Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Matter of Opinion

The truth is rarely pure and never simple.
--Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900)

Reading Richard Johnson as his “insights” spill over onto the lives of politicians and supplicants who cringe in fear that his column will focus on their lives, reminds us all of the frailties of anyone who enters public life.
It’s bad enough being fried for misdeeds, it’s worse when someone is baked for simply being in the same room with a potential target.

Take the vagaries of simply being rich.

Donald Trump, of all people, claims that he was recently burned on a real estate deal in Israel no less. He loaned his name out for a 25 percent take on a real estate deal.
Apparently Crescent Heights Diamond took a few pages from the “Art of the Deal” by The Donald and he was signed up as the pedigree for a condo complex in Ramat Gan, Israel – his percentage was to ensure that the project had a certain panache and would sell well. But the developers flipped the project, along with Trump’s name and made a quick $40 million and moved on. The Donald is suing.
What makes this a delectable item for gossipmongers Downtown is the fact that Bruce Menin is one of the partner-developers.
Menin, husband of Julie Menin of Community Board #1, who aspires to the City Council when Alan Gerson is term-limited out next year, apparently has been doing deals with Trump.
While doing deals with Donald Trump is no sin, it certainly is relevant that there is an ongoing relationship, whether it is good or bad.
Trump SoHo is, and was, a symbolic rejection of the Downtown community. It was proposed against the objections of the community, Bloomberg, the City Council and the City agencies rammed it down the throats of the downtown community – and all of the electeds ran for the exits when the demonstrations and threats of lawsuits became obvious.
The Department of Buildings, the B.S.A and everyone in the Mayor’s Office, including Mikey himself, abandoned the community as this obscenity, Trump SoHo Hotel-Condo, despoiled Hudson Square and SoHo with its outsized 45 story end run around our zoning laws. Even with Peter Moore’s sale of air rights next door, had the development been condos only, no more than 20 stories could have been approved. As a hotel it would not have made financial sense. The jury is still out on whether there is financing in this market if the units are not purchased entirely by Europeans.
While the City Council and Speaker Quinn’s office acted quickly to place a Stop Work order on the project after accidents and a death occurred – the actions were too little and too late. The building continues this week.

What is important about this regurgitation of already stated facts is that Julie Menin distanced herself from any connection between Bruce and Donald. Bruce sold the land and it has been clearly explained that there is no connection between him and the project under construction. Considering the unpopularity of a building that is so objectionable to residents, it turns out to be good for Julie Menin’s City Council run. However, the continuing connection with Trump, as described this week in Page Six, certainly leaves everyone with a little bit of a hangover. Where does one involvement really end and any new one really begin?
Pete Gleason, the only announced candidate opposing Menin’s unannounced City Council candidacy, has been asking these questions for some time. This little factual leak leaves us with more questions than answers. Given that Menin has been accused of trying to take over the Downtown Independent Democrats, two people have declared that they will not vote for Menin: Pete and the Donald. That she was a Republican until a couple of years ago and switched sides for practical political matters after contributing to George Pataki's coffers, is another matter. These facts, however, are unsettling to SoHo residents who are experiencing some political aggression .

This week, in addition to important testimony given at the City Council, an important meeting took place among members of the Steering Committee, the group of community leaders who are objecting to the 14-story D.S.N.Y. garage proposed for Hudson Square. Apparently, they were treated to an impromptu and unsolicited opinion by D.I.D. District Leader David Reck, who is also President of the Friends of Hudson Square and leader of the “Charette,” envisioning a plan for that area’s future development.
As one of the leaders of the community, Chair of Community Board #2’s Zoning Committee and someone who helped organize this important group which has been working hard to suggest alternate sites for the garage to be built at Spring and Greenwich Streets, Reck stunned the members of the committee. He is rumored to have implied that some sort of deal had been, or would be made, with Sanitation in spite of the group's efforts. Sources who have reported about that meeting state that Reck also made comments implying that Steering Committee funds had been misused and that the Chair of Board #2, the Borough President’s Office, Speaker Quinn’s Office and the Mayor’s Office were all supporting a deal and that there was no point in continuing their effort. That the funds in question, which reportedly were released through Reck’s Friends of Hudson Square account left the group mystified. One member was described as ready to throw a punch.
Brad Hoylman of Board #2 and the Speaker’s Office were reached and claimed to have no knowledge of any deal over the D.S.N.Y. garage.

While there were members who confessed that they were confused by this sudden turn of events, Steering Committee members voiced their resolve in continuing their united efforts despite what appeared to be a philosophical defection.
It is difficult to tell what the motivation was for such an outburst by Reck.

Although it is always comforting (and often irrelevant) to be allied with winning politicians, to either be a sub Rosa or aboveboard emissary of the elected officials does not endear one to activists in the Downtown community. On the other hand, this could also have simply been a spontaneous effort to not be too optimistic about eventual success.
While the Chair of Community Board #2, Brad Hoylman, Speaker Chris Quinn, the Borough President Scott Stringer and the Mayor’s Office may have, in fact, been working together with D.S.N.Y. to make a deal in direct antipathy to the community (as politicians have been known to do) it is just as possible that this is all just pure speculation. Of course, to think that D.S.N.Y would push ahead with their plans in opposition to the Mayor’s wishes is, of course, absurd.

