De Blasio goes with the status quo in economic development appointments

Mayor De Blasio imitates his predecessor by choosing two former Goldman Sachs execs to lead NYC’s economic development efforts.

If you caught the news sometime this fall, you probably know the story of New York City’s changing of the guard.  Populist de Blasio replaces billionaire Bloomberg as mayor.  Wall St. already misses its buddy Mike.  Economic inequality: watch out!

So why is de Blasio surrounding himself with a cast of characters that signal it’s business as usual in City Hall?

Back in December we pointed out that some of the members of de Blasio’s transition team are closely affiliated with REBNY and the Partnership for New York City, two business lobbying groups that enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Mayor Bloomberg.  His time in office was called “a wonderful era” by REBNY president Steve Spinola.  Partnership for New York City President Kathryn Wylde was appointed to the board of the NYC Economic Development Corporation by Bloomberg at the start of his first term. (Interestingly, the EDC by-laws adopted in 2012 also indicate that the board’s chairperson shall be appointed by the mayor in consultation with the Partnership.)

De Blasio continued the trend when he appointed his top development advisors.  Alicia Glen left Goldman Sachs after more than a decade to become Deputy Mayor of Housing and Economic Development.   She replaces Robert Steel, another former Goldman executive who was also CEO of Wachovia.

If you haven’t read Matt Taibbi’s account of Goldman Sachs–“a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”–you should do that right now.  Glen prefers to call herself and her colleagues “nice little calamari” (is being one small piece of the giant squid that much better?).  She led Goldman’s Urban Investment Group during her tenure, investing billions in low-income neighborhoods over a decade.  This work isn’t philanthropic, however.  It fulfills the firm’s legal obligation to make loans in communities where it collects deposits, under the Community Reinvestment Act, and aims to profit from every investment.  One project in Harlem was considered a success because it attracted “yuppies”to live in the area–not necessarily a boon to low-income people, by many accounts.  To Glen’s credit, Goldman was only one of nine banks to earn the Federal Reserve’s highest marks for CRA compliance last year.

De Blasio chose to retain another Goldman alum appointed by Bloomberg last year, Kyle Kimball, to lead the city’s Economic Development Corporation.  Kimball’s predecessors under Bloomberg all have ties to Wall St:

  • Seth Pinsky (EDC President, 2010-13) was formerly a financial analyst at James D. Wolfensohn.
  • Robert Lieber (2007-10) was formerly managing director of Lehman Brothers.
  • Andrew Alper (2002-2006) currently chairs EQA Partners, an investment management firm, and was COO of Goldman Sach’s investment banking division.

Along with pledging to address economic inequality, de Blasio decried the abundant use of stop and frisk by New York police during his campaign.  Yet his recent pick for NYPD commissioner, Bill Bratton, strongly endorsed the tactic last year.  Bratton is best known for implementing a zero-tolerance policy on petty crime, based on the “broken windows” theory, as Giuliani’s police commissioner. He’s also been whizzing through the revolving door between private security companies and public police departments.  He says he’s committed to reducing stop and frisk now, but Bratton is another example of de Blasio’s same old same old approach to choosing his advisors.

De Blasio has responded to several raised eyebrows over these appointments with insistence that his advisors share his progressive vision for New York.  We’re heard that line before.  Only time will tell.