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ritztastic Archive

November 2, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

The Million Dollar Question

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October 29, 2009 @ 2:55 pm

Bloomberg Courts the Black Clergy with $1 Million

Rob Bennett for The New York Times

Via Nicholas Confessore and Michael Barabaro in The New York Times:

A few weeks ago, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, the influential pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, came to a difficult decision, one he had wrestled with all summer.

He would not endorse William C. Thompson Jr., the city comptroller and a longtime friend and ally, for mayor, as he had promised Mr. Thompson last spring. Instead, he would endorse Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Mr. Thompson was furious at the betrayal. But what he did not know was that Mr. Bloomberg gave a $1 million donation to the church’s development corporation — roughly 10 percent of its annual budget — with the implicit promise of more to come.

“What could I say to a man who was mayor, and was supportive of a lot of programs that are important to me?” Mr. Butts said in an interview before he endorsed Mr. Bloomberg.

In his quest for a third term, Mr. Bloomberg has deprived Mr. Thompson of what many once regarded as his political birthright: the blessings of the city’s most powerful black ministers, who together preach to tens of thousands of congregants each week. And to win them over, he has deployed an unusual combination of city money, private philanthropy, political appointments and personal attention, creating a web of ties to black clergy members that is virtually unheard of for a white elected official in New York City.

Some prominent ministers have been appointed by Mr. Bloomberg to influential city boards and committees. Others have enjoyed the administration’s help in buying city property or winning zoning concessions for pet projects. A few of the largest institutions, including Abyssinian and the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Jamaica, Queens, have taken in millions of dollars in contracts to provide city services during Mr. Bloomberg’s eight years in office.

Looming over it all is Mr. Bloomberg’s dazzling wealth, whether already bestowed — as in the case of Mr. Butts — or hoped for down the line.

“We have to come to his foundation sooner or later,” said the Rev. Timothy Birkett, pastor of the Church Alive Community Church in the Bronx, who is backing the mayor this year. “We hope that he will be receptive.”

Those who support Mr. Bloomberg say that the mayor has earned their endorsements strictly on the merits of his record in office, especially on education and crime. But some critics say the outpouring of support owes more to the dependence of many black churches on a friendly ear at City Hall.

“Some of these endorsements that we see are indicative of a faith statement by some of our religious leaders,” said the Rev. Clinton M. Miller, a protégé of Mr. Butts and the pastor of Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn. “The statement is, who do I trust more, in terms of how I am going to get my projects done?” Mr. Miller said. “The choice is between a municipality and God.”

Aides to Mr. Bloomberg say that mutual respect, not financial ties, binds the mayor to the clergymen; they point out that some of the churches also received large contracts before Mr. Bloomberg took office.

Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott said the relationship “really goes beyond contracts,” adding that it is based on “an ongoing line of communication we have with important individuals who have important constituencies, and we’re very proud of that.”

At moments of racial tension that might have swamped a different white mayor, Mr. Bloomberg has rarely faced the kind of personal criticism from prominent black ministers that wounded his predecessors, like Rudolph W. Giuliani, whom Mr. Butts once publicly branded a racist.

That contrast was on display last week when Mr. Bloomberg appeared at a campaign event with Mr. Giuliani, who suggested to a mostly white, Jewish audience in Brooklyn that “the wrong political leadership” could return New Yorkers to the days of “fear of going out at night and walking the streets.”

Several black elected officials immediately denounced the comments as race-baiting. But no prominent black pastors demanded that the mayor disavow the comments.

[See the rest of the story at The New York Times]

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October 23, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

The Special Interest is Bloomberg

From Phil DePaolo:

Bloomberg’s Net Worth

1996 – $1 billion
1997 – $1.3 billion
1998 – $2 billion
1999 – $2.5 billion
2000 – $4 billion
2001 – $4 billion
2002 – $4.8 billion
2003 – $4.9 billion
2004 – $5 billion
2005 – $5.1 billion
2006 – $5.3 billion
2007 – $11.5 billion
2008 – $20 billion
2009 – $16 billion (interim March figure)*
2009 – $17.5 billion
(Annual figures published by Forbes in September of each year)

It seems to be inadequately appreciated that Bloomberg’s Bloomberg LP does business with almost every major company in the city. Most of Bloomberg’s wealth comes from the sale of the Bloomberg financial terminals, not from his media company activities. A lot of media companies are not doing well these days. It is Bloomberg’s terminal sales that are likely financing his recently announced acquisition from McGraw Hill of “Business Week,” competing business publication that like a lot of others has not done very well recently.

Here’s The Atlantic:

Bloomberg considers the Business Week brand a strong draw on business people and newsmakers, two audiences that would complement its stranglehold on the Wall Street/investor type. Not only would it enhance access to newsmakers and help the company break news, it would also give Bloomberg a fresh subscriber list with new potential clients to sell its terminal.

