Monday, November 28, 2011

Robert Lieber's living wage letter of guarantee

Robert Lieber's Living Wage Letter

Columbia's CBA: An EDC Progeny is Stillborn

The WSJ is reporting on the disarray in the West Harlem Local Development Corporation-the entity midwifed by EDC to implement a community benefits agreement. The CBA was the sugar that was designed to make the bitter Columbia expansion plan medicine go down smoothly in the local West Harlem neighborhood:

"It was supposed to be a breakthrough victory for Harlem residents and a model on how to settle raging land-use disputes.But more than 2½ years after Columbia University brokered an agreement with community groups—exchanging a lucrative package of benefits for the area's blessing of the university's expansion into West Harlem—local officials and residents are complaining that the fruits of the deal remain a mystery."

This is really nothing new and the seeds of this calamity were reported by the NY Post a year and a half ago: "A $76 million windfall intended to help Harlem residents is in limbo -- and may never be paid -- because the politician-backed nonprofit in charge of distributing the money is in disarray, the Post has learned. Although it formed four years ago, the West Harlem Local Development Corp. lacks a mission statement, has yet to get tax-exempt status from the IRS and doesn't even have a phone number. The group already has received $500,000 from Columbia University -- part of a 16-year payout designed to assuage community fears over the school's expansion -- yet hasn't spent a cent on the neighborhood."

This was why Nick Sprayregen-the property owner who fought the project-walked away from the group. He saw just how fraudulent the whole scheme was: "Concerns about the agreement surfaced even before it was drafted in December 2007. Five West Harlem board members resigned, upset over the heavy-handedness of the politicians involved in negotiating with Columbia. "The LDC sacrificed good development because it wanted to control a slush fund," Tom DeMott, one of the former board members, told The Post. Another former board member, the Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, said the politicians "dominated the LDC." Kooperkamp, the rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Harlem, said the pols "whittled down" the community initiatives, which included better housing and subsidized transportation for seniors."

What is missing from the Journal story today is the extent to which EDC played a significant role in this charade-after all someone brought Jesse Masyr in, pro bono, to negotiate the pact and we don't think it was the residents of the community. Masyr is as smart a land use attorney as you can find in this city but even he would resist the appellation, "community spokesperson."

What this means for us at WPU is that the city will do and say anything once it embarks on a condemnation venture-and the use of a CBA is a neat trick used to beguile the gullible to sign off on a bad deal. This is reminiscent of EDC's promises of living wage at Willets Point. What the latest deceit makes abundantly clear is that Diogenes would not strike pay dirt down at 110 William Street.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Living Wage: What Unions & the City Council said in 2008

The New York City Economic Development Corporation has solicited developer firms to implement the Willets Point development, on the basis of a Request for Proposals ("RFP") that contains NO living wage provision. However, that plainly contradicts the announcements and testimony of union officials during 2008.

This 4-minute video compilation shows union officials during 2008 announcing, and testifying to the New York City Council on the record regarding, an agreement that requires a living wage provision to be included in the Request for Proposals seeking developer firms to implement the Willets Point development.

No matter what the unions may now have us believe, it is quite clear from this video that:

(1.) The unions unequivocally state that a living wage provision is "guaranteed" and "required" to be included in the Willets Point RFP, and that this has been memorialized in a written and signed agreement (i.e., there is no wiggle room);

(2.) The agreement to include a living wage provision in the Willets Point RFP was "critical to labor's support on this [Willets Point] project";

(3.) The agreement was consistent with the ideology of the local City Council member (Hiram Monserrate), without whose consent approval of the proposed Willets Point development would have been unlikely;

(4.) The local City Council member forewarned that in the future, the City of New York might attempt to avoid implementing agreed labor provisions, but that the City must honor its commitments to labor and to the City Council;

(5.) The City Council requested, and union officials agreed to provide to the City Council, a copy of the written agreement pertaining to the the inclusion of a living wage provision within the Willets Point RFP. Therefore, that agreement is part of the record on which the City Council based its decision to approve the proposed Willets Point development.

