"Never his mind on where he was."
Like Luke demanding that Yoda train him as a Jedi, the Mayor of New Rochelle has been unable to succeed for New Rochelle because his mind is always elsewhere -- on himself, on his resume, on his greater ambition beyond New Rochelle - never his mind on tackling real issues in New Rochelle but creating "solvable" issues for him to "solve", all signifying very little for the people of New Rochelle.
Yoda: All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things…
And where has Noam's mind been?
The Mayor says he has spent his 17 years on City Council dedicated to what he has described as the "core issue" of his entire political career -- sustainability. Funny, because when Noam first came knocking on my door looking for votes in 1995, I don't recall him mentioning sustainability at all. I do recall him talking about lowering property taxes, sound financial management and improved municipal services -- all the other sorts of things the owner of a single-family home would want to hear. I voted for him. Taxes went up, fraud went unchecked and city services declined. Back then there was not a word about wanting to implement mandatory recycling, building codes developed by an organization backed by a Hungarian currency trader, requiring expensive upgrades to lateral lines at my expense; making ownership of a single-family home more expensive and shifting municipal investment into "transit-oriented smart development" (code for tax breaks for politically-connected billionaire developers).
When Tim Idoni left to become Westchester County Clerk, Noam ascended to the head of the table as chairman of the City Council otherwise known by the honorary title of Mayor of New Rochelle. And where has he spent his time since? The tag cloud on his web site tells the tale. A tag cloud is a visual representation of a weighted list of text depicting keyword metadata or "tags" on a website where the importance of each tag is shown with font size or color. The more prominent terms are displayed based on their relative prominence. The most prominent tag on Noam Bramson's web site is "GreeNR".
Always with Noam the emphasis is on meaningless committees, reports, plans, and resolutions that Noam can splash about with press releases and then stack on the shelf in his office at City Hall like a 4th grader with so many 9th place ribbons from the Pinewood Derby.
I was reminded of this again by a recent article in the Sound & Town Report, City adopts Complete Streets resolution. The article begins, as they so often do, with a line that could have been written by Noam himself.
One of the county’s largest cities has done what many other communities have only discussed: adopted Complete Streets principles.
Heh! New Rochelle is portrayed on the cutting-edge of "sustainability", boldly going where no municipality has gone before. Thanks to Noam's laborious labors and effortful efforts, the city will now "adhere to Complete Streets principles and guidelines going forward" with the stated goal of "safely sharing local roadways". This is not a knock against Christian Falcone, the reporter, but note how the story includes the following sentence without attribution.
It is something the city has had its eye on for quite some time, having referenced such guidelines in its Sustainability Plan.
Now it is possible that Falcone read GreeNR (he would be one of the few), followed all the City Council discussions (all one billion hours of them) and is familiar with the relationship between "Complete Streets" and "GreeNR" but most people who are familiar with Noam will recognize the Mayor feeding a line to a reporter.
Noam is quoted saying "To be clear, we are not mandating changes in road design, but rather ensuring that sustainable design is considered and subjected to a cost-benefit test".
And what is Complete Streets?
According to the article it it a "national movement" because Complete Streets is now in 249 local jurisdictions in 26 states and territories. Of course, by that definition, the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings are national movements too -- and they are in lot more local jurisdictions.
The main goal of the national Complete Streets coalition is to create roadways that are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.
No. That is the stated goal. The actual goal of "Complete Streets" or "Walkable Cities" is to increase the "cost" (economic and otherwise) of owning and operating a personal vehicle and thus discourage their use. It is a part of a suite of sub-goals (increased parking fees, increased fuel surcharges and taxes, limited development of fossil fuels like coal and oil, increased licensing fees to own and operate vehicles, etc.) all intended to make car ownership unaffordable. It is one of a series of companion goals under the Land Use Stabilization Wedge Strategy espoused by John Nolan of the Pace University Land Use Law Center, and contained within the same set of "Sustainability" goals espoused by ICLEI and Agenda 21 of which the Mayor is a major proponent.
The result of achieving this goal will be to shift public investment away from low density areas into high-density areas, discourage single-family home ownership by making it unaffordable, encourage people to live in apartment blocks ("new urbanism"), and make the use of personal vehicles for transportation increasingly difficult under the guise of reducing carbon emissions to address the scientific theory of anthropomorphic global warming. Whether you believe in man-made global warming, support the concept of sustainability articulated in Agenda 21, want to devote public resources to these sort of programs, the end game is not bike lanes on Pinebrook Boulevard or outdoor cafes on Main Street. They are the eye-candy offered to distract the public from the ultimate aim of these programs which is to reduce and eliminate large tracts of single-family housing, most of which was built after World War II. The question is not whether this is the final aim -- it is, read Nolon's book linked above which envisions 22 million empty single-family homes in 30 years -- but whether the people of New Rochelle understand that and support it. Right now that cannot be the case because the public has never been fully informed as to what the Mayor intends.
