Money Bears no Odor

There has been an advertisement around town that screams, “We Pay Bloomberg $1 per Year… Best Deal in Town!” 

If this eructation were just the uninformed opinion of some wetbrained volunteer in it for the sandwiches, or the palavering of a bond trader who had applied too much HGH that morning, it would be beneath our notice and contempt.  But here we can take the measure of a decayed political culture at its most cynical.  The ad was put out by the Bloomberg campaign and touts the Mayor’s candidacy on the sole basisthat he is rich--so rich that he doesn’t need his salary.

Is it really the best deal in town that Mr. Bloomberg is a “dollar-a-year man?”  By the logic of the advertisement, shouldn’t we look for a better deal- a mayor who will make the office a profit center for the City?  Why not place the mayoralty up for auction… Mr. Bloomberg has already proven that he will pay hundreds of millions of dollars to be Mayor…maybe he would pay two or three billion…let’s see what the market can bear, if all we want is a good deal.

Here is the real problem.  There is this prevailing assumption that Mayor Bloomberg is pure: pure precisely because he is rich.  “At least he can’t be bought,” is what even his detractors think…bought by the unions, the developers, Wall Street.  He stands alone. Pecuniam non olet (“Money doesn’t stink”) goes the old saying, but now it’s gone beyond that: Bloomberg’s money is a detergent and leaves him clean, cleaner than his opponent, who after all has to “take money.”  Taking money, the essence of our horrible campaign system, is now a stigma, a blot in the era of the billionaire politician. 

But while Mayor Bloomberg can’t be bought, he can buy: the incorruptible is the ultimate corrupter.  This is the truth that is so evident that it passes without comment.  The Mayor gave the Independence Party $1.2 million for its endorsement—this is just business as usual, nobody cares.  The Mayor bypassed City regulations to give millions of public dollars to select groups in Brooklyn, and then lied and tried to suborn Simcha Felder to claim he requested the money—the story disappeared, nobody cares.

So if you are Miguel Martinez and you backdate a few receipts to the tune of a couple grand, you go to federal prison.  But if you are Mike Bloomberg and you ask an elected official to commit fraud and backdate a legal request, nobody follows it up, even though Mr. Felder refused adamantly to go along with the Mayor’s cover story.

So there we have it folks.  The third term that Mayor Bloomberg wanted was voted on in hugger-mugger under highly irregular procedures.  Almost all of the Council Members who voted for it will retain their cozy seats, thankfully with a few egregious exceptions.  The Mayor will likely keep being Mayor, so he can continue to bully New Yorkers with his bogus City Beautiful projects and revenue schemes.  And civic democracy will die another little death. 

As the poet wrote:

                                    …you pays your money and

 you doesn’t take your choice.  Ain’t freedom grand

Seabrook Indictments, Finally

Sources close to the action report that indictments have been handed down are being prepared against one or more members of Council Member Larry Seabrook's office, possibly including the Member himself. 

We have previously discussed the scandal in the Seabrook office regarding the nesting of bogus community operations within City-funded office space, which was then sublet to groups existing in name only. These phony groups then billed the City for their rent, with Member Seabrook or his operatives pocketing the extra money.  

The US Attorney's office had no comment either way about the indictments. Neither did the office of Member Seabrook.

Is the US Attorney holding off indicting before the election?  In any case, relief will soon come to the good people of District 12 in the Northwest Bronx: we predict another Council vacancy before Spring 2010.

In related news, Kendall Stewart's top aide Asquith Reid is due next Friday to be sentenced for his part in diverting City funding for the charitable foundation named after his own daughter.  His accomplice Joycinth Anderson was recently sentenced to four months house arrest for the same crime.

Could Al Vann Lose? Spotlight on Brooklyn's 36th District

September’s primary election delivered a shock to a number of entrenched incumbent Democratic politicians.  This gang of sleeping beauties- Kendall Stewart, Maria Baez, Helen Sears, Alan Gerson-lost their party’s nomination after their respective constituencies decided that eight years of indifferent or corrupt service was enough.

One notable exception to the favorable trend was in Brooklyn’s 36th District, where Council Member Al Vann has represented the people of Bed-Stuy for more than 30 years, first in the Assembly and then in the Council.  Mr. Vann, who rose to prominence in the 60s and 70s as a community activist, was hailed as a lion of the new Black political consciousness when he was first elected in 1974.  Expectations were very high that he would emerge as a major leader of the African-American community.

Well, expectations were foiled, as they so often are.  Al Vann served in the Assembly for 27 years and learned to go along with the Democratic leadership.  Then in 2001 he and Annette Robinson, the Council Member for the 36th District, came up with an ingenious way to deal with the fact that she was being term-limited out of her position: they switched jobs.  Mr. Vann ran for City Council and Ms. Robinson ran for Assembly.  This way she could continue to be a paid politician, and he could begin accruing time towards a City pension for his retirement, eight years in the future. 

Council Member Vann has taken the usual route of becoming a stooge of the real estate industry, which has funded his campaigns and reaped rich rewards in the process.

The September primary election almost saw Mr. Vann’s defeat: he won only 29% of the vote.  Next in the count was Mark Winston Griffith, who took 23%; the rest of the field split the balance, none garnering more than 10%.

We spoke this week with Mr. Griffith, who is contesting Mr. Vann in the general election as the Working Families Party candidate.  He has worked in and for Central Brooklyn for the last 25 years in a variety of community development and leadership posts. 

Mr. Griffith says that his loss in the primary election has not diminished his hopes and goals for the 36th District Council seat, which he thinks he stands a “reasonable” chance of capturing.  He sees a number of crucial policy issues facing the District, including accountable and responsible development, affordable housing, green jobs, the availability of healthy foods, and improved quality of education throughout the area.

Citing Atlantic Yards as a prime example of “irresponsible development,” Mr. Griffith decried “development that is driven by the needs of the developer as opposed to the community.”  He expressed concern that the community-oriented concessions agreed to by the Ratner organization are contingent upon nothing more than the goodwill and graces of the real estate developer; what is needed instead are institutionalized and enforceable Community Benefits Agreement that are built into every major development.

The main point that Mr. Griffith stresses in his campaign now, however, is leadership…or its lack.  “Al Vann has been in office for nearly 35 years and in that time he has not developed a pipeline of new leadership…his presence in the community is minimal, and his constituent service is poor,” says Mr. Griffith, who adds that “Al Vann has lowered the bar of effective leadership in Bed-Stuy, leaving a lot of disgruntled people in the neighborhood.”

Mr. Griffith cites high crime rates, the lack of youth centers and the dismal state of repair of Nostrand Avenue among some of the local issues that have been ignored by Council Member Vann, whose “record of accomplishment ends 15 years ago: people on the streets can’t identify any of his positions on any issues, much less name anything he has done in recent memory.  Either you are loyal to Al Vann or you recognize that he hasn’t done squat; or to be fair, it is not that he hasn’t done anything—he just hasn’t done anything lately.”

Continuing in this vein, Mr. Griffith inquired, “Citywide, does anyone recognize Al Vann as a leader for or of anything?  When he came in it was anticipated that he would be a leader, maybe Speaker when he came on the Council.  Instead, he sat back in his chair, put his feet up, and chilled.  Now, no one outside the District who is under 35 knows who Al Vann is.”

Asked about his chances of winning against a Democratic incumbent with extensive name recognition, if not overwhelmingly positive approval ratings, Mr. Griffith was phlegmatic.  “Our challenge now is to interrupt straight-ticket voting.”  He acknowledged receiving strong support from local WFP clubs, and was happy that the statewide party was offering support as well, but noted that he was “underwhelmed by the strength of the Vann machine...there is no enthusiasm among his operatives.  Al Vann’s campaign strategy is to bum-rush election day with day laborer canvassers.”

Mr. Griffith says that Mr. Vann was “rattled” by his tiny victory in the primary, and that his election, if successful will certainly not provide him with a mandate.

It is a sad feature of our diminished political and civic life that lazy old men, former firebrands, are allowed to retain their seats because of a corrupt and desiccated system that encourages its own perpetuation as the highest value.  We wish Mr. Griffith well in the general election.  It is too bad that an old hack has to be practically indicted or in an obvious coma in order to lose in this city.


Margaret Chin's Anodyne Vision

We sat down today with presumptive District 1 Council Member Margaret Chin and were sad to see that her effusiveness, which had so charmed us when we first interviewed her, had vanished like the snows of yesterday, replaced by the closed-mouth delivery of stock responses characteristic of the professional politician that she now is.

This happens, it appears: the Young Turks of the past become the pashas of the present, and the rhetoric of revolution gives way to platitudes of the possible.

We began by congratulating Ms. Chin on her victory as the first Chinese-American to represent Chinatown, which sounds history-making, and which has been regarded as such.  We asked her if, coupled with the (also presumptive) election of John Liu as the first Chinese-American to Citywide office, the 2009 race signaled the arrival of Chinese-Americans to the political stage, and if so, why now?  Chinese have had a presence in the City for well over 150 years; Dominicans first started coming here in the 1960s yet elected their own Council Member in 1991.

"Why now?" she asked us, puzzled.  She then gave us a brief synopsis of the history of Chinese in America, starting with early discrimination, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and then the reconfiguration of immigration policy in 1965 by Senators Edward Kennedy and Jacob Javits to admit Asians and Latin Americans on a preferential basis.  "Many Chinese did not arrive in force until the Sixties," explained Ms. Chin, "and it has taken time for those people to acquire citizenship, become registered voters, and become acquainted with the primary system."

She derided the "myth of Chinese political reticence," and suggested that language barriers have slowed down the "political maturity of the community."  So it does sound as though the Chinese-Americans of New York have now begun to come into their own as a political force, which will, we hope, continue to stir the pot of City politics.  Any change is probably good.

Ms. Chin is facing Republican opposition in the general election in the person of Irene Horvath.  Ms. Horvath has raised $100 so far, all of it from herself.  Only 11% of District 1 is registered Republican.  So things are looking good for Margaret Chin in November.

She acknowledged as much, and said that she views the general election as an "opportunity to engage the voters and expand registration, and to encourage high voter turnout throughout the District."  She claims to be spending time "reaching out to community groups, getting briefings on neighborhood issues."  We asked her which district issues in particular seem most pressing, but she would only speak generally about "parks, affordable housing, traffic issues, small businesses, sanitation," and other such issues, providing little in the way of specificity.

Regarding the anti-incumbent mood that brought Ms. Chin and several other candidates to apparent victory, she insisted that "while there may have been a backlash against the Council [over the slush fund scandal and term limits], the current Council did a lot of good things too."  Ms. Chin stressed her desire to work "closely with everyone on the Council to get things done," though hoped that "fresh faces and new energy on the Council" will bring greater accountability and transparency to its machinery.  

Ms. Chin insisted that she has given no thought to the question of Christine Quinn's future as Speaker, though she said she has worked with her on tenant issues and found the experience to be positive.

Margaret Chin looks forward to "working on getting people involved, working together."

Whatever...boring we know.  Well, what can you expect from a newly elected freshman?  Let's wait until this crew gets into office, gets their hands dirty, and gives us some meat to chew on.

Christine Quinn: Hello, You Must Be Going...

Christine Quinn’s future as Speaker isn’t looking great, if you go by the tepid outlook of three presumptive freshman Council Members.

City Council Watch spoke today with Democratic Council nominees Jimmy van Bramer of Queens District 26, Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan District 10, and Brad Lander of Brooklyn District 39, and nobody said anything stronger than “maybe” when asked if they would support Ms. Quinn in another term as Speaker.

Mr. van Bramer, who will join the Speaker as one of a record four LGBT Council Members, could not summon much enthusiasm or solidarity for her leadership. “I have literally not had one conversation about Chris Quinn’s Speakership,” he told us. “ I am focused on the general election.” His district, incidentally, runs 5-to-1 Democratic by registration.

Ydanis Rodriguez, facing even less of a battle in Washington Heights, Inwood and Marble Hill, also said that “it is too early to say” how he feels about the Council leadership role. “I have a lot of respect for Ms. Quinn, but I haven’t decided how I will vote…I haven‘t decided.”

Brad Lander of North Central Brooklyn also couldn’t bring himself to support Speaker Quinn with anything approaching lukewarmth. “I am not a Council Member yet,” he insisted, and told us that his “inexperience with leadership politics” precluded him from voicing much of an opinion on the subject.

We pressed him, noting that he would likely win the general election and would soon have to make clear his stance. Mr. Lander hedged, noting “I have worked with her before, and even though she did not endorse me, she knows I am a friend of the LGBT community, and she stood up for me at a delicate moment in my campaign [referring to the Der Blatt controversy].”

Mr. Lander continued, “right now there is no one else running. It is premature for me to say anything about it.”

One might expect an incoming class to at least make ceremonial noises of support for Party leadership. It sounds like Speaker Quinn’s political capital could be fading fast. Her own less-than-stellar performance in her own district aside, Ms. Quinn's apparent ineffectiveness will surely bring about a leadership challenge.  The only question now is, from whom?

We did speak about other matters today with Mr. van Bramer and Mr. Rodriguez. Jimmy van Bramer said that his campaign was “incredibly hard-fought, and held the interest of a lot of different people in Queens and across the city.” He continued, “the election was very exciting, and I am proud to be among a number of other incoming progressive community organizers.”

Asked if the fresh blood would lead to a new spirit of openness on the Council, Mr. van Bramer stated that “things have already started to change. There is a route to transparency and accountability, which are good trends.”

If elected Mr. van Bramer wants to focus his energy on cost of living and affordability issues, including ending vacancy decontrol and expanding rent stabilization. He plans to announce his endorsement in the Public Advocate runoff Thursday at 11 am.

Ydanis Rodriguez was sensitive to the matter of corruption, as he is hoping to fill the seat of Miguel Martinez, one of the most notorious criminals to serve in the City Council in recent memory. “I will conduct my life with honesty, dignity and transparency, stated the man from Marble Hill. Regarding member items and their abuse by the disgraced Martinez, Mr. Rodriguez insisted that it is “important to continue to bring resources to organizations that will create more jobs and actually do what they are supposed to do.”

Asked about the tuberous spread of black car congestion throughout Upper Manhattan, Mr. Rodriguez refused to condemn the limo companies that encourage this mobile cancer, stating instead that “traffic is a major issue citywide…we need a lot of resources to improve traffic conditions in the District.”

Good enough.

Developments and Schisms...

The races aren’t over.

There is increased speculation that Kenneth Mitchell, Council Member from Staten Island District 49, chagrined over his loss to Debi Rose in the Democratic primary, is readying a run in the general election on the Conservative Party line. Mr. Mitchell, who won the special election to the Council in February, is looking to play the spoiler in what has been celebrated as the ascension of the first African-American elected official from Staten Island.

And, noted here for the first time, over in Brooklyn’s 36th District Mark Winston Griffith, who almost edged out veteran politician Al Vann is, on good authority, plotting a general election campaign against the Dean of Black Brooklyn by running on the WFP line. Mr. Griffith apparently thinks that Al Vann, who won the Democratic nomination with less than 30% of the vote, is vulnerable to a challenge from the progressive side.

You read it here first…

District 39: Brad Lander Speaks

City Council Watch spoke today with Brad Lander, Democratic nominee for the 39th District Council seat in Brooklyn, about his recent victory and his thoughts about the future.

Regarding the upcoming general election, Mr. Lander asserted modestly that he is “optimistic about his chances.” He says that if he wins he will focus his attention “on the same issues discussed during the campaign: responsible development, public and constituent services, and improving the public schools.” He also alluded to some “blighted development sites” in the district that require attention, and said that he hopes to bring up the question of mandatory paid sick leave as a City-wide issue.

Asked about the mood of an electorate that turned out a number of incumbents this year, Mr, Lander spoke ‘to “residual anger about term limits being forced down the people’s throat by a powerful mayor and a spineless City Council despite twice-expressed votes,” as well as “the dominance of development issues in certain districts,” as key factors in the insurgents’ success.

Mr. Lander believes that the effort late in the campaign to discredit candidates linked to Data and Field Services, the consulting wing of the Working Families Party, was fueled by resentment that the “WFP has been so successful at promoting progressive issues for over a decade, and has supported very good candidates. As such they have drawn attention to themselves.”

Stopping short of accusing any faction or individual of targeting the WFP Mr. Lander argued that “successful groups always attract negative attention.” He insisted that his campaign was “scrupulous in accounting for every penny as demanded by New York’s demanding campaign finance laws,” and that if the “Campaign Finance Board discovers any irregularities they should by all means pursue them.”