Via Noticing New York:

While Bloomberg LP is doing business with every major company in the city, the city is busily granting companies concessions over which Bloomberg’s administration has substantial discretion.

Take one big company as an example, Goldman Sachs. Goldman has a new building in Battery Park City which was allowed to override the Battery Park City master plan, was granted extra density and tax breaks. Meanwhile, despite the fact that the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board said that he should not do so, Mr. Bloomberg calls up his business to check on terminal sales numbers. All that it takes for a big company to send money Bloomberg’s way in what could be the equivalent of a kickback or a political contribution is to order more terminals. Political contributions are not tax deductible, but paying for more terminals than you really need is.

We recognize that Boss Tweed and quite a number of other (less wealthy) politicians made a lot of money and formed companies (often secretly or in the background) to profit by business that could be done with the city or by virtue of city endeavors that involved major conflicts of interest. But was there ever a truly wealthy mayor with a personal business empire where the nature of that business meant that his empire or set of business enterprises was routinely doing business with most of the companies with which the city had commercial dealings?

Via The New York Times:

In a 2002 agreement with the conflicts board, the mayor promised to limit his involvement with his company to major decisions that would have a significant impact on his ownership value. Throughout his two terms, the mayor repeatedly insisted that he had no involvement in the firm’s day-to-day operations.

However, The New York Times reported that the mayor talked regularly to senior officials at the company about topics ranging from new data terminal sales to expansion into new markets and the general financial performance of the company. He even recruited the company’s spokeswoman.

The Times reports that much of the language of the 2002 ruling with which Bloomberg failed to comply was supplied by Bloomberg’s own lawyers. It also points out that its disclosure is antique, setting forth “Bloomberg L.P.’s top 100 customers” without update since 2002 when, comparatively speaking, Bloomberg was a considerably less bruising presence, his company’s customers now including “virtually every major financial institution in the city.” (The Roles Blur for the Mayor and the Mogul, By Serge F. Kovaleski and Ray Rivera, December 8, 2007.)

The Conflicts of Interest Board’s 2007 opinion is specifically about accommodating the mayor in the continuing acquisition of more wealth. Results speaking for themselves, that is something he had already done very well throughout his administration. Rather than generously giving money away, Bloomberg “donates” money to acquire more personal power and perhaps to acquire still more money as well. It even turns out he is driving up public expenditures on mayoral campaigns! Whereas once upon a time we were told we were going to have a mayor who was so angelically generous that we didn’t have to worry about anything, we now find that we have a mayor so financially omnipresent and capable of corrupting charity that we need to worry about everything.

Noticing New York:

Setting aside conflict-of-interest abuse of charities to enhance personal power, there is also simply the question of Bloomberg’s possible conflict-of-interest abuse to enhance his wealth at taxpayer expense. It should not be disregarded.

The possibility that Bloomberg’s terminal business could involve conflict-of-interest problems got some attention in a January 2002 New York Times article (before the Conflicts of Interest Board ruling) which is almost laughable in the way that it fails to identify the greatest possibilities for conflict-of-interest concern.

Once again, Bloomberg’s ostensibly charitable nature is the grist used in a PR feint: The Times article reports about how Bloomberg, L.P. is “donating” 35 Bloomberg terminals to the city for use by members of the mayor’s staff together with “seven other terminals that were previously being leased by the city’s financial departments” in order to pay “heed to conflict of interest laws that forbid elected officials to sell goods and services to the city.” (See: Mayor Brings His Gadgets, And Thorny Conflict Issues, by Edward Wyatt, January 6, 2002.)

The article almost puffs over the nonviolation of conflict of interest rules:

Mr. Bloomberg and his company will receive no direct financial advantage from the city’s use of the terminals — and as a donation, the terminals violate no conflict of interest rules


”The reason for the donation was to alleviate the potential conflict of interest,”

For `balance’ the article fusses over the “reputational capital,” that might be created by the “the commanding presence that the Bloomberg terminals will have at City Hall” . . . “an asset that has value even if it does not show up on a balance sheet” according to “Kevin T. Jackson, an associate professor of business ethics at Fordham University.”

In fact, by the article’s fourth paragraph, it is still talking about how the appearance of the Bloomberg terminal “at City Hall put the Bloomberg, with its sleek monitors and acres of flat-screen space, on the public stage as an object of desire” is a “a product placement that would make any marketing director salivate.

Albeit that product placement and reputational capital idea is a valid concern, what goes unstated in the article is the slightest thought that placing the terminals on “the public stage as an object of desire” can also send a clear message about how easy it could be to deliver benefits equivalent to a kick-back.

This is why it is a critical concern that the Times reported, as noted above, that for years thereafter (emphasis supplied):

the mayor talked regularly to senior officials at the company about topics ranging from new data terminal sales . . . .

