Stacked Deck

They may have worked at one of the most prolific real estate development companies in Texas, but they behaved more like awkward teenagers jilted by the object of their affection. Twice a week for months, employees at Southwest Housing had been asking Ruth Steward to lunch. Each time, the Oak Cliff woman politely declined, preferring to stay at home and watch her soaps.

So why did a powerful, prominent company want to court a middle-aged woman who worked a part-time customer service job at a department store? In 2002, Southwest and its founder Brian Potashnik were looking to build neighborhood support for their plan to build 256 apartments in a blighted neighborhood in East Oak Cliff. To finance the construction, the company wanted an obscure board called the Dallas Housing Finance Corporation to approve $15 million in tax-free bonds. The company also needed the board's approval to win lucrative tax credits from the state. Steward not only sat on the board, but she had been asking a lot of questions about the company in particular and southern Dallas in general, which she felt was deluged with cheap, drug-infested apartments.

In 2001, city council member James Fantroy appointed Steward to the housing finance board. At the time, Steward was rather deferential toward Mr. Fantroy, as she still refers to him, although she had some misgivings about Southwest.

"Before Mr. Potashnik built his apartments, we had a lot of vacancies," she says. "There are no jobs here. People are moving to Duncanville and Cedar Hill. We don't have any movie theaters here. We don't have anything for children. So why do we need more apartments when we're not doing anything to cause people to want to move to this side of town?"

Steward says that after she started asking questions like that, Southwest officials began inviting her to lunch. Besides not wanting to miss her daily dose of afternoon drama, Steward worried about becoming involved in a real-life soap opera of her own. What if the company tried to influence her in some untoward way? She had once run for city council against scandal-plagued incumbent Al Lipscomb and was wary of businesses that might try to corrupt a public official.

So she called Fantroy for advice. "He didn't see any reason why we shouldn't go to lunch," Steward says. "But I didn't see a need; I had already received their proposals during our meetings. What are you going to say to me during lunch?"

Later that summer, however, a young man whom she thought worked for Southwest called and asked if she would come to a meeting in his office, and she agreed. At the end of an otherwise ordinary discussion, the man told her that he had a "healthy respect" for her. She asked why, and he said because she didn't ask for any money.

"I asked, 'What was I supposed to ask for?'" she recalls. "'Hypothetically speaking, how much are we talking about?'" He told her he had been authorized to give her $25,000.

"I said, 'All I have to do is get ugly at a board meeting, and I get paid?'" she says. "Yes," he replied.

Today, Potashnik and Southwest Housing are at the center of an FBI investigation into allegations of corruption at City Hall. Federal agents raided Potashnik's Central Expressway offices in June, and a steady stream of news reports have examined his cozy relationships with the elected and appointed officials whose votes could sink or float his developments. Many of his projects have been put on hold as state and local authorities have grown reluctant to enter into long-term deals with someone who could be indicted.

As one of the most successful affordable- housing developers in Texas, Potashnik handily illustrates the virtues and vices of the state's Housing Tax Credit Program, which awards developers federal tax credits they can flip to investors for millions of dollars in instant cash. His fine-looking properties, which have won national acclaim for their design and overall quality, batter the stereotype that affordable housing is a catalyst for urban blight. At the same time, his dealings with public officials have left lingering doubts about how he wins friends and influences people.

"Brian could sometimes be a little arrogant, a little bratty," says Randall Parker, who serves as chief financial officer of Dallas Housing Finance Corp., which has helped fund many of Potashnik's developments. "I guess because he had so many people behind him, including the mayor and the city council, he could get a little big-headed."

No one outside the U.S. Justice Department really knows how an outwardly successful developer became the face of a federal investigation. The chatter around political and legal circles is that Potashnik was too smart to outright break the law, but he operated very successfully in a program that inadvertently encourages developers to push the envelope in their endless dealings with local government. Long before the FBI took an interest in Potashnik, his company etched a reputation.

"My sense is that Southwest is an aggressive developer," says Walter Moreau, the executive director of the nonprofit real estate company Foundation Communities. "They want to build lots of projects every year, and they are going to fight to win approval for those projects."

And yet for all the money that Potashnik spent and all the risks that he took, his business rests on the kindness of strangers. Thanks to Texas law, local and state officials have the power to stymie a project with a single vote or letter, even after the developer spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers, engineers, architects and planners. We may find out that Potashnik never broke the law, but the program that funds his developments has paved the way for this type of scandal by putting well-financed developers at the mercy of obscure, often underemployed and not particularly accomplished public officials who have inordinate power to affect the fortunes of a business for years. And with that power comes the potential for abuse.

