Double Duty

Why Is a Planning Commissioner Hawking the Olympics?

When backers of a plan to bring the Olympics to New York City in 2012 announced their ambitions in March, there was no lack of props. City Hall served as the backdrop, a beaming Rudy Giuliani looked like a cheerleader on the sidelines, and no fewer than 12 former Olympians surrounded Daniel Doctoroff, the money manager who founded NYC 2012, an assemblage of prominent New Yorkers that aims to bring the summer games here in a dozen years. Passed out to the crowd was NYC 2012's 14-page ethics code, preemptively distributed to dismiss any whiff of scandal like the one that tainted Salt Lake City's Olympic bid.

But despite the code, NYC 2012 faces an ethics dilemma. That's because a top paid consultant to NYC 2012, Alexander Garvin, doubles as a salaried member of the city's planning commission (CPC). Garvin earned at least $100,000 as NYC 2012's director of planning in 1999, and is still on the group's payroll. He has made several appearances on behalf of NYC 2012, including some that seem to be prohibited by the city charter and the rules of the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB).


Last year, Alexander Garvin reported his income as a consultant to NYC 2012 as being between $100,000 and $250,000—at least twice as much as his $44,884 income as a city planning commissioner.


Garvin was out of town at press time, but NYC 2012 executive director Jay Kriegel spoke to him and reported that Garvin is "fully aware of this technical provision." Kriegel said Garvin "is submitting a letter asking for an opinion that this work does not violate the conflict-of-interest rules because it clearly is not the type of activity intended to be covered." COIB executive director Mark Davies would not comment on Garvin, but said that Garvin has no waiver for his dual roles.

Even if Garvin did get COIB clearance, the fact remains that he has already appeared several times before a community board despite COIB rules that explicitly prohibit planning commission members from appearing, for pay, before a number of government bodies, including such boards. The city charter has a similar prohibition.

Garvin, an urban planning professor at Yale, often serves as an NYC 2012 front man at dog and pony shows advancing the committee's ambitious Olympic plans. Garvin has made several appearances at Manhattan's Community Board 4, which includes the West Side land where NYC 2012 wants to build a stadium.

The reason such appearances are prohibited lies in the relationship between the CPC and community boards. The CPC is powerful, with broad authority related to planning, zoning, land use, and development. Community boards have a role in those very same issues, but are merely advisory. If a CPC member happens to also be paid by a private concern to make an appeal to a community board, the board may feel pressed to back the plan. "Garvin approves citywide zoning changes," says Community Board 4 member John Fisher. "It goes without saying that he'll look more kindly on those in boards that have supported his pet projects in the past."

Board 4 chair Katherine Gray says she feels no such pressure from Garvin. "It's never come up as a problem," she says, adding that at board meetings, "he wasn't advocating zoning changes; he was describing how the Olympics might be implemented." In fact, rather than back Garvin's proposal, the board wrote Doctoroff a letter opposing a West Side stadium.

Garvin's gig with NYC 2012 was his most lucrative in 1999, according to the most recent financial disclosure form he filed with the COIB. In that year, he reported his income as a consultant to NYC 2012 as being between $100,000 and $250,000 (the COIB requires officials to disclose only income ranges)—at least twice as much as his $44,884 income as a planning commissioner. Garvin also worked on an earlier Doctoroff Olympic committee, NYC 2008. In 1996, Garvin earned between $20,000 and $60,000 from the group. In 1997, NYC 2008 was his highest source of income, earning him between $60,000 and $100,000.

Giuliani appointed Garvin to the planning committee in 1995; his previous city jobs include deputy housing commissioner and director of comprehensive planning. He is a respected academic and his 1996 book, The American City: What Works, What Doesn't, was well reviewed. "I'd rather have an Alex Garvin, who is a genuine city planner with real credentials, than someone else who doesn't know about city planning come before us," says Ross Graham, who chairs the board's South Hell's Kitchen Planning Committee. "The fact is that Alex is a mayoral appointee and we know that the mayor is very much in favor of this; so is the city planning commissioner [Joe Rose]. It seems to be perfectly logical. I'm not surprised at all," she says, laughing.

Clearly Giuliani hopes that a New York City Olympics born under his mayoralty—especially one with a West Side stadium—would be a major part of his legacy. In fact, The New York Times calls the Olympic scheme Giuliani's "most ardent proposal" for leaving an imprint on the city's landscape. Giuliani designated NYC 2012 as the authorized bid committee for the games, which must be made by a private group on behalf of a city.

NYC 2012 is something of a juggernaut whose roster of board and advisory group members mixes celebs with the city's permanent government. Associated with the group are real estate moguls Lew Rudin, Jerry Speyer, and Jonathan and Andrew Tisch; media heavyweights like Russell Lewis, president and CEO of The New York Times, Mort Zuckerman of the Daily News, and Time Warner president Richard Parsons; artists like comics Billy Crystal and Alan King, author Frank McCourt, violinist Itzhak Perlman, actress Rosie Perez, and decorating maven Martha Stewart. Some government officials, including planning commissioner Rose, are also ex officio board members.

Another possible ethics issue looms for NYC 2012: civic boosterism that borders on conflict. Most of the city's mainstream media, including the Times, the News, the Post,and the Hearst corporation, are among NYC 2012 financial contributors. NYC 2012 has raised $5.6 million to make its pitch to the U.S. Olympic Committee, due December 15.

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