The Public-Private Partnership Behind Zuccotti Park

There are growing signs that the powers that be feel threatened by #OccupyWallStreet and the movement it has inspired. Yesterday, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s assignment editor at the New York Times big bank CEO friend asked him to check out the protests to see if they were a threat. Last week, Mayor Bloomberg was asked if he would let the protesters stay in the park, and he responded with an ambiguous “We’ll see” before absurdly taking the protesters to task for protesting “people who make $40,000 and $50,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet.” And today, WNYC reported that NYPD sources are saying that an “indefinite” occupation of the Zuccotti Park is not an option, based on their talks with the park’s owner.

If the city moves to squash the revolt by evicting the protesters, Mayor Bloomberg and the owner of Zuccotti Park, Brookfield Properties, will be inviting a lot more attention from the occupiers, the press, and the public. The public-private partnership that controls the park has not received much scrutiny so far. An eviction would change that dramatically.

It has not been reported, for instance, that Bloomberg’s longtime, live-in girlfriend, Diana Taylor, sits on the board of Brookfield. The relationship gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “public-private partnership.” Numerous articles have noted that Brookfield owns the park and is in close contact with the city about the situation there, but oddly enough no one seems to have looked at its board (not hard to do). The connection should confirm, in case there was any question, that Bloomberg and the owner of the park are in constant communication.

Bloomberg's longtime, live-in girlfriend, Diana Taylor, sits on the board of Brookfield Properties, which owns the park that Wall Street protesters are occupying.
Bloomberg's longtime, live-in girlfriend, Diana Taylor, sits on the board of Brookfield Properties, which owns the park that Wall Street protesters are occupying.

Taylor is an investment banker and prominent New York City fundraiser. She joined the board of Brookfield in 2007 following a stint as New York State’s Superintendent of Banks. She currently works at Wolfensohn, an investment firm run by former World Bank head James Wolfensohn, and also sits on the board of Citigroup. Taylor and Bloomberg met, fittingly enough, at a Citizens Budget Commission luncheon in 2001. The Citizens Budget Commission is a committee of elites committed to financial austerity, i.e. tax cuts for the 1%, service and job cuts for everyone else. A group of bankers founded it during the Depression to fight for this brand of fiscal seriousness in New York City.

Coincidentally, Taylor has been the subject of a spate of puff pieces in recent weeks, including a New York Times article, a Talk of the Town piece in the New Yorker, and a New York Observer feature. None have mentioned her ties to the owner of Zuccotti Park (though the Observer piece mentions that she sits on the board of Brookfield).

Taylor has taken some flack for criticizing Obama in the Observer piece, at one point invoking Sarah Palin by saying that he hasn’t come through on his “hopey-changey stuff.” According to Crain’s, her comments “surprised insiders” given her partner’s more neutral position and the protocol that typically governs high-powered fundraisers for charity. One lobbyist speculated that her comments positioned her for a role in a Republican administration, which may explain all the press. She also sounded off about the Dodd Frank financial reform legislation, speaking from the neutral standpoint of someone who made $286,250 last year as a director Citigroup.

The cozy, overlooked relationship between Bloomberg and Brookfield, and Brookfield’s ownership of Zuccotti Park, highlights the very dynamic #OccupyWallStreet is protesting: the control of public resources, and government itself, by the wealthy and powerful – the 1%. The occupiers have taken an important first step towards correcting this imbalance. The message is resonating and the movement is growing. If Bloomberg & Brookfield (LLP) move to re-assert 1% control of the park, it could really backfire on them. If they attempt to shut down the protesters by cutting off supplies, or implementing restrictions designed to make life in the park impossible in cold weather, it could really backfire on them. And Andrew Ross Sorkin’s assignment editor would not like that.


Note: I set up a LittleSis research group today for folks interested in conducting research on 1% networks, in solidarity with (and in order to assist) the occupiers and the broader movement against finance capital they have inspired. If you don’t have an account yet, use this link to sign up. I haven’t settled on any specific research questions to tackle just yet, but if you have any thoughts, join the group and write a note.