A few months before federal agents became acquainted with Potashnik, when the wealthy developer had every reason to think he was on top of the world, he told a trade magazine that he has "Mother Teresa on one side of the brain and Bill Gates on the other." So in his world, Potashnik is both a business icon and a saint in the making.

Even in hyperbole, Potashnik cut to the essence of his work, which is far messier, quirkier and ultimately rewarding than the typical residential real estate business. Potashnik operates in a very public arena where the federal government relies on the entrepreneurial class to provide affordable housing. To be as successful and prolific as he, you have to be innovative and shrewd, able to squeeze out competitors by being better and bigger. Kind of like Microsoft.

You also have, at least, to show a sense of compassion by providing a safe place for the working poor to live and raise families. Potashnik participates in a program that is regulated by the IRS and the state, both of which are charged with ensuring that developers keep up their properties and provide various social services. If they don't, the state can forbid them from applying for future tax credits, and the IRS can rescind tax credits already awarded, which could land the developer in legal trouble with his investors. For that reason, the investors also inspect the affordable housing that they helped fund, knowing that if it slides into disrepair they could be millions of dollars in debt.

To Potashnik's credit, people in the industry applaud Southwest Housing and how it manages its properties.

"Their product is superior," says Phil Nelson, a board member at the San Antonio Housing Authority. "What they're doing in San Antonio is top grade. Their management is good. Their services are good."

"He has a development in Austin that I wish our company's name was attached to," says Sandy Williams, the executive director of Alamo Area Mutual Housing, a nonprofit development company. "It's that good."

The Austin property Williams envies is the Rosemont at Oak Valley, located in a pleasant neighborhood south of downtown. A recent visit to the Rosemont shows a thriving complex of distinct town houses with expansive patios and balconies, ceramic tile entries and French doors highlighting cozy interiors. At the center of the complex is a swimming pool that could serve as the backdrop for a Hilton Head commercial.

More important, the property is surprisingly affordable. The rent for a four-bedroom apartment at the Rosemont is $822, and tenants can earn no more than $42,000 annually per household for a family of four. Like most tax-credit properties, the Rosemont is still not affordable enough for the hourly employees at fast-food restaurants and gas stations. Instead Southwest has constructed an idyllic place for construction workers, plumbers and clerical workers to live while saving for a new home.

"I really think they do a fabulous job," Williams says. "It's a shame the investigation has cast a pall over what they do."

The Dallas FBI investigation would make for a terrible movie. There are too many characters competing for screen time, a confusing story line and a host of subplots that seem to have little connection with the main action. The cast of secondary characters is stocked with obscure players like Ruth Steward, and the moral worth of our protagonists is hard to measure. It would kind of be like Syriana, only without George Clooney and Matt Damon.

But for any fledgling screenwriters who want to pitch this as a movie, here's the back-of-the-napkin guide to the ugly urban drama that has unfolded over the last seven months: Two Dallas developers, Potashnik and his former-underling-turned-competitor Bill Fisher, have caught the attention of federal agents for the ways in which they have tried to influence city council members, state lawmakers and appointed officials. Since news of the investigation broke in June, we've heard accounts of shady side players exchanging envelopes stuffed with cash at a local gas station and of a so-called consultant lending a luxury sedan to the city's mayor pro tem.

FBI agents have raided council member James Fantroy's security company office and have searched the law office, home and City Hall office of Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill, who was once regarded as a mayoral hopeful. Both men have lent crucial political support to Potashnik's and Fisher's projects, often in the face of public opposition. In fact, without them as allies, the two developers likely would have been forced to scrap half a dozen planned developments. In addition to Fantroy and Hill, every black member of the Dallas City Council has been named in federal subpoenas.

Both Potashnik and Fisher, who is now believed to be working as an FBI snitch, rely on public officials to sign off on their projects. (Potashnik would not talk to the Dallas Observer for this story.) Without officials' support, developers can lose as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars spent preparing their applications for tax credits from the state and millions in future revenue. So, in theory at least, it might not be a bad investment to slyly reward a local official for his or her support. Developers, when competing for millions of dollars of tax credits, will typically make it a point to make sizable legal campaign contributions to the local and state representatives who can single-handedly make or break their business.

