Ross Greenberg opened the soccer bar “Woodwork” in anticipation of the forthcoming Barclays Center, which was edging toward an opening. Mere blocks away, he figured the spot could make him “a multimillionaire.”
Once, Beyonce and Jay-Z came, along with 25 security guards. But Greenberg says the arena didn’t end up being the windfall he hoped.
Last summer, an opportunity presented itself. The Barclays Center was a potential site for the Democratic National Convention. It had the enthusiastic support of Mayor Bill de Blasio. The convention would have brought more business and notoriety. So Greenberg penned an op-ed in support of the borough of kings getting the presidential contest.
Except he didn’t actually write it.
His op-ed — along with other articles, tweets and expressions of support — were orchestrated by Jonathan Rosen, co-founder of PR firm BerlinRosen, who represented the arena’s developer and is a close confidante of de Blasio. This kind of behind the scenes PR work is typical, but Rosen and de Blasio’s close relationship has been the subject of increased attention that the mayor hopes does not dominate the conversation toward re-election in 2017.
Advisers, but not. . .
Rosen is one of five close and longtime advisers to the mayor who remained outside government and retained their businesses and interests. But de Blasio continued calling on them for advice — and BerlinRosen also represented the Campaign for One New York, a de Blasio-affiliated political nonprofit meant to support the mayor’s agenda which was nevertheless not subject to campaign finance regulation.
The setup led to state and federal investigations of the mayor’s fundraising. News outlets sued to obtain emails between de Blasio and his outside adviser; the administration dumped some 1,500 pages of emails on the day before Thanksgiving.
Nothing in the heavily redacted emails indicates that Rosen or de Blasio did anything illegal. De Blasio has said that Rosen never lobbied him directly concerning any of his clients.
But the emails show that Rosen was a key adviser in early policy fights, including some that affect the clients he represents. Rosen sat in on meetings concerning the mayor’s new rezoning initiatives, for example, a big concern for his developer clients.
And the two discussed clients, as when de Blasio emailed aides asking whether they should set up an event with the Nets to celebrate Jason Collins’ first home game as an openly gay NBA player. De Blasio also cc’d Rosen “since he represents Barclay’s Center” [sic].
The suggested event didn’t take place, though de Blasio tweeted a welcome message.
The Collins scenario seems like a harmless win for both sides; did other decisions, big or small, result in a more meaningful molding of city policy or mayoral attention? There’s no evidence, but it’s hard to say for sure. The halfway-campaign-fund of the now-defunct political non-profit, which developers and BerlinRosen clients donated to, further muddies the water. At the very least, the heavily redacted emails and de Blasio’s attempt to keep them from being released are the opposite of the kind of transparency de Blasio himself once advocated.
How the system works
The emails also pull back the curtain on how government works — the typical, if somewhat disingenuous, maneuvering that often takes place away from the public eye.
When de Blasio wanted to bring the DNC to Brooklyn, for example, the group (led by a former de Blasio aide) agitating for it got a boost from the Campaign for One New York and Rosen, who still represented a Barclays co-owner. The emails show Rosen and his associates researching downsides of other cities. They pitched reporters on favorable stories, and ghostwrote or gathered statements of support from elected officials major and minor, and local businesses like Woodwork.
Greenberg, the Woodwork co-owner, says he was sent some seven versions of an op-ed, and he picked the last because it wasn’t “political” and offputting.
“I’m about money. I’m a businessman,” he says. He was happy to put his name to the op-ed — it was part of “building a relationship” with Barclays, which he’d been doing since day one. Good for Barclays, good for him.
But it didn’t work out. The DNC went to Philadelphia. In fact, Barclays itself wasn’t turning out to be such a help to Woodwork, or at least that’s Greenberg’s point of view. The convenient subway connections meant few walked the extra blocks to Woodwork. He isn’t getting direct support or business from the arena.
He says the bar does well as a neighborhood joint, but the powers that be aren’t actually there for him.
“It bothers me that big business has so much control of the little guy like myself.”