We asked Mr. Lander his opinion of the race for Public Advocate, in which the present Council Member for the 39th District Bill DeBlasio is currently in runoff. Mr. Lander says he supports Mr. DeBlasio despite some differences between the two regarding development and other issues, and retorted that “aside from his own vaunted ego, there is no reason for Mark Green to be running.”

Looking ahead to the Mayor’s probable third term, Mr. Lander predicts that the overturning of term limits may bedevil Mayor Bloomberg in terms of his general credibility. He also believes that “we have probably not heard the last of the slush fund scandal…we need to have accountability on whether the community groups that get City funding actually do what they say they were going to do with the money. We need to know outcomes, not just statements from the groups that they have done a good job.”

Mr. Lander acknowledges that the primary contest for the nomination was heated and passionate, but diminished the importance of the “new media” to the race. “Things were much more contentious in the photosphere than on the stoops,” says Mr. Lander, who is “gratified that voters were swayed by the real issues.”

This week we will be featuring interviews with a number of Primary Day winners, including Jimmy van Bramer and Margaret Chin. Stay posted.

Mopping up the Blood

Who can believe what happened?  We at City Council Watch are still shocked that we more or less called Margaret Chin as the victor in District 1...that was a doozy, no?  Congratulations are due to her and her cadre of supporters.

So what is in store for the losers?  Kendall Stewart can return to his podiatry practice, scraping corns and performing minimally invasive bunion surgery.  Maria Baez is fiercely contesting her close defeat, and she is rallying support in...Puerto Rico?...where she flew the day after the primary.  Nice work.  Ms. Baez is about 90 votes down and is counting on the 100 absentee ballots to go her way and deliver her another 4 years of paid vacation.  If only she could call a voice vote she would surely win!

Helen Sears can now rest easy, roll down her support hose and enjoy her coming 80th birthday in peace and quiet.  She was apparently in foul temper at this week's stated meeting, snapping at staffers and anyone who came too close.

And what of their replacements?  City Council Watch knows full well that today's insurgents are tomorrow's incumbents.  We are going to cut the freshman class about two weeks of slack before we begin reviewing their records and holding them to their promises.  We will definitely put their feet to the fire...and plan to have Kendall Stewart at the ready to salve their blisters with unguents.

All is not over however.  The race for Public Advocate, who presides over stated meetings and is an ex-officio non-voting member of the Council, has gone to a runoff.  Bill DeBlasio, current District 39 Council Member, pulled off an astounding first place, coming from 7 points a few months ago to speed past the once and would-be PA Mark Green.

Mr. Green has cast the coming runoff as a race between a consumer advocate (himself), and a political insider.  The gall of the Green camp is green and bilious.  The only reason that Mark Green is not a political insider himself is because he loses every election he runs in.  Pardon the vulgarity, but if you can't get laid you can't then tout your celibacy.

What exactly is the appeal of Mark Green at this point?  What is his record?  He was the first Public Advocate, and basically set the tone of that new office for Betsy Gotbaum, who has done nothing, to the attention of no one. 

It is possible to sympathize with the supporters of Rudy Giuliani who want him to be Governor.  They have some nostalgia for his variety of headcracking, Yankee-boosting, 9/11-sobbing municipal politics.  They like the idea of returning his goonlike style to office.  Fine...let them nourish their demented memories: at least they are rooted in some actual moment of history.

What, on the other hand, does Mark Green offer even to his base, such as it is?  When was the Mark Green moment?  When he and Al d'Amato got their radio show?  It makes as much sense for Ed Koch to run for office again as for Mark Green to insist that he needs his job back.

In the spirit of anti-incumbency, City Council Watch is going to spend the next week peering into the whited sepulchre that is the Green candidacy.  We will examine his record as Public Advocate.  We will take a look at his infamous campaigns for Mayor and Attorney General.  And we will take an extra-hard look at his links to the New York real estate machine via his brother and funder Stephen L. Green.

Stay tuned.

Victory is Ours!!!

A historic victory for the forces of progress and good government was struck tonight as incumbents and other hacks fell like dead pigeons from telephone poles.

As we predicted, the execrable Helen Sears and the abominable Kendall Stewart have been turned out of office by the people of their districts.  Congratulations are owed to the people of Districts 25 and 45 for their bravery in firing these decayed servants.  No longer will they pocket the public's silver.  Danny Dromm and Jumaane Williams will be massive improvements for the people of Queens and Brooklyn respectively.

As of 12:30 am reports reveal that Maria Baez has also been booted out.  The most expensive office space in the city is now available for lease...on the Grand Concourse!

Brad Lander of District 39 has defeated the reptillian and smarmy Josh Skaller, whose efforts to bamboozle the electorate with clever rhetoric fell apart as his pseudo-environmentalism and crocodile tears were sounded out as hollow. 

In District 10 Ydanis Rodriguez will assume the seat vacated by the repulsive and venal Miguel Martinez.  We pray he will bring an antiseptic breeze to a rank and corrupt Uptown political culture.

In the race for Public Advocate, technically the President of the City Council, the refreshing Bill deBlasio, who bravely chose not to pursue a third term as Council Member, has led the field to the runoff against the wretched has-been Mark Green.

The fact that the voters have swept the Working Families Party/Data and Field Services platform into office shows that the electorate was not fooled by the repulsive shenanigans of the real estate industry-New York Post-Manhattan Media-Independence Party machine.  This crew attempted to paint the humble yet vibrant strivings of a genuine third party, whose success is rooted in actual popular appeal, as some kind of sinister operation, but the plot was foiled because there was no story. Reading the coverage of the WFP "scandal" was like being trapped in an echo chamber listening to Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch hollering at each other.  But the truth came out.

More coverage tomorrow!!!  Tonight is for celebration!!!

Oliver Koppell: the 2nd Worst Member from the Bronx

G. Oliver Koppell has served the Northwest Bronx for decades, and the Northwest Bronx has served him in return. Formerly an Assemblyman first elected in 1970 at the age of 30, Mr. Koppell was appointed New York State Attorney General by his colleagues in the legislature in 1993 to fill the post that Robert Abrams had vacated with only a year to go. Mr. Koppell did not impress the Democratic voters of the state as much as he had their representatives, however, and he failed to win the party nomination in 1994.

So what was the boy wonder of the Bronx to do with himself? As a lawyer with strong Albany connections he was able to lose himself in the pursuit of lucre, which he amassed aplenty. He and his wife ("2007 Realtor of the Year" Lorraine Coyle) expanded their successful real estate business Koppell River Realty. And he ran again for Attorney General in 1998, this time losing very badly.

At this point our man was very much in the cold. It hurts not to hold elected office after one has done so for many years. But then he had a stroke of luck: his local Council Member June Eisland, who had served for 22 years, was unable to run again because of the term limits law! This meant that room was now available on the Council for fresh blood, and who better to step up than the 61-year old Mr. Koppell?

In his eight years as Council Member for Bronx District 11 Oliver Koppell has done some wonderful things. Recently he was the only Member to vote against including Muslim holidays on the school calendar, and last year he was one of two to vote against letting school children bring cell phones to school in their bags, turned off.

Rather more significantly, Mr. Koppell was one of four Council Members to vote against legislation banning "pay-for-play," insisting that minority politicians require lobbyist money. He next defended the use of City money to hire criminal attorneys to defend Council Members under investigation in the Council slush fund scandal.

He courageously demanded an apology from Saturday Night Life for poking fun at Governor Paterson.

And then, it will surely be seen by history as the golden crown to a lifetime of public service, G. Oliver Koppell wrote and introduced the bill to overturn the law limiting City politicians to two terms of office, which had been passed by popular referendum twice by the people of New York. Mr. Koppell, who was elected to the Council precisely because his predecessor was term-limited out, insisted that limits "cut off people's careers in politics, which makes no sense." 

Of course it makes no sense to cut off someone's career in politics, especially if you are the one with the career, and you really enjoy having it. 

As a favor to Mr. Koppell for introducing the term limits revision bill, Mayor Bloomberg hired Ari Hoffnung, who lost the race in 2005 against Mr. Koppell and who was widely held to be a serious contender again this year, as a campaign advisor. 

Neutralization of political opponents by buying them is key to the Mayor's political practice, and is one of the reasons he is so widely held to be incorruptible. He can't be corrupted, because he is doing all the corrupting.

Mr. Koppell is facing a serious challenger however in the person of Tony Cassino, a Riverdale resident and former Chairman of CB 8. Mr. Cassino has won some surprising endorsements lately, notably from 1199 and the Citizens Union. His fundraising has been competitive and he has received significant support from the local Democratic clubs.

This piece ran in a slightly different form in Fed Up New Yorkers.

Final Week: Incumbents on the Rocks

As we enter the final week of campaigning for the 2009 primary elections great things are in the works.  A number of sitting Council Members are poised to lose their posts.  Typically, an incumbent City politician has to either rape their staff or be murdered to be turned out of office.  But this year, amid scandal and public attention to the inactivity and sheer corruption of their elected servants, a few Members may be very unhappy as the sun rises on September 16.  May it be so!

Kendall Stewart is still our top bet to lose his seat.  The Council Member from District 45 has gone completely off the rails and has become positively Macbethian in his command of inexistent armies.  A few weeks ago Mr. Stewart’s campaign put out some literature claiming endorsement by a large number of prominent Democrats who had not in fact endorsed him—some, such as fellow Member Rosie Mendez, had endorsed Jumaane Williams, Mr. Stewart’s opponent.   

One hopes that Kendall Stewart is not currently in prison only because prosecutors are doing a painstaking job in preparing their indictments.  If this is not the case then something is gravely wrong.  Mr. Stewart’s top aides are going to prison for stealing money in schemes that he co-signed.  Another aide is going to prison for sleazy mortgage fraud.  Mr. Stewart’s large residential property portfolio continues to accrue new housing violations…there are rats in his tenants’ apartments, ceilings falling apart, etc.  For a man who complains that agitators from outside the district are plotting his ruin, his biggest contributors are the Rent Stabilization Association and the Neighborhood Preservation PAC.

Council Member Helen Sears of Queens District 25 is another incumbent on the way out.  Ms. Sears is one of many Council members who have spent the last four years sitting on their hands, doing nothing except planning for their retirement.  In her case she nursed a fond dream of becoming Queens Borough President.  However, when the term limits bill came up, she realized that she would far prefer to continue napping at the expense of her district for another quadrennium.   

Helen Sears indecorously asked the mayor’s lawyers, “You mean we can do this?” and insisted that not allowing her to serve again would be the same thing as never having allowed her to serve at all…a formulation that is either worthy of Parmenides or the mutterings of a schizophrenic maniac: you decide.  Ms. Sears again hired her sons for her campaign, even though their only professional campaign experience is working for their mommy.  Her opponent Danny Dromm has waged a strong vigorous campaign and looks like he can pull off an upset.

Another incumbent who badly needs to lose is Maria Baez of District 14 in the Bronx.  Here we have a woman who basically ran a contributions auction between major developers for the right to develop the Kingsbridge Armory and who, after showing up less than half the time for her highly paid part-time job as a city council member, trotted out the excuse that she couldn’t make it to meetings for health reasons.  OK, so she is too sick to come to work, so that is why she needs to be re-elected?  She was part of the Rivera machine whose control of the Bronx Democratic establishment was thrown out following a bogus voice vote that was overturned.  You can watch the video of her saying “the Ayes have it” over thunderous boos.  Ms. Baez is corrupt and lazy.  If she wins it will only be because her opponent Fernando Cabrera used to register as a Republican and is kind of loopy himself.


Margaret Chin: District 1's Answer to Harold Stassen

We spoke recently with the perennial District 1 Council candidate Margaret Chin about why she is running, and why this may be the year when she finally pulls off a victory.

Ms. Chin first ran for the seat in 1991, when she was profiled rather viciously by the madman Richard Brookhiser, who made hay of her past membership in the Communist Workers Party.  He egregiously made an issue of her protest of the notorious 1979 murder of anti-Klan activists in Greensboro, as though such protest were somehow a questionable activity in itself.  Her red past has dogged her through her career, though it has begun to fade as tempers have cooled.

A long time activist in Chinatown, where she has lived since emigrating at age 9 from Hong Kong, Ms. Chin touts her deep community roots and history of activism as the main reason why her presence is needed on the Council.  “Not much has happened in the last eight years,” she says, laying direct blame on Council Member Alan Gerson for failing to tie excessive residential development in lower Manhattan to increased services and amenities for new residents.  “Alan sat on his hands the last four years because he thought he was done,” referring to his term-limited status until October 2008.  “Then when he realized he had a chance at a new term he woke up.”

Ms. Chin points to the loss of 15,000 units of affordable housing in overcrowded District 1 as a major problem that is intensified by the conversion of existing stock to market rate, along with the mass conversion of office space to luxury residences in the financial district without adequate facilities planning.  “Why should there be lines for pre-K registration,” she asks, “when all this building has been in the works for years?” 

Ms. Chin cites the Mitchell-Lama model of housing, whereby private builders obtain tax credits in exchange for providing a proportion of affordable units in their developments, as a good and workable system that deserves revival.  She refreshingly allows that “eminent domain is a very good option to solve the housing crisis.”  We appreciate it when a candidate can come out strongly on a controversial issue.

Regarding the criticism that has been leveled against New York University for its vampiric real estate practices, Ms. Chin argues that “NYU needs to be reined in, and made to understand that lower Manhattan is not a college town.”  She cites a dorm that was established by the Seaport and then abandoned, and which is now being turned into a condominium, as an example of the institution’s disregard for the “character of neighborhoods.”

Ms. Chin also advocates strongly for a reversal of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toll, which has turned Canal Street into a major transportation thoroughfare, resulting in dirt and congestion as truck traffic streams to the Holland Tunnel to avoid the steep bridge toll.  The mispricing of the tolls stems, according to Ms. Chin, from Staten Island’s former outsized influence.  “Why should Staten Island get everything when we have a Democratic governor and legislature?” she asks.

She acknowledges having been “very disappointed by the term limits vote,” and asserts that Member Gerson is a hypocrite for having voted to overturn term limits when he himself was originally elected due to a vacancy created by term limits.  When we pointed out that Mr. Gerson proposed many times to have another popular referendum to decide the issue, she scoffed at the bad faith of his initiative, saying that “the referendum should have come at the beginning of the process, not the end.”

We asked Ms. Chin about the aggressiveness with which she sought to have PJ Kim thrown off the ballot, and wondered whether, as has been said, she feared that Mr. Kim would split the Asian vote.  She bristled visibly at the suggestion, asserting, “PJ is a newcomer to the district and has no track record.  He will not be able to split the Asian vote, which is my base of support.  The voters will not be deceived.”

When asked why this will be the year she is elected after three failed attempts, Ms. Chin cites her competitive fundraising and broad community support.  Perhaps harkening back to her days in the revolutionary vanguard or with some nostalgia for the Long March she then averred that “my volunteers are my army.”

In any case, District 1 will be a close race.  We hope to revisit it before the 15th.

District 39 Candidates' Forum and the Rage of the Oppressed

Your reporter ventured the other night deep into the belly of partisan politics and witnessed the pure rage of the truly committed. We encountered the unity and common purpose born only of the most vile intolerance and subjugation, and saw the holy fire that burns in the eyes of the awakened vanguard. Never before had we known that New York City repressed a class of citizens so brutally or had shown an entire segment of its people so little respect. 

We are speaking of course of people who ride bikes. 

The 39th District candidates' forum was sponsored by Transportation Alternatives, a group whose goal of reducing automobile use is thoroughly laudable. And City Council Watch believes that bicycles are certainly a pleasant form of recreation and in certain cases a real alternative to motor transport. 

However, and it is here that we may for the first time reveal a basic prejudice of ours that we have kept hidden, we find bike culture odious and almost a blot on our municipal life. 

Now I am not speaking of the usual two-wheeled culprits: bike messengers, food delivery people, reckless kids. These people, all of whom incidentally were both unrepresented and roundly condemned at last week's forum, don't bother us particularly because they are typically aware that they are nuisances and understand that their claim to right-of-way is at best tenuous if not inexistent. 

We also find inoffensive velodrome enthusiasts and people who ride stationary bicycles. And we suppose that people calmly commuting to work on their bicycles are actually doing little harm to society. 

The problem for us are bikers who, perhaps unduly proud of their supposedly carbon-neutral transit mode, assume that they possess rights not equal to, but superior to those of us who fare as we were made, on our feet. 

