GOVERNANCE BY SOCKPUPPETRY: Does Overblown Rhetoric and Hyperbole Serve New Rochelle?

Written By: Robert Cox

As summer turns to fall, we move into election season in New Rochelle. In thinking about another four more years with Noam Bramson as Mayor I went back and read some of his past State of the City addresses. They are depressing. One in particular caught my eye.

New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson delivered his 2014 State of the City address at the Davenport Club in New Rochelle, NY on the night of March 20, 2014.

Entitled “A Clear Path Forward”, Bramson served up the sort of smorgasbord of empty platitudes and delusional visions of the City’s future that have come to define the Bramson era in New Rochelle. Put simply, Noam Bramson, as Mayor, has not once delivered on his promises of future development deals for New Rochelle. Not once. Goose-egg. Zero. His tenure has been marked by “accomplishments” such as an “award-winning” plan called GreeNR, a David’s Island committee that has accomplished nothing, and other committees set up as Bramson sock-puppets like a “Sustainable” Budget Committee an Iona Dorm Committee and many others. The three “awards” given to GreeNR came from two organizations with direct ties to the GreeNR Committee (more Bramson sock-puppets) and one from a pyramid-scheme to sell vitamins. The Budget Committee was given its marching orders from Bramson. The Iona Dorm Committee was stacked with City and Iona officials and not allowed to discuss opposing Iona Dorm development. The City of New Rochelle put out a press release (more Bramson sockpuppetry) which described Bramson’s speech as a “confident State of the City address”. The phrase “misplaced confidence” comes to mind. The crowd was described as “an enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowd”. That’s funny! The event is a cocktail/dinner party sponsored by the New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce where tables are sold — along with the seats. Anyone standing did so by choice not because the room was crowded to overflowing (it was not). A handful of chairs were also put out for the riff-raff (otherwise known as residents who did not wish to pay for the privilege of hearing the Mayor deliver a State of the City address that is required under the City Charter). 

Council Member Jared Rice described Bramson’s address as “awesome”, gushing that @NoamBramson tore down the house.

Here is the video so you can judge for yourself whether Rice’s commentary bears any semblance of reality (hint: it doesn’t).

After going on 20 years in office, the last 9 as Mayor, Bramson has NOW decided what the City needs is “Master development agreements” based on his various “studies” on transit-oriented growth and traffic circulation patterns and then offers what he calls a “bold stroke from an ambitious city that is determined to take charge of its own future” with “several million square feet of office space, roughly 2,000 new apartments, and 500,000 square feet of retail”.

And the evidence that Bramson can deliver any of this? None.

Any mention that the Police Commissioner has, for years, not been enforcing the downtown parking regulations. We previously reported that for about 2 years, police were specfically instructed not to enforce parking rules in down (and the data confirmed this) even though the rules were created based on a “parking study”.  Only suckers pay for parking in the evening, unaware that NRPD has no CSOs working at night to give out parking tickets.

Here’s a prediction based on past performance, Bramson will push for more rental apartments to achieve his goal to get New Rochelle to a population of 100,000 meaning more people with more kids to put more stress on our already precarious financial situation and more overcrowded classrooms — and little or nor office space and even less retail space. But he will push for more tax-abated voters for Bramson’s next failed gambit at a run for office beyond the “friendly confines” of New Rochelle.

Bramson listed agenda items for 2014.

  • A parking management team – to replace a guy who was stealing from the City for years?
  • A new concierge desk at the train station – talk about lipstick on a pig! The stated purpose is to “improve safety, deter mischief, monitor persistent trouble spots like the bathrooms…monitor feeds from cameras throughout the garage and station”. This is a security desk, right?  And how’s that working out?
  • A Business Ambassador – a person to cut through red tape and help with grant applications, a good idea but one raised many times by Richard St. Paul, years ago and one that has been a complete failure as currently implemented because his main job appears to be selective code enforcement against businesses in downtown.
  • Hire a firm to brand the City to market New Rochelle’s virtues – more words without action.
  • Echo Bay shoreline – the latest “dumbest idea” in a long line of them is the approach towards Echo Bay now that Forest City is gone.

On that last point, rather than have a new RFP so that real estate professionals, investors, developers, hotel chains, retailers and brokers can submit competitive proposals the City limited new proposals to five groups (Twinings, the runner-up to Forest City and the 4 groups that proposed various adaptive re-uses for the armory). Of these five groups, only one was an actual developer. The other four groups entered a design competition for the armory, the previous “dumbest idea”, but were suddenly expected to propose how to develop the entire area? And did any of them access to capital? No.