Now that the City has reneged on its commitment to include a living wage provision within the Willets Point RFP, who will challenge this? Will the unions -- whose agreement apparently has been violated by the City -- bring a lawsuit to require a new RFP that includes a living wage provision? Will the City Council act? Will law enforcement?

Or, were union officials exaggerating, or perhaps deceiving themselves, during 2008?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bloomberg for President?

There has been a lot of crack induced hysteria around the thought of Michael Bloomberg running for president. The latest is a story in the Washington Post: "The restless political middle — emboldened by the recent inability of a special congressional committee to agree on a debt-reduction deal — is staking out a controversial plan to insert itself into the 2012 election. A bipartisan group of political strategists and donors known as Americans Elect has raised $22 million and is likely to place a third presidential candidate on the ballot in every state next year. The goal is to provide an alternative to President Obama and the GOP nominee and break the tradition of a Democrat-vs.-Republican lineup."

Just what the hell is the "restless middle?" And who exactly is raising money on behalf of these restless folks? The only guy that Wapo cites is someone descrbed as a Rebublican strategist who once worked for the Democratic governor of Massachusetts-inspiring the thought that this kind of effort is self aggrandizing but not really stimulating to anyone not simply looking out to make a quick buck.

Perhaps all we need to know is that the effort is being bankrolled by Peter Ackerman, a former partner of Mike Milken-and that Mark McKinnon, a co-founder of the No Labels effort that Bloomberg has been allied with, sits on the board of directors. This is priceless-no labels, junk bonds and the surreptitious presence of one Michael Bloomberg. A perfect fit for the current political mood. Maybe they should call their party the Crony Capitalists.

As WaPo reports: "New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s name has also been mentioned, probably because a leader in the effort to draft the independent into the 2008 presidential race is involved in Americans Elect. " But we don't think that Mike will get involved with this crew-too haphazard and uncertain an effort, and Bloomberg needs to be fully in control of the rudder in anything he does.

Which brings us to John Podhoretz's column today in the NY Post:

"Fanciers and critics of Michael Bloomberg alike, take note; there are signs he’s noodling once again about making an independent run for president.

Item 1: After two months of dilly-dallying, the mayor finally moved on the Occupy Wall Street encampment, just as — fancy this! — the polls were showing public opinion turning firmly against the squatters nationwide.

Item 2: The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed calling on Barack Obama to forego a bid for second term by Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen. Doesn’t seem relevant? Schoen, an experienced Democratic pollster, has been a Bloomberg intimate for years and one of the leading expostulators of the notion that an independent could really win the presidency in 2012."

The speculation might be fueled by the mayor's apparent boredom with his current job: "He looks tired and bored and annoyed. And there are two long years until his liberation from the third term he foolishly sought. But what is a man who clearly loves the spotlight, the attention and the idea that he is a get-it-done guy who transcends ideological and partisan categorization to do?"

Just to get into the holiday spirit, "Ho, ho ho"-the idea that Mike Bloomberg is a "get-it-done" kind of guy is a train that has long ago left Rational Central Station. Bloomberg has shown a knack for self promotion but that has been accompanied by little in the way of tangible achievement-check the city schools, CityTime and last winter's snow storm if you nee to have your memory refreshed.

Podhoretz for his part is a fan of the idea because he feels that the mayor-as a "nanny state liberal"-would sink Obama's re-election efforts: "But given his own ideological predilections — meaning, he’s a nanny-state liberal — it’s more likely than not that those states would be ones Obama would otherwise win. If Bloomberg succeeds in capturing independents and a bunch of disaffected or depressed Democrats, he’ll ensure an Obama defeat and a Republican victory in 2012."

We tend to agree with this assessment but we would add that, aside from his nanny tendencies Bloomberg is the ultimate crony capitalist and the combination of traits would make him an anathema to a wide swath of the electorate. His run, however, would generate a great deal of mirth-and given the recent gloom and doom in the economy that is indeed something we would look forward to.

Willets Point's Living Wager: A Bad Bet All Around

As we have discussed the issue of living wage has encompassed the issue of the city's plan to develop Willets Point -- and in that discussion we underscored just how mendacious the city has been in promoting the project. It appears that NYC EDC and various deputy mayors for economic development come straight out of the ends justify the means school of public policy-or is it the Lenin school of omelet making?

