Monday, March 31, 2008

Congestion Pricing Passes City Council

A battle won! I am frankly disappointed with where Bill deBlasio ended up on this issue (voted no), though David Yassky, Tish James, Simcha Felder and Domenic Recchia deserve kudos for their votes. And you really have to admire the way that Speaker Christine Quinn wrangled the votes; I am truly impressed with her whip ability.

The war remains. We still need to get this measure passed at the state level. Contact your Assembly and Senate delegations . . . we still have a fight on our hands.

Remember: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Be civil and rational when stating your case. I know that my own Assemblymember, Joan Millman, has had concerns about aspects of the congestion pricing program. I am still hopeful that she can come to support this very necessary measure.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Gov. Siegelman Freed!

This is fantastic news. Don Siegelman, former governor of Alabama, was railroaded in a political prosecution orchestrated by the Bush administration. See my previous posts on this subject.

But first, see the full story at Harper's, TPM, and Emptywheel's digs. You'll see some concern trolls out there, who will warn you under their breath not to get to excited defending Siegelman, he's dirty. At first, I was wary myself. But after a lot of reading on the subject let me tell you: that's a crock.

This is the most clear case of political prosecution I've seen, and it is absolutely shocking that the GOP was so brazen. There's a lot of fireworks to come on this, and I suspect some of the prosecution team and/or the trial court judge will see the inside of a prison before we're through.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Murder in Carroll Gardens

Holy cow. CBS news reported last night guy was stabbed to death in his basement apartment at 326 Carroll Street.

CBS News Video

The Gowanus Lounge has more details, via the Times and Channel 7. Here's a snippet:
The Times provided this detail:
...Sanjeev Seekoomar, 34, was found on Tuesday morning stabbed to death in his basement apartment at 326 Carroll Street in Carroll Gardens, the police said. The door to the apartment was pushed in and the apartment ransacked, indicating a possible burglary or robbery, but motive was being investigated, the police said.
The Daily News adds the details that the victims throat was slashed and that he may have been killed by a possible sex partner. The Post opines that the victim may have known the killer.


Subway Plaza Trees In Peril

Katia and Barbara report that the developer Stein has applied for a permit to cut down the trees on the subway plaza.

It will be a shame to see the trees that are located o private property be removed. It is absolutely vital, however, that he not be allowed to remove the trees which are public property, on the public portion of the plaza.

For a sense of what portion of the plaza will be lost to the 360 Smith project, see Barbara's blog here. On the other hand, the portion of the currently empty, fenced in parking lot that corresponds to the courtyards on 2nd Place will become more open when the lot is developed. Not open to the public, but open in the sense that the fence obstructing the view down 2nd Place will be gone.

MUST READ: Definitive Spitzer Timeline

Looseheadprop has posted an exhaustive timeline of the Spitzer debacle over at FireDogLake.

As I suspected, it appears there is a lot of chicanery going on here behind the scenes . . . on the GOP side. This whole thing stinks. The apparent abuses of power here are far more scandalous than patronizing prostitutes. This is a GOP power play for the governorship, using dirty tricks and abuse of police powers.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

February Existing Home Sales: A Bloodbath

For some reason, the AP and nearly all major media outlets still swallow the spin from the National Association of Realtors and their spokesperson, comedian Lawrence Yun.

And so we get headlines lauding the "improvement" in February, as sales were up 2.9% from January . . . "The first increase since July!" Further down the page is the other news, that average prices were down 8.2%.

Newsflash: this is a seasonal business. Sales ALWAYS increase from January to February. On top of that, there was an extra day in February this year due to leap year. The increase of 2.9% in February is absolutely meaningless. The real news, which was buried in most articles (presumably, because it was underplayed in the NAR's press release) was that year-over-year, February sales were DOWN 23.8%. There is not a more dishonest group of shills in all the land - the deceit of the NAR borders on criminal fraud.

For a more in depth and sober analysis of the February numbers, see this post and this post at Calculated Risk, the best economics blog in all the tubez. As CR makes clear, February is a relatively unimportant month for housing . . . you'll want to pay close attention to the March numbers when they come out next month. More from The Big Picture. And did I mention that prices are tumbling at record rates as well?

We're not immune here. I'd expect the tone on local real estate to get progressively more sour as 2008 wears on, continuing in 2009.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Congestion Pricing Hearings @ City Hall TODAY & TONIGHT

Per Streetsblog:
The morning session, beginning at 10:00, will be open for public viewing but closed to public testimony.

The evening session begins at 6:00. Members of the public who wish to testify may sign up on a first-come first-served basis, beginning at 5:30. Public testimonies are limited to two minutes each.

