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-après 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.