Major decisions and policy changes often seem to come out of nowhere in Albany, thrown together in the late-night rush to beat the close of a legislative session. But when it comes to Bruce Ratner and Atlantic Yards, the foundation for such maneuvers has been quietly in the works for years. And last night, the savvy stroking paid off for him yet again. It’ll cost you, though.
Yesterday, Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Vito Lopez, who is chairman of the state assembly’s housing committee, slipped a new provision into a bill designed to force the development of “affordable” housing. Lopez’s wrinkle gives Ratner a tax break on the thousands of market-rate condos to be built at Atlantic Yards, and may allow Ratner to raise the rent on “affordable” apartments in the massive complex. This little surprise stands to cost state taxpayers as much as $270 million. That’s on top of the $300 million in direct city and state subsidies already heading for Ratner’s Atlantic Yards pocket. It’s just one of the juicy benefits you get when you spend, as Ratner did last year, $2 million lobbying Albany.
What does Lopez get out of it? Hard to say, exactly. But in addition to his elected offices, Lopez runs a multi-million-dollar social-services and housing empire in Brooklyn and Queens, to which he’s steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in “member items” over the years. The biggest of the agencies is run by Lopez’s girlfriend; last year, Lopez appointed the girlfriend’s brother to a seat on the Brooklyn Supreme Court. (Ratner’s brother and his sister-in-law, who live in Greenwich Village, last year contributed more than $6,000 to Lopez’s reelection over token opposition, as noted by the excellent Atlantic Yards Report blog.)
We’ll see if Governor Spitzer has the guts to stop this giveaway. But once again, Ratner, that high-minded liberal visionary, doesn’t mind playing ball with guys who do business the old-school-machine way. Hey, it’s all for the benefit of “the community,” right? —Chris Smith