I'll make this a diary rather than put this in the DKE comments section since this comment is getting too damn long. I'll have to give a fair degree of background to explain why this particular rally matters in this district.
I've heard a number of Democrats blame Mark Murphy's loss (and Michael Grimm's win) in 2010 on one thing. The trade unions backing Grimm. Though of course there was more to it than that it was something that certainly hurt Team Democrats. Two rather ordinary reasons why they backed him and why trade unions have often endorsed the more conservative candidate in many races. First that trade union members are often more conservative than other union members and second their main aim is jobs for their membership. Environmental objections, living wage objections, or most of other objections are not of concern to them. They want any and all proposed project built ASAP so their members can get jobs. Sometimes this puts them at odds with other unions whose concern is whether and of what types unionized jobs are available after a project is completed. But there is something else in the case of Michael Grimm. In the last congress he proposed the "Grimm Amendment" that stripped away Republican language that would forbid "Project Labor Agreements." This of course made a number of conservatives who are too thick to realize the trades often do back Republicans angry.
Thus one of the trade union representatives who came to speak at a Democratic club about the matter I am going to get to who is otherwise a liberal Democrat justified his trades support for Michael Grimm by saying he was their ambassador to the tea party who could explain why choosing union labor is cost effective. (Of course there are other parts of Grimm's record that are far more odious but that is for a different time and place)
The north shoreline of Staten Island is pretty barren wasteland save for Staten Island Yankees Stadium next to the ferry. With a number of junk yards, empty lots, and car repair shops overlooking waterfront that is accessible by the Staten Island Ferry and the buses the run along Richmond Terrace and Bay Street and whose eastern parts have a spectacular view of Manhattan. Everyone knows this is a complete waste. Just as everyone knows Staten Island needs mass transit and a new hospital. And everyone knows it never happens.
But surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprising since Bloomberg is trying to push a ton of stuff through at the last moments of his term) a project did emerge. One that I still feel is stupid. But probably harmless. They are going to build the largest ferris wheel in the world right by the Ferry that is supposed to be half the height of the Empire State Building. The goal is that holy grail of trying to get the thousands of tourists who ride the Staten Island Ferry every day to actually stay in Staten Island and do something rather than riding immediately back. It will be built by local unionized labor and is supported by pretty much everyone.
But there is one hitch. The quasi-governmental non-profit (I'd need a separate diary to even explain what it means. But let us just say a private shell corporation is used to allow the city to do things they want to do behind closed doors and away from prying eyes) attached a second adjacent project to it that will build an Outlet Mall and hotel next to it. Combining both into one perhaps (no one is quite sure if it legally can be split) "take it or leave it" project. And that is where the controversy begins.
The outlet mall part is being built by Don Capoccia. And that is where the red flags begin. He is someone who is notorious for being anti-labor and using cut rate labor. There have been allegations about his work being shoddy. Even allegations about use of non-documented workers. He is also someone known for using divide and conquer tactics. And that is the case with this project. Capoccia is offering to hire a large number of public housing residents and giving them a six week training course to do low wage jobs on the project. The under the table argument specifically aimed at Debi Rose (who won her primary on the back of minority, progressive, as well as union support) is that it's a choice between unionized white middle class workers who may not necessarily live in the district and local poor people of color who need any job they can get. The union of course counters that they have a mentor program, are willing to fill it with local residents, and that their far more vigorous training program won't just give a job but a career.
As an interesting aside. Capoccia resigned from a commission he was appointed to by President Bush as a protest against Bush's position against gay marriage. You may also notice him boasting about day laborers.
And for balance a far less celebratory article about Capoccia. It's a good read that will give you some idea why this one developer so concerns the trade unions.
For the local trades this is THE issue. And will determine whether their members are going to work for the next few years. Particularly since other projects recently pushed through by Bloomberg are also non-union. This may have an affect on two downballot races. Though I should caution that they were intentionally redistricted to favor one part over another. So if you were a betting person you should bet on Democrat Debi Rose being re-elected in the North Shore and Steve Matteo being elected on the mid island. But given how ridiculously low turnout is expected to be these things can sometimes make a difference.
Repubican Steve Matteo who is Jimmy Oddo's chief of staff and is basically running as Oddo's adopted son supports the Outlet Mall project. And there is an excellent chance all the trade unions who endorsed Matteo will rescind their support for him and endorse his Democratic opponent, John Mancuso, who is running a strong vigorous campaign for the seat. And if you live on Staten Island this is who you should be helping in the next week or two!