An example: your reporter and his children were strolling on a path clearly marked "Shared." We kept well to our right. A group of other pedestrians approached us on their right, moving slowly. A woman, dressed in spandex, resembling a suppository for a whale, cycling behind the slow group, decided to pass them in our lane. Teetering, barely pedaling, she plowed in slow motion into our nine-year-old daughter. 

When asked what she thought she was doing the woman answered, "I didn't mean to hit her." We congratulated her for this courtesy and asked if she had said she was sorry to the child. Her response was, "Why was she on the path?"

There you have it-the cyclist's righteous belief that they have right-of-way in every instance: not just versus cars, but mortals as well. 

We think that the propaganda regarding carbon-neutrality has fueled the pomposity of the cycling community. The cyclist imagines that his or her self-propulsion represents a benefit to society: one hesitates to remind them that for all their exertion they are moving only themselves. No goods are brought to market or children taken to school through all their breathless labor. 

Just to continue in this vein for another minute or so, consider the absurdity of a specific biking subculture. The preoccupation with fixed-wheel bicycles among a certain contingent of youngish bearded men drives us to distraction. Why would you want to ride a bike that denies you the ability to coast: one of the primary pleasures of cycling? This self-imposed brutality as a hallmark of bike purity strikes us as monastic in its severity and indicative of a puritanical and unforgiving streak that stains biking generally.

Ok, well back to the candidate forum. All the Democrats we have profiled were there, as well as two Republicans and a Green. The GOP candidates included George Smith and Joe Nardiello. Mr. Smith gained some notoriety recently when it emerged that he is facing sex-abuse charges and once went to prison for impersonating a police officer. Mr. Smith charmingly dismisses his indiscretions as the folly of youth. Mr. Nardiello has reported raising no money with the CFB for this election cycle, but pointed out that he is a member of the Park Slope Food Co-op and the only candidate to have served in a municipal Democratic administration. Green Party candidate David Pechefsky claims to possess the only non-commercial pedi-cycle in Brooklyn, which he uses to transport his disabled mother.

Asked about the biggest transit problem facing District 39, the candidates offered a variety of suggestions. George Smith suggested that “more parking lots” might be the answer. Gary Reilly repeated his major campaign plank that instituting F express service will solve the borough’s transit ills. Brad Lander argued for a general reduction of automobile use through improved bus and train service. Mr, Nardiello claimed that reckless driving is Brooklyn’s biggest transportation problem now and the cause of most traffic accidents, which is practically inarguable as an assertion. Bob Zuckerman stressed the need for reduced congestion, ideally through shuttle service funded by residential parking permits.

Josh Skaller was roundly mocked and hooted at when he called for extension of a bike lane on 9th Street west of 3rd Avenue: “It’s already happened!” cried some bike lane enthusiasts; others were nonplussed that this fact could possibly be unknown to a would- be public servant. Bob Zuckerman conceded that he had “had reservations” about bike lanes, but now has “no complaints” about them. Mr. Pechefsky complained that existing bike lanes are too narrow, and that development of big-box stores and their large parking lots interfere with the free movement of bicycles throughout the district. Joe Nardiello, striking his contrarian note, insisted that many bikes go too fast for safe coexistence with automobile and pedestrian traffic.

Regarding allowing cars to drive through Prospect Park, David Pechefsky and Gary Reilly both called for the park to be car-free. Brad Lander cautioned that district residents in Kensington and Carroll Gardens face truck traffic that is more noisome than park car traffic, and that they do require park access for their morning commutes. George Smith tearfully related a story of how his dog was run over in a park when he was a child. Josh Skaller wittily announced that he will “drive to the goal-no pun intended!-of making the park free of cars.” Bob Zuckerman thinks that the city should experiment with banning cars during off-seasons.

The forum moderator announced the rather startling statistic that 45% of cars driving in Park Slope at any given time are simply circling the block looking for a parking spot. What, the candidates were asked, did they propose to do about this situation?

Mr. Skaller argued for a combined regimen of meters and permits, but stirringly cautioned against imposing “segregation of neighborhoods-we are segregated enough!” Mr. Reilly observed that parking on city streets is under priced and must be subject to free market pricing. He noted that “you would not be allowed to occupy a parking space with boxes of stuff that you moved across the street every few days,” so why should drivers consider it a right to leave their cars on the street for free? George Smith demanded an end to the building of high-rise residential buildings unless they include off-street garage parking. Brad Lander argued for meters that charge more at peak hours, and asked the audience to consider the merits of congestion pricing as a City-wide fix for the problem. Bob Zuckerman wants to see all-Borough residential parking permits to encourage Brooklyn residents to travel within Kings County more easily.

The question and answer period became quite raucous. One woman from Kensington asked the panel and the audience to raise their hands if they own a car. The insinuation of hypocrisy was too much for one bearded gentleman, who stood up and shouted, “Yes I own a car, but I also own six bikes!” All of the Council candidates acknowledged owning cars, except for Josh Skaller, who could not contain his glee as he proclaimed himself, “deliciously car free!” Brad Lander in a plea for District-wide tolerance said that he wants to “bring Windsor Terrace and Kensington up to the level of consciousness that Park Slope has about the livable streets movement.” Joe Nardiello injected a note of realpolitik in accusing his rivals of pandering to the pro-bike crowd, noting that there is no way for an anti-car candidate to win the district as a whole.

Mr. Skaller worries that cars go too fast and wants to see more tickets for moving violation than for parking violations. He calls for the “European” mode of bike lanes where a concrete curb separates the street from the bike traffic, “as you see in Europe.” Hm, we thought Mr. Skaller doesn’t take vacations…

Bob Zuckerman believes that texting while driving is a major problem that must be stopped, and Gary Reilly thinks that the police need to redefine “car on bike violence.”

That’s our report. Sorry for the hiatus but even City Council Watchers take a rest from time to time.

District 26: Jimmy van Bramer

Continuing our review of key races, City Council Watch spoke with Jimmy van Bramer, who is running for the hotly contested 26th Council seat in Queens.

District 26, which comprises Long Island City, Sunnyside and Astoria, has been notoriously beset by an explosion of property development. Single or two-family houses have been bought, torn down and replaced by multi-unit apartment buildings that devour every inch of frontage and footprint, in some cases beetling over the street. Quality of life issues thus come directly to the fore in these rapidly growing communities, which real estate interests have focused on as the next great platform for overdevelopment in New York.

Mr. van Bramer, who is currently head of external affairs for the Queens Library system, argues that the development boom over the last few years “has led to a great deal of predatory equity. Large companies buy buildings, push out tenants and jack up rents.” He insists that affordable housing is a key element of his campaign platform, and that he stands on “the side of working people and tenants;” his support from Tenants PAC is among the endorsements of which he is most proud.

The main reason Mr. van Bramer proffers for his election to the Council is as a barrier to development in the district. “Development pressures are huge,” he says, citing the potential exploitation of Sunnyside Yards into “another Battery Park City.” The primary need facing the district is “someone in place to prevent massive over-shadowing projects from getting started.”

Mr. van Bramer was featured in a lovingly illustrated Times Real Estate profile about the house “with a secret garden” he shares with his partner in the landmarked Sunnyside Gardens neighborhood.

Mr. van Bramer argues that “building has not been backed by planning,” and points to the many deficiencies of service plaguing the district, from transit and parks to schools and libraries. He says that he is very concerned with quality of life issues such as noise and clean streets, and cites his work with Sunnyside United Neighborhood Network to clean up graffiti as evidence of his work for community betterment.

Citing his long experience running community affairs and governmental relations for the Queens Library system, Mr. van Bramer promises that his Councilship will “provide good customer service to constituents.”

The Working Families Party and DC 37 have given Mr. van Bramer their support.Regarding the recent news regarding WFP financing Mr. van Bramer insists that, concerning his campaign, “everything has been in full compliance with the CFB.” He adds that he is “proud to be endorsed by the WFP and more than 20 unions.”

The Real Scandal of Electoral Financing

City Hall came out with two articles this weekend that highlighted the question of electoral financing in New York. It is highly illuminating to look at these two pieces together.

The first article, which has received a lot of attention, reviews the operations of the Working Families Party and its associated organization, Data and Field Services. This article treads familiar ground that has been covered by both the Post and the Times.The problem with the WFP, goes the argument, is that the party, financed largely by unions, works on behalf of the candidates it supports. Its consulting wing, DFS, is not adequately “firewalled” from its political side. WFP staffers are sometimes detailed to work on particular campaigns, and do not always have a perfectly defined sense of who is paying them for which hours they work, though contracts between candidates and DFS do provide consideration for all such shared resources.

This article, in ten thousand words, nowhere alleges any actual violation of the law: rather it asserts repeatedly that various forms of WFP activity “may require a ruling” from the CFB. The article also contains sentences without verbs, e.g., “Eric Friedman, spokesperson for the CFB, said he would not comment on whether or not an open investigation into the WFP, DFS and the campaigns associated with both.”

The second article of interest concerns the Independence Party. This article is about 500 words long, and includes such items as “Bloomberg has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the state Independence Party as well as a separate, local faction loyal to Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani. He will appear on the Independence line himself in the fall”; and “Golisano lieutenant Steve Pigeon dictates who receives the line in Erie County, and other Independence Party sources believe that his power extends across the whole of Western New York.”

So on one hand we have an incredibly detailed litany of rehashed innuendo regarding the minutiae of canvassing operations and supposed irregularities at the level of timesheets, with the implication that someone is cheating; while on the other hand we have a blithely cynical sketch of how two billionaires own a political party, with one of them forthrightly buying its ballot line for himself.

Are we the only ones who think that there is an imbalance of attention being paid in the two stories outlined above? City Council Watch is dedicated to rooting out and exposing corruption in City politics everywhere and anywhere, respecting no persons.We are perfectly open to accepting the idea that the WFP is a venal organization and a nest of corruption. But the case, as spelled out in this article and a host of others like it, is far from convincing.

Basically the WFP has figured out how to function as a flexible organization with a strong ground operation, and to remain within existing campaign finance laws, which everyone agrees have not been violated. So where is the story? We spoke to a Council candidate who commented, “In 10,000 words you would hope that they demonstrated that Dan Cantor had killed somebody. The WFP has basically been too successful in getting people elected through their field operations, which are incredibly strong and impossible to replicate by groups that have no broad public appeal.”

And that brings us back to the question of the other article in City Hall, regarding the outright purchase of an established political party and its ballot line. Is not the real scandal of election financing not the question of whether some WFP staffer making twelve dollars an hour isn’t exactly sure who authorizes his timesheet—and after all, aren’t Council staffers regularly detailed to do “volunteer” campaign work on their “off” hours?—but the question of the big money that dominates New York City politics, right under our noses?

Last week we were treated to stories of how the billionaire Mayor had authorized hundreds of thousands of dollars from his private slush fund to community groups, without Councilmanic authorization, which he then tried to fake after the fact. Simcha Felder, whose district was the beneficiary of the funds in question, couldn’t even bring himself to back up the Mayor’s lies that he had requested the money. So is Mayor Bloomberg much different from Miguel Martinez, who also submitted “non-contemporaneous” receipts in an effort to disguise the misdirection of funds?

Of course, everyone will chuckle, the Mayor is no Miguel Martinez, no common thief…he is so rich…he doesn’t need the money. That, say his supporters, is what is so perfect, so brilliant, about having the richest man in the city be the mayor: he is Incorruptible! A veritable Sun King, Mayor Bloomberg is the man who can’t be bought, and he has restored public trust to the workings of municipal government.

Except that the mayor who can’t be bought, can buy anyone and anything. Is it the mark of incorruptibility to corrupt all those beneath you? Mayor Bloomberg’s documented slush fund, which spread millions of public dollars to favored groups and organizations with no oversight, set the tone for the culture of corruption and payoffs that dominate Council politics. It was Mayor Bloomberg who established the principle that City money could be siphoned, hidden, earmarked and exploited.  Council members such as Miguel Martinez were just clumsy and, when caught stealing, too weak to effectively cover themselves with support from prominent media outlets and an understanding judiciary.

So when Mayor Bloomberg wanted another term in office, it was easy for him to buy support from the City Council. He just offered to give them one too. And to sweeten the deal he had a whole bag of goodies to hand out…committee chairs, slush fund money, a future Mayoralty, whatever. In the world of Bloomberg there is nothing that can’t be bought for the right price.

So when we talk about corrupt electoral financing, City Council Watch would much prefer to focus on the real story. In an ideal City Hall, the article about the Mayor’s purchase of the Independence Party, whose active constituency is real estate magnates and other like scoundrels, would be the cover feature, and the accounting woes of the WFP, which represents actual human beings, would be the sidebar.

Josh Skaller Cries Wolf

The Josh Skaller campaign for Council District 39 in Park Slope appears to be in full meltdown mode.

As Elizabeth Benjamin noted Tuesday, the Skaller campaign last weekend released an e-mail from Mr. Skaller’s wife Kelly, ostensibly from her hospital bed, in which she defended the couple’s son Wolf from the depredations of the Lander campaign. The email, entitled “Protecting Our Son Wolf,” lambasts Mr. Lander for unspecified “attacks” on Wolf Skaller, who goes to a private elementary school that “suits his needs.”

We say “ostensibly” because in a conversation we had with Mr. Skaller and his communications director, Steven Stites, on July 21, we were told that an email from Mrs. Skaller addressing the issue of Wolf’s education would be forthcoming.

Moreover, a comment that Mr. Stites placed on this website on July 22 uses language that is practically identical to that of Mrs. Skaller on August 9.

To wit:

Josh and Kelly rent a 1.5 bedroom apartment. They are not wealthy. They spend a large chunk of their money on something that is extremely important to them – an education that meets their son’s special needs.    Steven Stites, July 22

Josh and I live in a one-and-a-half bedroom rented apartment. We do not have a car. We do not take vacations. We are not wealthy. We do spend money on our child's education. Like you, we make sacrifices to help our child attend a school that suits his needs.    Kelly Skaller, August 9

The language and flow of ideas being essentially the same, it does not take a forensic linguist to determine that Mrs. Skaller’s words are not the spontaneous defense of a child by a (bedridden and nursing) mother, but are in fact the calculated messaging of a communications professional. Or is Kelly Skaller reading this blog’s comments very closely, and her husband’s press flack’s words just found their way into her consciousness?

The Skaller campaign clearly chose to make an issue of their son’s special needs early on, and has been waiting to drop this email-- timed to the birth of the couple’s second child, perhaps in order to exploit the sympathies of the Park Slope stroller set.The only problem is that there has never been any evidence that Mr. Lander thinks anything about Josh Skaller’s son or where he goes to school. When we interviewed him he had absolutely no comment to make regarding the Skallers’ personal lives.

So the Skaller campaign decided to preempt Mr. Lander’s silence on the matter.

As Crain’s reporter Erik Enquist commented today on Azi Paybarah’s piece on the issue, “the Skaller campaign should have tracked down at least one independent person who could verify Mrs. Skaller's claim before sending the e-mail treating the claim as fact. By not doing so, the Skaller campaign risks being accused of the very thing it accuses Brad Lander of: making the Skaller kid a campaign issue.”

This ploy is nothing new to politics: inventing scandal and pointing filthy fingers is the stuff of slimy political operations from Checkers on.  Basically, Josh Skaller and his wife are taking a cue from Sarah Palin, who also made an issue of non-existent attacks on her disabled son Trig. Why, Liberals, did you want to abort precious Trig? Why, Brad Lander, are you exploiting little Wolf?

Another twist to the story, which further reinforces our sense that the Skaller campaign is suffering a nervous breakdown, is the news today that the Campaign Finance Board is investigating irregularities regarding office space used by the campaign but not reported. We wonder if the Wolf episode is being dropped at this date in order to distract attention from unpleasant financial news that is seeping out.

Portrait of a Hack: Deirdre Feerick in Queens District 26

The purest expression of local machine politics is when political aides run for office with Party support. Chiefs of staff or HQ drones aspiring to fill their boss’s seat see their own ascension as a rightfully deserved promotion: election to the office is just a formality. This attitude is the stamp of a corrupt and cynical political system, where “mastery of the process” is put forth as the only qualification necessary for office, when what it really means is continued representation of the party machinery.

We see this happening with textbook precision in the 20th District in Queens, where John Choe, long term Chief of Staff to Council Member for John Liu, is running with Queens County Democratic Association support. Mr. Choe holds political opinions, especially regarding American foreign policy, that would generally disqualify him from mainstream politics. But because he is already a demonstrated Party insider who has mastered the process, Mr. Choe’s vocal support of Kim Jong-Il is overlooked by the apparatus.

