Friday, November 23, 2012

Mets Financial Fiasco:The Need to Change City Subsidy Policies

The NY Times is reporting that the NY Mets-last seen messily extricating themselves from the Bernie Madoff mess-has stepped in it once again with Steven Cohen, the hedge fund billionaire the Wilpons turned to when they became cash poor. Cohen, the Mets' white knight, is appreantly far from 99% pure:

"It was, even then, a risk perhaps not worth taking. The owners of the Mets, fresh off the humbling and costly financial entanglement with a family friend, Bernard L. Madoff, sold a minority stake in the team to another secretive hedge fund manager and family friend whose operation was in the cross hairs of determined federal prosecutors.
But the owners, Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, went ahead and sold a 4 percent share earlier this year to Steven A. Cohen, the owner of SAC Capital Advisors, who has seen at least seven of his former employees implicated in the federal government’s multiyear insider trading investigation. Three have pleaded guilty to insider trading while working for Cohen."

Oh boy! These are the folks that the city wants to hand over $200 million worth of tax payer bought property? What does it take to get the Bloomberg administration to exercise a bit of restraint when it decides who to hand out unearned subsidies?

The Times speculates what might happen if Cohen is eventually charged-since the feds seem to have him in their cross hairs:

"If prosecutors eventually make a case against Cohen, which many in the city’s financial and legal circles believe they are intent on doing, it will be another whopping embarrassment for the Mets so soon after suffering huge losses because of their trust in Madoff and what turned out to be his Ponzi scheme.
If Cohen is charged, Commissioner Bud Selig could suspend him or compel the Mets to buy out his ownership share. Unless the Mets have another buyer ready in the wings, they would have to find $20 million to repay his investment, which could be a big burden for a club that went to Cohen and others precisely to raise desperately needed cash."

The Mets are a failing enterprise that the city has decided to bail out with its development award at Willets Point. Sound familiar? Is this any different from the city and state's decision to hand over $127 million to FreshDirect? Could the online grocer be in as shaky a financial position as the Mets are? Some people believe that it is-and that the humongous cash outlay from the government is its lifeline to solvency.

This is precisely why the city's economic subsidy policies need to be changed. Under this mayor, crony capitalism has ruled the day-with little due diligence surrounding the decisions, and no concern about the collateral damages caused by these outrageous outlays.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

No Legacy for Willets Point?

The NY Post is reporting that the mayor's people have drawn up a "legacy list" of projects that he would like to see completed before his term ends in a little over 13 months:

"When it comes to new development projects, the Bloomberg administration is closed for business.That’s because the mayor’s people — with an eye toward his legacy — have carefully crafted a special list of high-profile priority projects to fast-track before Bloomberg’s third term ends in 14 months, putting all else on hold, several sources told The Post.

Those projects include the Midtown East rezoning; the Staten Island Ferris wheel; a Major League Soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park; US Tennis Association expansion of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center; Cornell’s Applied Sciences campus on Roosevelt Island; and developing the vacant Kingsbridge Armory in The Bronx."

We're insulted by this exclusion. Is it simply an oversight or is it a recognition that the Willets Point development has too many obstacles to invest the valuable time of an administration looking for the exits? If so, it could be good news for the property owners: "One high-ranking city official said all other land-use proposals are getting completely ignored because the administration will not take on anything outside of its priorities. Meanwhile, the lucky projects it selected are getting pushed through a tedious, bureaucratic approval process at lightning speed."

We think it is simply an oversight-the Bloomberg administration has invested a great deal of capital in developing Willets Point and it makes no sense to place some of these other projects at the head of the queue. In any case, as if we didn't know this, the mayor's lackeys want his legacy to be all about development-unaware of course of so much of the collateral damage he has caused in his obsession for giving away the store to a favored few:

"As top aides work on shaping Bloomberg’s legacy, one description they want is a pro-development mayor who drastically altered the landscape in each borough to expand gleaming office space, boost the high-tech industry here and ratchet up tourism numbers."

Not a word for all of the great success Bloomberg has had in promoting small and immigrant businesses during these tough economic times? Mike Bloomberg has been the architect of patricianage-the use of the corporate giveaway as almost an art form. That is his legacy-a class warrior for the 1%.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Survey Says?

