Since taking office as deputy mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding in January 2002, Daniel L. Doctoroff has taken more than 30 out-of-town trips in pursuit of his overarching dream: bringing the Olympics to New York.
He has traveled to Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, London, Rome, Madrid, Athens, Dubrovnik, Seoul, and Beijing. He has sat in on meetings of the Pan American Sports Organization in Santo Domingo, viewed the world swimming championships in Barcelona, attended a sports marketing conference in Marrakech, and visited the Olympic Council of Asia at Doha, Qatar, the tiny, oil-rich monarchy on the Arabian peninsula. He has made at least four trips to Lausanne, Switzerland, home and hub of the International Olympic Committee. That’s where the deputy mayor was last week before moving on to the European Figure Skating Championships in Turin, Italy.
Doctoroff, 46, a former investment adviser who is a millionaire many times over, travels on his own dime, according to a spokesperson, just as he never bills the city for his services.
Like his boss, Michael Bloomberg, he is a dollar-a-year man, and like Bloomberg he is only the latest in a long string of energetic former executives who have been plucked out of the business world and asked to use their private-sector mojo on the city’s development strategies.
But no one has ever arrived in the west wing of City Hall with such a colossal agenda, and few have had as clear a notion of just what they want to achieve. Seven years from now, according to Doctoroff’s plan, Olympic contestants will be riding horseback in a new equestrian center atop the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island; swimmers will be competing in a new aquatics center on north Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront; an Olympic village, with 4,400 apartments, will sit on the Queens shores of Newtown Creek. And, the pièce de résistance, a parade of athletes will follow the Olympic torch around a glittering $1.4 billion stadium on the West Side rail yards.
Those projects and others have sparked applause. “He is doing things that we have wished would get done for the last 30 years,” said Kathy Wylde, president of the New York Partnership, the business group that made the decision to support Doctoroff back when he was a little-known investor with a big dream.
But even those who give the deputy mayor points for those achievements, as well as assembling a smart and talented staff to carry them out, say there’s no mistaking his main target. And the rap is that he views every problem and project that comes across his desk through his Olympics prism.
“It’s fair to say he has spent more time in Europe than he has in Queens,” said a city councilmember who asked not to be named. “His theory is that what’s good for the Olympics is good for New York. I would say your job is to do economic development for all the city.”
“No question, he is the deputy mayor for the Olympics,” said a government official who has worked with him on major issues. “It is his primary motivation in life. Everything else is a distant second.”
Doctoroff, who once posed for a Times profile in his biking Speedos, refused to talk to the Voice for this article. Instead, City Hall spokespersons weighed in on his behalf. Under Bloomberg and Doctoroff, they countered, the city has embarked on the most ambitious economic development agenda in decades, with projects throughout the five boroughs, ranging from reviving the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal to establishing a new fish market in the Bronx’s Hunts Point.
“Pursuing the Olympics has been the official policy of this city under two administrations,” said Bill Cunningham, the mayor’s communications director. “I have seen [Doctoroff] get off a jet plane and go right to work. He is here every morning at 7:15, making calls and answering e-mails. It is all about rebuilding the image of the city as a vibrant place to be. It is perfectly legitimate for the deputy mayor to participate in it.”
Maybe so. But it’s no secret that Doctoroff’s nonstop Olympics push, especially for the stadium, has produced the sharpest criticism that Bloomberg faces as he heads into a re-election drive. The notion that the city can somehow afford the $300 million for a new West Side football-Olympics palace, but not expanded day care, or better-paid cops or teachers, or improved transit service, is something most citizens can’t grasp, no matter how many times Doctoroff tries to explain his complex financing scheme. When the mayor unveiled his new budget last week, each of his potential opponents keyed off on the stadium as the soft underbelly of an otherwise relatively successful administration.
The point person in the stadium push is Doctoroff, of course, and while he clearly has the confidence and admiration of the mayor, others are wondering whether he has backed Bloomberg into a bad spot.
“Too much political capital is being expended on the stadium,” said one Bloomberg ally. “So far it’s produced $8 million of negative advertising. You need that like you need a hemorrhoid.”
Nor is that the only problem Doctoroff has brought to City Hall. No high city official has ever tried to straddle the public and private worlds the way Doctoroff has. Although he yielded his official title as head of NYC2012, the nonprofit organization he founded to mount the city’s Olympic bid, he has remained the clear leader of the group, as well as the very public face of the city’s Olympics effort.
It’s as though he is his own public-private partnership. And it’s left him in the often awkward position of pressing his Olympics goals upon people and firms that have many other issues pending with the city.