Sales of Bloomberg terminals were shooting up in the years just before running for mayor when Bloomberg’s billionaire fortune essentially doubled, according to data available for 1997, 1998 and 1999. (See: The Company He Keeps (for Now), NY Times by Timothy L. O’brien, March 20, 2005.)

But increased sales do not correspond in arithmetic proportion to increases in profit. The industry is somewhat of a diminishing marginal cost business; after a point, most costs have been paid for, so sale of each additional terminal beyond that point is essentially gravy.

If you analyze it, all it takes for New York financial firms to deliver quid-pro-quo benefit to the mayor in a virtually undetectable fashion is for them to order more Bloomberg terminals than they otherwise want or need. And, as noted, each additional terminal is almost pure gravy, pure cash to Bloomberg. For the years that the mayor has been in office, Wall Street has been far and away that largest sector of the city’s economy and, as the Times asserts, Bloomberg does business with “virtually every major financial institution in the city.”

The Times article on the “donated” terminals said that the terminals had been given in part because of Bloomberg’s own comfort with the system:

The donations are not an attempt to further market the Bloomberg name, his aides said. ”It was just the fastest way to get the office set up with computers,” said William T. Cunningham, the mayor’s communications director, who added that the system is the one that Mr. Bloomberg is most comfortable with.

The new hardware lets users get e-mail messages, do word processing, make spreadsheets, surf the Internet, as well as gain access to the news services and financial market data typically offered to Bloomberg customers, all without the bother of flipping between windows on a single screen.

But the system Bloomberg was switching everybody at City Hall over to was not necessarily designed for everybody else’s comfort, as reported in the later 2005 Times article about Bloomberg’s terminal business:

Early Bloomberg users needed to pick their way around the terminals using arcane commands and interfaces, many of which persist today. Mr. Bloomberg believed that once people were trained in how to use a Bloomberg terminal, no matter how confusing, it would make them less inclined to switch to other systems. He also insisted that every new service or data point be bundled inside the Bloomberg and never sold separately, increasing the value of the machine and allowing the company to charge a premium to use one.

Given the lack of separation between Bloomberg business interests and Wall Street, we must inevitably speculate skeptically about poor financial leadership of the Bloomberg administration.

Should anyone feel confident of sufficient separation between the worlds of big mega deal city administration assisted real estate development and the Bloomberg private wealth businesses that are growing so fast. The answer is no, given the troubling conflicts we see at the highest level of the Bloomberg’s administration and business involving Daniel Doctoroff, Patricia Harris and Michael Bloomberg himself.

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October 22, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

CWA Local 1180’s Anti-Bloomberg Radio Ad

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October 20, 2009 @ 1:45 pm

Bloomberg and Wall Street’s Greed

Illustration by Victor Juhasz

Michael Bloomberg emerged from the primal ooze that is Wall Street to dominate New York as nobody else ever has, not even the Rockefeller brothers. We are told repeatedly that he is headed for certain victory. Well that’s why we still have elections.

People understand Wall Street’s culture of greed and corruption far better today than they did before the meltdown, but few of us who aren’t in the game understand the mechanisms by which they leverage their political power to avoid regulation—the better to steal our money. Sure, we get the big picture, the fraudulent credit default swaps, the fraudulent credit ratings for the worthless securities, the collaterized debt obligations, and all the rest of it, but we haven’t read anything quite as revealing and frankly, quite as scary as this piece in Rolling Stone.

If you can bear it, read it. We promise you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of just how crooked and menacing and yes, treasonous this crowd really is, and how hard it will be to take back our country, let alone our city.
Read rest of story…

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October 14, 2009 @ 12:40 pm

What New Yorkers Think About Bloomberg’s Campaign Spending

Here’s Thompson’s “man on the street” video of New Yorkers talking about what they think of Bloomberg’s campaign spending:

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October 13, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

Bloomberg’s Expensive, Staged Events

There is no precedent for the many staged, elaborate and often expensive events Mayor Bloomberg holds on a regular basis. Here’s how Bloomberg changed the office of the Mayor:

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October 8, 2009 @ 12:40 pm

Bloomberg’s Failed Poverty Policies

Via Cyril Josh Barker and the New York Community Media Alliance:

According to a new analysis conducted by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, pilot anti-poverty programs initiated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg aided only 3 percent of New Yorkers in poverty. The figure rounds out to about one in 33.

The announcement was made during a press conference on Tuesday, backed up by numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, indicating that more than 1.5 million New Yorkers lived in poverty in 2008 – enough to fill Yankee Stadium 25 times.
Read rest of story…

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October 7, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

Do You Really Think Bloomberg Even Sees Working Class or Poor or Homeless People, Much Less Wants to Help Them?

