Mayor Bloomberg wants Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner to bring back Frank Gehry’s much-hyped designs for the stalled and increasingly costly arena and 16 skyscrapers.
“He should use the Gehry design, because he will get great events from around the world going directly to Brooklyn,” the mayor told a team of reporters and editors from the Community Newspaper Group, the parent company of The Brooklyn Paper, on Monday. “Simon and Garfunkel would go to Brooklyn in a second before they go to Madison Square Garden. They’re New Yorkers.”
The meeting was a stop on the campaign trail for the would-be third-termer, who won the chance to run for re-election last year after the City Council acceded to his wishes that the two-term limit be eliminated, despite two public referenda affirming it.
Naturally, that topic came up.
“It was a unique period in the city,” Bloomberg said. “The economy was starting to fall apart, our school system was on the verge of a major breakthrough. … So I just decided that I would go ahead and, if the City Council wanted to change the law, let’s see what the voters want.
“The voters want somebody independent and competent and hopefully they’ll think I’m that way,” he added.
The hour-long interview covered many topics, but Bloomberg dwelled on Brooklyn’s long-running saga, Atlantic Yards, arguing that lawsuits by Ratner’s opponents were largely responsible for depriving Brooklyn of the vaunted architect’s vision.
“One of the great sins here is this small group of people stalled it so long [that] the economy is different,” Bloomberg said. “I tried to get Ratner to go ahead and do the Gehry design … but the economy is just not there.”
The mayor conceded that Ratner probably would have faltered during the real-estate bust, even without relentless opposition from groups like Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.
“He might have been in trouble halfway through, but at least it would have been in the ground, going up.”
He also blasted the kinds of community benefits agreement that Ratner signed with several groups, some of which did not exist before they signed an agreement to support the project in exchange for some financial backing.
“I’m violently opposed to community benefits agreements,” he said. “A small group of people, to feather their own nests, extort money from the developer? That’s just not good government.”
Plenty of other topics came up during a far-ranging interview in our Metrotech offices, a chat that the mayor sandwiched between his daily Spanish lesson and a Ramadan dinner later that night at Gracie Mansion:
• Bloomberg also discussed the status of the other major redevelopment project in Brooklyn — his rezoning of Coney Island. Last month, the City Council approved his controversial proposal permitting the creation of a new open-air amusement park surrounded by year-round attractions like hotels, movie theaters and an indoor water park, plus 4,500 apartments.
The mayor has nearly put the final piece of the puzzle in place — the purchase of some or all of the land from developer Joe Sitt’s Coney Island portfolio.
“Fundamentally, the deal with him is done,” said the two-term mayor.
He declined to speculate on what the final price would be, saying that it was in the ballpark of prior announced figures, which were around $100 million.
When asked why he wouldn’t just allow Sitt to develop the land now that Bloomberg’s zoning plan has passed, the mayor said bluntly that Sitt never intended to carry out his goal of building his own Vegas-by-the-Atlantic tourist magnet.
“He doesn’t want to develop,” Bloomberg asserted.
But now that the zoning has passed, he could, the mayor was reminded. Bloomberg fired back with his own reminder to Sitt.
“He needs sewers, he needs water, he needs streets,” the mayor threatened. “If the city doesn’t want to cooperate, [Sitt’s] going to spend a lot of time with a lot of money tied up.”
• Hizzoner’s own budgetary concerns clearly weighed his mind, as he predicted the financial distress for the city — which was one the main reason that Bloomberg cited last year as the need for an extension of term limits.
“We are going to have downsize every part of government and the question is can I find ways to maintain or improve the services with less because the taxpayer is not going to spend any more.”
• If the mayor is re-elected, he will ask Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to stay on the job.
“He is my choice plain and simple,” said Bloomberg. “I believe Ray will stay.”
• Small business owners and individuals who feel they have been given excessive tickets for minor violations, like the Prospect Heights man who got a ticket for drinking a beer on his front stoop, did not get much sympathy from the mayor, who doubts there is a widespread problem with overzealous ticketing agents.
“The enforcement person hopefully uses some judgment. … Generally, these things [drinking in the park, littering] are not enforced,” the mayor said.
Besides, he said, people getting tickets have no one to blame but themselves.
“If people are getting too many traffic tickets, the future is in their hands,” he said. “They’re the ones deliberately breaking the law.”
That said, the mayor did have a comment about stoop-drinker Kimber VanRy.
“I never understood why we don’t let you drink in the park,” he said. “I mean, you go to watch the Philharmonic with a bottle of wine. Come on.”
But he still defended the ticketing agents in general.
“If [we] have to cut our budget because we don’t have enough money for, say, the police department, they can reduce the amount they spoend or we can increase the amount of revenue they bring in. So having the ticketing agents give more tickets is a way to bring in more money.”
When questioned whether enforcement agents were using common sense or merely writing tickets arbitrarily, the mayor admitted that it’s hard to find good help nowadays.
“We don’t pay people that do these jobs an enormous amount. We try to get the best people we can for what we can afford and it’s easy to second-guess. I’m not so sure that the press coverage is accurate. I wasn’t there.”
He added that the ticketing — whether regarding litter or hazardous driving — was having positive effects on the city overall.
“The city is a lot cleaner than it ever was before,” he said. “Traffic deaths are way down in this city.”
• He also cited a number of statistical accomplishments during his watch, including a 15-month gain in life expectancy, 10,000 fewer smoking deaths per year and a 30-second drop in emergency response times when the city placed navigation systems in every ambulance.
• One statistic that he didn’t challenge is the increasingly thin blue line: there are 5,000 fewer cops now than when the mayor took office. Some say that the result has been an uptick in crime, including a 21-percent homicide spike in the 13 precincts that make up the Brooklyn South command.
“The law says I have to balance the budget,” he said. “But make no mistake, we’ve downsized the size because we could not afford a police department of that size. My job is not to have the biggest police department in the world, my job is to bring down crime. … Incidentally, it’s not clear that more cops equal lower crime.”
The mayor is hoping to win the endorsement of each of the 30 newspapers in the Community Newspaper Group, which has community weeklies in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.