labor leaders are expected to rally around him."

So, in our view-and we support more school choices for parents and kids-Smikle lacks genuine grass roots connections beyond the one issue of charters; and his advocacy for small business really hits are funny bone: "Smikle also vowed to promote the interests of small businesses and develop programs to educate and train the unemployed for jobs."

Well, a message for the challenger: the Columbia expansion-along with the use of eminent domain-is not a sure sign of good tidings for small businesses; that generally get crushed when the bulldozers come out. So the Smikle candidacy gets its impetus from forces that emanate from outside the district; and the charter issue, which is a genuine one, is still a too thin reed to topple the one state senator who has crusaded for the little guys in his effort to reform the state's anachronistic eminent domain laws.

Ach du Lieber!

The departure of Deputy Mayor Lieber, after a little more than two years in office, tells us more about the mayor than it does about someone who has proven to be a bad fit for a post that involves any degree of public interaction. The fact that, what now needs to be described as the Bloomberg exodus-the shuffle out of city hall to large real estate firms-has taken its latest mayoral denizen, underscores the myopia of the mayor's economic development outlook.

The Observer captures some of this: "THE FREQUENT COMPLAINTS about Mr. Lieber, including from some on his staff, was that he lacked vision, sticking to what was already on the agenda and not pushing the envelope to deviate from it. Still, he was handed a plate of projects that was probably far more than any administration could realistically take on at once, particularly as budgets shrunk and complexities became apparent. He leaves behind an economic development direction that was still quite focused on real estate development, particularly on two major development projects that have grown in cost, and that arguably seem more complex and distant in terms of reality than when they were first proposed. Coney Island, for which the Bloomberg administration negotiated a favorable deal to buy property from an intransigent private landlord, appears to need hundreds of millions in infrastructure work before any significant housing or commercial development can occur. And Willets Point—which at one point city officials said they intended to bid out to developers before the end 2009—is gradually moving forward but has been slowed significantly by the market."

Indeed, it is quite apparent that real estate development is the narrow purview of the city's economic development agency-to the detriment of an overall strategy that would put the city on a firmer footing to increase jobs and NY's tax base-and the focus on mega projects has, as the Observer points out, been a form of tunnel vision that has neglected the small business engine that drives the city's economy.

As we told the NY Times: "Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for small businesses who opposed the city’s plan to redevelop Willets Point and to use eminent domain to gain control of the land, said that Mr. Lieber’s approach failed to account for the collateral damage to the neighborhood. “The deputy mayor and his agency have proceeded in a recession to promote a project that is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and displace scores of small businesses and thousands of workers without any conceivable plan or a developer to implement it,” Mr. Lipsky said."

That is precisely why NYC has been hard hit by the latest recession-and why the mayor can't seem to fight his way out of an economic paper bag. Bloombberg, and his fleeing legion of advisers, simply come to the task with a trained incapacity to understand and deal with crafting an conomic agenda that can transcend a narrow obsession with big real estate development. It's precisely why Liber gets a stirring valedictory from the NYC Partnership's Kathy Wylde-but really from no one else.

The Times gets some of this: "Mr. Bloomberg has not been shy about going outside of government ranks for their replacements. He appointed Stephen Goldsmith, a former mayor of Indianapolis and a management expert, to Mr. Skyler’s job as deputy mayor for operations, despite his unfamiliarity with New York. But replacing Mr. Lieber may be another matter. The city lost roughly 150,000 jobs during the recession, and the unemployment rate is 10 percent. Modest job growth has been reported recently, but much of it has been at the lower end of the pay scale. “They need a replacement who is able to hit the ground running in order to implement much-needed eeconomic development initiatives,” said Ross F. Moskowitz, a former city economic development official who is now a partner at the law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. “Resources are scarce, and there’s an immediate need for action.”

In fact the Lieber departure really does deserve a Bronx cheer-and his Custer-like leadership in the pormotion of the Kingsbridge Armory development provides a wonderful view of the man's ill fit for the post the mayor chose him for. As the Times reports: "To his regret, Mr. Lieber was unable to overcome opposition in the City Council to turning the city-owned Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a shopping mall. Some Council members, unions and community groups had sought to require prospective employers there to pay workers at least $10 an hour, a sum that both the developer and Mr. Lieber said would have put the mall at a competitive disadvantage."

That, of course, downplays the humorless role that the acerbic Lieber played in the negotiations-as we blogged yesterday: ""As Crain's Insider reports: "The failed Kingsbridge Armory negotiations did not appear to win Deputy Mayor Bob Lieber many fans. Insiders say Lieber offered concessions to the Bronx City Council delegation that he later had to withdraw because Mayor Bloomberg did not agree to them, or because city lawyers raised red flags about their legality." And his personal style didn't help: "Lieber, a former Lehman Brothers executive, did not develop a rapport with the folks across the table, at one point telling the owner of a supermarket opposite the armory that he wasn't interested in the store's Bronx history. And he did not allow the would-be developer of the armory, The Related Companies, to negotiate directly with the Bronx officials."

