Friday, March 30, 2012
A Mayor, a Speaker, and Crony Capitalism
"Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, already facing skepticism over her handling of legislation that would raise wages for some private-sector workers, has decided to add an exemption for one of New York’s biggest pending developments, Hudson Yards. A large portion of the Hudson Yards project, a 26-acre mixed-use development along the city’s Far West Side, is specifically excluded from the proposed so-called living wage legislation in a draft that was written by Ms. Quinn’s office and is now circulating among supporters of the bill."
One thing is missing from the Times story-why exempt the largest development project the West Side of Willets Point? The paper doesn't offer a single clue but we will step in where the Times fears to tread-or, perhaps lacks the curiosity.
One of the twolead developers of this massive West Side undertaking is the Related Companies, and for over ten years Related has been treated by the Bloomberg administration as its BFF-from Bradhurst in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx Terminal Market, to the expansion of the Gateway Mall in East New York-the possible home of the city's first Wal-Mart. What the Times failed to pursue was the ten year pattern of favoritism-or why it was so crucial to exempt this project in the speaker's
Who can forget that Mike Bloomberg even tried to intervene on behalf of Related's president Jeff Blau when he was trying to get into a Fifth Avenue co-op? This is crony capitalism at its finest. You'd think that the Occupy Wall Street-obsessed Times would be able to see a pattern here?
Apparently Quinn is hitching a ride on the Bloomberg/Steve Ross express-and the NYC Partnership that she hopes will fund her way to the Gracie Mansion (if Bloomberg lets her live there). That's why the original Living wage bill excluded retail tenants! All on behalf of Related the company that calls the shots down at the Partnership:
“The living-wage bill is opposed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and by the real estate community. But the Partnership for New York City, a business group, said in January that it would support a version of the legislation that exempted tenants.”
All of this bodes ill for Willets Point-should Related get the bid. (And who would be surprised) If Quinn is mayor the pattern of crony capitalism will continue and the only real living wages will be Quinn’s wages of sin.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Cuomo and Bloomberg: Bosom Buddies
That doesn't surprise us much-and neither does the governor's eloquent toast to his BFF on Fred Dicker's radio show:
"Those stories of the mayor and I being at odds were grossly overblown. I understand the sensational value of them, but it just wasn’t true,” Mr. Cuomo responded. “It is true, institutionally, a governor and a mayor sometimes advocate for their own causes and sometime advocate for different causes, because of their institutional roles.”Mr. Cuomo went on to stress his personal friendliness with New York City’s mayor.“But I’ve always had a very strong personal relationship with the mayor. I’ve known him for many, many years,” he explained. “We’re friends. He’s friends with my family. He was supportive of me in my election when he didn’t have to be, so he’s gone out of his way to be kind to me and I enjoy our personal relationship.”
Of course that wasn't the case when then AG Cuomo launched an investigation of the money given to Claire Shulman's LDC to lobby illegally for the development at Willets Point, Oh no, not at all-and Jim Dwyer of the Times reported on the harsh words and threats that emanated from City Hall against then candidate Cuomo. It's worth quoting at length:
"Some weeks back, the state attorney general’s office sent the city a request for records of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, one of these invisible public agencies wearing the costume gowns of a nonprofit operation. The attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, was looking into a report that the city, through the Economic Development Corporation, was the source of funds for lobbyists who helped persuade the City Council to condemn land in Willets Point, Queens.
It is illegal for a not-for-profit corporation to use city money for lobbying. Instead of complying with the records request, the city’s chief lawyer, Michael A. Cardozo, demanded a meeting with the attorney general’s office. Mr. Cuomo said that his investigators wanted to review the records before meeting with city officials. Mr. Cardozo balked. Mr. Cuomo said that if necessary, he would issue a subpoena.
In one of the many exchanges between the city Law Department and the Attorney General’s office, a Bloomberg administration official said that a subpoena from the state would be seen as a hostile act, and would be remembered next year, when Mr. Cuomo is expected to run for governor."
But then a funny thing happened on the way to the governor's mansion. On September 6, 2009 the mayor of NYC endorsed AG Cuomo and that investigation of the illegal activities of the Shulman gang went into the circular file at the NYS AG's office-a casualty of political expedience. It remains there to this day since Cuomo's successor has been preoccupied chasing less lofty malefactors.
So Cuomo's acknowledgement that he and the mayor are bosom buddies comes as no shock to the property owners at Willets Point who were sacrificed on the altar of the governor's ambition. We knew Andrew's father who fought to save our land in the 1960s-and he is no Mario Cuomo!
