A Fool’s Gold


So what should be the legacy of Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, who has now announced that he will step down at the end of the year?

Master builder? Urban visionary? A kinder, gentler Robert Moses?

How about this: 16 votes.

That number should forever be associated with the soon-to-be former deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding. That was how many votes he managed to come up with after 115 members of the International Olympics Committee cast their ballots on July 6, 2005, in Singapore to pick a city to host the 2012 Olympics.

“New York’s bid is perfectly positioned to win the 2012 Games,” Doctoroff said as the voting neared. “This evening New York’s Olympic dream will become reality.”

Sure it would. Sixteen votes—a mere 14 percent. A failing grade in any enterprise.

NYC2012: For almost five years after he became Michael Bloomberg’s development czar in 2001, Doctoroff would talk about nothing else. Every corner of New York would be re-mapped, re-zoned, re-built to make way for this fabulous opportunity. He lobbied every developer, banker, and major corporation that wanted to do business with the city for donations to the not-for-profit Olympics organization he had launched.

NYC2012: He had its logo hung on banners throughout the city. He had its proposal bound in three huge, full-color volumes, each one heavy enough to bust a toe if dropped. He had runners bearing torches carry his proposal across the Brooklyn Bridge and through the streets, on a symbolic run to Singapore and victory.

NYC2012: Never mind.

“I don’t know what went wrong,” he said after the devastating defeat. Which was an interesting response. Many had tried to tell him. For one thing, Salt Lake City had just hosted the 2002 Winter Games, and experts predicted that it was too soon for the U.S. to win again. For another, the ugly and misbegotten Iraq War was raging, making America an unlikely winner in any international popularity contest.

And then there was the West Side stadium fiasco. Against the advice of many people who truly are master builders, Doctoroff insisted that what Manhattan needed was a huge $2.4 billion football stadium on the traffic-choked West Side. The stadium would be the Olympics centerpiece; later it would host the Jets, whose principals became the biggest single givers to his NYC2012 committee. Oh, yes, there would be no parking there. The fans would all take public transportation, he insisted. Who needs tailgate parties?

Doctoroff traveled 175,000 miles in six months, from Qatar to Beijing, from Athens to Seoul. He visited every king, sheikh, emir, and premier with a vote on the Olympics committee, beseeching them for support. But for all his traveling, he never got on the Amtrak and went to Albany to see Shelly Silver and Joe Bruno. Both lawmakers remained unconvinced that the state should dole out $300 million for this pie-in-the-sky scheme. One morning they simply voted thumbs-down on the project, and that was that. Whatever minimal chance the 2012 plan had ever had was gone.

This, then, was the work of the municipal mastermind, the urban seer. The “rebuilding” part of his deputy-mayor title was new: It was added to his office to emphasize the huge task that lay before the city as it sought to address the massive hole at Ground Zero, and the complex and costly process of re-creating a wounded downtown, Gotham’s economic lifeline. And for five years, he did nothing about it. He sat back and watched as a hapless Pataki administration blundered and bungled its way to a dead stop, unable to go forward or back. Only after the Olympics mirage had faded from his field of vision did he and the mayor move to assert themselves.

All of that might still be forgivable, the understandable fumbling of a headstrong, arrogant man who had made himself a millionaire many times over by investing in real estate and other opportunities, someone unused to the rough-and-tumble politics of City Hall. But nothing explains his ruthless refusal to accommodate the needs of blue-collar industries and workers wherever he found them on the map he so wanted to redraw.

At the old Bronx Terminal market in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, where two dozen merchants employed several hundred workers and fed the appetites of the city’s ever-expanding immigrant populace, Doctoroff handed the site to his friend and former business partner, Steve Ross of Related. Doctoroff and his crew couldn’t be bothered to think about where this little economic engine might relocate, or what would become of their jobs.

It was the same on the Brooklyn waterfront in Red Hook. Doctoroff looked at these active wharves, where cocoa, lumber, and immense containers were unloaded daily, where native New Yorkers with strong backs had made a decent living for generations. He looked and saw . . . Sausalito. It should be like that pretty place near San Francisco, he told his advisers. Restaurants, houseboats, umbrellas.

This is the vision he brought to the city. Like his friend the mayor, he took just a dollar a year in salary, being so wealthy he didn’t need our grubby money.

He was overpaid.