Take fundraising. Before taking office, Doctoroff, relying mostly on his contagious enthusiasm, had already raised more than $10 million for NYC2012, mainly from the city’s most venerable corporate lions, like Merrill Lynch, Chase Manhattan Bank, and the Rudin family, each of which contributed $500,000. As Jay Kriegel, the former CBS executive and Lindsay-era official who now runs NYC2012’s day-to-day affairs, put it, city corporate leaders saw “something extraordinarily powerful in the Olympic bid.”
The city’s outsized pitch for the Olympics
Since Doctoroff took the reins as obin deputy mayor, with power over all of the city’s economic development decisions, however, NYC2012 has raised three times that amount, more than $34 million. Kriegel says that’s got less to do with Doctoroff’s new clout than the fact that the city’s bid has passed important milestones. New York is now in the last lap, up against Paris, London, Madrid, and Moscow for the 2012 honors with a decision by the International Olympics Committee due this July.
Kriegel said raising money is his job alone. “I do all the fundraising,” Kriegel said. “It has been my sole responsibility since Dan went into government.”
But exactly what role Doctoroff plays in raising funds for the bid is ambiguous, at best. Back in 2002, he obtained a ruling from the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board allowing him to spend city time on NYC2012 matters. But the board pointedly told him if he wanted to engage in raising money for the group, he should contact them for “further guidance.”
Oddly, Doctoroff waited more than two years to do so, only writing to the board last August. The panel responded that it was OK for both him and the mayor to fundraise for the organization, but it ordered them to file regular, biannual reports of any solicitations back with the board. It also warned that they were prohibited from soliciting prospective donors who might have any matter “currently pending or about to be pending” with the city that they, as officials, could affect—a fairly all-encompassing group for a mayor and his top deputy.
Since then, only one report has been been filed, stating that “no solicitations were made.” Yet City Hall spokespersons refused to state that Doctoroff hasn’t raised money for NYC2012. Instead, in a decidedly murky response to a direct question, they declared that his actions “have been and will continue to be consistent with his [Conflicts of Interest Board] rulings.”
But a review of Doctoroff’s City Hall appointment calendars and phone logs—obtained under a Freedom of Information request—shows that he frequently finds himself meeting and talking about city business with those who are also being asked to ante up Olympics contributions. They also show that Doctoroff, frequently with Kriegel in tow, has taken his Olympics act all over town in search of support. They have made presentations to major corporations, real estate groups, labor unions, and construction firms, all of whom constantly interact with city government on their issues.
While it’s inevitable that the city’s deputy mayor for economic development would want to meet and talk with executives of Gotham’s biggest banks and corporations, his Olympics crusade is a complicating factor that, at least to outside appearances, muddies the waters.
On April 1, 2002, Doctoroff and Kriegel crossed the Hudson River to Jersey City to talk to top officials at American Express. The giant financial firm had been forced out of its downtown offices by the 9-11 attack, and was seeking governmental assistance in relocating. But that’s not what the meeting was about, Kriegel said. The two men simply wanted to thank CEO Kenneth Chenault and Amex for its earlier contribution of $300,000 to NYC2012, he said.
“Ken and his senior team had been enormously supportive of us,” said Kriegel. “We went to give them a status report and tell them what was happening. To get them to share some of the excitement of what was happening in the [Olympics] bid process.”
About six weeks after the meeting, Amex was awarded $25 million from city and state agencies—a decision that would have moved across Doctoroff’s desk—to help it return downtown. The funding wasn’t unexpected, since both Bloomberg and Governor Pataki had made it a priority to get dislocated firms back downtown as quickly as possible. But critics noted that the firm could have shouldered the relocation costs itself. In fact, Amex told Newsday at the time that its return downtown had nothing to do with financial incentives. Once they became available, however, “we chose to participate,” a spokesman told the paper.
“We considered the American Express deal the poster child of all that was wrong with the post-9-11 subsidies,” said Bettina Damiani of the advocacy group Good Jobs New York.
On June 24, 2002, Doctoroff and Kriegel went to the offices of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company where they sat with CEO Robert Benmosche, as well as the head of MetLife’s charitable foundation. One of the city’s largest employers, the insurance firm was at the time in the process of shifting its operations from Manhattan to Queens Plaza, in Long Island City. One of the things it wanted from the city was an area-wide clean up, along with a crackdown on graffiti and vandals. But that wasn’t discussed, Kriegel and MetLife officials agreed.