So while the limited Lieber goes on to yet another real estate destination for a Bloomberg departee, we are still left with the stark truth about the limitations of the Bloomberg world view-a lack of understanding of how ecoonomic development is not always about large mega projects, but more simply devolves from the business climate in the city. And under Bloomberg, taxes gave skyrocketed and regulations proliferated-all while the size of government has increased.

In the end, Bloomberg's NYC has become an even more challenging place to do business in-and job loss has been an ugly concomitant to the mayor's myopia. Lieber, therefore, shouldn't be singled out, when it is the mayor who should shoulder the blame for this sad state of affairs-even after eight years of ballyhooed, "five borough," economic development plans.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Addition by Subtraction

Word has reached us about the imminent departure from the Bloomberg administration of  Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber-as exemplary an example of addition by subtraction if there ever was one. Lieber's departure actually recalls the scene from Macbeth where Malcolm remarks thusly on the execution of the Thane of Cowdor: "Nothing in his life. Became him like the leaving it."

Daily Politics has a more quotidian report on the Lieber leaving: "The real estate rumor mill is churning this morning with word that another deputy mayor will announce his departure from Mayor Bloomberg's third-term team today. Robert Lieber, deputy mayor for economic development, is said to be leaving City Hall after two years to plunge back into the private sector at developer Andrew Farkas' growing operation."

What, Lieber isn't going to become the adviser to the Neighborhood Retail Alliance? Shocking indeed! But one does wonder what the Farkas group believes it gets from the unimpressive deputy. It can't be sensitivity to community and small business concerns-something that Lieber showed no responsiveness toward in his rather short tenure.

As we commented-apr├Ęs Kingsbridge: "As Crain's Insider reports: "The failed Kingsbridge Armory negotiations did not appear to win Deputy Mayor Bob Lieber many fans. Insiders say Lieber offered concessions to the Bronx City Council delegation that he later had to withdraw because Mayor Bloomberg did not agree to them, or because city lawyers raised red flags about their legality." And his personal style didn't help: "Lieber, a former Lehman Brothers executive, did not develop a rapport with the folks across the table, at one point telling the owner of a supermarket opposite the armory that he wasn't interested in the store's Bronx history. And he did not allow the would-be developer of the armory, The Related Companies, to negotiate directly with the Bronx officials."

Quite the affable fellow, that Lieber is. But apparently, in spite of his obvious shortcoming, his one great strength remains intact-self regard. As City Room reports: “I told the mayor this is toughest decision I ever had to make,” Mr. Lieber said. “I love the job. “I’m most proud of having taken a lot of these projects that had been put in the oven but not baked and gotten them done, whether it’s Coney Island, Willets Point or the World Trade Center.”

To paraphrase: "I accomplished nothing, but I started a lot of tough stuff that others-better folks than I-will have to struggle to finish." City Room does focus on the Lieber role in the Kingsbridge Armory debacle: "To his regret, Mr. Lieber was unable to overcome opposition in the City Council to turning the city-owned Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a shopping mall. Some council members, unions and community groups had sought to require prospective employers there to pay workers at least $10 an hour, a sum that both the developer and Mr. Lieber said would have put the mall at a competitive disadvantage."

Lieber has regrets here, but the project's opponents were glad he was involved. Without his inept bumbling the development might have actually succeeded. Not everyone is happy to see the deputy depart. Administration cheerleader Kathy Wylde weighs in with her kind observation: “He recognized that economic development is much more than real estate development,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City. “He understood the importance of establishing working relationships with industry leaders and aligning city policies and programs with their needs.”

Translation: He understood the needs of the real estate community, and did its bidding-without regard for the concept of collateral damage. Daily Politics hints at Lieber's limited success: "Lieber, a Lehman Brothers real estate veteran, saw slow but somewhat steady progress on projects like rebuilding Coney Island and Willets Point, as well as developing the West Side rail yards and breaking the impasse at Ground Zero. He was point man for Bloomberg's pledge to create or retain 400,000 jobs in his third term and his plan to spur growth in the outer boroughs as well as Manhattan."

That last part has got to be some kind of humorous exit line-and if he was supposed to be some kind of, "point man," for outer borough job growth, well, thank God he's going. His efforts on Willets Point are representative of his complete disregard for existing small and minority-owned business; and if left in charge of the Bloomberg economic development charade, we would have had to reprise another five borough economic development fiasco that highlighted the first two Bloomberg terms (talk about the correlation between constantly repeating oneself and being crazy).

But Bloomberg-a great guy for damning with faint praise-sends Lieber off with the usual rhetorical flourish that has come to characterize his tenure: "Bob came to our Administration with a reputation for getting big things done, and in his time here he certainly has,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “More than a half century after Robert Moses first conceived of a redevelopment of Willets Point, Bob and his team have helped us lay the groundwork to achieve it."

So good by to our friend and foil-do not go gently into the dark night-but however you go, go quickly. Your departure leaves the city richer for your demise.