Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Real Climate Change

While Mike Bloomberg was over in Copenhagen saving the planet the NY City Council, his previously wholly owned subsidiary, divested itself from his control by voting down the Kingsbridge Armory project-to the delight of its Bronx shareholders. As the NY Times reports: "Bronx advocates said that the City Council vote on Monday to reject a $310 million project to build a mall inside the Kingsbridge Armory provided an opportunity to come up with a more community-oriented plan for the massive red-brick castle. City Council members who voted down the project 45 to 1, with one abstention, said that the plan, proposed by the Related Companies, would have created hundreds of jobs that would have paid at or around the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, pay that they called too low to support local families."

This decision created shock and dismay among the usual insider traders who have advocated on behalf of giving the goldmine to Related and the shaft to local small businesses and their surrounding neighborhoods. As the NY Daily News laments: "With unemployment at an astronomical 13.4% in the Bronx, the City Council yesterday killed a $300 million-plus project that would have created 1,000 construction jobs and 1,200 permanent jobs in the borough."

Not quite the full story, is it? What the council voted to kill was another sweetheart deal for the Related Companies-on top of a series of such favored nation dealings that have characterized the Bloomberg administration right from its inception. And the fact is that the mall at the armory would have been a tax subsidized job killer to, not only the MortonWilliams supermarket across the street and the 17 other local markets that were spared the unlevel playing field that this massive public works project would have created, but to all of the small businesses that would have been cannibalized by their own tax dollars.

As the Times points out: "At the Kingsbridge Barber Shop, across the street from the hulking armory, barbers and customers alike said the community did not need a mall, or more low-wage work. "People need jobs, but they don’t need chump change,” Jose Nuñez said as he cut a customer’s hair on a recent afternoon. “This building belongs to the people in this area.” From the barber’s chair, Courtney Brooks agreed. “We’re not suckers in the Bronx,” he said. “We’re not going to take whatever somebody is offering.”

So the council, lead by its Bronx delegation, refused to take the sucker bet-and the thousands of car trips a day and hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon emissions that would have been dumped on this Kingsbridge Heights neighborhood every year; all the time while the mayor continued to globe trot as a climate change poseur. Jobs, yes, Getting jobbed, no.

As the NY Post reports, one elected official in particular, wasn't buying the mayor's three card monte deal: "Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz and other opponents were pushing for a $10-a-hour wage plus benefits for retail workers, compared to the minimum wage of $7.25, because the project would have benefited from city subsidies. "What happened here today at the City Council is historic. What happened here today, it is huge in that for the very first time in a long time, we've seen how the interests of the people have prevailed over corporate America -- and boy, does that feel good!" Diaz proclaimed in a rally after the council's 45-1 vote. Diaz insisted he still wants to develop the armory, but said, "We here maintain that that notion that any job is better than no job no longer applies."

Bloomberg, for his part, remains tone deaf: "Bloomberg chided the council for the vote. "Given that the national recession continues to weigh on the entire city and keep unemployment high -- particularly in The Bronx -- the outcome and timing couldn't be worse," Bloomberg said in a statement from Copenhagen, where he is attending the climate summit."

The mayor, of course, didn't address that the city's near record unemployment is occuring on his watch, and while his policies of over taxing and over regulating are exacerbating these bad economic trends. And Related's Jesse Masyr chimes in on this note: "Related attorney Jesse Masyr said the council "voted no to over 2,000 jobs." No, Jesse, the no vote was directed at you and your anointed one-a developer that can no longer able to expect carte blanche from elected officials willing to accept crumbs from off of the Related plate.

But, as the Times points out elsewhere, this is a real game changer for Mike Bloomberg-and a harbinger, we believe, for what to expect in the next four years: "When aides to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg recently sought backing from City Council members for a key development project, they heard something they were not accustomed to: No. Normally, Mr. Bloomberg would quickly bring them into line. But on Monday, council members fought him all the way to a humiliating 45-to-1 defeat for one of the mayor’s signature proposals, a $310 million shopping center in the Bronx."

What has changed to cause such a sea change in the political dynamic? As Simon and Garfunkel might say, his power is, "slip sliding away" "So after years of largely unchallenged authority, Bloomberg 3.0 is beginning to look like this: a mayor suddenly grappling with emboldened opposition, limits to his influence, a city teeming with economic frustration and residents who are distrustful, in some ways, of a Manhattan billionaire. “This is a new world now,” said Councilman Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate-elect, who built his campaign around the need for a check on Mr. Bloomberg’s power. “He now has to work, as most mayors do, to strike more of a balance and reach a consensus.”

All of which is given dramatic meaning by the successful organized opposition to another big developer boondoggle from the mayor's Wall Street refugees over at EDC: "The mayor, said Jason Post, a spokesman, “will continue to make the tough decisions and stand behind key principles, but he has never had a problem with being flexible to help build a better city.” But aides privately conceded that the city’s political atmosphere has changed. Two citywide elected offices, the comptroller’s and the public advocate’s, will soon be occupied by Bloomberg skeptics. And a union-backed party that angrily opposed the mayor’s undoing of term limits won a large number of seats on the Council and is eager to flex its muscle on issues of economic populism and projects like the Bronx shopping center."

And that it's coming from the Bronx, has a certain taste of poetic justice: "It is no coincidence that lawmakers from the Bronx led the revolt against the retail project: The borough has the city’s highest unemployment rate, and voters there rejected Mr. Bloomberg in large numbers in November, favoring his Democratic rival, William C. Thompson Jr."

But, as in all of these kinds of majoe political battles, there are winners and losers-and the Daily News' Bob Kappstatter obliges-with BP Diaz and Joel Rivera leading the way: "Bronx beep Ruben Diaz Jr. Having learned from predecessor Adolfo Carrión about the pitfalls of weak community benefits agreements, Ruben carried the banner from the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, taking a chance on losing political creds. He's now opened the floodgate on making living wages for heavily city-funded projects a citywide issue - and gained major creds on any possible runs for citywide office.

• Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera. "Jose Rivera's kid" has grown in stature, putting together a united Bronx delegation, and lining up the other boroughs to knock the mayor down a peg or two."

And a special shout out to the RW's Stuart Appelbaum-along with his partner in crime, yours truly: "Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail Wholesale Department Store Union. Need we say it?...Richard Lipsky. The ever-persistent consultant made sure the media and everyone else heard the arguments against."

And even the ailing Maria Baez gets kudos for sticking up for the beleaguered supermarket owners-and becoming the galvanizer for coalescing the Bronx delegation against the Armory development: "Credit where it's due, the seriously ailing councilwoman put her foot down over not having a competing supermarket in the armory."

So, from her on out, the mayor just might have to alter his game plan-and in our view, replace some of the deadheads that he has in his economic development team. The bloomberg is off the mayor's rose-and Kingsbridge symbolizes the frost that lies ahead if he doesn't make a serious mid course correction. If he doesn't, there will be more of the following (from the Times) in the weeks, months, and years ahead: "Senior aides to Mr. Bloomberg seemed stunned by the defeat. They privately bemoaned the loss of thousands of new jobs in the middle of a deep recession, over what they viewed as a misguided policy debate. And they fretted over its political meaning. Even the mayor’s close allies in the Council, including the speaker, Christine C. Quinn, voted to kill the project."

It's not too late for the mayor to change. The open question left unanswered, however, is whether he will be able to adjust to this brave new political world.