Friday, January 8, 2010

Koppell: On Armory, Administration ‘Bargaining in Bad Faith’

THURSDAY, JANUARY 7, 2010

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As a vote neared in the City Council on the Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment, only Oliver Koppell was publicly expressing reservations about joining with the Bronx delegation in rejecting the project.

Earlier that week, Koppell held a town hall meeting in Bedford Park where he verbally tussled with constituents who were virtually unanimous in their position that he should vote the plan down if it didn’t include a living wage provision.

“If you want to be responsible for an empty building for the next 10 years, that’s you,” Koppell told his audience then. “I don’t want to be responsible for that.”

Add to those concerns Koppell’s support of Mayor Bloomberg in the November election and you’ve got the Bronx Council member most likely to give the project a green light.

But when the vote came, he voted with the Bronx delegation and 44 of his colleagues, in a stunning rebuke of Mayor Bloomberg and one of his top outer-borough economic development priorities.

We called Koppell a few days ago and asked him why he voted the way he did.

“I wanted the project to go ahead,” Koppell said, “but I hadn’t made up my mind because we were involved with quite lengthy negotiations with the city to try and get some concessions on the living wage.”

Koppell said the negotiations with the Bloomberg administration were “going ahead fairly positively until Friday [the vote was on Monday], and then at the last minute, the administration took all of their tentative offers off the table, and wanted us to proceed with no concession on living wage,” and no progress on other matters either.

One of those tentative offers was the creation of a fund from the sale price of the building to subsidize merchants so they could pay their wokers the living wage -- $10 an hour plus benefits – demanded by elected officials and the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance.

On the day of the vote, Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera told the press that the city’s top lawyer said that one of the offers – giving direct financial to eligible workers – might run afoul of the state Constitution .

But Koppell, a former state attorney general, said he believes even that “could have been worked out in my opinion if the city and Related wanted to proceed with it.”

Koppell said there were other benefits under discussion including a provision for Bronx purchasing and hiring Bronx workers. “They were on the table and maybe they could have been worked out,” he said. “When the other two matters were taken away everything fell apart.”

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