In the interests of balance…
Posted July 5, 2007 | 08:53 PM (EST)
As a presidential candidate, Michael R. Bloomberg is likely to have problems with his positions on some local issues that have national repercussions, like the abuse of eminent domain. He’s apparently for it. This goes way beyond the discovery that he had heart surgery or that he jets to a weekend home in Bermuda.
Bloomberg is rightly praised for being pragmatic and a successful manager. He has acted successfully on his own creative initiatives. But he may regret hanging tight with his billionaire neighbor, Bruce Ratner, whose Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC), New York City and state’s largest developer lobbyist, is trying to build the densest residential community in our country in the middle of brownstone Brooklyn, the enormous and controversial Atlantic Yards project. By being a major, public supporter of Ratner, Bloomberg puts himself in some very compromising positions. It says lots about Bloomberg’s character, and it is not good.
The central problem for Bloomberg is that he and Ratner want the state to use the power of eminent domain to acquire key parts of the land by declaring it “blighted” so Ratner can build his private basketball arena along with 16 skyscrapers holding some offices, some hotels, and predominately market-rate housing with some essentially unaffordable “affordable” housing. It doesn’t even remotely pass the smell test for public benefit.
That would be a severe case of eminent domain abuse, a move that is likely to be blocked by pending court cases that are destined to end at the Supreme Court. Such a loss would be a black mark for a presidential candidate.
His position is odd for a committed capitalist, supporting huge government handouts in an area where private development is already going strong (many of the properties Ratner bought out with the threat of eminent domain were new luxury condo lofts, most of which were recently selling for $500,000 to over $1 million; one remains). Oh, and according to various analysts, Ratner wants the public to provide and the government to back well over $2 billion in subsidies and financing of the $4 billion cost (this and similar figures can be verified here or here).
Strangely, Bloomberg actually doubled the city’s proposed cash contribution to the project–$205 million–to reimburse FCRC for land acquisition, while still claiming that it would be mostly privately financed. Bizarre.
It is also strange that a man who has built his reputation on dealing with facts actually cites the developer’s own questionable financial statistics and has engaged in some clearly contrived publicity for the developer.
Bloomberg often cites the claim that the project will bring 18,000 jobs to New York, when in fact, 15,000 of those are figured by counting 1,500 construction workers working for 10 years. This is not the straight talk we expect from him. Using that kind of calculation, I’ve had 36 jobs!
The other job figures he cites come directly from FCRC and not only include jobs that already exist, but use old figures that government agencies have since re-calculated will generate the grand figure of a mere 375 new jobs. Over $2 billion of public money is difficult to justify for this private development, which has only 2,250 subsidized housing units in the plan, most of which are beyond the means of those most desperate for housing in the city. It seems sickly inefficient, outrageously costly for so few jobs and apartments, and a terrible thing for a supposedly progressive technocrat to promote. The whole thing smells bad.
Speaking of promotion, with a very uncharacteristic dramatic flourish at a public press conference, Bloomberg pretended to sign a “community benefits agreement” that in fact the city was not a party to. It was strictly a private contract between Ratner and some groups that Ratner chose to work with (not groups presented by the community) including the lead group that was created with FCRC’s help for the sole purpose of working with FCRC. Another, the housing group ACORN, was given an exclusive contract to work with Forest City Ratner Companies on the condition that they speak publicly in support of the project. In other words, pure theater. This kind of farcical promotion seems antithetical to the sophisticated Bloomberg presented to the nation.
All candidates have some explaining to do as they switch to a larger platform. We all understand that compromises for public behavior have to be made by government officials, but the important thing is to look for patterns, for consistency that might indicate the candidate is different from what he wants you to believe, not just when he kisses babies but when he takes sides. Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards might be Bloomberg’s big problem that no amount of explaining will make go away.
Earlier today someone linked to a previous post here having searched for Atlantic Yards. Is there significant flame beneath the smoke?
As Ettlinger himself says above:
All candidates have some explaining to do as they switch to a larger platform.
If Atlantic Yards is as “challenged” as Bloomberg’s record gets, I for one am not concerned.
Now, Fred Thompson may have some ‘spainin’ to do…
It’s it for now. Thanks,