Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Ha! I couldn't resist. Now that the floodgates are open for the release of documents from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, loads of interesting stuff is coming in on the BRA's sweetheart deal with the Islamic Society of Boston's Mosque project.

I'm pleasantly surprised that the Boston Globe is on the case, coming on today with a front page expose on the prima facie conflict of interest on the part of BRA official Muhammad Ali-Salaam. Ali-Salaam was instrumental in greasing the wheels of the deal, apparently coaching the ISB in ways to get the best deal possible from the taxpayers whose interests he was supposed to represent, even attempting to arrange a trip to Saudi Arabia for his boss at the BRA, Mayor Tom Menino (affectionately known as "Mumbles" for those of you not familiar) and "two state legislators he identified as political allies of the mayor, Senator Dianne Wilkerson and Representative Gloria Fox" according to the article. The trip apparently never took off.

This must be an uncomfortable issue for the left-of-center establishment to pursue, so good for them, but really, if you wanted to be multi-cultural and welcoming to Muslims in your community, about the last place you'd appeal to for the form of Islam that met your community needs and standards would be Saudi Arabia (and maybe Iran, and Gaza, and Egypt...but I digress), so good on the Globe and Donovan Slack for asking the right kinds of questions and staying on the case. Your subpoena is in the mail...haha.

Here are a few snips...

BRA official asked help from mosque backer - Pushed for mayoral visit to Mideast during talks

A Boston Redevelopment Authority official involved with the city's decision to reduce the price of land it sold to the Islamic Society of Boston for a Roxbury mosque asked a Saudi Arabian supporter of the project to help plan a trip to the Middle East for Mayor Thomas M. Menino and two of his political allies, according to BRA documents.

Muhammad Ali-Salaam, the BRA's deputy director for special projects, wrote to Esam Mudeer shortly after the Saudi television executive had met with Menino in Boston in 1998 to discuss the mosque project.

On BRA letterhead, Ali-Salaam wrote that after Mudeer's meeting with Menino, the mayor "demonstrated his support for our efforts" and that Dr. Walid Al-Fitaihi, then trustee of the Islamic Society, suggested to BRA director Thomas O'Brien that he "visit the Kingdom."

O'Brien agreed, according to Ali-Salaam's letter, and the BRA staff recommended that the mayor, three of his aides, and two political allies also be included on the trip. "The necessary protocol and planning for such a venture is beyond my capacity, and I request your assistance," Ali-Salaam wrote.

He said the people who would participate in the trip -- in addition to Ali-Salaam, Menino, and O'Brien -- would include BRA chairman Clarence Jones, BRA board member Joseph Nigro, and two state legislators he identified as political allies of the mayor, Senator Dianne Wilkerson and Representative Gloria Fox. "Wouldn't this be a fitting way to express our gratitude for their support and encouragement?" Ali-Salaam wrote...


...The newly released documents also include correspondence between Ali-Salaam and Islamic Society officials, in which the BRA official counsels the society on how to negotiate with his agency to get the best deal in their effort to build a mosque, Islamic cultural center, and school on a 45,000-square-foot parcel in Roxbury Crossing.

In one memorandum, marked "confidential" dated Sept. 22, 1989, Ali-Salaam tells Islamic Society trustees that the BRA sold a Roxbury parcel to the US Postal Service several years earlier for $16 per square foot, but he advised the trustees that a Bank of Kuwait appraisal of the potential society land put the value at $6.50 per square foot. He advised the society that the lower figure could be used when negotiating a purchase and said the purchase price could be reduced further by adding community benefits to the project.

Another piece of correspondence in the documents sheds more light on Ali-Salaam's fund-raising for the project and suggests he was aware of the potential for a conflict between his interests as a public official and as a representative of the Islamic Society. In a fax to an Islamic Society trustee in 1998, Ali-Salaam said he had contacted the United Bank of Kuwait about financing for the project and had obtained a letter of interest but had to have the bank official, David Shlosh, rewrite the letter because Ali-Salaam was concerned about violating the state conflict of interest law...

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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