The Deputy Mayor and the Olympics

Email a Friend

If the Bloomberg administration has its way, seven years and five months from now, the Olympics theme will be the theme of New York City. Between now and then, key parts of New York’s landscape will be transformed, from the West Side of Manhattan to the East River Waterfront in Brooklyn to the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island. WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein takes a look at the man in charge of the effort to bring the Olympics to New York, Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff. And she reports on the tensions that arise from having one man hold the powerful post of deputy mayor for economic development AND lead the city’s Olympics bid.

Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff is a tall athletic man. His tightly curled brown hair is only slightly gray, his brown eyes, deep set. Often they gaze past you, out towards the horizon. But he's looking even further than that.

Doctoroff: Think forward hopefully to a day, a day I can guarantee you will be beautiful: July 27, 2012. It'll be a Friday.

It’s a speech he's given hundreds of times.

Doctoroff: From this location, at Queens West directly across from the U.N. at dusk an Olympic Ferry fleet, shining new ferries, escorted by NYC fireboat will begin a grand procession

Dan Doctoroff used to be a successful investment banker. But in 1994, he attended a World Cup soccer game in New Jersey and it struck him: New York, with its multinational population, could offer a hometown crowd for any world sports team competing here. The experience spurred him to found NYC 2012, the non profit organization that’s making the bid to bring the Olympics to New York.

Doctoroff: In every single city where the Olympic Games have come to town, longstanding building and infrastructure projects which had been thought to politically infeasible or financially not doable have been taken off the shelf, somehow that deadline that the Olympics games creates, and the fact that the city is operating in the worldwide spotlight, tend to catalyze all sorts of things getting done.

In Doctoroff's view, that catalyst effect would bring about a city where parks and pools are strung together like an emerald necklace, a city studded with new waterfront housing, tall office towers, and sports stadiums.

Michael Bloomberg, when he was still a just billionaire media mogul, heard the pitch – and signed on. After he was elected Mayor, he invited Doctoroff to join his team to be in charge of land use, zoning, economic development and rebuilding Lower Manhattan. Doctoroff said no. But the Mayor pressed, and Doctoroff began calling friends to ask for advice. One of them was also a close friend of President George W. Bush's – Chelsea Piers Chairman Roland Betts. Betts remembers Doctoroff’s phone call.

Betts: He was torn: Do I finally cut the ties with the private sector and do I chase this dream

Doctoroff took the job -- for a dollar a year, and pursued an ambitious economic development program with 62 projects in all five boroughs.

Betts: He hasn't really given up the reins of 2012, so the amount of time he's spent on 2012 and the Deputy Mayor's job basically means he's basically been working two jobs.

On the NYC 2012 website, Doctoroff is listed first on the staff list. The holiday card from NYC 2012 is signed by "Dan, Jay and the NYC 2012 team."

Doctoroff’s schedule shows meetings on the Olympics at six in the morning and well into the night. He meets with luge champions, designers of the Olympics logo, producers of sports films.

In fact, of the meetings on his schedule that we could clearly identify, we found three times as many appointments on the Olympics or projects with an Olympics component, as we did on the subject that took up the next biggest chunk of his time – rebuilding Lower Manhattan.

At a Jets game late last year, Jets President Jay Cross said he initially had misgivings about Doctoroff’s becoming Deputy Mayor.

Cross: I was afraid that he was going to get so distracted by all the duties that are attendant on the job that either our project or the Olympics bid would suffer from him having to do so many other things. But the guy is an amazing work horse. I think in the end its been good for the project and I think the West Side plan needed a strong hand within the administration and he’s definitely delivered on that score.

In just three years Doctoroff has prodded the agencies he oversees to push Olympics-related projects forward with unusual speed.

BEFORE: The proposed site for the Olympic Village across the East River from the United Nations (Image: NY2012)
In Manhattan, the complex rezoning of the far West Side where the stadium would be. In Queens, the Olympics Village. In Brooklyn, the East River waterfront is being rezoned for housing, a beach volleyball court, and an aquatic center.

