At its core, the details of the deal-making that December day involved key Council jobs and committee assignments. In turn, the Council shaped in these negotiations became a critical conduit for the big redevelopment projects that the bosses and their corporate allies wanted.
Back in 2002, Rivera had positioned his 21-year-old son, Joel, to be the majority leader of the Council when Gifford Miller became speaker with the support of the Bronx and Queens. Quinn kept Rivera in the post, which came with a $23,000-a-year bonus over the base council member’s salary, and also named him chair of the Health Committee, a post she had held herself for four years. Quinn appointed Baez to head State and Federal Legislation, a gain for the Bronx delegation. Rivera had elected his daughter Naomi to an Assembly seat in 2004, and Quinn, who’d given $1,000 to Naomi’s campaign, put her husband, Antonio Rodriguez, in a $109,000 graphic designer job at the Council. Rivera also won the power to name the next city clerk, a patronage plum with 86 jobs controlled by the speaker.
Crowley’s Queens team already had the Council’s top staff job: Chuck Meara – whose brother Brian is Crowley’s personal lobbyist – had been Miller’s chief of staff and kept the job under Quinn. But Queens also wanted the second most powerful job, first deputy, and it had a Crowley family candidate for it: Ramon Martinez, Crowley’s one time brother-in-law. Quinn knew Martinez from the ‘90s, when they worked briefly together in the Council before Martinez went on to work for Hillary Clinton and other New York elected officials.
Martinez and Crowley’s sister Maura had finalized their divorce in 2003. Now, in 2005, they were faced with the challenge of financing the college educations of three teenagers. In the family business of county party politics, Crowley’s family needs, like Rivera’s, rose to the top of the patronage agenda. The Queens negotiators made it clear that they wanted Martinez to get the job so he could “pay Crowley’s sister’s alimony” or “support Crowley’s sister,” a theme that all the sources at the meeting agree was conveyed in these general terms. Crowley declined to talk to WNYC for this story.
The denouement? When Quinn took over as speaker in January 2006, firing 61 staffers she branded as patronage employees, her top hire was Martinez, who remains her key aide, dwarfing the influence of the laid-back Meara. Martinez, who was then working in the Public Advocate’s office, got an instant $20,000 raise when he moved to the Council. His salary soared by $50,000 in two years, and he now makes $206,190 – some $94,295 more than the speaker herself.
And then there's this:
Roll the calendar forward to 2009. That’s when Queens leader Joe Crowley surfaced at the Council with a project of his own to champion. A member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Crowley rarely gets involved in Queens controversies. But he interjected himself into the debate over another Related Companies project: the $3 billion redevelopment of Willets Point.
The Bloomberg administration wanted to transform the scrapyards and light-industrial zone there – in the heart of Crowley’s congressional district near Citi Field—into a housing, hotel, mall and office colossus. But the project required condemnation by eminent domain of a raft of businesses - 150 of them Hispanic-owned. So when the rezoning of Willets Point came before the Council in November 2009, it was already shrouded in such controversy that 32 members, including a dozen from Queens, signed a letter opposing it. It fell to Quinn to get the Council to support the project.
It didn’t help appearances that the project was a bit of an ethical mess. Claire Shulman, the 83-year-old former Queens borough president, had set up a nonprofit local development corporation, Flushing Willets Point Corona LDC, to build grassroots support for the project. The LDC was underwritten by a $250,000 city grant and real estate interests, including Related’s co-developer on the project, Sterling Equities, the real estate arm of Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz. But Shulman had failed to register the group as a lobbyist with the city clerk and was fined $52,000 for the omission. Then she registered it, and a storm ensued, since LDCs are barred by law from lobbying the Council. The Times quoted hersaying that “we lobbied the city for the city,” a statement that eventually resulted in a state attorney general’s finding that the LDC had “flouted the law” and a settlement that barred it from lobbying the Council. Quinn did not criticize the grandmotherly Shulman at the time - indeed, she shared stages with her, beaming about Willets Point – and remains silent on the lobbying gaffe.
Though the project’s opponents, led by local Councilman Hiram Monserrate, vowed they would not support the rezoning unless it was stripped of any use of eminent domain, they switched en masse when Bloomberg and Quinn added 800 more affordable housing units to the project. The day before the vote, in unscripted moments at a press conference, Bloomberg extolled Quinn’s efforts, saying repeatedly that “we would never have gotten this done” without her and Monserrate. Crowley held a pre-vote press conference at City Hall, pushed recalcitrant Council members, and delivered a speech backing Willets Point at a breakfast of the prestigious Association for a Better New York on the morning of the vote. He called himself “part of the leadership team” that won its passage.
Quinn told WNYC that she never talked directly to Crowley about Willets Point, indicating that she didn’t even know the Queens organization’s position on the project.
Now, a revised project is back before Quinn, slated to come to a Council vote in October. Critics note that it cuts the affordable housing units in half, and that the developers may not have to build any if they delay the housing project for a decade, which they are permitted to do under the deal. The emphasis now is on a huge mall, an echo of Related’s Gateway development in the Bronx.
Mayor Bloomberg, of course, is the granddaddy of the Yankees, Gateway and Willets Point deals. But as speaker, Quinn’s charter duty is to lead a Council that is the only check and balance to mayoral power. Years ago, the media began calling her "deputy mayor" Quinn, a tag earned by her frequent support of Bloomberg. But almost none of the coverage of her over the years has noted the inside track the Democratic leaders have had as well, shaping staff and policy.