Although serving Yonkers as a Councilman for eight years, John Murtagh called New Rochelle his "home turf" because he had belonged to the Davenport Club. Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill Project was approved when Murtagh was on the Yonkers City Council. Now this same developer has been given another Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by the City Council for Echo Bay development in New Rochelle. Because of term limits in Yonkers Murtagh was unable to run for a third term, He quipped that in the past 20 years an elected official had a better change of leaving office "by conviction than by the ballot box." Nearly 10% of politicians, such as Vincent Leibell and Pedro Espada Jr., have left office because of criminal activity.
Forest City Ratner projects have been riddled with legal problems. The Brooklyn Navy Yards was a Forest City Ratner project and State Senator Carl Kruger who was convicted of taking bribes allegedly used his official capacity to help Aaron Malinsky in connection with Four Sparrows Retail Center at Mill Basin where Forest City Ratner is also the developer. In Yonkers the recent convictions of former Council woman Sandy Annabi and Zehy Jereis, former Chairman of the Yonkers Republican Party, in connection with Annabi's change of vote for the Ridge Hill Project of Forest City Ratner. Particular mention was made of the Vice President of Forest City Ratner who testified at the trial that he held secret meetings with Jereis. Murtagh added in his opinion the no show job given Jereis by Forest City Ratner was problematic because Jareis lacked experience in that field.
Echo Bay development "could be good or bad," depending on how honestly the public is dealt with. Contrasting Forest City Ratner to Louis Cappelli, he said Cappelli came to every meeting and was open with the community. But Forest City Residential was trying to railroad a project against a community overwhelmingly against it. Citing the approximately 40 people in attendance at the New Rochelle Citizens Reform Club Meeting where he spoke on May 22, he said developers like Forest City Ratner depend upon residents not being aware of what is going on in the community. In Yonkers Forest City Ratner used closed door meetings and executive sessions, while Alfred Del Bello, lawyer for Cross County's expansion, would meet with the public.
An interesting question was posed by Warren Gross. He wanted to know why Forest City Ratner was not seen as a co-conspirator in the Ridge Hill trial of Annabi and Jereis. The answer given was "he did not know but he assumed they were cooperating." Later Murtagh did mention he had been invited to the Orienta Club by the Pirros and shortly thereafter, Al Pirro was given a one million dollar retainer, (soon increased to two million dollars) to lobby for Ridge Hill.
Joyce Furfero, Co-President of the Confederation of Neighborhood Associations in New Rochelle, told the group she had asked Abe Naperstak of Forest City Residential to come to one of their meetings to talk about Echo Bay, but he refused, saying they wanted to go to the neighborhoods most effected first." It was suggested this is a "divide and conquer" strategy and that everyone should stick together and attend the City's upcoming (June) Comprehensive Planning meetings.
Former Assemblyman and Co-Chair of the Save Our Armory Committee spoke about the Armory which is adjacent to the proposed development for Forest City Residential. Forest City Residential originally proposed demolishing this historic Armory. He emphasized the "two and half years" of earnest fighting to save the building. Now Tocci felt a major battle had been won because the City was asking for proposals for use of the building.