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Willets Point and the Living Wage Lie
What prompts this follow up is the fact that the council is now moving forward with a living wage bill that expressly excludes the retail workers in all of the box stores that EDC has planned for the first phase of the development: "Against the backdrop of a proposed living wage bill that would exempt employees of private tenants in city-sponsored developments, a Council budget hearing yesterday turned into a referendum on the extent to which the nonprofit Economic Development Corporation opens opportunities for lower-income New Yorkers."
Where does leave Stuart Applebaum and the RWDSU? Back in December the RW's press spokesman said this about the bait and switch Phase I: "But the actual request for proposals did not include such language. And the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which touted the redevelopment project as a boon for local workers, is not happy. “They clearly broke the promise and reneged on what they said,” said Dan Morris, a spokesman for the union and for Living Wage NYC Coalition. Morris said a living wage bill, currently being debated in the City Council, would prevent this from happening in the future."
Which leaves us with the impression that the advocates of a living wage like the retail workers unions were viewed by EDC as useful idiots-and now the agency feels it can with impunity stick a finger in the union's eye. And the city council is no better; and, despite what Morris opined in December, the council bill does no such thing.
The living wage provision was the linchpin of the council's approval of the Willets Point project and has abandoned it like so much of yesterday's garbage. But this isn't really surprising because when it comes to Willets Point EDC has reneged on almost everything that it promised the council-and the legislature's mute non-reaction to the bitch slapping has all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship.
If the council's so-called progressive caucus was so concerned about income inequality and all that jazz then it would be looking to join with WPU in demonstrating against this boondoggle at the Iron Triangle that will put hundreds, if not thousands of low income immigrants out of work-to be replaced by a high end mall that will further erode the neighborhood businesses of Jackson Heights, Corona and Flushing. (The catchment area of Claire Shulman's developer sponsored LDC-a group only formed as a beard for rich real estate interests)
That kind of courage, however, is a rare commodity. Posturing is so emotionally satisfying-and appearing good is obviously more important than actually being good. The group that should be manning the barricades with us, however, is the RWDSU. Their workers have gotten the shaft and at the end of the day it isn't impossible that Related will have the EDC bid at Willets Point and Wal-Mart's happy face will be seen mocking the inaction of all the progressive posturers.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
City Invents New Excuse for Neglect
NYCDOT Categorically Refuses to Fix ANY Willets Point Street;
Falsely Claims Entire Neighborhood is Being Condemned.
WPU Confronts NYCDOT Over Its Bogus Excuse;
Demands That Agency Deliver Services for Area Taxpayers.
The following is the text of a self-explanatory letter, sent on Wednesday by Willets Point United Inc. ("WPU") to Ms. Jesse Adair of the New York City Department of Transportation ("NYCDOT"), concerning NYCDOT's admitted policy of withholding all roadway repair and maintenance services from the entire Willets Point neighborhood. We have received no response from NYCDOT.
[To Ms. Jesse Adair / NYCDOT]
Dear Ms. Adair:
I am writing on behalf of the membership of Willets Point United Inc. It has come to our attention that roughly two weeks ago, you spoke via telephone with an owner of New Mustang Auto Parts, located on Willets Point Boulevard in Willets Point, Queens, regarding complaints that he has made via New York City's 311 system, of sub-standard roadway conditions on Willets Point Boulevard and elsewhere throughout Willets Point; and his urgent requests that the New York City Department of Transportation ("NYCDOT") implement repairs and fulfill its responsibility to maintain these open and functioning roadways. The complaints were accompanied by photographs depicting the unacceptable consequences of NYCDOT's neglect.
It is our understanding that you told the complainant that NYCDOT refuses to implement any repair or to maintain any roadway within Willets Point, because NYCDOT claims that the entire Willets Point district is being condemned now for redevelopment. Please be advised that NYCDOT is absolutely incorrect.
First, the attached map shows the portion of Willets Point which the City is attempting to redevelop by 2016, commonly known as "Phase One". (The map is derived from page 7 of the City's Technical Memorandum 004 pertaining to the proposed Willets Point development project, which is accessible online at the web site of the New York City Economic Development Corporation.)
The portion of Willets Point which the City proposes to acquire and/or redevelop by 2016 consists of only 20 acres of the entire 62-acre Willets Point site. The City's published notice of eminent domain pertained only to those 20 acres, and no other property is being condemned. The overwhelming majority of the Willets Point site – more than 40 acres – will remain as-is for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, there is no legitimate basis for NYCDOT to withhold urgently-needed roadway repair and maintenance services from this area.
