Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Ferrer vs. Bloomberg on Atlantic Yards: the same unchallenged statements

In their second and final debate, held 11/1/05 on News Channel 4, Democratic challenger Fredder Ferrer and incumbent Republic Mayor Mike Bloomberg basically repeated the charges, mistakes, and distortion from Sunday's debate--this time with an assist from an uninformed member of the press, who incorrectly suggested minorities would get 45% of the jobs at the project.

The segment began with panelist Jorge Ramos calling it "a major economic development project," while it also could be called "mostly a luxury housing project." Then we saw footage mainly of the railyard, not the much larger (nearly twice as much) rest of the potential development. Then a Brooklynite--a youngish black man--told the camera that he supported the arena but was concerned about affordable housing.

Ferrer, given a fairly fat pitch to hit, barely hit a grounder. He called it a "billion-dollar boondoggle" and again said he supported the concept of affordable housing and the Community Benefits Agreement. He again said he was concerned about the addition of market-rate condos--he said 2,600, though the number is 2,800--and elaborated on the "secret memo," which he finally identified as the so-called "Secret MOU," which he said would allow city condemnation of businesses at Site 5.

Forest City Ratner controls much but not all of Site 5. Condemnation would be by the state, not the city. The importance of the memo is that not just that it allows condemnation of the property that Ratner doesn't own, it also allows the developer to override zoning and build much larger. The addition of Site 5 is not the reason Forest City Ratner added 2,800 condos--that has more to do with the increased size of the project and the trading of office space for luxury housing.

Then panelist Ramos paved the way for Bloomberg's response by saying, inaccurately, that 45% of the jobs would be set aside for minorities. Ferrer didn't correct him. First, as noted, the Community Benefits Agreement sets a goal regarding 1,200 (or 1,500) annual construction jobs: 35% for minorities, 10% for women. That has nothing to do with the number of permanent office jobs at the project, once promised at 10,000, now cut by more than two-thirds.

There was no effort by the panelists or the candidates to determine the actual amount of affordable housing (31%), the actual number of office jobs at stake (less than one-third of what was originally promised), the actual amount of commercial space (less than one-third of what was originally promised), and whether in fact the project would fill a void (the railyard would occupy little more than one-third of the project). Bloomberg again claimed the project has been well-studied and that the developer works with the community. See Chapter 4 of my report for an analysis of the Community Benefits Agreement and Chapter 8 for an analysis of Forest City Ratner's track record.

Bloomberg claimed "The only thing we're doing here is the same thing we're doing for other projects." Well, the city doesn't turn over other economic development projects to the state Empire State Development Corporation, which will use powers of eminent domain to condemn existing homes and businesses. And his flip dismissal of the secret memo--if it's out, it's not secret, he said--doesn't explain away why it had to be uncovered by a citizens' group.

The Times barely touched on the Atlantic Yards issue, in an 11/2/05 article headlined Attacks Escalate in Final Debate of Mayor's Race:
But the Democratic candidate was equally ferocious about linking Mr. Bloomberg to virtually anything unpopular with at least some New York voters - including the Iraq war, President Bush, school dropout rates, the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, ground zero rebuilding and subway fare increases.
...He also said he would press ahead with new development projects in a second term, and chastised Mr. Ferrer for being a critic of any grand endeavor that might create jobs.
"I have yet to hear one major development project in this city that my opponent is in favor of," Mr. Bloomberg said.

Create jobs? The Times was putting words in the mayor's mouth. Before mentioning jobs (see transcript below), Bloomberg cited housing, commercial space, creating "spirit," and filling "a void" in Brooklyn.

The Associated Press story called Atlantic Yards a "housing and office complex," ignoring the fact that there's more than ten times as much space for housing than offices:
The Democrat also tore into Bloomberg for supporting the proposed Brooklyn basketball arena project that would include a housing an [sic] office complex, built over the Atlantic Yards rail depot.
Ferrer called it a "billion-dollar boondoggle," and that there are better ways to create jobs and stimulate economic activity. Bloomberg shot back: "You can complain about everything but the real world is you have to go and do something."

