Governor taps Thompson to lead B.P.C.


By Julie Shapiro

Big changes are coming to the Battery Park City Authority, starting at the top.

Gov. David Paterson has tapped former comptroller and mayoral candidate Bill Thompson to lead the authority, as Downtown Express first reported online last week. Thompson will replace James Gill, the former authority chairperson who resigned suddenly two weeks ago.

Paterson also plans to appoint Fernando Mateo, founder of Hispanics Across America, to the authority’s board. Mateo would likely replacing Charles Urstadt, who has been serving as acting chairperson since Gill stepped down. Urstadt’s term on the board expired at the end of 2009, and two other board members’ terms recently expired, so Paterson could appoint as many as four new members to the seven-person board.

The shakeup may be linked to the state inspector general’s investigation into allegations that the authority misused staff and other resources for personal purposes. The inspector general’s report is being finalized and may be released soon.

Thompson is no stranger to Battery Park City — as city comptroller, he had veto power over the tens of millions of dollars the development generates each year. Thompson fought for that money to be dedicated to affordable housing in the city, a position that has set him at odds with the governor, who wants to use $200 million of the B.P.C. money to fill state budget gaps.

“No, you can’t raid this fund,” Thompson said during a rally at City Hall a year ago, pretending to address the governor. “Keep your hands off this money.”

Thompson had tempered his position by the closing weeks of his mayoral campaign last fall, saying he wanted to see “a balance being struck” between the state budget shortfall and the need for affordable housing, so it is possible that he would no longer oppose the governor’s plan.

Terms on the authority are six years, but Thompson, a Democrat, has already expressed interest in running for mayor in 2013, so it’s possible that he wouldn’t serve his full term. A spokesperson for Thompson declined to comment this week, since the State Senate has not confirmed his appointment to the authority board.

While Paterson had hoped the Senate would confirm Thompson by this Wednesday, the full Senate has not yet taken action and has a backlog of more than 100 other appointments to confirm. The Senate’s Corporations Committee voted in favor of Thompson’s appointment on Wednesday, but the Finance Committee also has to act before the full Senate can take a vote. The Senate has left Albany for the week but will reconvene on Monday.

Once the Senate confirms Thompson, the other authority board members would still have to elect him chairperson, but historically they have backed the governor’s decision.

In addition to Thompson, the other new member on the B.P.C. board will likely be Mateo, a Hispanic activist with Republican ties. Mateo founded the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, a group that lobbies on behalf of yellow cab and black car drivers, and he is also known for launching a gun exchange program in New York City. Mateo has fundraised for Republicans, including George W. Bush, and he delivered a speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention. He declined to comment this week on his pending appointment.

Paterson may also decide to replace B.P.C. board members Andy Shenoy and Lynn Rollins, whose terms expired Feb. 7. With so many seats potentially opening up on the authority, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is pushing the governor to appoint active Battery Park City residents to the board.

“Residents deserve formal representation and a voice in decision-making about the neighborhood’s future,” Silver said in statement.

The authority’s board now has one B.P.C. resident, Robert Mueller, but he is not active in neighborhood groups like the community board. Paterson’s office did not comment on Silver’s request.

Linda Belfer, chairperson of Community Board 1’s B.P.C. Committee, said she has been arguing for residents to be represented on the authority’s board for years.

“Who best to let them know from the get-go what’s going on down here?” Belfer said. “We’re here 24/7, and every action that they promote affects us directly, whereas they sit on the 24th floor [of One World Financial Center] and imagine what the possibilities are.”

Anthony Notaro, a member of C.B. 1’s B.P.C. Committee, added that it was “critically important” to have local representation on the authority’s board, especially since the authority’s mission is changing.

The authority’s original job of developing 92 acres of landfill is nearly complete, with the last new buildings rising adjacent to the ballfields. Notaro said the authority should now shift from development to maintenance, ensuring that Battery Park City remains a desirable place to live and visit, and it makes sense to have residents involved with those decisions. Urstadt has called for the authority to be disbanded altogether and for just the B.P.C. Parks Conservancy to remain.

Although Paterson, a Democrat who is running for reelection this year, has not announced any other changes to the authority, it is possible that he will remove staff members appointed under Republican Gov. George Pataki.

Belfer, a Democratic district leader, said she hopes President Jim Cavanaugh and Leticia Remauro, vice president of community relations, will both stay in place because they have experience with the community and are doing well.

“I don’t think the jobs should be strictly patronage jobs,” Belfer said. “You have to have a qualified person in the job and a person who is committed to the job.”

If Paterson is searching for additional members for the B.P.C. board, he might consider Sandy Frucher, the president of the authority from 1984 to 1988. Last year, Paterson appointed Frucher to lead the Off Track Betting Corp.’s board, and Frucher said that job is keeping him busy for now, but he said he would consider returning to Battery Park City if the governor asked him.

Frucher agrees with Urstadt that the authority should be disbanded because its mission is complete, but he would go one step further and combine the B.P.C. Parks Conservancy with other groups that tend to nearby parks, including the Hudson River Park Trust and the Battery Conservancy.

Frucher may be an attractive candidate for Paterson because he does not object to the governor’s use of Battery Park City money for the state’s budget. The plan to use the surplus from B.P.C. ground rents for affordable housing in the city dates back to Frucher’s tenure at the authority, but Frucher said the agreement back then was for $1 billion to go to affordable housing, not for the money to continue going to affordable housing indefinitely. Since the $1 billion figure has been fulfilled, Frucher said the B.P.C. money should now be used however elected officials see fit.

“Governments have to have the flexibility to use their resources in times of crisis,” Frucher said. “Clearly, this is a time of crisis.”