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  "He said the info was outdated, and it didn't strike us as odd."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.