IN BRUCE WE TRUST Mayor Bloomberg says the word of ‘great guy’ Ratner is enough on Atlantic Yards ‘Community Benefits’ Agreement

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Trust Bruce.

That’s the message an annoyed Mayor Michael Bloomberg barked in response to a question by a Brooklyn Papers reporter regarding developer Bruce Ratner’s proposed Atlantic Yards development.

At a press conference at Fulton Ferry Landing Monday morning to announce the creation of a community benefits agreement (CBA) between Ratner’s Forest City Ratner Companies and a handful of community groups, the mayor interrupted Ratner, who was answering a question about the enforceability of such a non-governmental document.

“It’s legally binding,” said Ratner, who seemed pleased to have been asked the question. “It has in some cases economic penalties, it has mediation, as well as the ability of community groups to litigate and get an orderable injunction, and we hope to see the goals fulfilled, and if we don’t, litigation can be used.”

Bloomberg, however, cut him off in his explanation.

“I would add something else — even more importantly, you have Bruce Ratner’s word,” he said.

“That should be enough for you and for everybody else in the community,” said the mayor, directing his comments at the reporter who asked the question. “This is a guy who — if you don’t understand that, you don’t know how great this guy is, for Brooklyn and for New York City.”

The announcement of the benefits agreement, proclaimed on a mayoral press release headlined, “Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Forest City Ratner CEO and President Bruce Ratner and Civic Leaders sign Community Benefits Agreement,” came after months of concern from groups that were not participating in the negotiations that the document would be weak and have no enforcement mechanism.

Before the mayor proclaimed his disbelief that trust in Ratner might not be enough to assuage public concern, Ratner explained that the agreement was legally enforceable, and had penalties and adjudication measures in place that would be overseen by an appointed group of community members.

“Also, in the agreement, the developers have agreed to fund an independent monitoring agent,” added the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, citing one of the enforcement clauses in the contract. Daughtry, whose House of the Lord Church, on Atlantic Avenue near Bond Street, is four blocks outside the project site, joined the CBA negotiations midway and has been a staunch supporter of the Ratner plan.

The press conference may have given the impression that the mayor had signed the document on behalf of the city, when, in the face of photographer flashbulbs and television cameras, Bloomberg signed his name on the same paper on which Ratner and the members of eight community groups involved in the negotiated agreement had signed.

“He was not a signatory,” said Lupe Todd, a spokeswoman for Forest City Ratner. “He was a witness. The signers were eight people and Ratner, so technically, no, [Bloomberg] did not sign the CBA. He was a witness to the CBA.”

Opponents of the Ratner plan were left fuming at what they believed to be a misleading public relations ploy by the mayor and public advocate on behalf of the developer.

“I think that the press conference setting and signing was [Karl] Rove-ian in nature, where there are pictures of the mayor signing something that he’s not actually signed onto, giving the impression that the city would have oversight on this agreement,” fumed Daniel Goldstein, a condo owner in the project site, making an allusion to President Bush’s top political advisor.

But Goldstein, an organizer of the anti-arena group Develop-Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, saved most of his wrath for Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum who, he charged, had sidestepped her role as public watchdog in attending Monday’s signing to show her support for Ratner. Gotbaum was a colleage of Ratner when they both worked in the administration of Mayor Ed Koch.

Gotbaum, who led a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for allegedly mishandling the bidding process on another Bloomberg-supported project, the development of a football stadium over the Hudson Rail Yards in Manhattan, touted the Ratner undertaking.

“This is a wonderful, wonderful example of what development should be all about,” said Gotbaum. “To bring all these different groups together to get everybody on board, to have negotiated like that, Bruce Ratner, I think we can only praise you to the highest.”

Gotbaum faces a Democratic primary challenge this September from Norman Seigel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who has been retained to represent property owners, like Goldstein, who may face eminent domain evictions to make way for the Ratner arena and skyscrapers.

“I am impressed by the broad support for the Atlantic Yards project from community leaders, public officials and advocacy groups,” Gotbaum told The Brooklyn Papers at the press conference. “This rare display of unity is a sign of how strong and beneficial to Brooklyn the project is. I am confident that any remaining issues can be resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned.”

Goldstein condemned her stance.

“For the public advocate to come to this thing and endorse it and not sign onto it, is absurd,” he said. “She should be signing on to it to enforce it, not just cheerlead it.

Gotbaum spokesman Daniel Browne responded, “She did not sign the agreement because she is not a party to the agreement. She endorsed it because she thinks it’s good for the community.”

The mayor’s press office did not return calls seeking comment on the appearance that he had publicly signed the agreement.

Asked about the mayor’s ceremonial signing of the document, Leonard Wasserman, chief of economic development for the city Law Department, affirmed that the “city is not a party to the CBA.”

“I understand that the mayor signed the document — I was not involved in it at all, and the Law Department was not involved at all — but the mayor signed the document, in a ceremonial capacity, providing a sort of official endorsement of the good work of the private parties in reaching an accommodation on the issues between them,” he said.

Should Ratner fail to make good on any of the many promises outlined in the CBA, the cost of any litigation to enforce the agreement would fall on the shoulders — and purses — of the largely faith-based non-profit organizations that signed on.

“[Litigation] would be between Forest City Ratner and BUILD and all those people,” said Todd, referring to Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, one of the spearheading groups of the CBA.

“The city is not involved at all, in any of that,” she added.

Goldstein said he was disappointed to see the concerns of many in the community in which the project would be built overlooked for the sake of the CBA.

In a press release issued by his organization on the same day as the signing, Goldstein wrote that 48 “known” community and civic groups, as well as “three of the district’s four elected officials” were concerned about or opposed to the project.

“None of these groups have been involved in the ‘CBA’ negotiations, while all of the groups that have been involved [in negotiating] have supported the project from the beginning,” wrote Goldstein.

“Those most directly affected by the proposed project have not been involved either,” he said. Among the 48 groups listed were the longstanding Park Slope Civic Council, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, the Fort Green Association, the Creative Industries Coalition and Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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