Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, center, at a Lower East Side park.
Silver: Keep L.M.D.C., hands off district lines
By Josh Rogers
Not so fast closing Downtown agencies, says Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Two public authorities focused on parts of Silver’s Lower Manhattan district are under discussion for closure. The Battery Park City Authority has no more vacant sites to develop and some are arguing it may be time to close, but not Silver, who was skeptical of the move in an interview because he wanted to make sure residents don’t lose services.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which was created with federal 9/11 rebuilding funds at the end of 2001, was set up to eventually close, but Silver thinks that day is not coming soon.
Silver said legally it can’t close entirely, but more importantly, it would not be a good idea to give the city full control of the money, as Mayor Bloomberg first suggested several years ago.
“The other question is how focused they are on just Downtown as opposed to a citywide view of ‘hey we have money,’ Silver said Friday.
“L.M.D.C. ultimately when they are finished being the vehicle for funding of the revitalization, should be out of business,” he said. But the corporation is once again flush with funds.
Within the last few months, the L.M.D.C. settled an insurance case for $100 million, providing the funds needed to finish demolishing the 9/11-damaged Deutsche Bank building, and the corporation revealed it still had about $150 million of available funds from money set aside to compensate utilities for expenses related to the 2001 attack. Downtown Express reported a month ago that there may be an additional $150 million in the corporation’s general funds.
Community Board 1 has been demanding more information regarding the money for quite some time and even some L.M.D.C. board members have complained about limited information.
“It’s not a matter of anybody hiding money,” Silver said April 16, during a 45-minute interview with Downtown Express and other Community Media editors. “It’s a matter of obligations being out there for various projects or various purposes and they don’t wind up spending all of it or people don’t claim it.”
Silver also gave qualified support to the idea of moving the proposed Performing Arts Center to the Deutsche Bank site, possibility with the utility money.
“I think it makes sense moving it right now,” Silver said of the PAC. “There is no plan for the Deutsche Bank building. I think building something there earlier is the signal. Since Deutsche Bank with the black shroud has been there for so long as a symbol of 9/11… I think it’ll be a great message.”
Silver said he encouraged the L.M.D.C. to study the move and now that the report shows the project would be able to be done much quicker and save $170 million it makes sense. He is not sure yet if the utility money would best be used for the PAC, but called it a “major project that should be done.”
The city opposes the move although officials have not been clear yet on their reasons.
On Monday, all of the announced and likely candidates for governor in New York agreed to work to take the power to draw legislative district lines away from the state Assembly and Senate. The change has long been trumpeted by good government groups, but Silver dismissed the idea a few days before Monday’s announcement.
“If you just give it to a bunch of professors, traditional community lines could be seriously hampered and affected. You can’t gerrymander 60 percent Democratic vote into a minority… Ultimately people vote. ultimately people make decisions.”
About 60 percent of New Yorkers voted Democratic in the last three presidential elections, yet the Assembly is over 70 percent Democratic and the Senate, which has been traditionally Republican, is virtually tied.
Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens United, which worked with former Mayor Ed Koch and others to get the gubernatorial candidate pledges, said the key to reforming Albany is letting an independent body draw the lines.
“Just as you wouldn’t let banks regulate themselves you shouldn’t let legislators draw their own district lines,” Dadey said in a telephone interview. “It’s a conflict of interest.”
Silver thinks the redistricting issue is “overblown,” saying the Democrats took power in the Assembly 35 years ago, despite the G.O.P. being responsible for drawing the lines then.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron, whose district overlaps with Silver and who backs non-partisan lines for the state level, said it will be an “uphill battle” getting it approved, but that it is just one of several important reform issues such as campaign finance reform