Wednesday, September 30, 2009

At least Someone's Paying Attention

In today's Crain's Insider, Nicole Gelinas is quoted chiding Mike Bloomberg's advertising attack on Bill Thompson's, "expensive," education reforms: "Mayor Bloomberg's disparaging of rival Bill Thompson's schools overhaul as too expensive is hypocritical, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Nicole Gelinas charges. The mayor himself has thrown money at the problem—raising city spending on education to almost $11 billion from $5.85 billion in 2002. “It's odd for the mayor to go after Thompson by saying his education plans will cost money, when the mayor has nearly doubled the city's contribution to education spending,” she says."

It never ceases to amaze us how arrogant the mayor can be-and so immune to the facts at the same time. It's as if he knows that few people will ever really challenge him for-at least in this case-totally misleading the public about his own record.

Marketing for Principles

The dispute over whether to put a supermarket at the Kingsbridge Armory broke into the pages of the NY Times, with the living wage fight and the role of KARA front and center: "Many neighborhoods are clamoring for supermarkets, and the Bloomberg administration has a plan to encourage new supermarkets in underserved areas through tax incentives and zoning changes. But a coalition of 19 community, church and labor groups that has worked for years to encourage redevelopment of the armory has taken a contrarian position. The coalition, known as the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, says it will seek to block the $350 million redevelopment project unless Related agrees, among other things, to exclude a supermarket or grocery store."

The,"among other things" is, of course the issue of a living wage: "Earlier this month, the Bronx borough president, Rúben Díaz Jr., formally opposed the project because Related had not agreed to the alliance’s demands, including what it says are its top priorities: a guaranteed “living” wage for all mall employees and mandatory procedures for hiring local residents. The City Planning Commission is expected to vote on the project next month and the City Council by the end of the year."

The Bloomberg administration has apparently done an about face on the issue of community benefits agreements-supporting others, but not in this case where its favored son Related is resisting negotiating in good faith: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who in the past has supported the efforts of community groups to forge their own pacts with developers for projects like Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, is now adamantly opposed to so-called community benefits agreements. City officials say that benefits to local residents should be considered as part of the public approval process, not in separate agreements."

This methodology would limit the role of communities and would place all of the responsibilities in the hands of elected officials-and do so in the middle of a process that isn't conducive to real negotiations. And in any case, as we saw with the Bronx Terminal Market and Yankee Stadium, Bloombergistas were content to allow for the most tawdry kinds of CBAs-ones crafted by developers like Related in collusion with a self-serving borough president Carrion-and to come out now in opposition to the KARA-driven CBA that contains real principles and benefits is simply shameful.

As for the comments from Seth Pinsky on the supermarket, they simply reflect his background and lack of any real knowledge about what the hell is going on in the city's neighborhoods: "Seth W. Pinsky, president of the city Economic Development Corporation, said the split over the supermarket illustrated the flaws inherent in these pacts. “On the one hand you have groups that are claiming to represent the communities saying no to grocery stores,” he said, “while on the other hand there are community groups saying we desperately need more grocery stores.”

Would someone get that man a breathalyzer. The fact of the matter is that the clamor Pinsky is hearing is the sound of one hand clapping-and avoids confronting a number of harsh realities-the first being that where there is clamor, East Harlem for instance, it is because of all of the local supermarkets that have been driven out of the neighborhood (under Bloomberg's watch) by the high cost of doing business. Secondly, absent Greg Faulkner's one man crusade, there has been no clamor in Kimgsbridge, where scores of local markets have invested in the neighborhood and don't deserve to be threatened by a tax subsidized competitor.

And the Times highlights our role-and alludes to the struggle over Pathmark in East Harlem: "The supermarket fight is reminiscent of a battle waged a decade ago in East Harlem against the suburban-size and highly successful Pathmark store on 125th Street and Lexington Avenue. A crucial player in that struggle, Richard Lipsky, the lobbyist for the smaller markets that opposed Pathmark’s entry into East Harlem, is representing Morton Williams. In June, Mr. Lipsky’s office inadvertently sent reporters a memo to his clients in which he outlined a strategy for defeating the project or significantly modifying it “in a direction that is acceptable to Morton Williams’ interests.”

Left out here, is the fact that the erosion of local East Harlem supermarkets began with the incursion of the tax subsidized Pathmark-a chain that is rapidly deteriorating in service in its inner city stores, and is at risk of collapse-awash in red ink. Now wouldn't that be a kick in the head?

Which brings us to the interjection of the UFCW's Local 1500 in the current fight: "The dispute has threatened to pit two unions against each other. Morton Williams employees are represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Dozens of members showed up last week to hear Richard L. Trumka, the newly elected president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., praise the Kingsbridge alliance as a model community involvement. At a rally in front of the armory, Mr. Trumka said the building could either become the heart of the surrounding area or it could become “a profit center for people outside the community.” Large supermarkets in the New York area are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, however. Pat Purcell, director of special projects for the local, said an operator like Pathmark could bring in hundreds of union jobs. “If we knew it was a unionized employer, it would be very difficult for us not to be supportive,” he said."

So, let's get this straight. 1500 would do what here? It would support the intrusion of a tax subsidized competitor-as long as it had its own members employed-even though it would put another union shop that's been in the Bronx for years out of business. This unfortunate stance is reminiscent of the building trades support for some non-union box stores, as long as their own members are doing the construction-a circumstance that Purcell, and the entire UFCW, has bemoaned for ages. Clearly, the so-called sister local should have exercised more discretion here; especially when the history of its opposition to development is well known.

As one observer points out, excluding a supermarket in this case can make a great deal of sense: "But John Goldstein, the national program director for the Partnership for Working Families, which provides technical assistance to local organizations, including the Kingsbridge alliance, said it was important to protect local businesses that were willing to invest in a low-income community when other businesses would not."

Which underscores the more principled argument that Purcell seeks to elide-the need for good jobs-and the protection of businesses that have invested in the community and do provide them. It is only by ignoring the larger principled stand of KARA that we can get the caught in the exclusivity-and heat-of the supermarket struggle. The supermarket is, in this case, a symbol of the larger stand on principle.

But clearly, Related understands this, and is trying to use the supermarket issue in order to make an end run around the more challenging living wage fight: "In the end, Related is not likely to allow the proposed supermarket exclusion to be a deal breaker, said Jesse Masyr, Related’s lawyer. “We’re not going to be stupid about this,” he said. But he said the company would not give in on the living wage demand because prospective tenants would not accept it. “We don’t believe tenants are going to sign leases that would put them in default if they didn’t live up to the wage commitment,” Mr. Masyr said. Related has signed a living wage agreement in the past — for a stalled project in downtown Los Angeles — but only because it was required to do so by local laws, he said."

