Friday, March 15, 2013

How phony park groups, the press and elected officials are conspiring to develop FMCP

You may have read in various articles that representatives from New Yorkers for Parks have been testifying at Community Board meetings against the USTA plan to expand inside Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and have been working with Council Member Julissa Ferreras and other elected officials to come up with "concessions" from the USTA in exchange for their alienation of public parkland.  Who are "New Yorkers for Parks" and should we trust them?

Holly Leicht
Holly Leicht:

Before becoming Executive Director of NY4P in March 2011, Holly served under Bloomberg as Deputy Commissioner for Development at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), Prior to joining HPD, she was a Director at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, another so called public/private slush fund.

This so-called advocacy group is trying to associate itself with the FMCP issue but they are hurting the efforts to protect the park. Let's examine why.

A Little Background:

NY4Parks was created in 2002 (on their website they say they have been around for over 100 years) as basically a front for the City. The city wanted what was then the city's only independent park group, The Parks Council, to be eliminated, so they were disbanded after the Parks2001 Campaign, and a new group was formed with more administration-friendly folks - basically the board members of the Conservancy and their lawyers from Weil, Gotshal & Manges, one of the city's most powerful law firms - as you will see below. It should also be noted that this was all insider stuff that the general public - including neighborhood park groups - was not privy to.

The founding Co-Chairs of NY4Parks were:

  • Michael Grobstein - Treasurer of the Central Park Conservancy. (A position he still holds at the Conservancy today.)
  • Lynden Miller - director of the Conservatory Garden in Central Park, designer of gardens at Bryant Park and Battery Park City, a very early supporter of the High Line. She is the mother of former Speaker and now lobbyist Gifford Miller who initially allocated funds to that project) Both she and Grobstein are long time CPC board-members and very connected.
  • Mark A. Hoenig - Secretary. Hoenig works for Weil, Gotshal & Manges, one the city's most powerful law firms, but more importantly the home of long-time CP Conservancy Chairman - Ira M. Millstein, Esq., Senior Partner, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP (their offices on 5th Ave and 59th Street overlook the park).    Mr. Millstein is a Life Trustee and former Chairman of the Board of the Central Park Conservancy (1991-1999).
  • Philip R. Pitruzzello - Treasurer. Pitruzzello was former president and chief executive officer (1994 to 1996) of the Battery Park City Authority. In 1998 be became Vice President, Real Estate Projects vice president, real estate projects, for Time Warner where he was in charge of real estate for the building of the new world headquarters at Columbus Circle.
The Central Park Conservancy Board is filled with a who's who of wealthy and politically connected folks, including Jeff T. Blau CEO of Related Companies - the fine folks who are trying to build a mall next to CitiField.

Other board members include:

From Capital New York:
Nicholas Quennell, a partner at landscape architecture firm Quennell Rothschild and Partners and the other lead author of the strategic plan, said he thought the Major League Soccer proposal to build a 25, 000-seat stadium on the site of a long-disused World's Fair fountain, known as the Pool of Industry, "was actually intelligent." In 2008, Hawkinson and Quennell (and Quennell's partner Mark Bunnell) co-authored the city-commissioned "Flushing Meadows Corona Park Strategic Framework Plan," the purpose of which was to enable the park to achieve its "full potential by establishing a long term vision, a basis for decisions about the Park’s management and the allocation of attention and resources for the coming years."
Past or president board members:
  • Danny Meyer
  • Ira M. Millstein
  • Richard Gilder (also long time CP Conservancy board member). Until Paulson's $100M gift, Gilder's was the large single gift to a park ever - Central Park, of course!
Bottom line:

New Yorkers for Parks are a beard for the city. They have zero credibility. They are listed right on the Parks Department home page as a Partner.

In their publications, they routinely praise mayoral initiatives and they aggressively push finding "innovative financing strategies" as opposed to holding the government accountable. They have also written letters to the editors praising the Mayor while trying to counter the work of groups such as NYC Park Advocates. And now that they are being exclusively quoted in the Times, they have a voice which they are using to push the Mayor's agenda and undermine communities such as ours.

Check out this NY Post expose about the group:

A Queens park that got high grades in a new report is no bed of roses, local activists say.

Little Bay Park earned an A-plus in a New Yorkers for Parks report released yesterday, including a grade of 93 for its bathrooms.

But “there’s no bathrooms,” said local park advocate Alfredo Centola.

Instead, the 55-acre park in Bayside has dingy port-a-potties — including one that was set on fire, leaving it melted into the weeded ground.

“If they consider bushes bathrooms, they can get a 93,” Centola said.

He said the park also needs more drinking fountains — despite scoring a 100 in that category — and better lawns and athletic equipment. The park has only two fountains, and none worked yesterday.

