New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
Rev Invested in God & Man
Monday, November 13th, 2006
"My father told us never to invest in improving someone else's property," the Rev. Floyd Flake tells his visitor. "He only had a fifth-grade education, but knew that you put your money into things you own."
With the 2008 mayoral election looming and people urging him to run, you have to wonder how the former congressman and current full-time pastor of the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York in Jamaica, Queens, plans to broker his winning investment in Tuesday's election.
Flake, 61, is on a first-name basis with almost all of the local Democratic Party politicians who helped take over the statehouse and Congress. Most of the New York delegations journeyed out to southwestern Queens in the days before the final tally seeking Flake's endorsement.
"Bill and Hillary were here last week," Flake says. "Eliot and David, Alan, they all have been here."
That's ex-President Bill and Sen. Hillary Clinton; Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer and his running mate, David Paterson, and embattled but comfortably reelected state Controller Alan Hevesi.
Those political heavyweights came to Allen to see Flake, who over his 28 years in the pulpit has seen the 1,500-member congregation explode to more than 23,000. The church has an annual budget of more than $34 million and holdings, mostly property and businesses the church has developed in and around Jamaica and St. Albans, Queens, valued at more than $140 million.
Allen AME was once the second-largest employer of African-Americans in the state, behind Beatrice Foods. Four years ago, it ranked in the mid-50s among the top 100 African-American-owned corporations in the country.
The church is building 54 apartments and several ground-floor retail shops directly across Merrick Blvd. from its front door. The Allen Affordable Housing Complex is scheduled to open this spring.
It will join 300 units of senior housing the church owns a short distance away, a retail complex up the street and more than 100 two-family houses the church has built under Flake's stewardship, most while using a system of state and federal tax credits and by leveraging the equity in other church property.
Those two-family houses, which sold for $89,000 when they were built, now command $250,000 or more, he said.
"We've been building for over 30 years," Flake said on a drive through the Jamaica community. "We started buying land way back, when most surveys were saying the middle-class community in Queens was in decline."
Flake, newly arrived at what was then Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church, said he did his own survey and found that the average household income in the Jamaica, St. Albans and Cambria Heights communities was actually higher than in surrounding communities.
The latest U.S. Census Bureau data show that, at $52,000 a year, average African-American household incomes in several South Queens communities - including Jamaica and St. Albans - surpasses that of the average of whites in Queens.
Flake said Allen's construction projects attracted more private development to the area, increasing the housing and business stock each year.
"Private developers came in and built up projects next to ours," he said. "Other private owners came in and built more. Over the years that changed the face of the community. You can barely find a vacant lot around here where someone is not building something."
It helped, Flake said, that he spent his six terms in Congress - 1986-97 - as a centrist who would work with colleagues from either side of the aisle.
"My focus was on community development," he said. "I was not there to ingratiate myself with the powers that be."
Flake said Allen anchored southern Queens property values and positioned the community for a rebirth, while African-American communities like Harlem did not fare as well.
"Calvin [Butts, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church] did well with development, but some of the Harlem leadership did not perceive the nature of the land," Flake said. Versed in civil rights doctrine intent on ending racial discrimination, Flake contends that Harlem politicians wanted to tell of the wrongs inflicted on their community but sometimes underestimated the importance of development.
"They spoke truth to power. I was about getting economic power to the people," he said. "You have to do more than talk about what is not being done. The transition from civil rights to civil living has not taken place. You don't get ready for the future by only talking about the past."
So will he run to replace Michael Bloomberg, the Republican mayor he crossed party lines to endorse during Bloomberg's first campaign? Flake's not sure, saying his age at election time and the expected strong candidacies of Rep. Anthony Weiner and City Controller William Thompson will be factors in his decision.
Still, "I'll have to take a serious look at it," Flake said. "Once you've been in politics, you never want to say you'll never go back."