The Bowery and the UDC: Letter Perfect

Across the street from the Commodore is the main branch of the Bowery Savings Bank, with $5 billion in assets, second largest savings bank in the country. The Bowery’s stake in the renovation of the Commodore is unmistakable. The Bowery stated that inter­est in an impassioned letter to the Board of Estimate supporting the Commodore project and warned that the hotel would become “a major blighting influence in midtown Man­hattan” unless renovated.

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Bowery had a relationship with UDC. Its marketing vice-president, Pazel Jackson, had been appointed to the UDC board by Carey in 1975. UDC chairman Richard Ravitch was also a friend of the bank’s and would shortly be named to its Board of Trustees. Ravitch and Jackson voted for the UDC general pro­ject plan on the Commodore, as well as a batch of other resolutions authorizing aspects of the deal. When three resolutions went to the board in May 1978, making the project technically operative, Jackson voted for them (Ravitch had left the board by then). No one ever raised the issue of Jackson’s possible conflict, even after the Bowery became the second largest lender on the project, with almost a $15 million mortgage investment. Ra­vitch wasn’t named to the Bowery board un­til a month after he left UDC.

But the most curious aspect of the Bowery/UDC relationship is the striking similarity between letters sent by both to the city con­cerning the Commodore deal. Each letter makes the same four recommendations to the city on how to structure the deal. In several parts of the letters, the wording is identical.

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One of the issues on which the bank and UDC agreed — in almost exactly the same terms — was that Hyatt’s participation was re­quired. It is easy to understand why the Bow­ery took this position. Since critics of the Commodore plan, like the Citizens Union, had attacked it for ”subsidizing tourists at the upper end of the income scale,” it’s more difficult to explain UDC’s insistence on it as a condition for agency participation in the pro­ject. Neither Ravitch nor Jackson could ex­plain the striking similarities in the Bowery/UDC letters and positions. Nor would the Bowery tell me what its earnings or rate of in­terest was on the Commodore loans, one of three UDC projects it financed that were ap­proved by the Ravitch/Jackson board. ❖


Stanley Friedman: Going Away Gifts

In January 1978, Stanley Friedman moved out of City Hall, where he’d been Abe Beame’s deputy mayor and principal political operative. There were some negative news stories about the fact that one of Beame’s last official acts was to name Friedman as lifetime chairman of the city’s water commission, a seldom-show, $25,000-a-year post, with extras like a chauffeured limousine. Jack Newfield had written in The Voice as early as No­vember 1977 that Friedman had also lined up another post for himself — he would become a partner in the law firm of Saxe, Bacon and Bolan, a firm noted for a name that does not appear in its corporate title — Roy M. Cohn. The firm acts as a kind of general counsel and adviser to [Donald] Trump and represents him on certain aspects of the Commodore. As predicted, Friedman not only joined Cohn’s firm that January but moved himself into Cohn’s office in the firm’s East 68th Street townhouse. Shortly thereafter, Stanley Friedman cashed in the chips he’d accumulated as dep­uty mayor and got himself elected Bronx Democratic county leader by vote of its district leaders. Roy Cohn at last had his own in-­house party boss.

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But before Friedman left the city to join his new firm, he had to clean up a few loose ends for longtime Cohn client Donald Trump. In the last two weeks of the Beame administration, Stanley Friedman frenetical­ly pieced together the final, extraordinary pieces of Trump’s Commodore deal and bound the city to it in ways that new mayor Ed Koch could not undo.

Friedman’s advance work for his new firm included forcing an “escrow closing” that ended on December 21, 1977, 10 days before the end of the administration. Hadley Gold, special assistant to the corporation counsel, told me it was “the only escrow closing I’ve ever been involved in or heard of in 11 years” of handling the city’s real estate transactions. The problem was that Trump was unable to close the deal because he hadn’t lined up his private financing. He didn’t have the bank’s $10 million to buy the hotel from Penn Central or the $60 million he needed to renovate it. Financing is usually an indispensable in­gredient for the closing of a real-estate transaction, but it was clear that Trump could not get his until after December 31, by which time Beame and Friedman would have left office.