Put simply the city lied -- in Paradise by the Dashboard light fashion --to assorted labor leaders when it made promises around the living wage provision for Willets Point. Once it had gotten off, so to speak, it no longer felt the need to honor those promises so they were conveniently ignored. But the bad living wage wager is only the tip of the duplicitous iceberg when it comes to this development. Shall we count the ways?

(1) Created an illegal lobbying scheme to to promote the project: Set up Claire Shulman's LDC-a phony charity that was comprised of grasping developers - with tax payer money - to present an ersatz grass roots support group for the development plan;

(2) Shulman hid her lobbying activities until the whistle was blown by Willets Point businesses. The result? The largest fine for this kind of underhandedness in the city's history;

(3) Illegal activity exposed by the NY Times: resulting in an investigation that has disappeared into the miasma through two Attorney Generals' tenure -- raising the specter of a cover up and political corruption at the highest levels of city and state government;

(4) Failure of City Council oversight: The council approved the project sight unseen and left the details for later-opening the door because of legislative non-feasance for unacceptable uses such as Wal-Mart;

(5) Scandal of the Van Wyck Ramps: Another failure of council oversight that lead to a lawsuit from WPU against the city;

(a) Lawsuit dismissed when Deputy Mayor Lieber swore to the court that the city wouldn't condemn any property until the ramps were approved;

(b) Ramps application from EDC spit back: EDC consultants filed deceptive and/or fraudulent traffic data that has held up the approval process for over three years;

(6)Governor Cuomo appoints Joan McDonald as new SDOT commissioner: a former EDC executive and ringer who fits comfortably into the cover up narrative;

(7) City reverses its stand on condemnation: Ignores Lieber's sworn deposition and begins "Phase I" of the development that includes condemnation but no ramp approval. Phase I is a fiction that undermines all of the representations that EDC had made to the council in the approval process-indicating the extent to which nothing that the agency says about the development can be believed;

(8 Shulman's LDC receives a $1.5 million grant for the Flushing Waterfront: Grant is challenged by WPU which leads to NYS AG's Office contradicting itself about the existence of an investigation into Shulman's illegal lobbying-raising further questions about a cover up;

(9) City reverses itself on living wage: Comes full circle with its duplicity;

(10) Small property owners still facing eviction;

(11) Thousands of Hispanic workers still being displaced and losing their livelihoods;

(12) Crony capitalism: WPU property to be handed over to rich developer(s);

(13) Still no price tag on what this scheme is going to cost NYC tax payers.

What this narrative dramatizes is just how the city has exhibited a thoroughgoing bad faith throughout the Willets Point development process. The entire scam needs to be halted in its track-beginning with the act of bringing to justice the ringleaders of the illegal lobbying scheme that started this process off in such an initial stench.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pointed Living Wage Fight

In the battle over whether the city should adopt a living wage for retail workers when a development project is heavily subsidized the issue of Willets Point has wormed its way into the discussion. City Hall News lays out the reasons:

"In June 2008, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, Stuart Appelbaum, stood on the steps of City Hall to praise the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Along with several other powerful union bosses, Appelbaum touted the EDC plan to jumpstart a long-stalled, $3 billion project at Willets Point in Queens, because he said it would lead to the creation of so-called “living wage” retail jobs for his workers – paying a minimum of $10 an hour.

“It won’t just mean thousands of jobs,” Appelbaum said. “It will mean thousands of construction and permanent jobs that pay prevailing wages and living wages.”

Juan Gonzales in the NY Daily News also weighs in on the correlation:

"And in 2008, when the mayor wanted the City Council to approve a proposed $3 billion Willets Point development project, his deputy mayor then, Robert Lieber, made such a deal with several labor unions.Under that deal, the city would require that all construction, maintenance and security jobs at Willets Point pay “prevailing” wages — far higher than $10 an hour.

As for retail jobs, Lieber promised to “view favorably” Willets Point proposals that “maximize” the number of “living wage jobs.” He even specified $10 an hour for a living wage. Because of those promises, the unions backed the plan and the City Council approved Willets Point."