Kriegel: The Williamsburg one is a piece of property that we identified over six years ago as a prime piece of New York real estate that was sitting neglected that presented a unique historic opportunity.

In his office 33 floors above Ground Zero – NYC2012 Executive Director Jay Kreigal looks across his desk under a shock of silver hair, furiously munching potato chips. Kriegel, who once worked for Mayor John Lindsay, has been in an around city government for 40 years.

AFTER: A rendering of the planned Olympic Village (Image: NY2012)
He says he's never seen economic development move forward at the pace its moving now. And for him, a new East River waterfront is just one example of how the Olympics can transform New York.

Kriegel: This is going to be one of the great parks in New York City in an area that doesn't have it on a waterfront that is totally decrepit, abandoned in a kind of post-industrial 50-year wasteland we're turning that around, largely driven by the Olympics.

For Doctoroff, and now Mayor Bloomberg, the city can't afford NOT to do this. But critics say the Mayor and Doctoroff quietly put together deals and THEN sell them to the public. One of those critics is Robert Yaro, the head of the Regional Plan Association, which has been keeping an eye on development for more than eighty years.

Yaro: Dan comes out of the investment banking world. Investment banking is about transactions he’s seen a lot of these projects as business transactions

It's this attitude which is prompting growing criticism. West Side Councilmember Christine Quinn.

03 Although I support the Olympics I would prefer to make choices with the calculus of what's best for the taxpayer first and foremost. If it then happens to be great for hosting the Pan Am games or the Olympics or the great American Bake-Off, great but our first focus should be what’s best for the taxpayers.

We spoke to dozens of bankers, business, and civic leaders for this story. Many say Doctoroff’s having two jobs raises questions, especially when it comes to NYC 2012’s goal of raising fifty million dollars.

The donations towards that goal are listed on NYC 2012's website. Stephanie Greenwood is research analyst for the union-backed think tank, Good Jobs New York, which tracks city subsidies to private organizations. We showed her the donor list.

Greenwood: This list looks remarkably similar to our online data base of subsidy recipients, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Citigroup, Hearst, American Express received 9/11 money.

There is overlap between the donors and those who have received economic subsidy packages from the city of New York. Others donors received Liberty bonds, money designed to help post 9/11 rebuilding.

The three top banks working for the West Side infrastructure financing are major donors. Others contributors have consulting contracts to work on West Side rezoning. And it's not just major corporations. A Bronx tile company which received a $225,000 city subsidy package to expand its workforce gave $5,000

These subsidies, contracts, liberty bonds, underwriting deals all come through Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff or city agencies he directs.

We didn't find evidence of quid pro quo.

And many of the donors told us they gave because they think the Olympics would be great for the city and its economy. But the confluence of power under a Deputy Mayor who is also running the city’s Olympic bid worries government watchdogs such as Rachel Leon, Executive Director of Common Cause/New York.

Leon: Are we again coming up against a new wrinkle but the same old question which is: are people currying favor even though it's in the interest of the city instead of someone’s campaign war chest?

The history of donors trying to curry favor through political campaign contributions is well known. So there are strict rules governing political fundraising. There are rigorous disclosure requirements so there's public accountability. Neal Rosenstein is an attorney with the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Rosenstein: Deputy Mayors in particular, but also city officials with substantial policy discretion, like the head of an agency or their counsels, are specifically prohibited from directly or indirectly trying to get contributions.

But there are no such rules for NYC 2012 or the other city-related charities that have blossomed under Bloomberg. In a 2003 ruling, the city conflicts of interest board, actually encouraged such fundraising, so long as, the ruling stated, the donor has no city business "currently pending or about to be pending." But Rosenstein says it’s almost impossible for donors NOT to feel pressure to give.

Rosenstein: Contributors often say they frequently give funds not because they want to because they’re worried if they don't. Maybe you want to build an office building, maybe you're a developer, maybe you want to apply for a contract of some sort. That is a kind of pressure that that individual can feel which many people would say is inappropriate.

