The signs at the site of federally funded construction at the federal bankruptcy courthouse and post office in downtown Brooklyn have President Obama's name at the top and in larger letters than anything else, along with the "recovery" logo that looks familiarly like the Obama campaign logo. Maybe I'm overreacting, but this strikes me as the sort of thing you might see from a local politician or a third-world dictator, not the president of the United States. Everyone knows he's the president of the United States, after all. Is it really necessary to plaster his name in enormous letters on signs adorning a construction site, as if the work were funded by him personally rather than by the taxpayers or the Congress?
A sign at a Brooklyn federal courthouse and post office prominently displays the president's name.
A second sign at the same site also displays the president's name prominently.
Since the design work for the interior renovation was reportedly initiated in 1996, the bottom line is a 17-year-long, $476 million federal construction project. And those time and cost estimates are assuming that the latest work comes in on time and on budget, which is a big assumption.
If someone had proposed back in 1996 a 17-year, $476 million plan to renovate a courthouse and post office, it might have raised some eyebrows. Instead, the government slices it up into smaller projects so they are less likely to generate press attention or congressional scrutiny.
The General Services Administration's own Web site lists the building as having 490,941 square feet of "occupiable area," and it gives the dates of the interior restoration as between 1996 and 2005 and the exterior renovation as between 2007 and 2013.
The renovation reportedly included "new marble flooring" of "Imperial White" and "Imperial Danby," restored "marble fireplaces," "new mahogany paneling" and "custom mahogany benches." This for a bankruptcy courthouse.
Despite the so-called New York newspaper war pitting the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, the tiny Brooklyn Eagle is the only paper that seems to have been tracking this issue. When two construction officials involved in the project pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges, it rated just a brief in the Times.
New York is a big city, but even so, this is big money. Divide the $476 million among the 2.6 million residents of Brooklyn and each one would have $183 to put toward renovating their own homes rather than on renovating palaces for postal workers and federal bankruptcy judges.
The regional administrator for the General Services Administration's Northeast and Caribbean Region, which oversees this construction work, is Denise Pease. But the work now has spanned three presidential administrations.
Plenty of Brooklynites pass under this scaffolding to use the post office, and many of them must have noticed, as I have, that it's been under construction for more than a decade. If President Obama thinks he is going to gain some political advantage out of plastering his name on the project because of the construction jobs it brings with it, good luck to him. The more likely reaction is the one I had — disgust, dismay, and anger at government extravagance and inefficiency with taxpayer money, and a feeling that the money would be better spent privately than taken by the government in taxes for these sorts of expenditures.