By LOUIS FLORES
In the past few months, New York City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Woodside) has met with executives of real estate developers and has generally kept a busier schedule than his Queens LGBT delegation counterpart, Councilmember Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).
These observations were made from a review of their official schedules, which covered the period of 1 October 2015 through 31 January 2016 and which were obtained by Progress Queens through requests made under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL.
For this report, neither Councilmembers Van Bramer nor Dromm answered an interview request.
Councilmember Van Bramer official schedule (Part 1 of 2) (Part 2 of 2) showed that he attended on 5 November 2015 a “coffee” with unknown executives from Tishman Speyer, the large real estate development firm that is headed by Rob Speyer, a major supporter of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City). Tishman Speyer was a significant contributor to the Committee to Save New York, a conservative nonprofit lobbying group that supported the big business agenda of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York). The meeting between Councilmember Van Bramer and Tishman Speyer took place at 45 Rockefeller Plaza, their headquarters.
It is not known what transpired at that meeting. A request made by Progress Queens to Tishman Speyer for information about that meeting was not answered.
Councilmember Van Bramer also had a New York City Department of Cultural Affairs meeting at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on 10 December 2015 with Bruce Ratner, who developed the controversial Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn in a process that was subverted from the typical land use process for large-scale municipal projects, known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP. Instead of being subjected to the ULURP process, jurisdiction over Atlantic Yards was seized by the state, thereby largely depriving local residents any say in the outcome of that project.
It is not known what Councilmember Van Bramer discussed with Mr. Ratner. A request made by Progress Queens to the real estate development firm, which Mr. Ratner heads, for information about that meeting was not answered.
And on 21 January 2016, Councilmember Van Bramer attended the annual Real Estate Board of New York dinner at the New York Hilton Grand Ballroom.
That Councilmember Van Bramer has been deliberately participating in real estate-centric meetings or events signals a possible interest in becoming Council speaker after the 2017 municipal elections, a position that has been speculated about in the press, notably in a report published by Seth Barron on the news Web site, City Council Watch. Real estate executives are notable for making large campaign contributions to elected officials seeking leadership positions affecting land use matters.
Since before the premature closure of the corruption-fighting panel known as the Moreland Commission, investigators have been probing the relationship between real estate executives making campaign donations and elected officials, whose campaign committees receive the campaign contributions. After the Moreland Commission was closed, its investigative files were obtained by the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
His schedule, which was heavily redacted, included the period of time when Councilmember Van Bramer traveled to Puerto Rico for the annual SOMOS winter conference. Although the conference nominally concluded on 08 November 2015, Councilmember Van Bramer didn’t return to the office until 11 November 2015. Even during the SOMOS conference, there were appointments that were redacted.
One redacted appointment on Councilmember Van Bramer’s calendar, for 6 to 7 p.m. on 23 November 2015, overlapped with a fundraiser that Councilmember Van Bramer held at Manducatis Rustica in Long Island City to benefit his campaign committee.
Councilmember Van Bramer scheduled another fundraiser for 11 January 2016 in Brooklyn, identifying pockets of support outside of his Council district. That event coïncided with two redacted entries on his official schedule for that evening : one from 6 to 7 p.m. and another from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
According to §§ 1-13(a) and (b) of Rules adopted by the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and discussed in Advisory Opinion 2012-5, the municipal ethics watchdog agency “has made clear that political activities always fall within the prohibition on use of City time or resources, that is, there is no ‘incidental use’ exception for political activities.” Despite this otherwise blanket ban, an exception exists for schedulers, who maintain the calendars for officials, to “record campaign events in the schedules that they maintain for their superiors” as part of their jobs.
A loyal supporter of Mayor de Blasio, Councilmember Van Bramer’s schedule showed that he attended on 29 October 2015 Mayor de Blasio’s fundraiser at the Sheraton Times Square. Due to Mayor de Blasio’s regressive policies, including his support for gentrification and for race-based policing, that fundraiser was besieged by protesters, so much so that hotel officials and police briefly locked down the main entrance to the hotel.