No one was sure that the Koch administra­tion would accept the project on the same terms negotiated under Beame. In addition, Trump’s option with Penn Central had been timed to end 20 days after Beame left office. (The political timing of Trump’s options is now a familiar pattern — his options on the 30th and 60th street yards also ended with Beame.) The fear was that even Trump’s al­lies at Penn Central —because of the booming hotel market — might be forced to consider higher bids. A new developer might have been willing to renovate the hotel at less ex­pense to the city and state.

So, at Stanley Friedman’s hurriedly arranged escrow closing in late December, a three-party agreement was signed — between Friedman for the city, Richard Kahan for UDC, and Trump. The UDC lease and a host of other agreements with Trump were also executed and Friedman signed them as the mayor’s designee. All of these documents were placed in escrow with UDC anomeys, awaiting the final closing, when the agree­ments would be exchanged and the purchase price paid. The city and UDC were bound to the project. Trump could walk away if he failed to complete the financing. But if Trump got his financing, the new city ad­ministration could not change one word of the deal.

Participants described Friedman’s closing as “a marathon session that went on for days.” One said “Nobody knew what was coming next.” Another negotiator, who’s handled city real-estate transactions for 20 years, said he’d never known of any other es­crow closing and that the city would general­ly not participate in any, because it meant that the city would be taking all the risks, committing itself when the private develop­ers and lenders weren’t ready to make a commitment.

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Friedman told me he’d never been in­volved in an escrow closing before, either for the city or as a private attorney. He claimed he’d signed the agreements “on advice of city attorneys that everything was kosher” (so “don’t try to stick this thing on me,” he said). But participants in the closing said Friedman was pushing city attorneys, forcing them to complete their review of the docu­ments. “Sure I told them to move it,” Fried­man conceded, “but I don’t know if I’d call that pressuring them … my whole thing was to get it accomplished fast.”

In addition to the escrow closing, Fried­man, acting as the mayor’s designee, signed a lucrative franchise agreement — which he’d pushed through the Board of Estimate a month earlier — for Trump on December 29, two days before he left city government. The agreement permitted Trump to build a glass­-enclosed “Garden Room” restaurant 18 feet beyond the Commodore property line and extending over the city sidewalk. As part of the last-minute negotiations, the city’s Bu­reau of Franchises agreed to increase the length of the franchise from 10 to 25 years and cut Trump’s annual payments to the city in half for the first 10-year period, to a fixed $28,000 a year. Trump brought in Sandy Lindenbaum and Louise Sunshine to help Friedman push the franchise through.

Friedman told me that he “didn’t recall” discussing the Commodore with Cohn at the time and that “he didn’t know Trump was a Cohn client until the spring of 1978” (Cohn’s representation of Trump was front-page Times and Daily News copy). Friedman did acknowledge that he “may have met Trump at Cohn parties” before he’d arranged the es­crow closing and left the city.

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Friedman’s other line of defense was that the escrow closing and franchise agreement had also been approved by “those fancy law­yers up at UDC,” led by Richard Kahan, then the agency’s director of economic devel­opment. In addition to executing the escrow closing for UDC, Kahan — without the ap­proval of his board — also allowed the devel­oper to switch the Garden Room franchise from a city agreement with Trump to one be­tween the city and UDC, resulting in highly favorable terms for Trump. Kahan also wrote into the lease the provisions that per­mitted Trump to use the waived sales taxes on the project’s construction materials in ways that benefined Trump. Kahan told me that this significant grant of tax funds to Trump was already in place when he joined UDC in the summer of 1976; but there is no reference to it in the draft lease submined to the agency’s board that fall.

Kahan’s actions in this period occurred at a time, after both Ravitch’s and Cohen’s departure from UDC, when the agency, in effect, had no head. Kahan was also willing to remedy that problem: He became a candi­date for president of the agency. “I kept my candidacy to myself the first five months after Cohen’s resignation in October,” Kahan told me. “Then I had many discussions.” Among his principal supporters for the Carey appointment were Sunshine and Trump, the governor’s chief fund raiser and his second largest contributor.