Only one problem: EDC has-like it has done with so many other things -- reneged on the deal. In doing so EDC and the rest of the gang down at city hall demonstrate that they will say almost anything just to advance their crooked scheme to abscond with the Willets Point property. The key prevaricator in all of this is former Deputy Mayor Lieber -- a stone chump if there ever was one.

As City Hall reports:

"Appelbaum’s contentions that his members could expect living wage jobs at Willets Point were based upon by a letter penned in April 2008 by Robert Lieber, then the city’s deputy mayor for economic development, to the then-head of the city’s umbrella labor organization, Gary LaBarbera.

NYCEDC will view favorably development plans that maximize the number of jobs that meet the City’s living wage and health benefits standards,” Lieber wrote. “The proposal must explain how the proposed tenanting plan maximizes the number of jobs that meet these criteria.”

That was then, and this is now-just as WPU has already reported: "Yet this May – when the EDC put out a 125-page request for Willets Point proposals to developers – there was not a single mention of living wage jobs. It did state that developers had to hire construction contractors who would pay prevailing wage and that some building workers would get prevailing wage salaries—but retail workers were left out completely. Earlier this week, far from offering tacit support for a living wage, the EDC released a list of 36 projects around the city, including Willets Point, that it said could be jeopardized by the living wage bill."

In response EDC has started to spin like a top: "EDC spokesman David Lombino declined to directly address why living wage language from the 2008 letter never made it into the requests for proposal. “When seeking proposals for development, the city always considers the creation of well-paying jobs in addition to other factors like the feasibility of the project, proposed uses, job density, and cost to taxpayers,” Lombino said."

For us this is quite a familiar scenario. When WPU went to court to challenge the Willets Point development the very same Robert Lieber -- in a sworn deposition -- promised that the city wouldn't move to condemn any Willets Point property until the ramps off of the Van Wyck were approved. When WPU stymied that approval EDC went right ahead with condemnation anyway-and prattled on about changing conditions. This issue is now before Judge Joan Madden who ruled for the city precisely because of the Lieber deposition.

Here's the exit question for us: If the Willets Point development was approved because of the city's wage promises, does that mean that the entire development needs to be re-analyzed? And if the city can so blithely renege on this promise, what does that say about all of the others?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

High Comedy in High Office

The Times Union has a story on the efforts being made by AG Schneiderman to expand the powers of his office to investigate public corruption: "Cracking down on public corruption was a major theme of last year's election, but Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says he was rebuffed by the Cuomo administration when he sought to expand his office's jurisdiction in the area."

Poor Eric, he isn't being given enough power to root out all of the bad guys. Of course, this is all quite laughable considering his Keystone Kops routine involving the supposed investigation his office has into the illegal lobbying of Claire Shulman. If the AG is either unwilling or unable to use the power of his office to get to the bottom of an illegal scheme-one that involves the billionaire mayor of NYC-to deprive small property owners of their Constitutional rights, then it serves no public good to give the guy greater authority to root out corruption.

Willets Point is a test case and so far Schneiderman-and the hapless Comptroller DiNapoli-are flunking the test. But then again the AG is in good company since his predecessor sat on the investigation for a year and a half and pocket vetoed any action after Mike Bloomberg endorsed him on September, 6, 2010. Cuomo went on to become governor and in one of his first appointments placed Joan McDonald in charge of the DOT.

Why is this significant? Because McDonald used to be an executive of the NYC EDC-the lead agency promoting Willets Point development. State DOT is responsible for the approval of ramps off of the Van Wyck-the linchpin of the development. This is therefore a target rich environment and we suggest that the AG accomplish this test of his bona fides on corruption before begging the governor-of all people!-for more authority.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

EDC Cruzin' for a Bruisin'

The NY Daily News is reporting on the awarding of a Willets Point sewer construction project to a New Jersey firm. This is in keeping with EDC policy of doing as much harm to NYC business as is reasonably possible:

"A New Jersey company has snared lucrative contracts to build a sewer system for Willets Point, angering critics who say the job near Citi Field should go to a city firm. Cruz Contractors signed deals in May and July for $36 million of work for sewers at the mix of auto body shops and junkyards by the Mets’ stadium."