The race in Queens Council District 26 is similar, though in this case the machine candidate, Deirdre Feerick, appears to hold no fealty except to the Process. Ms. Feerick, aspiring to the Council seat being vacated by Eric Gioia, is the apotheosis of the machine hack. She is a lawyer who has served City Hall as counsel to various divisions within the City Council. Currently Ms. Feerick is Deputy Director of the Council’s Administrative Services Division, which handles payroll and benefits for the Council.

Ms. Feerick has been wedded to Council business for long enough that she has gained the trust of various real estate barons and other such types. She has received maximum contributions from executives at property managers Glenwood Management and Ditmas Management.

Ms. Feerick also took $2300 from one Michael Murphy, principal owner of Olympia Asset Management, a boiler-room style investment firm with multiple arbitrated complaints against it. Mr. Murphy as an individual paid $300,000 in 2008 to a client who alleged that the broker performed “unauthorized trading, churning, breach of fiduciary duty, violations of Ohio state law…negligence and fraud,” according to the FINRA website.

Deirdre Feerick is a glorified City payroll clerk who has served the Party as District Leader. She claims involvement with unspecified community groups. Ms. Feerick represents the highest values of a thoroughly corrupt system that valorizes insidership over representation and process over principle.

Riot in Flatbush? Not Really...

Jumaane Williams, housing advocate and candidate for the City Council seat in District 45, today was addressing a press conference outside the old Vanderveer Estates (now “Flatbush Gardens”) when police were called to disperse what the landlords of the housing complex appear to have believed was an incipient tenants’ riot.

Mr. Williams, calling on Council Member Kendall Stewart to renounce his many contributions from landlord organizations such as the Rent Stabilization Association, was startled to see police cars converge on a peaceful and legal assemblage of supporters and press gathered to hear the conference.

Clipper Equity, the owners and managers of the Flatbush Gardens complex, attempted to buy Starrett City in 2007 but were blocked after it became clear that the group would not be able to maintain the largest federally subsidized housing development in the country as affordable housing, given the proposed $1.3 billion price Clipper was offering.

Some present asserted that Clipper Equity misapprehended Mr. Williams’ press conference as an angry tenants’ gathering because of recent frustrations regarding surcharges that the management company has been adding to tenants’ invoices. The landlords have instituted an annual $300 “air conditioning surcharge” which is owed whether or not tenants have an air conditioning unit or not. Residents of the complex say that Clipper has refused to accept rent checks from tenants who dispute the charge.

Kim Jong-il, Chiang Kai-Shek and Queens Today: A Guide to District 20

These are definitely interesting times in District 20, where Council Member John Liu is stepping down to run for Comptroller. The race is crowded, with five Asian-Americans among the seven candidates vying for the seat.

Leading the way in fundraising is Yen Chou, Dean of the AIM Academy, a private school in Flushing that appears to cater to the Chinese-American elite of Queens. She was elected to the 26th Community School Board in 1999. Ms. Chou also founded a group called the Chinese American Parent-Student Council, which annually hosts a Mother’s Day celebration of Outstanding Mothers.

There are reports, albeit somewhat confusing, that Ms. Chou criticized the Chinese community for not participating in primary elections, thereby defaulting to Jewish candidates.

For a relative neophyte Ms. Chou has raised a staggering $230,000, placing her 5thoverall among all Council races, including incumbents. She has some notable contributors, including Sam Chang of McSam Hotel Group, one of the largest developers of mid-range hotels in New York City. Mr. Chang, his employees and his business associates have contributed approximately $25,000 to Ms. Chou’s campaign.

Another colorful contributor to the Chou campaign is attorney Hugh H. Mo who, with his wife, has donated the maximum $5500. Mr. Mo has worn many hats in his career.At age 33 he was appointed Deputy Police Commissioner in charge of trials. After four years in that role he began practicing law, heading up the China Practice Group at Whitman & Ransom. He now has his own practice, and serves as General Counsel to the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the UN. He appears to be deeply involved in Sino-American commercial relations, and in 2002 went to Beijing to meet with municipal Communist Party functionaries about “safeguarding community security, anti- terrorism, building a police force, training personnel and other issues of common concern” (Xinhua, 8/12/02).

The odd thing, or maybe the natural thing, about Mr. Mo’s cozy relations with the Chinese security apparatus is that his father, Mo Tze Shin, was the head of Chiang Kai-shek’s secret police and was executed by the Communists in 1951. His mother, Diana Chin Hsu, was the bestselling author of anti-Communist works, including Mao Tse-Tung Killed My Husband. We will leave it to others better-versed in the mandarin intricacies of Chinese-American politics to decipher these relations.

SJ Jung is a Korean-born community activist and businessman who has attracted significant labor support for his Council bid. Active in the influential Young Korean American Service and Education Center almost from the time he arrived in America, he became President of the organization in 2005. This group has consistently fought for the rights of immigrants and the poor, and appears to have given Mr. Jung genuine experience as a grass-roots organizer for progressive causes. Mr. Jung has spoken and worked for cross-racial unity, in particular between the historically-fraught Black and Asian communities.

The Jung campaign makes the point that, factoring in public matching funds, Mr. Jung has surpassed the Chou campaign in money, because a great deal of her funding is not matchable. The League of Conservation Voters has endorsed the Jung campaign, as have the Working Families Party and all the significant labor organizations.

John Choe is another Korean-American running for the District 20 Council seat. He has served as current CM John Liu’s Chief of Staff for the last eight years, and his experience in that role is his primary claim to the seat. He has the support of Mr. Liu and the Queens County Democratic Party.

Bizarrely enough, Mr. Choe has emerged as one of the few politicians or senior political aides in recent years to support openly the current regime in North Korea. A co-founder of Nodutdol, a Korean-American organization that supports Korean unification and anti-militarism, Mr. Choe visited North Korea during his 2008 honeymoon, and argues for a more sympathetic view of the Stalinist state.

Well it is nice in this day and age that someone still believes in something, we suppose. But Mr. Choe’s radical stance is apparently not serving him well in the Queens Korean-American community, where his lack of knowledge of Korean has already forced his parents to make a public statement of contrition for not exposing him to the culture and language at an early-enough age.

James Wu is a native of Flushing who saw “Star Wars” in the neighborhood when he was growing up: one supposes that passes for nativism in Queens County today. As district leader, Mr. Wu in May voted to back John Choe for the same seat that Mr. Wu was and is running for. Mr. Wu ran Geraldine Chapey’s abortive run in the recent special election for the 32nd District Council seat. The candidate and his family account for approximately 25% of his total contributions.

Linares Speaks: District 10 Update

Today City Council Watch spoke with Guillermo Linares, former Council Member from District 10 in Upper Manhattan, who has jumped into the race midstream following the resignation of Miguel Martinez last month.

Mr. Linares resigned his post as Mayor Bloomberg’s Commissioner on Immigrant Affairs in order to take up the soiled mantle of Martinez. He had served the Mayor since July 2004, when he was appointed in a move widely understood at the time as a bid to sway Dominican political support away from Freddy Ferrer’s expected run against the Mayor in 2005. Mr. Linares had supported Mr. Ferrer in 2001; his highly-paid largely ceremonial role as Immigration Commissioner was expected to buy his support, or silence, in the forthcoming election.

It worked out beautifully: the Mayor won and Mr. Linares, who was term-limited out of his Council seat in 2001, got a plum sinecure that enabled him to make fact-finding trips to the Caribbean as often as he liked, to walk in parades, and to speak sonorously about Federal immigration policies that he had no power over. Mr. Linares had lost badly in a 2002 attempt to knock out Senator Eric Schneiderman, so he didn’t have much else to do but go to work as the Dominican face of the Bloomberg administration.

Mr. Linares, who is renowned as the first Dominican-American to hold elected office in the United States, reflected on the process by which he came to occupy Miguel Martinez’ ballot line, asserting that the original “effort of qualifying was a joint effort” involving a political club led by his daughter, Mayra Linares, who chairs the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans. Mr. Linares emphasized that he returned early from a trip to the Dominican Republic in order to answer the call for him to succeed the disgraced Council member, and that he had no advance knowledge of the situation.

One notes that the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans is itself under investigation for employing a felonious friend of convicted felon Senator Efrain Gonzalez in a no-show job. Mayra Linares’ main gig is community liaison for ConEdison: that is, she is the one the utility pays to take the heat the next time Washington Heights is plunged into darkness. Funny how this kind of flack work runs in families.

Anyway Mr. Linares stresses his great experience as a former Council Member and repeatedly told us that he is “coming home to his community.” We asked him about fundraising, as he has not had to file a disclosure yet, and he promised that he “will stand on solid ground when the filing is made, with substantial fundraising entirely from my community.” He did not clarify if that meant the Dominican community of Inwood and Washington Heights, or the City Hall community of which he has been a cozy element for the last five years.

Mr. Linares’ chief opponent in the race for the Council District 10 seat, Ydanis Rodriguez, appears to have nailed down most of the key local endorsements. Charles Rangel, Adriano Espaillat, Scott Stringer, Eric Scheniderman and Herman Farrell have all already announced their support for Rodriguez. We asked Mr. Linares which endorsements he had garnered and he cryptically promised that “endorsements are forthcoming from very well respected, very prominent New Yorkers of stature,” and added that they “were not necessarily local.” Asked if these people included Mayor Bloomberg, Mr. Linares repeated that they included “very prominent New Yorkers.” He added that “the Mayor is my friend.” So take that as you will.

We uncovered a minor scandal a few weeks ago, when it appeared that the Linares campaign had prematurely taken over the offices of the Manhattan Times, the newspaper that won attention for breaking the story of Miguel Martinez’ resignation.Mr. Linares’ spokesman, Frank Sobrino, asked us to take the matter up with the Mirram Group, the powerful communications and lobbying organization that is running the Linares campaign.

The Mirram Group counts Larry Silverstein, Senator Gillibrand and the Yankees among its many well-placed clients, and is run by Roberto Ramirez, former Bronx political kingpin, and Luis Miranda, publisher of the Manhattan Times. So it seems that the Mirram Group was just shifting a few of its assets-the newspaper and the former Council Member-between different office spaces under its control. The way one might swap the position of a couch and a desk in a room one inhabits. Nothing out of the ordinary.

COUNCIL WATCH FUN FACT: One note of geographic interest regarding Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Linares—the gentlemen both live in Marble Hill, a Manhattan exclave located on the American Mainland, i.e. the Bronx. This small piece of Manhattan was isolated late in the 19th Century when the Harlem River was rerouted to ease ship passage to the Hudson, but retains Manhattan political identity.

City Marshalls Love Kendall Stewart

The buzz around City Hall is that Kendall Stewart is the next to go, and will soon follow the disgraced Miguel Martinez up the steps to the gibbet. The Member from the 45thDistrict in Brooklyn has seen his Chief of Staff and another former associate plead guilty recently to plundering City funds under the auspices of Mr. Stewart’s authority.Another former staff member was caught up in a mortgage fraud scam. Clearly the hammer will fall soon; the only question is when.

Like Mr. Martinez, Kendall Stewart has issued a string of denials regarding his connection to financial improprieties that are manifestly linked to him. For example, Asquith Reid, Mr. Stewart’s Chief of Staff, used at least $21,000 of the money he stole from the fund named after his daughter on behalf of his boss’s campaign, or for a political club that Stewart controlled. Yet Mr. Stewart insists that he was completely ignorant of these expenditures.

Furthermore Mr. Stewart seems to have given up being a real politician with human constituents and is now just a slumlord goon representing the real estate industry. His campaign contributors reflect this perversion of democracy in as precise a manner as one could hope to find. About 20% of the money he has received for his campaign was bundled for him by Simcha Felder—rather unusually, as Elizabeth Benjamin reported.Another 10% came from the Rent Stabilization Association and the Neighborhood Preservation PAC. Another 15% came from assorted landlords and real estate people.

Our favorite of his top contributors are two City Marshalls, Justin Grossman and Norman Katz, who together with family members contributed $8000—out of only $55,000 total—to Kendall Stewart’s campaign. City Marshalls are who you hire to evict your tenants…if you have tenants. As a prominent slumlord Mr. Stewart has no doubt thrown a lot of business their way, and donating to his campaign is a great way to thank him for all that extra work.

Kendall Stewart is a terrible Council Member who is also a blatant crook. Federal authorities are surely preparing his indictment right now. We implore him to finally do something right and resign his seat immediately in order to save the 45th District further trauma and embarrassment.

District 39 Revisited: Zuckerman and Reilly

City Council Watch, continuing our close focus on the blistering race in District 39, interviewed the two other progressive candidates in the running, Bob Zuckerman and Gary Reilly.

Mr. Zuckerman is from New Jersey, but considers himself a “son of Brooklyn” owing to his mother’s Kings County nativity. He is currently on leave from the directorship of the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, which he has run for the last two years. Prior to that he ran the Greenwich Village/Chelsea Chamber of Commerce. We previously highlighted his experience running the New York Nightlife Association.

Given Mr. Zuckerman’s C-of-C credentials, it is no surprise that the focus of his campaign is encouraging the growth and expansion of new and existing small businesses within the district. Arguing that three out of four jobs in New York City are with companies of 50 employees or fewer, Mr. Zuckerman wonders why politicians “do not pay more attention to this part of the economy.”

One of the more eyebrow-raising proposals of the Zuckerman campaign is the designation of the Gowanus Canal itself as New York’s first “green district.” Tantamount to the full-scale conversion of Chernobyl to a health spa, or perhaps Treblinka to a yoga center, Green Gowanus would, according to Mr. Zuckerman, attract a host of environmentally-innovative companies to the area, with “LEET-certified buildings,” etc.

As one gazes at the persistently eructating, brilliantly rainbow-colored yet dank waters of the Gowanus, a body of water that Jonathan Lethem has characterized as “90% guns,” stinking of raw sewage mixed with industrial solvents, one must admire the sheer Babbitry, the corrupted utopianism (or pure cynicism) of Mr. Zuckerman’s vision. Green Gowanus…well stranger things have been dreamt of…haven’t they?

More plausibly, and based on a project he initiated in Manhattan, Mr. Zuckerman encourages the promotion of Central Brooklyn as a locale for non-profit enterprises, which seems like a nice idea.

Bob Zuckerman has opposed Atlantic Yards from the beginning as too sprawling, and sees the current iteration of the project, with the Nets arena anchoring parking lots and one or two large buildings, as equally bad, offering little to no affordable housing. He compared the project to building Battery Park City in the middle of Park Slope, and said that the proposed “density” of the development would damage the character of the surrounding neighborhoods.

When asked how one reconciles the need for affordable housing with its subsequent density, Mr. Zuckerman argued for “density in certain areas: some areas are not right for it.” When asked which areas in the district might be density-appropriate, Mr. Zuckerman proposed development of “brownsites” around the Gowanus Canal. Of course…build the affordable housing on top of toxic industrial wasteland. Well, at least one gets an honest answer from Bob Zuckerman, and I mean that in earnest. Too often one gets mealy-mouthed answers from liberal types when one asks the hard questions about residential development.

Mr. Zuckerman favors Mayoral control of schools, but thinks that Panel members should have fixed terms and not serve at the pleasure of Lord Bloomberg. He agrees there should be less emphasis on high-stakes testing. He opposed the extension of term limits from a procedural perspective as a “weakening of democracy.” He favors banning Council Members from most outside employment, including law firm partnerships or consulting work. Sounds sensible to us.

Mr. Zuckerman believes that he is the candidate with the “broadest level of experience” and that he has the “best ideas” in the field. He projects “maxing out” his fundraising by mid-August, and claims endorsements from major LGBT political clubs and the Cobble Hill Association, as well as from Alan Fleischmann, Dick Gottfried and Senator Tom Duane.

Regarding his out homosexuality Mr. Zuckerman said, “I don’t want anyone to vote for me because I’m gay,” but I am quite sure he was not discouraging people from voting for him on the basis of his own sexual orientation; rather, he was saying that they should vote for him based on his other credentials.

Gary Reilly has cast himself as the candidate for the District 39 seat who is most dedicated to transit. Citing his desolation growing up in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, Mr. Reilly enthuses over the non-stop availability of mass transit in New York.

An environmental lawyer by training, Mr. Reilly joined his Community Board because he was “fed up with the development issue.” He argues that the Atlantic Yards-style of “mega development puts the cart before the horse,” and that the Bloombergian model of partnering with one major developer ensures abusive and unsustainable land use.