The playing fields are currently uneven, and filled with holes, a Post reporter found. Crossbars on soccer goals were bent, and the goals' netting were ripped to shreds.

“There are flooding conditions the minute it rains,” said Centola. “Even in light rains, the kids playing on the soccer field slip in mud.”
Lisa Foderaro (Twitter)
It has not gone unnoticed in the administration-friendly pages of New York Times that NYC Park Advocates, a true independent group, has all but disappeared from park coverage under Lisa Foderaro's beat. (Westchester resident Lisa Foderaro of the NY Times is married to the former official state photographer for Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.) This, while the Parks Department partner group, New Yorkers For Parks, has appeared almost exclusively. In fact, since May 2012, Holly Leicht has been quoted at least 17 times in the paper - the vast majority in Ms. Foderaro articles. Since taking over the parks beat, the coverage has resulted in park stories of noticeably lower quality, none of which Metro Editor Carolyn Ryan and Co, apparently have a problem with.

Former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and park flack, Warner Johnson, famously wrote a 36-page letter to then Metro editor Joe Sexton complaining about Foderaro's predecessor, Timothy Williams, and his hard hitting stories. His articles helped add much needed context and shined a light on the Bloomberg administration's endless spin. Naturally, the taxpayer-funded letter also attempted to attack Mr. Croft of NYC Park Advocates.

A simple Google search shows that NY4P's presence in other media has increased dramatically since the Times exposure which lends the group credibility that they do not deserve. Before that, it was wildly known that NY4P was not quoted because of credibility issues, including its cozy relationship with the administration. The Times's coverage has changed that. If you want some really good background info on New Yorkers for Parks check out the comments section of this Crain's article. Very detailed. Scroll to the bottom.

Dana Rubenstein (Twitter)
Dana Rubinstein of Capital New York is also conspicuously not quoting NYC Park Advocates even though they are the group that is actually working with the community. She has also not quoted the Coalition to Save Flushing Meadows-Corona Park for USTA/FMCP stories. These are the only two citywide groups that are against parkland privatization and making deals to privately fund them. Dana however manages to always include statements from New Yorkers for Parks who represent themselves.

Here are two articles from Capital New York - both published on the same day, Feb. 20th:

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park - Lots of Land, Little Upkeep
Urban Planners suggest alternative soccer arena sites, and the MTA actually offered one

Holly Leicht is also quoted in one of the articles with regard to the Flushing Meadows issue - again pushing the public-private partnerships agenda. Once again, private funds are considered to be the solution - not government funds - and the benefits are not even questioned.

Six days days later, this very harmful article by Dana Rubinstein came out:
"Holly Leicht, the executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, has been consulting with Ferreras on this issue and strongly backs the idea of a conservancy-type arrangement for Flushing Meadows.
“We would definitely agree that ongoing maintenance, not just a onetime mitigation payment, is an essential component of the processes for all of the projects under review,” she told me. "It seems that some kind of conservancy—a public-private partnership model—makes the most sense for Flushing Meadows Corona Park."
So the result…
"Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for M.L.S., sent over the following statement: "We look forward to continuing our ongoing conversations with Councilwoman Ferreras to figure out the appropriate way for M.L.S. to contribute to the future of Flushing Meadows Corona Park."
So you have a VERY connected group with the Bloomberg administration who has ABSOLUTELY NO connection to our community working directly against the interests of it and trying to dictate policy. And this is not the first time by any means.

In September 2011 - after supposedly working with the community fighting this enormous NYU expansion that would take away public parkland (which is currently in court) - the neighborhood found out that NY4P had betrayed them.  How did they find out?  By reading an NYU press release that contained a quote by NY4P approving the project! Unbelievable.

The N.Y.U. press release quoted Holly Leicht as praising the university for being responsive to the group’s concerns and for mapping the two properties as parkland. In an interview, she indicated that closing the parks to construct underground rooms was not a major concern.
“The reality is that if you’re constructing buildings of that scale so close to public spaces you would not have been able to keep a playground open during construction anyway,” she said.
They sold out the community, a community that is vehemently against the project. Holly was repeatedly quoted in the media as a supporter and gave the project cover for the city and NYU. Really disgusting. The community was just in court about that issue last week.

Here is a Nov.7th letter from Holly Leicht to the Times about a large donation to Central Park. Its all about following the Mayor's initiative of getting private dollars and their favorite catch phrase, "exploring creative ways to finance…"

The letter was co-written by the Chair of NY4Parks - Edward C. Wallace, a former City Councilman-at-large for Manhattan and member of the board of the Riverside Park Fund, another city public/private partnership. He also served on the boards of many city politically-connected groups like NYC 2012, the failed Olympic bid and the Grand Central Partnership, etc.
"the Central Park Conservancy and private donors like John A. Paulson do not worsen the problem; they help address it.

