Backing New York In the Ugly Political Culture Wars
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
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POLITICAL CULTURE WARS
It was on Facebook that I first expressed my objections to the conclusion of Gail Collins’ New York Times column titled The Biggest Loser. In the column she posed and answered: “Our question for today is, who has the most awful political culture, Illinois or New York?”
She gave the edge to Illinois.
With all due respect to Rod Blagojevich and company, we pride ourselves on our New York Culture of Corruption.
I mean, just last week as Queens Assemblyman Anthony Seminario packs up for a six-year jail sentence for crimes he learned by poorly mimicking convicted Senate Leader Joe Bruno – oh they caught Seminario with the help of Queens felon former Assemblyman and Brian McLaughlin who stole everything that they didn’t nail down -- all hell breaks loose.
The honorable State Senate expells its chief thug claiming it’s because of a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction but is really because he held the Senate hostage for a month last summer. Both sides of the aisle were then willing to do business with this terrible outlaw.
Governor David Paterson during the very same moment goes on an attack because of rumors of a New York Times upcoming story supposedly about wife swapping and drugs which, rather than falling on deaf ears, is embarraced because of Paterson’s previous admissions and continued gaffes and ineffective performance.
Don’t exhale yet. In the big city while all this is taking place in the State, Councilman Larry Seabrook is indicted by the US Attorney for playing very fast and very loose with his N.Y. City Council money. It was just last year that his colleague Miguel Martinez went down for confusing into whose pocket member item money is supposed to go. Oh, that was after the Speaker’s staff was caught making up phantom organizations and putting them in the City Budget to hide millions and millions of member item dollars.
And the week ended with one of the three men in the room calling for an investigation into their selection of AEG to run a video lottery casino at Aqueduct while the Feds look into a charity associated with two politicos and a Reverend, two of whom are involved with AEG.
And Illinois beats out New York on the most awful political culture race? Chicago must be a wonderful place.
A POLITICAL PUBLISHER
We’ve, since the appointment of Kirstin Gillibrand, been expressing doubt and a degree of unhappiness about the upcoming election for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat.
First we were dismayed by the bungling of the appointment by our Governor from whom we should expect nothing less. The dissing of Carolyn Kennedy in the process was bad form and in bad taste. But the accidental Guv who has yet to come to grips with the reality of his position never fails to be surrounded by the worst-case scenario.
And then, championed by the State’s powerful senior Senator, potential challengers were strong-armed out of the race.
Since the get-go, we’ve had doubts about Gillibrand’s ideology and its compatibility with a progressive downstate Democratic Primary voter. Then, as she slowly moved to the center (from the right) on guns or immigration or equal rights, we wondered about her principles and commitment. But in any event, we felt she deserved a hard hitting challenge from the left.
But Congressmembers Steve Israel and Carolyn Maloney were Schumered out of the race. And Harold Ford seems to be a male carpetbagging version of the non-progressive Gillibrand.
And just when we thought we’d have to give up the quest, the New York Times reports Mort Zukerman is considering a run for Senate.
Yes, the real estate tycoon and publisher of The Daily News who has become a recognized and accomplished television talking head is toying with the idea of challenging Gillibrand.
Zuckerman, 72, has a personal wealth estimate to be about $2 billion, which immediately makes him viable.
His writings and television appearences would suggest he is a Democrat at heart, however the Times suggest his easiest path to the Senate may be as a Republican. We’d observe tht he’s no more of a Republican than his close friend Mike Bloomberg, and the Democratic Party could use both of them.
Although he is not yet in the race, and the debate has not yet started, we would think Ms. Gillibrand has failed to connect with the progressive Primary voter and Zuckerman could win their hearts and minds. And importantly, Zuckerman could caucus with the Democrats and continue to preserve a Senate majority important to our President.
It’s way too early for an endorsement, but we are going to look up Mort’s email address and send this his way.
Mort, see you in September?
Trib editor Brian Rafferty walked into my office the other day rather upset. He was upset over the hubbub of the probable closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan.
