The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for July 3rd, 2015

racing ahead

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Happy Birthday, Marine Parkway Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I first mentioned the Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Bridge a few years ago, on its 75th birthday, in this post (I also lifted the shot above from that 2012 post). The post discusses the creation and opening of the vertical lift span (it was the largest specimen of this particular form of movable span in the world in 1937) and a bit of my personal history as well.

The Marine Parkway Bridge was one of Robert Moses’s early projects, and when it was built, it was constructed by the Marine Parkway Bridge Authority. An “Authority” was and is an unholy combination of private corporation and government which is allowed to issue bonds and keep its records away from private or press scrutiny (like a corporation) and also possesses the power of eminent domain and all the other stuff you’d associate with governmental agencies. The Authority was meant to be dissolved once it paid back its bonds, which were guaranteed by toll revenues, and the contractual relationship between lender and Authority was guaranteed by the State constitution as inviolable. This vouchsafed the “Authority” from circumspection by the public and press, and insulated it from the interference of Elected officialdom.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Marine Parkway Bridge Authority, like the Triborough Bridge Authority, was ruled over by Robert Moses. Moses ensured that whenever his various Authority bonds were about to come due a new round of financial offers would be tendered, and these bonds would be readily bought up by financial institutions which knew a “sure thing” when they saw it. Moses offered his bonds at a couple of interest points higher than Municipal bonds, and since the instruments were backed up by ever growing toll revenues and the Master Builder’s reputation, they were highly desirable. If Moses picked your bank as a lender, he also expected you to play ball with him on future projects. For more than forty years in NYC, Moses used this technique to control the building of highways, bridges, tunnels, and eventually housing in NYC. It took Nelson Rockefeller to break Moses’s grip on the system, and shatter the power of the “Authorities” by bringing them under the control of Elected officialdom.

Robert A. Caro called Moses “the Power Broker.” We all live in the aftermath of Moses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Marine Parkway Bridge is owned and operated today by an Authority set up by Governor Rockefeller back in the 1960’s – called the MTA. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, like the Port Authority, has the special government/corporate status that the Triborough Bridge (later the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority) and Marine Parkway Bridge Authorities enjoyed, but have little or no control over their own financing.

As Moses opined often, once the callow forces of the political parties and electoral politics got control over the Authorities, they’d reduce them down into patronage machines which would practice what was and is known as “good honest graft.” Of course, this is exactly what Moses did, and he never had to face the wrath of voters (except for a disastrous campaign for Governor, his one foray into “politics”). 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Moses had a system. When he was issuing a bond offer, or doling out insurance contracts, the sealed documents would go to favored financial institutions. These favored institutions often had silent partners who happened to be Borough Presidents, Aldermen, or later in the game – City Council members. When he received his bonds, whose terms extended the life of his Authorities decades beyond their anticipated longevity, he’d dole out contracts to “connected” companies who would then hire workers based solely on political patronage. Ever notice that highway and big infrastructure projects always seem to start during election years? That’s Moses’s legacy at work. The Marine Parkway Bridge Authority, like the TBTA, was folded into the black box that is the MTA Bridge and Tunnels division decades ago by John D. Rockefeller’s grandson Nelson, and the Authority bonds were handed off to and underwritten by his brother – who was the CEO of Chase Manhattan.

It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just the way that it is. 

Welcome to New York City, here’s our shit sandwich, so take a bite – and happy birthday, Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Bridge.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 3, 2015 at 11:00 am

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