Bramson said “If the Council likes what it sees, then we can take the next steps with a new designated partner. If not, we can launch a fresh competition, open to anyone.”

How could this happen, legally? There was an RFP under which Forest City was made the exclusive developer. Twinings was the runner-up and under that same RFP would step in to replace Forest City if the City Council wishes to do so. None of the design competition entrants were part of the RFP about a decade ago. So, on what basis would any of the four design competition entrants have displaced Twinings and effectively taken over the original RFP for Echo Bay? Unless I am missing something, this “plan” was nothing more than a free shot at Echo Bay for Twinings without any other real developers having a chance to bid. When you consider that the other four groups that would be essentially bidding to develop Echo Bay are ad hoc groups that drew some pretty pictures it is hard to see how any among the four could even compete with Twinings. No one did. Twinings “won”. So, what was really going? Somehow putting on this Kabuki Theater with Twinings and the Four Dwarves, we were told, allowed the City to keep the $1.5 mm grant it got from New York State.  Isn’t rather obvious that the City should have immediately put out a new RFP and gotten every possible bidder it can to submit a proposal?

Davids Island, the subject of another one of Bramson’s sock puppet committees, is to get renewed focus (in hindsight, it got none).

Bramson said that New Rochelle is called the “Queen City of the Sound.” In fact, New Rochelle business leaders created the name about 100 years ago as a marketing gimmick to promote the City.

Bramson talked about shared services as it were a new idea.

He said “New Rochelle’s prospects are better today than at any time since the housing crash of 2008.”

We have been hearing this since about… well..2008.

Bramson imagined a wonderful scene where residents could “spread out a picnic on Library Green with a baguette straight from the oven and a bottle of wine straight from France.” Apparently Bramson is unaware that there is an open container law in New Rochelle so you would get a visit from the police  — and you are likely to be joined at your picnic by panhandling drug addicts.

Bramson got a particular gleam in his eye when he spoke about “two comprehensive studies, produced through months of hard work, chocka-block with detailed proposals for transit-oriented development and for improvements in traffic circulation and design.” Bramson has been “chocka-block” with ideas and proposals since he first became Mayor — and precisely none of them have come to fruition. Too much “chocka” and not enough “block”, apparently.

Bramson beamed when he spoke about GreeNR, where by “adopting our award-winning Sustainability Plan, we set the framework for reducing energy costs and waste. Award-winning? The City “won” three “awards”. Two of them were from organizations with members Bramson had placed on the GreeNR committee and one from a scam company selling vitamins. We can only wonder if Noam have his 7th place ribbon from a relay race during Field Day at Roosevelt Elementary School (probably!).

“Many people have legitimate concerns about the effect of new housing on our school system. As a parent and a taxpayer, I get it. Who wants growth if the result is overcrowded classrooms or bigger tax bills?”

Ha! Talk of the Sound contributors including Anthony Galletta, Peggy Godfrey, myself and others made that an issue in New Rochelle. It took years but ultimately spurred the demise of the Forest City plan for Echo Bay. The Mayor fought us every step of the way but NOW he gets it?

Bramson went on to promise to work “with the School District to make sure the big questions get answered. No politics, no hyperbole – a professional, holistic examination of school capacity, district by district, matched up to baseline population trends and to the City’s development targets.

No politics? Seriously?

Is there anyone in New Rochelle who does not believe that Noam Bramson does not put on his shoes without thinking about the politics of whether to put on both socks first then the shoes or put one sock and one shoe on one foot and then the other.

And what has come of this idea? Nothing!

Bramson then went on to talk about moving the City Yard which remains in the same place it has been for decades.

“Our shoreline is too precious an asset to waste on salt piles and garbage trucks,” he said.

No better to waste it on toxic chemicals, heavy metals and a century of industrial sludge.