Carey left the position vacant for eight months and then, a month after Kahan con­cluded the final closing on the Commodore, he appointed Kahan president. The 32-year­old Kahan had joined the agency only two years earlier as an assistant director of a sin­gle unit in the agency. Kahan’s selection can­not be simplistically attributed to his service of and support by Sunshine and Trump. He is a brilliant and resourceful bureaucrat and was also backed by people like Robert Wag­ner, Jr. What this record told me was that Kahan was willing to court political insiders, like Trump and Sunshine, even at the possi­ble expense of sound public policy.

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Under Kahan’s authority, a few days be­fore his appointment as president, condem­nation papers were served several of the ho­tel’s commercial tenants. In one case, Trump had actually signed an agreement with the tenant to give him a new lease, almost dou­bling his rent to $180,000 after threatening to use UDC condemnation powers. Six months later Trump was demanding $100,000 more per year and $100,000 cash up front. These demands were in effect enforced by a UDC condemnation order only a week after the owners refused to pay the increases.

Friedman and Kahan wound up indirectly back together on just this case, though nei­ther appeared in court. Friedman’s partner, Roy Cohn, had represented Trump in several aspects of the case against this particular ten­ant. In the condemnation proceeding itself, Trump was not a party (UDC v. Strawberry). Nonetheless, Cohn accompanied Trump to court as an observer. Indeed, after it was revealed that the judge in the case had met Trump at a recent party in Cohn’s home, she removed herself from the case and Cohn stopped visiting the proceedings. Cohn has, however, brought a separate damages suit for Trump against the tenant and, like the con­demnation, that case is also still being litigated. ❖


Will Trump Get Casbah Giveaway?

The scene was set for the traditional, permanent-government arrangement. Donny Trump, the 34-year-old millionaire developer weaned on Brooklyn Democrat­ic politics, was once again going after a spectacular tax break. This time he was applying to the city’s Housing Preserva­tion and Development Commissioner Tony Gliedman, another product of the Brooklyn machine, for a $50 million write­off on his $155 million luxury con­dominium, Trump Tower, now being built on the old Bonwit Teller site at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street.

The lawyer listed on Trump’s applica­tion was Sandy Lindenbaum, son of the late Bunny Lindenbaum, a combo that symbolizes Brooklyn political influence. The other Trump lawyer pressing Glied­man for a favorable decision, calling 10 times in one day, was Bronx Democratic boss Stanley Friedman, law partner of Roy Cohn and protege of Brooklyn kingpin Meade Esposito. The roly-poly, affable Gliedman, who is not only a Brooklyn reg­ular but a member of Esposito’s Thomas Jefferson Club in Canarsie, looked like the government connection for this array of Trump clout. Behind Gliedman, after all, was our pliable mayor, Ed Koch, the former reformer who now thinks “boss” is a term of endearment.

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Despite this recipe for legal graft, Gliedman ruled last week that Donny did not qualify for this tax bonanza. Before Gliedman rejected the Trump application, he checked with Koch and the mayor re­portedly told him he’d support whatever the commissioner decided. Gliedman ruled that Trump failed to show, as the law requires, that the old Bonwit site was “un­derutilized” and “functionally obsolete,” thus disqualifying it for the 100 per cent tax break available under section 421A of the state Real Property Tax Law. Almost immediately, Trump was in Manhattan Supreme Court challenging the decision. Just as quickly, the city’s pristine position began to tarnish.

In a case involving this much political influence, the selection of a judge is espe­cially critical. The judge chosen, at least in part thanks to the city, was Frank Blangiardo, a Manhattan civil court judge temporarily assigned to Supreme Court, who was listed in Jack Newfield’s 10 worst judges (Voice, September 26, 1974). Lis­ten to Newfield’s gentle description:

“Antipoverty lawyers say Judge Blangiardo is biased in favor of landlords … Judges say he is their most political colleague.

“Blangiardo’s whole career is based on political connections. His father was a power in Tammany, and reportedly was a partner with Assemblyman Louis De­Salvio in a liquor store. Blangiardo himself was a protege of Carmine DeSapio.”