This didn't sit well with State Senator Tony Avella: "State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) called Cruz’s hiring a “disgrace.”

“City residents are out of work, especially construction workers,” Avella said. “Why can’t we give our people these jobs?”

The action was defended by EDC as a necessary requirement of the bidding process: "But the EDC defended picking Cruz, based in Holmdel, since it was the lowest bidder. The law bars discriminating against bidders based on their geographic base, said EDC spokeswoman Jennifer Friedberg."

From our standpoint we are amazed that EDC decided to bid the contract out at all since it is notorious for sole sourcing so much of its consultant work. And since the agency's word is worth a bucket of warm spit it would be interesting to see if what EDC is saying is actually the truth. But we did get a kick out of the lame comments of Queens BP Helen Marshall-she of the "Keep it in Queens" program.

WPU's Lennie Scarola underscores the fecklessness of Marshall and attacks EDC's failure to find a local firm:

"Len Scarola, who leases land at Willets Point for an auto body shop, bashed the contracts as “outrageous.”...But Scarola argued that Cruz’s hiring contradicts the message of a “Keep It In Queens” initiative by the city, the Queens Chamber of Commerce and Borough President Helen Marshall. The program trumpets the rejuvenation of Willets Point as a way to bring jobs to the borough. Marshall said in a statement that she supports the redevelopment because it will bring more than 18,000 construction and 5,000 permanent jobs. “Our hope and expectancy is that many of them will be filled by local labor and businesses,” she said."

Marshall can't even summon up an ounce of outrage for the award-a sign of just how deep she is in with the administration. As Tom Lehrer once sang: "Second fiddle is a hard part we know, when they don't even give you a bow."

This story, however, is just the beginning. Willets Point is in an environmental justice zone and EDC has violated all of the rules for complying with permitting in these zones-and that is a story to be continued.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Capital Idea?

The WSJ is reporting that the Bloomberg administration is throwing in the towel on building some of the (controversial)marine transfer stations: "The city is also proposing to privatize four marine transfer stations that are part of the city's comprehensive sanitation plan.:

It is now five years since the city's SWMP was passed by the clueless council and we still have no movement to realizing the environmental justice dream of sticking a solid waste station to the snooty Upper East Side-leaving aside the fact that the marine transfer station is in a residential area that is home to thousands of lower income public housing tenants and is slated to be built over a park!

What does this privatization scheme mean? It means to us that New York is tap city when it comes to capital expenditures and is looking to out source the costs of these transfer stations. Now for us this makes a great deal of fiscal sense but it underscores the fact that the city has little money to waste and that the Willets Point pipe dream should be shelved because of the fiscal uncertainty that NYC faces. We are still waiting for the hidden costs of the project to be publicized for the awaiting sticker shocked citizens.

But for the environmental justice folks this privatization means that the transfer stations will not be coming any time soon-with litigation and a lengthy bidding process very much in the way. Who in the private sector is going to step up to bid under these circumstances?

As the city's dire fiscal conditions become clear-and the Bloomberg folks are busy trying to raise every fee they can think of-isn't it time for some fiscal watchdog to take a look at Willets Point and observe that the emperor has no clothes on?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Living Wage Wedge

Opponents of a living wage are now trying to use the Willets Point development as a weapon in their efforts to kill the measure in its crib. As Crain's reports:

"Opponents of the measure are promising a fight. They've advertised in local newspapers and a dozen plan to testify at the council hearing. “It's no surprise that the same union which helped kill 2,000 good jobs at the Kingsbridge Armory is back on the bandwagon now,” said a spokesman for a coalition of business groups that oppose the bill. The opponents say it would make it impossible to develop retail projects in the outer boroughs. An insider at one firm that bid for the first phase of the Willets Point redevelopment said the project “would be unleaseable,” and therefore unbuildable, if the living-wage ordinance passes."

Now many of these opponents-looking no doubt at the fundraising opportunity derived from fronting for the big real estate interests-are local chambers of commerce. What strikes us about this is that these chambers are supposed to be representing the neighborhood businesses-you know those small retailers that are the backbone of the NYC economy.

