With A Council
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
It started as a "freedom of the press" phone call and ended
up as a game of hide-and-go-seek.
Its not a great mystery and Im not suggesting wrongdoing
at least not yet but the damn cover-up mentality on the part of City Council
staff typifies a basic problem with government bureaucrats and their cover-your- ass (and
the large posteriors of elected officials) mentality. They generally believe it is more
important to CYA than to let the sunshine in and allow the people and the press know
whats going on.
How can they lose
On Wednesday, I received a call from the NY Press Association
alerting me that a piece of legislation was slated to be voted upon on Thursday (11/29) in
the Transportation Committee, that would somehow regulate the distribution of newspapers
on NYC streets, possibly creating a serious constitutional question for the press. Now
voting something like this out of committee is a far cry from passing it into law, but the
NYPA seemed concerned and I wanted to understand the proposed legislation and provide a
newspapers viewpoint, so I thought Id chat with Al Stabile, a member of the
It was about 4:15 p.m. on Wednesday and I
called his district office. No answer.
Thursday morning 9 a.m., I decide to try to
reach Al again. I checked the Transportation Committee calendar which showed the vote on
the issue in question for 11 a.m.
"Al must be in the City or on his way
Ill call his City Office," I thought.
I checked the City Council website and dial
Stabiles City Council Office (212) 788-7348.
office," the voice said.
"Who?" I asked.
"Councilwoman Diana Reyna."
I didnt know the name but have since
checked: Diana Reyna was elected in November to fill the vacated Brooklyn 34th District
City Council seat of newly-appointed City Clerk Victor Robles who like many others was
term limited out of office. It seems now dont hold me to this that
Reyna, upon being elected, was then appointed to fill the balance of Robles term
until Dec. 31, 2001. She then, like the other 35 begins her own elected term Jan 1, 2002.
Now, Robles did have an office didnt he?
I called Al Stabiles district office
in Queens "whats Councilman Stabiles City Hall office
number?" I ask.
"212 788-7348" the phone answerer
I dialed it again.
"I thought this was Councilman Al
Stabiles office," I inquired.
"No, it is the office of Councilwoman
"Do you know Councilman Stabile?"
"No, I cant say Ive heard
"His district office gave me this
phone number as his City Hall office. Can you help me?" I asked.
After a pause, the accommodating female
voice explained that Councilwoman Reyna has occupied the office for several weeks and that
she has no idea who used to occupy it and never heard of Al Stabile.
I thanked her and dialed the Council main
"City Council can I help you?"
"Yes," I replied. "Id
like the City Hall office number of Councilman Al Stabile."
"I just dialed it twice, and got a
Councilwoman Reyna," I insisted.
"Thats his office number."
"Trust me," I insisted,
"its not his office."
"I could give you his district office
number," volunteered the phone operator.
"No thanks," I said, "I
tried that and they gave me the same number that you did."
"Have a nice day."
Now, I no longer wanted to speak to Al
Stabile about whatever the legislation was it just didnt matter. I wanted to
get to the bottom of the mystery.
Reyna a brand new, fill-in Brooklyn Council
member, has an office phone which is listed as belonging to Queens Al Stabile who
still is a council member. The folks from Brooklyn seem to have an extra office and phone
while the folks from Queens seem to be short one.
I gotta dial Robles former office and
see who is hiding there..
"Tamara," I called in an attempt
to schedule an immediate conference with my editor on the topic.
"Ive got a simple assignment for
whoever in the newsroom has a couple of minutes: find Al Stabiles City Hall phone
It is now Thursday morning 9:45 a.m. and
reporter Arlene Lewis is told to find Al Stabile at City Hall. By now, everyone at the
district office and City Hall was on alert that a newspaper was looking for the missing
City Council office.
9:50 a.m. "Called the Ozone Park
office (843-5283) spoke to Stella. She wanted to know what I wanted and why I wanted the
number at City Hall. I told her my editor wanted the number. She fussed but gave me 212
9:53 a.m. "Called the number no
answer, no voice mail."
9:59 a.m. "Spoke to City Hall operator
Judy who doesnt know who Stabile is. She transferred me to the City Council
10:00 "Spoke to Anastasia who told me
she doesnt have a new number and transferred me to Council Services at 250 Bdwy
"A voice mail from Verizon informed me
I would need the number of the person I am calling and the voice mail didnt go
"Called Anastasia back, but spoke to
Matt who gave me a lot of double talk about the situation. He told me the number at
Council Services was 212-788-6925 and transferred me."
10:05 a.m. "Spoke to Sabina who said,
Is that a council member? She told me Stabiles office is located at 250
Bdwy; that 212-788-7348 is the correct number, but since 9/11 the phones arent
always working properly."
