Monday, March 07, 2011

Willets Pointman

The NY Daily News' Adam Lisberg focuses his column on our lobbying work on Willets Point-and beyond: "Lobbyist Richard Lipsky, who has been a thorn in the side of mayors and governors and their megaprojects for decades, is leading the charge against Mayor Bloomberg's dream of redeveloping Willets Point in Queens."

But Lisberg also points out what he implies might be a conflict owing to our work on Atlantic Yards: "The city wants to create jobs in a forlorn section of Queens by shutting down the businesses that have been there for decades. Sound weird? How’s this: The chief lobbyist against using eminent domain on those businesses in Queens also works for a developer using eminent domain on homes in Brooklyn."

Now, we dealt with this issue six years ago-emphasizing the importance of the Nets coming to Brooklyn:

"From the Alliance's perspective the most salient reason to join hands with FCRC, Build and Acorn is the bringing of the Nets to Brooklyn with a brand new arena. When the Alliance's Richard Lipsky was an up and comer plying his basketball wares all over the city, Brooklyn was a mecca for all BBall pilgrims. It still is, and the love for the game is beyond what even we would have imagined when we first began to evaluate the AY proposal.

The Brooklyn Nets are going to galvanize the entire borough and the team and its ownership is going to play a major role in working along with the youth leaders of Brooklyn in their tireless and unacknowledged efforts on behalf of the kids. That is why the support has been so unequivocal from these community folks."

A position that we reiterated when we talked with Lisberg: "Eminent domain allows government to seize a private owner's property to serve the greater public good — if you consider a basketball stadium or a shopping center to be a public good. Lipsky said he's usually against it, but the Nets arena and its benefits for neighborhood kids make it worthwhile in Brooklyn. "I don't have an absolute position on [eminent domain] but I do have a strong disposition against it," Lipsky said. "It takes a lot to push me in that direction." He also said he only worked on Atlantic Yards' youth sports efforts programs, not its eminent domain work efforts."

But Lisberg sees something else afoot in the representation: "Of course, Ratner could have hired him to work for Atlantic Yards just so the opponents couldn’t hire him to work against it. "That's true," Lipsky acknowledged. "You'd have to ask them why they hired me." An Atlantic Yards spokesman said Lipsky was hired strictly for youth sports programs."

All of which takes nothing away from the righteousness of the opposition to the massive Willets Point development: "The so-called Iron Triangle is a dilapidated maze of body shops and junk piles, a muddy morass in the shadow of Citi Field. It's the kind of place where the city never paved the roads or fixed the sewers — then called the area blighted. City officials want to use eminent domain to clear out the small businesses there and replace them with a huge complex of stores, hotels and homes. Into the fight stepped Lipsky, who has long represented small business groups against big business plans. He is a tenacious lobbyist and a loquacious blogger, lately trying to stop Columbia University from expanding into West Harlem and stop Walmart from opening in Brooklyn."

Some of which was captured by this WPIX video of our presser last week-as WPU and the workers came out in force at the illegal eminent domain hearing. Expect more of this as we get closer to the upcominf court battles.

All this points to, we hope, is that our work-wherever it takes us-has a degree of effectiveness that people of all stripes recognize. But what Lisberg misses here-and should pursue in our view-is that our representation of WPU has always been straightforward and above board. The proponents of this massive boondoggle, however, have been underhanded from the start-improperly hiring Claire Shulman's local development corporation to engage in a successful lobbying of the city council when such advocacy is proscribed by law.

Lisberg and his Albany colleagues should be asking the NYS Attorney General, what is the status of the investigation into the Shulman matter? It is bad enough for small property owners when the city comes down on them with threatened condemnation-but when the effort is rife with illegalities and improprieties, the press should take notice. This is the real newsworthy lobbying story-and our role becomes interesting only to the extent to which we have been able to expose how the city has gone about gaining approval for Willets Point

The city now realizes, however, that its effort to throw the little guys out of the Iron Triangle will not be smooth sailing-and the degree that this is a result of our advocacy, gives us a sense of well being. If it ends up with the project going down, so much the better-not particularly for us, but for those fighting property owners getting the shaft from EDC.