Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Columbia's Tarnished Gem

As Liz is reporting, there is more subterfuge related to the Columbia University expansion effort-this time it's their lobbyist Bill Lynch in the eye of the storm: "For the first time, the Commission on Public Integrity is requiring a lobbying firm to hire an outside monitor - at its own expense - to ensure it adequately complies with the law going forward. The firm in question is Bill Lynch Associates, which has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine for failing to file an amended report to indicate that its client, Columbia University, had increased its compensation by almost $400,000 (from $180,000 to $570,000) in 2007. While in negotiations with the PIC over this infraction, Lynch, who is not only a prominent lobbyist but also an outside adviser to Gov. David Paterson, revealed other discrepancies of which the commission had not previously been aware.
This, in turn, led the PIC to mandate that Lynch hire an outside monitor."

Can there possibly be any more untoward behavior by this esteemed Ivy League institution? First, CU gets involved with manufacturing its own blight, then it hires an expert in the pay of the city and the state to do its environmental report, while the same expert is also doing the state's blight evaluation. Now we have Lynch-and aside from the violations here, can we wonder what the firm actually did to deserve these kinds of payments?

But Columbia has certainly done the opponents of ED a big favor by its shenanigans-and State Senator Bill Perkins is mobilizing for a change in NY State law: "As far as Bill Perkins is concerned, the issue of eminent domain has got legs. "It's really a corruption of our notion of democracy," said Perkins, a Democratic state senator who represents Harlem. He was speaking Saturday at a Pentecostal church on 125th Street. The room was one-third filled by people who are concerned about the issue and active in fighting its application around the city..."

And, as Perkins himself says in a letter to the NY Times in response to the paper's ludicrous editiorial: "Re “Eminent Domain in New York” (editorial, Dec. 14): New York’s eminent domain laws are in need of reform. The Empire State Development Corporation’s attempted taking of private property on behalf of Columbia University illustrates how the current process lacks accountability, transparency or meaningful public participation. The corporation cited “blight” to justify property condemnation. But the current definition of “blight” is vague. Absurd criteria, like the cracked sidewalks and loose awnings cited in Columbia’s decision, could be used to identify any neighborhood as blighted."

And reform, heretofore stalled, may be ripe for greater legislative concern now that the abuses are beginning to come out: "The cause is related to Perkins' last legislative accomplishment: stricter oversight of public authorities (many of which have and use eminent domain powers). He said there was no partner in the Assembly, but Richard Brodsky has in the past called for an eminent domain commission and other reforms. None have passed."

And Governor Paterson's response to the Perkins call for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain? Simply fallacious: "We thought that the process was in compliance with land use principles and did not violate eminent domain," Paterson said. "When I was a state senator in 2005 and I saw the original plan, I was virulently opposed to it, but we thought that ESDC and Columbia University had adjusted that plan to be in compliance with the law."

We thought? Did he look at the plan and see that it really hadn't changed one iota from when he first "viewed" it? Another example, in our view, of the lack of real leadership in the state. But maybe the governor's failing memory has something to do with the omnipresent Lynch-a Harlem feature? (This answers, we guess, our deserving Lynch question that we posed above)

But who is gonna oversee the Lynch compliance? No, it won't be AKRF-that's not funny. None other than Greenberg Traurig-an irony that Liz missed (she doesn't miss many): "A reader picked up an irony here that I missed, writing: "(Lynch) represents Columbia, gets into trouble and now has a monitor. Mark Glaser (a registered lobbyist) works at Greenberg Traurig, and they represent....Columbia!"

So, we guess, that this is a further indication of how insider trading is done when it comes to real estate development in NYC-and the old French expression says it all: "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."