The Bloomberg Dilemma: Favorite? Or Just No Obvious Alternative?

Being for the mayor while against him

When Bloomberg's team finally settled on a developer it liked for the project, lo and behold, it was an administration favorite: Steve Ross and his Related Companies. The builder counts both Bloomberg and former deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff (now running the mayor's mighty corporation, Bloomberg LP) among his close pals and has been chosen to handle several other development projects by Bloomberg's administration, including the redevelopment of the old Bronx Terminal Market, for which he didn't even have to compete against anyone else.

Still, Related is a union contractor, and it would have been fine with everyone if not for another bait and switch. After initially describing the components of what it quaintly dubbed "The Shops at the Armory," the developer quietly let it be known that it would seek a 50,000-square-foot supermarket for the site. Such a mega-market, enjoying its share of the project's $18 million in city tax breaks, would have a strong, competitive edge over a pair of long-standing nearby family-owned supermarkets that have contracts with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union covering some 150 workers.

Related then threw another deal-buster into the mix: Under no circumstances would it require its tenants to offer full-time jobs at $10 an hour, plus benefits, the current yardstick for a so-called "living wage."

Bloomberg's economic development aides shrugged. Any job is a good job, they said. With City Hall's blessings, Related upped the ante even more. If forced to tell tenants to hike wages, it would walk away from the deal, its lawyers told the local community board.

This "my way or the highway" threat had the desired effect. A divided community board #7 voted last week to approve the project on condition that everyone keep talking. The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, including its union partners, is still pressing its demands. "We got involved three years ago to support the principle of good wages and working conditions at this site," said Fred LeMoine, a leader of the Lathers Local 46 who helped organize last week's rally. "We've got ours, and now we intend to help the rest of the community get theirs." Yes, he acknowledged, it was unusual for a building trades union to be adding demands to a development project—and yes, there had been "a little pressure" to back off. "But we're not going anywhere," he said.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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