QuidnuncRE Weekend: Council Speaker Candidate's Real Estate Vetting

Melissa Mark-Viverito

Melissa Mark-Viverito is up for a vote next week to head New York’s City Council, and has been maintaining she has enough support from fellow councilmembers to win the speaker’s post. She counts new Mayor Bill de Blasio in her camp.

But that process is not without the New York media, and a public-vetting process. For Mark-Viverito, the scrutiny now, suddenly, is squarely focused on her relationship to the real estate investment community.  She has joined Occupy Wall Street and voiced her opposition to development.  Her own financial interests, however, include developing property with city-backed low interest loans.

In a strident editorial this morning, the New York Daily News says that Mark-Viverito, who is the District 8 representative on the City Council, needs to be rejected because of her self-dealing on a city real estate loan.The editorial claims that Mark-Vitero’s property deal demonstrates that she isn’t credible or even truthful in addressing her public actions.

Mark-Viverito does much better in a New York Times Page One story today about her work on behalf of an Upper West Side nursing home company and its efforts to turn its site into a high rise in 2007.  It portrays her actions, at least over time, as mostly evenhanded. 

But similar to the tabloid editorial, the story suggests that business-as-usual for Mark-Viverito includes acting on her own interests, in this case political support that is tied to her views on redevelopment.

* * *

First, in the brutal lead Daily News editorial today, “Hypocrite for Speaker,” the portrait of Mark-Viverito is of a wealthy investor who won a three-unit townhouse from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s Partnership New Homes Program by listing her union researcher salary on her application. 

The editorial says that Mark-Viverito received a no-interest $70,400 mortgage to buy a three-unit East Harlem townhouse now worth $1.1 million.  The editorial concedes it’s unclear when Mark-Viverito received an inheritance from her late father that made her rich. The loan was taken out in 1998, about a year after her father's death. 

But the editorial says she needs to give a full accounting, and calls on her to repay the public benefit—in keeping with Mark-Viverito’s “anti-gentrifying, pro-affordable housing rhetoric.”   

And then the editorial cites two other incidents involving Mark-Viverito’s veracity, one of which involved accepting free consulting from a lobbyist, that it suggests disqualify her from the speaker post.  The editorial notes,

Violating the standards she demands of others, Mark-Viverito is legally exploiting city tax breaks and real-estate financing incentives while living the life of a wealthy woman.  The breaks she is getting differ only in degree from those afforded to the mega-developers she finds so offensive.

You can find today’s Daily News editorial here, which at this posting is featured on the cover of the newspaper’s opinion page: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinionYou can find the excellent reporting the opinion is based on in a story in yesterday’s Daily News HERE.

* * *

The Times’ article today is a complex illustratration of constantly competing interests involving development in a crowded city.  It involves a nonprofit nursing home operator in Mark-Viverito’s district on W. 106th St. that wanted to clear its lot in 2007, and build a new nursing home, as well as a residential tower. 

The move came in the midst of the community’s angst over Upper West Side rezoning, mostly focused on building heights.  When the nursing home’s plans were publically outed, they were revealed to be in conflict with the then-new zoning rules—and Mark-Viverito had joined with the home’s union to push for the project anyway.

Some locals saw her move as an end run around a public process because of the union’s support for Mark-Viverito.   The article says that locals felt shut out, and pleaded with other state and city officials to get involved. 

The story has a twist ending.  The tower wasn’t built, and Mark-Viverito has since opposed the nursing home’s subsequent plan to develop an apartment tower in a nearby location.  But as the Times explains,

The zoning fracas, from 2007, contains, in miniature the kinds of pressure points that any Council speaker, the second most important position in city government, must face routinely: land use proposals, community outrage and campaign contributions evidently tied to government action. To some, the episode still smarts six years later—even though the building allowed by the zone change never went up—and illustrates why Ms. Mark-Viverito’s no-holds-barred style, while effective at times, has also been polarizing. Critics also point out that in her next campaign, she received considerable financial contributions from the nonprofit for whom she had fought.

You can read ‘Councilwoman Bruised Feelings in Zoning Fight,” HERE

* * *

Melissa Mark-Viverito’s rival for the City Council speaker post is Councilman Daniel R. Garodnick.  A mere two months ago, Garodnick arguably was the New York City real estate investment community's No. 1 enemy because of his opposition—seen as pivotal—to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s massive Midtown East rezoning proposal. 

Gardonick's anti-plan position forced the former Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison securities litigator and federal court clerk to literally face warnings--nearly threats--from moguls and investors.  See the Real Deal’s Nov. 1 article, “Real estate players to Garodnick: Oppose Midtown East rezoning at your peril,” HERE.

Gardonick's stance figured, at least a little, in Mark-Viverto's City Council speaker prospects. And then just before his New Year’s Day inauguration earlier this week, Bill de Blasio backed Mark-Viverito’s candidacy for Council Speaker over Gardonick.  See, e.g.,  ‘Bill de Blasio touts Speaker candidate Mark-Viverito,’ in the New York Post, HERE.  

But now, with Mark-Viverito’s impending anti-development rhetoric ready to ascend to the City Council speaker’s seat, some in the investment community appear to be having second thoughts.  According a report yesterday afternoon on the Real Deal, “Garodnick manages to win over real estate skeptics,” the some real estate sharps are poised to do a 180 on the East Side councilman. 

The Real Deal turnaround story is based on reporting by Capital New York, HERE

Both articles quote a lobbyist as saying that the problem with Mark-Viverito, portrayed continually as an liberal in New York Post articles and elsewhere, is that she is short on land use experience—a point eviscerated  by the Times story this morning.   

* * *

In fact, in his joint statement with City Council speaker Christine Quinn on Nov. 12 after the Bloomberg administration withdrew the Midtown East zoning proposal, Daniel Garodnick endorsed Midtown East rezoning. 

But he said that the Bloomberg plan was incomplete. 

“Among other issues,” the joint statement said, “we remain concerned with the price, methodology and timing of the air rights to be sold by the City for the District Improvement [Bonds]. We are also concerned with the certainty and funding level of the needed infrastructure improvements, which includes both above and below grade needs.”

Garodnick hasn’t yet expanded on future rezoning since the statement, which can be found on his website HEREBut as mayor-elect, de Blasio echoed the Quinn-Garodnick statement a day later, and has vowed repeatedly to rewrite the plan during his administration.

Melissa Mark-Viverto didn't support the Midtown East rezoning plan either.  But she has a new conflict to deal with today: a lawsuit by a resident of her district who lost to the councilwoman in a September primary. 

The suit alleges that Mark-Viverto's support for an art installation on the woman's building was tantamount to putting a curse on her, and strange things started to happen. The details behind the weird allegation are in today's New York Post, HERE.

comments powered by Disqus