Newfield cites a number of Blangi­ardo’s mishandled cases, including a mis­trial that the judge declared on behalf of alleged mafia leader Jimmy Napoli, after Blangiardo “maneuvered the court calen­dar so he would have jurisdiction over the trial.” This time it appears that someone else did the maneuvering.

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The city helped deliver the case to Blangiardo in three ways:

(1) Edith Spivak, a supervising at­torney of legendary skill and honesty at the city’s corporation counsel, was first told of Trump’s appeal late Friday. She and her boss, Allen Schwartz, decided to retain an outside counsel, Rochelle Corson, a former assistant in the office who han­dled prior litigation involving this pro­gram.

Spivak says that they decided to try to prevent the signing of any order that would put them in court immediately, since Gliedman had just made his decision and they needed more time to analyze it. “But the order was signed before we could get over to the court,” Spivak says. Had they made it to court and successfully opposed the order, the case might have wound up before a different judge.

(2) Judge Norman Ryp made the order returnable the next day in Special Term Part I, the section of the court that re­ceives all such motions. Judges are rotated on a weekly basis in this part and Blangiardo had begun his week of service that Monday.

Had Gliedman made a decision during the two preceding weeks, and had Trump proceeded immediately into court, the judge in Part I would have been Arthur Blyn or Thomas Sinclair, and no questions would have been raised.

Gliedman was ready to decide the case at least 10 days earlier and did not. Betsy Foote, Gliedman’s executive assistant who was put in charge of the 421A program a few weeks ago, says that Gliedman had informed Trump that he was leaning against the exemption. Trump asked Gliedman not to make a decision then offering to supply new information sup­porting the application. Gliedman agreed.

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For three weeks preceding his decision, Gliedman or his press office kept telling me that the decision would be announced in a day or two. He made up his mind at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 20, after the courts had closed for the week. Trump had been well briefed on the contents of Glied­man’s two-page rejection letter and he’d already retained a third law firm — Marshal, Bratter — which had prepared a court challenge. The firm sent Gliedman a draft of the legal papers by 7 p.m. that Friday night.

Trump wanted to go into court im­mediately because any protracted threat to his tax break might have a material effect on continuing financing, tenanting, and construction of his project. In addi­tion, the city’s finance department is sup­posed to receive a list of approved exemp­tions no later than March 15, in order for Trump to receive the benefits this tax year. The department is somewhat flexible about that deadline, but it cannot wait much longer. The scheduling of Glied­man’s decision permitted Friedman and Trump to bring the case directly to Blangiardo without losing any time.

(3) Last Tuesday the city’s outside counsel, Rochelle Corson, appeared before Blangiardo. She asked that the case be adjourned for three weeks.

Trump’s attorneys leapt to their feet. They said they had an agreement with Gliedman that no adjournment would be sought. They handed Blangiardo a three-­page affidavit from Stanley Friedman. Blangiardo has sat on the municipal court and civil court benches, awaiting a Su­preme Court appointment, since 1959, when Carmine DeSapio first made him a judge. Friedman’s affidavit was a message from a county leader with the power to one day elevate him. Blangiardo flipped through the pages, his eyebrows arching ever upward. He called his clerk to his side.

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The pertinent part of the affidavit was Friedman’s claim that he asked Gliedman to “avoid delays and adjournments in view of the urgency of this matter” and that Gliedman “graciously told me that the matter will be handled by the Law Depart­ment, but he would communicate this to whoever would be handling it, and he pledged cooperation in bringing this issue to a conclusion at once, with no further delays or adjournments.”

Spivak says that neither she nor Corson has ever been told whether or not such a pledge was made. In court — when the Friedman affidavit was presented — Cor­son did not attempt to verify this alleged no-adjournment agreement. She quietly accepted Blangiardo’s decision not to ad­journ the case, if it had been adjourned, the case would’ve come up again on the Part I calendar before Ed Greenfield, a supreme court judge known for his scholar­ly independence.

Instead of adjourning it and turning it over to another judge, Blangiardo gave the city until April 9 to answer, and said final papers were to be submitted to him.