Since news of the investigation broke last June, The Dallas Morning News and KTVT-Channel 11 have reported how Potashnik tried to reward those who were in a position to approve his proposals. Some cases are perfectly legal; others are murkier. Here are some highlights:

Potashnik and his wife, Cheryl, have donated $66,000 to the political campaigns and causes of Mayor Laura Miller, according to the Morning News. Miller has been one of Potashnik's most outspoken supporters and appears on a promotional video touting the quality of Southwest's apartment communities.

Potashnik contributed $64,000 to council member Leo Chaney and programs he supported, including the South Dallas Book Fair and Arts Festival, which Chaney founded. Chaney, in turn, wrote a letter to the state supporting Potashnik's bid to receive $1.2 million in annual tax credits for each of 10 years to redevelop Fairway Crossing, an abandoned apartment complex in East Dallas.

;A consultant for Southwest Housing, Sheila Farrington, owns a BMW that Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill drives. "It's not a buyout...it's a friend's car--a car I earned the right to drive," explained Hill, who has been one of Southwest Housing's most consistent supporters.

Potashnik hired Melvin Traylor, a retired DISD principal and member of the influential Dallas Plan Commission, to coordinate after-school programs at Southwest Housing, according to The Dallas Morning News. Matt Yarbrough, a Southwest lawyer, told the paper that Traylor was hired because of his experience in education, not because he could aid the company at City Hall.

Potashnik gave state Representative Terri Hodge $700 a month in rent subsidies for nearly four years at his property the Rosemont at Arlington near Love Field, a total of nearly $32,000 in rent breaks. Hodge had lent vital support to several of Potashnik's projects, some of which were not even in her district. Without Hodge's backing, those projects may not have received tax credits, particularly since many neighborhood residents opposed the projects.

Channel 11 reported that D'Angelo Lee, a friend of Don Hill and a former member of the influential Dallas Plan Commission, voted for a zoning permit for an affordable-housing project that helped earn him a $5,000 consulting fee.

If Potashnik were an ordinary developer of low-rent apartments, he would hardly have a reason to interact with half of City Hall. But as a tax-credit developer, he has to gain broad public support for his proposed projects, most of which are not likely to be met with widespread applause in neighborhoods.

"What has driven all this is the level of support you need for these types of deals, which I think is wrong and discriminatory for the type of people we have to serve," says Brent Stewart, the Austin-based managing director for the affordable-housing division of Trammell Crow Residential.

For years now, Potashnik has earned a very comfortable living competing for millions of dollars of federal tax credits under the state's Housing Tax Credit Program. Awarded by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), the tax credits are like vouchers that can be used instead of cash to pay your tax bill. Say you win $1 million in annual tax credits for each of 10 years. You can keep the credits and use them yourself to pay your taxes, assuming you owe that much. More commonly, however, affordable-housing developers sell the tax credits to a middleman broker for up to 90 percent of their face value. That's legal. Selling your $10 million in hypothetical tax credits could generate $9 million in cash for your development today, rather than spreading tax savings over 10 years. The middleman will typically resell the tax credits to investors and companies that use the credits to offset their federal taxes.

In some deals, the investors also share in the cash flow or future sale of the property. Interestingly, the way these deals are structured, the middle-class family fighting against the proposed affordable apartment down the street may have stock in the companies that are funding its construction.

Meanwhile, the developers can use the cash they made from selling the tax credits to fund a portion of the construction of their new property. Last year, the state allocated more than $42 million in annual tax credits for each of 10 years to developers. That translates to as much as $378 million in equity for new affordable-housing developments throughout the state, a massive infusion of cash into the real estate market.

Once they accept the tax credits, developers must provide below-market rents and safe and decent accommodations. Typically, they try to cater to tenants who make between 40 and 60 percent of the local median income, which in a city such as Dallas is in the neighborhood of $65,000 for a four-person household. The TDHCA awards a finite amount of tax credits to different regions throughout the state.

Developers like to say that the state scores their tax-credit applications like a beauty contest: The standards may be the same for everyone, but there is still a lot of subjectivity in deciding who walks away a winner. The state, however, maintains that it evaluates tax-credit applications as objectively as possible. TDHCA staff score each application for 24 different categories that include how many residences are provided to various income levels, the level of debt the developer accrues, the size and quality of the homes, and the types of social services--such as job counseling and daycare--provided to the residents. The state also awards points for various amenities, including fitness centers, fencing, covered patios and self-cleaning ovens. For senior housing complexes, developers are even rewarded for building lawn bowling courses, horseshoe courts and television sets showing Matlock reruns. (OK, one of those is false.)