Kriegel said the get-together was simply a briefing for the executives on the status of the bid. But a MetLife spokesman said it was more direct than that. “The meeting was to discuss a contribution, and to get an update on the progress of the fundraising efforts,” said MetLife spokesman John Calagna. The company later gave $200,000 to NYC2012.
Eight months later, in February 2003, Mayor Bloomberg held a press conference on the steps of MetLife’s new building, pledging to launch a year-long “Queens Plaza Clean-Up” program, as part of an effort to turn the area into a central business district for the city. Among those quoted in the city’s press release praising the new program was MetLife senior vice president Lisa Weber, who also was listed as attending the June 2002 meeting with Doctoroff and Kriegel.
No one would argue that the cleanup, and the attempt to preserve jobs in the city, was anything but good government. But the intersection of the two events raises the question as to how Doctoroff separates one task from another when he is pitching for the Olympics and solving city problems.
Doctoroff’s own logs show that he and Kriegel made at least half a dozen other visits together to the offices of major corporations in 2002 and 2003, each of which later made hefty contributions. In November 2002, the pair went to see James Cayne, the head of Bear Stearns & Company. The firm later contributed $100,000. In January 2003, they went to visit Robert Rubin, the ex-Clinton treasury secretary and top Citigroup honcho. Citigroup had been an early supporter of NYC2012, contributing $250,000 in 2001. Since then, its support has grown to more than $500,000.
The complicating factor in both visits was that the firms regularly seek to handle highly lucrative city bond deals. In Bear Stearns’ case, the company was chosen last year to be a lead underwriter in the syndication of $2.77 billion to finance the new Hudson Yards Infrastructure Corporation which will help finance the new stadium and other development projects.
The other lead underwriters are also major NYC2012 contributors. Goldman Sachs gave $300,000 before 2002; it has given more than $700,000 since then. The other underwriter selected, J.P. Morgan, has given a total of $1 million to the Olympics effort. According to the city’s press release announcing the underwriters, Doctoroff participated in the selection process.
One of the biggest potential projects in Doctoroff’s Olympic vision is the expansion of the No. 7 train to the far west side. It’s a key ingredient to provide access to the new stadium, as well as the residential and office towers planned in the new Hudson Yards. Not surprisingly, developers and contractors are angling for consideration. One of them is Bechtel Corporation, the huge firm that built a new $3.4 billion subway for the Athens Olympics, and is doing Boston’s “Big Dig.”
Bechtel’s plan is to be partners with George Klein, a major Republican developer who runs the Park Tower Group. The same joint venture won designation in 1991 under the Bush I administration to build the new Foley Square federal courthouse.
Doctoroff’s logs show that he sat down twice with Bechtel officials at City Hall in the spring of 2003. Along with several other major construction managers, the firm has also been interviewed as a potential “construction coordinator” for the Hudson Yards.
On June 11, 2003, a Bechtel executive left a message for Doctoroff, telling him that he’d had a series of meetings with Klein and other city officials regarding the extension of the No. 7 subway line to the far west side. He said he’d like to arrange a meeting “ASAP” with the deputy mayor.
No move has been made to hire a builder for the line yet, City Hall said. But Bechtel is keenly interested. “When they decide to issue a procurement on this we will take a good hard look at it,” said Bechtel spokesman Howard Menaker.
NYC2012 officials declined to provide specific dates of contributions, other than to identify those who gave prior to Doctoroff taking office. Bechtel’s contribution of more than $100,000 came in after that. “We definitely support New York’s efforts to win the Olympics,” said Menaker.
Klein’s Park Tower Group also donated $100,000 to the Olympics bid after Doctoroff took office, although his dealings with the deputy mayor go well beyond the Bechtel joint venture. For one thing, Klein is head of the city’s United Nations Development Corporation, which seeks to provide office space for the U.N. He also has control of a swath of north Brooklyn waterfront property not far from where Doctoroff wants his new Olympics aquatic center and where Klein wants to erect new residential buildings—under new zoning pushed by City Hall.
Doctoroff’s logs show that he met three times with Klein concerning the Brooklyn waterfront soon after taking office, once at Klein’s Park Avenue offices. In October 2003, the logs show the two men sat down together again. The subject was listed as “Greenpoint/Williamsburg.”
“We have no land involved with the Olympics,” said a Klein aide, Elizabeth Counihan. “George likes to look at big infrastructure issues.” As for his NYC2012 contribution, Klein, like many New Yorkers, “believes the Olympics is very important to New York,” she said.
This article was reported with Andrea Bernstein of WNYC New York Public Radio, with research assistance by Kate Hinds and Eric Cantor.