Gliedman told me that he never made a no-adjournment pledge to Friedman, but neither he nor the city has contradicted the Friedman affidavit. Gliedman explains that he did tell Friedman that the city could win the case by “repeatedly” ad­journing it: “I agreed we wouldn’t do that. I agreed we wanted a decision on the mer­its.”

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All these facts really demonstrate is that the city’s indifference to the court calendar may jeopardize $50 million in future taxes. Spivak said she “hadn’t con­sidered” trying to “get the case before a different judge.” The city’s view that judge selection doesn’t matter places it at the mercy of its opponents in highly politic­ized cases like this one. If only the clubhouse litigants against the city play the judges-hopping game, the odds are weighted against the public interest.

Gliedman may have given in to Friedman and Trump on some of the details of timing to compensate for his unwillingness to give in on the exemption itself. An angry Trump had to take the scheduling crumbs that were offered and is now counting on Blangiardo, who may or may not prove to be the ally Trump and Friedman ap­parently hope for. “I’m determined to win,” vows Gliedman, who now seems to have a full if belated appreciation of the significance of which judge handles the case. “We’ll win on appeal, if we have to.”

Gliedman, and indirectly Koch, merit praise for their courageous and correct de­cision to deny Trump his tax haven for oil sheiks. The top condo in Trump Towers sells for $3,150,000 and has five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, two dressing rooms, two powder rooms, a maid’s room, skylit garden/playroom, sitting room, living room, dining room, study, kitchen, pantry, two interior stairs, foyer, and private elevator. There is no possible rationale for the taxpayers in a city that closes hospitals to underwrite casbahs. It is disgraceful that the Democratic Party leader for the poorest borough in the city is using his political influence to secure this exemp­tion, in contempt of his own constituents

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But the Trump application merely highlight the disastrous consequences of the 421A program. More than a year ago, the first draft of a yet-to-be-completed City Planning Commission study of mid­town development labeled the 421A pro­gram of “dubious” benefit to the city, though it is one of the costliest of all the tax-giveaway programs. The study urged the city to back a bill in the state legislature excluding the program from midtown. Gliedman and Koch have certainly seen copies of this initial draft and a subsequent one, released in July, maintaining precisey the same position. The city is still not even considering the introduction of such a bill. Had they and the legislature acted on these preliminary but axiomatic recom­mendations already, the Trump application would have been a dead letter.

In July, City Planning Commissioner Herb Sturz promised to release the com­pleted study by December but it is still in mothballs. Its authors, however, assure me that its conclusions on 421A have no changed at all. With a growing galaxy of Trump-like towers planned for midtown, real taxpayers cannot afford the city’s con­tinued-legislative laxity.


Breweries Reduce Water Footprint; South African Wine Workers Mistreated

Small craft breweries and large ones alike are trying to reduce their water footprint by improving farming practices.

Wine Bottle Renew, a start-up in Napa, wants to revive the practice of washing and refilling used glass wine bottles.
[Wall Street Journal]

A roundup of wine apps includes Daily Grape, which features video reviews;, the best all-purpose wine app for serious wine folk; and VintageChart+, by Wine Spectator.
[NY Times]

As more Asians discover wine, appropriate pairings are being found for everything from green Thai curry to spicy Korean stews.

Scientists have unearthed the elusive species of yeast that originally led to the creation of German lager beer 600 years ago.
[LA Times]

A report has found that vineyard workers in South Africa’s Western Cape suffer shocking labor conditions and some of the lowest wages in the country.
[Mail & Guardian]

Madonna has partnered with Smirnoff vodka to launch an international contest to find a new dancer for her next tour.

Meanwhile, Bruce Willis has teamed up with Sobieski vodka to raise money for Fisher House, a nonprofit that provides housing to vets and their families.

A roundup of frozen cocktails around the city includes the Frozen Margarita at Pier 9, 808 State at Lani Kai, and Frozen Mojito at the Commodore.



