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Development Agency Is Losing Its President

Development Agency Is Losing Its President

May 20, 2008
By By: Charles V. Bagli | New York Times | The New York Times

Avi Schick, president of the state’s economic development agency, which is in the midst of a political overhaul, will step down in September.

Mr. Schick’s departure from the agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, follows that of Patrick J. Foye, its co-chairman, who resigned under pressure in March. Since then, Gov. David A. Paterson has been looking for a new chairman and a new structure for an agency that had been hobbled by internal disputes among its top executives, the collapse of a $1.8 billion expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and other high-profile problems.

Mr. Schick, who has also served as acting chief executive since March, plans to rejoin the private sector in September, but will not leave government altogether. The governor said on Monday that he had asked Mr. Schick, a friend, to continue to serve on the boards of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which oversees the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, and the Governors Island Restoration and Education Corporation.

Governor Paterson said in an interview that he had asked Mr. Schick to stay on even after he expressed a desire to return to the private sector. The governor said Mr. Schick had been particularly helpful to him in shepherding a project in his old district – Columbia University’s $7 billion expansion into Manhattanville – and in helping to devise a state program for minority- and women-owned businesses.

“We’ve been wrestling with Avi’s desire to go and my desire to rule the world and do what I want,” the governor joked on Monday. “Now that I’m starting to feel my way, I’ve relented.”

Mr. Schick, 41, said that his decision was related to his family. He said he had three children when he entered government nine years ago and now has five, the oldest in high school.

Mr. Schick, a lawyer, joined state government in 1999, when he went to work for the newly elected attorney general, Eliot Spitzer. During his eight-year stint, Mr. Schick, a former rabbinical student who more closely resembles a blocking fullback than a religious scholar, handled two important cases. He led the case against Richard A. Grasso, the former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, who was ordered to repay $100 million of a compensation package that Mr. Spitzer contended was in violation of state laws regarding nonprofit institutions. He also represented New York in the $206 billion Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco companies.

After Mr. Spitzer was elected governor, Mr. Schick moved to the Empire State Development Corporation, becoming its president. He was responsible for the state’s role in rebuilding Lower Manhattan, as well as Governors Island, and the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, Columbia University’s expansion plan for Manhattanville and the Brooklyn Bridge project.

Mr. Spitzer had reorganized the development corporation, installing dual chairmen, Mr. Foye for downstate projects and Daniel Gunderson for upstate projects. But the structure proved problematic, as the two men barely spoke, did not get along with Mr. Schick and often worked at odds, officials have said. Governor Paterson has indicated in recent weeks that he planned to restore a single chairman, but may have separate deputies with responsibilities for upstate and downstate projects.

Last week, however, upstate business leaders and local development corporations told the governor that they were concerned that a single chairman would be consumed with New York City and would ignore the different needs of the upstate region. Governor Paterson said he was “disappointed” that those leaders had not called him earlier, but said he understood their reservations.

“No one who works at E.S.D.C. thought that this bifurcated system worked,” Governor Paterson said on Monday. “In the next couple of weeks we’ll have a new structure in place. If you make a bad decision, you have to live with it for a long time. So we thought that taking a little extra time to figure it out might be the better course.”


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