The survival of Morton Williams is paramount because of what it would represent-a victory, not only for a local business, but for a development principle that is more important than ever as unemployment reaches record levels and small businesses collapse: "A 20,000-square-foot Morton Williams store on Kingsbridge Road and Jerome Avenue, one of 12 supermarkets operated by the company in the New York area, is opposite the elevated subway tracks and the armory and also houses the company headquarters. Valerie Sloan, a vice president, said the company made a point of hiring from the Bronx and had never wavered in its commitment to the borough. She said 500 of the company’s 750 employees lived within 10 blocks of the Kingsbridge store, which opened in 1956. “When the Bronx was burning, we stayed here,” Ms. Sloan said. Mr. Lipsky said Morton Williams had invested $12 million in the last few years to upgrade the Kingsbridge store and had added organic products in response to requests from the community board."

The Sloans' commitment to the Bronx is an essential feature of what's being fought for here-but it is just one piece of an overall new paradigm for development. We'll give Stuart Appelbaum of the RWDSU the last word here: "We refer to the union's efforts to insure that when projects are tax subsidized, the jobs that are created will be those with the kind of wages and benefits that can support a family. As union head Stuart Appelbaum has said: "I don't buy that assumption," said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. "It's not a matter of whether it's going to be profitable, but the size of the profit they will make." Living wage advocates point to the $40 million in city taxpayer money subsidizing the armory project in the form of tax breaks and city-funded repairs. "If they are taking from government," said Appelbaum, "they have to give back to the community."

Freddy Ferrer's Amnesia

Freddy Ferrer is younger than we are, but we're afraid he must be suffering from senile dementia-how else to explain his screed against Democrats who fail to come to the aid of Bill Thompson? Here's what he told Dominick Carter on NY1: "In an impassioned interview with NY1, former Democratic mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer called on President Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats to support their party’s nominee, Bill Thompson, in the mayor’s race."

Really? Is this the same Ferrer who sabotaged Democratic nominee Mark Green in 2001? Now we know there was a great deal of acrimony between the two back then; but Freddy, in a fit of pique, sat on his hands back then and insured by doing so that plutocrat Bloomberg would come from behind and win. As Wayne Barrett describes it: "A couple of days before the general election in 2001, Ferrer called Green, who had just beaten him in the runoff, and demanded that he fire Kest, holding the organizer responsible for Green-tied leaflets that the Ferrer camp called racist. Green refused, and an outraged Ferrer failed to appear at a unity dinner that night, a decisive snub that contributed to Bloomberg's triumph."

But that was then, and this is now: "I think the president should endorse the Democratic nominee --- period, paragraph, end of story," Ferrer told NY1 Political Anchor Dominic Carter.
During the interview that will air on “Road to City Hall” at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., Ferrer also criticized former Vice President Al Gore for speaking highly of the mayor at a recent public appearance.

Fernando Ferrer: "I think the president should endorse the Democratic nominee -- period, paragraph, end of story."

Dominic Carter: "Wow, but he hasn't."

Fernando Ferrer: "And he should."

Dominic Carter: "And there are indications the White House could possibly wait and do nothing."

Fernando Ferrer: "Again it is Catch're imposing on Bill Thompson the task of trying to make up what high-profile democrats have done to him..."

Dominic Carter: "Al Gore is one of those Democrats?"

Fernando Ferrer: "Yes. Send it to him.....It seems to me when it’s convenient for you to say ‘Be a Democrat and support the Democratic nominee. Support the Democratic party. When it’s not convenient for to you or some other interests you say ‘I can sort of stray from this rule.’ it either is or it isn't."

Well, in our view, the only reason we have Mike Bloomberg, for an unwarranted third term no less, is because when it came down to crunch time eight years ago, Freddy Ferrer took his Democratic ball and stayed home with it. For him to lecture others now on how to behave is jaw dropping in its arrogant airbrushing of his own spoiled brat behavior-kind of like comparing Pedro Espada-as a "thug"-to Ramon Velez, Ferrer's former mentor and the one man truly responsible for his political career. In fact, that is the one thing we have ever held against the Fatman, may he rest in peace.


Michael Goodwin reminds us in the NY Post today that we should never forget the stopped clock principle-and in the case of Freddy Ferrer and Mike Bloomberg, it sure is applicable; no matter how much animus we feel about the former Bronx BP: "Bill Thompson is a lonely man. New York City's comptroller won his party's nomination for mayor, but Democratic big wigs are not rushing to help him win. The holdouts start with President Obama, who found time to try to nudge Gov. Paterson out of next year's race, but hasn't endorsed Thompson and may not, his office says. In a trip to the city, Obama hailed incumbent Republican Michael Bloomberg as an "outstanding mayor."

What's the president's reasoning here? "Bloomberg also has a 16-point lead, and few pols want to get on the wrong side of the richest man in New York, especially if he is going to win. Obama aides reportedly said he would help Thompson only if the gap closed to low single digits. That's a strange stance for a man who once trailed Hillary Rodham Clinton by 30 points. Then again, all politics is personal."

And when it comes to principle, apparently the president spells the word with a pal at the end. So, we guess, Ferrer is quite right-even though he might not be the best messenger for this collective Democratic timidity.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

DOH Soda Popped

The NY Post is reporting this morning that the NYC Department of Health-intent as it is on stopping the overweight of the city from drinking soda-still has a soda vending machine of its own down at its Worth Street headquarters: "Mayor Bloomberg doesn't want New Yorkers anywhere near sugary drinks -- so stay away from the ones on tap at the city's Department of Health. Weeks after the city unveiled an advertising blitz on subways that depicts sugary drinks morphing into yellow globs of human fat when poured over glasses of ice, The Post spotted a vending machine in the agency's main lobby at 125 Worth St. stocked with the beverage no-nos. In addition to diet sodas, some of the drinks on hand are Gatorade, Snapple and Coca-Cola -- the trio the city singled out in the ads with pictures of anonymous bottles that closely resemble those beverages."

Let's not forget that Mike Bloomberg himself eats in ways that he encourages others to avoid, so this disconnect down at DOH shouldn't be any kind of real shocker. But it does highlight, in our view, the danger of allowing health bureaucrats, with little commonsense, to set guidelines on how the rest of us should live our lives. As we told the Post: "It seems as if it's 'Do as we say and not what we do.' It's certainly interesting that that's the case," said lobbyist Richard Lipsky, who represents the beverage company Good-O, makers of Arizona drinks, Orange Crush and Coco Rico. "The fact that they haven't removed the soda machine just shows you that we shouldn't allow the Department of Health bureaucrats to make decisions for us, because their decision-making process is often jaundiced."