We always like tests that the teacher allowed us to grade ourselves. The grades from these kinds of tests, however, need to be taken with a large grain of salt. The same can be said of the recent survey commissioned by Major League Soccer that found, voilĂ !, Queens residents are crazy about the stadium idea. The NY Daily News has the story:

"Queens residents are overwhelmingly in favor of a soccer stadium in the borough, according to a survey commissioned by Major League Soccer.The report, given exclusively to the Daily News, is the league’s latest attempt to demonstrate local support for the stadium, which has taken a beating from the community for proposing the facility on 13 acres of public park land."

Wasn't even a close call: "The study claims 71% of the 650 Queens registered voters surveyed last month support the MLS stadium. Two-thirds are also behind plans to build the stadium in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, according to the report conducted by the Global Strategy Group."
-under the heading of you get what you pay for

Behind this self-serving survey we expect that there's a methodology to its madness-under the heading of, "You get what you pay for." Our expectations also lead us to believe that a more non-partisan survey of the communities impacted would yield some dramatically different results-and we strongly believe that these surveyors didn't couch the survey questions with a single discouraging word. As the News points out, there are many discouraging things about this proposes stadium:

"But opponents said they are worried the MLS stadium, U.S. Tennis Association expansion and new mall to be built at Citi Field will have a negative impact on the park.“These projects [are] happening at the same time,” said Anna Dioguardi, a Queens Community House organizer.

“The issue is this is much-needed park space.”The Fairness Coalition of Queens, which her group joined, has gathered more than a thousand signatures on a petition expressing concern on the projects’ collective effect on the most-used park in the borough."

The central question is how these proposals will do environmental harm to the surrounding neighborhoods-and this harm transcends the theft of just the vital parkland. Will Sweeney gets what's happening here-along with the last word:

"Local activist Will Sweeney said the heavily polluted Flushing River site under consideration is “toxic” and isn’t as easy for the community to access. Flushing Meadows “suffers from deep inequality because the majority of its users are low-income people of color,” he said. “They wouldn’t put a stadium in Central Park or Prospect Park.”


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Calling 911

Just when we think that we have exhausted the reasons why giving Mike Bloomberg a third term was a bad idea-and we use "giving" in a jocular sense-another fiasco rears its ugly head. This time it is the emerg3ency response system adding to the debacle that was CityTime. The NY Post looks under the hood and finds a defective engine:

"New York City’s $2 billion new 911 emergency system seems to work great — except, maybe, in emergencies.In emergencies like Sandy, to be specific.The Post’s Josh Margolin reported yesterday that the city redundantly dispatched first responders during the storm — sowing confusion and diverting resources needed for other emergencies.That, to put it mildly, is not how a 911 system is supposed to work. Speed matters in emergencies, after all."

Once again the managerial genius of the Bloomberg administration made manifest-and that, along with the city's chronically high unemployment-are the badges of honor we have to pin to the mayor's third term chest. Of course, this leaves out his incessant annoying meddling in how we lire our lives and his sojourns into trying to become some kind of global warming icon or gun control czar.

What gets us chuckling-ruefully, of course-is how all of these sophisticated New Yorkers allowed themselves to be bought off by this posturing phony. Look closely and you will find very little to show by way of accomplishments for the mayor's 11 years of subjecting us to his whining, droning voice. Except for one major accomplishment: mega real estate development for his billionaire buddies.

Mike Bloomberg has managed to treat development much like the Tweed Ring did back in the 19th Century-giving away land and development rights to cronies. The difference? The mayor never personally benefited-but his friends sure did. So much so that a new word was coined by Newsday's Dan Janison-patricianage.

So as we anticipate the growing campaign opposing the tax giveaways to FreshDirect and the land scheme involving Sterling Equities and EDC we continue to hope that a more engaged public begins to see the Wizard of Oz like resemblance that Mike Bloomberg projects as he uses his money to camouflage how the neighborhoods and small businesses of NYC have suffered under his benign neglect.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Yes Virginia, There are Property Rights to be Protected

Yesterday's election brought some real encouraging news about property rights. In Virginia, voters passed a constitutional amendment protecting property owners from eminent domain abuse-and it wasn't even close:

"Voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that some officials contend will make it nearly impossible for Virginia localities to seize private property for redevelopment.As of 10:30 p.m., the statewide amendment had 76 percent approval, which was enough for The Associated Press to call it."