Mr. Paulson’s $100 million gift to Central Park will ensure that the most visited park in the city, and likely the world, can be maintained for generations to come, with minimal reliance on limited public dollars. build upon this validation of urban parks by encouraging more private involvement in neighborhood parks and exploring creative ways to finance pressing needs in parks citywide without sacrificing their character.
This is the NY4Parks message they sent out a few days ago. As you will see its all about how it's ok to take the land as long as they replace it and the park gets money.
Public Hearings Underway for Proposed USTA Expansion
"...While the potential lost acreage is relatively small, sanctioning parkland alienation without acre-for-acre replacement is a slippery slope. If an expensive pay-to-play tennis facility that contributes no annual funding to the park is deemed "public," where is the line drawn to protect city parkland from privatization? Right now, USTA's annual rent payment – which wouldn’t increase after the expansion – goes entirely to the City’s general fund, not to the park.
The USTA – which, according to a recent Crain’s review, reported a $17 million surplus in 2010 – needs to commit NOW to a significant, long-term investment in and partnership with Flushing Meadows Corona Park. And this doesn’t mean just funding one-time capital projects to sweeten the pot during the public review of its expansion proposal.

It means:
• active participation in a new nonprofit dedicated to the park, including an ongoing, annual contribution to the park's maintenance;
• a commitment to cease using park lawns for parking during the U.S. Open; and
• either replacement of the parkland it proposes to alienate or a redefined relationship with park-users and the surrounding community to make the tennis complex a truly public use.
As New York City’s leading advocate on parkland alienation issues for more than a century, NY4P looks forward to continuing our work with community stakeholders, elected officials and others throughout this process to ensure the best possible outcome for FMCP's users and neighbors."
This comes from Save FMCP's Christina Wilkinson:
Why is New Yorkers for Parks irresponsibly taking the position that it would be perfectly acceptable for the USTA to steal more parkland so long as it sets up a “park maintenance fund” for Flushing Meadows?
Instead, they should be advocating for adequate resources to be allocated to the park in the City budget. The current fraction of 1 percent allocated toward parks citywide is woefully inadequate, and the City is required by the City Charter to maintain its property.
Genuine park activists would not be advocating for the USTA to take and replace parkland since the obvious thing to be demanding here is that the City not allow this private business to expand within the park.
So as not to mislead the public, they may want to rename their group “New Yorkers for the Privatization of Parks.” Positions such as that of this organization are the reason why we have such a disparity in park conditions in the first place.
Meanwhile, last Friday, a press conference was held by the Fairness Coalition. The Fairness group represents themselves as an organization dedicated to protecting public parkland, but their agenda is, as far as we can see, not that clear. Their message is very inconsistent and hypocritical. Aren't these some of the EXACT same elected officials who have already come out in favor of the USTA seizing the park if they establish a maintenance fund, built it union and replace the land? Isn't Jose Peralta one of the MLS's staunched supporters of building the stadium in the park!

With Friends Like these…

Standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the VERY people who want to take away public parkland isn't halting a land grab it is helping to facilitate it! The public (as featured in their photos) probably perceives FC as working on their behalf, but they are doing the exact opposite by supporting these deals. Watch Fairness Coalition leaders contradict themselves multiple times in this video. At their press conference, Council Member Julissa Ferreras was asked by a reporter about her seemingly contradictory positions on Flushing Meadows-Corona Park: On the one hand, she stated that she was for protecting parkland, but on the other hand, she was willing to give it away in return for concessions. She replied that the park was never going to be adequately funded by the City, so a deal had to be made with the USTA to fund it.

Jose Peralta, Danny Dromm, Julissa Ferreras
Julissa Ferreras is a Council Member and last time I checked, the City Council is who determines what gets funded. So she basically revealed that she won't be making an effort to ensure that there is adequate funding for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in the upcoming budget and therefore would prefer to sell off pieces of it to private interests.

Council Members Leroy Comrie and Danny Dromm stood next to her while she said this and said nothing. State Senator Jose Peralta, Assembly Member Francisco Moya, and borough president candidate Melinda Katz also thought this was a swell idea because they were in attendance and didn't object, either. The Fairness Coalition, who held the press conference, supports this position rather than adequate parks funding in the City Council budget, which is what would actually be FAIR.

Makes you want to throw up, doesn't it?


Anonymous said...

Can't get more timely than this: Julissa Ferreras just announced her Alliance park sell-out plan

which would create a public-private partnership with funds in part from the USTA etc. - a plan that NY4Parks helped put together. Apparently Julissa forgot it is HER job to get municipal funds for the park.

And wow Holly Lieght appears not once but twice this week alone in two separate Lisa Foderaro articles in the Times!

You would think the Times would be embarrassed - no??

As for the Fairness Coalition-interesting strategy! Having press conferences with the very people who are supporting the things you are saying you are against. Go Queens!!