It goes without saying, that all of the DOH hectoring is only prelude to the more onerous taxing and regulating that has characterized its efforts since Mother Frieden became commissioner in 2002. The new Dr. Tom-Farley, that is-is following in his predecessor's intrusive footsteps; and he is probably now busy devising mandatory exercise regiments for all New Yorkers-all for their own good, of course.

Message to Bloomberg and Paterson as well. It's the economy that needs your full attention-and would you please leave the social engineering to New York's parents and official guardians. Given the city's bleak economic picture, we can fully understand why many New Yorkers might be looking for a little extra sugar to sweeten their lives.


The NY Post makes an important point in an editorial today-Governor Paterson should stop all of his public worrying about himself, and address NY's the dire fiscal situation: "Gov. Paterson went on TV Sunday and insisted yet again that, despite stiff pressure to bow out, he was intent on running for governor next year. Fine. But here's a better question: What does Paterson plan to do about New York's increasingly dire fiscal situation? And why, for that matter, is he discussing his future? Aren't the state's finances just a bit more pressing?"

And pressing they certainly are-although that might be a bit mild a characterization of our current mess: "Albany may soon run out of money to pay its bills, just like California.
As we said last week, and fiscal expert E.J. McMahon said on these pages yesterday: We've seen this movie before; it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and the near-bankrupt state of California. Paterson can babble on all he wants about whether President Obama told him, or didn't tell him, not to run again -- and whether he intends to listen. "I realize that there are people who don't want me to run," he said Sunday. But he quickly made clear: "I am running for governor in 2010." It all makes for great gossip. But it puts the cart on the wrong end of the horse."

New York needs some strong remedies-and the last legislative session increased the state debt, rather than diminish it: "Alas, facing a $38 billion hole, and a Legislature run by tax-addicted Democrats, Paterson is unlikely to even propose such a move. Quite the opposite. That's particularly disappointing, because, as McMahon made clear, New York's fiscal problems going forward do not stem from a lack of tax revenue -- but from out-of-control spending. Meanwhile, Paterson is headed to the Golden State this week to talk about climate change with Schwarzenegger and other governors. Hmm. We can think of a far more appropriate topic for Dave and Arnold."

What we need are leaders whose first response-and second and third-isn't another tax and fee. We are already second to last among all state's in business climate; and that, incredibly, actually puts us ahead of California (but not New Jersey). So Paterson needs to salvage the state's situation as best as he can. Grown up actions are what's needed, not Hamlet-like soliloquies.

Kingsbridge Armory Development Caught in a Draft

As the NY Daily News is reporting today, the environmental impact study that was done for the Kimgsbridge Armory seriously underestimates the traffic impacts of the project-and that's even without the inclusion of a supermarket: "The Draft Environmental Impact Statement by the developer for the Kingsbridge Armory is coming under scrutiny - and under fire from opponents of the project. It is the key document upon which the City Planning Commission will weigh its decision before the issue moves to the City Council for a final vote. The owners of the Bronx-based Morton Williams supermarket chain hired consultants to pick apart the DEIS produced by the developer, The Related Companies, which has plans for a 60,000-square-foot supermarket that Morton Williams says will drive its flagship store across the street out of business. The grocers' consultant, Brian Ketcham, found Related's DEIS dramatically underestimated the adverse traffic impacts - several of which the document already concedes cannot be mitigated."

Anyone who has any knowledge of the community surrounding the Armory-and the complicated access that it has from any major highway route-understands just what the potential traffic nightmare could be if this project is fully tenanted with chain stores-and Ketcham's not the only one who sees this: "John Lapp, an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, with long experience in the Kingsbridge area, agreed with the broad criticism that traffic impacts could be much worse than the DEIS predicts.
"Even omitting the supermarket, it would be too much retail for an already congested area, with two-lane streets plagued with double parking," he said. Lapp, formerly head of the Bronx Office of City Planning and Director of Transportation for the City Planning Commission, also doubted the 400 planned parking spaces would be enough for the traffic draw of a 600,000-square-foot retail development. He cited a smaller project on the upper East Side that he worked on that included 475 parking spaces and still snarled area traffic."

Joan Bryan from Pratt also sees problems here: "Joan Byron, the director of sustainability at the Pratt Center for Community Development, said she agreed with many of Ketcham's criticisms. "It does look like the DEIS is trying to have it both ways," Byron said of the vast study area chosen for the economic analysis. She said it obscured the actual impact on nearby businesses. The tightly circumscribed zone of the traffic analysis, she said, left out nearby intersections that would likely suffer adverse impacts."

Which does mean that Kermit the Mayor has a problem here-since he wants to reduce our-but not his own-carbon footprint; but continues to mall the city in such a way that he encourages the kind of auto-dependent shopping that erodes the healthier-from an individual as well as community standpoint-neighborhood retail environment. But the critique that Ketcham provides, gives opponents an opportunity to argue that the entire project, even without a supermarket, deserves to be defeated.

This leaves Related with a difficult choice; removing the supermarket as a real deal killer is only one necessary step. Sufficiency here means that the developer needs to engage in meaningful negotiations with KARA and BP Diaz on a CBA that includes a living wage component-or risk the potential defeat of the entire project. If, however, it feels that this is a deal killer, Related can simply take its ball and go home. Will anyone in the Kingsbridge community miss them?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Middle Classless

The father and son duo of Fred and Harry Siegal have an excellent Op-ed piece today in the NY Daily News-one that recapitulates some of the arguments that we have been making about the fraudulent middle class makeover of Michael Bloomberg: "The candidate with working-class roots has been a ubiquitous figure this year, with ads touting a leader who attended public schools and is offering voters a "Middle Class Affordability Plan" and a "Five Borough Better Transit Tour."...Candidate Mike, friend of the middle class, emerges, groundhog-like, every four years - only to fade from view once the election is done, replaced by Mayor Mike, who raises property, sales and income taxes, tickets anything that moves, makes sweetheart deals with developers and touts his vision of a "luxury city."