You cannot have the consent of the governed without properly informing the governed.
Now, I point all this out because you have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the Complete Streets article to find the words of New Rochelle Development Commissioner Michael Freimuth which highlight the futility of adopting Complete Streets in New Rochelle.
…according to the city’s Development Commissioner Michael Freimuth, the idea may not see much implementation in New Rochelle, and he doesn’t believe it will change the way the city approaches construction. “It’s really for new construction of streets and is a practical matter,” he said. “We just don’t have open space that gets built out anymore [so] its application is limited in practical effect.”
Another concern with the program is if such practices are cost effective. “If not, then that is as far as it goes,” the commissioner said about any projects on the local level. “We need not pursue it any further than that threshold of criteria.”
In short, our highly experienced expert on development says that Complete Streets does not apply to New Rochelle and, even if it did on some rare occasions apply, it would likely not get beyond an initial cost/benefit analysis.
So, why would the Mayor expend taxpayer funds to adopt a program of no particular relevance to New Rochelle?
Simple, it's another line on his resume, another 9th place ribbon on his shelf, something he can add to his list of "accomplishments". The Mayor loves self-congratulatory announcements of meaningless gestures of no practical consequence for New Rochelle residents. And that is what GreeNR is all about -- Noam and his sustainability pals patting themselves on the back.
A recent announcement of a League of Women Voters event at the New Rochelle Public Library promoted an appearance by Deborah Newborn where she will talk about the "award-winning" GreeNR plan. The Mayor's web site now has a GreeNR logo with a little blue ribbon attached. It would be cute if it was not so sad for the rest of New Rochelle.
So what are the awards Noam is touting? There are four of them.
New Rochelle’s GreeNR Sustainability Plan has been named the recipient of a Planning Achievement Award from the Westchester Municipal Planning Federation (WMPF) for “Outstanding Contribution to Planning in Westchester County.” Coming from experts who are devoted to sound planning practices, this award is a great validation of GreeNR’s positive vision and practical value.
Who is the WMPF and how did New Rochelle get the award?
First off, Noam applied for the award. This is how your taxpayer dollars are being used; having people like Noam, Deborah Newborn and Kathy Gilwit applying for awards and then drafting and distributing press releases to announce winning the awards. Weeeeee! Isn't spending other people's money fun?
And the Westchester Municipal Planning Federation? It is a group of "municipal governments, zoning and planning boards and land use consultants including lawyers, engineers, architects and planners". In other words, New Rochelle employees and their consultants and members of the GreeNR advisory board. That's Noam's idea of "validation". Noel Shaw, New Rochelle's previous building bureau official is a past president of WMPF. One of their partners is the Regional Planning Association which includes David Kooris who was appointed by Noam to run the GreeNR advisory board and "facilitate" creating the GreeNR plan. Edward Burroughs, former Westchester County Planning Commissioner, is both a member of WMPF and the GreeNR Advisory Board.
Who is the Pace Land Use Law Center and how did New Rochelle get the award?
Pace Land Use Law Center is the home of the aforementioned John Nolon. Professor Nolon was a member of the GreeNR Advisory Board. New Rochelle got the award through Noam's connection to Nolon. The award was given at a luncheon where a keynote address was given by David Kooris of the Regional Plan Association, the same group involved with the WMPF, the same guy who led the GreeNR Advisory Board. The same guy who was in New Rochelle a couple of years ago, citing without attribution a European neo-Marxist group affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement in his role as facilitator for GreeNR.
What is the New York Planning Federation and how did New Rochelle get the award?
By now you are getting the picture. The New York Planning Federation is another group connected to the Mayor through the GreeNR Advisory Board.
In what is classic, disingenuous Noam, he announces the award by professing to be totally surprised that such an award even exists, let alone that GreeNR has won the award.
What American youngster, growing up here in our great nation and thinking about his or her future, doesn’t dream of one day winning a Heissenbuttel Award? Well, OK, maybe not. And I’ll admit that, until a couple of days ago, I had never heard of the Heissenbuttel. But, it turns out to be a pretty big deal.