“The first rule of taxation is, you can’t tax those that – too much – you can’t tax too much those that can move. And a very small percentage of people do account for a big par t of our income.” “You know, the yelling and screaming about the rich, we want rich from around this country to move here. We love the rich people.” – Mayor Michael Bloomberg in The Daily News

Raising the marginal tax rate on high income New Yorkers, imposing a modest stock transfer tax, a very modest wealth tax, as exists in Switzerland and many other countries, or try any of the other ways to increase revenues and restore a modicum of sanity is beyond the pale. Except in the few months leading up to an election, in Bloomberg’s world, we are all held captive by a few hundred Wall Street mega millionaires and billionaires. Just try taking anything away from them, they’ll head for the rolling hills of Connecticut.

The “last time I checked pharmaceutical executives don’t make a lot of money.” – Bloomberg, again.

In fact, Abbott CEO Miles White took home $28.3 million last year. In the same neighborhood: Bristol-Myers Squibb CEO Jim Cornelius, with $21.7 million, and Johnson & Johnson’s Bill Weldon with another $23 million.

“His London apartment overlooks a quiet locked garden in one of the city’s most exclusive precincts, where Ferraris and Bentleys park steps from Hermes and Chloe…a place of welcoming grandeur, with artfully planted window boxes, heavily tasseled drapery and the warm glow of a chandelier highlighting gilt details…a spiraling, filigreed central staircase…filled with American art, including works by Andy Warhol, Henry Moore and Jasper Johns. It also reflects Bloomberg’s love of finery, with a heavily molded ceiling, mahogany doors and marble columns.” His home on East 79th St. is a “Beaux Arts Manhattan townhouse that features an Egyptian marble foyer, French Savonnerie carpets, European paintings…” and so on. (Bloomberg’s good life (in London), Diane Cardwell, International Herald Tribune, October 3, 2007, p.1)

Contrast that life-style with this one:

Homeless Families Lose a City Loophole

Beginning tomorrow night, the city will stop giving emergency shelter to families who are reapplying for a place to stay after being ruled ineligible, officials said yesterday. [The “loophole” allowed families who had been ruled ineligible to be given shelter for one night if they reapplied after 5 p.m. Some families using this emergency provision would keep their belongings with them and repeat the process, moving to a new shelter the next day, often late at night.]

“Families began to realize if they came in after 5 they could evade that accountability,” said Linda Gibbs, the city’s deputy mayor for health and human services. “What we are doing now is closing the loophole.”

Miss Gibbs said that the “actions of a few are threatening the culture for the many. We have to stop it now.”

Grisel Rivera, 26, had been using the emergency overnight system with her 6-year old daughter, Jayda…The city claimed she could return to a one-bedroom apartment of a friend. But the friend didn’t want her. “Most of us can’t go to the last place we were. If we could we’d be there already. I’ll have now here to sleep. My daughter will have nowhere to sleep.”

Loopholes…Accountability…People abusing the system

Since that piece appeared, Bloomberg was caught charging rent to working poor families forced into homeless shelters, many driven there by Bloomberg’s Wall Street pals. Magnanimously though, the rent was never more than 50% of what they earned. When questioned about it, he said “they made me do it,” the “they” being Governor David Paterson’s administration. That one is right up there with the Espada/Montserrate explanations that they are doing what they’re doing to promote the interests of the people they represent.

As for imposing accountability on those who work the loopholes and abuse the system, we won’t insult your intelligence by pointing out to whom those words apply.

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October 5, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

Reading List: Bloomberg’s Ignoble Wealth, The Mayor Gives More Money to the GOP

* Jarret Murphy, investigations editor at City Limits, writes in The Huffington Post that the $65 million Bloomberg has paid to “needy campaign consultants” is more than the annual budget of 42 New York City agencies (remember Bloomberg cutting the budget of the Public Advocate’s office by 40 percent?) and more than the combined income of 2,000 average New Yorkers: “But sometimes wealth isn’t admirable or noble. Sometimes it isn’t alluring, or impressive, or awe-inspiring or even intimidating. Sometimes wealth is just kind of repellent, even a little sad. Wealth can even be cheap, if it tries hard enough.”

* Tom Robbins points out in The Village Voice that “when you’re on Mike Bloomberg’s pay roll, consistency isn’t your first concern.”

* The City Room has slideshows of Thompson’s and Bloomberg’s campaign advisers.

* The Post reports that Thompson and Bloomberg are fighting over paperwork for a police academy in Queens.

* Elizabeth Benjamin reports that on Sept. 22, the New York County GOP received another $50,000 personal contribution from Mayor Bloomberg.

* MTA Chairman Jay Walder says Bloomberg’s campaign pitch to make some crosstown buses free is nonsense because it’ll take fare revenues away from the MTA, which has already suffered a budget crisis and had to raise fares this year.

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