Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Corey Johnson Prepares Lie Sandwich; Makes CD 3 Eat It

City Council Watch
August 27, 2013

At last night's District 3 candidate forum, Corey Johnson took issue with being labeled the candidate of "political insiders" by his opponent Yetta Kurland.  "Does anyone here really think Jerry Nadler is a political insider?" asked Johnson, referencing one of his prominent endorsers.  "Jerry Nadler is a progressive Democrat."

If Johnson believes that a Manhattan ten-term congressman isn't a political insider, then he is most likely stupid or cynical.  He doesn't strike me as stupid, so let's go with cynical, or maybe just cunning.

Throughout the debate, which mostly covered development-related issues, when Johnson wasn't lying, he was tendentiously parsing half-truths.  While I will concede that he was probably not lying when he said that his mother was a lunch lady, that he is gay, and that he has in fact received the political endorsements that he says he has received.  Virtually everything else, based upon my close scrutiny of his record, is in doubt.

For instance, when asked by Kurland why, if he is in fact proud of his work for real estate company GFI Development, he had asked the Gay Center to remove his bio from their website, Corey Johnson answered that the bio contained "incorrect information."  He then, in a non sequitur, claimed that the item had come from this blog, which he accused of "saying false things" about him.

Here is the offending bio, from the archived version of the Gay Center website:
Corey Johnson is currently employed by GFI Development Company as Director of Government Relations and Community Affairs, where he has worked with the New York City Council, Mayor's office and a variety of New York City Agencies. He has overseen the re-zoning of a large mixed-use project and managed the GFI's efforts to revitalize neighborhoods surrounding their developments. Prior to his work at GFI, Mr. Johnson directed and shaped political and communications strategy on a variety of mayoral, gubernatorial and presidential campaigns in New York. He has served on the media-strategy team of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and worked in the finance department of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Johnson has been quoted in The New York Times, New York Daily News, The Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle. He has also appeared on CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, NPR, Sirius-XM Satellite Radio and NY 1 to offer political commentary and insight. Mr. Johnson is also the Vice-Chair of Manhattan Community Board 4, where he co-chairs the Chelsea Land-Use Committee and serves on the Business, Licenses and Permits Committee. He is the Political Director for Towleroad.com, which is the highest-trafficked gay and lesbian blog on the Web.

Everything in this blurb corresponds with what Johnson acknowledges to be true about his work history.  The only consistent explanation for why he called the Gay Center and asked them to remove the item is that he was trying to cover up his association with GFI.

Regarding this blog, incidentally, I challenge the Johnson campaign or anyone else to identify any false claims I have made about him.

Next, Johnson accused Kurland of lying about his current association with GFI, insisting that his employer, the Sydell Group, is not an offshoot of GFI, nor is it connected with the company in any way.  Corey Johnson identified the Sydell Group as the manager of two hotels outside of New York, and insisted emphatically that it is not connected to GFI.

Here is a little item from the New York Times from March 10 of this year:
The Local Stop column in some editions on Feb. 24 about NoMad, the area north of Madison Square, referred imprecisely to the development of the Ace Hotel in the area. The Ace, which opened in 2009, was developed by GFI Development, then a partnership between Sydell Partners L.L.C. and Allen Gross of GFI; it was not developed only by Sydell Partners L.L.C., which has since become the Sydell Group.

This blurb was a correction to an earlier article, and was thus presumably rigorously checked and re-checked.  So unless the Times fact checkers are complete incompetents, GFI Development and the Sydell Group are, contrary to Corey Johnson's denial, closely related.

Here is an article from The Real Deal describing the fallout between the head of the Sydell Group and his partner, the head of GFI.  There is no question in the mind of the writer that the two companies operated in a tight partnership, with joint ownership and management of assets.

Here is a press release from the Sydell Group itself, describing its close partnership with GFI.

So we are left with two options if we want to preserve the idea that Corey Johnson is telling the truth about the Sydell Group: either he is very stupid, or everyone else in the world is wrong.  But if we reject the supposition that he must be telling the truth, then everything becomes clear.  That's the problem with extremely convincing liars: the way they say things sounds so sensible that we want it to accord with reality, even when it doesn't.

Corey Johnson took hairsplitting to the level of the angstrom when the conversation turned to the question of 470 Vanderbilt, a GFI development in Brooklyn.  At an earlier community forum, Johnson took credit for having forced the developer to increase the level of affordable housing to be built from 20% to 26%.  He then congratulated himself for having even provided for affordable two-bedroom apartments to be built, all for the benefit of the families of Brooklyn.