The Heissenbuttel Award is one of a handful of honors given annually by the New York Planning Federation for outstanding accomplishment in the planning field. And this year’s Heissenbuttel goes to . . . GreeNR, the New Rochelle Sustainability Plan.
That Noam, quite the card! He's never heard of that crazy sounding "Heissenbuttel Award" but it turns out its a "big deal". It also turns out one of his main GreeNR pals is directly involved. In any case, does anyone actually believe that Noam does not have a running list of every award he might be conceivably eligible for to add to his resume?
Despite the misleading headline, the "honors" were not "NY State Planning Honors". New York Planning Federation is a "membership supported not-for-profit organization". It describes itself as "statewide" but it is not a New York State agency as implied by Noam's headline. It's mission is to "promote sound planning, land use and zoning practice in New York State which fosters orderly growth and development balanced with the protection of natural resources". In other words, it is another Agenda 21-style sustainability group.
And the connection to Noam? New York Planning Federation offers training for local government officials at…wait for it…at the Pace University Land Use Law Center. The program is administered by the Pace University Land Use Law Center. By now you know that Prof. John Nolon runs the Pace University Land Use Law Center. Even better, Nolon is on the Advisory Council of the New York Planning Federation. Just imagine Nolon involved in this up to his eyeballs but never mentioning this award to Noam. Yep, that sounds plausible.
What is the Environmental Hall of Fame Award and how did New Rochelle get the award?
By now you might be asking if there is any "award" given for GreeNR that does not come from organizations directly affiliated with the GreeNR Advisory Board? Well, there is one.
New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson and Sustainability Coordinator Deborah Newborn received the Environmental Hall of Fame Award from Carol Froehlich-Hull, a representative of the Environmental Hall of Fame. There is no known connection between Noam Bramson, GreeNR and the Environmental Hall of Fame or Carol Froehlich-Hull. In receiving the award during the public portion of a City Council meeting last June, the Mayor said as much when he admitted having not heard of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Of course, that didn't stop him from posing for photos in the City Council chambers with Ms. Froehlich-Hull accepting the "coveted" EOF Award, little more than a scrap of paper with the word "Award" on it placed in a gaudy faux gold-leaf frame.
Had the Mayor done even a cursory background check before turning over City Hall to Froehlich-Hull he would have realized the whole thing was a marketing stunt designed to sell vitamins.
Incredibly, Noam's fourth and final award, was a "membership benefit" purchased by Carol Froehlich-Hull, a "franchisee" of Shaklee Corporation a multi-level marketing network for nutritional supplements, weight-management products, beauty products, and household products. In other words, an Amway competitor. Her company is called A Breath Away Group.
Ms. Froehlich-Hull paid $123 to become a member of Green Megatrends. Who? Never heard of them? Don't worry, neither has Noam. It was through this highly suspect organization that she obtained the "exclusive right" to present a certificate to the Mayor of New Rochelle, get her picture taken doing it and have that picture displayed at the Environmental Hall of Fame which appears to be little more than a crudely built web site full of photos of other
suckers Mayors, elected officials and a handful of celebrities many of whom appear bemused as they try to appear grateful at receiving an award they never heard of, from an organization they never heard of, from people they have never met and will likely never see again.
Think I'm kidding?
Listed among Green Megatrends Membership Benefits is "A photo of you presenting an award to your city for one of its best sustainability programs. ($100 value)" This woman paid money so that if she could con the Mayor into accepting the piece of paper the web site operator would upload the picture to the EOF web site.
There are still two other potential victims out there. Other benefits of joining Green Megatrends include the right to "Present an Environmental Hall of Fame award to a deserving environmentalist in your community (great publicity). ($100 value)" and "Present a HOPE Award (Hero of Planet Earth Award) to a deserving student or school (great publicity). ($100 value)". I can just hear Paul Costiglio, the PR guy for the school district, rushing to get her over to the high school for her next photo op.
We can only wonder if Froehlich-Hull ever got the "greater traffic to your business, thousands of dollars of publicity, and gratitude from your family and community" that she was promised by Green Megatrends for her one hundred and twenty-three bucks. We will do our best at Talk of the Sound to see that she gets loads of publicity for her little stunt at City Hall and her shameless exploitation of taxpayer resources to promote her multilevel marketing business. Well, at least Noam picked up one more donor for his next run for Mayor in 2015.
So, that's it so far. Four awards for GreeNR: two directly from John Nolon a member of the GreeNR Advisory Board, one from a county organization which includes New Rochelle employees as members and one total fake.
EDITOR'S NOTE: You might also want to read The Curious Case of Noam Bramson