Sponsor Rob Bell had some important insights on the underlying rationale for the effort: "When you give the voters a chance to affirm their constitutional rights, they take it," sponsor Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, said late Tuesday night."You don't really own your property if the government can take it from you and give it to someone else," he added."

That, however, is just the situation we are facing in New York State, where there are basically no protections for property owners-and no US senator willing to spearhead support for the Private Propert Protection Act that was passed by a wide margin in the House this year (H.R. 1433). It seems that both of our senators-including the re-elected (by a wide margin) Kirsten Gillibrand-have a greater desire to protect Big Real Estate than the homeowners and small businesses of New York. (The junior senator didn't even bother to answer our letter on the eminent domain bill)

That's particularly sad because both Schumer and Gillibrand posture relentlessly as supporters of the little folks-while cleverly cloaking their support for their real constituency in the real estate community. What the Virginia situation shows is that if the issue is put up for a vote, people on all sides of the political aisle will stand for the property rights that the US Constitution is supposed to protect.

The fight in Virginia was given some poignancy by one particularly aggrieved property owner:

"The amendment's passage shows that property owners are fed up with the "abuse of power," said Central Radio business owner Bob Wilson, who is fighting the Norfolk Housing and Redevelopment Authority's efforts to seize his property. The housing authority is attempting to acquire five properties for a private, mixed-use development project near Old Dominion University.

"It's going to put it right back to where it was supposed to be from the start," Wilson said Tuesday night. "They're going to have to negotiate in good faith with property owners."

Virginia was also blessed with a righteous attorney general-unlike our own Eric Schniderman whose pusillanimous investigation of the illegal lobbying around the Willets Point development ended in a whimper with the lawbreaking Sterling Equities being awarded development rights when the illegalities were not sanctioned by the AG:

"Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli visited Norfolk in September and cited Central Radio as an example of why the amendment was needed. At the time, Cuccinelli said housing authorities have been the "most aggressive at grabbing property" in the commonwealth, and he pointed to southeastern Virginia as being the worst."The biggest victory in Virginia, however, was the contentious issue of public use: "The amendment won't alter Wilson's case. But it will force localities, or their agents, to compensate property owners for lost profits and access in addition to purchasing their land. Governments will also have to prove that the seized property would be used for public use."

And not for the eminently amorphous "public benefit" that can be stretched to mean almost anything-including the building of a mall on parkland. Virginia's response was a result of its concerns about the implications of the 2005 Kelo decision that made economic benefit an excuse for condemnation:

"The General Assembly passed limitations on the use of eminent domain in 2007, two years after a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling that public entities could take private property and transfer it to a private business for economic development. Bell said the high court's 2005 decision was a "wake-up call."

The amendment goes further than the 2007 legislation did and requires a future constitutional amendment to undo the new restrictions. "You've literally taken the power away from the politicians and given it to the voters," Bell said."

New York property owners are left to look wistfully at Virginia, knowing that their feckless elected officials will never act to limit the power of the state when it comes to property rights-a sad commentary on the erosion of the protections that our Founding Fathers put in the Constitution. Maybe we need out own small homeowner like Suzette Kelo, clearly small business doesn't rate with the NY political class.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Big (Bronx) Cheer for Big Government

There was an initial outpouring of ideological cant on behalf of big government when Sandy's devastation was fully known late Wednesday-with the NY Times leading the way in typical knee jerk fashion. As HuffPo reports: "The New York Times captured the dominant meme in its first post-Sandy editorial : "A Big Storm Requires Big Government": "Disaster coordination is one of the most vital functions of "big government..."

Now, almost a week later, it would be a grand idea if the climate scaremongers and the big government aficionados would re-think this indefensible position. Put simply, the government response to Sandy-from FEMA to the Bloomberg Court-is abysmal and underscores just why you can't depend on government for your safety and well-being. The NY Post captures the failure of the city's emergency response by focusing on those marathon generators left stranded in Central Park:

"City Hall dithered, storm victims shivered — and so Mike Bloomberg’s main man was compelled to scurry off into the dark last night to try to make things right. As best he could.

Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson was patrolling Central Park after sunset, searching out space heaters, bottled water and such — and, with Post City Hall Bureau Chief David Seifman standing witness, loading what he found into a city-owned SUV for transport to Staten Island.

Wolfson had pledged Friday afternoon, while emotively announcing the cancellation of the New York City Marathon, that “all of the assets that this marathon currently has — generators, other equipment, food, water — will be redeployed to people who need it.”