Some donors who told us they felt they HAD to give, but they didn't want their names used for fear of souring city business deals. One businessman said Doctoroff told him – after a city hall meeting on a non-olympics-related matter, that he'd hear from Jay Kriegal, Executive Director of NYC 2012. He did, and he gave a six figure contribution. Doctoroff’s spokeswoman says if the subject of fundraising had come up, Doctoroff would have referred it to Kreigel.

Another businessman said NYC 2012 officials have said "your help would mean a lot to Dan." One lobbyist said "Every lobbyist in this town – EVERY ONE – tells their client to ask Doctoroff how can I help with the Olympics." Jay Kriegel.

Kriegel: I'm astonished to hear you say that. I don’t discuss city business with Dan or anybody else.

Kriegel says there is absolutely no connection between NYC 2012's fundraising and city business. We asked whether he’d heard what we’d heard – that businesses can’t contribute to the self-financed Bloomberg campaign, so they give to charities like NYC 2012, instead.

Kriegel: Listen maybe that's a wonderful thing for the city, we’re enormously blessed that we have a mayor that no one can make that charge about, right? Now if what you're saying is that's therefore freed up a lot of money for charitable causes because we know Mike the mayor has a lot of charitable causes, maybe its produced enormous amounts of money for these other charities that would be great!

Our research found many examples of close proximity in time between official city action and meetings to discuss the Olympics. One example, in December 2003, Doctoroff and Kreigel met with top level executives at Citigroup. Less than a month later, Citigroup representatives came to Doctoroff and other to try get underwriting work on the West Side project. Citigroup didn't get the contract.

Kriegel says no one has been promised a favor for giving a contribution or refused some city action for failing to make a contribution. And we didn’t find anyone who said otherwise.

But Government watchdogs say that doesn’t matter – they say such proximity in time leads to situations where businesses feel they have to "pay to play."

Kriegel says he makes fundraising solicitations, not Doctoroff. But he says the meetings are part of the fundraising pitch.

Bernstein: Has it ever come up at any of these meetings where you’ve gone to discuss the Olympics bid has any body asked the dm about a separate city project? Kriegel: In most of these cases these are people we know and have known for a long period of time, with many relationships. It would be absolutely unnatural not to talk about things going on in the city, we talk about their business, the mayor’s budge, we talk about a whole variety of things in the city.

We tried for nearly three weeks to schedule an interview with Doctoroff for this story, but his spokeswoman says he couldn't fit it in. Doctoroff was in Turin and Lausanne last week. He left last night for Paris. Earlier this winter, after a speech with Peter Ueberroth, the head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Doctoroff said his dual role works out well for the city.

Doctoroff: Clearly the Olympics are a very important part of our economic development strategy and being able to balance the two roles has been very valuable. I’m going to continue to do it until I can’t, but I’ve got to run. Reporters: Questions. Spokeswoman: Thanks everyone

The International Olympic Committee makes its decision about who will get the Olympics bid in July. In the next five months, Doctoroff has said, he will work harder than ever. For WNYC, I’m Andrea Bernstein

This story was reported with Tom Robbins of the Village Voice. The researcher was Kate Hinds. It was edited by Karen Frillman and engineered by Wayne Shulmister. The senior producer was Kaari Pitkin. The executive producer was John Keefe.

Listen to morning edition this week for more on the Deputy Mayor and the Olympics.

Related Stories:

» Paris Hopes for Olympic Village
by Andrea Bernstein, March 31, 2005
» Londoners Hang High Hopes on Olympics
by Andrea Bernstein, March 24, 2005
» No Olympics Yet, but Two World's Fairs
by Fred Mogul, November 4, 2004
» Atlanta's 'Olympic legacy' Holds Lessons for NYC
by Fred Mogul, July 12, 2004
» Stadium At Center of NYC Olympic Bid
by Fred Mogul, May 24, 2004
» It Takes an Olympic Village
by Fred Mogul, July 15, 2003



» Tom Robbins' story in The Village Voice
» The NYC2012 website