A troubled attempt to build a luxury golf course at Ferry Point Park in the Bronx has yet to pay off for New Yorkers. The golf course was supposed to open this past spring, but because of environmental problems it is now at least three years behind schedule and has already turned into a multimillion-dollar liability for the city.
But the Bronx boondoggle may already be a financial success story for former deputy mayor Rudy Washington, who may now be working for the project’s developer, Ferry Point Partners.
As Deputy Mayor for Business Services under Rudolph Giuliani, Washington oversaw the Parks Department and was the administration’s frequent spokesperson for the project, which operates under the largest-ever city contract involving a municipal park facility. Washington also reportedly met with Professional Golf Association officials to explore the possibility of holding a major tournament there. On July 8, 2001, the Westchester-based Journal News quoted Washington as saying: “I’ve already talked with the PGA, met with them and let them know I’m building this course with the mind-set of attracting one of these tour events.”
Today, however, Ferry Point Park still looks more like a dump than a golf course [see City Limits, July/August 2002]. For the past several years, Ferry Point Partners LLC–whose principals include golf superstar Jack Nicklaus and socialite Paul Kanavos–has been operating the city’s only construction and demolition debris disposal site at Ferry Point Park, using the material as part of the base layer for the golf course. The debris is potentially worth tens of millions of dollars in disposal fees to the company.
Now, a year after leaving office, Washington reportedly has been working for Ferry Point Partners. On July 7, 2002, the Journal News wrote that Washington was an “independent consultant” for Ferry Point Partners. Later that month, a Daily News gossip item reported that Jack Nicklaus and his “team,” including Washington, were at City Hall, where Nicklaus met with Mayor Bloomberg. State environmental officials had shut the development down, and Nicklaus was reportedly trying to enlist the mayor’s help in getting permission to continue work at the site.
Washington didn’t return calls placed to Ferry Point Partners. Instead, his lawyer Randy Mastro, another of Giuliani’s former deputy mayors, called back to say that Washington is not working for Ferry Point Partners. “Rudy Washington went to City Hall to say hello to Jack Nicklaus, someone with whom he has a social relationship now of several years standing, and then he left; he did not attend any meeting with the mayor, ” says Mastro. “He is not at this point and never has been employed by Ferry Point Partners.”
The current deputy mayor for communications, William Cunningham, confirms that Washington never actually met with mayor Bloomberg. “Rudy Washington came to City Hall with Jack Nicklaus, who went into a meeting with the mayor. Rudy sat outside with me and had coffee with me and a few people he knows, ” says Cunningham. “Then after the meeting the mayor came out, and I believe they talked about golf grips and things.”
Why, then, was Rudy Washington at City Hall while Nicklaus was discussing the Ferry Point Park project with the mayor? Apparently, City Hall was the only convenient place for Washington to meet with Nicklaus. “They were supposed to get together while Jack Nicklaus was in town,” says Mastro. “The only opportunity for Rudy Washington to pay his respects was to catch up with him before Jack Nicklaus had a meeting at City Hall with the mayor. He paid his respects and caught up socially.”
Washington has good reason to be careful. A September 16, 2002, staff advisory letter from the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board warned that Washington could be in violation of city law if he appeared before the mayor or any city agency during his first year out of office. Mastro requested the letter around the time the Village Voice suggested that Washington’s appearance at City Hall may have violated a one-year ban on ex-city officials lobbying their former employers. In his inquiry, Mastro asked the board whether it would be legal for Washington to accept a job with the developers that would entail his overseeing the golf course project.
The letter also cautions that it would be an even more serious violation for Washington to work for the developers if, while deputy mayor, he participated “personally, and substantially” in the project. If that were the case, Washington would be barred forever from being employed on the Ferry Point Park project. Mastro, though, says that while in office Washington had only limited personal involvement with the golf franchise.
This past fall, Washington frequented the Sixth Avenue headquarters of Flag Luxury Properties, Ferry Point Partners and other companies Kanavos is connected to. But in a November interview Mastro said that Washington wasn’t actually working for Ferry Point Partners. Instead, Washington “has communications about potential employment there, but it’s an ongoing discussion,” Mastro said, adding, “starting January 1, 2003, he’d have no restriction whatsoever in what he could do for Flag.”
Alex Ulam is a Manhattan-based freelance writer.