Leaving aside the fact that the Council Member involved in the negotiations on the other side of the table from Johnson, Tish James, said flat out that she has no recollection of Corey Johnson's role in securing the higher percentage, no housing of any sort was built at all at 470 Vanderbilt.  There is an office building at the site, and a parking lot where the housing was supposed to be.

Last night Johnson insisted that he had never said that the housing was built, only that he had negotiated a restriction in the event that housing were to be built.  Forgive me if I fail to follow Corey Johnson into his Thomistic musings on the nature of the unbuilt, but the lot is commercially zoned, so his imaginary restrictions have been violated in any case.  Don't take my word for any of this, listen to the man himself talk about his fantasy building, and then decide if he was talking about restrictions or about actual housing.

Corey Johnson is a handsome, charismatic guy, and it sounds like he has worked hard on the community board.  He speaks clearly, has a nice voice, and unlike Yetta Kurland, he doesn't get visibly nervous.  The debate last night was kind of like Kennedy-Nixon: Johnson won if you watched it on television, but everyone who listened to it on the radio said it was hands-down Kurland's victory.

The only problem with Corey Johnson is that he lies.  He figures he can lie his way into office, and by then it won't matter.  But the problem with lies, even if they never catch up to you (cf. Bill Clinton), is that lying is a terrible habit, habit forms character, and character is destiny.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Medical professionals: Corey Johnson did nothing to save St. Vincent's Hospital

From the Desks of Eileen Dunn, RN and David Kaufman, MD

July 17, 2013

Dear Friends,

For more than 30 years, we worked as a doctor and a nurse at St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Center here in the Village, caring for patients and serving the people of our community. The hospital and the staff delivered compassionate, high quality care to the community and to people from all over New York City.

Sadly, in 2010, we learned the hospital would be sold to make way for luxury condominiums. This caused quite a controversy in our community.

But some of us came together in this time of need, and created the Coalition for a New Village Hospital. We worked around clock, day in and day out, and organized over 8,000 community members and almost 50 community-based organizations.

There were protests, hearings, and investigations. Many people spoke out against closing the hospital. The two of us certainly did. We organized, we spoke out, we went to court, we fought hard. While we were too late to stop the closure of St. Vincent's, we made sure our community knew what was going on and we got the Department of Health to admit that by law a hospital was required at the site of St. Vincent's.

Their solution was to insult us and threaten our welfare by giving us a 2 bed hospital, instead of a real hospital. But the fight continues to restore a full service hospital and real emergency room.

During this critical time in our community's history, we remember who was there at our sides, fighting to keep the hospital open for our community. And we remember who didn't show up to the fight.

So recently, it came as a surprise to see a glossy political brochure from a young candidate and real estate executive named Corey Johnson claiming that he "fought Mayor Bloomberg and developers to keep St. Vincent's open."

If Mr. Johnson fought against St. Vincent's closing, he did so in his own mind. He never showed up to help us. He never spoke out. In fact, when we needed Corey Johnson's help, he sat on his hands.

In addition to his position as a real estate executive for GFI Development Corporation, Mr. Johnson was chairman of Community Board 4. We asked Community Board 4 to pass a resolution calling to keep the hospital open. But Mr. Johnson wouldn't even take that small step, even when other Community Board Chairs did. Real Estate developer Corey Johnson left us high and dry.

As far as "fighting Mayor Bloomberg," Mr. Johnson endorsed Mr. Bloomberg for his controversial third term, and has received campaign cash from Bloomberg's aides. If that's Mr. Johnson's idea of fighting, we wonder what surrender looks like.

Corey Johnson may be a nice young man, but his glossy campaign mailer is not telling the truth and neither is he. When we needed his help to save St. Vincent's, Corey Johnson did not lift a finger.

David Kaufman, MD
Eileen Dunn, RN

Corey Johnson's image crafted with intent to conceal

At first, we thought this Villager story was just another puff-piece for the Quinn-Duane (and sometimes Stringer) political machine. After all, this is from the tabloid that makes its name with free advertising (or fawning) for Quinn and her progeny.

But this article was different than the Villager's usual biased reporting. Maybe Editor Lincoln Anderson was on vacation. Maybe he forgot to eviscerate the article. Who knows? It got through.

The thread running through the piece is that whatever Corey Johnson does, it is intended to conceal, deceive and create an image that is 180 degrees from the real person.

Johnson is not a tenant advocate even if he stood at a press conference in front of the Chelsea Hotel. The endorsement from TenantsPAC is questionable given Mike McKee's long-time connection to Quinn and Duane, and his tendency to mask tenant issues with gay issues. A tenant advocate comes from years of hard work, not from press conferences or even from being on a community board.