Needless to say, it is important that the council (and the media) hear from as many pro-pricing citizens as possible. The Campaign for New York's future suggests bringing signs or wearing pro-pricing t-shirts, whether you are able to testify or not. CFNY would like to hear from those who will be attending, if possible; contact Katie Savin at

The hearings will take place in the City Council Chambers, City Hall, Second Floor.

I am hoping to squeeze in at 6:00 - I have my first CB6 Public Safety/Environmental Committee meeting tonight in Park Slope at 6:30 . . . and there is no public testimony at the morning session. I can't stress enough how important it is to our transit infrastructure to get this passed.

Streetsblog also has a liveblog of the Committee hearings going on. The first two installments are here and here. Great summary of Jeanette Sadik-Khan testimony. Check it out.

Spitzer Skullduggery

I am pretty confident we're going to learn, over the next 2 years, more about how the Fall of Elliot Spitzer was engineered. Hubris? Of course. But this was a man with many enemies. One of them, Roger Stone, (click here for larger version of picture big enough to read) is a sleazebag GOP political operative and dirty trickster going back to the Nixon administration. He had a role in halting the Florida recount in 2000. He is a complete and total scumbag. He is also a swinger . . . on that count, to each their own - I don't really care what he and his wife do with their private parts. Consenting adults can do whatever the hell they want behind closed doors, in my view.

But he reported Spitzer to the FBI for using hookers four months before this scandal broke. . . . and it does add some irony that HE, of all people, should be reporting someone to the FBI for sexual misconduct.

Did I mention that Roger has a tattoo of Richard Nixon's face on his back? Must make for an interesting conversation piece at the orgies.

Scott Horton has a much better distillation of the politicization of the Spitzer prosecution over at Harper's. It is a must read. Concludes Horton,
This marks a strong shift in position in Justice Department explanations of the case, increasingly bringing into focus the fact that Eliot Spitzer was a target because he was Eliot Spitzer. The comparison of this case with the handling of the “D.C. Madam” case produces a very curious bifurcation. Eliot Spitzer is worthy of being a target, and the dedication of massive resources to nab him. But G.O.P. Senator David Vitter and Bush Administration Director of USAID Randall Tobias are not. What, other than the fact that the latter are Republicans and the former Democrats, provides the basis for distinction? This investigation increasingly looks like a political hit.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Wither Atlantic Yards?

Yes, that's wither, not whither. It seems the project that Brooklyn loves to hate may be dying on the vine, so to speak. A tanking R/E market, sputtering credit markets, and Ratner's failure to secure an anchor tenant for Miss Brooklyn (she's no lady) have soured prospects for this mega-project.

This project from the start was a disaster in the making: a naked giveaway to a politically connected developer, a boondoggle of taxpayer financing for a sports arena, an egregious misuse of eminent domain, and a complete disregard for the community's input.

Make no mistake about it: The Vanderbilt Yards (there is no such thing as the "Atlantic Yards" outside of Bruce Ratner's drawing board) are an excellent site for development. So are the Hudson Yards. Deck them over and build. But this project was ill-conceived from the beginning.

The fig leaf of "affordable housing" (really, did you think that this project was ever about that? Or that we weren't just robbing Peter to pay Paul by raiding the state's funds for affordable housing to hand it all over to Ratner, at the expense of other sites around the city and state?) did very little to disguise the hideous, bloated carcass of Atlantic Yards.

Let's go back to the drawing board. We can do so much better than this. And don't dare build that goddamn arena as a stand-alone eyesore.

Graphic credit: New York Times.

More from The Brooklyn Paper. And an unusually thoughtful Brownstoner thread.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Back on My Feet

Was on my back sick for a few days. Been a long time since I had a 103 degree fever, and I hope it's a longer time before it happens again.

Sicker than me, it turns out, was Bear Stearns. Bear Stearns, which 1 year ago traded at $170 per share, was sold last night to JP Morgan for $2 per share. It gets more interesting- the FED basically GAVE JPM $30 Billion to buy Bear for $250 Million. (A $30 billion non-recourse loan to JPM secured by crap mortgages on BSC's books)

Why? Because Bear Stearns was bankrupt. Insolvent. Broke. And why? Because at bottom, they facilitated the housing bubble, where mortgage brokers lent money to people who couldn't pay it back to buy houses they couldn't afford. The mortgage brokers and investment banks didn't care, because they were shuttling the repayment risk off to the bond and CDO investors, and huge fees were made at every step of the process. Except when the music stopped, Bear was left with heaping armloads of crap, and no one was left that would take them away. They lost a giant game of Old Maid . . . only in this game, it seems, the Fed is willing to hold the Old Maid card . . . in a couple of years, we'll be able to figure out just how much this bailout cost. (It IS a bailout . . . because JPM would not have paid a nickel for BSC without that $30 billion from the Fed. And they're getting a $1.25 Billion office building in the deal. Peel that out, and they're valuing BSC's business not at $250 million, but at -$1 billion.)