This advertising re-make is little more than a dishonest attempt at misdirection. As the Daily News article on the impact of the recession in NYC underscores, jobless New Yorkers like Marie Spinoso are struggling: "With the city's unemployment rate at 10.3%, she's one of 420,100 jobless New Yorkers. "For me, the recession would be over when working people are no longer sweating how they're going to manage to pay their bills," said Tony Virardi of Bath Beach, Brooklyn, who's also unemployed and job hunting. "As you walk along the city streets, do you see fewer For Rent signs on closed businesses?" upper East Side pharmacist Glenn Jacobi asked. "Have the credit card companies started to charge less interest than the mob?"

To which we ask, just what is Mike Bloomberg gonna do for the plight of these folks when he himself as played an out sized role in the creation of the current economic calamity? As the Siegals point out: "Yes, this is the same Bloomberg who has given teachers 43% raises and gotten almost nothing in return. The same Bloomberg who has raised taxes and fees and let the burden on small businesses rise to crushing levels. Bloomberg's purportedly middle-class vision has always involved subsidies running ever-higher up the economic scale, paid out as a cut of Wall Street profits. But with much of the finance sector on federal life support, that would require ever higher taxes that in turn squeeze out the private sector middle class."

Unfortunately, Bloomberg's great wealth has allowed him to both buy and cow potential opposition. But that's not the only explanation for the current political cu-du-sac. Bloomberg is enabled to style as a faux defender of the middle class because the Democrats have abandoned that constituency as well-with the WFP emerging as a political power bolstered by a municipal labor force that depends on the high taxes and big government that Mayor Mike has obliged them with.

With leaves voters with a Hobson's choice: "So while the rise of a party to the Democrats' left presents the mayor with a convenient foil, the difference for voters is mostly cosmetic. The middle class is left with two choices, neither of which is attractive. The Working Families Party wants to hold the public sector harmless in this, the Great Recession, which means higher taxes on everyone else. Bloomberg, if we're to believe his campaign rhetoric about more middle-class subsidies, wants to continue buying support, which will also mean higher taxes."

And the inevitable result of this cosmetic choice-lipstick on a pig, anyone?-is that NYC is left as the little economic engine that couldn't-crippled by an anti-business (but especially small business) climate that is only going to get worse when Mike Bloomberg is likely re-elected and quickly throws off his campaign cardigan for his more comfortable governing tuxedo.

The future's not bright here; and we'll give the Siegels the last grim word: "New York, dependent on exceptionally high taxes, will lag behind the national recovery. And when the federal stimulus money dries up, the future will be rough for the middle class, never mind the deluge of campaign advertisements claiming otherwise."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Food for the Thoughtless

We have been advancing the notion that, absent a rigorous accounting for cost-and the means to address said cost-the development at Wllets Point could swiftly devolve into the proverbial white elephant; much as the proposed NYSE expansion did, to the tune of over $100 million. If our gloomy prognostication proves correct-and the businesses at the Point are eminent domained out-than we could be looking at an unsightly Iron Triangle vacant hole in the near future.

Scare tactics? Unreasonable pessimism? Perhaps, but if the case of Kelo v. New London is any indication, we need to be wary of proceeding at the Point-especially if we are going to use the heavy handed mechanism of eminent domain. As 1010 Wins reports:

"Weeds, glass, bricks, pieces of pipe and shingle splinters have replaced the knot of aging homes at the site of the nation's most notorious eminent domain project. There are a few signs of life: Feral cats glare at visitors from a miniature jungle of Queen Anne's lace, thistle and goldenrod. Gulls swoop between the lot's towering trees and the adjacent sewage treatment plant. But what of the promised building boom that was supposed to come wrapped and ribboned with up to 3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues? They are noticeably missing. Proponents of the ambitious plan blame the sour economy. Opponents call it a "poetic justice.''

So, let's get this straight. New London successfully used the taking power of the state to remove home owners from their land, with the proposed purpose of giving the land over to a private developer who had a grandiose development concept-and now the land lies fallow?

"They are getting what they deserve. They are going to get nothing,'' said Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in the landmark property rights case. "I don't think this is what the United States Supreme Court justices had in mind when they made this decision.'' Kelo's iconic pink home sat for more than a century on that currently empty lot, just steps away from Connecticut's quaint but economically distressed Long Island Sound waterfront. Shortly after she moved in, in 1997, her house became ground zero in the nation's best-known land rights catfight. New London officials decided they needed Kelo's land and the surrounding 90 acres for a multimillion-dollar private development that included residential, hotel conference, research and development space and a new state park that would compliment a new $350 million Pfizer pharmaceutical research facility. Kelo and six other homeowners fought for years, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2005, justices voted 5-4 against them, giving cities across the country the right to use eminent domain to take property for private development."

All for nought, apparently: "In New London the city's prized economic development plan has fallen apart as the economy crumbled. The Corcoran Jennison Cos., a Boston-based developer, had originally locked in exclusive rights to develop nearly the entire northern half of the Fort Trumbull peninsula. But those rights expired in June 2008, despite multiple extensions, because the firm was unable to secure financing, according to President Marty Jones. In July, backers halted fundraising for the project's crown jewel, a proposed $60 million, 60,000-square-foot Coast Guard museum."

A cautionary tale, to be sure. Which prompts us to remind folks that NYC is pretty much broke-and new development is difficult to finance in the current climate. But we do know one thing for sure. The existing businesses at the Point are providing for the families of 2500 workers-and paying taxes to a city treasury that's hemorrhaging red ink. The pipe dreams at Willets Point are a product of a mayor who has an edifice complex, and who allegedly only makes decisions based on the merits-like a football stadium on the Far West Side.

The eviction of the local businesses at Willets Point should be stayed until Mike Bloomberg can account for all of the money needed to pay for the process. The attorney for Susan Kelo should get the last word here: "Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, argued Kelo's case before the Supreme Court. He calls "massive changes that have happened in the law and in the public consciousness'' the "real legacy'' of Kelo and the other plaintiffs. The empty land means the city won a "hollow victory,'' he said. "What cities should take from this is to run fleeing from what New London did and do economic development that is market-driven and incorporate properties of folks who are truly committed to their neighborhood and simply want to be a part of what happens,'' he said."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Unions Cry Stale

Two of the city's most influential unions have weighed in against the city's supermarket initiative. The RWDSU issued the following statement: "There is no question that many neighborhoods in the city lack access to supermarkets and healthy food choices. In fact, under Mayor Bloomberg’s watch the city has lost 300 supermarkets. But the Mayor’s FRESH program only superficially addresses the problem and actually does more harm than good. The FRESH program does nothing to ensure that the jobs that are created through city support are good jobs. Without such a guarantee the FRESH program may well subsidize the creation of low-wage, part-time, no-benefit jobs that will only feed into a cycle of poverty."