"The better developers are building B-plus apartments," says John Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, an Austin-based advocacy group. "These are nice, suburban, mainstream apartments with computer rooms, swimming pools, clubhouse and covered carports."

Of course, your development could rival a Turtle Creek high-rise, but you won't win a dime of tax credits without letters of political support. Thanks in part to a 2003 law, enacted after Potashnik had a run-in with a poor San Antonio neighborhood that objected to one of his projects, prospective developers are virtually required to shout out their plans from every rooftop in town. The list of people they are mandated by law to notify include state and local elected officials, school superintendents, school board trustees and area homeowners. In addition, the state is required to score applications on whether developers received written statements from the board of trustees at the local school district as well as input from state and municipal officials. In cities like Dallas, which has a high concentration of tax-credit properties, developers must first receive approval from the city council and state senators and representatives. Sometimes an application may also need to go through the Plan Commission, and in other cases, the Dallas Housing Finance Corp., a council-appointed board. The TDHCA board will also take into account letters of support or opposition from local elected officials, school system officials and any other individuals who want to provide comment. If Dallas elected dogcatchers, their blessing would likely be courted as well. "Everybody is going to have a voice in this," says Gordon Anderson, the spokesman for TDHCA. "We're obligated to do that as a part of our legislation, but even still, we want to make it as easy as possible for people to have a say."

When developers are done winning over a sprawling cast of public officials, they'll need to turn their attention to the local neighborhood association. If a qualified neighborhood group backs your proposal, you may win 24 points. In a process where developers can miss out on a fortune in tax credits based on a few points, losing a neighborhood's approval could cost a developer millions in future revenue as well as the thousands of dollars already spent on submitting the application.

Despite the wealth and power of tax-credit developers, the way the program is structured, a neighborhood association can kill a proposal by taking a quick vote in a member's basement during half-time of a football game. Most neighborhood associations don't like affordable housing, wrongly linking its current incarnation with old-style public housing projects. So, developers often go to absurd lengths to placate community groups and their elected representatives, often appeasing the neighbors' prejudices against the working poor.

In Fort Worth, several neighborhood associations signed memorandums of understanding with tax-credit developers that required all prospective tenants to undergo a credit check and provide a two-year job history, a litmus test that the associations couldn't possibly force upon any of their middle-class neighbors. That same agreement required the developer to "set the rental rate at the highest level" allowed by the program in order to "enhance the quality" of the surrounding neighborhood. It also mandated that the complex employ private security patrols.

Oddly, due to a quirk in the program, if an affordable-housing complex is planned in an area without a neighborhood association, the developer can only win 12 out of 24 points in the community support category. So last year, the attorney for the Odessa Housing Authority incorporated a local neighborhood association that, in turn, "supported" the agency's plan to develop an affordable-housing complex, earning the agency 24 points on its application. The state later rescinded the points.

For developers, winning the support of neighborhood associations adds up to a series of procedural headaches that can thwart even well-intentioned proposals.

"If I go to a zoned piece of multi-family property and I want to build a high-end apartment building, there is not a single public hearing I have to go to," says Brent Stewart with Trammell Crow Residential. "But if I want to build an affordable development, I have to get letters of political support and the support of the local neighborhood association. If you really think about it, you're not going to get their support most of the time. I've spent a lot of time with neighborhood and community groups and neighborhood leaders, and I've lost a lot of money on deals that were killed for the wrong reasons."

And let's be clear here: The stakes can be very high. Affordable-housing advocate Henneberger says that developers used to call their tax-credit applications a "Two-Lexus Deal," because if they won, they could buy two Lexuses. Now, though, he says the rewards for tax-credit deals are even greater. With the developer fees in the millions, "you can buy a whole bunch of Rolls-Royces," he says.

Even after the endless series of stories on Potashnik and his connection to the FBI investigation, the developer remains something of a hero among a cluster of neighborhoods in far East Dallas along Ferguson Road and Buckner Boulevard. Against a backdrop of urban blight, you'll find thriving streets of old, regal homes, middle-class subdivisions and tiny, well-kept ranches. But a series of bleak, crime-ridden apartments seems determined to plague their own tenants and the surrounding neighborhoods. These are not tax-credit properties, so landlords don't have to worry about state regulations governing the appearance and operation of their apartments.

