Wednesday, November 14, 2007

To the Shed

I've always said that in politics, your enemies can't hurt you, but your friends will kill you.
--Ann Richards

One of the amazing things about City Agencies is the fact that almost no one ever gets around to investigating them. Investigations are very time consuming ---and corruption is so pervasive that it becomes almost a ho-hum obviousness.

Downtown politicians know about the corruption and it's almost institutionalized at some agencies. Take the Department of Buildings, for example, where Inspectors routinely are so chummy with landlords and supers that it's practically a joke calling 311 to complain about illegal construction by building owners. Some residents complain about Housing Inspectors, for example, reporting that suddenly just before an Inspector is about to come to the door to “investigate” a potential violation, the landlord wants to fix their problems. Who was it that said, there are no coincidences?

But, Buildings, under the tutelage of Commissioner Lancaster has earned the enmity of downtown residents for yet another reason. While there has been legislation, dating back to the Vallone days in the City Council, providing for big fines over the illegal billboards that has destroyed the cityscapes of SoHo, NoHo, Tribeca and the lower East Side, none of it has been enforced.
Lancaster cancelled meetings that Alan Gerson called to discuss the problem, she has circulated phony objections to implementation of the law, and she has recently signed on to a new initiative by Councilmember Melinda Katz of Queens.

Katz had been helpful to SoHo and generally has been a charming and knowledgeable City Council member who is currently campaigning for the Comptroller slot. She is ambitious and intelligent.
But, we fear, she has been pushing for yet another objectionable advertising venue, the sidewalk shed.
This really annoying addition to the streetscape, one that especially SoHo has been blighted with, is now rearing its ugly head in a bill introduced by Melinda Katz. It provides for the ground rules that would allow companies like VanWagner – the most egregious offender downtown – to legally affix advertising to the temporary sheds, which are placed over sidewalks during the construction phases of many buildings. Often, the sheds are left in place simply to provide companies like VanWagner with the ability to unendingly continue advertising as has happened with Frost Myers', "The Wall." Community organizations have fought to have these additional huge signs removed – and they continually pop up – and are removed after enough complaints are made.
The Katz proposal, Intro 623, would legalize this advertising and provide for yet additional locations for companies like VanWagner to annoy residents. The Department of Buildings, of course, would administer this additional cash cow, for the delight of residents.
And, what is disturbing about the bill being introduced has been the fact that VanWagner has been a large contributor to many political campaigns – Katz included.
According to some reports, Richard Schaps, the CEO of VanWagner, has been the largest contributor ($70,000) to the Katz campaign with numerous maximum limit checks from family members. Apparently, he had “no comment” when queried about his affinity for Ms. Katz political style in running for NYC Comptroller.

While In fact, Bloomberg prances around City Hall with his Harvard boys, figuring out how to knock off Spitzer (despite his protestations to the contrary), he and Doctoroff have been following the tradition of the original inhabitants from Manhattan. From the Related Pier 40 cram-down (our throats), to the Gansevoort racism ploy, to the Pier 76/Convention Center project, and to the imposition of the gargantuan Trump SoHo condo-hotel project on Downtown – the new Robert Moses wannabee (Doctoroff) and Bloomberg dynamic duo has not seen a deal they could resist in the selling out of Manhattan.
Bloomberg and Trump were practically giddy over each other’s billions when the Trump condo-hotel was first announced – laughing and scratching over the bucks from Dubai flowing through Chicago and the Bovis-Lend Lease boys into Manhattan.

Katz is now following in this tradition of selling Manhattan for cash and political advantage – whether she is conscious of it or not. Hopefully, she will pull this bill and give VanWagner back his money and he can stick it where he sheds.