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December 8, 2014 (updated at 3:00 PM)- By Steven E. Greer
Last week, a group of three “moms” representing the “Seaport Friends” hosted a town hall to support the Howard Hughes corporation plans to develop the Seaport. Maria Ho-Bruge, Joy Martini and Lisa Gorke all dressed in black and looked like a well rehearsed marketing team from Madison Avenue.
Recall, the Dallas-based Howard Hughes corporation, controlled by hedge fund mogul Bill Ackman as the Chairman, and largely owned by Brookfield Properties, has been stifled for almost a year by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, and the rest of the “Seaport Working Group”, in their efforts to build a tall residential apartment tower near the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. Hundreds of local residents have resisted all year the plans to gentrify the Seaport.
Now, out of the blue, a seemingly well-funded group of “moms” organized a “town hall” to espouse the virtues of the Howard Hughes plan. Something smelled as fishy as the Seaport fish market, so BatteryPark.TV and our army of volunteers investigated.
The three concerned “moms” posing as “Seaport Friends” are, in fact, professional marketing executives. Joy Martini lists on her LinkedIn, “Present – 2006: President of Martini Consulting”. Her company represents “international law firms”.
Lisa Gorke lists on her LinkedIn no clear job history. She was at Gerson Lehrman until July of this year. She is now “recruiting talent”.
Lastly, Maria Ho-Burge, the third do-gooding “mom”, lists on her LinkedIn as being, “Global communications at Universal Music”.
The three “moms” denied being “on the payroll” of Howard Hughes. However, they did not address whether their companies were benefiting currently, or will benefit in the future, from Howard Hughes contracts to their companies.
We spoke with Ms. Martini and asked her why she was supporting the Howard Hughes plans. She stated, “I want a middle school for my kid”. When asked whether any of the women were benefiting financially from Howard Hughes, or hoped to benefit in the future from Howard Hughes, she angrily denied any conflicts of interest.
We could not verify whether any of the women representing themselves as “Seaport Friends” actually live in New York City or near the Seaport. They seemed to be strangers to most of the people in attendance for the inaugural “Seaport Friends” town hall (if you know any of the women, please post a comment).
The Downtown Express wrote, “(The Seaport Friends) just formed, surprisingly, with the encouragement of Councilmember Chin after leaders told her they were frustrated with the anti-tower bias at other public meetings.”.
Recall, BatteryPark.TV confronted Ms. Chin in February (see video above), and she seemed unwilling to take a strong stance against Howard Hughes. Also, Margaret Chin has long been accused of being in bed with Big Real Estate and Howard Hughes. Robert LaValva, former operator of the Amsterdam Market, wrote, “Furthermore, we were dealt a mortal blow in 2013 when Council Member Chin, who had long professed to support our cause, betrayed the community in favor of a suburban shopping mall developer, Howard Hughes. As a result, Lower Manhattan has already lost more than one acre of beloved and irreplaceable public space and is now seeing its most precious public asset ruined by inappropriate programming and terrible waterfront design”.
Why has the Howard Hughes corporation, a Texas company, failed so badly at the Big Real Estate game? It was supposed to be easy. Just pay the elected officials in campaign donations and you get your way. That’s how things work in this city. Big Real Estate rules, just like Big Oil rules in Texas.
The reason Howard Hughes is still fighting to get their Seaport development approved a year later has to do with the bad press given to Governor Cuomo. He dismantled his anti-corruption Moreland Commission when it started to reveal that his own office was doing favors for Big Real Estate in 2013. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was briefly investigating the governor for shuttering the commission. That gaffe by Cuomo sent shockwaves through the corrupted City Hall. Also, for an elected official in 2014, being pro-affordable-housing and anti-Big-Real-Estate is a winning political maneuver currently. Therefore, people like Gale Brewer are digging in to oppose Big Real Estate.
Will Howard Hughes win the day and get the permission from City Council for their ULURP to build the Seaport Tower that few will actually live in? Mayor de Blasio is not taking sides publicly, pretending to be ambivalent. However, he retained on the job Kyle Kimball to run the EDC, and Mr. Kimball is fighting hard to help Howard Hughes and Bill Ackman. That speaks volumes.