For their edification those 2,000 jobs would have come at the expense of the retailers on Kingsbridge and Fordham Roads-all done courtesy of the subsidizing from Mike Bloomberg's crony capitalism program for economic (aggrandizement) of his billionaire real estate buddies. And that 2,000 number is risible since the Gateway Mall built on the gravesite of the Bronx Terminal Market was supposed to generate over 3,000 jobs but yielded around 900.

But it seems that if the living wage is applied to Willets Point than it would be the death knell of the project-at least according to the vaunted (and self interested) "insider" that Crain's finds to courageously comment on the issue: "Any project that has a large retail component will not be able to get over the burden with national retailers,” the insider said."

Wonder who that was? Perhaps Jesse Masyr the lawyer for the Related Companies whose Armory project was bitch slapped by the RWDSU. In our view if the Willets Point project would be doomed without a ban on living wage than that's just another good reason why the development should be relegated to the dustbin of NYC history. It is, after all, the retail mall on the site that creates most of the unmitigatable traffic for the project.

If NYC is going to squander hundreds of millions-or in the case of Willets Point, billions-of dollars to take away property from the little people to give to the well heeled interests, than the peons working at the site need to be paid a living wage-period! If that can't be done than the entire development needs to be re-thought. It has become an intolerable burden on NYC tax payers in these recessionary times.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bloomberg Silence: Part II

Earlier we pointed out that the mayor's new found stab at eloquence should be shelved for silence because of the paucity of achievements that the Bloomberg administration can justifyingly point to. In doing so we left at a significant reason-and perhaps the most significant reason-for the mayor to remain mute-especially in the area of fiscal management. In this regard Mike Bloomberg is throwing stones from inside a glass house.

The NY Post highlights the incongruity of the 99 lb weakling trying to Bogart a bully pulpit:

"Sure, when it comes to Washington’s spending, he’s got all the answers. But critics note New York City’s debt has ballooned on Mayor Bloomberg’swatch. Hizzoner said on Tuesday that fixing the federal budget is “just not that difficult to do, if you have courage.” He scolded President Obama and both houses of Congress for their budget gridlock, sketching out a cost cutting, tax raising, entitlement shaving plan that he said would dismantle the deficit and balance the budget in 10 years. “I was reminded of the guy telling his neighbor how to fix his roof while his own is leaking,” Councilman James Oddo (RSI/Brooklyn) said of Bloomberg’s lecture. “Ten years into the mayor’s term, we have large, longterm fiscal problems we have not dealt with.”

The sharp minded Nicole Gelinas adds more ridicule to the mayor's farcical posturing: "Debt above 15 percent of personal income is not a good idea,” said Nicole Gelinas, of the Manhattan Institute. Worse, the mayor has kicked the can down the road when it comes to the budget busters of the future. “The city continues to take on pension and healthcare benefits for its current and future retirees that it cannot afford,” Gelinas said."

Mike Bloomberg has increased the size and scope of NYC government with little or no evident payoff in terms of better services-pay attention to the education budget if you want the sad truth. In the process of hiring more and more municipal workers he has added to the ballooning debt that is saddling future generations of New Yorkers.

And where is the danger in all of this impecunious behavior? Right in the capitol budget where the city is kicking the debt can down the road: "The expense budget, which by law must be balanced every year, is funded by taxes and fees. Money for the capital budget comes from bonds that the city sells to investors and must pay off, with interest, over many years. The city’s growing debt comes from increases in capital spending, which means higher principal and interest payments."

Which gets us to the issue of the development of Willets Point. Can we afford to develop the site and increase the burgeoning debt for a project that might take decades to come to fruition? In raising this question we are still waiting for the city to put a price tag on all of this silliness. Someone should try to get the answer to this and get the cost/benefit equation before the public in the context of the city's debt crisis.

Bloomberg: Silence is Golden

The NY Times has a long and seemingly pointless article about the mayor's new penchant for public speaking:

"MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG is not, by his own admission, much of a wordsmith. He is forever mispronouncing names — even those of his own commissioners. He is impatient with speechwriters. And he rarely, if ever, practices his remarks. “His mentality,” concedes his top speechwriter, Francis S. Barry, “is not one of rehearsal.” But despite his rhetorical handicaps and a reputation for perfunctory prose, New York City’s uneasy speaker in chief is doing something unexpected in his third term: embracing grand-scale oratory with fervor."

