Lobbyist and Elected Officials A Disaster in the Making
What do you get when lobbyists and developers fund elected officials and candidates for office? “A city that doesn’t work.” This is nothing new in Mount Vernon, and the game plan will never change until we decide as a community to change it.
Greg LeRoy, Executive Director of Good Jobs First, a Washington, DC-based resource on accountable development, said it best, “The big picture is it’s a very corporate-dominated process in which the people that have the power, who really control the way this process has evolved…want as little information as possible out there. They don’t want people questioning what they’re doing, they don’t want people to have a lot of information ahead of time.”
I recently watched a Planning Board meeting where developers were submitting a proposal to build a 13-story, 315-unit affordable housing complex on MacQuesten Parkway and requesting a sweetheart PILOT deal. PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) are weapon of choice that has become a cancer that is eating away at the financial stability of Mount Vernon and the safety of our citizens. By robbing our city of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, these PILOTs negatively impact property taxes, crime, sewers, and schools. Wealthy developers walk away with huge gains, while we eat the cost of their misguided developments – for decades! The disturbing part about this project is the very same lobbyist and developers for this project funded the campaign for our Mayor and are now funding candidates for City Council.
My mother always said no one gives you something without expecting something in return. When you want your projects to pass, you fund people who will bend to your beck and call. Pay-to-play is nothing new with Mount Vernon’s tribal group of friends and families, which must be stopped by derailing the gravy train and getting OUR City on the right track to success. If these greedy lobbyists and developer get their way, the “City of Homes” will be the “City of Projects” within ten years. It will look no different than the South Bronx. The current administration accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money from low-income housing developers funneled through its unregistered lobbyists masquerading as campaign staff. It’s time to pay those donations back with deals that will further cement Mount Vernon’s “dumping ground” status.
Back in April 2019, when I was a Councilman, I wrote a 3-part series about “Responsible Development” which you can read on my website. I published it because many residents requested an explanation about how we got here, and how irresponsible development has set our city back decades. Well, there is a new administration but it’s just more of the same. These housing projects are generally not designed for current Mount Vernon residents and have the effect of “importing” new residents who consume city services, especially education services. For years, county social programs have been steering at-risk and high-challenge residents from surrounding areas of Westchester County and New York City to Mount Vernon, leaving our city on the brink of collapse. Former County Executives enacted policies that place the overwhelming number of social programs, particularly residential programs, in our city. Affluent municipalities have refused to share the burden equally, and Mount Vernon has been used as a dumping ground. This is why Mount Vernon has the highest number of homeless, foreclosures, murders, burglary, and the highest property taxes per dollar of property value in New York State. Further, Mount Vernon also has the highest number of sex offenders per capita; we house more sex offenders than Chicago and Los Angeles – yet we have no established sex offender or homeless task forces. There’s no other way to put it. Our recent elected officials have been complicit in helping other communities avoid their obligations with our taxpayer dollars, neglecting the needs of our people in the process. It’s just shameless.
As Mayor I took on New York City and others about their SOTA (Special One-Time Assistance) program and shipping their homeless to Mount Vernon. We’ll revisit that conversation more in the future. Click to read NY Post article.
Responsible Development means setting real priorities with our development dollars. We need to ask more questions about who is pulling the strings with this administration. We need to end the gravy train that these residential developers are on and re-embrace the original intent of the IDA – which is to encourage “industrial” (that is, commercial) development. Commercial development unlike residential development doesn’t consume nearly as many city resources (for example, a commercial store isn’t using the city’s schools but a high-rise apartment building certainly is), provides ongoing jobs beyond the construction itself and generates sales tax revenues for the city. So, even if there is some property tax reduction to encourage a retail store, that reduction is offset by other tax revenue – making a properly constructed “PILOT” actually beneficial to the city. Right now, the PILOTs that have been approved are fleecing Mount Vernon under the noses our taxpayers.
Mount Vernon needs a comprehensive plan before proceeding with any more projects similar to this. When I served on the City Council, I pushed hard to approve the Thomas Administration’s request for $75,000 to complete the comprehensive plan but could not get the funds passed through the City Council. Since then, money was set aside and hundreds of thousands of dollars added to the Planning Department budget by the new administration for new employees who were supposed to complete the plan and, yet, here we are still with nothing. It’s because this is chaos by design! As long as there is no plan, greedy lobbyists and developers can continue to push their projects and get rich off the backs of the taxpayers. They can do what they want because there are no rules to guide development. All they have to do is continue to fund elected officials who are willing to sell out their community and pass projects for donations to their campaigns.
Mount Vernon, Let’s demand better! It’s time to stop these greedy lobbyists and developers from selling us the same old story about improving our skyline, while they destroy our bottom line.
If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or would like to discuss other topics regarding Mount Vernon, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.