The Commodore in Williamsburg Helps You Drink Like Your Dad

‘Hey, this looks like my dad’s rec room,” said my date, scanning the darkened premises as we entered the Commodore. “Danish modern hanging lamps and padded bar stools with backs, beamed ceiling, a circular booth in the corner, and a bar as long as the basement would allow,” she continued, cheerfully ticking off the common attributes. The Commodore doesn’t look like much from the outside, either, resembling the kind of signless corner bar where the patronage is confined to regulars and you may find your welcome colder than the beer.

But the Commodore is yet another of Williamsburg’s theme restaurants, and a pretty good one at that—though the theme is as muddled as the mint in one of the bar’s juleps. The name suggests a nautical motif, but that’s confined to the cocktail menu, which looks to mixed drinks of the past for inspiration. Jesus, they’re strong! In crude line drawings, these cocktails are depicted on a placemat with the ingredients scrupulously listed beneath, as if the mayor himself had demanded it. There’s the self-titled Commodore, an achingly sweet piña colada with Amaretto poured on top. (The placemat calls the liqueur a “float,” but it’s more of a “sink.”) At the opposite end of the sugary spectrum, find the Boat Drink—a hyper-dry concoction of dark rum and soda, with just a dash of lime juice.

Skip both and try one of my faves: the Trailways (grapefruit juice, vodka, sugar, and mint). If it had a piece of bacon, it would cover all the food groups. Or assay the Tequila Banderas, a meta-cocktail composed of three overflowing shots (horseradish-laced tomato juice, bottled lime juice, and white tequila). The bolting sequence is entirely up to you, or request a glass and mix all three together in whatever proportion you desire. Among the 16 drinks on the placemat, you’re sure to find a few likable ones to linger over in the Commodore’s dark recesses. The best part: All cocktails are priced from $7 to $9.

While the theme of the cocktail menu may be nominally nautical, the food strays into the usual Williamsburg retro-Southern-locavoric-hash-house fare, pioneered at places like Egg and Pies-N-Thighs. That’s because the Commodore’s chef—a corner bar has a chef?—is Stephen Tanner, who has cooked at both establishments. The menu is still in flux, but continues to be a wacky combo of standard tavern fare and farmers’-market provender. Let’s begin with the bar food.

The hamburger is splendid: dense, mayo-smeared, tomatoed, well-pickled, and compact enough to hold in one hand while you grasp your cocktail in the other. It costs a mere $5. Eat two and you won’t be able to order anything else. But then you might miss the massive plate of french fries ($4). Short of being cooked in goose fat, they’re as good as you’ll ever get in a bar. There’s also something quizzically called an “adult cheese.” The sandwich is toasted on the outside, but when you bite into it, a lumpy and creamy filling oozes out that doesn’t taste much like actual cheese. You’ll either adore it or detest it.

The greenmarket-driven section of the menu astonished my date on our first visit with its dish of ramps and asparagus ($6). They arrived nicely cooked in a glistening tangle. “Never seen ramps in a bar,” I mused. “Ramps and asparagus? What an odd pairing,” she continued. When the ramps finally ran out last month, the dish turned into asparagus with a gooey-centered hard-boiled egg. There’s also an unfailingly good green salad, sporting a sharp dressing and featuring arugula topped with shaved white cheese.

As at Pies-N-Thighs, chicken is prominently flogged, in a similar brined and skinless (but still heavily crusted) rendition. Let’s call it Williamsburg chicken. You can have an outsize breast wedged in a hamburger bun, either spicy or not ($9). Increasingly, south-of-the-border dishes have crept onto the menu, which may indicate the influence of the Mexican cooks in the kitchen—through which you must pass to get to the Commodore’s mosquito-infested backyard. “Green chili hominy with chicken” ($6) turned out to be one of the best pozoles I’ve eaten lately. Also in a Mexican vein, and replacing an annoying pulled-pork sandwich on white bread that instantly became soggy, there have recently been excellent tacos filled with green-chile pork.

With its off-price cocktails, familiar interior, and cheap and sometimes excellent bar food, it’s almost impossible not to adore the Commodore. Just be sure to top off Dad’s booze bottles with a little water and food coloring before you leave the rec room.