At last night’s District 3 candidate forum, Corey Johnson took issue with being labeled the candidate of “political insiders” by his opponent Yetta Kurland. “Does anyone here really think Jerry Nadler is a political insider?” asked Johnson, referencing one of his prominent endorsers. “Jerry Nadler is a progressive Democrat.”
If Johnson believes that a Manhattan ten-term congressman isn’t a political insider, then he is most likely stupid or cynical. He doesn’t strike me as stupid, so let’s go with cynical, or maybe just cunning.
Throughout the debate, which mostly covered development-related issues, when Johnson wasn’t lying, he was tendentiously parsing half-truths. I will concede that he was probably not lying when he said that his mother was a lunch lady, that he is gay, and that he has in fact received the political endorsements that he says he has received. Virtually everything else, based upon my close scrutiny of his record, is in doubt.
For instance, when asked by Kurland why, if he is in fact proud of his work for real estate company GFI Development, he had asked the Gay Center to remove his bio from their website, Corey Johnson answered that the bio contained “incorrect information.” He then, in a non sequitur, claimed that the item had come from this blog, which he accused of “saying false things” about him.
Here is the offending bio, from the archived version of the Gay Center website:
Corey Johnson is currently employed by GFI Development Company as Director of Government Relations and Community Affairs, where he has worked with the New York City Council, Mayor’s office and a variety of New York City Agencies. He has overseen the re-zoning of a large mixed-use project and managed the GFI’s efforts to revitalize neighborhoods surrounding their developments. Prior to his work at GFI, Mr. Johnson directed and shaped political and communications strategy on a variety of mayoral, gubernatorial and presidential campaigns in New York. He has served on the media-strategy team of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and worked in the finance department of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Johnson has been quoted in The New York Times, New York Daily News, The Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle. He has also appeared on CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, NPR, Sirius-XM Satellite Radio and NY 1 to offer political commentary and insight. Mr. Johnson is also the Vice-Chair of Manhattan Community Board 4, where he co-chairs the Chelsea Land-Use Committee and serves on the Business, Licenses and Permits Committee. He is the Political Director for Towleroad.com, which is the highest-trafficked gay and lesbian blog on the Web.
Everything in this blurb corresponds with what Johnson acknowledges to be true about his work history. The only consistent explanation for why he called the Gay Center and asked them to remove the item is that he was trying to cover up his association with GFI.
Regarding this blog, incidentally, I challenge the Johnson campaign or anyone else to identify any false claims I have made about him.
Next, Johnson accused Kurland of lying about his current association with GFI, insisting that his employer, the Sydell Group, is not an offshoot of GFI, nor is it connected with the company in any way. Corey Johnson identified the Sydell Group as the manager of two hotels outside of New York, and insisted emphatically that it is not connected to GFI.
Here is a little item from the New York Times from March 10 of this year:
The Local Stop column in some editions on Feb. 24 about NoMad, the area north of Madison Square, referred imprecisely to the development of the Ace Hotel in the area. The Ace, which opened in 2009, was developed by GFI Development, then a partnership between Sydell Partners L.L.C. and Allen Gross of GFI; it was not developed only by Sydell Partners L.L.C., which has since become the Sydell Group.
This blurb was a correction to an earlier article, and was thus presumably rigorously checked and re-checked. So unless the Times fact checkers are complete incompetents, GFI Development and the Sydell Group are, contrary to Corey Johnson’s denial, closely related.
Here is an article from The Real Deal describing the fallout between the head of the Sydell Group and his partner, the head of GFI. There is no question in the mind of the writer that the two companies operated in a tight partnership, with joint ownership and management of assets.
Here is a press release from the Sydell Group itself, describing its close partnership with GFI.
So we are left with two options if we want to preserve the idea that Corey Johnson is telling the truth about the Sydell Group: either he is very stupid, or everyone else in the world is wrong. But if we reject the supposition that he must be telling the truth, then everything becomes clear. That’s the problem with extremely convincing liars: the way they say things sounds so sensible that we want it to accord with reality, even when it doesn’t.
Corey Johnson took hairsplitting to the level of the angstrom when the conversation turned to the question of 470 Vanderbilt, a GFI development in Brooklyn. At an earlier community forum, Johnson took credit for having forced the developer to increase the level of affordable housing to be built from 20% to 26%. He then congratulated himself for having even provided for affordable two-bedroom apartments to be built, all for the benefit of the families of Brooklyn.
Leaving aside the fact that the Council Member involved in the negotiations on the other side of the table from Johnson, Tish James, said flat out that she has no recollection of Corey Johnson’s role in securing the higher percentage, no housing of any sort was built at all at 470 Vanderbilt. There is an office building at the site, and a parking lot where the housing was supposed to be.
Last night Johnson insisted that he had never said that the housing was built, only that he had negotiated a restriction in the event that housing were to be built. Forgive me if I fail to follow Corey Johnson into his Thomistic musings on the nature of the unbuilt, but the lot is commercially zoned, so his imaginary restrictions have been violated in any case. Don’t take my word for any of this, listen to the man himself talk about his fantasy building, and then decide if he was talking about restrictions or about actual housing.
Corey Johnson is a handsome, charismatic guy, and it sounds like he has worked hard on the community board. He speaks clearly, has a nice voice, and unlike Yetta Kurland, he doesn’t get visibly nervous. The debate last night was kind of like Kennedy-Nixon: Johnson won if you watched it on television, but everyone who listened to it on the radio said it was hands-down Kurland’s victory.
The only problem with Corey Johnson is that he lies. He figures he can lie his way into office, and by then it won’t matter. But the problem with lies, even if they never catch up to you (cf. Bill Clinton), is that lying is a terrible habit, habit forms character, and character is destiny.