Because of the mortgage mess that was enabled by BSC and it's peers, prices on houses and condos went through the roof the past few years, while incomes for the average guy stayed the same or even dipped slightly. This is George W. Bush's "ownership society", brought to you by "Easy Al" Greenspan.

Our economy, if you haven't guessed already, is in a lot of trouble. And the real estate market is in for a rough patch for the next couple of years. And that most certainly includes NYC.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Breaking News!

They tell me this Spitzer guy resigned.

In all seriousness, a sad display of hubris. I read some new reports last night, and it seems pretty clear he raised some red flags. Can't rule out some funny business (some more questions raised in that department) . . . but wow.

With his background you'd think he'd know better than to set off red flashing lights at the banks' compliance desks. Hubris is really the only word that describes it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer: Kid Stays In The Picture?

The Sun reports a rumor that Spitzer might not resign after all.

I'll stipulate right off the bat that he hired a hooker(s), and we can all agree that is wrong on several levels.

However, what is troubling me is HOW he came to be ensnared in this investigation. First blush was, he was caught up in a vice takedown of a high-class callgirl operation. Now we come to find, the investigation centered on Spitzer from the beginning, which led to the prostitution ring. Scott Horton has a look at the shifting story in Harper's.

So far, the explanations (anti-money laundering audits) don't add up to me. I worked in banking for 5 years. I wasn't a compliance officer, but we did have regular KYC (Know Your Customer) training. And something about this whole thing just seems fishy.

Again, I'm not going to defend Spitzer's actions. But I am highly concerned about the possibility of a politically motivated prosecution. Particularly in light of the US Attorney scandals and most egregious of all, the railroading of Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. 60 Minutes had a piece on Siegelman that is worth a watch.

With the Bush Administration conducting warrantless wiretapping on American citizens, is there any privacy left? Mindblowing is this story from yesterday's Wall Street Journal, which was buried under the Spitzer circus:

According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records. The NSA receives this so-called "transactional" data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government, such as the NSA's own Terrorist Surveillance Program, formed to intercept phone calls and emails between the U.S. and overseas without a judge's approval when a link to al Qaeda is suspected.

The NSA's enterprise involves a cluster of powerful intelligence-gathering programs, all of which sparked civil-liberties complaints when they came to light. They include a Federal Bureau of Investigation program to track telecommunications data once known as Carnivore, now called the Digital Collection System, and a U.S. arrangement with the world's main international banking clearinghouse to track money movements.

The effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called "black programs" whose existence is undisclosed, the current and former officials say. Many of the programs in various agencies began years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach. Among them, current and former intelligence officials say, is a longstanding Treasury Department program to collect individual financial data including wire transfers and credit-card transactions.

Do you trust the Bush administration with this program? I sure as hell do not. You can ignore that phrase "al Qaeda" in that second bolded phrase; the lack of ANY judicial oversight whatsoever ensures that no one will ever ask if there were suspicions of al Qaeda. Theoretically, you have to have suspicions of al Qaeda links, but no one will ever ask you. See how nicely that works?

This cannot continue. For that reason alone, I'm looking forward to a bare-knuckle brawl between Spitzer and the Justice Department, with full discovery as to just how this investigation came about. Spitzer has hired the firm Paul, Weiss to defend him in this matter, and they are no lightweights. Get your popcorn ready.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Holy Crap: Spitzer and Prostitutes?

I nearly fell out of my chair when I read this. Not what I was expecting today.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer has informed his most senior administration officials that he had been involved in a prostitution ring, an administration official said this morning.

UPDATE: TPM Muckraker has transcripts of the calls. Ouch.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sex Withheld Over Clinton Support

How could I not blog an article with a lede like this? The fact that the couple lives in Carroll Gardens is just the icing on the cake:
Howard Graubard and his wife, Sabina Tyrk, were on opposite sides for months—he with Sen. Hillary Clinton and she with Sen. Barack Obama—when matters came to a head one night at their home in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Ms. Tyrk made it clear that her husband's advances would be for naught unless he switched allegiances.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Pro Congestion Pricing Commercial On The Air

I turned on NY1 this morning to check the weather, and was greeted by this commercial from the Environmental Defense Fund. They also have a punch list of the "Four Ways New Yorkers Will Benefit From Congestion pricing" up here.