Instead, Mr. Reilly advocates community-based planning of developments, followed by open bidding to develop specific aspects of the project. He favors the “Jane Jacobs” over the “Bob Moses” approach to urban planning, and cites the redevelopment of Red Hook as a good model. He would like to see the pier buildings adopted to re-use rather than torn down, and sees the Ikea complex as a “waste of waterfront,” especially since all of its product is trucked in-an interesting point.

Gary Reilly is very enthusiastic about transit-related issues and has a capable and articulate vision of how policy should be crafted to diminish the centrality of the car. He favors bridge tolls and congestion pricing, as well as auctioning residential parking permits to raise revenue to pay for mass transit projects. His passion is restoration of F-line Express service, along with completion of the Second Avenue subway and system-wide ADA compliance. He inveighs against “the failure to price in the externalities of automobile use.”

Mr. Reilly sees benefits to Mayoral school control, but believes that Mayor Bloomberg “has authoritarian tendencies and acts capriciously.” He believes that the term limits extension was a form of “not illegal bribery on the part of a rich guy throwing his influence and money around.”

Arguing that his “passion for day-to-day quality of life issues” sets him apart from the field, Mr. Reilly hopes that his candidacy at least “alters the terms of the discourse.” He vows not to do outside work if elected, and views the City Council as an “all-the-time job.”

Mr. Reilly is certainly a longshot in this race, and he has raised considerably less money than his opponents, and has few major endorsements. Nevertheless he is committed to running a strong campaign, and contends that “sometimes losing isn’t losing, if you can make a difference.”

Mr. Reilly is only 35, and is making his first run for office. We expect to hear more from him in the future.

Bill de Blasio, Coney Island and More

Down at City Hall today Council Member Bill de Blasio of the 39th District celebrated his placement on the Democratic ballot for Public Advocate, calling the challenge stemming from his lawyer’s typo an example of “democracy under siege.”

Member Rosie Mendez of District 2 continued in this vein, asserting that “democracy is not easy.” Mr. de Blasio argued for less restrictive balloting and petition laws, and called for “free legal aid” for candidates less versed than him in the arcane intricacies of City election law. He called for Member Alan Gerson to be instated on the ballot, and also spoke in favor of independent budgeting for the Public Advocate and Comptroller, as well as for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, in order to deny the Mayor the power to reduce those offices to meaninglessness.

Ms. Mendez, accompanied by Council Members Jimmy Vacca and Annabel Palma, praised Mr. de Blasio’s “insurgent” campaign. Surrounded by representatives of numerous unions supporting his candidacy, Mr. de Blasio certainly appeared resurgent. Some wags remarked that, even if the de Blasio appeal had been denied, he could simply have begun his campaign for the general election early, as he has already won the Working Families Party line.

Inside the Hall, opponents of Dominic Recchia’s proposal to overhaul Coney Island packed the gallery. Toting wacky placards, some wearing toned-down Mermaid Parade garb, others dressed in mild Bette Page homage, soi-disant proponents of “weird Coney” were enthusiastic in their denunciation of the ruination that Thor Equities has planned for the decayed amusements they love so well.

Now your reporter also knows and loves Coney Island, despite his brush with a would-be child molester under the Boardwalk at the age of six. But one must confront the Coney-as-freakshow enthusiasts with a stern dose of Coney Island history. Coney Island’s heyday was in the 1880s. The place has arguably been in steady decline since Sigmund Freud made his celebrated visit to Dreamland in 1909. What is left there now may be somewhat picturesque, but the roller coaster aside, it is hardly a living remnant of a vanishing Brooklyn Carnivalesque. It is, frankly, a shitheap.

The City Council largely concurred, and the Mayor’s vision of a revamped Coney Island as year-round tourist destination will, like it or not, become reality. Amanda Burden fairly gleamed as the roll-call of “Ayes” echoed through the Hall, each affirmation a golden feather on her legacy as the Angel of Good Planning. Charles Barron (no relation to your reporter) apologized for “spoiling the party,” and denounced what he characterized as the “transformation of Coney Island into Cozy Island, an elitist venture for profits and capital.” We like Charles Barron and appreciate his willingness to sound discordant notes. Mayoral hopeful Tony Avella also voted against the measure, apparently as a sympathetic reaction to the forced removal of “blighted” business from Willets Point into his district.

The Council also voted to force large parking garages to accommodate bicycle parking. Fair enough.

Tomorrow: we continue our series of interviews with candidates for Council District 39.Stay posted.

Manhattan Times out; Linares in

The Manhattan Times, the uptown weekly that broke the news of Miguel Martinez’ sudden departure from office, is moving out just in time for Guillermo Linares, Martinez’ ballot successor, to move in.

Your reporter, trying to track down the new Linares HQ, stopped by the office of theManhattan Times at 5000 Broadway hoping that someone there might know where the former Council member was setting up shop.

Imagine our surprise to see, within the newspaper’s office, stacks and stacks of bundled Linares campaign literature.

Manhattan Times Associate Publisher Mike Fitelson, who scooped everyone with the news of Martinez’ resignation, could not offer many details of the odd arrangement.“We will be out of here July 31, and I suppose the Linares campaign will take over the space after that,” said Fitelson. The Manhattan Times is moving up the block to more spacious digs at 5030 Broadway.

Fitelson did not know whether the Linares campaign is assuming the Times’ lease, or if the lease is up. “We have been planning to move for years and years,” he said.

Intriguing coincidence. All I know is that nobody ever let me move my stuff into their place until they were out and my lease had begun.

District 39 Continued: Interview with Brad Lander

As part of our review of the District 39 Council race in Brooklyn, City Council Watch today spoke (exhaustively) with Brad Lander about development, accountability in government and education.

Mr. Lander, formerly Director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, characterizes himself as a long-time agent of positive real estate development in Brooklyn with a “track record for getting development done right,” as he put it. He has opposed the Atlantic Yards project since its inception and believes that the latest proposal as proffered by Forest City Ratner does not match the plans as they were originally approved, and that “the current disconnect absolutely demands a new approval process.”

Brad Lander sees Atlantic Yards as the latest in a series of developmental disasters that have plagued Brooklyn, including the redevelopment of 4th Avenue to include little affordable housing, and 23 Caton Place, a would-be luxury building that is now a shell due to lapsed financing. He would like to see mixed-use development of the area in a “form radically different from anything that has been proposed to date,” including a “meaningful transportation plan” and in a “scale and scope” appropriate to the neighborhood.

He has followed the lead of his opponent Josh Skaller in refusing money from for-profit developers, and has returned contributions from any such donors.

Regarding mayoral control of the school system, Mr. Lander accepts direct appointment of the Chancellor by the mayor but thinks that education policy should be vetted by a separate board that is not controlled by mayoral appointees, in order to levy checks on the system. Like everyone else who isn’t a paid minion of Messrs. Bloomberg or Klein, he thinks that class sizes should be smaller and that education need not be directed towards high-stakes testing as the ultimate pedagogical goal.

Mr. Lander tends a bit to the wonky side of the spectrum, bitterly aggrieved about the “4 million Styrofoam trays” that the school system uses each week…but we suppose it is nice to see that someone bothered to count.

The slush fund scandal indicates to Mr. Lander that “we don’t have a vital local democracy,” and sees the scandal as a function of a system whereby the City Council focuses a great deal of energy and attention to the 1% of the City budget that is allocated to Member items. He dreams of a day when the Council operates like a “real legislature” with actual budgeting control.

Regarding term limits he bemoans the “betrayal of the process.”

Brad Lander calls himself a “results candidate” and pointed to his directorial work on the Fifth Avenue Committee as essential to his resume. He asserts that his experience in the non-profit milieu, where grants are given under strict conditions of follow-up and oversight, will serve him well on the Council in the distribution of funds.

He has received the support of the Working Families Party and the League of Conservation Voters.

The thing about this race, as the candidates freely admit, is that there is scarcely an inch of difference between any of them regarding their opinions or beliefs. The campaign has become fraught with excessive tension because of a certain schismatic tendency of the Left towards ideological purity, which in the hothouse environment of Park Slope and environs can become particularly fierce. Ultimately the candidates espouse similar ideas about development, sustainability, affordability, diversity, etc.Probably 85% of the population of District 39 feels the same way about most of these issues. In such a case one must base their decision on how well-informed a candidate is and on experience. One imagines that things could change as the race develops, but at this point Brad Lander appears to be the more seasoned and prepared of the group.

Focus on District 39: Josh Skaller

City Council Watch spoke today with candidate Josh Skaller about development, education and his campaign for the District 39 Council seat.

Mr. Skaller, Director of Technology (not an executive role, I have been informed by the campaign) for GlobalWorks LLC, has taken a stand against Brooklyn development projects, which he characterizes as destructive to local communities. He argues that development must be predicated on the needs of the community, and that the standard of affordability should not be allowed to shift according to the needs of developers. According to his website he opposes the use of tax dollars to promote for-profit development, or the use of eminent domain to create affordable housing by developers. He told me that development proposals must arise from within the affected communities instead of being imposed from outside.

All of this opposition sounds principled enough. However, sometimes people oppose proposed solutions because they have an alternative. And sometimes they oppose them because they have no alternative, it is in their interest to oppose them, and they have no real interest in finding an alternative.

Mr. Skaller appears to fall in the latter camp. He has no specific ideas regarding a solution to the ongoing housing crisis in Brooklyn. In fact, he goes so far as to assert that “there are no positive models for development currently in existence.”

Asked about the Mitchell-Lama system, he agreed that it is a “good model” and should be expanded. When I pointed out that Mitchell-Lama, which dates to the 1950s, was based on both eminent domain and tax subsidies, both of which Skaller opposes, he quickly suggested that “more Section 8 housing” might be the answer.

This is when I began to consider the idea that Josh Skaller is in over his head.

Section 8 is a federal voucher program to subsidize rent in existing housing. It does nothing to expand inventory. It is not a City program. It is not for the middle-income people for whom Mr. Skaller claims to wish to preserve Brooklyn neighborhoods and their quaint way of life. Section 8 is totally beside the point when it comes to the housing crisis in New York City.

The thing is, everyone loves Mitchell-Lama housing now and agrees that it was a successful program, but no one wants to remember that it came about because the government tore down someone’s neighborhood and offered tax incentives to private developers to build affordable housing. You can argue the relative merits of Atlantic Yards in particular, but to preclude tax subsidies or abatements as a means to getting affordable housing built is to impose an effective freeze on all development.

Urban progressive or white-gloved preservationist? You tell me.

(On a side note, Mr. Skaller has made a very big issue out of not taking any money from developers. I noted that he had a recent $200 contribution from Jeffrey Seaman, listed as “Senior Corporate Counsel” for Tishman Construction Corporation. Mr. Skaller and his communications director insisted that a “lawyer for a construction company” does not count as a “developer.” OK, you can cut it that way I suppose.

Another interesting contribution comes from Eli D. Greenberg, who along with his wife Natalie, gave the Skaller campaign $1000 just two weeks ago. Mr. Greenberg is a lawyer who serves as counsel and contact for an odd neo-con group called the Clarion Fund. The Clarion Fund sent 28 million copies of a DVD called “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West” to people in key districts in swing states in advance of the 2008 election. Clarion is connected to Aish Ha-Torah, a fundamentalist Israeli religious organization.)

Education is another major focus of the Skaller campaign. Asked about mayoral control, Mr. Skaller asserted that the school’s Chancellor should be a confirmed position. He also said that the Department of Education should be “under the control of the Controller,” a novel view as far as I have heard.

The Skaller campaign literature explains that his wife is a teacher at the Prospect Park Audubon Center. His father taught at the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Skaller himself was a music teacher. He stresses his strong commitment to education—presumably of the public variety. Nevertheless, his son, who features very prominently in campaign literature, including a video, attends an elite Brooklyn private school which costs $26,000 per year. This “choice,” it was explained to me in very insistent tones, was based on what the family determined to be best for their child’s particular needs.

For some reason people who send their kids to private school always make this claim: yes, public schools are great… too bad we can’t find one that is right for us.

I asked Mr. Skaller why he is the right choice as Council member for District 39. He says that he is the only reform candidate on the ballot. He has received a lot of small donations from many contributors and is thus a product of grassroots organizing. He has volunteered a lot of time on behalf of groups such as Democracy for New York City, Brooklyn for Barack and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. He is not a “professional politician” and is independent of real estate interests.

While his commitment to community activism appears to be sincere, it is not clear to us at City Council Watch that Mr. Skaller is particularly informed about the issues he professes to care about so deeply. Rather, he espouses friendly-sounding platitudes (“green roofs,” anyone?) but is weak on content.

Later this week we are interviewing Brad Lander, Josh Skaller’s main opponent in the race for the nomination for the 39th District Council seat. Stay posted.

Financing Roundup: Baez, Stewart and Sears

Just a quick summary of some of the more piquant items from the latest campaign financing disclosures of our favorite Council members:

Kendall Stewart took in $38,000 in the last two months. About one-third of that came directly from large developers, the Rent Stabilization Association, and the Neighborhood Preservation PAC. Mr. Stewart was the recipient of $9500 in bundled contributions from Simcha Felder—the only Council member to serve as an intermediary of funds in this cycle.

One odd contribution was bundled in Mr. Felder’s package: $2750 from Kate Engelbrecht, a native of Minnesota who runs something called “The Girl Project,” a Greenwich Village non-profit which solicits photographs from teenage girls to promote positive images of young femininity. Who knew that Kendall Stewart and Simcha Felder were so girl-positive?

Maria Baez collected about $22,000 since May. One-quarter of that sum was given to her by the wife and father of Marc Altheim, founder of the Atlantic Development Group. Mr. Altheim’s offices were raided in April 2009 by NYC investigators looking into bribery charges against former Bronx BP Adolfo Carrion.

Recall from earlier Baez news that Atlantic Development Group was in the running for the contract to develop the Kingsbridge Armory, but lost to the Related Companies.One supposes they have other irons in the fire.

Incidentally Marc Altheim is also founder of Beach Tennis USA, “which is responsible for bringing a new sport, beach tennis, to America.”  Maybe he is trying to get a beach tennis court established at Orchard Beach to promote his favorite sport among Bronx youth!

Is Helen Sears giving up? In the last two months she raised only $6620. That means that Danny Dromm outpaced her 4-to-1 in dollars and number of contributors: Tom Duane dropped a $175 check in the mail for Dromm. Even Stanley Kalathara, whose fundraising has slowed appreciably as he taps out his South Asian base, raised more than $8000 since mid-May. Could the Daffy Doyenne of the City Council be running out of steam and heading for well-deserved retirement? Wait and see…remember, you read it here first!

Stay posted for more juicy tidbits.

District 10 Fallout: The Dust Settles

The startling resignation of Miguel Martinez yesterday threw Uptown politics into an uproar as the remaining contenders scrambled for position in a completely altered field. Electeds and hopefuls nodded gravely and spoke of the “sadness” of his downfall and the “trauma” it has inflicted upon the community…all the while clearly savoring the very public meltdown of a notorious rival.

Ydanis Rodriguez, who has run for the Council seat before, is the likely front-runner as the dust settles among the field of previously-announced candidates. His campaign reports that he is holding almost $70,000 in contributions, almost all of which are matchable. Today he won endorsements from State Senator Eric Schneiderman and Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat, has the nod from Manhattan BP Scott Stringer, and is in talks with the Working Families Party to gain their important support in labor-rich District 10.

The extraordinary is ordinary in Upper Manhattan however, as was demonstrated when former Councilman Guillermo Linares resigned his position as commissioner for immigrant affairs to attempt to win back the very seat he was term-limited out of in 2001. Though petitioning for ballot space has all but ended, Linares will attempt to assume Martinez’ line under the law on vacancies. A nice system when an admitted criminal can appoint his own successor, no? It does not appear that Mr. Martinez can transfer his fat campaign chest to Mr. Linares, however: under the law those contributions must be returned to the donors.

In any case, Linares, a prominent figure in the history of Dominican-American politics, has an existing base of support in the community as well as the approval of the Mayor, for whatever that will be worth. He will have to hustle to raise significant cash. We shall follow his campaign closely.

Adriano Espaillat, in endorsing Mr. Rodriguez, grieved the loss of Mr. Linares' services to the immigrant community, urging him to remain at his post where he is needed.  Funny!