Moreover, the City's attempt to condemn 20 acres is presently the subject of legal challenges that will not be resolved by the courts for quite some time, and whose outcome is unknowable at present. It is inappropriate for NYCDOT to claim that the City's attempt to condemn 20 acres somehow justifies NYCDOT withholding urgently-needed roadway repair and maintenance services now, when the roadways in question are still very much in use here every single day, and will be for quite some time (and perhaps, permanently).
For the above good reasons, the membership of Willets Point United Inc. hereby seconds the complaints made to NYCDOT via New York City's 311 system by an owner of New Mustang Auto Parts, of sub-standard roadway conditions on Willets Point Boulevard and elsewhere throughout Willets Point; and we demand that NYCDOT implement repairs and fulfill its responsibility to maintain these open and functioning roadways, upon which hundreds of businesses and thousands of customers rely every day. We are New York City taxpayers, and will not tolerate denial of essential services by NYCDOT.
We note that on Monday, March 19, 2012, Mayor Bloomberg and NYCDOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan ironically held a news conference less than half a mile from Willets Point, on Union Street in Flushing, to proudly display NYCDOT's new pothole and road paving machine (see attached image). But instead of displaying that machine during a self-serving news conference and photo opportunity, NYCDOT should actually use the machine at Willets Point to deliver essential services – and stop finding baseless new excuses to continue NYCDOT's decades-long blatant neglect and discrimination against the people of Willets Point.
Thank you and we look forward to your response via reply email.
On behalf of Willets Point United Inc.
Monday, March 19, 2012
Not Sterling Silver
As the Journal points out the stakes here were high: "The Mets owners couldn't afford to repay the $300 million in principal invested and later withdrawn that Mr. Picard is additionally seeking, say people familiar with the team's finances and with the Wilpon family. A loss might have meant they might have had to sell additional stakes in the team and could've possibly lost control of the team."
All we can say is, "Karma's a bitch!" Maybe that's what happens when you covet your neighbor's property. More importantly this financial hit raises ethical and legal questions about the suitability of Sterling Equities as a bidder for the development rights at Willets Point-and another reason why NYC EDC needs to come clean and announce openly who the actual bidders are.
Given the fact that one supposed bidder-TDC-has so far failed to raise the funds to develop Flushing Commons, and another-Related-has stuck its finger in the eyes of the elected officials with its Wal-Mart dalliance, transparency should reign supreme. Even more so now that Sterling has been tarnished and financially diminished.
Well, if you ask the poor immigrant shop owners: "This is a business place, this is not Times Square where people come from all of the world and sit there,” said Javed Chaudhry, who sells phone cards and accessories at GRB Distributors. He recalled feeling a mounting dread as the boulders rolled in. “I knew I was going to lose my bread and butter,” he said."
This all comes courtesy of the city's two faced transportation commissioner Sadik-Khan-someone who claims to be all about reducing car congestion: "Last September, in efforts to create more open space and decongest nearby Roosevelt Avenue, the city repurposed one block of the road — much as the Bloomberg administration has reinvented chunks of Times Square — to be a haven for pedestrians. But the plaza bears little resemblance to Times Square, just six miles away. A half-dozen traffic-blocking boulders and rickety picnic tables seem to be the sum total of the alterations to the streetscape to date, but business owners say it has been enough to turn a once-bustling block into a barren one."
Of course this is the same commissioner who we caught on emails to the NYS DOT threatening the agency with retaliation if it didn't approve ramps off the Van Wyck to facillitate the 80,000 daily car and truck trips out of redeveloped Willets Point. (http://www.willetspoint.org/2011/05/inhuman-trafficing.html). Can you say hypocrisy?
What links this all together is the anti small business animus from the Bloomberg crew-and in Jackson Heights the councilman hearts this antagonism: "Councilman Daniel Dromm, a Democrat who had pushed for the plaza, said he believed the business owners were overstating the impact, and he challenged the merchants to turn over their books and prove their losses. No one has done so. Even if the business community were to prove its claim, Mr. Dromm said, the plaza would most likely stay."
What a guy! Is it any wonder why the local shop keepers don't want to turn their books over to this anti-small business kook? All of this demonstrates why the current administration is the most anti-small business group in the city's history-promoting car reducing plazas that hurt neighborhood stores; while pushing Van Wyck ramps for their rich developer friends.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Flushing, New York-and Willets Point-Down the Drain
"Small business owners on Union Street have slowly been making an exodus as dealings between the city and the developer of Flushing Commons continue behind closed doors, a business leader said.Ikhwan Rim, president of the Union Street Merchants Association said that out of about 100 businesses located on the west side of the street, between Northern Boulevard and 37th Avenue — just a block — about 15 longtime tenants have moved their offices elsewhere.“The fortunate ones are the ones who already left,” Rim said."
