During the turbulent days following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, the New York State Urban Development Corporation was born. At the urging of then Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the state legislature established an agency to rebuild ghettos in New York by financing low-cost housing and civic and commercial projects.

The legislature gave the U.D.C. broad and controversial powers, such as the right to initiate projects over the objections of local communities and the authority to raise up to $2 billion by selling tax-exempt bonds. Rather than seek...

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