While Stringer has the power to drop anyone from the Community Board who even appears to be criticizing him, he has not shown himself to be insensitive to the community’s wishes. Right now he appears to be weighing a run for Public Advocate or four more years as Borough President. Several community activists have warned him not to waste his efforts on Public Advocate. It is a 2nd in command office after the Mayor, in name only. For most, it has been a dead end job.

Stringer, however, has been aligned in press reports with Julie Menin in her bid for City Council. Reck supports Menin and has previously supported Stringer, but no politician should deduce that it doesn’t matter if the community is unhappy. Money may buy alliances but does not necessarily win elections.
More important than money, especially in this case, is the fact that Downtown residents have a long memory and are willing to fight even if losing the battle seems guaranteed.

That is true with respect to Trump SoHo and with the D.S.N.Y garage – two projects that absolutely make the community crazy with anger. These projects for SoHo and Hudson Square are akin to the St.Vincent’s development in the Village. They are radioactive.
Any politician directly allied with either of them or is perceived as pushing them is shooting themselves in the head -- and will pay a political price now or later.
Brad Hoylman is smart enough to know that, Scott Stringer is smart enough to know that, and Speaker Quinn is smart enough to know that. The Mayor’s office is only smart to downplay the agenda because of their perceived arrogance of power.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

SoHo Impolitic

I do not care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.
--Groucho Marx (1890 - 1977)

You can observe a lot just by watching.
--Yogi Berra (1925 - )

Some of the rumors heard recently in SoHo, which are titillating to readers, are merely the confabulations of political junkies.

But, reality has consigned some of these tidbits to file 13.

Like the Police horse that galloped down Avenue of the Americas – unmounted – running the wrong way in traffic – with two officers running after it. They were too late to stop the horse from colliding with a van, which stunned the horse and destroyed one side of the van. The driver wasn’t too happy either. The horse continued on in traffic towards Canal Street with the two cops running after him. Imagine, if you will, sitting in traffic with a 2000 lb. animal heading towards you.
They don’t talk about that in the Police Blotter.

There also may be a few darker horses running the wrong way at D.I.D. as well. Of course, as J.F.K. said, “Politics is the only game for adults.”
The rancor continues at the Downtown Independent Democrats, where a recent meeting had the members of opposing camps sitting at opposite ends of the table at this most recent post-“coup” get-together. The emotional level was described as controlled hostility. The meeting was held at Phil Mouquinho’s bar on Charlton Street. Phil is a supporter of David Reck’s Hudson Square “Charrette” which also is related to the Steering Committee fighting the D.S.N.Y. 14 story garage and fueling depot. Reck is also a Menin supporter.
Whether this was “neutral” territory, considering the fact that most previous D.I.D. meetings had been held at Sweeney’s loft, is a question.
Handshakes offered in greeting were refused. That was the level of simmering animosity for those who are not able to play the game and remain civil.

Some resolution to the attempted but now delayed coup by the newly-formed “Meninites” is expected at the election in June – at which, it is rumored, Ian Dutton, the bike path guru, will be opposing Sean Sweeney for the Presidency. His candidacy replaces the sudden interest, and now, disinterest, by Pat Moore.
While cooler minds sit back and take a philosophical view of these Machiavellian proceedings, some of the old-timers are not pleased that a covert attempt at regime change took place at all.

While political clubs try to call a winner in the next City Council seat next year, Alan Gerson remains above the fray.
Whether Kathryn Freed bolts from chambers and make a run for her old job, the remaining known players are Julie Menin and Pete Gleason.
There is little question that Freed would win the election if she ran. But, in the event she does not, thus far only Gleason and Menin are considered contenders.
Menin has public recognition, created Wall Street Rising, is Chair of Community Board #1, and husband Bruce, who is a developer with big money. Her scorecard at Community Board #1 and modus operandi in the D.I.D. coup will impact on her political future downtown.
Gleason is persistent and likely would not run if Freed were a candidate but clearly relishes a contest with Menin.
His strength is not big money but has a strong base with firefighters, police, and unions.

The Quinn “Slushgate” situation clearly will affect her chances at a Mayoral bid. And, as far as a run for Comptroller is concerned, which had been bandied about, there might be a few looks askance at that idea – given the nature of the U.S. Attorney and Department of Investigation inquiries into financial improprieties at the City Council. Pork is highly fattening, and, some say addicting. It certainly is the coin of political deals and survival.
In Quinn’s defense, however, not nearly enough press has dwelled upon the fact that the slush funds apparently date to Speaker Vallone and Miller. And, the controversy about $600/hr. lawyers being paid out of government coffers – especially if the charges turn out to be “criminal” – is an absurdity.
The Federal government has unlimited deep pockets. For elected officials to have to pay for their own legal defense is tantamount to the prospect of caving in at every charge leveled by the U.S. Attorney.
Quinn has assured everyone that she is not a “Target.”
But, the truth is, no one ever knows whether they are targets in a broad “let’s see what we can find” kind of inquiry.
But, as Jim McManus, of the Midtown Democratic Club has said about Quinn’s predicament, “she’s got some problems right now, but she’ll survive. She’s tough.”

Postscript: Ray Kelly appears to be leading the pack of Mayoral candidates, even though he has repeatedly denied that he is either interested or planning to run. Those who know how to read tealeaves and follow breadcrumbs are repeating the same mantra on the path to Gracie Mansion. The only question is which party he will run with.