Johnson has not created any affordable housing. Community Boards do not create housing; developers do. At most, he -- and Community Board 4 -- rubber-stamped luxury towers with a minimal number of units claimed to be affordable, but in reality, are not. Those units, many of which are handed over to cronies of Quinn, enable large luxury towers that create much more displacement in the community. 421(a) tax abatements or Inclusionary Zoning, the usual methods where politicians claim they have created affordable housing, are known among real tenant advocates as neighborhood killers.

Johnson says he created 10,000 units of affordable housing, a blatant lie.

Indeed, Johnson worked for the developer GFI as Director of Governmental Affairs. No amount of denial from Tom Duane or Jerry Nadler can erase this fact. Johnson tried to wipe this information from a number of web sites, but he was busted by City Council Watch and the information came out.

In that position, Johnson worked to displace tenants at the Breslin Hotel (now the Ace Hotel) at 29th Street and Broadway. And when he was done with that, he held his birthday party at the new hotel and wore a tiara in celebration as he danced the night away. The SRO tenants he helped to displace had no tiaras.

And Johnson is still working for the same developer. They have a new name, but it's the same group and  they are still running the same hotel.

Johnson's alleged opposition to the closing of St. Vincent's Hospital and the expansion of Chelsea Market were too little, and too late. He did not oppose the closing of the hospital. While he might have testified on the subsequent ULURP regarding luxury condos on the site, that was after the hospital was lost.

So too, with Chelsea Market, he made a statement a few minutes before Community Board 4 voted on the matter. The deal was already done. With Board 4, the rationale is that "we must approve it because it will happen anyway."

Nothing Corey Johnson did had any meaningful impact in stopping or mitigating either project.

Like Christine Quinn, Johnson refuses to disclose his public schedule. And like Tom Duane in 1991, his announcement of his HIV status was designed for maximum political benefit.

And yes, Corey Johnson helped to found Gays For Bloomberg back in 2009.

You can read the article after the jump, or here.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Quinn's (and Corey Johnson's) base has many loose screws

We saw this video on http://christinequinn.com. We know what makes Christine Quinn and Corey Johnson alike, i.e., term limits, support for Bloomberg, working for landlords and developers (and we really don't know if there are any differences).

Host John Schuimo thought Joan was a prankster. But she said she was sincere.

Like Quinn, it appears Johnson is a bully, that he and his campaign will do anything and lie about everything to push his agenda of over-development and luxury housing.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gay Center Cheerful: "Corey Asked Us to Do It"

City Council Watch
July 26, 2013

There was never any intention to turn this blog into a constant revelation of the misdeeds of CD 3 candidate Corey Johnson's campaign.  But as Nixon showed us, when you try to cover things up, you usually make things worse for yourself.  So don't blame us when it is Corey Johnson cutting off the Hydra heads of his own corruption.

Last month, City Council Watch began looking into Corey Johnson's actual work history, which was not given in any detail in his campaign material.  We found a fairly extensive resume on the website of the LGBT Center, where Johnson had participated on a panel in 2011.  The bio discussed Johnson's work for real estate developer GFI. 

We called the Johnson campaign and asked a few questions about GFI.  When we returned to the Gay Center website, we found that Corey Johnson's bio had been removed entirely, though there was a cached version available.  See here and here for comparison's sake.

The Gay Center is a non-profit that receives City funds in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, and by law is forbidden to do any political work on behalf of an electoral campaign.  We wondered about how the scrubbing of Johnson's bio was authorized, so we called Mary Steyer, the Director of Communication for the Center and asked her about it.

Mary Steyer, who could not be more helpful, looked into the matter and called us back.  "I investigated the issue and have an answer," she announced cheerfully.  "Corey Johnson called the webmaster and asked him to remove the bio." 

Mary Steyer was puzzled when we suggested that helping a prominent candidate for office bury information about himself might not be in the mission statement of a major non-profit organization, and didn't see what the issue was.  "He said the info was outdated, and it didn't strike us as odd."

 (Let me point out that the Gay Center, on 13th Street, is in the 3rd Council District, where Corey Johnson is running.  The Center receives major allocations from Corey Johnson's advocate Speaker Christine Quinn.  It was until recently headed by Mario Palumbo, Jr., a Johnson contributor and partner at Millennium Partners, a highly-connected real estate development firm.  The Gay Center is a large and politically-connected non-profit group in the middle of the West Village.  I imagine someone on the staff there must have an idea about what constitutes best practices when it comes to dealing with political campaigns.)