Councilmember Van Bramer’s schedule also showed that he had a meeting with Frank Tromontano, an official with the Patrolemen’s Benevolent Association, on 22 October, and Councilmember Van Bramer attended a briefing of the New York Police Department’s use of force on 2 November 2015. Despite Councilmember Van Bramer having meetings with police officials during national and local social movements demanding police reform, Councilmember Van Brammer has not used his leadership position to call for accountability for NYPD officers responsible for shooting and killing unarmed men of color.
The official schedule for Councilmember Van Bramer also showed he had several meetings related to housing issues, including a meeting on 5 October 2015 with New York City Housing Authority CEO Shola Olatoye ; a meeting on 17 November 2015 with New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been ; and several meetings, sometimes attended to by his staff, regarding the women’s homeless shelter located at the Verve Hotel in Dutch Kills.
Given Councilmember Van Bramer’s flirtation with real estate interests, it should come as no surprise that he, as well as Councilmember Dromm, supported Mayor de Blasio’s twin rezoning text amendments, even though the rezoning proposals had been almost uniformly rejected by Community Boards in Queens and by the Queens Borough Board.
The nature of some of Councilmember Van Bramer’s meetings were a complete mystery, such as an entry for 30 November 2015, when he had a lunch meeting near Grand Central with Danny Alter and Tim Roberts.
Because Councilmember Van Bramer refused to discuss the details of his schedule, the nature of his meetings, including those that were redacted, remain cloaked in secrecy.
Councilmember Dromm's schedule showed a private meeting with other elected officials
In contrast, Councilmember Dromm’s official schedule was not as notable as Councilmember Van Bramer’s, although Councilmember Dromm’s schedule was produced with a fair amount of redactions.
Councilmember Dromm’s schedule showed an entry on 7 December 2015 for a strategy meeting, which was postponed, about the horse carriage bill he was co-sponsoring at the time. Another entry reflected the horse carriage bill hearing, held on 22 January 2016, which was followed by an entry for a rally for the horse carriage bill. The fate of that bill ended in defeat after New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem) withdrew the bill one day before a scheduled vote after union backers reversed their support for the bill following that hearing.
An entry in Councilmember Dromm’s calendar showed a private meeting he booked for 21 December 2015 with Councilmembers Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park) and Ritchie Torres (D-Parkchester) prior to their joining Mayor de Blasio for a breakfast meeting at Gracie Mansion.
It is not known if any official government business was discussed during that private meeting. Requests made by Progress Queens to the offices of each of Councilmembers Menchaca and Torres for information about that meeting were not answered.
The official schedule for Councilmember Dromm also reflected how his office helped to stack the attendance of Mayor de Blasio’s town hall meeting at PS 69 in Jackson Heights on 12 November 2015, requiring “ALL STAFF” to be present, according to the entry on his calendar. The publisher of Progress Queens was denied entry by security at that town hall event, because the office of Councilmember Dromm did not approve an R.S.V.P. made by e-mail by the publisher of Progress Queens. As reported by Progress Queens, many Jackson Heights residents were turned away by security at the town hall, because, given Councilmember Dromm’s restrictive R.S.V.P. policy, Mayor de Blasio was reserving attendance only for his political supporters.
Relative to Councilmember Dromm’s schedule, Councilmember Van Bramer’s schedule reflected far more bookings of interviews with the media, suggesting a deliberate public relations strategy. An appearance Councilmember Van Bramer booked for 9 October 2015 at PS 361Q in Woodside was just labeled, “Photo Op.”
Even though Councilmembers Van Bramer and Dromm comprise the Queens LGBT delegation to the City Council, neither of their calendars showed any meetings with the Queens Pride House, the borough’s key center for the LGBT community, despite the critical programming offered by the Queens Pride House.