Dirty Money; Open Races; Joe Crowley Gets Down to It

First some housekeeping.  Last year after the Rivington scandal broke I noticed that the CEO of the Allure Group, Solomon Rubin, had given Costa Constantinides $2500.  This was his only contribution to a city politician.  I asked Constantinides’ office about it in April and they said he was going to return the money, and that otherwise they had no comment to make about it.

Then this summer I checked the filings and I saw that the contribution was still listed.  I asked Constantinides about it directly and he said, “Oh we just returned it…it won’t show up until January.”  I asked him why Rubin gave him the check in the first place, and how they know each other…after all, Allure doesn’t seem to do any business in Astoria.  The CM was vague about it.

Anyway, the filings are out, and Constantinides still has the $2500 from Solomon Rubin in his account.  So either he keeps lying about it, or his campaign treasurer is doing a poor job of keeping up to date with accounts.  If Constantinides wants to take money from shady sources it is his business…why won’t he just own up to it?


When the city council gave itself a massive pay raise last year, councilmembers praised themselves cynically for what they claimed to be a reformist measure that would encourage a broad segment of the population to seek office.  Brad Lander, who yields to no one in self-congratulation, said that the salary increase would be a great way to get people to “run whether they're small business people, whether they're attorneys, whether they're non-profit leaders, whether they're labor leaders, whether they're professionals.  You know, whether they're people who are just working hard to represent their communities, we want them to be able to run for these offices.”

This argument was repeated by a lot of the supporters of the pay raise, and it is basically the same argument that is used for public financing of campaigns: to increase the field of candidates and bring more political outsiders into the mix.  Well, let’s take a look at who is likely to win some of this year’s open Council seats now that the great reforms are in effect:

Annabel Palma will be replaced by Ruben Diaz, Sr. (State Senate)

Jimmy Vacca will (probably) be replaced by Mark Gjonaj (Assembly)

Melissa Mark-Viverito will (probably) be replaced by Robert Rodriguez (Assembly)

Inez Dickens will likely be replaced by Bill Perkins (Senate)

Vincent Gentile will probably be replaced by Peter Abbate (Assembly)

Rosie Mendez will probably be replaced by her aide Carlina Rivera

Dan Garodnick’s and Darlene Mealy’s seats appear to be actually open contests, unusually.

Basically the pay raise has just turned the Council into a place for supernumerary incumbents to go and hang around for eight years, collect double the pay, and not have to schlep to Albany.  If you thought that it was important for Peter Abbate, who has been in the Assembly for thirty years, proposing bizarre giveaways to the Port Authority police officers’ union, to have an easier commute as he eases into his golden years, then you should be very happy with how things have turned out.


It has been interesting the last month or so to see how Joe Crowley has been flexing his muscle locally.  A week after Jimmy Vacca endorsed Marjorie Velazquez, the wife of his former aide Jeff Lynch, to replace him in the Council, Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj announced his own candidacy for the seat.  Joining Gjonaj, who is said to be annoyed at Vacca’s move, were major power brokers Jeff Klein—who arguably runs the State Senate—and Joe Crowley, who runs Queens and represents Pelham Bay in Congress.  If Crowley and Klein come out this early to an announcement, it indicates that they are serious about the campaign.

The other Crowley play is out in Corona, where Assemblyman Francisco Moya is planning to mount a primary challenge to Council Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.  Moya and his brother Edgar have long been Crowley protégés, and used to call themselves, unaccountably, the “Kennedys of Corona.”  In February 2009, when Moya and Ferreras first battled for the 21st Council seat in a special election, Moya was backed by Crowley’s County organization.  Of course, it didn’t do him an enormous amount of good: Ferreras won with less than 2300 votes total, to Moya’s 1250.  Amazing how little it takes to win an election in some council districts!

Anyway, the fact that Moya is making moves now to primary a woman who is nominally very powerful, indicates some machinations on the part of the County organization, and likely says a thing or two about the Speaker race.  Ferreras-Copeland, as I have mentioned before, has always been outside the Queens County machine.  In recent years she has thrown in her lot strongly with the WFP/Progressive wing of the city power structure, and in particular is allied closely with a group of rabble rousers known as Make the Road: her recent chief of staff Daniel Coates was a former Make the Road staffer.  This group, which gets funding from the Council to provide various services to immigrants (literacy classes, “outreach” on rights, etc.), controversially makes its clients attend organizational and advocacy meetings as a condition of receiving services.  A key Make the Road executive, Javier Valdes, is apparently making the rounds of the Council encouraging members to support Ferreras-Copeland for Speaker.

The Queens delegation regulars are likely to line up with Crowley.  A number of them are still annoyed that Ferreras-Copeland got the Mayor to let her have control of a new Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy, which even has a Make the Road member on its board, yet which other neighboring councilmembers were excluded from.  Francisco Moya’s candidacy for Council is likely a shot across Ferreras-Copeland’s—and by extension, the Mayor’s-- bow that their plans for the Speakership run through Joe Crowley.

Curiously, the Council pay raise will probably have an impact on the Speaker race too.  Most of the new councilmembers will likely be former state legislators.  In 2013, you may recall, there were a great many freshmen in City Hall, for whom a call from the Mayor-elect on behalf of Melissa Mark-Viverito’s candidacy was enormously significant.  This time around, a bunch of veteran pols who have seen de Blasio take beatings from Cuomo, Hillary Clinton, Trump, etc., will not be cowed into supporting his candidate for Speaker.

Even if de Blasio walks into re-election with no opposition, he won’t be in the same position he was in last time.  He will not have the same leverage with the council, and it is a certainty that Crowley and Crespo are not going to get rolled twice.


In case you missed it, I wrote a lengthy, in-depth review of Charlie Rangel’s half-century representing Central Harlem, for the Autumn issue of City Journal.   It is pretty amazing, if I say so myself.  Here is a link to it, and to some of my other recent pieces there.

I also wrote some Council-related stuff for the Post recently, which you may find interesting especially if you find Brad Lander as annoying as I do.