The New York Post just reported the exchange:
When Ferrer said he opposed a massive Nets area and residential development project in Brooklyn as a sop to developer Bruce Ratner, Bloomberg pounced.
"You complain about everything. But the real world is, you have to do something," Bloomberg said.
"I haven't heard a major development project in the city my opponent is in favor of," the mayor added.
Afterward, Ferrer said he supported a redevelopment of the Bronx terminal market.

The New York Sun made no attempt at analysis, providing an excerpt:
[Ferrer] called the Atlantic Yards development project, which the mayor is backing, a "boondoggle."
"Why are there secret memos emerging about the city guaranteeing to condemn a property called site 5 that'll give this developer 2,600 units of luxury ... with tax breaks from the city," Mr. Ferrer said. "That's nuts!"

The excerpt left out the phrase "luxury housing."

The Daily News ignored the issue, even though its editorial was apparently the source for Ramos's inaccurate citation about jobs.

Footnote: Ferrer, asked later what he most admired about his opponent, "Mike Bloomberg did not go down the path of exacerbating racial tensions in this city." That may be mostly true, but if you consider Bloomberg's support for the Atlantic Yards project--which has advanced thanks to some manipulative racial politics (see Chapter 4 of my report)--you could say Ferrer was being overgenerous.


Jorge Ramos: Mr. Ferrer, you have declared you're against a major economic development project in Brooklyn, the Atlantic Yards. We went to Brooklyn and found this man with concerns about this project.

Brooklyn resident Michael Dryver (on camera):
We're talking about Brooklyn, Downtown Brooklyn, Atlantic Terminal area, which comprises Prospect Heights and the Clinton Hill area of Brooklyn. I believe that the area is an area that needs to be revitalized. I believe that the arena, if built, would be an economic boost to the neighborhood. But I'm concerend about whether or not affordable housing will be a key concern if it is in fact developed. That is my major concern: is it an area that's going to have affordable housing for the residents of the Boroklyn community.

Jorge Ramos: Mr. Ferrer?

Freddy Ferrer: See, I don't confuse economic development projects with billion-dollar boondoggles. In fact, this is looking more and more to me like the twin brother of the West Side Stadium boondoggle. Let me tell you some of the things that I have been impressed with in this project. Fifty percent housing affordability--I thought that was powerful. A Community Benefits Agreement that would include people from the community and small businesses in the full economic life of the project. But I have not supported the lack of transparency, and the fact that there's been no planning for the kinds of mass in this project and the kind of infrastructure it would take to support it. But even more imporant, secret memos begin to emerge, like the one that says, we're going to give you Site 5, and we're going to use the city's condemnation power to take out existing businesses so you can create 2600 units of luxury housing. Well, that breaks the 50-50 percent.

Jorge Ramos: One of your allies, Rev. Sharpton, supports this project because it's going to create jobs, 45% of the jobs are set aside for minorities, which is what is needed in the area.

Freddy Ferrer: It is amazing, Jorge, that we need boondoggle projects to try to do the right thing for communities and people all across this city. Let's put in the work, let's ramp up small business, let's provide real job opportunities for them, ongoing.

Jorge Ramos: Mr. Bloomberg?

Mike Bloomberg: You know, you can complain about everything and the real world is, you have to go and do something. And the Atlantic Yards is a project that should go ahead. It will create affordable housing, it will create housing for middle-class people. It will create a great spirit in Brooklyn. It will give us commercial space. It will fill a void that's been empty since when they wanted to build a new Ebbets Field there. It will create jobs for this community. And if there's any project in the city that has been well-studied, and studied out in the open, and that has worked with the community, one developer--if you have to pick one in the city, this developer is the developer you want to pick to make the neighborhoods blend in with the project and to really make sure that everybody benefits.

Gabe Pressman: You look skeptical, Mr. Ferrer?

Freddy Ferrer: Yeah, I am skeptical. If everyone's reviewed this project, why are there secret memos emerging about the city guaranteeing to condemn a property called Site 5 that'll give this developer 2600 units of luxury housing, by the way, with tax breaks for the city. That's nuts.

Gabe Pressman: Your response, Mr. Mayor.

Mike Bloomberg: Well, if the memo's out, then it's certainly not a secret, so I don't think we have to worry about that. Look, the city's investment is only 150 million dollars. We'll get our money back reasonably quickly. The only thing we're doing here is the same thing we're doing for other projects. I have yet to hear one major development project in the city that my opponent is in favor of.

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