Noam seems to have forgotten that one of the major issues with the Echo Bay development is that little of the area is actually shoreline and that there is now a 10-story high sewage treatment plan blocking much of the views. It may very well be that the best place for the City Yard is in that area (either behind the sewage treatment plant or even over by the old Con Ed plant). And what about the Army Corps of Engineers report that no one on City Council seems to want to talk about? There is no getting around the fact that City officials have been engaged in an ongoing deception with regard to the findings of the Corps — lead, barium, mercury and other toxic metals in the mudflats that line the Echo Bay property. How can the City Council entertain new ideas for developing that area without even acknowledging that the Army Corps of Engineers has indicated its flat opposition to developing that area if it involved disturbing the soil and mudflats (and all of the five plans reviewed last year intended to do so)? Or will the City government try to pull another fast one and saddle taxpayers with all of those costs without disclosing them? The City did not even open up Echo Bay to new bids instead coming up with a ridiculous “Twinings and the Four Dwarves” approach where a bunch of people with no prayer of coming up with a plan (let alone financing) were put up against a professional real estate development firm.

The Echo Bay approach differs from the Davids Island approach envisioned by the Mayor.

Let’s learn from the mistakes of the past. Rather than responding to the latest pitch from Joe Developer or Jane Developer, let’s decide up front what we want and go after it. That’s why we recently completed a terrific study of reuse options for the Island, one of the best volunteer-produced reports I’ve ever seen. That study carefully evaluated environmental challenges, infrastructure requirements, sea-level rise, and every other key factor – helping to discard costly distractions like a bridge, while illustrating a sustainable model that combines tourism, research, energy-generation, and public access. And that’s why, as a next step, we should complete and approve our Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan – the LWRP. I know, it sounds bureaucratic – another acronym and another thick document to file with Albany. But really, it’s about getting our ducks in a row, and defining goals for our whole waterfront that are as clear as our goals for Main Street. Fortunately, we just received a State grant of about $80,000 to finish up the LWRP. Let’s get it done so that next year we can take on the exciting challenge of Davids Island with renewed focus and broad public support

Why one approach for Echo Bay and a completely different approach for Davids Island?

Perhaps because Noam is being Noam — Echo Bay is an issue that has received a great deal of attention and many people have weighed in on what they want to happen there. With Davids Island, Noam is pushing a plan that has not been the subject of any meaningful public debate.

This gets to the heart of Bramsonism. If you go back to his days at Harvard, you see Noam always trying to be too clever by half, always trying to line things up behind the scenes and push things through without people being aware of what he is doing until they see the result. That’s why he likes to have all these committees — he stacks them with loyalists, directly controls the work of the committees, moves them towards pre-ordained outcomes and then pretends his future actions are being guided by the committee when they were just a cover for him to do what he wanted to do all along. Noam knew what HE wanted for Echo Bay and he knows what HE wants for Davids Island. He will get there by hiding behind others and playing the puppet-master.

Noam did manage to lift a portion of this speech directly from reporting by Talk of the Sound — without credit.

“Just look at our roads after snowstorms. Have you wondered why the pavement seems clearer across the border in Scarsdale or Larchmont or Pelham? It’s not because our guys aren’t working their tails off. It’s because those other communities have between three and five times more plows per street-mile than we do. And that’s just one of many examples.”

He is directly paraphrasing our articles on this topic. Those studies on what other municipalities do was based on my reporting and information obtained by DPW Commissioner Alex Tergis at my request. Noam had nothing to do with it.

Bramson went on to credit Lou Trangucci for the purchase and construction of a salt dome at the DPW Yard.

“Lou Trangucci, who never lets us forget whom we serve, and whose long, determined, once-lonely crusade for a salt dome is about to succeed, with a big assist this season from Mother Nature.”

Actually, it came about because of reporting on Talk of the Sound where we did something no one — including Lou Trangucci — bothered to do: get the facts, get price quotes, run the numbers and make the inarguable economic case as to why a salt dome was cheaper than not having one.

Perhaps the most laughable line was when Bramson said “I don’t imagine for a second that I’m the only one with good ideas, or that my way is the only way”.

This false humility is laughable on its face.

Noam always thinks he is the smartest person in the room and always wants to make sure everyone knows he thinks he is the smartest person in the room. He is so smart that he has spent $2 million of other people’s money to reach the grandiose position of weak-Mayor of a small City, living in the shadows of bigger and more successful politicians who have all passed him by.

Yep, a real genius.

“If sometimes I push a little hard or a little fast, it’s simply because we know our New Rochelle can be an even better place, and I don’t want any chance for progress to slip away.”

Baloney. Noam is “pushing” because he is always thinking about a way to finally add some meat to the thin gruel of his resume in the hope that he can run for higher office, leaving the New Rochelle City Council far behind.