A Weekend In Texas
And The Mayoral Race In New York
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
(Saturday, May 5, 2001) Im on board AirTran Flight 353
final destination Dallas, Texas. Lil and I are taking this long weekend to attend the
wedding of the son of very old friends a displaced Queens couple. Linda and Wayne
moved from Glen Oaks some twenty years ago with little Josh and Amanda. Weve seen
them many times since, always in New York, since Lindas sister lives around the
corner from us and her parents Max and Margaret are still in the Glen Oaks.
Lil, Lindas friend since Van Buren H.S., is leaning over my shoulder on this Boeing
717, insisting its Floral Park. Shes probably right, but to me, Bellerose,
Glen Oaks and the Floral Park part of Queens have fuzzy boundaries.
With a weekend in Texas Dallas/Plano Ill do my best
to leave that "fuzzy" boundary statement as the only "Dubya" reference
of the column. I have an objective here, but occasionally get sidetracked by my
activities, surroundings or unfolding events.
For those of you who follow this column I love to hear that you
do youre aware of my recent "rants" (as Dennis Miller would say)
about public funds, facilities and staff being used for campaign purposes. Let me explain
where Im at.
Such practices as Ive been documenting are unacceptable. I
clearly think they are frequently illegal. I remember a decade ago where the NYS Senate
minority leader and key staffers stood trial and faced jail time over staff abuse for
political purposes. Recently, Suffolk Sheriff Mahoney pled guilty (to a misdemeanor) for
such activity. Campaigns have reimbursed governments sometimes voluntarily and
sometimes kicking and screaming for campaign abuses of public funds. The fines, at
all levels of election commissions, are frequent and often large.
New York City has made great strides in campaign reform. Nevertheless,
the enforcement of the laws is pathetic, the monitoring of activity almost nonexistent,
and the ability to distinguish and prove abuses according to laws past by the same people
they are supposed to regulate is just an exercise in futility.
Generally, public officials dont prosecute public officials for
"gray area" offenses like election abuses. Generally, election boards enforcing
regs are as political as the guys and gals violating them. And finally, you spend enough
years in elective office, often you lose sight of whats yours and what belongs to
the people that brand of arrogance seems to come with the job. I truly salute the
public officials who bend over backwards to not only avoid impropriety, but to avoid the
appearance of impropriety.
My "rant," or cause, is not to jail the wrong doers. I
dont want to prosecute anyone. Gosh, Im doing my best not to even condemn
those who, in my judgment, abuse public payroll or funds for campaign purposes. It is
usually not a sufficient reason in isolation to rule out a candidate. Sometimes I feel
every player in a race who has influence over public staff is abusing their office to get
However, since the laws and regs arent or cant be enforced,
it falls to the media to point out the abuses. Often, the costly process of auditing
campaign filings or government payroll records is just too great and costly a task for us
journalists to be able to paint the full picture. We can however, tell our readers
whats going on. Those of us who are lucky enough to have an opinion column, can
occasionally shout, "shame on you." This has been my small role in reminding
elected officials and wanabees that there are rules and there are also moral and ethical
Sometimes or frequently, the game is played in a gray area. We give our
opinion; you readers make the final judgment. That judgment should influence your vote
but such violations of the public trust should be measured as part of a total
A year ago, this paper wrote about a City Councilman running for
Congress. We challenged him to come forward and explain some $80,000 in campaign payments
to himself and his chief of staff. We also asked the disposition of another campaign
account containing over $100,000. That was $180,000 worth of questions. The candidate
promptly withdrew from the race. We got no satisfactory answers. The $180,000 has still
not been appropriately accounted for and to the best of our knowledge, the
"authorities" have done nothing. As far as were concerned, the matter
should have been pursued by campaign finance boards, election boards, the district
attorney and the appropriate ethics oversight authority of the City Council. It
wasnt. But such egregious questions, until satisfactorily answered should, in our
opinion, prevent any rational voter from considering casting a vote for this person. He,
however, is term limited and not running again. We feel the questions still deserve
answers and will insist upon it in print should the wrongdoer reemerge in
the public sector.
Five months ago we pointed out postal and public office abuses of a
candidate for City Council. We spoke to the candidate and his boss, the councilman. We got
assurances that henceforth, everything would be done on the "straight and
narrow." Well, as we disclosed last week, their straight and narrow wasnt ours.
Should that be sufficient to rule out the candidate?
No . . . damaging, but not yet fatal. If we were advising the
candidate, we would yell, "Resign from the Council staff now and issue a statement
that you are sorry about any past questionable use of Council resources and you are
resigning to avoid any appearances of impropriety."
Last week, we took on the Council Speaker over what he insisted was his
right to use Council staff for campaign related activities. He insisted he had
"opinion of Council on the matter." We havent seen the opinion and the
Speaker politely declined to write a response to my column or a defense of his position.
No, that single encounter would not alone prevent this writer from supporting the
Speakers candidacy. However, his silence on the issue and failure to retract or
modify statements he made suggesting approval and acceptance of such public trust
violations, will likely keep him from the top of our list.