Nothing speaks to the insensitive and boneheaded mentality of the Bloomberg administration than the Flushing Commons development-a project in the middle of a thriving Asian-American small business mecca. Why was this project even considered when the current businesses of Flushing attract Asian commerce from all over the metropolitan area? Usually the consultant liars for hire talk about the need for large scale development in order to stem the outbound shoppers from the city.
The inimitable Ben Haber hits the nail on the head-linking Willets Point with the Flushing Bloomsanity:
"Merchants leaving Union Street because Flushing Commons will be bad for business is just the tip of the iceberg...The Willets Point proposal with luxury high rises, upscale shopping and a convention center, together with traffic nightmares on the Van Wyck Expressway, Grand Central Parkway and Northern Boulevard, will spell the end of all small businesses in the downtown Flushing area, as well as an extremely congested residential area beyond the congestion that currently exists."
Whose fault is this? Haber rightly lays it at the mayor's feet-and goes after him for malling the city on behalf of his rich friends: "The fault for this abomination rests with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Borough President Helen Marshall and the myopic City Council members whose primary constituents are the real estate moguls and not the poor, middle class and small business owners."
The mayor has bamboozled NYC for over ten years with the myth that he is above the dreaded special interests. Now we know who those special interests really are-the small businesses and immigrant entrepreneurs that have made the city so interesting and economically innovative.
Friday, March 16, 2012
"New York City’s Economic Development Corporation has not yet disclosed the names of developers seeking to transform the auto repair shop oasis that is Willets Point, infuriating its opposition, Willets Point United. This year EDC will reward a contract to a private developer to turn the 62-acre Iron Triangle into what some hope will be a hub of commercial activity; the most ardent supporters of the development dream that the cratered streets that wend among the dizzying number of repair shops, scrap yards and waste processing sites will be swapped for retail outlets, hotels and perhaps a convention center. EDC denied WPU’s Freedom of Information Law request for names of the developers, though the deadline for proposals to be submitted was Sept. 9, 2011."
Does the agency have just cause? Not according to the Committee on Open Government: "EDC, however, will not confirm any of the names, and since the deadline has passed for applicants to respond, there is no good reason for the names to be kept from the public, said Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government. “The developers are on equal footing if the deadline is reached,” Freeman said. “I don’t see any conceivable basis for withholding these names.”
This is par for the EDC course-always with a sharp dogleg away from transparency and the truth. As WPU points out: "An exasperated Jake Bono, a Willets Point property owner and member of WPU, agrees with Freeman. He said EDC’s lack of disclosure perplexes him. “We shouldn’t even have to ask for the names,” Bono said. “They should be there on the website instead of a bio of how great they are. It should say what they’re doing.”
Transparency is important here because EDC can't be trysted to tell the truth and will alter its public plans if it suits the needs of its crony capitalist clientele: "It’s important to disclose the names of the developers because EDC clearly cannot be held to its word,” a spokesperson for WPU said. “The need for transparency is paramount.”
The Tribune also reports on the eminent domain legislation that has recently passed the House and is headed on to the senate: "In the case of eminent domain, a bill just passed in the House of Representatives may present a future obstacle for EDC. The “Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2011” would curtail the powers of eminent domain nationally. Its ultimate passage is still far from assured, however, and any curtailing of eminent domain would require the overturning of a Supreme Court decision."
Of course if the Senate does pass the bill and the president signs it the Supreme Court Kelo decision will be nullified-and that would be a great day for property rights and a blow to those like Mike Bloomberg who is a zealous protector of those rights only if he himself owns the land in question.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Turner vs. Gillibrand
"Representative Bob Turner, a Republican who unexpectedly won a House seat in a closely watched special election last year, has decided to run for the United States Senate in New York, seeking to oust Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Democrat.
Mr. Turner came to the decision after it became clear that his Congressional district, which includes portions of Queens and Brooklyn, is one of two districts that will likely be eliminated this year in New York as part of the decennial redistricting process. New York must cut the size of its congressional delegation, to 27 from 29, to reflect slow population growth identified in the 2010 Census."
We at Willets Point United welcome Turner's challenge and are hoping that the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2012 will be come a key issue in the campaign. The bill which passed the House last month has been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee where its fate is uncertain.
We are sending letters to both Gillibrand and Turner asking that they join with WPU at a press conference in support of the legislation. Here is the letter that we are sending:
We are writing to request that you publicly stand with the property owners of Willets Point United in support of H. R. 1433-the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2012. The bill passed with an overwhelming voice vote on February 28th and was sent to the Senate where it was referred to the Judiciary Committee where its fate is uncertain.
