Mayor Cohen and The Market House...Can You Say "Co-opt"? We Get More "CohenSpeak" ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mayor Cohen and The Market House...Can You Say "Co-opt"? We Get More "CohenSpeak"

Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen may be a master at one of the oldest games in the  playbook of politicians so let us look first to a definition of "co-opt."

Co-opt means 1. To elect as a fellow member of a group. 2. To appoint summarily. 3. To take or assume for one's own use; appropriate: co-opted the criticism by embracing it. 4. To neutralize or win over (an independent minority, for example) through assimilation into an established group or culture: co-opt rebels by giving them positions of authority. For example, it might be used to neutralize or win over through assimilation into an established group such as "We co-opted the independent minority tribes by pulling them into the Northern Alliance" or to neutralize - make politically neutral and thus inoffensive by saying for example, "The treaty neutralized the small republic" (Thanks to  for references and example)

And now, the issue at hand--the future of The Market House, the jewel in the crown of downtown Annapolis, and the missing link in a viable and sustainable downtown. Mayor Cohen wants you to believe that all the public input, concerns, studies and recommendations will be addressed as he decides what to do next (if he ever decided on anything...) with the beleaguered and almost-empty shell in the heart of our historic waterfront. Mayor Josh Cohen loves committees, building consensus, talking and listening...and hiring political cronies, consultants and others to do his bidding, tell us what he wants us to hear etc., etc. In the latest twist, he is co-opting an event sponsored and organized by citizen and business activists in opposition to his apparent moves to allow a developer to turn it into a food court to make it appear that he is allied with the activists.  You be the judge.  Read on.....and this is long....

First a news release comes out from his office saying it is sponsoring an event about not only The Market House, but the overall redevelopment of the City Dock area:

Mayor Invites Public to Attend Forum on City Dock Redevelopment

Renowned Planner Fred Kent to Offer His Perspective

Annapolis, Md. (08-20-10) -- Mayor Joshua J. Cohen invites citizens to attend a forum next week at City Hall with Fred Kent, an international authority on revitalizing city spaces, as part of a renewed discussion on City Dock redevelopment.

The event, scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 25, in the City Council Chambers, is being organized by the Annapolis Sustainable Business Alliance in an effort to solicit expert advice on the opportunity to transform City Dock into a more public space. The City is o-hosting the event, which is free and open to the public. Mr. Kent will answer questions from the audience after his presentation on public markets, plazas and downtown areas.

Mr. Kent, founder and president of Project for Public Spaces, is one of the foremost thinkers on livability, smart growth and the future of cities, and he consults with cities from around the world. The wide-ranging audiences he has addressed include the Federal Highway Administration, American Society of Landscape Architects, U.S Forest Service, the World Bank, New York Department of Transportation and the Ford Foundation. He is scheduled to arrive in Annapolis on Wednesday morning to tour downtown and meet with business and City leaders before the forum.

“Starting with the Market House, the city has a unique opportunity now to re-envision the whole of City Dock as a vibrant destination for residents, boaters and visitors alike,” Mayor Cohen said. “Mr. Kent’s expertise will help inform this process, and I hope his ideas will inspire Annapolitans to rediscover the promise of our town. I thank the Annapolis Sustainable Business Alliance for partnering with the City to put this forum together.”

The event will be aired live on City TV (Verizon Channel 34 and Comcast Channel 99/100), and the broadcast will be archived on the City’s website.

OK. That is the mayor's take, and he says he is co-sponsoring it with the ASBA and that it is about the Market House and City Dock redevelopment. But AFTER I get the release saying he invites us to attend, I got the ASBA's release. After all, they organized it and paid for it and all the City is doing is providing City Hall. And now from ASBA:

The Annapolis Sustainable Business Alliance is proud to sponsor a public forum featuring Fred Kent, founder and president of The Project for Public Spaces. The event will take place on August 25, 2010, beginning at 1:00 p.m., in the Annapolis City Council Chambers. Mr. Kent will be speaking about Public
Markets, plazas and downtown areas, their relationships with their cities, their people, their visitors, how they integrate into the entire community, and what makes them work.