The saga continued. They dont quite
understand. The phone works, only it belongs to Reyna, not Stabile. You just cant
lose this larger, than life City-Councilman from Queens.
Arlene dialed a handful of other Queens
Council members City Hall phone numbers to confirm the phones were working. The
offices at 250 Broadway were functioning.
Arlenes report continues:
"Recalled Stabiles Manhattan office and spoke to secretary Marlene
of Diana Reyna, a councilwoman from Bklyn, who said Stabile vacated his office three to
four months ago and gave it to Reyna.
"Called Sabina at Council Services
again who told me Stabile still occupied his office until Dec. 31, but checked with the
facilities manager, Frank Gutierrez, who said the office was still officially
Stabiles, but he was letting Reyna use it.
"Spoke to Gutierrez, who said,
Due to 9/11, we had to move people from the red zone, and fit them somehow into the
250 Bdway facility. There are two new councilpersons who are already working, Reyna and
Lonza. I asked him if Stabile is still using his office or if he comes around, but
he was getting nervous about talking to me and kept telling me to call the press office,
because he didnt want to get in trouble.
"I called the press office, spoke to
Eiza who said, they had nothing to do with it.
11:00 a.m. "Called Stabiles
District office, and spoke to Alex Lutz, his chief of staff, who said he was trying to get
in touch with Stabile and would tell him to call as soon as he hears from him."
My days fill up with publisher type stuff
and I asked the editorial staff to pursue the story.
Al Stabile calls and talks to Arlene at
Arlenes reports that Al said:
"I just came from the doctor. I got
four shots in my knee and four shots in my back. Im not working as physically able
as I should be but I am working. Because of my injuries, Ive been out and I
cant make the steps or the ramp in Manhattan. Thats why I didnt campaign
or get out a lot [In case you werent paying attention, Al was the defeated
Republican candidate for Queens Borough President].
"The Speakers office called
shortly after 9/11 and asked if I would give up my office because they needed room and I
"My [district] office is open every
day from 9 to 4 and everyone works straight through. I dont even know the phone
number to that office. Im never there, and I dont know Diana Reyna.
"Im doing everything. I had a
meeting with the incoming councilman in my house and again next week to go over the
budget. I meet with constituents and Im trying to do as much as I can, but
Manhattan... I dont go there.
"Some council members never use their
offices either or maybe two days a week. The ones that use their offices are committee
heads. Republicans are not committee heads. We use Tom Ognibenes office or our own
"Why should I waste city dollars to
hire someone and do nothing? It would be ridiculous. My constituents are in my district.
Everyone knows where my office is.
"I am actively working but limited in
capacity to get around. I handled five constituents problems from my car, and
Ive been to my office twice today to deal with my staff. Its a matter of
getting done what has to be done. Nothing is being neglected. Having someone in City Hall
is not a benefit to my constituents as much as being in my office."
Hey Al, were not trying to get you
into trouble you cant really get elected officials into trouble for stuff
like this unless theyre up for re-election. At this point, we just want to assess
whether all the Council members who are assigned City Hall staff and offices really need
them? Are you unique among 51 or are there other offices that should be closed and maybe
office supply budgets and staff cut? Could the City save some much needed money? Maybe we
could keep the libraries open on Sunday?
On Friday, Nov. 30, Trib Assistant Editor
Steve McGuire took up the cause and tried to put the puzzle pieces together.
He called the Speakers office and
"Spokesperson Bernice Spitzer said
Stabile does not have an office. All council members are assigned to offices. There
has been a major crisis we have lost a building at 75 Park Place. Im not trying to
be evasive its up to the councilmembers whether or not to have an
"Jake Lynn at the City Council Press
Office said he knows of no council member that doesnt have an office in that
building. It must be an isolated incident."
At this point, were not sure if
councilmembers need City offices. Stabile doesnt think so unless youre
a committee chair. But arent they given a budget allotment to staff that City
And doesnt a councilmember have to do
work at City Hall? Arent there committee meetings? Council meetings? Committee
votes? Council votes? Public hearings? Meetings with colleagues and administration staff?
Maybe, if youre not up for
re-election, you dont have to do all of that stuff?
Maybe, some councilmembers collect their
salary and dont show?
We really dont know for sure and in
no way suggest Al Stabile is any worse than a whole lot of his colleagues.
Oh, remember that piece of legislation I
was interested in that was going to be voted on in Transportation at 11 a.m. on Thursday
The committee cancelled the vote because
not enough councilmembers showed they couldnt get a quorum.
Ill bet they all showed up to cash