At the beginning of Ferguson Road, off Interstate 30, sits the Fairway Crossing, an abandoned apartment complex of dirt-brown two-story town homes. Some of the windows are boarded up; others are shattered. A broken spotlight dangles from an electrical wire on one of the front buildings. Behind several rows of empty apartments, in an alley out of sight of the main thoroughfare, thieves ditch the cars they've gutted.

In 1998, a neighborhood activist named Vikki Martin helped found the Ferguson Road Initiative (FRI), a nonprofit umbrella group that would grow to cover nearly 20 neighborhoods in and around Buckner Boulevard and Ferguson Road. The group received a federal grant through the U.S. Department of Justice and used part of the money to help pay for more bike patrol officers to watch over the crime-ridden apartments. The officers would later tell the group how easy it was for them to ride right up to a drug deal in progress. FRI also helped lobby for $3.7 million in a city bond package that included paving sidewalks for neighborhood children to walk to school. In turn, developers came in and built single-family homes worth up to $300,000.

There are still some dangerous stretches on and around Ferguson Road and Buckner Boulevard, but since 2000 violent crime is down dramatically. Buoyed by their community's fledgling resurgence, the Ferguson Road Initiative has also created a master plan for the area that aims for walkable communities, upscale retail and up to $50 million in new investments.

So in late 2003, when Martin and the other FRI board members learned that Potashnik wanted to build 400 apartments for low-income tenants on a vacant lot on Highland Road, just a short walk north from Ferguson Road, they told him to take a hike. If there ever was a neighborhood that really did have an abundance of cheap apartments, it was theirs.

"We freaked out," Martin says. "We made it very clear that all 20 communities would come out against this project."

If Potashnik were just a developer of seedy apartment complexes, he could have told Martin and her meddling neighbors exactly what they could do with their opposition. He already had the zoning he needed to construct hundreds of apartments, and if he wanted to build another Fairway Crossing, no one could stop him. But because Potashnik was applying for federal tax credits from the state, he'd have to enlist the neighborhood support, or he wouldn't have a chance of submitting a competitive bid.

When Potashnik learned that the Ferguson Road Initiative and its assorted neighborhood groups were set to oppose his proposal, he was obviously frustrated. The FRI board soon employed a pair of planning consultants, Bobbi Bilnoski and Bob Moss, to meet with Potashnik. On February 11, 2004, Bilnoski met with Potashnik at Southwest Housing headquarters on Central Expressway, where she found him to be adamant in sticking to his original plan of developing up to 400 affordable apartments.

But when the two got to talking, Potashnik broached the possibility of developing a much smaller complex for seniors. Many neighborhoods that oppose multi-family housing, fearing crime and school overcrowding, are more amenable to senior citizen homes. Ferguson Road's board and its consultants felt the same way.

First, though, Bilnoski began to research Southwest Housing. She called the Dallas Housing Department, which gave the company sterling reviews. Then she called TDHCA Executive Director Edwina Carrington.

"She called back and said that they are the best model in the whole state for tax-credit and affordable housing," Bilnoski recalls. "She told us how fortunate we were to be working with them."

After individual meetings with neighborhood associations, the two consultants continued to meet with Potashnik to see if he'd fine-tune his proposal. Neighborhood leaders toured some of his other properties as well. Potashnik also showed FRI board members a promotional video featuring Mayor Laura Miller lauding the company's work.

"He was tough. He knew he had to deal with us and didn't like it," Moss says. "But he was very sophisticated. He understands this tax-credit process very well. He's a New York-style negotiator where you ask for more than you want, and you don't show your hand."

Ultimately, Potashnik agreed to build the Primrose at Highland with 168 apartments for tenants 55 and older at an investment of $16 million. It would be restricted as a senior-only facility for 40 years. The Primrose wouldn't be like other low-income apartments in the area, as it would feature a pool, a clubhouse, picnic areas and carports for every unit. This would not be the Fairway Crossing II. Considering that the vacant lot Potashnik wanted to develop had turned into an illegal dump over the years, few could muster any objection.

At a community meeting in February, nearly everyone supported Potashnik's Primrose project. When he took his final proposal to the TDHCA board, they awarded him $935,000 in annual tax credits for 10 years. Depending on how he packaged his tax credits, Potashnik could have received nearly $8.5 million to invest in the Primrose property.

