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"Why should people get to see plans? This isn't a public project."
Bruce Ratner in Crain's Nov. 8, 2009

What Does MTA Chief Lee Sander's Ritual Resignation Mean, If Anything, for Ratner's Rail Yard Deal?

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Executive Director Elliott (Lee) Sander was forced to resign last week by Governor David Paterson.

Why? Theories and rumors abound.

What does the resignation of a seemingly upright public servant mean for the negotiations rumored to be taking place between the MTA and Forest City Ratner to restructure the $100 million deal for the developer to purchase the rights to develop the Vanderbilt Rail Yard—the 8-acre MTA-owned, active rail yard portion of the 22-acre Atlantic Yards projec? Remember, the developer has yet to pay a dime towards his winning, lowball bid.

Was Sander playing ball in those negotiations or playing hard ball? What will his successor do?

Norman Oder takes a look-see on his Atlantic Yards Report:
After MTA chief Sander's departure, will successor be more willing to compromise on Atlantic Yards?
(This is one in an irregular series of articles about issues that a State Senate committee might address when it holds a hearing on Atlantic Yards.)

So, what to make of the forced resignation (by Gov. David Paterson) of Metropolitan Transportation Authority Executive Director Elliott (Lee) Sander, who leaves office May 22?

It probably had nothing to do with Atlantic Yards.

However, the widespread endorsement of Sander's integrity and performance that has surfaced, combined with reports that Sander refused to bow to a patronage-driven pol, may mean his successor will be more willing to compromise with the reported request by Forest City Ratner to restructure the $100 million it owes and the developer's reported effort to build a less elaborate railyard than promised.

Consider that, on May 8, just before his resignation, Reuters published an article with this tantalizing quote:
Asked whether the MTA's rail yards in Brooklyn would see a basketball arena next year, part of a residential-office complex planned by developer Forest City Ratner, Sander said only: "I'm not in the arena business."

However, the MTA's willingness to compromise with Ratner just might help the developer proceed in the arena business. So the Senate should ask the MTA about those payments and about the cheaper railyard.

Defending Sander

Journalists and commentators suggested that Sander was less at fault than his boss. Crain's New York Business's Erik Engquist reported:
As he ousted Elliot Sander as chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Thursday, Gov. David Paterson promised “a widespread cleanout and cleanup of the MTA” and to start getting it “working in an effective way.”

But observers of the agency say Mr. Sander, despite some shortcomings, was doing exactly that and that Mr. Paterson's pledge to the New York Times was ironic since he has faced the same criticism as the MTA. "There's nothing in his track record to suggest he can pull it off," said Doug Muzzio, professor of public affairs at Baruch College. "How has he managed the governor's office so far? Not well."


The New York Observer editorialized:
The M.T.A.’s outgoing chief executive, Lee Sander, did a remarkable job, constrained as he was by politicians who often put politics before smart transportation policy.

Dealing with electeds

Crain's offered this tantalizing paragraph:
However, part of Mr. Sander’s job was to improve the MTA’s relationship with elected officials and the public, and he made little progress on those fronts. That made it difficult for the agency to persuade lawmakers to find it new funding sources when the economic downturn began to undermine its revenues.

Gelinas wrote:
So that dark probability is that Albany got rid of Sander because it wants someone less diligent and competent. How's that?

First, Albany may be salivating over patronage -- the MTA's white-collar jobs. Sander resisted playing this game, preferring a system run by people who once in a while think about what they're doing in between calculating their pensions.

That sounds like a reference to reports, in the New York Daily News but not elsewhere, that Sander's resignation is tied to a clash with Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who unsuccessfully demanded that Sander promote his son-in-law. (Lopez denied the claims; Sander wouldn't comment.)

The capital plan and FCR's obligation

Gelinas wrote:
Second, Albany may want someone who'll shut up about the fact that the MTA still doesn't have enough money for its capital plan.

What about that $100 million that Forest City Ratner's supposed to pay?

Remember, in April 2008, Sander said in a "webinar," as the Observer reported:
There was approximately a billion dollars associated with the sale of MTA real estate assets to support that program. There are some monies there that look like there may be challenges to proceed upon right now. There is money there--100 million dollars associated with the sale of Atlantic Yards, and I think many of you have read in the newspapers some of the difficulty Forest City is having with that development, so hopefully that will proceed, but we want to make sure that that happens—but we’re concerned about that.

In January, Sander was asked by Crain's Editoral Director Greg David if the MTA would be "flexible at Atlantic Yards if Forest City Ratner wins the court cases and tries to go out and finance the arena?"

"I think that we have been flexible and thoughtful in all these negotiations," Sander responded, speaking carefully and generally.

Later, Sander was asked if the MTA would accept a replacement yard with less value. "I'm not sure I really want to engage in negotiations with you about Atlantic Yards," Sander replied. "The MTA has a good track record of being thoughtful and prudent."

Sander's caution might have been interpreted as showing a willingness to compromise with Ratner. However, given what we've learned in the last few days, it might as likely reflected an effort to not compromise.

Full article

Posted: 5.13.09
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Eminent Domain Case
Goldstein et al v. ESDC
[All case files]

November 24, 2009
Court of Appeals

[See ownership map]

EIS Lawsuit

DDDB et al v ESDC et al
Click for a summary of the lawsuit seeking to annul the review and approval the Atlantic Yards project.

Appeal briefs are here.

Appellate Divsion
Rules for ESDC
What would Atlantic Yards Look like?...
Photo Simulations
Before and After views from around the project footprint revealing the massive scale of the proposed luxury apartment and sports complex.

Click for
Screening Schedule
Isabel Hill's
"Atlantic Yards" documentary
Brooklyn Matters

Read a review
Atlantic Yards
would be
Click image to see why:

-No Land Grab.org

-Atlantic Yards Report
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-The Footprint Gazette
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-Only The Blog Knows BK
-Sustainable Flatbush
-A Child Grows in Bklyn
-Williamsburg Warriors

-The Real Estate
-Rail Yards Blog (H. Yards)
-OnNYTurf-Atlantic Yards
-Manhattan User's Guide
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