By John DeSio
The announcement of the resignation of Dan Doctoroff last week was a moment of reflection for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Doctoroff’s official title in the Bloomberg administration was deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, though, to many New Yorkers, he represented the public embodiment of the administration’s desire to build shiny new things, especially stadiums.
Though will not stray far from Bloomberg, signing on to join the mayor’s media company as its new president, Doctoroff’s departure clearly weighs heavily on Bloomberg’s heart.
“For the past six years I have sat eight feet away from Dan and have seen the countless daily demonstrations of his extraordinary vision, creativity, energy and his ability to attract and motivate talented staff, and achieve goals that no one thought possible,” said Bloomberg, adding that Doctoroff’s $1 per year salary over the last six years made him the greatest bargain the City has ever seen.
Not everybody is so sad to see Doctoroff leave public life. On his blog, Richard Lipsky of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance referenced Doctoroff’s strong ties to Steve Ross, CEO of the Related Companies, which did great business with the City during Doctoroff’s tenure and was often the subject of “insider deal” complaints among the City’s activists.
In the press conference announcing Doctoroff’s departure Bloomberg invoked the name of Robert Moses, the development bogeyman who has seen his reputation steadily decline over the years, to make a favorable comparison to his departing deputy. “Dan leaves an extraordinary record of accomplishment, and unlike Robert Moses, he worked with communities, not bulldozing over them,” Bloomberg said.
But for the communities that faced off with Doctoroff during his tenure, this comment rings hollow.
“He was a bulldozer,” said Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the organization leading the fight to oppose the Doctoroff-backed Atlantic Yards proposal, which will create affordable and market-rate housing alongside a new basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets in Downtown Brooklyn, to be developed by Forest City Ratner. “Specifically, when it came to Atlantic Yards, Dan Doctoroff did not deal with the community at all, which means the administration didn’t either.”
Doctoroff has sort of admitted that he was not entirely fair to the community surrounding the Atlantic Yards development. In April on Brian Lehrer’s WNYC radio show, the deputy mayor implied that he had made a few mistakes when it came to the Brooklyn project. “But I think that’s an extreme case, probably,” Doctoroff said of Atlantic Yards while discussing other rezoning efforts he led in Brooklyn and Manhattan. “So we don’t do anything, any more, really, without consulting the community. I think we’ve gotten a lot better at that over the course of the past five years.”
“If Mayor Bloomberg believes what he said, he should—and probably does—realize that it certainly does not apply to Atlantic Yards,” said Goldstein. “But as that project is still up in the air and under dispute in the courts and in the public debate, he can make it his first order of business to send his new deputy mayor for economic development to meet with the community in Prospect Heights and surrounding communities to openly discuss all of the problems with Ratner’s project, including the developer’s intention to bulldoze 22 acres.”
“I think that Dan Doctoroff is worse than Robert Moses,” said Lukas Herbert of Save Our Parks, the organization that led the also unsuccessful fight to prevent the construction of a new Yankee Stadium on parkland adjacent to its current Bronx home. Whatever issues one might have with Moses, said Herbert, what he developed is for everyone. The same could not be said for Doctoroff’s project resume of retail malls and stadiums.
“What’s worse? Building a park, or a swimming pool, or even a highway like Robert Moses, or building something that goes to some of the richest people in the world.” Herbert added that he is thrilled to see Doctoroff head to the private sector, given his behavior in City Hall.
“That’s were he belongs,” said Herbert. “He should not have been a public official.”
Goldstein resents the “instant revisionism” of Doctoroff’s record, but does think that the City has at least in part learned a lesson from Atlantic Yards. The current development process for the Hudson Yards on the west side of Manhattan, where Doctoroff had once envisioned an Olympic stadium and new home for the New York Jets, has been much more open and transparent than Atlantic Yards ever was. “That’s not to say he didn’t go through the motions,” said Goldstein of Atlantic Yards, “But holding some hearings isn’t the same as consulting with the community.”