Nice to see some advocacy out there from environmental groups. I don't know much about EDF, but this left me with a good first impression.

In other news, the NYT reports that we are still short of votes on the City Council. However,

Ms. Quinn also expressed confidence that she and the mayor could swing enough votes to push the plan through the Council.

History is on her side. In her two years as speaker, she has used steady persuasion and the political power of her title to secure wins, often by garish margins, for bills that were unpopular with many of her members. They include the mayor’s long-stalled garbage plan, and tough new campaign finance restrictions.

In fact, Ms. Quinn has never lost a vote on a bill she has supported during her time as speaker, and has never received close to 20 votes against her.

The article also hints that David Weprin, the Queens-based Qixote who has relentlessly tilted against the plan, realizes that Bloomberg and Quinn will ultimately get their way.

At this point, I think the only question remaining is what sweeteners the holdouts demand for their votes. At least at the Council level, CP will pass.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Building America's Future

The Tri-State Transportation campaign has a post up on this new coalition that could not be more timely.

Arguing that rebuilding America’s roads, bridges and transit systems will do far more for the flailing economy than the $300-$1,200 family tax rebates included in the recently passed $168 billion stimulus package, 15 governors from a non-partisan coalition called on the federal government last month to dramatically boost infrastructure spending.

The Building America’s Future coalition, chaired by Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was established to serve as a “repository of best practices on infrastructure funding issues” according to a press release issued at the National Governors Association (NGA) meeting on Feb. 24. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine is also a member of the coalition. Speaking at the NGA meeting, Corzine told the audience, “We need a national program. We need federal help.”

This is exactly right. The tax rebate plan is an abject failure of vision and leadership. This country has a serious environmental and national security problem in our addiction to oil. We re also in the early stages of the worst economic crisis this nation has seen since the 1930s.

A major investment program in our transit and water/sewer infrastructure would help to cure many ills leftover from the failed policies of the latter half of the 20th century . . . and dig us out from the failed economic policies of the worst administration in American history.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Obama Breaks All Records With February Haul of $55MM

Wow. Just . . . wow. Recall that Hillary's campaign was ecstatic to raise (an impressive) $35MM last month. It turns out that Obama blew the doors off that by $20MM!

Sen. Barack Obama raised $55 million in February, a stunning total that his campaign hopes will breathe fresh momentum into his presidential bid following losses in three of four nominating contests earlier this week.

The Tribune has learned the Illinois Democrat raised the amount in an effort that shatters the record for money raised by a presidential campaign in a single month.

And over 1,000,000 donors, including 385,000 new donors last month.

The Clinton camp can continue their shameful, disgraceful smear campaign, but the writing is on the wall. This is the year that the Democratic party FINALLY selects a people powered candidate.

Be a part of history. Consider donating HERE.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

More on Sander's State of the MTA Address

The entire speech is available at the MTA website HERE and the slideshow (must see, but pdf warning) HERE.

Ben Kabak has a great analysis of Sander's speech over at Second Avenue Sagas, including the meat of the proposals for expanding the system.

The City needs the projects Sander is selling here, and someone needs to step up and take the reins. It’s one thing to talk vaguely about subway expansion and the need for more lines. It’s another thing entirely to do what Sander is doing and putting forward plans that could revolutionize and modernize New York’s subway and public transit system.

For too long have the city and state leaders allowed the MTA to eke by on next to nothing. While Sander’s plan may be unrealistic, it takes a visionary to move things forward, and as the MTA sits on the precipice of its next 40 years, today’s speech made me think that Sander is the right man for the MTA at the right time.

As he said near the end of his speech, “As the MTA goes, so goes the region.” Now, let’s see what he can do.

I'll quibble only to say I don't think the vision is unrealistic. I think our transit policy for the past 50 years has been, and we are turning a corner now. This isn't merely about transportation: it's about sustainable development, smart land use policy, reducing pollution, weaning ourselves off the car and off of oil. In that sense, it's also about national security. The car makers and the oil companies set the agenda for development in this country for most of the 20th century. Unfortunately, it's taken decades for a majority to see the negative impacts to our society from automobile-based development patterns.

Sander frames the situation well: NYC is an international hub, that risks falling behind as Shanghai and other major cities catch up, and then outpace our infrastructure development. As Sander notes, "“Next year, we will have four tunnel-boring machines operating to expand the subway and regional rail systems. Sounds impressive?” he said. “Right now, Shanghai has 90 such machines at work on rail and other projects…Our biggest global competitor, China, spends 9 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure.Meanwhile, the United States spends less than 1% of its GDP. That is unacceptable.”

