Open Seats, Fair Fights
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
The parade of candidates started early this year. I guess it’s the fact that for the first time in years, we will have three vacant Assembly seats where “fair fights” will probably occur.
Ah, a vacant seat, the stuff political junkies thrive on. Even in these times of anti-Albany, anti-incumbency, nation’s most dysfunctional legislature, throw the bums out, incumbents seem to survive at an alarmingly high rate.
The (ab)use of State mail and staff, the outrageous financial support of special interest groups, the organized party, the unreasonable ballot access process and the name rec built up over years of failed Albany performance slants the playing field to a point that incumbents just don’t lose.
So when a seat opens up, it’s a free-for-all. And we have three Assembly free-for-alls on tap in Queens this election cycle.
Jose Peralta’s defeat of Hiram Monserrate in a Special Election leaves Peralta’s 39th Assembly seat open. Apparently longtime elected wannabe and government staffer Francisco Moya will face a hard Democratic Primary from attorney and immigrant rights activist Bryan Pu-Folkes.
Watch for the Democratic primary to see if Pu-Folkes, running as an outsider, will upset the likely Dem organizational choice.
We believe the people of Queens may be looking for candidates that don’t fit the longtime Albany mold. Pu-Folkes fits that bill.
In the 26th AD where Glen Head resident Ann Margaret Carrozza has decided not to run, a busy field of candidates has a amassed.
Republican candidates in this “swing seat” are attorney Vince Tabone, GOP’s vice chair, and Rob Speranza, a police officer who ran against Carrozza last time.
Putting their Democratic campaign efforts together are: Matt Silverstein, Prez of NYS Young Dems; Steve Behar, former Council candidate and Avella staffer; Elio Forcina, Whitestone attorney; and Michael Sais, chief of staff Assemblyman Mike Gianaris.
Flirting with the race but less likely to pull the trigger are: Carol Gresser, former Board of Ed president and 2001 candidate for Queens Beep; John Duane, Assemblyman who represented the District in the Assembly more than a decade ago, and brother of Manhattan State Senator Tom Duane, who insiders believe is using this to find his way to a judgeship; and Debra Markell, former City Council candidate and district manager of CB 2, who insiders believe is really angling for Carrozza’s Democratic District Leadership.
But impressively off and running, taking the race to the rest of the field, Community Board 11 member and Assembly staffer Ed Braunstein who held an impressive, well-attended kick-off last weekend and indications are that he will out-raise the field in the all-important money area.
There’s not an outsider in the bunch and none of these candidates can really run against the system -- though they may try to -- look for organization and money to control this one.
Aravella Simotas and Jeremiah Frei-Pearson, two bright, young, impressive candidates, are squaring off to replace Mike Gianaris in the Assembly – Gianaris will take George Onorato’s Senate seat with little or no opposition. Aravella, the insider in this race, with the endorsement of the present Assemblymember, appears to be using his influence to insure her election. She has all but been guaranteed the support of the Democratic Organization in the Primary.
But don’t count Jeremiah Frei-Pearson out. As a lawyer, Jeremiah has spent his career fighting to give voice to foster children and others who have been shut out and shoved aside by our political system. He strongly believes that New York state government must work because our children need better schools, we all need quality healthcare, and we need a government that can tackle the serious economic problems we are facing. He is committed to working toward that end.
While Aravella places her priority as bringing home the bacon for the District, Jeremiah recognizes that Albany does not serve the people of his District or the State and places his priority at fixing the dysfunction in the State legislature.
It could be a classic battle of inside vs. outside. And while Aravella’s path of lining up the party’s support and promising to focus on fighting for the District’s share in Albany has been the typical path of victory in the Dem Primary, have the people reached their limit of Albany abuse and will they embrace Jeremiah’s vow to devote himself to changing Albany?
We’ll be watching.
Queens Mortgage Fraud Called Worst in the U.S.
By HENRY STERN
By HENRY STERN
The impasse between the governor and the legislature continues, with New York State’s budget now three-plus weeks overdue. There is no prospect of a swift resolution. The legislature has proposed roughly $6 billion in reductions; the deficit is $9.2 billion. That leaves a balance of $3.2 billion. Normally that gap would be closed by one-shots, by sweeping accounts holding agency revenues into the general fund, and by borrowing, either directly or through the back channel of authorities and other public bodies.