Ydanis Rodriguez sat down today with City Council Watch to discuss recent events in the District, and his plans for his campaign. Mr. Rodriguez spoke of the damage that Miguel Martinez has done to the “reputation of the community,” and remarked that he was saddened and surprised by his resignation. Mr. Rodriguez, a long-time teacher at the mostly Spanish-speaking Gregorio Luperon High School, is a proponent of building more schools and expanding pre-Kindergarten access. He also supports Mayoral control of the school system, though he believes that parents should be given input and teachers should have “flexibility.” Given the firm orientation towards testing on the part of Joel Klein, it is unclear how honest it is to imagine flexibility under the current regime, especially coming from a teacher, but compromise, one supposes, is the key to successful politics.

Mr. Rodriguez spoke of his strong commitment to tenants and seeks to abolish the common extortion of key money by landlords from commercial tenants. He is actively seeking the endorsement of the Working Families Party, and stresses his decades-long activism for the rights of labor.

He also insisted that he would have voted against the extension of term limits and that the matter should have been up for more public debate.

There are other candidates for the 10th District seat, though by and large most of the “nine” frequently cited are probably less than serious. Among the credible we count Manny Velazquez, also a schoolteacher, who is the president of Community Board 12 and who has raised a not-insubstantial $16,000. Ruben Dario Vargas has about $10,000 on hand. When he ran in 2001 his blurb in the Voter Guide included the following description of his probity: “Vargas is a man of Principles and family values, who respect others people traditions, whether or not he understands their customs.”


City Council Watch will keep you up to date on the news from District 10. It promises to be a long hot summer for the candidates as factions of the Dominican power elite square off against each other.

MARTINEZ RESIGNS! Upper Manhattan Exults.

Miguel Martinez, facing scrutiny regarding the misuse of City funds in the U-CAN scandal, is resigning his Council seat effective today.

All Washington Heights and Inwood rejoices as this sleazy arch-criminal is ignominously forced out of office.

In seven years Mr. Martinez distinguished himself as an openly venal, smug, vain and feckless Council member, bringing virtually nothing to his impoverished district.

Yesterday the Post reported that Mr. Martinez' office had rung up over $500 on the Council office supplies tab for wedding invitations.  How fitting that this item should be the last public action we hear from this living nadir of civic responsibility.

The race for the Council seat in District 10 is now truly wide open.  We will be previewing this exciting 8-person campaign in the coming days.  Stay posted.

CCW has been on top of the Martinez story for months--check out the archives for details regarding the ex-Member.

District 25: The End Nears for Helen Sears

The Council race in Queens District 25 has narrowed sharply. Helen Sears, two-term Member, was spared the ax in October through the extension of term limits, and chose to run again rather than try for Queens Borough President. Her former employee, Alfonso Quiroz, whose current day job is spokesman for Con Edison, dropped out of the race in June. Ms. Sears is thus facing schoolteacher Danny Dromm and Stanley Kalathara as her main opponents.

Helen Sears’ absurd record (anti-awning language) and ridiculous campaign practices (paying her children) have been discussed here before. Her ownership by the Misk family has been discussed as well. We have touched on her opposition to the lead paint bill and her support of the Patriot Act. What more can one say or do to bury this woman and her terrible tenure on the City Council?

Well, term limits is a favorite topic here at City Council Watch, and one we never tire of discussing. Surely one day the real story of the term limits debacle will be written, and it will be full of luscious details: the assurance to Christine Quinn that she will be crowned the first female mayor in 2013; the Committee Chairs that were passed around like so many lollipops at a birthday party (Mr. Bloomberg of course in the role of scary clown); the allocation of special funds to right-voting Council members.Basically, a register of threats and bribes and blame-passing that rivals anything else in the history of shady municipal dealmaking.

Helen Sears played her part in the October Surprise of 2008, voicing the Mussolini-like insistence that term-limits, voted in directly by the people in two referenda, are in fact anti-democratic, because they restrict the ability of the people to vote for their choice. One supposes that laws restricting the candidacy of felons are similarly anti-democratic.

In a public hearing before the Council voted, Ms. Sears inelegantly revealed her glee that the vote had been declared kosher by none other than the Mayor’s lawyers.“You’re saying we can do this?” she asked “eagerly,” according to Crain’s (10/20/08, p. 12).

In this video, posted by Queens Crap, we see Ms. Sears make the argument that “if you are not allowed to finish what you started, then you haven’t started.” By that logic, why should Council members ever be forced to leave office, even if they haven’t started anything? After all, perhaps they were going to do something, sometime.Elsewhere in this video, watch the audience burst into raucous laughter when Ms. Sears deadpans that term limits are a “very small issue.”

Danny Dromm is an openly gay Queens elementary school teacher, and a longtime activist in the Queens gay community, centered in Jackson Heights. Prior to the extension of term limits Mr. Dromm was the likely favorite of the Queens Democratic Party, which has stood by Helen Sears. However, Mr. Dromm has won the endorsement of the Working Families Party, which has a large Queens base, and will presumably reap the benefits of the WFP’s labor ties. With Alfonso Quiroz (also openly gay) out of the race, Mr. Dromm may coalesce a labor-gay-Spanish coalition to unseat Helen Sears.

Stanley Kalathara is a South Indian immigrant who worked his way from busboy to real estate agent to restaurant owner to attorney.  He has raised a not insignificant amount of money for his campaign, largely from members of the Indian community, as well as from a number of real estate brokers.  He is clearly aiming to capture the substantial Indian vote in the district, and across demographic lines with his call for more funding for education and for immigrant-related matters generally.

In the end though, the race is really about Helen Sears and Danny Dromm: the established Democratic candidate versus the insurgent.  We will keep a close eye on this race and continue to inform our readers as news breaks.

District 14: The Fall of Maria Baez

Council member Maria Baez’ collapse in office is astounding and heartening. How often does an unindicted City incumbent face defeat? Yet the impossible looks like it might happen in the Bronx. ¡Que milagro sería!

We previously reviewed the disgrace of Maria Baez’ term in office, but further misdeeds have come to light. The Daily News covered the bidding war that Ms. Baez conducted between The Related Companies and Atlantic Development Group for the right to develop the Kingsbridge Armory. Persons associated with the two companies contributed $13,000 to the Baez campaign in order to make it to the finals; following its victory Related gave her another $1,000.

Next we learn that, following the disallowance two times of funding for the Alliance for Community Services, which had serious organizational problems, Ms. Baez paid the group’s leader out of her fund for office supplies. Leo Martinez was paid $5,000 as a consultant on immigration-related matters.

Then we saw that Ms. Baez arranged for the Davidson Community Center to receive $85,000 in funding after the group had been blocked from getting a smaller allocation from Joel Rivera. The Center also had major issues regarding completion of projects and accountability.

Do you mind if I mention that in 2008 Ms. Baez sought to ban the use of the word “ghetto” in a negative context?

In March Ms. Baez’ mentor Jose Rivera was overthrown as Bronx Democratic Party maximum leader. Until then she could have probably have survived the aforementioned roster of scandal and venality and handily won a third term, with the backing of the Party. However, the Bronx Dems have turned against the old regime as represented by Maria Baez, instead backing Fernando Cabrera, to the great consternation of the Baez camp. In keeping with the grand tradition of accusing one’s opponents of irrational prejudice, Ms. Baez claimed, “Unfortunately, in my opinion, this has to do with gender.”

Mr. Cabrera, actually Rev. Cabrera, has significant labor support, as well as that of the Working Families Party, and looks like he may upset Council member Baez’ tumbril.Mr. Cabrera, Bronx-born, is pastor of New Life Outreach International, a “nondenominational” church headquartered in Virginia. He has worked in a number of community-based health and substance-abuse programs, and has a Ph.D. in Counseling from the for-profit, online Argosy University. He has been endorsed by the SEIU, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

He also appears to have been registered as a Republican at one point when he was living in Pelham. Well, the essence of Christianity is repentance after all

Speaking of which, in a sermon entitled “What God has Prepared for You,” delivered in 2004, Rev. Cabrera articulated an astonishing list of the benefits of life in Heaven, which include, “no more cancer, no more aids, no more arthritis, no more diabetes, no more back pains, no more blindness, no more boldness, no more deafness, no more dumbness, no more hepatisis A, no more Hepatatis B, No more Hepatatis C, no more leprosy, no more athlete’s foot, no more ulcers, no more heart attacks, no more tumors, no more strokes, no more infections, no more strep throat, no more manoucleosis, no more fevers, no more headaches, no more seizures, no more schizophrenia, no more bipolar, no more dialysis, no more pimples, no more asthma, no more allergies, no more migranes, NO MORE.” No more pimples? Great news! 

Also running is Yudelka Tapia, a native of the Dominican Republic, who works as a Senior Auditor for the City. She has founded a number of organizations in support of Dominican rights, including the Bronx Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, has been a vocal and visible community activist, and is currently on the executive board of her local. According to her website, “over the years she has completed many courses, training and conferences.”

Ms. Tapia has previously run for City Council and for State Assembly, and is a State Committee Member. She was endorsed by the Times in her 2002 run for State Assembly, but endorsements since then appear not to have come her way.

Making a vibrant bid for the seat is Yorman Nunez, a 20-year old born in the Dominican Republic but raised in the district.  He is a college student at Hunter and has been a community activist since he was 13.  Mr. Nunez has raised an impressive amount of money given his youth, a substantial amount of it from social work and urban planning professionals outside the district.  He has demonstrated committment to interfaith dialogue.  Mr. Nunez' candidacy is definitely a longshot this time around but he appears to be serious about his political career, has genuine community support, and will surely make an impact in the North Bronx in years to come.

Yesenia Polanco is a 28-year old Bronx native who has worked as Chief of Staff for Assemblyman Diaz and Council Member Annabel Palma. If you think that’s a good enough reason to be on the City Council, then you should probably vote for her.

That pretty much wraps up District 14. Stay posted…the best is yet to come.

District 45: Who Will Take out Kendall Stewart?

The race for Kendall Stewart’s seat in Brooklyn District 45 has grown tighter. The latest guilty pleas from Council member Stewart’s former Chief of Staff and another staffperson have not done great things for his campaign…unless you are one of the people who believe that the whole thing is a racist plot against him.  Mr. Stewart thus joins his colleague Larry Seabrook in accusing his critics of racism. Why is it that this charge so often is leveled by those whose staff, or they themselves, are under investigation?

In any case, Kendall Stewart’s reign of terror has been amply documented on this site.Slumlord, associate of thieves, possibly a thief himself, podiatrist, Mr. Stewart is urged to dedicate the rest of his career to the weary and footsore residents of his district as his training befits.

Jumaane Williams is a housing activist making a credible bid for the 45th District seat.He has worked as Housing Director for the unusually-effective Flatbush Development Corporation, and in a number of other community activist positions. In 2007 Mr. Williams opened “Earth Tonez” a vegetarian sandwich shop in Park Slope that appears to have closed…well one imagines there are still other venues for tempeh in the neighborhood.

Based on his affordable housing credentials and his apparent commitment to getting more low and middle income units built in central Brooklyn, Mr. Williams won the endorsement of the Working Families Party, which will presumably wage an intensive street effort to get their man into office. Should be interesting.

Dexter McKenzie is a medical doctor whose training and career have centered in Brooklyn. He appears to have done good work regarding community-based health outreach. His NYS Doctor profile does include a permanent restriction against Dr. McKenzie employing any physician assistants, which resulted in a $40,000 fine, as well as a malpractice judgment. Dr. McKenzie appended the following statement to his profile:


OK, so he is not a great businessman…not necessarily a disqualification for office, but not a great confidence-builder either. You be the judge.

Sam Taitt is a longtime Brooklyn presence, two-time former candidate for this seat, professor at Kingsborough Community College, gospel music impresario, public speaking coach and former media baron of Barbados.

A nice article from the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, which Mr. Taitt formerly ran, says that his supporters are certain he can win because “Dr. Stewart has disappointed them many times in the council including most recently siding with speaker of the council Christine Quinn in support of gay marriage.” Four years ago Kendall Stewart was linked to flyers accusing Mr. Taitt of being gay, so now the mud appears to be flying the other way.

According to “Rate My Professors,” Mr. Taitt has “a monotone droning voice,” “flirts with the girls,” and “gets mad too easily.”

What do you want? There really isn’t that much out there about the guy.

Stay posted.  City Council Watch is preparing reviews of some of the juiciest Council races.  We welcome any suggestions...want to see your least favorite Council member held against the wall of our investigative analysis and slaughtered?  Email us today.  Remember: there is no other venue exclusively dedicated to unveiling corruption and sleaze on the New York City Council.

Kendall Stewart Update: the First Shoe Drops

Kendall Stewart’s aide Asquith Reid was to plead guilty Thursday to charges that he, along with Stewart aide Joycinth Anderson, plundered City funds by setting up bogus non-profit groups which they then raided.

As we discussed, Mr. Reid established a memorial fund in the name of his dead daughter, and then diverted funds for his own use. He also sought earmarks for organizations that existed only as an extra name on his own home mailbox—earmarks which Council member Stewart signed off on.

Mr. Reid and Ms. Anderson stole hundreds of thousands of City dollars, and were originally indicted for multiple felonies, including mail fraud, money laundering and witness tampering. Ms. Anderson is apparently being allowed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud; it is not clear yet what Mr. Reid’s guilty plea will include.

In cases such as this one, where the Justice Department holds all the cards, defendants plea down in exchange for something else—presumably testimony against their boss. Are indictments against Kendall Stewart in the works?

Jumaane Williams, who is opposing Mr. Stewart in the coming primary for the 45thDistrict Council seat, Thursday called for the Member’s resignation, thereby upping the stakes in this already fraught game. Indeed, Mr. Stewart seems damned by his own words: if he really didn’t know what his chief of staff was up to, then his incompetence is manifest. And if he did know, then he should go to jail.

Meanwhile, City Council Watch wonders what is going on with yet another former aide to Mr. Stewart. Careful readers of the press will recall the indictment and arrest of June Persaud in February of this year. Ms. Persaud was one of four conspirators in a ring of subprime mortgage ripoff artists who tried to defraud lenders of ten million dollars. The group signed up halfway house denizens as buyers of properties at inflated values, submitting fraudulent financials and crooked assessments to trick lenders into writing loans that would never be paid back.

Ms. Persaud formerly worked as a top aide to Member Stewart on immigration related matters. Mr. Stewart is of course the Chair of the Council’s Immigration Committee, so Ms. Persaud’s nominal responsibilities were not insubstantial.

Kendall Stewart’s office seems to have been run as a pathogenic den of criminality and venality. It is hard to imagine that his underlings were not taking direction from the top.

Small Differences are Bigger than You Think: District 39

Let’s take a look at an interesting Council race in Brooklyn.

The 39th District, covering Park Slope and Boro Park, is proving to be hotly contested.One of the Whitest and wealthiest districts in Brooklyn, the seat is open now that Bill de Blasio is moving on to run for Public Advocate.

The primary contenders for the Council seat are, based on money, Brad Lander, Josh Skaller, Bob Zuckerman and John Heyer. The race is especially intriguing in that it may turn out to be one of the more expensive contests for a Council seat: the four mentioned are currently among the top 25 candidates by spending.

Bob Zuckerman is the former director of the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, and while he makes a certain degree of noise about sustainability, at the same time he has received ample donations from big real estate developers and lawyers. He formerly represented the New York Nightlife Association, in which capacity he opposed the smoking ban and argued against the imposition of licensing for clubs playing music at louder than 90 decibels. Zuckerman also minimized the relevance of a string of rapes inside nightclubs in 2003-04, denying that it constituted a “systemic” problem (NYP, 2/3/2004).

Mr. Zuckerman seems to be angling for the large gay vote in the district, trumpeting his endorsements from major LGBT associations and proudly posing with his boyfriend on his webpage.

On the other hand we have John Heyer, who notoriously won the endorsement of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats over Bob Zuckerman, the club’s former president. Mr. Heyer opposes gay marriage and abortion rights. He is 27 years old and has worked for Marty Markowitz. A great many of his major contributors are Italian funeral home owners and Catholic priests. An unlikely candidate and a longshot for the seat…but he adds something to the mix, no?

Brad Lander and Josh Skaller appear to be the frontrunners in the race. They have raised the most money and appear to have the best campaign organizations. They are both married fortyish progressive types. They have both received a lot of donations from their parents. They have both been endorsed by Howard Dean…whatever that means.

Brad Lander directed the Pratt Center for Community Development, which appears to assist community-based groups in low income areas with urban planning, land use, and related issues. His career has been built around developing affordable housing, from the non-profit side. He takes money from developers, but they largely seem to be of the less-evil variety that build affordable housing, not demented luxury condos in ridiculous locations.