And the UFCW's Local 1500 agrees, and blasts the plan's shortsightedness in today's Crain's Insider. The local is particularly peeved that the plan could finance Whole Foods in the city: "Whole Foods’ interest in the city’s FRESH program—which would use tax and zoning incentives to lure supermarkets to underserved neighborhoods—disgusts a supermarket union official. “If they do not believe taxpayer money should be used to fix the nation’s health care crisis, then how the hell do they think it’s OK to take taxpayer money to open new stores?”

Both unions are perturbed that there is no living wage component in the current initiative. As RWDSU's president Stuart Appelbaum remarks: "The FRESH program simply gives developers incentives without asking anything in return. Unfortunately this is the same approach that the Bloomberg Administration has taken towards development across the city. Time and again Mayor Bloomberg has lavished subsidies, tax breaks and other incentives on developers without ever showing the least concern about whether the projects were actually good for residents. Under Mayor Bloomberg, developers with a cozy relationship with his administration have done well while city residents have benefited little."

Local 1500 agrees in part-but is particularly aggrieved because it had taken a lead role in advocating an aggressive approach to encourage new supermarket growth. In its press release, it goes on to say: "The Union announced it will initiate an aggressive campaign to educate and inform City Council members about “both the major flaws in the FRESH initiative and the misleading objectives that were presented to our Union over the past several months by City officials,” according to Purcell. “We negotiated in good faith for months so a fair and reasonable initiative could move forward that would bring New York City communities equal access to fresh, healthy and affordable food and what they got today was an expensive rotten apple.”

So, it appears to us that those labor groups that should be in the forefront of encouraging more supermarkets are backing away from the current plan-underscoring our own critique of the city's approach. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out next month at the city council.


J. Russell George, the Inspector General of the treasury Department, responding to the ongoing Acorn scandal, has promised a vigorous oversight of groups that have been given not-for-profit status, but that might be engaged in political activity in violation of their charters. As ABC News is reporting: "Treasury Department Inspector General J. Russell George disclosed today that his office is initiating a review of the IRS's oversight of tax-exempt non-profit organizations and "will review internal IRS referral processes with regard to nonprofit fraud investigations."

All of this renewed vigor has resulted from the exposure of Acorn, of course: "The announcement was made in response to a request from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine -- the ranking Republicans on the House and Senate government oversight committees -- for the Treasury Department and other government agencies to review their ties to ACORN, following undercover videotapes posted at showing two young conservative journalists posing as a prostitute and a pimp receiving advice on how to skirt the law from ACORN employees."

This is all to the good, because the prohibition against political activity is designed to separate the legitimate charities from those with an ax to grind; and a specific political agenda-which brings us to the fraudulent not-for-profit being run by Claire Shulman on behalf of the eviction of businesses from Willets Point. As we have pointed out in commenting on the NY Times article: "The question then is not whether Shulman and the LDC lobbied, but whether they were allowed by law to do so. As WPU told the paper: "A complaint brought by Willets Point United, a collective of landowners in Willets Point opposing eminent domain, sparked the controversy. “Our lawyers informed us that she broke state corporation laws, that she lied to the IRS, filled out fraudulent tax returns,” said Jerry Antonacci, head of WPU. “You can’t tell me this lady is a veteran of politics and doesn’t know the law.”

Now we are disappointed that AG Cuomo and the US Attorney-have yet to respond to the WPU complaint; but just maybe the Treasury Department's new vigor will alter the current political landscape. And we believe that Willets Point United plans to contact Mr. George to inform him that the Flushing Willets Point Corona LDC, just like Acorn, is in violation of its charter. And like Acorn, has political ties that have insulated it from normal-and proper-scrutiny.

As we said last month: "Here's the crux of the matter. The incorporation papers for the LDC proscribe lobbying. The LDC's filing with the Federal government to obtain it's tax exempt status-signed by Claire herself-specifically denied any lobbying effort, in spite of what the former Queens BP now is proclaiming from the roof tops; in effect, placing Shulman squarely in a perjured situation.'

The AG's office is being derelict-it doesn't take three months to act on a prima facia complaint like this; or, to at least get back to the complainants to advise them that the matter is being taken seriously. What we should have learned from the Acorn situation, is that to allow certain favored groups impunity from the law, is to invite abuse. The message should be clear: no one, not even Claire Shulman and Mike Bloomberg is above the law. We'll see if IG George responds to the WPU complaint-and in the process embarrass the AG for his sloth in the matter.

Baby and the Bath Water

Yesterday we commented on the misplaced efforts of the City Planning Commission to bring more supermarkets to underserved neighborhoods. And our main point focused on the failure of the CPC to devise ways to preserve existing markets-and the potential that the incentives offered would create an unlevel playing field for neighborhood markets that had been operating without any subsidies for years.

Some of these arguments we have made in regards to the effort to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory; a heavily subsidized project-right across the street from Morton Williams Supermarket-that includes a 60,000 sq. ft. mega food store. And Eyewitness News highlights some of our points, in a story that they ran last night on the new zoning proposals:

"There's a push to get more supermarkets into poor neighborhoods. Without them, residents are forced to shop at bodegas that often lack fresh produce and healthy choices. Now, grocery stores are being lured with incentives. In the Bronx, a Morton Williams supermarket is a good example of a good thing that has lasted. Customers love the fresh produce, and more than 200 items are organic. And shoppers have been going there for decades. "Me personally, I look for price, customer Traci James said. "But I also look for quality, and I come here for quality. Because I like to know what's going in my stomach."

But Morton Williams could well be put right out of business if the development across the street is approved with a large food store; raising the issue of equity and fairness if the new store is midwifed with tax dollars. But the new proposal could do just that if 15 new supermarkets with government incentives are sited in certain neighborhoods where stores are already situated and doing a good business without the government's help.

Here's Speaker Quinn on the program's goal: "The goal here is to make the process of opening a supermarket easier," City Council speaker Christine Quinn said. "And to make it something that developers see as beneficial." But what about making it easier for the existing markets to flourish? Nothing in the current plan addresses this important objective; and without that, invidiousness will reign, and unfair competition will be subsidized.

ReJoycing In Mike Bloomberg

We certainly had a good idea that Joyce Purnick's authorized biography of Mike Bloomberg wasn't going to resemble any kind of incisive critique of Sir Michael's tenure-certainly nothing like Wayne Barrett's tour de force on Rudy. Nothing against Joyce, but Mike's not gonna authorize anything that he can't insure will be mostly favorable; and Bloomberg has the wherewithal to buy a lot of insurance.