With decisions about the future of the Market House looming, it is essential to have an enlightened view of the possibilities for the most important and visible public space in Annapolis. For Kent, “the idea of a place is a transformative way of thinking that moves beyond the narrow concept of design and gauges success according to how people feel about a space and how often they return.”

Fred Kent is a leading authority on revitalizing city spaces and one of the foremost thinkers in livability, smart growth and the future of the city. As founder and president of Project for Public Spaces, he is known throughout the world as a dynamic speaker and prolific ideas man.

Traveling over 150,000 miles each year, Fred offers technical assistance to communities and has given talks across the U.S. as well as internationally. Each year, he and the PPS staff train 10,000 people in Placemaking techniques.(

The public is invited to attend. Following Mr. Kent’s presentation there will be an opportunity for questions.
The ASBA release never mentioned City Dock, but the mayor's said it in the first paragraph and
in the mayor's own quote. So, is it an ASBA event about The Market House or a mayoral event about that and City Dock? Just look at all the other differences between the mayor's release and the ASBA's release. But one question is why is the mayor taking such an interest in making sure that he is seen as the leading force in all of this?  Read on.....

First, ASBA members meet with mayor Cohen and follow up with a letter on JULY 17, 2010

Dear Mayor Cohen,

During our meeting on July 1, 2010, we discussed the concerns the

Annapolis Sustainable Business Alliance has about the development of the

Market House. You assured us that no decisions had been made on the

developer or outside manager, and that the nature and extent of

community involvement and oversight was still under consideration. At

the press conference you held on October 6, 2009, and throughout your

campaign, you pledged to support the recommendations of the citizen- and

local business-led committee which had proposed community oversight and

citizen governance of the Market House, so we assume you still want some

sort of community commission or oversight board.

We expressed concern that without meaningful community involvement, a

lease to a sole outside developer/manager might take the City down the

same path that resulted in such disappointment and financial damage in

the past. You promised to keep ASBA informed, and stated clearly that

you shared our commitment to having the Market House be an

“authentic” representation of Annapolis, consistent with its

heritage as the most visible and important public space in town.

NOW IT GETS INTERESTING....Since that meeting, one of our Board Members was visited in her

store by Lahr Jackson, who introduced himself as the new developer/manager of

the Market House. This pronouncement created quite a stir among the

store’s patrons, but Mr. Jackson freely discussed his plans for the


At this point we respectfully request to know the official status of

the negotiations with Mr. Jackson and his firm, and to be provided with

copies of any written proposals submitted in support of his bid to

develop or manage the Market House. In addition, we would like to know

whether the proposed (or finalized) agreement with Mr. Jackson’s firm

includes provision for a citizen oversight body or limitations on the

nature, terms and number of tenants for the Market House.

As I shared with you in our meeting, the proximity of the Market House

to my own business makes me urgently focused on its successful rebirth,

but no one wants a quick-fix that puts us back where we were with Site

Realty. On behalf of the many local independent businesses ASBA

represents, I hope to receive a reply from you as soon as possible.


Catherine Durkan
ASBA President
-----------------------------------------to which Cohen replies on July 21:


Thanks for your email. Here is where things stand right now:

- No agreements have been entered into with any party to develop or

manage the Market House. For anyone to state that they are the new

developer/manager of the Market House is both inaccurate and premature.

- The City administration has been seeking additional information from

some of the parties who submitted proposals. Our intention is to enter

into more serious discussions with one or more or the applicants in

order to further refine the details of a lease or management agreement.

- As we discussed during our meeting, my foremost objective is to make

sure the City's interests are protected, particularly should the next

developer/manager not work out. To that end, the City is retaining

outside counsel specialized in negotiating commercial leases of a

similar nature to the Market House. I want to ensure that the City has

the best legal talent protecting its interests as we move forward.

- Should the administration's discussions and negotiations with one of

the parties be successful and result in a draft lease or agreement that

the administration and the prospective developer/manager both agree

with, the next step will be to introduce an ordinance for the Council's

consideration. The legislative process is by nature open and public.

