Case Study: How a Bronx Supermarket Lobbyist Takes Down a Competitor


An enormous supermarket, recently slipped into the Related Companies’ Kingsbridge Armory development plan, caused a bit of an uproar among community groups and elected officials in The Bronx. But it caused an even greater upset for Morton Williams, a Bronx-born supermarket chain, which has a store directly across the street from the site.

So supermarket owners Morton Sloan and Avi Kaner hired lobbyist Richard Lipsky, who intends to eradicate the 60,000 square-foot, Goliath of a supermarket from the plan, at a fee of five grand a month.

The supermarket hit man has already devised a plan for slaying the proposed store. In an e-mail alerting Crain’s, the New York Times, the New York Daily News and other media outlets about the first hearing in the Uniform Land Use Review Process, he attached a memorandum addressed to his clients, telling how he intends to carry out the deed.

It’s a like a little textbook on how to stop a store from opening in New York with political and media tactics. These include appealing to Bronx elected officials by illustrating how Related’s plan will impale minority business; using a possible Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union endorsement for Mayor Bloomberg as leverage; and shaping media coverage.

Here are a few gems:

Once the project reaches Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., the second stage in its journey, Lipsky will parade minority business owners to bolster his case. “We need to remember, that the more we make this a generic interest-local supermarkets, minority entrepreneurs, and neighborhood shopping, the stronger Morton Williams’ position will be,” he wrote in the memo.

Skip forward to the last stage and the most crucial layer in the ULURP, where the project’s fate lies in the hands of the City Council and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the lobbyist intends to team up with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union – a “strong political ally” – because Bloomberg wants a third term. “The Mayor and his campaign people are looking to get the union to endorse, and S. Applebaum has alerted them to the need to exclude a competing supermarket use,” the memo reads.

During this political dance, Lipsky also plans to mold the story’s media coverage. Print outlets like Crain’s and the New York Daily News already gave the Kingsbridge Armory tale some play, while the New York Times and the New York Observer plan to, according to his memo. It will also require some “dramatization” for television coverage.

“In this regard, we should be identifying some of our more compelling employees to train for speaking to the press,” he wrote. “They will be better spokespeople that ownership for obvious reasons. If we have second and third generation employees we should begin right away in crafting their narratives for the media.”

But of course if some florid, heart-wrenching news articles and the political maneuverings fail, the application could always be challenged in a courtroom, which is apparently the way Lipsky put the nails in a BJ’s planned for The Bronx. The Council killed the plan in 2005 because of traffic worries.

“It is also useful – especially if you’re looking for the city council to kill the entire deal if negotiations with the mayor fall through – to have traffic analysis that exposes the developer’s data as overly optimistic, or even fraudulent,” Lipsky wrote. “The council used our traffic plan to kill the BJ’s project on Brush Avenue in the Bronx.”

It seems that no one will ever be one-hundred percent happy with what eventually happens to the site. Debate over what should occupy it has carried on since the Giuliani days. Related Companies’ planned mall have left community groups and Community Board #7 members frowning, particularly because the initial request for proposal called for non-competing uses. The project will also receive millions in subsidies, leaving the tax-paying Morton Williams crying foul.

The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Group (KARA), a coalition of interested groups and parties, also believe that the project to include a community benefits agreement with a provision that retailers will pay a living wage. The Bronx Borough President’s office is in the process of drafting that CBA.

The project enters the first stage of the review process on June 23, when Community Board #7 scheduled a hearing.