And so it goes-with Fred Siegel confirming our suspicions in his review of, "Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics" in yesterday's Wall Street Journal:

"New York City, hard hit by the collapse of some of Wall Street's most venerable firms, has a mayoral election scheduled for Nov. 3. With the city's fiscal woes certain to deepen in the next few years, there would seem to be a great deal to debate in advance of the vote. But neither the incumbent, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, nor his challenger, Comptroller William Thompson, has had much to say about the tsunami of expenditures—for pensions, programs, salaries and debt—that is poised to break over Gotham. In "Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics," veteran New York Times journalist Joyce Purnick doesn't have much to say about it either.

And little wonder. Ms. Purnick, who had extensive access to the mayor and his staff, thinks that Mr. Bloomberg—a "benign plutocrat"—has been "one of the most effective mayors in the city's history." Her book is mostly an admiring portrait of the man and his mayoralty."

This failure of imagination on Purnick's part is, as the Marxists are wont to say, no accident. It is easily explained by a phenomenon that the sociologists Vidich and Bensman called, the mobilization of bias. This occurs when there is a dominant ideology-a common perceptual lens-that acts as a filter on reality; one that generally favors ruling elites in a governing structure. Clearly, Purnick's own world view doesn't stray far from this mobilized conventional wisdom.

This all becomes manifest most starkly in two ways. In the first place, Purnick believes-a belief that Bloomberg himself repeats ad infinitum-that the mayor's great wealth insulates him from control by the special interests: "He decides matters, she says, "on the merits, yielding little to the customary political lobbyists, interest groups, and . . . campaign contributors, since there was only one—Bloomberg himself."

This is, of course, arrant nonsense-and elides the more difficult, but more useful, evaluation of just how Mike Bloomberg comes to view what is meritorious and what is not. In this, we once again return to the concept of world view-and Purnick apparently can't see how Bloomberg's own narrow class conception and government philosophy can yield policies as deleterious as any special interest driven pol.

Aristotle once famously chided Plato for comparing the ruler to a shoemaker-after all, Plato had pontificated, we wouldn't want the average citizens, lacking in shoe making expertise, to cobble our shoes. To which Aristotle replied that, while the average citizen couldn't cobble shoes, they do know when the shoes pinch. And in fact, it is our view, that the average politician who doesn't possess great wealth, needs to be more attuned to the shoe pinching that his policies cause, than the billionaire who can overwhelm the electoral process with unrestricted expenditures-something that we don't believe Purnick weighs in on, but we could be wrong on this point since we haven't, and won't read anything that Bloomberg has sanitized, oops, authorized.

Which brings us back to Siegel's initial observation of the city's fiscal crisis-and Bloomberg's role in helping to exacerbate it; something that somehow Purnick manages to miss: "It's only near the end of "Mike Bloomberg" that Ms. Purnick briefly focuses on the issue that his mayoralty is likely to be judged by: his second-term fiscal stewardship. Mr. Bloomberg, she says, "followed the pattern established by other mayors." Concerned with his re-election prospects, "he routinely granted all municipal union increases with no strings attached," hoping to ensure "labor peace." Astute reporter that she is, Ms. Purnick thus undercuts her own thesis about Mr. Bloomberg's ability to behave as a consummate manager, not a garden-variety politician, though she doesn't seem to notice the contradiction."

How so? Because if Bloomberg was really this shrewd soothsaying mayor unbeholden to tawdry interests, he wouldn't have been the mayor who-at least for municipal labor-was the gift that keeps on giving. And when seen in a different light, the mayor's term limit grab that Purnick views as an aberration, simply is not. It is of a piece with his pattern of self-aggrandizement. In sum, what is seen as, "the merits," is what advances the narrow self interest of the mayor himself.

But there's something else afoot here. Deciding on the merits shouldn't be a reified concept-as it so often is with the reflexive good government crowd. Is Mike Bloomberg some kind of philosopher king whose erudition and knowledge of government means that merit is truly present when he decides a policy? Who defines,"merit."

Because invariably, the kind of public policies you advance are a product of how you see the world; and in the case of Mike Bloomberg, the world is characterized by a benign and paternalistic government that looks after the less sophisticated for their own good. So when Purnick defines Mike Bloomberg as a, "benign plutocrat," she may be unwittingly on to something.

Bloomberg's kind of government is unavoidably expensive as well as expansive. Which brings us to the hole he has helped dig for the city: "Starting with his first re-election run in 2005 and continuing through his current bid for a third term, Mr. Bloomberg has been in continuous campaign mode, adding to the city government's largess so much that New York had to increase its debt even when Wall Street was still pouring money into the city's coffers. And of course, thanks to the financial crisis, Wall Street's bounty can no longer be counted on. Spending has grown almost 50% on Mr. Bloomberg's watch, while New York's annual pension obligation, based in part on the salary increases that Mr. Bloomberg negotiated, jumped to $6.3 billion from $1.4 billion a year. The mayor's supposed pragmatism has produced the standard-issue outcome: New York is once again in fiscal peril."

Put simply, Blomberg has been profligate; and where Giuliani took on the city's biases to the great benefit of the health of the municipality, Bloomberg smoothly-and without rancor and contention-cuts along the bias with all of the admiring oohs and aahs that such conventionality always generates. But where exactly does New York stand today? As the Tax Foundation points out, second to last when it comes to the over all business climate-and that's for the state, not the city which is, in our view, even worse in this regard.

So Bloomberg coasts along, attended to by sycophants, lackeys and paid retainers-with it becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish among these choice categories. As the city spirals down, with unemployment at record levels and the budget written in bold red ink, will third term Mike live up to Purnick's hortatory rhetoric?

Here are Siegel's final thoughts-and we see no reason to add to them: "If Michael Bloomberg is to achieve the greatness that Ms. Purnick is eager to confer on him already, he will have to do so in his third term, assuming that he is re-elected. The schools will always matter, of course, but the mayor might want to start by extricating the city from the fiscal hole he has dug for it. The "problem solver" created the problem; now he can solve it."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mike's Non-Stella Performance

Errol Louis makes a strong point today in the NY Daily News about the disgraceful closing of the Stella D'oro factory in the Bronx-investment capitol firms shouldn't be allowed to violate the country's labor laws with impunity-while destroying a local business: "Hoping for a miracle, workers from the Bronx-based Stella D'Oro bakery will hold a 5 p.m. rally tomorrow at the Broad St. headquarters of Goldman Sachs in a last-ditch effort to save nearly 150 badly needed jobs. Early next month the company will lay off its entire workforce, with plans to sell the business to the North Carolina-based firm Lance, Inc. Then the plan is to move the factory - lock, stock and barrel - to Ohio. The plight of the Bronx workers illustrates what has gone wrong with our economy - and what we must do to fix it."