On the other hand, as we have said before, we aren't campaign law experts.  Maybe one of you is.

Monday, July 29, 2013

59 Year-Old Resident of Elliot Chelsea Houses Physically Attacked by City Council Candidate Corey Johnson and Campaign Manager

The following is a press release from the Chelsea Midtown Democratic Club, and reproduced as it was received.

July 29, 2013

The head of the Chelsea Midtown Democratic Club reported today that on Friday evening Thomas Johnson, a 59 year-old resident of the Elliot Chelsea housing projects, who was helping distribute a fact sheet for the club, was physically attacked by City Council candidate Corey Johnson and his campaign manager while another staffer for the campaign waited outside.

On July 26th, 2013, Gene Glaberman, President of the Chelsea Midtown Democrats (CMD) and former board member of the Penn South Co-op, and Velma Murphy Hill, Executive Vice President of the CMD, former assistant to the President of the United Federation of Teachers, civil rights activist and labor leader, wrote a response to a letter distributed the prior week by Mr. Johnson’s supporters. The July 26th letter was a fact check on the previously circulated letter and reposted newspaper articles addressing Corey Johnson's work as a real estate executive, his ties to Mayor Bloomberg and his absence in the fight for St. Vincent’s Hospital.  Attached is a copy of the letter. [See CMD Johnson Facts 1, and CMD Johnson Facts 2]

On Friday, July 27th, at about 2:00 PM, Thomas Johnson, a fifty-nine year old living in the Elliott Chelsea Houses, a development of the New York City Housing Authority, agreed to help distribute the letter in the Penn South co-op. At about 4:00 PM Thomas called to indicate that he had been accosted by a man who told him that he could not distribute the material he was given. The man was menacing and threatened to take and destroy the flyers.

"Thomas Johnson was very shaken up,"  said Velma Hill. "I told him to come back to my apartment so we could talk. I called our president, Eugene Glaberman, who informed me that Corey Johnson has called him earlier that day. He said that Corey was unhinged and abusive--crying and shouting that the letter was filled with lies. He said he thought Gene was his friend but now he would never talk to him again.

"Gene and I tried to comfort Thomas and told him not to return to the co-op and finish the distribution until later when someone would accompany him."  Thomas decided he would go home to the Elliott Chelsea Housing development. At the time, he had no idea that the man who had accosted him in Penn South was the campaign manager of City Council Candidate Corey Johnson.

"At about 8:30 that same evening, I received yet another distraught call from Thomas, who informed me that he had been followed into the NYCHA development by three men, including the one that had threatened him earlier." 

Thomas Johnson didn’t know at the time that the other two men were City Council Candidate Corey Johnson and another campaign worker. "He told me the men confronted him on the 3rd floor of the building, menacing and shouting at him.  They threw him against the wall and Corey Johnson punched him in the chest. He then told Thomas that they were going to call the police and get him arrested, and that the police would believe them and not Thomas. I was shocked to hear this but before I could ask more, Thomas said that the police had arrived and the phone went dead. Gene and I immediately rushed to the Senior Citizen’s building on 27th Drive between 9th and 10th avenues and saw Thomas being interviewed by Sergeant Bufanto and officer Dove of the 10th Precinct."

"Thomas said that the police made him face the wall with his face, hands and arms up against the building because they had been told that he had a weapon. He did not have a weapon and no weapon was found. Corey Johnson and two other men were on the opposite side of the street. Thomas was visibly shaken and we assured him that no harm would come to him. He identified Corey Johnson as the attacker who punched him in the chest. He also identified one of the other men as the man who accosted him in the Penn South Co-op. We later found out that the man who was so menacing in Penn South was Corey Johnson’s campaign manager, Robert John Jordan."

"This incident has left all of us shaken," said Eugene Glaberman, President of the Chelsea Midtown Democrats. "Thomas and our club have every right to distribute political information, just as Corey Johnson does, without fear of physical or verbal attack.  It is shocking that a candidate for elected office would conduct himself this way. No one should be attacking seniors in our community, and these young men, including Corey Johnson, have shown they do not have the temperament necessary for elected office. Violence is never an option, even when you disagree with someone, and freedom of speech and expression must be something our elected leaders protect, not physically threaten."

Velma Hill
Eugene Glaberman

Is Corey Johnson being a bully?

Council race gets "rough"
New York Post
July 29, 2013

The battle for Christine Quinn's City Council seat allegedly turned physical in a Chelsea stairwell — with a candidate going toe to toe with one of his biggest critics for plastering a wall with negative fliers about the campaign.

