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Let the Rich Pay Taxes

In Brooklyn, New York, you need a street tag to have credibility. Local kids call me Reeces Pieces because I rap better than Eminem. – Alan Singer

The Prospect Park Alliance (http://www.prospectpark.org/...) ran a big fund-raising event Saturday April 2, 2011 at the Bartel-Prichard entrance to Prospect Park on 15th Street and Prospect Park West. They called it a “Toast to Tupper.” Tupper Thomas recently retired as park administrator after three decades.

I have to admit, while I love Prospect Park and have lived nearby for twenty-years, I was annoyed by the “celebration” from the start. The large tents and roped off area at the Bartel-Prichard entrance blocked bicycle access to the park for almost a week, and more importantly for me and my wife, who is in a wheel chair, they blocked wheel chair access. When I mentioned this to a staff member who was busy doing something or other, she apologized but said it had to be done because it was raising money for the park. My response to her was, “Let the rich people who are eating in the tent pay their taxes instead.”

The cost of a table for ten ran from $6,000, which included acknowledgement in journal to $50,000, which provided 
premium seating, a color-border full-page journal ad, underwriter listing on all event materials with logo, acknowledgement from the stage, and electronic salutation. The cheapest solo non-preferred seat cost $400. A full-page journal ad by itself cost $1,000. Only the rich, or people who work for the rich, were going to attend.

The biggest eaters at the event, called Toast Presenting Underwriters, were Jenny and Michael Messner
 from Summit, New Jersey who are officers of the Speedwell Foundation, a wholly owned enterprise that processes the profits they make from Michael’s Seminole Capital Partners, LP, a billion dollar equity hedge fund. Seminole Capital is deeply involved in a plan to get the federal government to create a land bank fund that would finance purchases of bad real estate at 0% interest through the banks (http://www.ajc.com/...).

While always anxious to profit at government expense, the Messner’s actually claim to champion smaller government, which is why they created Speedwell. According to the Speedwell’s 2009 tax statement available online, the foundation reported $31 million in revenue for the year and $1.5 million in  disbursements, which left Jenny and Mike a lot of money for free expensive dinners at the public expense.

Another big donor to the event was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who just completed a statewide campaign to lower the state income tax on millionaires, probably so they could afford to buy dinner at events such as this one. Bloomberg’s daughter Emma Bloomberg is a director of the Prospect Park Alliance. She works at the Robin Hood Foundation where she manages hedge fund donations from Bloomberg’s fellow millionaires. Her husband, Christopher Frissora is an investment banker at Morgan Stanley.

Toast benefactors included Timothy Ingrassia, who heads the merger department at Goldman Sachs, Florence Davis, President of the Starr Foundation that benefits from AIG money, and David Puth executive vice president in charge of State Street's Global Markets businesses. Before that Mr. Puth was an officer at JPMorgan Chase. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, all these companies were involved in the 2007-2008 global financial crisis and benefited from the federal bailout of the banking system.

Henry Christensen III, another toast benefactor and a director of the Prospect Park Alliance, is a partner in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP.  Christensen III heads the private client practice in New York, as well as the international private client practice. According to the firm’s website, Mr. Christensen’s recent cases have involved trusts created in the Cayman Islands, which they neglect to mention are specifically designed so the wealthy can avoid paying their fair share of taxes. The politically connected Prospect Park Alliance Board of Directors also includes Iris Weinshall, a former Bloomberg Administration commissioner who just happens to be the wife of Senator Schumer.

According to its Mission Statement the Prospect Park Alliance, in partnership with the City of New York and the community, “restores, develops, and operates Prospect Park for the enjoyment of all by caring for the natural environment, preserving historic design, and serving the public through facilities and programs.” It is a good mission, it is just not an excuse for its benefactors to avoid paying their fair share of taxes while they engorge themselves at the public’s expense. 



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