What did ownership-a private equity firm named Brynwood Partners-do? "...Brynwood demanded 20% wage cuts from its employees. The company claimed it needed the cuts to survive, but refused to open its books to prove it. So, 136 members of Local 50 went on strike, living on a $100-per-week union stipend for nearly a year. In June, the National Labor Relations Board found that Brynwood had illegally refused to disclose its economic situation to the union. The workers were ordered reinstated with two months' back pay. Upon losing the case, the Greenwich number-crunchers announced they would sell the firm."

And move it lock stock and barrel to-Ohio: "The problem is not just that a bunch of profit-hungry money men can squeeze a viable company for every last penny. The problem is that our labor laws damn near encourage such behavior by imposing no real penalties. Brynwood, which callously broke the law by provoking the strike, should be heavily fined. And the company's decision to sell - an act of retaliation against the strikers - may constitute yet another violation of law. The NLRB, which is currently considering the retaliation charge, can and should order a halt to the factory closing."

This should provoke outrage across the board in NYC: "Beyond that, New York's civic, business, political and labor leaders need to stand with the Stella D'Oro workers. Every union in town should be sending a delegation to tomorrow's demonstration. The rally will begin at Goldman Sachs because the investment company - the beneficiary of a $12 billion taxpayer bailout - owns a major share in Lance, Inc., the nonunion snack-food company expected to purchase Stella D'Oro and transfer operations to Ohio. Goldman Sachs can put the kibosh on the pending closing of the Stella D'Oro plant."

And the leader of the protest should be (don't hold your breathe) Mike Bloomberg-the guy who's flooding the airwaves with hot air about five borough economic plans and saving the city's middle class. The fact of the matter is, that the honchos at Goldman are Bloomberg's peeps, and the suspicion here is that his case of lockjaw devolves from that fact, and that fact alone.

The economy is in a meltdown and unemployment is at a record high-and the Bloomberg administration shares the blame for these conditions. Is it too much to ask of the city's richest man that he, at least, stand in solidarity against predators from his own cohort? Or, heaven forfend, actually try intervening to prevent this corporate outrage?

Bloomberg claims that he should be re-elected because he stands above special interests. His aloof response so far to Stella D'Oro belies that claim. When push comes to shove, Mike Bloomberg stands with his classmates-and against the interests of the city's workers.

Cardwell's Lacuna

Writing in the NY Times, Diane Cardwell puts a mostly positive spin on the city's plan to try to bring more supermarkets to designated underserved areas: "The Bloomberg administration, in its ever-expanding campaign to make New Yorkers eat better, has already clamped down on trans fats, deployed fruit vendors to produce-poor neighborhoods and prodded corner bodegas to sell leafy green vegetables and low-fat milk. Now, in a city known more for hot dogs and egg creams than the apple of its nickname, officials want to establish an even bigger beachhead for healthy food — new supermarkets in areas where fresh produce is scarce and where poverty, obesity and diabetes run high."

But she leaves out one crucial point-and the lacuna in her analysis is, we believe, a fatal flaw. The missing link, as it were, is the fact that the city has lost-some would say hemorrhaged-supermarkets during the Bloomberg tenure. As David Gonzales pointed out in the Times last year, approximately 300 markets have bitten the dust.

Here's what he said at the time: "A continuing decline in the number of neighborhood supermarkets has made it harder for millions of New Yorkers to find fresh and affordable food within walking distance of their homes, according to a recent city study. The dearth of nearby supermarkets is most severe in minority and poor neighborhoods already beset by obesity, diabetes and heart disease."

But Cardwell elides this crucial fact, and the underlying reasons for the exodus-and points out the following: "New York officials said they expected to help create 15 new stores and upgrade 10 existing ones." In ten years perhaps? Do the comparison shopping here.

The fact that we have lost so many markets is the elephant in the room in all this policy discussion. And it's no wonder Bloomberg doesn't want to address this embarrassing issue. It just might have something to do with taxes and regulations-and the over all high cost of doing business in Mike Bloomberg's New York. So, what does all that say about the benefits of the current initiative?

In our view, it erodes whatever positive features are manifest in the current plan. And also problematic-and unmentioned-is what subsidies for new stores would mean for contiguous stores that might have been doing business for years, and without city largess, in the very underserved areas being targeted. We notice that there was no citations, for instance, from the predominately Dominican run National Supermarket Association in the article. Their views would have balanced the mostly sanguine take that the story projected.

And the absence of the independent owners vitiates the following observation: "The plan — which has broad support among food policy experts, supermarket executives and City Council members, whose approval is needed — would permit developers to construct larger buildings than existing zoning would ordinarily allow, and give tax abatements and exemptions for approved stores in large swaths of northern Manhattan, central Brooklyn and the South Bronx, as well as downtown Jamaica in Queens."

Unless supermarket executives refer only to chains that are mostly absent from the city. And we're not sure that the CPC premise holds water either: "“This is about being able to walk to get your groceries in those areas that are really, really underserved and basically have no place to buy fresh produce,” said Amanda M. Burden, the city planning commissioner. Residents in such areas, she said, have been spending “their grocery dollars at Duane Reade and CVS on chips and soda.”

And the initiative, "breaks down barriers," for new store growth, but leaves unaddressed the barriers to profitability that the city itself creates: "The new zoning would break down some barriers that grocery stores face, said Ben Thomases, the city’s food policy coordinator, including competition from drugstores and other retailers that have higher profit margins than supermarkets do and can pay higher rents."

In our opinion, the city should look to create food enterprise zones where existing supermarkets could be exempted from real estate taxes and other fees that impede profitable store operation. And Planning Chair Burden doesn't understand how entrepreneurship really works: "If you’re thinking of moving your family to the Lower Concourse,” Ms. Burden said, referring to a large manufacturing area in the South Bronx that the commission recently rezoned to include residential construction, “you’re going to say, like, ‘Wow, there is no grocery store here. I’m not going to move here.’ ”

The fact is, that in every case where residential concentration has been developed over the past thirty or so years, a supermarket-or multiple of supermarkets-have followed-as Kathy Wylde, who built housing in the nineties for the NYC Partnership, always pointed out to us. We're trying hard not to be redundant, but the greater challenge is to keep the markets that we have.