Puleeze! Why anyone-but particularly Mike Barbaro over at the Times-would want to wax eloquent about a man whose eloquence is, to be charitable, in very short supply is beyond us. Mike Bloomberg's major contribution to public dialogue is silence-and when he does reach for grand oratory, as he did with the GZ mosque, the results are more cacophonous than the rhetoric itself.

What Bloomberg is now doing is styling because he no longer has to worry about the backlash from his jarring inability to put a comprehensive and mellifluous sentence together: "Mr. Bloomberg, of course, rarely shies from speaking his mind, a quality that has long grated and gratified New Yorkers in equal measures. But in these lengthy and lofty speeches, even those closest to the mayor sense a new found liberation — from worries about polls (which remain middling), re-election (impossible) or the White House (a dream abandoned). "

What truly funny, however, is that the Times observes that the mayor's newly discovered rhetorical flourishes are designed to distract from what has long been considered-although wrongly in our view-his forte: bureaucratic expertise; "It is a striking shift for Mr. Bloomberg, 69, whose reputation as a bureaucratic maestro has been dented by a series of managerial missteps, leaving the administration eager to burnish his legacy and elevate him above the daily dramas of municipal government."

That Barbaro writes this straight faced is dripping with irony. Now that his bureaucratic expertise has been exposed as a hoax the mayor is going to resort to some kind of rhetorical renaissance to literally talk his way out of the failed paper bag that he finds himself in? Isn't this silly? And why does Barbaro-a first rate political reporter-find himself writing seriously on a topic that should have been relegated to a humor column?

The CitiTime scandal, the exposed failures of the public schools, and the snow storm debacle-not to mention his handling of the Goldsmiith resignation-has left the mayor's reputation for managerial expertise in tatters. That he wants to change the subject by reaching for an eloquence above his considerable pay grade is simply risible.

But back to the putative eloquence surrounding the GZ mosque:

"The intense national debate during the summer of 2010 over the proposed Islamic center, to include a mosque in a building only blocks from ground zero, did much to change that. The mayor, the first major public figure to express forceful support for the project, insisted on giving a rousing speech that he tinkered with and tweaked endlessly, even on the 10-minute ferry ride out to Governors Island, where he delivered it. In an unapologetic tone, he argued that the government had no right to tell a religious group where to pray, and that tolerance was at the core of New York life."

This was an issue that directly was connected to core constitutional values-at least as Bloomberg saw them. That he was at the same time tone deaf about what a majority of New Yorkers saw as an inappropriate siting issue, well, who cares-Mike Bloomberg was never one to consider the feelings of his inferiors. What's ironic for us is that Bloomberg''s defense of Constitutional rights, his faux eloquence, was extremely limited-and never was expanded to, let's say, property rights.

The issue of the mosque never involved freedom of worship-it was a land use matter. The taking of private property, however, is a core Constitutional issue-and that Bloomberg doesn't give a rat's ass about the rights of Jake Bono, Irene Presti and the others at Willets Point speaks volumes about his priorities and values.

The entire discussion of the mayor's bully pulpit is downright farcical-and by focusing on it the Times elides the more serious discussion of the fact that the emperor stands clothesless before history-having failed in better than a decade to distinguish himself in any area of public policy. That he now feels he even has a bully pulpit we find deserving of nothing but scorn. Mike Bloomberg's major contribution to the public dialogue would be a merciful silence.

Friday, November 11, 2011

One Mississippi...

Well the supposed rubes and rednecks down in Dixie have a lot more on the ball than New York sophisticates-at least when it comes to the Constitution and the right of private property. This past Tuesday the voters of Mississippi voted overwhelmingly in favor of an eminent domain referendum that severely restricted the government from condemning property:

"WJTV, Channel 1 of Jackson, Mississippi, reports that in yesterday’s election the eminent domain amendment to the state constitution passed by a whoppping 73% to 27% margin, in spite of opposition by Republican Governor Hailey Barbour. The new constitutional provision prohibits the taking of private property for commercial redevelopment. Under its terms the taker must hold the property for at least 10 years before conveying it."

