Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Is Cuomo protecting Shulman?

Willets Point Group Claims Cuomo Delay
by Michael Howard Saul
Wall Street Journal, 6/22/10

Queens property owners battling Mayor Michael Bloomberg's effort to redevelop the area near Citi Field are accusing Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of dragging his feet in a yearlong investigation into whether a city-funded corporation broke state law by lobbying for the plan.

The controversy surrounding the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corp. has exposed friction between aides to Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Cuomo over how quickly the city handed over documents to state investigators.

In a June 17 letter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the Willets Point property owners demanded Mr. Cuomo, who is running for governor, respond to their allegation that the corporation, led by former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, conducted an extensive lobbying effort in violation of state law. Ms. Shulman denied any wrongdoing in an interview.

"We're getting a little frustrated on what's taking so long and why he's not acting more quickly," said Jerry Antonacci, president of Willets Point United Inc., the group that filed the complaint against Ms. Shulman's corporation.

"There is no reason for a delay in this."

Mr. Antonacci said he believes politics might be at play because, in his view, it's an open-shut case. "I do feel there's some behind-the-door politicking going on," he said. "That's what I feel in my gut."

Richard Bamberger, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, said, "It's an ongoing investigation and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment."

The attorney general's office has complained about the speed with which the city has responded to requests for information.

The final batch of requested documents from the city arrived at Mr. Cuomo's office last week, a person familiar with the probe said. And Mr. Cuomo's office still needs to interview additional witnesses, the person said.

Terri Sasanow, senior counsel at the city's law department, said, "The city has fully compiled with all document requests from the attorney general."

Willets Point, a 62-acre site that is adjacent to Flushing Meadows Park and Citi Field, is filled with scrap yards and auto- repair shops. The mayor's plan, approved by the City Council in 2008, calls for a massive cleanup and the creation of 5,500 housing units and eight acres of parks and playgrounds. The business owners in Mr. Antonacci's group don't want to sell their properties to the city.

Ms. Shulman's corporation received hundreds of thousands of dollars in both public and private money to build support for Mr. Bloomberg's plan. State law prohibits local development corporations, such as the Ms. Shulman's, from attempting to "influence legislation by propaganda or otherwise."

"We did everything in good faith and we continue to believe that," Ms. Shulman said. "It's a good project," she added, referring to the mayor's plans for the area. Ms. Shulman admitted she and her group engaged in lobbying.

"Did we go to speak to members of the City Council? Yes, we did," she said. "We hired lobbyists."

Bob Bishop, an attorney for Ms. Shulman's corporation, said that he believes state law prohibits lobbying of the Legislature. Since Ms. Shulman lobbied the City Council, he said, "the activity is not illegal."

"We are waiting for guidance from the attorney general," he said.

Last year, the City Clerk imposed a $59,090 fine against the corporation because Ms. Shulman failed to register as a lobbyist.

At the time, it was the largest fine issued by the City Clerk for lobbying activity.