It's about time someone exposed all these issues!!
Thank you for putting this together!

georgetheatheist said...

Pulitzer Prize Crapper. (Welcome back.)

Anonymous said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Can anyone confirm what's been floating around for years...that Jack Bitterman, husband of CB7's district manager Marilyn Bitterman (earning $95,000 per annum)...gets free passes to the US Open and admission to their VIP tent, with food and drink included?

Furthermore, does CB 7 chairman Gene Kelty or the vociferous "follow the buck" Chuck Apelian get anything from the USTA folks in the way of favors, past or present?

What was the extent of perks (if any) extended to CB 7 members for their original vote to approve the building of the Arther Ashe Stadium and the USTA's gross intrusion into FMCP during the period of the Dinkins administration?

Corruption appears to run very deep at Queens' various community boards.

Some questions need answering.
Investigations need to be launched by the federal government.

Anonymous said...

Danny Dromm appears to be a one issue council member...advocating gay rights.

On practically everything else, he's sold out to the machine to ensure his re-election

Peter said...

Al Centola

Keeping his eyes and saying it how it is.

Thanks Al!

Anonymous said...

Great article, ny4p are phonies

Miles Mullin said...

Excellent Crappie, tip my hat to you!

Now go after the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance and the Elmezzi Foundation.

Schnepsi said...

Hey listen. My reporters could have written this but they were waiting for me to come out of the beauty parlor.

Anonymous said...

I really wish there were NYC News outlets with the balls it takes to do real reporting such as this.

It's disgusting the lengths that these assholes have gone to get their way and their USTA payday.

Let them go build this stadium in any other city. Detroit is nice in the summer and has ample real estate for a new stadium.

Anonymous said...

Get off your ass crapper and do something then! Asshole.

Anonymous said...

Go after the press and their cozy relationship with developers and politicians.

Until they change their tune, let's do everything we can to discredit the press releases from flacks that masquerade as 'news.'

JaxHites said...

This is excellent research. I have Tweeted this link, blogged about it, and I posted links on Facebook. I am sharing this link, in hopes it can help us steer clear of co-opted groups. Thank you for posting this.

Anonymous said...

Since the time they were founded in 2002- and not as their fake phony PR says "over a hundred years ago" - this "group" has had Zero Credibility.

And the fact that the Times is complicit in this is sickening.

The funniest thing is listening to NY4Parks try to spin how they are independent - as if receiving funds are the only measure of independence.
It was also amusing listening to Adrian "Pinocchio" Benepe all those years constantly touting them as the only "legitimate park group" in public testimony while pointing to the group's "research" as evidence of how great the parks were doing. Hilarious.

And the "research" they do…Funny! That NY Post article only scratched the surface on the fake "survey" they call Report Cards they publish on parks each year. They only "inspect" a fraction of the park. It is absurd.

It is well known that when reporters call the Parks Department press office, especially for controversial issues, they desperately try to steer them to them, "Have you spoken with New Yorkers for Parks yet."

Besides the public the big joke seems to be on the individuals and foundations who are funding them!!!

Great article Crap - I hope more of this will be exposed.

Anonymous said...

Queens residents, just make it easy on yourselves, bend over and let them ... well... let them abuse you as they will. It is inevitable, so relax and enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

When Brooklyn groups were fighting Marty Markowitz's vanity amphitheater in Seaside Park, the first group they approached for help was NY4P. What a joke! They flat out said that the amphitheater was a great idea, even though it would have consumed virtually every inch of the only green space for miles around. And kudos to the person who said that someone should start looking at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. They are little more than shills for port interests & other industrial waterfront uses.

Anonymous said...

I found this article by accident. I feel duped by NY4P. I'm incredibly disappointed. Can anyone in this city be trusted? Ever?

Anonymous said...

It has not gone unnoticed that since this Queens Crap article was posted Dana Rubenstein has gotten even more aggressive in promoting the "Major parks advocacy group opposes soccer arena on 'irreplaceable public space' - May 13th.

She conveniently left out the fact that the "group" finally came out against the MLS plan - what, a year after everybody else did. Also Dana "forgot" to mention that NY$Parks is supporting the USTA expansion.

Also Capital NY doesn't seem to understand that the "swap" the USTA and the City came to terms with that NY$Parks is supporting is ridiculous.

Is it the editors or Dana that don't seem to understand or care how these things are now being reported.

What a joke.

Anonymous said...

Annie Karni writing for the pro-business publication Crain's New York Business made the exact same mistake Dana did in Capital NY in reporting the supposed benefits of the USTA "land swap."

Do these people think they are fooling anybody?

Add Karni to the list of of "journalists" who are repeatedly quoting Holly Leicht, a person who has absolutely nothing to do with the Flushing Meadows issue.

Stick with Daffodils.

What a joke is right.