A year later, the developer came back to the neighborhood with plans to develop the abandoned Fairway Crossing into a multi-family affordable-housing complex. He told FRI that he would invest up to $30,000 a unit, gutting the apartments, installing new lighting and carpeting, repairing the walls and redoing the bathrooms. He'd also offer a community center, a play area and a computer lab. Now a veritable ghost town, Fairway Crossing was going to come back as affordable apartments everyone could take pride in. This time the FRI steering committee considered Potashnik's proposal and voted in favor of it 49-0 with four abstentions.

The Morning News would later report that Potashnik ensured FRI's support by contributing $10,000 to the organization, but the group says that it used that money to pay two consultants to research Southwest Housing, brief the different neighborhood groups and set up community meetings to discuss the company's proposals. The group itself, they say, never kept a dime and allowed the Dallas Observer to view its financial statements, which corroborate their account.

Vikki Martin, who initially was "freaked out" when she first learned about Potashnik's entry into her neighborhood, has become one of his most ardent admirers.

"All of our relationships with him have been honest and open," she says. "We certainly never had a problem with Southwest Housing."

While Potashnik's dealings with the FRI and its city council representative Leo Chaney have raised a few questions, the developer has pushed for a host of far more controversial projects in the southern sector of Dallas. At neighborhood meetings, at church gatherings and over the dinner table, residents have decried the glut of affordable apartments in their area. As a member of the Housing Finance board and a community leader in Oak Cliff, Ruth Steward talked a lot about how her neighborhood needed single-family homes, movie theaters and parks, not more apartments. But she tried to keep an open mind, even after the young man seemed ready to offer her a bribe on behalf of Southwest.

Steward says the bribe was never formally offered, so she did not go to the FBI. But she never considered taking it. After having launched a campaign against Al Lipscomb predicated on his tenure of corruption, she wasn't going to go down that road. (Steward declined to name the man she says tried to bribe her.) But in December 2002, she voted for the bond package for the project, in part, she says, because Fantroy supported it.

Later, Steward and Fantroy had a falling-out, and in 2003, she began voting against nearly all of the company's projects when they came before the board. In 2004, Fantroy replaced her on the board. A year later, she ran against him and lost.

In July, Steward spoke about her encounter with Southwest to KDFW-Channel 4. The story she told the Observer is virtually identical. In a statement to Channel 4, Southwest denied that the man who met with Steward worked for the company. They also said that they never authorized any such payment. (Southwest officials would not comment on Steward's story to the Observer.)

But Steward is sticking to her story. Asked about Southwest's claim that the man she described never worked for the company, she tells the Observer that, at the time, he visited various churches, including the New Independent Baptist Church, which she attends. According to Steward, he went door-to-door in an East Oak Cliff neighborhood with a petition asking for support for more apartments to be built in the area. He also was with Potashnik at a promotional breakfast Southwest held at Oak Cliff's Cedar Crest Golf Club to boast about the work the company does with minorities.

A former colleague of Steward's, Randall Parker, serves on the Housing Finance board as its chief financial officer. While he did not have any direct knowledge of Southwest's alleged efforts to curry favor with Steward, he did not doubt her credibility.

"To me she was a good board member; she had the community's support at heart," he says. "As far as her story is concerned, with the way things are going, that might have happened."

Like Steward, Parker also was appointed to his post by Fantroy and asked probing questions about Southwest's heavy focus on southern Dallas. Both he and Steward voted against a bond package for Southwest's Rosemont at Laureland in Oak Cliff. The majority of the board approved it, however, and the company was subsequently able to win tax credits from the state.

"He was just coming in with so many developments," Parker recalls. "It got to the point where we were seeing his developments in every corner."

Through his deliberations on the board, Parker got to know Potashnik and his dad, Jack, who worked for his son and often came to the board meetings. He portrays the developer as likable, if occasionally prone to bizarre bouts of self-pity. About two years ago, Parker ran into Potashnik at a housing conference. The developer walked past him and muttered aloud, "I don't know why people don't like me; I do good work."

"I approached him and said 'Brian, what's the problem? You're walking around, talking to yourself,'" Parker recalls. And he said, "I don't know, we do good work." And, Potashnik might have been thinking: Why can't that be enough?

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Matt Pulle
Contact: Matt Pulle