- No long-term lease or management agreement will be entered into

without City Council approval.

Thanks again for your email. I hope this response addresses your




Joshua J. Cohen, Mayor
City of Annapolis
160 Duke of Gloucester Street
Annapolis, Maryland 21401

Hmmmm....retaining the best legal talent.....He told me that his own city attorney was chosen because of her strong experience in negotiating urban public-private partnerships. We need outside counsel to negotiate a lease? But wait a minute--why a lease at this time? We don't even have an overarching management or organization structure in place as to how the Market House will be governed and by whom? So where does a lease come in???

Durkan and the ASBA responded on August 13 to Cohen. Read on:

Dear Mayor Cohen,

In light of your recent answers (July 21, 2010) to ASBA's concerns regarding the Market House, and after much dialog between us, we were surprised and deeply troubled by the announcement made on July 26 that Lehr Jackson’s group had been selected by your administration to develop and manage the Market House. We are fully aware that a contract would have to be approved by the Council, but the process appears to be moving forward along one clear track toward finalizing a deal with Mr. Jackson’s firm, without ever addressing the several issues we raised.

While we understand (and support) the efforts to assure the City’s financial exposure in future contracts regarding the Market House is reduced, there are other ways, short of complete failure, bankruptcy, vacancy and costly litigation, that the Market House could go wrong. It is absolutely imperative that the City not expose itself to the vagaries of complex litigation arising from poorly-negotiated or unclear contracts. However the failure to address many important issues, including community oversight and involvement, prior to the finalization of the deal, will lead to other important consequences.

During the campaign you pledged to support the recommendations of the citizen- and local business-led committee that had proposed community oversight and citizen governance of the Market House. We have urged, and you have stated your support, for meaningful community involvement in the operation of the Market House. This is based on the premise that a for-profit enterprise, signed to a long-term lease of prime real estate in the center of town, will tend to be driven by profit, to the exclusion of issues like regional relevance, authenticity, and environmental and community impact.

We are also concerned about the length of the lease. The terms “short-term” and “long-term” used by you and members of your administration, members of the City Council, and the media, have no consistent definitions. No one would advocate that month-to-month leases with a mixed bag of vendors is desirable, but neither must we lock in to a twenty-year term which grants carte blanche to the manager to shape the downtown in any way that brings in rent.

We regret that you did not accept the offer made at our meeting, namely that ASBA would arrange, and through private donation, pay for, a meeting with an esteemed expert in creating viable and sustainable public space. We felt confident that with the input you would have received, you and the Council would have been compelled to reevaluate your current direction.

We continue to believe that much can be done to assure that the mistakes of the recent past are not repeated. There is so much untapped expertise in the creation and operation of successful public market spaces, and there have been stakeholders ready to provide insight and guidance, but it appears that decisions are being made without consulting those resources. Greater transparency in the forthcoming negotiations and contract formation would go a long way toward easing the collective angst of local independent businesses and the community.

Catherine Durkan
ASBA President On behalf of the Annapolis Sustainable Business Alliance Board of Directors

Well, I tried to let the correspondence explain the narrative, tell the story and I added my own thoughts about this idea of co-opting. It is clear that Cohen is trying to control and shape the debate despite many actions to make it appear that there is a consensus building, open, public process.....but he's already entering into lease negotiations.

So, ASBA jumps into action and brings in an internationally recognized expert on public places to talk about The Market House and Cohen jumps into action to make it seem as if HE is bringing Fred Kent Here with ASBA to talk about the Market House and City Dock. The only time Kent could come is Wednesday afternoon, so if you are able to be at City Hall, please come and let Mayor Cohen know that the Market House is not his place. It is a public place.  But maybe instead of Fred Kent, we need Clark Kent, so we could fight for truth, justice and the American way. Of course Kent was a mild-mannered reporter for a newspaper.....

You know, this kind of seems like the same thing Cohen has done with the report from his Transportation Idea Team.....hmmm......

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