Councilmember Vanessa Gibson, chair of the Public Safety Committee, has announced her plans to probe the finances and activities of the New York City Police Foundation. This foundation, which is funded by private donations, hires consultants to study the operations of the NYPD and make recommendations; in some cases, these consultants have been hired by the police department.
Longtime associates of NYPD Commissioner Bratton have apparently been among the people who have received consulting awards from the NYCPF, and several of these individuals were later hired as NYPD staff.
Councilmember Gibson told the Post that she is launching an investigation into Bratton’s relationship with the non-profit foundation, because she has “concerns about the levels of the consultants, the contracts and who’s coming in.” She explains, “You don’t want there to be any relationships that can prevent or disrupt your relationship in terms of the work you’re doing as a member or as a city agency.”
The councilmember’s concern about favoritism and perceived conflicts of interests is rather rich. Though she has been in the Council for only 18 months, she has already managed to blur the lines between her election donors and the organizations she personally allocates hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to through her discretionary “member items.”
For example, in her 2013 campaign for office, Gibson (who was at that time a member of the state Assembly) accepted contributions from 26 individual donors employed by SCAN New York. SCAN is a service provider in the South Bronx that targets at-risk youth and helps through mentoring and various programs. The 26 donors collectively gave Gibson $2,125, which doesn’t sound like much until you consider that her entire campaign raised only $110,000, most of which came from unions or other political committees. Small donations from individuals are subject to city matching funds, which multiply their effect by a factor of six.
In the FY 2015 budget Councilmember Gibson allocated $20,000 to SCAN as part of the Council’s Anti-Poverty Initiative.
Eleven employees of the 1332 Fulton Avenue Day Care Corporation contributed to the 2013 Gibson Council campaign. Gibson later awarded the non-profit organization $50,000 to provide social services to children in the district.
Four directors of the Garifuna Coalition contributed to the Gibson campaign: the organization was later given $10,000 as part of the Anti-Poverty Initiative.
The executive director of Southeast Bronx Neighborhood Centers wrote the Gibson campaign contribution checks on three separate occasions. Gibson later allocated $10,000 to Southeast Bronx Neighborhood Centers out of her pot of discretionary funds.
Are any of these organizations corrupt? Not to my knowledge. Is there anything untoward about politicians creating the perception of a quid pro quo by accepting donations from individuals associated with organizations that they later help fund? Not by the standards of the New York City Council, where that kind of thing is considered normal, even laudatory. Give the woman some credit: at least she doesn’t appear to have established a non-profit that she gives money to and then proceeds to loot, unlike some of her former and current colleagues.
The council’s discretionary funding system is premised as a way for elected officials to funnel money to local political allies who provide services to the community. This system allows the local councilmember to take credit for whatever projects or programs the city funds within the district, and thus expand his or her political base and stave off challenges.
In the case of Vanessa Gibson, the number of players in any given district is limited, and it makes sense that she would be acquainted or even friends with the same people whose groups she funds. By the same token, is it so surprising that William Bratton would have long relationships with like-minded associates in the field of criminology, whom he would recommend for grants, and perhaps hire to serve on his staff?
Cronyism is never appealing to anyone with reformist tendencies. But if Councilmember Gibson is really eager to root out favoritism in the awarding of contracts, she has ample opportunities to find it at City Hall, even in her own offices.