An incisive new expose our Investigative Bulletin charges that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, real estate developer Bruce Ratner, and Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are key players in a “new Tammany Hall” that manipulates billions of dollars of public funds into vast private profits.
Micah Morrison, our chief investigative reporter, wrote the report. It provides a roadmap to how New York City’s controversial Atlantic Yards development project became what Morrison terms “a giant boondoggle generating torrents of cash for well-connected insiders.” Among the highlights of the Morrison piece:
- Real estate developer and Democratic Party heavyweight Bruce Ratner is the central figure in the battles over Atlantic Yards. Smart, tough and tireless, Ratner has courted controversy with unfulfilled promises of public benefits, multi-million-dollar paydays, and links to crooked politicians and their enablers. Ratner has close ties to de Blasio and Clinton. Clinton’s presidential campaign headquarters is in a Ratner building in Brooklyn.
- One lucrative lever of the new Tammany system is called the Public Authorities Control Board. According to court testimony, it has no staff, no offices, and has approved “billions of dollars of bond sales.” In a 2006 meeting that lasted just five minutes, the PACB approved Ratner’s Atlantic Yards proposal, despite mounting opposition to the project. The price tag: $4 billion.
- PACB approval opened the door for Ratner to receive taxpayer-backed benefits and financing. The benefits included an immediate cash injection of $100 million for “new infrastructure” such as “streets and sewers,” according to testimony by a state budget official in a lawsuit, and a later $511 million sale of tax-free bonds.
- Ratner received state-backed financing and $726 million in “special government benefits” – your tax dollars at work – to help finance the Barclays Center portion of site, according to an analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office. The benefits included “direct contributions of cash, capital investment and property; access to tax-exempt financing; exemptions from property, sales, and mortgage taxes, and below market sale” of Metropolitan Transportation Authority land, the IBO report said. Despite all that, Barclays looked like a loser for the city. The arena would “cost the city nearly $40 million more in spending” than it would generate in tax revenues, the report said.
- In 2014, Ratner sold an ownership stake in Atlantic Yards (excluding the Barclays site) for $208 million. The buyer: Shanghai-based Greenland Holdings, a company controlled by the Chinese government. In a move of Orwellian audacity, Ratner and his new Chinese partners promptly changed the name of the site from Atlantic Yards to Pacific Park. Greenland “now reaps the benefit of the subsidies, tax breaks and cheap land that Forest City Ratner wangled for the project in the 2000s,” wrote Norman Oder, a Brooklyn journalist who chronicles the project on the watchdog blog, Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report
- Public money, private profit, promises unkept: in that sense, the old Tammany system is not much different from the new one. It took reformers decades to crush old Tammany. In April, in a sharp warning to de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Attorney Bharara told Common Cause New York that he would “keep looking hard at corruption,” not just in the legislative branch, but in the “executive branch too, both in city and in state government.”
Micah’s bold expose of apparent massive corruption at the highest levels of government in America’s largest city should outrage all who are appalled by political pay-for-play schemes. That’s why we are demanding records from the mayor’s office for the timely production of materials relating to this controversy. We will take it to court if necessary, because the public has a right to know. In the meantime, please read (and share) our major investigative piece here.