This year more attention has been paid to what may be euphemistically called “alternate sources of revenue.” If the last $3 billion in the gap is to be closed by reduced appropriations, thousands of state, county and city employees will face layoffs. With unemployment close to 10 percent, and above 15 percent among older workers and the less educated, the job prospects for those laid off will not be bright.
Although the stock market has recovered most of the loss it sustained in what is now called The Great Recession, there remain numerous severe problems in real estate, particularly commercial property. Major losses lie ahead for thousands of banks who have lent out more than the current value of the property which is collateral for the loan, or the mortgage. We wonder what the federal response will be when loans are not paid, property is foreclosed, and then abandoned.
Some geographic areas have been particularly hard hit because the loans made by banks or mortgage companies were fraudulent or irresponsible to begin with. The Daily News, ran a startling story:
WE’RE NO. 1 IN CROOKED MORTGAGES, Jamaica Leads the Nation in Fraudulent Home Loans. “Forget Las Vegas. Forget Miami. The No. 1 neighborhood in the U.S. for mortgage fraud is in the heart of Queens.
“A new study says a section of South Jamaica has the highest concentration of bogus loans in the nation, with zip code 11436 the absolute worst.
“First American CoreLogic, a mortgage and real estate data company, analyzed 80 million loans from Maine to Malibu from 2004 to last year.
“The firm says the fraudulent loan rate in the nine square miles of blue-collar Jamaica is four times the national level and tops other hotbeds of lousy loans like Orlando, Atlanta and Detroit.
“The fraud included lying about nonexistent income, inflating the value of homes by selling and reselling to co-conspirators, bribing appraisers and stealing deeds and identities.”
But even if loans are legitimate, and made with good intentions, they may require higher payments than the borrower will be able to afford, especially if a family member loses a job or moves out. The result can be foreclosure, leading to the abandonment of homes that, the News says, “attract vermin and squatters.” As property values decline, the value of more houses will go underwater, which leads to tenants walking away from the property.
Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch’s plan, which calls for borrowing and promises of spending reforms that may or may not be enforceable, was a compromise, seeking to avoid fiscal irresponsibility and prevent the collapse of service delivery. It envisions strict controls, externally imposed, to provide fiscal discipline. The question remains whether the legislature, a sovereign body, could extricate itself from the controls imposed to control spending. No one considers the legislature principled, so it is assumed that they will do what they can, including borrowing against projected income from tobacco bonds, to avoid making painful reductions in the workforce.
People’s anger at economic conditions adds to their distress over governmental corruption and the misbehavior of public officials. New York is not a failed, corrupt, or narco state, although it has problems in all those areas. We have a political system in which the most qualified people, those with rational, moderate solutions to problems and the ability to relate to other people, are unlikely to become candidates for public office. Being a politician means adopting a lifestyle that conflicts with family values. The candidate is often caught in a perpetual quest for attention, preferably adulation. He sees everyone through the prism of how much money they can contribute or how many votes they can influence. In some cases, he sees them as potential sexual partners, which is a less sustainable pattern than seeking money or votes.
The basis of success in politics is making people like you and support you, even when their opinions may conflict with yours on some issues. To exist in that universe requires a certain amount of dissembling. It is when that practice spills over into financial corruption, taking or giving bribes, that big trouble may, or may not, result.
We assume with confidence that, for all the politicians that are exposed, arrested and convicted, there are others whose misdeeds remain undiscovered. But the sum of thefts of property and kickbacks on contracts does not hurt the financial health of the state as much as the subservience of elected and appointed officials to lobbyists and contributors. That conduct, though outrageous, is often legal even if one cannot prove that the official was paid off or otherwise illegally rewarded. Those who do the most damage operate just within the boundaries of law. Some public employees have long ago surrendered their judgment to others as the price of re-election, promotion or the benefits of imagined friendship.
The problem of improper influence on public officials deserves a higher level of public attention than it currently receives.