Thomas Johnson, 59, filed a police report saying candidate Corey Johnson shoved him Friday in the Chelsea-Elliot Houses.

"He grabbed the material off my shoulder and took a picture of me," the critic said, adding that he was punched — though his own lawyer denied that.

A source on Corey Johnson's campaign said when Johnson confronted the man, he refused to identify himself and threatened the candidate.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Corey Johnson's Continuing Deceptions

by City Council Watch

CD 3 candidate Corey Johnson misrepresents his role in developing affordable housing in Brooklyn, repeatedly taking credit for a project that not only has no affordable housing: it has no housing at all.

Last month, City Council Watch broke the story of Corey Johnson's work for real estate developer GFI, which he had scrubbed from his record.  In response, Johnson has changed his campaign website, adding some information about his work history and his present employment:

[...serving] at GFI Development Company on community outreach on two hotel projects in Manhattan and an affordable housing related project in Brooklyn. Corey currently works part-time in LGBT marketing at the Sydell Group.

The "affordable housing related project" Johnson refers to is 470 Vanderbilt Avenue, in Fort Greene.  The building, a former tire factory which was at one point supposed to house tech companies, stood in disuse before GFI bought it in 2008 with plans to rehab the building as mixed-use residential and commercial space, ideally capturing a major City agency as a long-term tenant.

As part of the deal to allow GFI to build out the structure and sign the Human Resources Agency to a 20-year lease, the company agreed to build a 350-unit residential building on the site of the building's parking lot.  The company, after negotiations with local Council Member Letitia James, agreed to include 90 affordable units, more than the usual 20% allowance in such projects.

Corey Johnson worked for the GFI development team at 470 Vanderbilt, and at a West Village community forum on June 19, he made a strong case for the good work he and GFI did in increasing the stock of affordable housing in Brooklyn.  Video was taken of his speech, and we have transcribed his comments:

One more thing, to be fully transparent:  the same company that built that hotel on 29th and Broadway, they were going to do a residential building in Fort Greene in Brooklyn, on a former manufacturing lot.  They asked me to come in and work with the local community board in Fort Greene, and the local Council Member, to make sure there was an affordable housing component to that building.  When we started off, before I came in, they were going to do 20% affordable housing.  When the rezoning was over, I got them up to 26% affordable housing, and maximized the number of two-bedrooms, for people in the community that needed affordable housing.

Sounds great!  Between this impassioned and detailed description of all the affordable two-bedroom apartments Corey Johnson fought to build, and his discussion of the project on his website, who can deny that Corey Johnson and GFI are a force for good?  As he says, he single-handedly pushed GFI to increase the amount of affordable housing they were going to build.

The only problem is that none of the housing was ever built470 Vanderbilt is an office building.  Nobody lives there, and nobody can live there, because the entire lot, including the part where the residential units were to be built, was zoned as commercial real estate by GFI in 2011, while Johnson was still employed by the company.

Corey Johnson hedged the impact of his work on 470 Vanderbilt when, on his campaign website, he speaks of an "affordable housing related project."  But when he spoke at the community forum he  lost control of what he was saying: he takes full credit for plans that were never realized.  The two-bedrooms that he is bragging about having built "for people in the community" do not exist.

We spoke to Council Member James about what happened to the affordable housing component of the 470 Vanderbilt project.  She commented about the problem of getting developers to commit to actually building what they promise to build, and noted that this problem is endemic to the land use process in New York City generally.

Regarding 470 Vanderbilt, CM James said, "I pushed very hard to get affordable housing established in that project. Corey was part of the development team, and he may have negotiated behind the scenes.  I don't know the extent of his work on the project.  However, unfortunately, the lot is still a parking lot."

So, according to the council member with whom Corey Johnson claims to have worked to build more affordable housing, his involvement was vague at best, and James has no specific recollection of his participation.

We thought that Corey Johnson was slightly deceptive when he tried to deflect attention from his professional association with a real estate developer, but many candidates for office massage their bios, and it isn't necessarily a major sin.  However, we now see Johnson making public speeches where he overstates and distorts his role in land use negotiations, and furthermore, brags passionately about fantasy residential developments that were never built, as though people are actually living in them!

Corey Johnson builds castles in air and is irate when his good faith is challenged.  We have heard a lot of grandiose megalomaniacal politicians talk wildly about their achievements, but they usually take credit for things that actually exist. Johnson appears to be an utter fabulist, an egoist with scant regard for reality, pointing at a barren lot and waving at all the happy people he has housed there.