Based on reports of private conversations with New York Hospital insiders and city officials and candidates by a person attempting to mediate a solution, WPCNR has learned the prospects of New York Hospital adapting a conciliatory mood for negotiating a parkland deal in the SEQRA process are bleak.
The Concerned Citizens for Open Space Candidate’s Forum at the White Plains Public Library, last week revealed that New York Presbyterian Hospital has “the upper hand” on the city.
Harrington letter is blunt.
The letter is harsher in tone than Harrington’s similar letter of June 18, 2001, when he admonished the Council to adhere to terms of the settlement. (See last week’s WPCNR story on “Candidate’s Forum.”)Here are Mr. Harrington’s statements in this new letter, dated October 1, 2001:
This letter is prompted by my clients’ deep concern regarding comments attributed to Common Council members in the September 2001 Edition of the White Plains Watch which raised, once again, the specter that the City will seek to illegally coerce the dedication of park land as a condition of the approval of Plan B.
These statements represent the second time in recent months that the Common Council members have seen fit to violate the Stipulation and Order of Settlement (the ‘Settlement Order’) which amicably resolved the Hospital’s civil rights litigation against the City and the Common Council members. The Settlement Order recognized that the Common Council could not demand parkland as a condition of the review and/or approval of Plan B. Yet, despite the Hospital’s unequivocal position that parkland is not available, Common Council members have insisted on improperly rekindling this issue in public forums. These statements have and will continue to cause significant harm to my client.
While the Hospital is fully committed to address all legitimate issues in the expeditious SEQRA process to which it is entitled under the Settlement Order, it will not tolerate the injection of the irrelevant, divisive parkland issue into the review process.
Accordingly, I am compelled, once again, to demand that the Common Council comply with the Settlement Order.
What the rhetoric indicates
Note, if you will the words: “improperly rekindling,” “significant harm,” “will not tolerate,” “irrelevant, divisive,” “unequivocal position that park land is not available.” These are not the words signaling you want to negotiate. This letter was no olive branch. The letter produced a chilly atmosphere in the Candidate’s Forum and candidates danced around the issue to “Billy the Kid’s” written gunshots all evening long, while he watched from his fourth row seat like Jack Palance in Shane
Such a letter interjected into a campaign, connotes a very clear hospital strategy on the development of their property: They feel they have the high ground legally and will win the right to develop in a lawsuit, even if the council rejects Plan B. It appears to this reporter, the hospital is simply setting the trap once again for the Common Council. Will the council continue to walk into it, virtually writing Mr. Harrington’s briefs for him?
Intelligence from “The Hill.”
This hardball attitude is confirmed by recent statements from informed sources on “the Hill,” reported to WPCNR.
WPCNR has learned that private bipartisan overtures to the New York Presbyterian Hospital by one neutral personality, affiliated neither with the County, open space interests, or the city, well-known for their ability to achieve consensus, have been made. This person’s efforts were rebuffed strongly by a hospital executive as being out of the question at this time.
The inquiring party was told the hospital fully intends to develop their property for medical use. Our source was told bluntly they have no intention of land swaps, building repositioning, of any negotiating whatsoever. This is very recent information. It confirms what WPCNR learned from what the hospital said to candidates in September at a private briefing.
No more Mr. Rogers in the Neighborhood.
This flies in the hospital best interest to appear more neighborly by agreeing to reconsider site location of the laboratory research buildings they plan as part of the Plan B review. This, despite comments by Constance Hildersley, the NYPH Vice President for Retail Estate, that “the solution is in the (SEQRA) process” last Spring. Hildersley seemed to indicate at that time the hospital was flexible. The council fully expected to massage the location of the buildings in reviewing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Now, it seems when the Draft Environmental Impact Statement is reviewed, most likely in February 2002, it appears equally certain that the hospital has no intention of considering repositioning the proton accelerator and biomedical research buildings elsewhere on their property to be good neighbors. Does the hospital expect the SEQRA process to be a charade? It appears so in light of Harrington’s letter.
Are they expecting the council to reject Plan B, so they may pounce with a lawsuit that will make them masters of their universe with impunity?
Phantom Grants still are Phantoms
The World Trade Center attack severely jeopardized the federal and state grants the hospital was assured by Governor Pataki and Nita Lowey’s office last Spring that they were getting to build the proton accelerator.
The uncertain financial outlook buys the hospital valuable time to fight a strong lawsuit through the courts. No one is now in any hurry to get the accelerator in there. Geoffrey Thompson of Thompson & Bender, the hospital public relations person, is on record as saying the grant money is still a possibility. They are assured of it, he says. We shall see.
Getting the brief ready.
By rigorously enforcing the city settlement agreement, carefully noting the council’s reassuring statements to community special interest constituencies, the hospital appears to be compiling evidence. It is the evidence they need to convince possibly a judge that the council was predisposed to negotiating parkland for proton accelerator location all along even as the hospital prepares the Plan B DEIS. You could realistically argue the council was, (is not) reviewing Plan B in good faith at this moment.
An atmosphere of resentment
Last week the New York Presbyterian Hospital showed its humanitarian side in offering grief and coping counseling to the community in wake of the Trade Center attacks.
However, they show the shortsightedness of management in continuing playing legal hardball with the city. In view of the draconian effect the Trade Center Attack has had on New York State, aid for the proton accelerator may be a pipe dream.They may need the city cooperation very much in the months ahead.
The hospital land has more value.
One thing appears clear to this reporter: hospital land is more valuable to the hospital. Medical personnel may not really want to work at their offices in Manhattan anymore, let alone practice there. They could move medical facilities up here. They could refocus their biomedical research Center of Excellence idea along more contemporary needs.
The issue facing the next Mayor and Common Council.
This will be the number one priority of the next city administration: stroking the hospital to make a good neighbor decision.
How the next Mayor and Council will do that will require a great deal of skill at eating crow gracefully. It will require a public apology of sorts. It will need putting egos aside. Can our councilpersons do that?
They have to. There could be a summit conference of sorts. (A start could be made by quiet lobbying at County Executive Andy Spano’s conference on responding to a biological threat coming up.)
Getting the city out of this pickle, will require a stroking of hospital and New York Cornell Medical College management like you would not believe. Perhaps asking Governor Pataki and County Executive Spano to “reason” with the hospital
Pressure is on the hospital, too. They have to fund something in light of New York’s new needs. They have the place. They have the medical and federal lobbying muscle to get whatever they want. However, it would behoove them to give the appearance of benevolent community involvement.
Our Common Councils to come should beware of throwing away the “whip hand” to please a minority, or for making short term political hay to please well-connected special interests at the expense of the greater good.
The most creative minds in this city have to figure out what will bring the hospital into a frame of mind to share their property recreationally with the city. The hospital, quite reasonably, doesn’t see why they should have to.
The hospital is taking a hard line by issuance of the Harrington letter. That did not win any friends or influence people positively.
“The city,” my source who attempted to begin mediation efforts with the hospital last week said, “is in a no win position.”