The biggest scandal to have hit Brad Lander seems to be a bit of pompous post-Zionist verbiage he propounded at his son’s bris, in which he declared that he was “thrilled to pronounce you a Jew without the Right of Return.” The fact that the boy’s mother is not Jewish would seem to make this point relatively noncontroversial, but it has stirred the pot in certain parts of Brooklyn. Let’s see what happens.

Josh Skaller is running as the Robespierre of District 39—the Incorruptible. He has not accepted any money tainted by real estate interests of any sort, supposedly anyway.In this city every dollar has run through the real estate machine in some fashion, but okay, let’s take him at his word.

Mr. Skaller works as an executive for a successful PR outfit called GlobalWorks, which provides cross-cultural branding and marketing services to international companies.It’s always interesting to look at firms like this one, and to compare what they say about themselves with what they do.

To read the GlobalWorks vision statement is to enter a nebulous universe in which words bear as much relation to meaning as airport business-class lounges do to the cities they float in. “Brands without borders…your passport to brand freedom…free your brand…, etc. etc.” What the company actually does is help other companies tidy up their bad names and present a fresh face to the world. Like Geo did when it stopped being Wackenhut.

For instance, GlobalWorks helped Hughes Electronics build brand awareness among the public. As the website says, “GlobalWorks was given the mission of transforming this brand from its former life as an aerospace and defense contractor into a world-class provider of digital entertainment, satellite communications and network services.”

OK, so GlobalWorks pretties up the public face of aerospace and defense contractors…now we know how Josh Skaller makes his money.

All right, well a man has to eat…can we really be so hard on the guy…he is running a great campaign after all…right?

Well it seemed that way until I read a little piece in Crain’s noting that Mr. Skaller has hired Gerry O’Brien as a political consultant. Mr. O’Brien began his career in political campaigns working for Reagan in 1976. He served as New York political director for John McCain in 2000. His crazy website has some samples of political direct mail that I swear could have come straight out of Nixon’s campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950…red-baiting and all.

I had thought that Josh Skaller was just a harmless Do-Gooder of the sort that plagues the progressive wing of the Democratic Party…the Do-Gooder who doesn’t actually DO anything. But after learning of the connection to Gerry O’Brien I feel like I have underestimated Josh Skaller…how coldly sinister would a good-boy liberal have to be to hire a second-rate Lee Atwater?

OK, well that’s my rundown of the race for the open seat in the 39th District. Stay posted for my review of Al Vann’s efforts to retain his seat for a surprise third term.

Update: Larry Seabrook

To no one’s particular surprise the Times reported the latest twist in the Larry Seabrook case. 

As we discussed a few weeks ago, Council member Seabrook sets up bogus programs with loveable names in order to suck up public money, and then makes the funds vanish.

Now it seems that he figured out a clever way to double-dip, by having his phony non-profits sublet space to one another, billing the City each time.  Sure, why not have multiple organizations get their City checks at the same address?  As long as they are only sleeping on the couch and clear out in the morning, what difference does it make?

Bronx landlords whom Seabrook bribed to allow the sublease deals are now receiving subpoenas from the Justice Department.  Federal indictments against Member Seabrook are sure to follow.

Miguel Martinez Takes Blood Money--Literally!

In the coming weeks I am going to be looking at some of the hottest races for City Council.  Bill deBlasio’s seat is up for grabs in Brooklyn, and John Liu’s vacancy in Queens is provoking a fiery race.  Helen Sears and Kendall Stewart are facing opposition as well.  Keep posted here for more…much more.

But today let’s take another look at one of my least favorite City Council members.  Miguel Martinez represents Upper Manhattan’s District 10…the part “East of Broadway” as locals like to characterize it.

Looking over Mr. Martinez’ own website it is difficult to figure out what he and his staff believe his greatest accomplishments to be.  A recent press release lauds the Member for sponsoring, “in collaboration with the New York Hispanic Cosmetology and Beauty Chamber of Commerce…a Women's Fair on Health, Beauty and Self-Esteem.”

OK, the neighborhood has more than its share of beauty parlors, and giving them a city-funded chance to showcase their wares probably fulfills a basic obligation to the local business community.  And the Fair apparently offered “FREE on-site HIV testing”—sounds great.  So who’s complaining?

Fallout from the U-CAN scandal reveals that Washington Heights has directly suffered from the incompetent management of City funding.  Recall that U-CAN (Upper Manhattan Council Assisting Neighbors) began receiving large earmarks after Mr. Martinez’ sister became a board member of the group. 

Part of the City’s settlement with Con Edison after the notorious 1999 blackout was for the utility to set aside $1 million to build a community center in Washington Heights.  U-CAN’T was ingeniously given control of the project, which went nowhere for a decade.  Fortunately the money appears to just be sitting in a bank account, and hasn’t been spent on anything else.  But, as the Post puts it“now there's no community center, $1.2 million of a $5 million pot Con Ed allocated exclusively for use in Washington Heights is sitting in a bank account 10 years later, and a legislator and his pet group are under intense investigation.”

It is always instructive to look at politicians as viaducts…or maybe “sewers” is the right word.  Money flows in and through them, so it is useful to see who is contributing, and to hazard a guess or two as to why.

Recently Miguel Martinez had a new contributor to his campaign…someone who has never donated money to a City politician in the past.  Carlos Ruiz gave $500 to the Martinez campaign on April 30, 2009.  Mr. Ruiz is the President of Inwood nightspot Ambaroom, a popular Dominican club on 10th Avenue.

Perhaps as a matter of coincidence, or maybe not, a class-action lawsuit was filed in Federal court in February alleging massive minimum-wage labor law violations by Mr. Ruiz at Ambaroom.  Now some people might say that the minimum wage in Inwood is honored more in the breach than in the observance, but it looks like Carlos Ruiz is playing a little cover-your-ass to the tune of five bills.

More salient perhaps is the case of Jack Brown of Brooklyn, who generously gave the Martinez campaign $2750 in February 2009.  Mr. Brown lists himself as a Vice-President of Geo.

What is Geo?  Geo is a NYSE-listed international provider of correctional services to governments across North America, the UK, Australia and South Africa (!).   It was formerly known as Wackenhut but presumably underwent rebranding after some bad publicity emerged about the company. 

Geo continues to make news.  A Geo-run youth prison in Texas recently lost its contract after state corrections officials were horrified by conditions there.  In April Texas courts upheld a $42.5 million dollar award against Geo, affirming that the company was responsible for the murder of inmate Gregorio de la Rosa.  Apparently a Geo guard stood by and laughed as de la Rosa was beaten to death…this was established by the 13th District Court of Appeals as a matter of fact.

Want more?  Eight inmates died in the span of five months at a Geo-run Pennsylvania prison, the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in 2007-08. Geo has also gone into the growing and richly lucrative business of detaining undocumented aliens in a sprawling network of gulags.  I could literally go on and on for pages about the abusive and vile practices of this prison-for-profits enterprise.

Jack Brown lists his business address as 988 Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn, which is the home of Brooklyn Community Correctional Center, a minimum-security coed facility, probably not among the worst of Geo’s prisons.  His donation to Miguel Martinez’ campaign makes perfect sense when we recall that Mr. Martinez chairs chaired the Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee, which oversees corrections and probation matters for the City.

Warden Brown has donated money to City politicians in the past, but usually in the $200 range.  According to CFB documents he used to work for the Correctional Services Corporation, another for-profit prison company which was fined $300,000 by the state of New York in 2003 for bribing state legislators.

So Miguel Martinez, outspoken champion of the rights of the heavily-immigrant 10thDistrict, takes big money from an executive of a company that locks up illegal aliens, and which smiles on the dog-pit environment of the prisons that it runs for profit. 

Nice work Miguel.  Can somebody get this guy out of office?

Weep Bitter Tears for Helen Sears

Lots of Democrats are in the pocket of real estate interests.  But most of them pretend to be on the side of tenants when there is a really obvious, blatant issue at hand, especially one that impacts children’s health.

And then there is Helen Sears.  Quirky, cranky Helen Sears.  The (now) octogenarian Queens Council member was one of two Dems to vote on the "other" (wrong) side of the lead paint bill when it came up, back in 2003.  That was a while ago, to be sure. So what has she been up to since then?

Well, she proposed a bill that would require a license to sell furniture.  According to Ms. Sears, some of her constituents ordered furniture from local stores that wasn’t delivered promptly.  So she decided to rally the base by demanding that furniture stores obtain a license…like gun shops, doctor’s offices, auto mechanics…?

We at CCW are generally in favor of consumer protection and don’t like to see anyone get ripped off.  But licensing strikes us a rather intrusive way to deal with the problem, and would stifle the local furniture stores that serve communities across New York, probably in favor of larger department stores.  Of course, maybe that was the point.

In a related move, Ms. Sears was the only Council member to vote to maintain the City’s strict control over signage on commercial awnings.  A 1961 law banning anything except the business name and address from store awnings became, as you may recall, one of Mayor Bloomberg’s screw-you revenue generators after he came to power in 2002.  Many small business owners found themselves holding $2500 tickets for excessively notated awnings.

The Council voted to change the law, and Ms. Sears was the lone holdout.  “This isn’t what communities want,” she said.  “People like to shop in softness” (Post, 6/26/03). OK, whatever…maybe she is right and in two hundred years they’ll call her a prophet.

She also voted against a resolution against going to war in Iraq.  I wonder how she feels about that one now.

In her 2001 and 2005 campaigns Ms. Sears infamously hired her two sons as her treasurer and campaign manager.  Neither gentleman had any relevant political experience aside from owning their mother’s “trust.”  Since 2001 Ms. Sears has paid her two boys and daughter-in-law over $115,000, which represents 20% of her total campaign expenditures over that period of time.

Then in 2008 she voted to overturn term limits-no surprise that she herself was term-limited at that point.  None of the other Council members who voted for it however complained that the opposition voices against it (namely the population at large) were “intimidating” her. 

"I don't think my office has ever been so threatened, I don't think my phones have ever been so tied up” (AFP, 10/23/2008).  One hopes that calls to one’s Councilperson’s office in support of twice-affirmed term limits will not be interpreted as “threats,” but clearly Ms. Sears feels differently.

It is always interesting to consider the nature of campaign contributions, especially for a term-limited local politician in their late seventies.  From 2006, when the repeal of term limits was just a twinkle in the eye of Mayor Bloomberg, the Misk family (Helen, Joseph, Marilyn, Mark and Nasrallah), and their close business associate Hal Ginsburg contributed $19,300 to Ms. Sears.  That sum is close to 20% of her total contributions for her 2009 campaign, and the bulk of it was given when she was term-limited.

Who are these people?  Well, some of them are real estate lawyers:  Ginsburg & Misk is a successful Queens Village personal injury and real estate law firm.  They are real estate developers: Mark Misk appears to operate Nash Builders, which employs Helen Misk as a secretary.  She gave Ms. Sears $2750 in March 2009.  They are vintners, owning Clovis Point Wines on the North Fork.  And they are major, major Queens property owners.  Nasrallah Misk, according to the Times, is the owner of Rio Realty, a major developer of Queens two- and three-family houses.  City tax and property records relating to the Misk family run to the thousands of pages, just for their Queens holdings.

And now it appears that they have purchased Helen Sears.  We can only wait to see to what purpose they will put her.  But you can be sure that City Council Watch will be on the case.

Flatbush: Who Will Watch the Watchers?

The Post had an intriguing item the other day regarding an Orthodox Jewish community watch group in Brooklyn.

The Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol just rolled out its new quarter-million dollar 22-foot van, which is decked out like a NYPD command-and-control truck.  The “mobile security command center” has a bathroom, kitchen, computers and generator, and bears decals modeled on the NYPD logo. 

Who paid for this piece of equipment?  Why you did, dear taxpayers. 

According to Chaim Deutsch, founder and director of the Shomrim (“watcher” in Hebrew), grants from the City Council and Brooklyn BP Marty Markowitz funded the purchase of this custom-built security van.

Well, maybe it’s for the best.  The FSSP, which occupies itself “finding missing children and aiding elderly residents” when it isn’t preventing crime, making citizen’s arrests, shadowing suspicious characters, etc., apparently has the blessings of the local police precinct and the Jewish communities patrolled by the organization. 

And perhaps while we wouldn’t want to see every group of security-obsessed religious fundamentalists deputized and given paramilitary garb and vehicles, the City Council in its wisdom decided to do so in this case.

One point that the Post neglected to mention: Chaim Deutsch, Head Watcher for the FSSP, is also a paid staffer and chief aide to Council member Michael Nelson.  He also contributed, in May 2009, to the campaign of Lew Fidler, who cosponsored the earmarks to fund the Shomrim, according to CFB and Council finance documents.

Funny how that works, right?  You work for a Council member, you give money to another Council member, and soon your quasi-policing community watch group has a fancy new van to tool around in.

And my paramilitary analogy isn’t entirely specious, either.  The Christian Science Monitor recently printed a story about the Flatbush Shomrim that highlighted some of the contentious aspects of the organization.  The Shomrim come off as vigilantes dispensing one-sided justice, threatening non-Jews while keeping Jew-on-Jew crimeintra mures

In any case, we at City Council Watch are attuned to and against any kind of insider payoffs, favors or special deals.  And the case of the mobile security van for the Flatbush Shomrim, paid for with City money, smells very bad indeed.

Rounding out the Hall of Shame: Kendall Stewart

Kendall Stewart is a two-term Council Member representing District 45 in Brooklyn.  He has long supported expansion of the voting franchise to non-citizens, and it was surely only in the furtherance of true democracy that he voted for overturning the twice-affirmed referenda on term limits, which "disenfranchised" voters according to Mr. Stewart (NYT, 9/28/06).

Yes indeed, a system that almost never sees an incumbent lose must reflect the people's has to.

Anyway, wanting to keep his job is the least of what is wrong with Kendall Stewart.  Last year we all heard of the indictment of his chief of staff Asquith Reid and Joycinth Anderson, a former staffer.  These two had apparently looted a City-funded non-profit named in memory of Reid's deceased daughter, Donna Reid.  The Donna Reid Fund had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in discretionary funding, including money from Christine Quinn's infamous slush fund.

Mr. Stewart pled ignorance, of course...though it is hard to believe that he could have known nothing about it, expecially since his chief of staff applied for money for the nearly-eponymous foundation and put his own mailing address as the operating address for the Fund, which resulted in a (temporary) denial of funds.

There has been little news of the progress of the investigation, though Mr. Reid is facing some 80 years in jail if found guilty.  Supposedly he is seeking a plea bargain, which indicates that the prosecutors are  probably looking for bigger prey, presumably Mr. Stewart himself.  Watch this space!

Kendall Stewart is of course a Democrat, as is a vast majority of the City Council.  But his allegiance seems rather nominal.  Upon election he immediately cast his support for Pataki's re-election over Carl McCall's candidacy, though his district is largely Democratic and Black. 

Then in 2003 Mr. Stewart became, according to Simcha Felder, "the first council member to endorse" Mayor Bloomberg for a second term (NYS,12/30/04).

Later he opposed strengthening the regulations regarding a landlord's responsibility for cleaning up lead paint.  Of course, the fact that Mr. Stewart is himself a landlord with hundreds of violations for lead paint, rats, etc., probably skewed his point of view, as he noted when he blamed the poor condition of his buildings on his Hatian tenants, for whom, according to Stewart, living in filth with broken doors "is a cultural thing."

Of course, the big money he receives from the Rent Stabilization Association and from major Brooklyn real-estate developers also probably influences his judgment.

Kendall Stewart also stood with the Republican members of the Council when he voted against the Education Equity Act, which provides translation services for non-English speaking parents of NYC public school students--an odd choice for the Chair of the Council's Immigration Committee.  One wonders what it means to be a Democrat on the NYC Council.

Mr. Stewart, in addition to being a slumlord and podiatrist, is also a nightclub owner and impressario.  He owns Cafe Omar, a Nostrand Avenue nightspot.  This restaurant had an unfortunate 39 violation points assessed against it as recently as February of 2009, so it is hard to recommend it from a sanitary perspective; perhaps the food is delicious.

There was an unfortunate incident involving guns outside Cafe Omar in March 2008 which resulted in a death after a fight broke out among club patrons. 

Cafe Omar serves a more communitarian purpose however, as it is frequently the site of job fairs and informational symposia.

For instance, in September 2008 Mr. Stewart sponsored a job fair at Cafe Omar that included Con Edison, the MTA, the NYPD, the NYFD, the Department of the Aging, and an assortment of other prospective employers.

A few months earlier, in July, Mr. Stewart sponsored an event in collaboration with HUD to assist local faith-based and other community organizations learn how to file for federal grants.  The event was held at Cafe Omar.

