Tuesday, October 18, 2005
"Modern blueprint"? Evidence points to increased BUILD/Ratner payments and collusion
Forest City Ratner paid BUILD $10,000 earlier this year to distribute copies of a promotional newspaper about the Atlantic Yards project called the Brooklyn Standard.
Then in August, the developer donated an additional $100,000 to the group to pay its salaries.
That was two months after BUILD and seven other Brooklyn neighborhood groups signed a so-called Community Benefits Agreement with Forest City Ratner that promised up to one-third of the housing built would be "affordable" and set aside jobs for local residents.
Ratner provided an entire building rent-free for BUILD headquarters on Pacific St. and supplied all of the group's office equipment. The developer also is paying for a public relations firm to represent BUILD and the other neighborhood groups that support Atlantic Yards.
Last weekend, Ratner issued another $28,000 contract for BUILD to hire 100 neighborhood people to distribute a second copy of its promotional newspaper, said the developer's spokesman Joe DePlasco.
Remember, BUILD's president told the New York Observer he didn't know who was paying for his p.r.
Gonzalez queried a Brooklyn Standard distributor, Margaret Perkins, worker who explained that BUILD has become involved in political work:
"The people at BUILD pay well," she told me yesterday. "I've done work for them before, during the elections."
During the September Democratic primary, Perkins said, she worked the polls for City Council candidate Eric Blackwell. She picked up her pay for her election work at BUILD headquarters, she said.
Blackwell happens to be the former head of the group.
The incumbent whom Blackwell sought to oust was Councilwoman Letitia James. She is a firm opponent of the Atlantic Yards project, while Blackwell's campaign literature prominently stressed his support for the Ratner development.
James won in a landslide.
According to several sources, the BUILD headquarters was a busy place on primary day. A little-known organization called Community Leadership for Accountable Politics Inc. appears to have organized and paid the polling place volunteers.
IRS rules do not permit tax-exempt organizations to campaign for candidates.
I called BUILD headquarters yesterday to ask Marie Louis and the group's current president, James Caldwell, what involvement the group had, if any, with Community Leadership for Accountable Politics, or with the organizing of Election Day operations for Blackwell.
Neither Louis nor Caldwell responded. Efforts to locate a representative for Community Leadership for Accountable Politics were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, at Forest City Ratner, no one had ever heard of Community Leadership for Accountable Politics.
Lumi Rolley of NoLandGrab.org picks up the story, connecting the dots between BUILD and CLAP:
Forest City Ratner denies having any knowledge of a group called CLAP. A Google search for CLAP turns up an Erik Enquist column from July, 2004 that identifies CLAP as a group "running candidates in Ft. Greene and Prospect Heights." The campaigns were managed by "local politico James Caldwell, the president of the pro-development group BUILD." Also, the lawyer listed on the NY State Department web site for CLAP is a name we heard before, Sharai Erima, Esq., the lawyer who erroneously scribbled in "$5 Million Forest City Ratner" on BUILD's IRS 1023 form.
Is this project a "modern blueprint for how how to nourish - and then harvest - public and community backing," as the Times suggested? Or is it old-fashioned underhanded politics?