Debi Rose is the one who ultimately can block the project and her handling of this has been curious. She has 25 concerns which she refuses to reveal - at least in the words her Repubican opponent. She's being beaten up by both sides. From the link below you can see her Republican opponent attacking her for not openly embracing the project without qualifications. Understandable in the sense that those behind the project are contributing a lot of money to him. But also perplexing in that trade union members are the type of middle class voters he'll need to get to the polls to win this poorer non-white majority district. The unions (who are currently backing Debi) and their supporters wish Debi would take a firm public stand letting Capoccia know the project is dead without him agreeing to a Project Labor Agreement.
My gut tells me she is going to get some non-consequential concessions and roll over. Given she has run a rather lazy campaign for re-election (no one has even seen a yard sign yet) and she has a pretty high calibre Republican opponent. And it's difficult to get minority voters out on off year elections nevermind low interest odd year city elections an upset it not out of the question. Particularly if the trades bail from her campaign and switch sides as payback. That said the underlying numbers of the district favor any Democrat who hasn't been arrested.
Which leads us to the rally last Tuesday which I attended and meant to write about earlier. This rally is something the trades have been working hard for and cared deeply about. Staten Island also is one of the more unionized counties in the nation. Yes, there is so much to scratch your head about seeing public employees in the south shore being tea party Republicans. The opening speaker at this rally? Michael Grimm.
He gave an excellent speech that sounded very much like one you'd expect a Democrat to give. How his father was a proud union member. How labor unions give you access to better health care and education. And that he supports more union jobs.
Now I'll note this is nothing new. Staten Island Republican politicians visited the picket lines during the CWA Verizon strike. And there has often been a big gap between what they say in public and how they vote once they are out of the district. One that can drive a Democrat crazy. But it is stuff like this that allows a Republican like Grimm to rally ahead of rather than lag behind the Republican Party which despite the shocking 2012 results is still strong in Staten Island.
This seat is a great pickup opportunity for Democrats. But be under no illusion that it will be cakewalk. It's also unlikely he'll be teabagged for his few apostasies. The local Republican Party has two factions. The Oddo faction (which used to be the Vito Fossella faction) and the Guy Mollinari faction. With Molinari's group (which Grimm is a member of) being the more conservative of the two. Given New York's blatantly pro-establishment election laws it's highly difficult for those who are not "in the game" to make the ballot without the help of the old hands who know how it's done.
As for my feelings on the project itself. The main thing that stands out for me is traffic concerns which are not getting nearly enough attention. But I'll keep this general and just say an outlet mall in theory (even if there are problems with it's actual practice) is a great idea. Just look at the traffic of tourists who take buses from New York City up to Harriman all the way up in Orange County. Hell, you even have a lot of traffic to that lousy discount "outlet mall" in Elizabeth. Something right across from Manhattan accessible by ferry is a guaranteed home run and this is even without the public money going into it. If Don Capoccia won't play ball you can bet someone else will in the future. But what happens is up to Debi Rose since the city council will follow her lead on whatever she wants to do. And unlike Michael Grimm politically there is no direction she can go that will not be littered with landmines.
Two pics I took at the rally. On the left of the podium is Congressman Michael Grimm. Starting to the right of the podium is State Senator Diane Savino, Assemblyman Matt Titone, Richmond County Democratic Party Vice-Chair and former union leader John Salazzo, and mid island Democratic Council candidate John Mancuso.
And one of Michael Grimm speaking.
Tue Nov 05, 2013 at 10:41 AM PT: As a quick update. Debi Rose came through with flying colors.
A lot of the folks concerned about the Empire Outlets project were concerned that Debi refused to take a strong public stand. And were given little solace that her private assurances were just as vague as public ones.
Don Capoccia has a record of taking deadlines and negotations right to the brink and winning. And it was felt this project as too lucrative for him to just walk away and without such a strong stand that no project goes forward without union labor he might either win the showdown or miscalculate and take down the entire project.
But Debi evidently did just that quietly and got a great deal with praise from just about everyone. She even made some progress with the rebuilding of Cromwell (a once great community center that collapsed into the sea) where she got funds for a replacement study.
She also got a million dollars for the traffic alleviation study. And this is where I get cynical of all this. Once this project is complete will any Staten Islander ever be able to drive their car to the ferry and park ever again? How much will this be for the tourists and how much of the benefits will trickle down to Staten Island residents?
For good or bad we'll know the answer soon.