"Elevator Diplomacy" Village Voice 11/27/7
Yankee Stadium gets a walkway, a politician gets a big donation, and you get a fat bill
by Graham Rayman
November 27th, 2007 4:28 PM
The Glasers—a family of Bronx elevator-equipment moguls—haven't been too big on giving money to political campaigns. In fact, city campaign-finance records show that before this spring, they and their company—G.A.L. Manufacturing in the South Bronx—hadn't given a single dollar to local candidates. Ever.
So why did the Glasers suddenly drop almost $30,000 into Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion's campaign war chest in May and July?
Could it have anything to do with the fact that the city had just agreed to pay the Glasers a whopping $5 million for "air rights" over their East 153rd Street property to make way for the renovation of an old pedestrian bridge to the new Yankee Stadium?
The thing that makes the timing of their contribution even more intriguing is that the same politically connected lawyer involved in the air-rights deal also acted as the middleman in raising those contributions for Carrion.
The Glasers didn't return the Voice's phone calls. A spokesman for Carrion referred questions to his campaign office, which said, "The borough president has many first-time contributors, as people throughout the city have taken notice of his proven track record in governing."
The pedestrian bridge is a small but key piece of the massive stadium project because it connects the new Metro North station to the stadium property. An existing pedestrian bridge is considered too narrow and out of compliance with federal disability laws.
Under the deal signed last spring, the city agreed to pay $5 million to the Glasers for the air rights over their property to allow for widening and improving the concrete pedestrian bridge leading to the foot of Yankee Stadium. The air-rights deal will cost taxpayers almost as much as the $6.5 million that the city plans to spend actually renovating the bridge.
City officials say that the $5 million bought three things: access to the property for two years, the right to put the bridge over the property, and a piece of land on which to set a column that will support the bridge.
The new bridge, according to a source with the city Economic Development Corporation, will limit G.A.L.'s ability to build over the parking lot and, to some extent, to build up on its existing factory. The deal takes into consideration the impact on G.A.L. and the tight construction deadline, as well as the wish to avoid an eminent-domain fight, the EDC source says.
But the actual contract filed with the city offers a slightly different view. The deal specifically states that the new bridge cannot affect the company's right to expand its building.
Carrion, who has mayoral aspirations but has yet to declare his candidacy, has been a major backer of the Yankee Stadium plan, touting the project's economic-development and employment benefits. He's also been the target of criticism from some community advocates.
"It's a poorly planned project that has screwed over a neighborhood of poor people," says Lucas Herbert, a local resident (and, professionally, an urban planner) who opposes the project. "He's selling out the whole neighborhood so he gets the chance to run for mayor."
The G.A.L. cash isn't the only recent Carrion campaign contribution that has raised questions. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez reported last week that the Baldor's supermarket chain gave $6,000 to Carrion the same week that the borough president backed the company's request for tax-exempt government bonds to expand its Hunts Point food-processing center. The company also hired Carrion's former press spokesman, Gonzalez reported.
The $30,000 in contributions from the Glasers to Carrion were raised through an intermediary, Ricardo E. Oquendo, of the major lobbying firm Davidoff and Malito, records show. Oquendo was formerly counsel to the Bronx Democratic Party and former state assemblyman Roberto Ramirez. (Under the law, an intermediary is someone who solicits or delivers contributions from a third party to a campaign, a city campaign-finance spokesman said.)
The timing of the contributions is also interesting. On May 15, the Glasers made their first $5,000 contribution to Carrion via Oquendo.
Two days later, on May 17, Herbert Glaser, a G.A.L. principal, had Oquendo notarize the easement contract, records show.
On July 3, Glaser officially signed the contract that sold the air rights to the city, via the MTA, for the $5 million, records show.
Three days later, on July 6, the Glasers made five more donations to Carrion via Oquendo, totaling $25,000. In each of the six contributions, the Glasers gave the maximum amount allowed under the law.
On Friday, Oquendo declined to comment on how the contributions came about and refused to discuss his clients. He also refused to say whether he had done any lobbying work for G.A.L.
The Glaser contributions placed the company among Carrion's most generous donors this year.
Other top donors to Carrion include the Related Companies, which gave $34,156. Related is building the massive Gateway Mall just down the street from the stadium—a project supported by Carrion. Related is also the developer most closely associated with the Bloomberg administration.
At the same time that G.A.L. negotiated the $5 million air-rights deal, Related got $1.2 million from Metro North for an easement over a small sliver of its property to allow for the widening of rail tracks.
Rounding out the top four donors to Carrion this year were executives with Rudin Management, a major real estate firm, who gave $29,710, and top officials with TriLine Contracting, a construction firm, who gave $31,000. Carrion also got $4,950 from Yankee Global Enterprises on May 18.
Carrion's campaign has been ahead of the pack in accepting contributions from limited-liability corporations, known as LLCs, and partnerships—largely from real estate and construction interests. Campaign-finance records show that he has raised more than $250,000 from LLCs and partnerships since January 2006.
A law signed by Mayor Bloomberg in July will make it against the law for campaigns to accept contributions from LLCs and partnerships as of January 1, 2008.