The impetus behind the legislation comes from the fact that, while 44 states reformed their own eminent domain statutes after the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision, the remaining states-including New York-have held firm. New York is a particularly egregious example and should be seen as the poster child for the need to prevent eminent domain abuse-nowhere else in the country is condemnation used, on behalf of rich real estate interests, with such disregard for the rights of smaller property owners.
We at Willets Point are particularly sensitive to the issue because the City of New York has run roughshod over our property rights with countless examples of abuse-ranging from an illegal lobbying scheme to the use of fraudulent and deceptive traffic date in order to promote car and truck traffic that will jam local roads and highways.
In our fight to preserve our constitutionally protected rights to property we have reached out to local area civic groups and five of these organizations-representing approximately 10,000 Queens’ homeowners and tenants-have signed resolutions that essentially support the mandate of H. R. 1433. (Juniper Civic; Malba Gardens Civic; COMET; Bay Terrace; John Bowne Civic)
We would like to hold a news conference in support of the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2012 and we would love for you to be one of the keynote speakers for the event. Please let us know if you would be available and at what convenient date so we can plan the event with the greatest amount of community, business and labor participation.
Thank you in advance for your cooperation
Monday, March 12, 2012
Lobbying with Taxpayer Money
"The idea of government money going toward efforts to lobby the government sounds like some type of joke, but it’s not. Since March 2010, 30 states and Washington, D.C. have received $230 million in obesity prevention grants under the Communities Putting Prevention to Work Initiative (CPPW), a program established in the massive 2009 stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act."
HHS Secretary Sebelius defends the practice by claiming that the money isn't being used to lobby the federal government. But other law makers say that this is still not Kosher:
"According to Kentucky Republican Reps. Ed Whitfield and Brett Guthrie, lobbying with taxpayer money is illegal regardless of the level of government. In a letter the pair sent to Sebelius last week they cited multiple federal laws which prohibit the use of tax dollars to lobby any level of government. For instance, they referenced Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 1913, which states:
“No part of the money appropriated by any enactment of Congress shall, in the absence of express authorization by Congress, be used directly or indirectly to pay for any personal service, advertisement, telegram, telephone, letter, printed or written matter, or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress, a jurisdiction, or an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy or appropriation …”
This of course makes sense since lobbying is by definition a partisan activity that benefits some at the expense of others-which is precisely why Section 1411 of the NY State not for profit law expressly prohibits the lobbying use of tax payer funds by these publicly supported groups. It's a no brainer!
Apparently, however, no brains is exactly the problem suffered by the last two occupants of the NYS AG's Office:Andrew Cuomo and Eric Schneiderman. Neither man can take the investigation of the illegal lobbying done by Claire Shulman's LDC to its proper conclusion: the disbanding of a group that was improperly set up by NYC EDC to lobby in contravention of the law.
Shulman's operation was extraordinarily successful-she was the linchpin of the approval process in 2008. So what the AGs have through their nonfeasance is to approve of the illegal use of tax payer money to deprive small land owners of their property-an indication that the rule of law is a selective process in this state; and will not be applied to those deemed too important by the political sensitive law enforcement officers. What a travesty of justice!
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Wilpon and Willets Point
Now we find out, however, that their financial situation could very well be catastrophic-as it was revealed yesterday in Federal Court; "A federal judge ordered the owners of the New York Mets baseball team and their business partners to return as much as $83 million they withdrew from Bernard Madoff's firm and said a jury will decide whether they need to return more."
This is potentially a death blow to the Wilpons-particularly if a jury eventually decides that the Wilpons knew about the Madoff scam: "Any verdict that awards more money to Mr. Picard could have a potentially devastating impact on the team's owners. The total amount Mr. Picard is seeking isn't one that the team's owners are in a position to pay, according to people familiar with team's and the family's finances."
Which brings us to the phony Phase I of the Willets Point development-the one that the NYC EDC has refused to disclose the bidders for. It is believed that Sterling Equities-the financial arm of the Wilpons-is a bidder for the development rights. If so, this is another compelling reason why EDC should let the public in on who has made bids-since it is certainly possible that Wilpon and his partner Saul Katz will be found liable for knowingly participating in a fraud.
For too long EDC has acted with impunity-keeping the public and local elected officials in the dark about its plans. After all, the Phase I development violates all of the approvals that the project received four years ago-the last one from a clueless city council. The least the city can do is to establish an open vetting process-because we might also find that the Wal-Mart loving Related is also being short listed. And we know whenever Related gets short listed the public will be short changed.
So let's let the sun shine in on this white elephant of the mayor's-a project that will cost too much and deliver too little for the tax payers of the city.