No, it wasn’t that Brian was worked up over New York losing another hospital, it was that Queens had lost three hospitals in a matter of months last year – two at one time – and the Governor and the powers that be did not express the same concern they seem to be over a single closing in Manhattan.
Now we don’t have the figures and don’t know if a single St. Vincent’s is more vital to the health of Manhattan-folk than St. John’s, Mary Immaculate and Parkway were to the health of the people of Queens.
We do know, when they throw money at a Manhattan problem when they didn’t at a similar Queens problem, we begin to wonder if the powers that be really understand the role of the outer boroughs and specifically Queens in the vitality and well being of our city.
Michael Schenkler can be reached via this contact form.
War on Fraud: U.S. Attorney & DOI Following Money Trail
By HENRY STERN
A political maelstrom (less than a tsunami) has been caused by the arrest Tuesday of Councilman Larry Seabrook for numerous crimes. The charges are mostly fraud and larceny, with a side order of forgery (amending his bagel bill from $7 to $177). That was the same day the State Senate expelled Hiram Monserrate for slashing his girlfriend after he was elected but before he took office. In his freshman year, he switched back and forth between the parties with control of the Senate in the balance, which did not endear him to his colleagues. The cases are unrelated, lust and anger in one, greed and gluttony in the other.
The coincidence of the two events, as well as the award of an extremely large contract at Aqueduct race track to a firm supported by former Congressman Floyd Flake and Senate Majority Leader (in name only) Malcolm Smith, set up a feeding frenzy in the hunt for corrupt politicians. It is widely believed that the sticky fingers syndrome that strikes elected officials goes beyond Assemblymen Brian McLaughlin and Anthony Seminerio, Assemblywoman Diane Gordon and former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, and City Councilmembers Miguel Martinez and Larry Seabrook (limiting ourselves to elected officials recently convicted or sentenced, except for Seabrook, who enjoys the legal presumption of innocence). Former Comptroller Alan Hevesi remains in limbo.
Press attention has now focused on three other lawmakers as possible lawbreakers: Assemblywoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo of the Bronx, Senator Malcolm Smith of Queens and Congressman Gregory Meeks of Queens. Meeks succeeded his pastor, Rev. Floyd Flake, as Congressman in 1997. Smith and Meeks are regarded as proteges of Flake, who is the influential leader of a cathedral-sized church in southeastern Queens, with a host of subsidiaries. It was Flake who met with Gov. Paterson shortly after the video lottery terminal contract was awarded to the Aqueduct Entertainment Group. No legal action has been taken against any of these officials; their transactions are said to be the subjects of enhanced scrutiny by law.
The whiff of scandal has also enmeshed the New Direction Local Development Corporation, a Southeast Queens “nonprofit” funded by member items from legislators. The latest mystery comes from $31,000 said to have been collected by the group seeking contributions for Haitian earthquake relief. Only a few thousand dollars seem to be on hand at this time, and no one can account for where the rest of the money went. Some principals of NDLDC are said to be friends and former employees of Smith and Meeks.
It is not unusual that the discovery of one fraud leads to the unmasking of others. It is here that the city’s Department of Investigation, because of its experience in dealing with city officials’ misconduct, has a particular role to play. DOI was very helpful in the Seabrook, Martinez and McLaughlin cases. Under the leadership of Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn, the agency investigated these jointly with the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York. The current U.S. Attorney, Preet Bharara, former chief counsel to Senator Schumer, acknowledged this co-operation while announcing the Seabrook indictment. Commissioner Hearn made the point on that occasion that additional oversight is needed, including the introduction of a competitive element into the process of selecting member items for funding.
Competition between agencies has adversely affected the United States’ ability to gather and distribute intelligence on the national scale. It is refreshing to note that, in New York City, the federal and municipal agencies fighting corruption work together closely. They have the difficult task of rooting out the thieves and cheaters, some of them elected officials, who swarm whenever the government spends money, particularly when contractors or phony non-profits seek to dip deeply into the honeypot.