No, we couldnt or didnt get a direct flight to Texas. This
AirTran has its hub in Atlanta and after a quick lunch, we still have some of the hour
layover left, so I thought Id share some of my reactions to my second visit to the
Everyone is pleasant. Maybe theyre
not, but my frame of reference is New York. The four AirTran staffers we spoke with as
well as the three employees of Charlies Steakery we lunched on Philly Cheese
Chicken all thanked us. The gal at the leather and sunglass booth took the time to
share her life story and the one in Hudson News chatted me up about why I was buying Entrepreneur
magazine. The girl sitting next to me at the gate area smiled and said
"hello." Wow! This is nice.
This "Concourse C" is all AirTran
and I had never heard of it. The terminal is clean and spiffy and relatively
spacious. The lines are short or nonexistent. Airport life here is better than airport
life in New York. Its less harried than airport life in Florida. If you have to plan
an hour stopover, Atlanta gets my vote. Then again, never spent an hour in lots of places.
But if you dont know em, you cant vote for em.
Now, Lil explains it takes two hours to fly
from Atlanta to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, but the itinerary says we arrive in an hour.
The transparent paradox obviously is caused by the change of time zone. It was my first
realization that Texas was one hour "earlier" than New York I think. I
guess Atlanta wasnt.
Does it matter when you move your watch
back? Can I do it here, on the ground in Atlanta? Do I wait till Im in the air? Over
Texas? Does the pilot tell us when? Do I do it when we land?
It seems to this non-engineering observer
that technology today should have mastered this problem.
Why dont watches set themselves? I do
have a clock radio at home that does it sometimes it works. But with all the
wireless hoohahs and radio waves it should be damn easy to build watches that set
themselves. Boom: you change time zones, it changes. And the date on my very expensive
imitation watch said it was the 31st on May 1st. Thats just dumb. Eight dollar
digital watches have chips that can store all sorts of data but get a fancy analog watch
and it cant do a thing! We have progressed far enough technologically to construct a
watch which retains classic beauty and character but works like it was built in this
You build it; and they will come. Send
samples to me at the Queens Tribune.
Im here in the terminal, sitting on
the floor plugged into an outlet recharging my laptop so I can continue writing on
the next leg of my trip. Lil is in the comfort of a nice cushioned chair not molded
plastic like Kennedy or LaGuardia being chatted up by a traveling senior citizen.
Theyre friendly here okay. Im by the gate door and overhear the delightful
ticket agent trying so hard to please everyone who approaches her.
Wouldnt it be nice if it was like
this in New York?
Leg two: Atlanta to Dallas
Last Friday, late afternoon in the office, I received a call from
Freddy Ferrer. He had just returned from Vieques and was calling to say hello, share some
insights on his trip and set up a sit down. Ive always admired Fernando Ferrer.
Immigrant kids who make it in this wonderful land are to be applauded. It aint easy.
Second generation Americans should be expected to succeed but first generation immigrant
kids who really make it especially when there is a language disadvantage at home
are tributes to the American dream and proof positive that the system
our system can work. Freddy has made it. He is a true tribute to our home New York.
Freddy has been to the Trib offices
before and I found the interview exhilarating. He is bright, articulate, visionary and
compassionate. No, thats not an endorsement. It is an image in my head.
My jury is still out. All four candidates
for Mayor have their positives.
And have their negatives.
And so the column goes full circle.
Freddy had just returned from Puerto Rico
where he went to witness and protest the bombing of Vieques by the US Navy. His trip was a
true and noble gesture of support for a people plagued too long by insensitivity of
American military policy. We support Freddy and the other patriotic Americans who are part
of the cause to stop bombing Vieques.
But we dont support spending New York
City public funds on the effort. Beep Ferrers staff confirmed that the funds for the
trip came out of his Borough Presidents discretionary budget -- funds that come from
taxing the people. Now, I agree with the cause, not the expense. The trip to Puerto Rico
and related publicity was political and not part of the "official role" of the
Bronx Beep. The press release I received by email last night announcing the post trip
press conference came on Bronx Borough Hall stationery, but was sent to me by
Ferrers campaign staff. Things get fuzzy.
Remember, Im looking for a candidate
who avoids the appearance of impropriety. I dont think Freddy did and Ill call
him on it when I see him. Ill suggest that his mayoral campaign reimburse the people
of the Bronx for the trip. Im not sure if it would be appropriate for a third party
(like whoever picked up the tab for Al Sharpton or Roberto Ramirez) to pay for the trip of
a mayoral candidate. That seems to be another gray area question to be raised with
campaign finance board authorities since Freddy would benefit politically from the trip,
would a third party paying for it, have to count as a contribution in order not to violate
the campaign spending limit? For the moment Ill leave those conundrums to the
attorneys and maintain my stance that the people of the Bronx should not be charged for
the political trip no matter how worthwhile.
Yes, I said we would act to monitor that
candidates walk the straight and narrow. And walking the straight and narrow just
aint easy especially in politics.
If you know of an abuse of New York
Campaign finance laws or a violation of the public trust, let us know.
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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