We are on the cusp of a new age. This is the sort of visionary leadership we need from our transit planners, and from our elected officials.

One thing I can promise you: if I am elected to the City Council next year, I will fight like hell for a major overhaul and expansion of our transit systems.

Other links, which have more information about the proposed circumferential:
Triboro RX
Streetsblog on Triboro RX

Primary Day: Down to the Wire

Today is a make or break day for the Democratic primary. We hosted an Obama party on Sunday, but you don't need a party to make some calls . . .

Go to the Obama campaign website if you have some free time today and want to make a difference in the outcome of the Texas primary. Fired up!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Record Residential Permits In Brooklyn, Queens

From HPD:


The year 2007 saw the highest number of building permits for privately-owned residential units in New York City since 1972, according to newly released data from the US Census Bureau records. With 31,918 units permitted in 2007, it was the second highest amount of permits issued since accurate records first began being kept in 1965. In two of the boroughs, the numbers were even more impressive, with Brooklyn and Queens seeing their highest ever totals.

For more information

We're going to be looking at serious overcapacity in a lot of neighborhoods next year, and I think we'll find there aren't nearly as many "Irish carpenters" looking to invest in cookie cutter condos as real estate marketers would have you believe.

Not to be a bearer of bad tidings, but we can expect to see declining real estate prices throughout 2008 and 2009.

Auto Sales Diving Off A Cliff

Recall, a few weeks ago I wrote about the packed car lots in North Carolina, and the fact that nothing was selling.

Well, today via Calculated Risk we see that sales are way off at GM, Ford, and Toyota. Sales at GM were off 12.9% in February.

It will be a while before the Bush administration will admit it, but we are in a recession.

MTA State of the System Address

MTA honcho Elliot Sander gave the annual address this morning; unfortunately, yours truly was turned away at the door, along with dozens of others (invited guests, mind you) because the place was packed to the rafters with press and interested parties. Damn you, F train!

Fortunately, the NYT's Sewell Chan was on hand for the festivities:

In the space of an hour at the Great Hall of the Cooper Union, Mr. Sander not only called for completion of the authority’s major capital projects, like the first phase of the Second Avenue subway and the East Side Access project to link the Long Island Rail Road with Grand Central Terminal, but also outlined a building program over the next 25 to 40 years that will “rely heavily on the M.T.A.’s diamonds in the rough: underutilized or dormant freight and commuter rail rights-of-way that can be transformed into subway lines; and lightly used middle tracks on subway lines that can be used for new express services.”

He proposed extending the Second Avenue subway to Lower Manhattan, where the line would then travel under the East River and on to Downtown Brooklyn and Jamaica, Queens, via the Long Island Rail Road’s Atlantic Avenue branch, with a connection to the AirTrain to Kennedy International Airport. The Second Avenue subway could connect to new tracks on land owned by the L.I.R.R. in Queens. Tracks on Rockaway Beach could be used to provide new rail access to southern Queens. The Regional Plan Association’s circumferential subway line, meanwhile, would convert a lightly used Bay Ridge freight line into a subway service that would run in an arc from southern Brooklyn to Queens to the Bronx.

Mr. Sander also envisioned expanding Metro-North service to Co-op City, Parkchester and Hunts Point in the Bronx. Also in the Bronx, he discussed the possibility of extending the D train north and east to connect with the No. 2 and 5 subway stations at Gun Hill Road for more direct connections between the central Bronx and Manhattan’s West Side. The Metro-North Williams Bridge station nearby could be part of a new subway and train hub.

On Staten Island, the northern and western shores could be “excellent candidates for bus rapid transit and light-rail efforts.

Mr. Sander mentioned the possibility of expanding the use of shuttle trains on Long Island; allowing Metro-North trains to travel over the Tappan Zee bridge to Orange and Rockland Counties; and developing a second AirTrain service, to La Guardia Airport, by building a new link from the L.I.R.R. station at Woodside, Queens, along or above existing rail and highway rights-of-way.

Check out that bold piece . . . sound like any unused express tracks we know around here? This is exactly the kind of address i was hoping for from Sander. I'm hopeful that MTA will make available some visuals, and if I can get my hands on them I will post them.

Ben Kabak at Second Avenue Sagas was inside and will have a post up shortly.

Obama Party

Yesterday Mia and I opened our home up to a dozen people we'd never met, to host a calling party for Obama. Through, we received phone numbers for voters in Texas, and had a great time reaching out to 700 contacts in Texas. WE connected with over 120 people, and left messages for probably a 100 more.

All told, people around the country made over 400,000 calls yesterday. And that's not even counting the Obama phone banks.

This was our first time doing this sort of thing, and it was a great experience. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.