Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What The Hell Did They Expect For Their Lousy 35 Cents?

I've ranted about this before, and it looks like I'll have to rant about this again. Top real estate developer's son Governor Elliot Spitzer has nominated a real estate developer to run the MTA, succeeding another real estate developer. I can only assume that the PR thinking behind this is that we'll be pathetically grateful it's not Donald Trump Jr..

Probably the most baleful thing about the government of New York City, or perhaps a close second to the democratic party's grip on the city's lower levels of government, is the extent of the influence of real estate developers on the political process. Moreover it's basically the only constituency in the city that neither Spitzer nor Mayor Bloomberg have been willing to take on.

Now yes, the city has been built on constant development, commercial savvy and access to finance. Developers possess all three. Yes, it's important that the city has the ability to accommodate the huddled masses of Midwestern business school graduates, and recover the office space lost to the fundamentalist nutjobs on 9-11.

But let's leave aside the propriety of giving the guys in charge of the city's scarcest resource (land) further access to political power, why do we assume such people have the faintest interest in how mass transit works? They handed the upgrade of the London Underground to people who develop infrastructure for a living, and they still managed to screw the thing up.

Gothamist blithely, adorably, notes the real estate connection, but gets the significance ass-backwards:

So once again, the MTA may have another real estate mogul as its head. This probably makes sense, as the MTA owns a significant amount of land that it is looking to develop, e.g. the Hudson Yards.

Getting cynicism from that crew is unlikely (although the sentence might be the incubator for a new strain of sarcasm), but we can turn that statement on its head, and see that the appointment is a fairly effective way of making sure the MTA does not get in the way of any lucrative projects, either by questioning their sustainability (Atlantic Yards), or making sure that sales are done at attractive prices (Atlantic Yards, Hudson Yards), and avoiding disturbing any pricey investments (if the Second Avenue Subway was running anywhere apart from the Upper East Side it would have been open in 1985).

There's also the advantage of being able to say to reporters "A proper businessman looked over our figures, and we absolutely have to jack up fares rather than sell our land holdings for what they're worth." Because apparently there are absolutely no sources of financial know-how in Manhattan anywhere apart from real estate developers.

[The headline's a Pelham reference]

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