Online Municipal records shows that Musa Moore's lobbying firm has been paid over $50,000 to lobby the New York City Council for a real estate client.
By LOUIS FLORES
At a meeting Tuesday night of Brooklyn Community Board 9, residents became aware that Musa Moore, a long-time political operative who now chairs the local Government body, has been employed as a lobbyist. Mr. Moore made no disclosure, or denial, about his outside employment at the start of Tuesday night's meeting, according to a video of the meeting. Mr. Moore's lobbying firm, Moore Consultancy Corp., has been hired by S & G Realty I LLC to lobby the New York City Council on land use issues, according to online City lobbying records. As chair of Brooklyn Community Board 9, Mr. Moore has insider access to officials with the Brooklyn Borough President's Office and the New York City Council, who also have discretion over land use matters. Mr. Moore's client, S & G Realty I LLC, has also employed the law firm Bryan Cave LLP to lobby community boards, according to online City lobbying records. Since 2016, Mr. Moore's lobbying firm has been paid at least $50,000 in fees by S & G Realty I LLC, according to online City lobbying records.
The revelation that Mr. Moore was chairing a Community Board in Brooklyn that has had to consider complex issues of land use at the same time he has won mandates to work as a real estate lobbyist has raised concerns in the community about possible conflicts of interest. The community activist Alicia Boyd, a leader in the movement for enacting Community Board reform and accountability, distributed a newsletter to her followers on Wednesday, sharing information about Mr. Moore's work as a lobbyist. It is not known why Mr. Moore's client would give Mr. Moore's consulting firm a mandate to lobby the New York City Council but give to Bryan Cave LLP the mandate to lobby Community Boards. Mr. Moore did not answer requests for an interview for this report.
In a statement issued to Progress Queens, Ms. Boyd expressed skepticism about Mr. Moore's ability to manage Brooklyn Community Board 9 at the same time that he worked as a lobbyist, noting that chairs of Community Boards can exert influence over other Community Boardmembers, including being in a position to influence or select the chairs of Community Board committees, correcting or encouraging certain conduct of Community Boardmembers, and possibly even advocating for positions that may be encumbered by potential conflicts of interest. Of the ability of a Community Board chair's to influence a Community Board's make-up, Ms. Boyd wrote, "This is called stacking the deck !" Additionally, Ms. Boyd noted that Community Boardmembers serve without renumeration and that, some lobbyists can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars from their lobbying clients, possibly leading to mixed-motivations for Community Boardmembers facing competing interests.
Community Boardmembers may have interests in firms, which may be affected by actions of a Community Board, according to guidance about potential conflicts of interest prepared for Community Boardmembers by the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board. The guidance evaluates various scenarios in which Community Boardmembers may or may not participate on matters before a Community Board at the same time when such action would result in a personal or direct economic gain to the Community Boardmember or to the firm associated with the Community Boardmember. When a Community Board chair faces a potential conflict of interest, the guidance provides that a chair must step down from chairing meetings and refrain from making decisions over matters involving the chair's private interests, according to the guidance. The guidance was sensitive about the influence that committee chairs can exert over a committee, noting that chairs could exert influence "by controlling the agenda, recognizing speakers, and making rulings," reflecting some of the concerns raised by Ms. Boyd.
It is not known whether officials were aware that Mr. Moore worked or intended to work as a lobbyist at the time when he was appointed to Brooklyn Community Board 9. It is also not known if Mr. Moore represents clients that may pose a conflict of interest on matters immediately before Brooklyn Community Board 9. A request for information made to Brooklyn Community Board 9 about Mr. Moore's appointment was referred to the Brooklyn Borough President's Office. Attempts to reach the communication director for Borough President Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn) were unsuccessful. Key appointments to a Community Board are usually made by the Borough President and the New York City Councilmember, whose district is served by a Community Board. Brooklyn Community Board 9 serves sections of three New York City Council districts, including a portion of a district represented by Councilmember Laurie Cumbo (D-Crown Heights). Councilmember Cumbo's office did not answer requests for an interview for this report. The other two Council districts that are at least partially served by Brooklyn Community Board 9 are represented by Councilmembers Mathieu Eugene (D-Prospect Park) and Darlene Mealy (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant).