In April 2008, Council member Stewart and CUNY co-sponsored "Citizenship Application Assistance Day," held, naturally at Cafe Omar.

Now we at City Council Watch don't know what kinds of arrangements Mr. Stewart made with HUD or CUNY regarding renting his club for these events.  Surely there are other venues in Flatbush.  On the other hand maybe he donated the space.  It does seem questionable that so many public events involving city and federal agencies would take place at a hall owned by the sponsoring politician.

Kendall Stewart is not necessarily the most venal of the Council members I have surveyed to date.  However, his disregard for the well-being of his tenants and renters everywhere, his wholesale ownership by developers and real-estate interests, and the fact that his office seems to have been a den of criminal activity, lead me to believe that the interests of his constituents may have been better served had Stewart stuck to the care of feet, as his training warrants.

Christine Quinn Lives the High Line

The High Line…who doesn’t love the High Line?

A pedestrian-only “slow park” hovering above Chelsea…preservation of the aesthetic of industrial decay…maintaining the semi-wild microenvironment that has evolved in the last thirty years of disuse…in short a New Urbanist’s wet dream…a place where the art-buying public can meet the people staying at the Standard and rub shoulders with Meatpacking District hipsters…where Ed Norton can commune with the ghost of his utopian grandpa...where Gehry and Stern fans can jostle each other to gaze at their heroes' latest abomination....

Sounds like a fucken nightmare actually.

OK, now City Council Watch is all in favor of park space and new walking areas anywhere and everywhere, and the High Line sounds interesting and would probably be fun to explore.

However, one wonders about the rapidity with which the new park has come into being.

The High Line was originally Gifford Miller’s baby, and now Christine Quinn has adopted it completely.  What’s going on, we wonder?

You may recall last year in the midst of the “slush fund” scandal that a non-profit group, “Friends of the High Line” wound up as the biggest winner.  To refresh your memory, it emerged that the City Council had been allocating money to totally non-existent community groups, and then distributing the money later in the year.  Ms. Quinn “discovered” this scandal after employing it for several years.

Friends of the High Line received hundreds of thousands of dollars via this nearly invisible trail according to the Daily News.  

And the Friends turned around and helped out Ms. Quinn, as they had helped Mr. Miller.  Quinn received some $60,000 in campaign contributions from board members of FoHL since 1999 according to Campaign Finance Board statistics.

OK, you say, politics as usual.  But let’s look a little deeper.

Friends of the High Line appears to be a do-gooder type of organization, and probably was not set up as a front group for major real-estate developers: that happened afterward.  How many non-profit pro-greenspace groups go from having $55,000 to $11 million in four years?

As James Russell, Bloomberg’s architecture critic (the media company, not the man) puts it:

Consider the case of the High Line, the park in the Meatpacking District. The City of New York invested $170 million in the project, which directly inspired as many as 50 major residential projects worth as much as $5 billion. And the park isn’t even open yet.

Four celebrity restaurants have located beneath the High Line. High-end boutiques, from Diane von Furstenberg to an Apple store, have rushed into the neighborhood. The Whitney Museum of American Art is raising $435 million to build a branch next to the park.

The City invested $170 million…that’s the money I’m wondering about.

Basically the City is developing an anchor site for massive development, enhancing the value of properties that are already owned by Ms. Quinn’s donors.

To wit: Philip Aarons, Chairman of FoHL, is a founding partner in Millennium Partners, a firm with significant West Side interests.  He and other Millennium employees have donated at least $20,000 to Ms. Quinn in the 2009 election cycle alone, towards her expected run for higher office in 2013.

Employees of the Related Companies, another massive development group which just sealed the prized development of the Westside railyards, have donated at least $34,000 to Ms. Quinn in the current cycle alone.

Douglas Oliver, who with a “silent partner” owns a warehouse adjoining the proposed park, gave Ms. Quinn $1000 towards her future run for higher office.

And so on.

For all New York Magazine says about how “good vibes” and “tastemakers” made the High Line a reality, the fact is that the kings of New York real estate sit on the Friends’ board, incubated and funded the group, and gave money to politicians to advance its cause.

It is less a case that Gifford Miller and Christine Quinn embraced the High Line concept so much as embracing it was part of the job description written by the Aarons and Dursts of the world.

If the High Line winds up being something of general good to all New Yorkers and not just to the few who can afford to shop and live in the area, it will be only an accident as far as Christine Quinn’s intentions are concerned.

Lew Fidler Fiddling About

Assistant Majority Leader Lew Fidler (District 46) pats himself copiously on his ample back for having predicted the subprime-mortgage meltdown before anyone else.

Of course, the reason he was able to predict it is because he was helping to facilitate it as a real estate lawyer.

Fidler estimates that 85 percent of the real estate closings he participated in before he got to the City Council involved some type of sub-prime or balloon rate loan. 
“We were encouraging people to do it,” he said.

Later, Fidler represented some of those same clients at foreclosure proceedings.

“I saw the beginning, I saw the process, I saw the end, and I think I saw reality setting in,” he said.

OK, so he wasn't exactly making or selling predatory loans.  No, he was just shuffling the papers around at the beginning and the end of the process, collecting fees each time.  So we can't say that Lew Fidler was an orchestrator or major player in the subprime crisis.  He was just a small-time functionary who decided to make political hay out of what he perceived from his advantageous position to be a potential crisis.

It is interesting to note though that Mr. Fidler profits from another kind of subprime loan, through his work as General Counsel for the estimable firm 1-800-LAWCASH, familiar to all latenight viewers of cable tv commercials.

There is a growing industry called "pre-settlement financing."  This means that if you are suing someone, typically in a personal-injury suit, you can borrow money on the expected yield of the award.

So if your lawsuit is "valued" at $100,000, you could go to LAWCASH and get an "advance" on the award, for which you would owe 2 to 4 percent monthly accruing interest, according to Harvey Hirschfeld, President of LAWCASH (Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, 7/28/09).

The beauty part for you is, as with all legal contingency-fee operations, if you lose, you pay nothing! 

If you win however, then your effective interest rate can total 60% annually.  In polite terms, usury.  In impolite terms, a certain Shakespearian character from Venice is sometimes referenced, and it's not Iago.

On another subject, we note that the Donna Reid Memorial Education Fund scandal, which engulfed Kendall Stewart, has not touched Mr. Fidler at all, though he arranged for at least $20,000 in allocations for the seemingly bogus charity.  Of course, Mr. Stewart's chief of staff was the thief in question, so it makes sense that Mr. Stewart would face scrutiny.  But City Council Watch would like to know why Member Fidler arranged for so much money to go to a group that, in hindsight at least, was palpably fradulent.  Any thoughts?

Family Values Trump Conflicts of Interest

A great victory was won for the cause of nepotism this week, when the NYC Conflict of Interest Board ruled that there is nothing wrong with Council members steering discretionary funds to groups that employ their family members.

In the closely-worded (i.e., obfuscatory), carefully-parsed (i.e., casuistical) ruling, the COIB determined that, unless the member's relative is literally going to have a City check cut in his or her name, discretionary funding for family is fair play. 

The Board, demonstrating its ethical fiber, also determined that Council members cannot sponsor bills to support groups that employ them.  However, Council members may vote to support such bills, provided they are sponsored by another Council member.

Hmmm.  That seems to present an opportunity for mutual back-scratching, doesn't it?  But don't worry: in one of the strongest footnotes in legal history the COIB warns that "such conduct could constitute a transaction in conflict with the proper discharge of the Council member's official duties."

Oh, it could?  Meaning, back your truck through that hole and load it up.

The game continues boys and girls.  Play ball!

Larry Seabrook Really Takes the Cake

Somebody has criminalized all black elected officials. In American society, any black man that's not looked at, then he's not a black man.

-Council Member Larry Seabrook

Larry Seabrook and his sister have been much in the news lately, and I do want to speak to the current crisis rumbling through the Northeast Bronx offices of Council Member Seabrook, because it says so much about the climate of entitlement and greed that governs City Hall.

But let's have some background first.  Because I wouldn't want anyone to imagine that what is happening in Mr. Seabrook's office is somehow an oversight or a lapse in otherwise good judgment.

Council Member Seabrook, representing District 12, did not face a tough campaign in 2005.  Nevertheless, he did have to run, and in so doing he or someone else apparently did extensive damage to the furniture in the local clubhouse, the NE Bronx Community Democratic Club. 

It was so bad that he had to buy $10,000 of new furniture, special furniture custom-made for the clubhouse, and he had to buy it FAST--like the day before the election, or else he couldn't pay for it out of matching funds from the City.

He was fined $500 for that shenanigan.  Peanuts, really.

Moving on we find that Mr. Seabrook has long babied and nursed a group called the Northeast Bronx Redevelopment Corporation: he obtained grants for it, staffed it with his allies, and operated it from the same address where he keeps his district office.

In April 2006 it emerged that the organization could not account for some $360,000 it had received in City funding that was supposed to go to worker training.  Among the problems, it seems, is that the group had no accounting system or qualified staff to keep the books. 

Nevertheless, money appears to have continued flowing into and out of the Northeast Bronx Redevelopment Corporation, like an open hydrant on a hot summer day, or a persistently running toilet.

The group sponsored a commercial driver training program that placed no drivers.  It taught computer literacy but none of the 30 students who enrolled finished the course.  It got $300,000 to improve FDNY diversity but nothing came of it.

So investigators are looking into that.

Next we see that, with the Northeast Bronx Redevelopment Corporation perhaps facing extinction as a group, Mr. Seabrook sought assistance for a brand-new organization that would more effectively serve the needs of the people: the Bronx African-American Chamber of Commerce, which in a bizarre coincidence happens to be located at the same address as Member Seabrook's district office on White Plains Road.

Who'd have guessed?  In any case, Mr. Seabrook's $887,000 appropriation was withheld by the administering agencies when it turned out that the Chamber had no corporate documents, no tax records, no insurance, no real almost seems like the Chamber was just a...front?

No!  That can't be!  Could it really be the case that City Councilmembers can set up phony community organizations, get funding streams going, and then just evaporate the money?  I refuse to accept this idea, because that would mean that we are governed by thieves and crooks.

Okay, well moving on to the current troubles besetting the brave and LEGITIMATELY black man representing District 12.  I say that he is a real and legitimate black man because he is under investigation.  As Mr. Seabrook has said (see above), any black man not under investigation is not a black man.  QED.  Robert Jackson?  Sorry, you are not a black man by the new definition of the term.

It is a fact that at the top levels of professional life in America, blacks are underrepresented.  There are many theories as to how this situation should be redressed.  Some people advocate expanding education and job training.  Some people think that the nation as a whole should try to ameliorate the problem through broad based affirmative action.  And some people think that the quickest and most effective solution is to hire their relatives.

Jesse Jackson was a great promoter of this last strategy.  He looked around and noticed that most beer distributorships were held by white people.  This outrageous situation could be fixed quickly and in only one way: his sons must be given a beer distributorship!  Anheuser-Busch sold (under undisclosed terms) a Chicago distributorship to Jesse Jackson's sons, and he ended his campaign against the institutional racism of the beer industry.

Well that's one way to improve the economic condition of black America, one black relative at a time.  And that is what Larry Seabrook decided to do to help his sister out.

It appears that the boardrooms of the advertising industry were less black than the population at large.  In order to correct this imbalance, Mr. Seabrook, Chairman of the Civil Rights Committee, approached the Omnicom Group, the second largest advertising agency in the world, with an idea.  Omnicom would create a high-level diversity committee and spend millions of dollars on initiatives to promote executive diversity in advertising.

To head this committee, Mr. Seabrook put forth one name: that of the most qualified individual, a no-brainer, the obvious choice, everyone's choice--Priscilla A. Jenkins of Atlanta.  Priscilla Jenkins, who had once run the internship placement center at the formerly-accredited Morris Brown College, where she provided remedial assistance and supervised as many as four people at once. 

Priscilla Jenkins, everybody, who later turned out to be the sister of Larry Seabrook.  Another coincidence!

Just to be clear, Larry Seabrook is a shakedown artist and a hustler and a crook.  I'm not afraid to say it and nobody else should be either.  He can pretend all he wants that everyone who notices it is just racist but that one note is getting boring and the pegs are loose.  Nobody is listening to that song anymore.

Thomas White Makes a Lot of Money

Thomas White represents District 28, covering Jamaica and Richmond Hill.  After being term limited out in 2001 he returned triumphant in 2005.  Queens County watchers will recall that the Queens Democratic machine eagerly recruited White to run for his seat again in order to oust Alan Jennings, whose sexual harassment issues had unfortunately come to the fore.

Mr. White has the 5th-worst attendence record on the City Council: he shows up for work less than three-fourths of the time.

Mr. White was the brains behind, or at least the face in front of, the charming and landlord-friendly Intro 638 (the White-Comrie bill), which would have given landlords the right to sue their tenants for harassment.  Tlhe bill woud have had a major chilling effect on tenants with legitimate grievances.  Who wants to confront their landlord if he can turn around and sue you for bothering him?

Unlike many of our other illustrious Council Members, Mr. White actually has a life outside the world of being elected or appointed.  He founded and is the director of the felicitously-named Queens Village Committee for Mental Health for Jamaica Community Adolescent Program, Inc.  Anyone who wishes to parse that for City Council Watch is welcome to try.

The organization, known as "J-CAP," is one of the state's largest drug treatment centers, and receives state and federal money in the many millions of dollars.

Three employees of J-CAP pled guilty in 2001 to taking kickbacks from vendors totaling $350,000.  Council Member White claimed ignorance of the scandal, though it is realtively certain that he did use SUV's leased by the Foundation for his personal business.

Intriguingly, J-CAP is mentioned in the Americans with Disabilities Act Handbook, in a discussion of employment case law, as having fired an employee with asymptomatic lymphoma.  Nice.

Stay posted for more on this fine Councilmember, who between his two jobs (NYC Councilman and Director of J-CAP) earns somewhere around $400,000 per year.

Serious Contender: Maria Baez

This next candidate for most venal Council Member needs only brief introduction...

She only shows up to about half of all Council meetings...

She rang up $1500 monthly cell phone bills in 2007, charged to the City...

Her reelection campaign, "Baez for the Future," paid almost $700 for gasoline in 2007, even though she was elected in 2005, and at the time was restricted from running again...

She earmarked $7500 for a non-existent tenants' group domiciled at a non-existent address, headed by one of her staff members.  When called to account for this earmark she refused to have her character as a "Latina woman" assassinated...

Even though she represents the 14th District, one of the City's poorest, she somehow managed to find the most expensive office space of any Member of the Council.  The City pays $56,400 for her corner office on the Grand Concourse--almost double what Jennifer Lappin pays on the Upper East Side...

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Maria Baez!!

Miguel Martinez: Sleaziest Council Member?

In the fiercely-run race to determine the most openly venal NYC Council Member, Upper Manhattan's own Miguel Martinez is nobody's longshot.

Where to begin?  Last year Mr. Martinez ran into trouble with the City Campaign Finance Board for submitting, in classic Uptown style, "self-created, non-contemporaneous" vendor receipts in order to receive matching fund reimbursement for non-existing expenses...okay maybe his campaign just lost the receipts...still, I would love to see what the forged ones look like.  Someone at the CFB has a sense of humor..."non-contemporaneous" is great.

Anyway, the campaign of the illustrious Council Member had to return (plus penalties) about $45,000.  Somehow though the CFB let the campaign off the hook for fraud, and chalked the whole thing up to a question of "certification."

OK, well what's fifty grand between friends?  Things got a little stickier for the Member however when it turned out that he had steered more than $600,000 to a community group that his sister helped to lead.  The Upper Manhattan Council Assisting Neighbors ("U-CAN") took in hundreds of thousands of City dollars following the apppointment in 2005 of Maria Martinez to its board.

Where did all this money go?  Not clear.  As with all of these "community" groups, there is no transparency once the money is disbursed.  More or less standard practice for the New York City Council.

The part I like the best though is how this bit of family dealing came to light.  Now that the Council requires disclosure of familial ties to groups receiving Council money, Miguel Martinez had no choice but to reveal the relationship in the disclosure form. 

The Daily News puts it nicely:

The form, which has no date, reads, "My sister sits on board of the organization," and attaches a list of nonprofits with a check mark next to Upper Manhattan Council Assisting Neighbors.

"My sister sits on board..."  Great.

Anyway between that and the forged vendor receipts I definitely want to keep Miguel Martinez in the running for sleaziest Council Member.