Thursday, October 28, 2010

NY Times on AG's Silence

In yesterday's NY Times, the paper takes a closer look at the record of AG Cuomo-and finds that style often overrides substance. This is particularly true when it comes to the Willets Point investigation of Claire Shulman and EDC: "But the praise is neither universal nor complete, and there are many who assert that Mr. Cuomo has, not unlike his predecessor, been more interested in headlines than in undertaking the tedious chores needed to bring lasting reform, and that he has mishandled, sidestepped or prolonged some public integrity cases. For example, an investigation into whether the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and some public officials violated lobbying laws in their redevelopment efforts is still unresolved after two years. (Mr. Bloomberg last month endorsed Mr. Cuomo’s campaign for governor.)"

This is particularly hurtful because the AG has yet to make his position on the use of eminent domain clear-and that issue underlies the entire Willets Point fight. But even more compelling here is the fact that it appears when it comes to some kinds of untoward actions on the part of certain well placed elected officials, Cuomo will pull his punches-and will not be above politics and special interests in the way that he has said on the campaign trail.

Cuomo's position on eminent domain generally and Willets Point specifically is also of concern since the state's role in the approval of the ramps off of the Van Wyck remains unsettled. NYSDOT must approve the EDC application, and without this approval, neither the ramps nor the project can be built. When we last left the issue-and the NY Times had written an incisive expose of the torturous review process-DOT was promising a revised ramp report and Environmental Assessment sometime soon after Labor Day.

Now to be fair, they didn't specify what year, but the original date proffered for the revised report was March 15th. So the obvious question is, why the inordinate delay? In our view, the tardiness here devolves from the difficulty that the EDC consultants are having in justifying the ramps when the traffic estimates for the development clearly cannot be accommodated by either the ramps themselves, or the Van Wyck Expressway that is already severely challenged by heavy traffic volumes.

Adding to the difficulty-leading to the consultants' challenge of trying to square a circle-is the fact the EDC environmental teams, and their were two involved at various times, came up with widely divergent estimates on the project's impacts on the ramps. Aside from all of these difficulties, however, it is also possible that the DOT delays are a function of wanting to wait for the new governor to come in and put his own people in place at the agency. No bureaucrat wants to make a wrong move, especially when the governor-elect's intentions are unknown.

But the AG's reticence to act on the Claire Shulman transgressions-sins that were shared by EDC in a major way-is troubling; and could, ironically, lead to the issue being addressed by a new attorney general in January. The political and bureaucratic opacity of all this makes any prediction difficult.

All we know is that the evidence shows that the ramps cannot-under any circumstance-accommodate the severe traffic impacts from the proposed Willets Point project. Any report that purports to say that they do is, in our view, immediately suspect and will be challenged. It would behoove the AG-and likely new governor-to get on the right side of this issue and endorse the kind of independent evaluation that leading environmental groups like the Sierra Club and NRDC have called for. Stay tuned.