What this indicates is that the people of the state have more sense than their governor-remember that back in 2009 Governor Haley Barbour had vetoed the strong anti-condemnation bill that had passed the legislature:

"Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour vetoed eminent domain reform legislation yesterday after it was passed with strong support from both houses of the state legislature. Today, the Mississippi House voted 101 to 19 to override the veto, but the Senate has yet to weigh in. Mississippi is one of the few states not to have passed eminent domain reform legislation since the Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo v. New London decision."

Of course enlightened New York has yet to even make a small move in the direction of reform. And Governor Barbour is a role model for Mike Bloomberg in this regard-a front man supreme for crony capitalism:

"But none of that mattered to Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who promptly vetoed the bill, claiming it would cripple his ability to lure large corporations into the state. As Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, admitted in his veto statement, had he not promised Toyota that he would use eminent domain to secure a piece of contested land for its Blue Springs facility, "Toyota would have broken off negotiations with us and chosen one of the other states competing with us for the project."

That sob story may be true, but it still does nothing to justify the state's forcible seizure of private property for the benefit a rich and powerful corporation. Toyota won't be building bridges or roads or waterways or any other legitimate public project that might permit the use (or threat) of eminent domain. It wants to build a plant to manufacture cars and then sell them for a profit. That's not a legitimate public use."

As Reason Magazine points out: "...if Barbour wants to attract business to his state, he might try pushing for lower corporate taxes or for any number of other pro-business enticements that don't involve stripping citizens of their fundamental rights." And if Bloomberg wants to promote economic development he might try making the NYC business climate just a bit more hospitable-something that tax happy Mike finds inordinately hard to do.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mississippi Becomes the 44th State to Reject Kelo v. New London Ruling

Eminent Domain Reform Passes with 73 Percent of Vote

Jackson, Miss. — In a tremendous victory for property rights, 73 percent of Mississippians yesterday overwhelmingly rejected the infamous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London to become the 44th state to pass stronger protections for property owners against eminent domain abuse.

Initiative 31 amends the Mississippi Constitution to prohibit the government from seizing private property by eminent domain and handing it to other private entities. Government agencies that take private property by eminent domain for a public use must own and use that property for 10 years before selling or transferring it to a new, private owner. Restricting the transfer of the property the government acquires by eminent domain discourages the forced transfer of property from one private owner to another private owner under the guise of “economic development” and will protect the vast majority of property owners in Mississippi.

“Mississippians and their property are safer today—their homes, farms or businesses cannot be taken by eminent domain simply to be to be handed over to others for private profit,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner.

Mississippi had been one of only seven states that have not yet enacted any type of eminent domain reform since the Kelo decision which took away the homes of seven New London, Conn., families for private development and sparked a nationwide backlash against eminent domain for private gain. IJ represented Susette Kelo before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“In 2009, Governor Haley Barbour vetoed a strong eminent domain reform bill that passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the state legislature,” said Christina Walsh, director of activism and coalitions at the Institute for Justice. “Like all typical eminent domain abuse apologists, Barbour claimed that economic growth would screech to a halt if big corporations couldn’t use eminent domain to seize perfectly fine private property. As we demonstrate in Doomsday, No Way: Economic Development and Post-Kelo Eminent Domain Reform, that’s false—and yesterday’s vote demonstrates that Mississippians recognize that, even if Barbour refuses to.”

This was the third attempt to reform Mississippi’s eminent domain laws. A lawsuit was filed earlier this year to keep Mississippians from voting on Initiative 31 but IJ and the Mississippi Farm Bureau worked to keep it on the ballot.

IJ filed an amicus brief in the Mississippi Supreme Court on behalf of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference – Jackson Chapter and the Mississippi Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. In a September 2011 ruling the Supreme Court allowed the initiative to remain on the ballot but said it could be challenged if enacted.

“Voters in Mississippi spoke loud and clear: The government does not have the power to take their property and give it to a private developer,” said IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor. “Mississippi can finally be added to the list of states that have reformed their laws to provide better protections for property owners against government abuse.”