By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Former deputy mayor Rudy Washington appears to have a blatant conflict of interest that has been overlooked by the New York press. Less than a year out of office, according to published reports, Washington is serving as an "independent consultant" to the developers of a controversial golf course at Ferry Point Park, a 220-acre stretch of waterfront east of the Bronx Whitestone Bridge. The project has the backing of former mayor Rudy Giuliani, who announced before leaving office that the city is negotiating with the Professional Golfers' Association to make the park a stop on the PGA tournament.
That is, if it ever gets built. Construction has been delayed, pending the issuance of a permit required by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Washington's exact Ferry Point duties are unclear, but last month he accompanied golfer-turned-developer Jack Nicklaus to City Hall, where they discussed the project with Mayor Bloomberg. The trip was the subject of a jokey item in the Daily News, which did not mention that Washington appears to be lobbying the new mayor.
According to city law, public servants are prohibited during their first year out of office from lobbying the city on any matter in which they "participated personally and substantially as a public servant through decision, approval [or] recommendation." As deputy mayor from 1996 to 2001, Washington oversaw the Department of Parks and Recreation, the agency that signed off on an environmental assessment of Ferry Point Park in 1999 and awarded a lucrative concession to Ferry Point Partners in May 2000.
The partnership between the city and the developers is no secret. Before leaving office, Washington openly promoted the proposed golf course, referring to it to as the "Pebble Beach of the East." Yet this past April, when The New York Times sent a reporter to find out what Giuliani's former deputy mayors were doing, Washington did not respond to requests for an interview.
It seems likely that Times editors are familiar with Ferry Point. The paper ran brief stories when developers first started talking about turning the site into a public golf course, and took note when the city gave the developers a 35-year lease. On the face of it, the arrangement looked good, with Ferry Point Partners pledging to spend $22 million on construction and to pay the city a hefty schedule of fees.
Then, in December 2000, the Times reported on concerns raised by environmental groups, which had filed suit to block construction at Ferry Point. It turns out that the site had been a landfill until the 1960s. The developers have since added more landfill, and recent tests on the site detected high levels of methane gas, which is produced by decomposing garbage. Local residents are worried, and the problem has yet to be fixed.
In the past year, updates on the gassy golf course have appeared in the Daily News, City Limits, and the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times recently reported on a failed PGA plan to build a golf resort on top of San Antonio's main water supply. So why has the paper been silent about a boondoggle in its own backyard?
New York Times Metro editor Jon Landman and Washington did not respond to requests for comment.
Vanity Fair has always been a hype machine, but the September issue is a hall of mirrors, a veritable palace of self-promotion. In a classic example of the logrolling he used to make fun of, editor in chief Graydon Carter has spilled ink left and right to celebrate his magazine, his contributors, his colleagueseveryone but his predecessor, Tina Brown.
The feature well is fronted by a gushing retrospective of VF covers over the years. (The news peg is the publication of the 500th issue, which actually happened last monthbut never mind.) The text was written by the normally acerbic James Wolcott, who calls Frank Crowninshield, named VF's first editor in 1914, "a visionary genius" and says that today's VF "monopolizes the mirror of our media existence." Nice alliteration. But in recounting that Condé Nast relaunched the magazine in March 1983, Wolcott never once mentions Brown, even though she made the magazine profitable and gave Wolcott his job. Carter has always sparred with Brown, but for him to airbrush her name from history is a Stalin-esque feat of propaganda.
Who can blame Carter for touting his own success? He is a producer of the new movie The Kid Stays in the Picture, which has cleaned up at the box office so far. With VF Creative Development Editor David Friend, he also co-executive produced the film 9/11, which was "nominated for five Emmys" and "will air this month on CBS," as the September contributors note for Friend reminds us. Just as producing films lets editors broaden their range, books can help the magazine extend the brand. Thus, the new issue includes a 13-page advance on a forthcoming tome by VF contributor Gail Sheehy, and Hot Type, the magazine's regular book roundup, leads with plugs for new titles by contributors Nick Tosches and Michael Shnayerson.
One of the reasons Carter gets away with so much is that he never forgets the little people. In this month's installment of "The Coaster Correspondence," a feature that consists of letters from a fictitious contributing editor, Carter includes the letterhead of his real-life literary agent, Andrew Wylie. And in this month's contributors notes, which has long featured support staff, we meet Carter's very own personal assistant (no doubt a clever woman destined for greatness). But that's the point. Like makeup, a dab of self-promotion can spotlight anyone's talents. Too much and it starts to look conspicuous.
Did you know: That a CIA expert wants to send SWAT teams into journalists' homes to prevent government leaks to the press? That on 9-11, the CIA showed a simulation of a plane crashing into a building, as prep for the day such an event might take place? That Saudi Arabians are not allowed to read Rolling Stone on the Web?
Reliable sources for these and other believe-it-or-nots can be found at www.thememoryhole.org, a new Web site launched by author and Voice contributor Russ Kick. Kick calls the site a "repository for important material that's in danger of being actively suppressed or killed through neglect." He took the name from the novel 1984, in which authorities threw undesirable stories down a hole to be burned. These days, Kick says, facts can get buried for many reasons, including litigation and spin. If any stories deserve more publicity, it's the ones that come out of the Memory Hole.