Rudy Giuliani, no stranger to disaster, excoriates the FEMA response-and President Obama for leaving the scene of the crime right after getting his media pat on the back. As Politico reports (via Contentions):

The response since the time the president got all this praise and credit and press ops has been abysmal,” Giuliani said on Fox News Channel’s “America’s Newsroom.” “FEMA is as much a failure now as at the time of Katrina.”

Giuliani, a 2008 presidential candidate, said that he did not “understand” why New York was facing water, generators and gas shortages.“It’s quite obvious they didn’t pre-plan for water, they didn’t pre-plan for the generators, they didn’t pre-plan for the gasoline,” he said.

He bashed Obama for losing “focus” on the subject.“The president getting all this credit so early, maybe the first day or two he was paying attention, but the minute he got his credit, the minute he got his pat on his back, we had the same situation as we had in Benghazi,” Giuliani said. “He loses focus. He goes back to being campaigner-in-chief rather than commander-in-chief.”

What we have here are the two biggest acolytes of an enlarged government demonstrating just how foolish it is to cheer for this kind of a failed philosophical approach. Government does have a role to play but it should be played in conjunction with a robust civil society-religious and fraternal organizations mobilized to help. In addition, what is desperately needed is an equally robust sense of individual self reliance among the citizenry-and not a passive dependence on the kind of Nanny state that the mayor and the president have been trying to foist upon us.

Has government on any level demonstrated competence through the early stages of this ordeal? But ideological blinders do, well, blind their holders to the reality right before their eyes. Take Jeffrey Toobin (please). CNN's legal analyst let loose with this brilliant observation:

"When you talk about you know, government as being evil and government as a negative force in people’s lives, it takes an event like this to remind people – we need government. We need government to help us when things are bad. And I think FEMA and all the government support that’s going to the people that are hurting now is a reminder of how we should politicize these events, not pretend that they happen in a vacuum."

So the village idiot wants to politicize Sandy to demonstrate the benefits of big government? Has he seen the coverage of devastation in Staten Island and the Rockaways? We'll see Toobin a politicization and raise him one. Sandy dramatically underscores the limits and not the grandeur of government-but when you view the world through an ideological lens you want to look at Sandy from the standpoint of the bear hug between Obama and Christie. Everything after that is uninteresting.

Perhaps Toobin and his fraternity brothers in the media should have accompanied Mike Bloomberg to the Rockaways. We'll give the Post the last word:

"And so on Staten Island, the Rockaways and at Breezy Point, people grew very cold, very hungry — and very, very impatient.The mayor got a taste of that when he made an unannounced visit to the Rockaways, where residents lack clean water and other basic supplies.

“When are we going to get some help?” pleaded one woman — so enraged that she had to be restrained by the mayor’s security detail. Good question.

True enough, much of the city has returned to something resembling normal.But not all of it.Not the part most grievously injured — not the part that needed help the most, not the folks who would have benefited from the ice-cold idle generators that Howard Wolfson so emptily promised, and whose shameful absence Mike Bloomberg considers to be “not a story.”

Monday, November 5, 2012

Heck of a Job, Bloomie

Harry Siegel over at the Daily Beast weighs in on the Bloomberg failure to prepare for Sandy-and makes the same point we have been making over the past few days: "Outside of the city’s affluent precincts, New Yorkers have felt abandoned by the ultra-mayor who’s deemed New York a “luxury product” as days have passed and help has remained distant."

Siegel went out to Staten Island with emergency supplies-and to get a firsthand look at the devastation What he found was, in a word, chaos: "Of course, the city didn’t cause the storm, and responding to it is complicated. And none of this is to fault the selfless first responders, city workers, and volunteers (like police guiding supply caravans on their day off) who’ve worked tireless to help—only to say that they’ve been too often left to their own devices, without a clear or effective communications or command structure."

Of course, that's what the Office of Emergency Management was established for-but it seems as if it has become a useless appendage:

"The OEM, created by Mayor Rudy Giuliani was intended to do just that, said a former Giuliani administration official, who asked not to be named criticizing the current mayor. “The real question is why OEM—which was built to manage the battle of the badges in a disaster, that’s why it exists—doesn’t have an evident lead role” in the Sandy response, the former official said. He speculated that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who served under Mayor David Dinkins before returning when Bloomberg took office, “never accepted the legitimacy of OEM,” which was created by the mayor who’d effectively let him go."