Until the city develops a better preservation and nurturing policy for existing supermarkets, we remain unenthusiastic about the current policy. It's not necessarily a bad policy, it's simply a decent answer to the wrong question.

High Caloric

In City Room yesterday, there is a post that we can't quite get a handle on-it deals with a study by the DOH on its calorie posting regime: "People who drink high-calorie beverages — whether they be soda or elaborate frozen coffee concoctions — tend to consume more calories over all, increasing their risk of obesity. Now New York City health officials are examining whether posting calorie counts where customers can see them has led more customers to order the 130-calorie venti iced tea instead."

Well, we knew this was the plan-but the current study doesn't examine the possibility that the postings made any behavioral difference: "The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on Tuesday released the results of a study about the ordering habits at 115 Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts stores in the city. The study, which was conducted in 2007, before certain chains were required to post nutritional information on ordering boards, found that the average blended drink had 239 calories. The average cup of coffee had 63 calories."

So this is the-before-study, the one designed to get a benchmark for the later, more revealing one. One thing that everyone should keep in mind, however, is the danger of allowing folks with a vested interest to do research that is designed to bolster the public policy that they've been advocating. So much can go in to corrupting the date when this interest factor is included.

But DOH is nothing if not intrepid in regard to what people consume: "The health department is busy analyzing new data about ordering habits to see whether customers have switched to a healthier option now that they can see how many calories they are about to consume. “People in general don’t realize how many calories they drink,” said Cathy Nonas, a dietitian who directs physical activity and nutrition programs for the health department. “Now that we’re calorie posting, I’m hoping that people are more aware.”

Of course, the people who are going to Starbucks are not the folks who are likely to be in danger of succumbing to the obesity epidemic-so Dunkin' may be a tad more revealing in that regard. All of this mishogos is, at least to us, a colossal waste of precious city resources-and an intrusion on the freedom of New Yorkers to make stupid decisions. But if the city's study shows little difference because of calorie posting, we're no betting that the results will be readily available for outlets like City Room to ruminate on.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Groucho Marx Bloomberg's Lying Eyes

We are rapidly reaching the point in the debate over educational achievements in NYC, when Mike Bloomberg will be remiss not to say, quoting Groucho Marx, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?" Leave it to Diane Ravitch to eviscerate the fraudulent claims. Writing in edweek, Ravitch tells us:

"Ultimately, we will have what I call the NCLB Paradox, wherein scores go up, but actual educational improvement does not occur. We will see districts where the reading and math scores are through the roof, and where graduation rates have climbed, but where the rate of college-ready students is unchanged. I expect there are many such districts. The one I know best is New York City, which won the Broad award in 2007 for its excellence in improving urban education. Test scores have soared, based on dumbed-down tests; graduation rates are up across the board. Yet when graduates of the New York City public school system enter the community colleges of New York City, 74 percent of them require remediation in basic skills! These are students who passed five state Regents examinations, yet they need to be remediated in reading, writing, and mathematics! This suggests, does it not, that there is something amiss with those impressive test scores and graduation rates?"

Given the reality of the NYC five borough test fraud, we have a situation where, not only is the emperor without clothes, he is-unreported by all the witnesses-also committing unnatural acts right before our very eyes. Yet, like in the fable, the great majority of those watching are afraid to tell the truth.

Yet, isn't it a scandal to pay out bonuses based on fraud? As Ravitch says: "With scores so often rigged and fraudulent, how can we use them to pay bonuses or to close schools? New York City's last round of phony test scores (noticed as phony even by the august New York Times) triggered a payout of $33 million in bonuses to teachers; the union is laughing all the way to the bank! So millions are awarded in fraudulent bonuses at the same time that school budgets are cut to the bone. Is this the way that big business operates? If so, it is no wonder that we had a financial meltdown."

It is, in our view, a natural concomitant of the mute bystander theory-with the officers getting big bonuses and golden parachutes while the company goes down the tubes; because to do otherwise, would be to admit the naked truth. Yet Mike Bloomberg has the chutzpah to crow about, what in a more normal political environment, would be a cause for shunning.

And Ravitch captures perfectly the surrealistic world where truth gives way to public relations, and where semblance transcends reality: "I fear that American education has now entered into a twilight zone, where nothing is what it appears to be, where numbers are meaningless, where public relations and spin take the place of honest reporting, where fraud is called progress."

More Confusion at Willets Point

The NY Daily News is reporting, and NY1 has this video clip, that the workers-and tenant businesses-at Willets Point are continuing to demonstrate because of the city's unresponsiveness to their relocation needs: "A group of workers and local advocates rallied at Willets Point on Tuesday to demand the city come forward with a relocation plan for small businesses in the area. The 62-acre labyrinth of about 60 auto repair shops, salvage yards and ironworks companies depend on one another to survive, the owners said. "It's important that these businesses be relocated together," said Tatiana Bejar of the Human Rights Project of the Urban Justice Center."

What all this underscores is that the city simply doesn't have its act together-and any effort to exert the right of eminent domain is not only premature, it also courts disaster. That's because without a clear plan of action, or the money to fund it, the entire effort could easily deteriorate and leave the city with a giant empty hole where thriving businesses used to be.

Here's EDC's response-and its spokesman Dave Lombino is getting good at this: "The city is still forming a plan to relocate the businesses, Lombino said. "We're looking at relocating some of the businesses in clusters," said Lombino. "We've done it before." But many owners said they are wary. "They never tell us the truth," said Marco Neira, 51, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee, adding that it's been difficult over the 23 years he's been in business to trust promises from city officials."

Done it before? Does he mean the effort to relocate the merchants from the old BTM? The cornerstone of that could be seen as little more than a bus ticket out of town-and the plea for relocation together in that case fell on indifferent EDC ears. But who knows what Lombino is really referring to. What is known, is that the entire Willets Point redevelopment has proceeded in subterfuge, along with little or no concern for existing businesses.

What is needed now, is for someone to realize that this mayoral edifice complex is nothing more than an expensive pig in a poke. Unfortunately, this field of schemes has real bad consequences for those whose livelihoods depend on the 60 acre site-many of whom who are new immigrants with little opportunity elsewhere: "The call came after the group released a report that claims the city, in its effort to redevelop the gritty industrial area, was biased against immigrants and minorities. "The city knows a lot of people here don't have [immigration] papers," said Pasiana Rodriguez, 40, a mechanic at one of the repair shops. "They don't care."

The eminent domain hearings are coming up soon. It behooves the city to hold off on any attempt to evict these businesses and workers-at least until there is at least a smidgen of confidence that the project, in sports world parlance, has legs.