By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
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Richard Ravitch, the former chairman of the MTA, said he was working on a similar track. Ravitch was invited to serve as a mediator between Buntzman and the city by the judge overseeing the long-stalled court case. Ravitch said that he tried to convince Buntzman to "take on a partner and make a development proposal to the city." The problem, Ravitch said, was that the Buntzman family didn't trust the city. In an effort to convince them that a settlement could be reached, Ravitch said that he brought Michael Lehrman, one of Buntzman's grandsons, to City Hall to meet with Doctoroff. At that point, Ravitch said, Related hadn't entered the picture.
Shortly thereafter, however, the development firm commenced talks with Buntzman, and, according to Ravitch, "Dan absented himself then because of his relationship with Steve Ross."
When the new development deal for the Bronx Terminal Market was announced, most observers were too busy deploring the sordid old Buntzman lease to take a hard look at the new one.
The city's handling of the market is one of those New York sagas of municipal skulduggery that would almost take a book to tell. And someone has written one. The story of Buntzman and his family is vividly told in a recent memoir by former New York Times investigative reporter John Hess, who first exposed Buntzman's shenanigans, in My Times: A Memoir of Dissent, Seven Seas Press.
It was Hess who revealed that Buntzman won his lease with favorable terms shortly after personally delivering a $30,000 campaign contribution to a hotel room in Madison, Wisconsin, where then-Mayor Lindsay was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Hess's exposé helped launch a grand jury probe of the matter, but no charges resulted. When city economic development aides tried to compel Buntzman to maintain the market, he hired a long string of politically connected lawyers and fought the city to a standstill in court.
The new deal reminded Hess of the flaws in the old one.
"The Buntzmans get away again with the loot," said Hess last week. "In a dozen ways, they kept pumping money out of the place, and instead of getting new jobs, the city lost them. Now a new syndicate comes in and pays Buntzman $42 million. They have the lease for 40 more valuable years, and they're still paying a pittance."
There was yet another happy coincidence. It turned out that Buntzman's grandson Lehrman went to the University of Michigan with Related president Jeff Blau. What's more, the Buntzman family will remain a partner in the Bronx site even after Related's mega-shopping center is built. That's because grandson Lehrman is a limited partner in the new Related entity, Related lawyers confirmed.