This gets us to the mayor's unpreparedness-and Siegel chimes in providing our solo commentary with a melodious chorus: "The bottom line: Bloomberg, who’s now spent seven years in office working out his next move once he leaves, decided to use his Sandy-expanded national profile to give a last-minute endorsement to Barack Obama (and, of course, up his political profile in the process), was simply unprepared for the impact of climate change on his own city—despite his credit-taking for righting New York after 9/11, despite his disastrous response to the 2010 blizzard, and despite Irene’s near-miss last year."

Let's not forget-and Siegel doesn't-that Bloomberg has been the waterfront guy, encouraging folks to move in the direction of the littoral without any plan for their safety: "The mayor whose city is made up of three islands, along with The Bronx, has spent much of his term trying to encourage residents and businesses to migrate to the edge of the waterfront in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Some visionary."

Put simply, there was no plan for this level of disaster-and no chain of command in place to deal with the fact that there was, well, no plan:

"He said storm damage, power outages and dropping temperatures might mean as many as 40,000 New Yorkers would need to be relocated—a number he incorrectly compared to Katrina, which forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes. But it’s a politically smart comparison: given how badly local, state, and federal officials botched the preparation for and response to that storm, it sets a low bar for New York’s response.

Officials were working hard, Bloomberg said, but didn’t have a plan in place yet. "We don't have a lot of empty housing in this city," he said. "We are not going to let anybody go sleeping in the streets. We're not going to let anybody go without blankets, food and water, but it's a challenge and we're working on that."

This from the managerial genius who we overturned term limits so he could have a third bite at the Big Apple. Siegel deserves and gets the last word:

"What I am asking—and will happily update if the official or anyone else in the Bloomberg administration cares to respond—is how the man who’s now painting himself as a global-warming visionary (an issue where my sympathies and beliefs are with him, incidentally), who’s compared climate change to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, failed to mention or plan for even the prospect of such an event over 11 years in office.

Heck of a job, Bloomberg."

Mike Bloomberg: Riding Bareback into the Storm

Roger Pielke is one of the country's premier climate scientists and he has a trenchant critique of the city's-and the mayor's-lack of preparedness for the devastation wrought by Sandy. What he dramatizes is that the city's own "Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan made it clear that the dangers brought by Sandy should have benn anticipated by the mayor since it was all well documented in the mitigation plan:

"Whatever the motivations behind Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to cite Sandy and climate change as a reason for his endorsement of President Obama, it has the effect of relocating responsibility for Sandy's devastation from NYC City Hall to Washington, DC.
As New Yorkers (and others) affected by Sandy's wrath pick themselves back up and recover, attention will soon focus on the broader reasons for the disaster. While some will continue to link Sandy with energy policy decisions, important questions will have to be asked about why NYC was not better prepared, and what can be done in the months and years ahead to fix that, before the next storm barrels up the coast."

This is buck passing and irresponsibility that is reminiscent of Bermuda Mike's handling of the blizzard of 2010.  Instead of posturng about climate change-and living a lifestyle that mocks his faux concerns with global warming-the mayor should have been rolling up his sleeve and getting New Yorkers prepared-as the Mitigation Plan warned:

"It would be fair to ask NY politicians why the city was not better prepared for a disaster that it saw coming. The report is clear on the general characteristics that make the region susceptible to large storm surges:

'Coastal storms, including nor'easters, tropical storms, and hurricanes, can and do affect New York City. New York’s densely populated and highly developed coastline makes the City among the most vulnerable to hurricane-related damage. . . 

New York City is particularly vulnerable to storm surge because of a geographic characteristic called the New York Bight. A bight is a curve in the shoreline of an open coast that funnels and increases the speed and intensity of storm surge. The New York Bight is located at the point where New York and New Jersey meet, creating a right angle in the coastline.'"

So essentially the city was unprepared to deal with this devastation while it was being led by one of the biggest champions of climate change, "Do what I say, Not what I do," Michael Bloomberg. We'll give Pielke the last word:

Yet, Mayor Bloomberg is also an elected leader. What is he going to do about the fact that his city was less prepared than it should have been for a disaster that was expected and one of a sort will certainly recur, climate change or not?

If the media devotes 10% of the energy to this topic that it is devoting to the climate change connection, New Yorkers will be well served."