Monday, September 2, 2013

Willets Point: Wither Bill de Blasio?

Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio has positioned himself as the progressive alternative to Christine Quinn and the other aspirants for Gracie Mansion. But what exactly does this really mean? We know that de Blasio has little problem railing against such liberal shibboleths like Citizens United and, of course, stop and frisk-the issue that has catapulted de Blasio to front runner status one week prior to the pivotal primary. All very well and good, but in NYC the ultimate special interest is real estate-and de Blasio’s stand on the proclivity of the political class to hand the keys to city hall over to Related, Vornado and Forest City Ratner is, well, quite murky.

Dana Rubinstein has underscored some of this in Capital New York:

“In fact, de Blasio’s record as a councilman demonstrated a willingness to work with developers to spur economic development and tackle the city's affordable housing crisis, using an approach to land use that at times bore a strong resemblance to Bloomberg's own. For instance, de Blasio, like Bloomberg, was a staunch backer of the Atlantic Yards project, on the basis of the developer's promise to provide union construction jobs and more than 2,000 units of below-market housing.”

Gee, how did that work out Bill?

“Residents took issue with the project’s reliance on eminent domain, the developer’s evasion of the city’s onerous public review process, the development’s sheer scope (8.6 million square feet), and its implications for traffic, parking, schools, sewage. Some even worried about the shadows it would cast. After several members of Park Slope's Community Board 6 voted against the project, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and de Blasio “purgedthem.

“I support the project because I believe that we're at a crisis in New York City when it comes to affordable housing. ... And I think we're in a crisis when it comes to economic development and providing real jobs for the community,” said de Blasio at a hearing in 2006. “But I also want to stress as much as I believe this project will help move us forward in terms of economic development and especially affordable housing.”

I guess we will have to wait until 2035:

“In the meantime, the developer has yet to create nearly as many jobs as anticipated, has yet to appoint an independent compliance monitor as required by the agreement, and has also pushed back the completion of all 16 skyscrapers to 2035 and softened its affordable housing commitments.

“I think he was too quick to believe that there would be affordable housing that would be generated in that deal,” said Ronald Shiffman, a Pratt Institute planning professor, of de Blasio. (He is not, overall, a de Blasio critic — he told me he thought de Blasio would make an excellent mayor.)

Does all of this sound familiar? It should if you’ve been following the Willets Point debacle. Remember, we got the same promise for affordable housing in 2008 (and the same 2,000 unit promise) that Ratner had made to tamp down criticism of Atlantic Yards. In the end, the bait and switch worked for Forest City, and the arena was built with housing as the proverbial player to be named later.

So now we have the Willets Point development wending its way towards approval at the city council with Christine Quinn, the ultimate fixer and real estate darling, poised to take care of her friends in Queens and the good old boys at Related. This gives progressive Bill the opportunity to really distinguish himself from the Quinnberg administration.

What de Blasio needs to do is to let the world know that he will not rubber stamp a toxic deal that has been built on illegal lobbying and has failed to deliver on the promises that were the linchpin of the development’s approval in 2008. He needs to send a strong signal to his allies on the city council that they need to buck the speaker and let his administration-if elected, of course, handle the reconfiguration of a deal that is currently the epitome of crony capitalism and corporate welfare.

WPU, the NYC Parks Advocates, the affordable housing coalition, and the immigrant businesses awaiting eviction, stand ready to stand with de Blasio if and when he want to stand up for integrity in government, small business and against corrupt insider politics. We all await your call Bill.