Brooklyn Community Board 9 has been the venue for difficult early decisions on zoning matters. Since at least 2014, a rezoning of parts of Crown Heights and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens has been the source of tension between residents and activists, on one end, and what some have described as a pro-development Community Board, on the other end. Activists in different camps had at one point managed to agree that then Community Board 9 manager Pearl Miles was the source of a lot of controversy. Ms. Miles was later removed from office based on misconduct and unprofessionalism, according to one news report, but she answered her removal from office by filing a multi-million dollar wrongful termination lawsuit in U.S. District Court. Tensions between area residents and Brooklyn Community Board 9 have remained high, particularly since it has been alleged that Community Boardmembers sympathetic to residents' concerns about over-development have been reportedly removed from Brooklyn Community Board 9. Even as residents have fought against large-scale zoning proposals, real estate projects have continued to come for consideration before the local Government body. A redevelopment plan for the Bedford Union Armory has attracted the ire of residents and activists over fears that Brooklyn Community Board 9 and local elected officials are promoting land use policies that support gentrification that will lead to displacement of long-term residents. Although the plan for the armory was reportedly voted down, there are opportunities for that no-vote to be undercut by subsequent political agreements, according to information obtained by Progress Queens. Based, in part, on this history of tension, some see reason to be suspicious of Mr. Moore serving as chair of Brooklyn Community Board 9 at the same time when he has earned outside income as a real estate lobbyist.
Mr. Moore's service as the chair of a Government body at the same time when he works as a lobbyist comes at a time when Federal prosecutors have been examining whether outside income acts to influence the official acts of public officials. In recent years, the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district successfully prosecuted two high-profile public corruption cases against former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side) and former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) ; in both cases, outside income was an area that had been investigated by prosecutors. The U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's eastern district would have jurisdiction over matters pertaining to Brooklyn. For this report, the U.S. Attorney's Office with jurisdiction over Brooklyn did not answer an advance question about Federal prosecutorial sensitivity about public officials earning outside income. In the last two years, two other public officials considered simultaneously serving in a public office and working as lobbyists. In 2015, New York State Assemblymember Michael Blake (D-The Bronx) announced that he was joining a lobbying firm, a move he later rescinded after the potential for conflicts of interests triggered a firestorm of controversy. In 2016, the lobbyist Rosanna Vargas was nominated for a post with the New York City Board of Elections, a position she planned to serve simultaneously with her private employment. However, she claimed that she would abandon her lobbying work after public outrage swelled over the potential for conflicts of interest.
In the statement issued to Progress Queens, Ms. Boyd, the community activist, raised several issues about the process for the redevelopment plan for the Bedford Union Armory, questioning why Mr. Moore never challenged statements made by Brooklyn Community Board 9 Land Use Committee chair Michael Liburd about the armory that had reportedly never been voted upon by the Land Use Committee. Since Ms. Boyd noted that the area served by Brooklyn Community Board 9 included a park, a museum, and a library, amongst other attractions, there has been great interest by real estate developers to see to it that Brooklyn Community Board 9 facilitate development because of these desirable locations.
Real estate speculators seeking to develop large scale projects have been known to spend a lot of money on lobbying and campaign donations in order to ensure that expensive projects are approved and built. The developer behind the Bedford-Union Armory is BFC Partners, a politically-connected real estate company with ties to the de Blasio administration. BFC Partners was one investor, which participated in a consortium to invest in a portfolio of Section 8 apartment buildings sold in secret by NYCHA. As reported by Progress Queens, some of the buildings in the Section 8 portfolio were renovated by a cash-starved NYCHA prior to the sale. Given developers' preoccupation with winning approval for real estate projects, some Government reform activists have questioned whether a lobbyist was deliberately selected to chair Brooklyn Community Board 9 to ensure approval of large development projects coming before the local Government body. Such lockstep around development projects has been noted about public officials with close ties to real estate developers or to County political committees, according to information obtained by Progress Queens. When St. Vincent's Hospital was sold for pennies on the dollar and rezoned to become a roughly $1 billion luxury condominium and townhouse complex, the chair of the Manhattan Community Board with jurisdiction over that project, Brad Hoylman, worked for a lobbying group, the Partnership for New York City, for which the luxury condo developer, William Rudin, served as a director. Prior to being selected to chair Brooklyn Community Board 9, Mr. Moore had a long history of political affiliation with County party leaders. During the Aughts, Mr. Moore briefly succeeded former Brooklyn Democratic County Committee chair Clarence Norman as district leader after Mr. Norman faced corruption charges. During the 2013 Municipal election cycle, Mr. Moore provided campaign services to notable candidates, according to a report published by The New York Post. Mr. Moore has also worked as a campaign manager for several campaigns, including working for one candidate in one election cycle and then working for that candidate's opponent in another election cycle.