Left Conservative Runs Strong in District 19

Council District 19 stretches from the eastern tip of Rikers Island all the way to the border of Great Neck, and is one of the hardest districts to read with any reliability.

Still mostly white, largely suburban in layout and feel, the 19th is one of the few political swing districts in the city, where Republicans can run competitive campaigns and win, and where independent-left Democrats such as Tony Avella maintain tremendous electoral popularity.  As such, the 5-way Democratic primary race for the seat is very much a toss-up, and will likely remain so through the election. 

As we discussed earlier, lobbyist, attorney and Crowley-endorsed Paul Vallone is hoping that his brother’s appearance farther up the ballot in the Queens Beep race will give him coattails, while former Senate Dem flack Austin Shafran is pushing his labor endorsements and leveraging his ties to the old Manes establishment.  John Duane, one-term Assemblyman from the 1980s, is rumored to want a judgeship.  Chrissy Voskerichian is the former chief of staff to incumbent Member Dan Halloran.

We spoke this week to the fifth candidate for the seat, Paul Graziano, a former Green Party organizer who makes a credible case for why he poses a serious challenge to Vallone and Shafran, the two presumed leaders in the race.

Graziano, a lifetime resident of the area, is a preservationist who has fought against over-development in northeast Queens for twenty years.  He argues that his press clippings, which are indeed extensive, are not simply “announcements of candidacy for office like my opponents’, but demonstrate commitment and actual work for the community.”  Graziano worked for Tony Avella as a consultant on rezoning, and credits himself with having protected vast swaths of the district from over-development.

Dismissing the backing of Austin Shafran by labor and of Paul Vallone by County, Graziano stresses the political irrelevance of those forces to northeast Queens.  “The only union that matters in the district is the UFT,” he says, “and even their members are turned off by the leadership.  And nobody around here cares about who Joe Crowley or Grace Meng are backing.”

According to Graziano, the real power brokers in the district are several dozen local civic and homeowner associations.  “When people have a question or problem, they don’t go to the political club or to the local elected: they go to the civic association.” Graziano claims that his decades of work in the community have won him the trust and respect of civic leaders and property owners.

Tony Avella, who rarely endorses anyone for office, has come out for Graziano, and the candidate is confident that Avella’s shiny reputation for clean government and independence will help him as Election Day approaches.  “I don’t say that I will necessarily win,” says Graziano, “but I can promise you that I will be competitive.”

Were Graziano to win, hypothetically, the Democratic primary, the drama would not be over for the 19th District.  Paul Vallone has the Independence Party line, and Austin Shafran won the WFP nod.  Republican Dennis Saffran is a strong candidate, and so the general election could easily become a 4-way battle.

In what has come increasingly to resemble a one-party state, it is nice to know that there are still parts of the city where the electoral season isn’t over in September.


Gay Center Cheerful: "Corey Asked Us to Do It"

There was never any intention to turn this blog into a constant revelation of the misdeeds of CD 3 candidate Corey Johnson's campaign.  But as Nixon showed us, when you try to cover things up, you usually make things worse for yourself.  So don't blame us when it is Corey Johnson cutting off the Hydra heads of his own corruption.

Last month, City Council Watch began looking into Corey Johnson's actual work history, which was not given in any detail in his campaign material.  We found a fairly extensive resume on the website of the LGBT Center, where Johnson had participated on a panel in 2011.  The bio discussed Johnson's work for real estate developer GFI.  

We called the Johnson campaign and asked a few questions about GFI.  When we returned to the Gay Center website, we found that Corey Johnson's bio had been removed entirely, though there was a cached version available.  See here and here for comparison's sake. 

The Gay Center is a non-profit that receives City funds in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, and by law is forbidden to do any political work on behalf of an electoral campaign.  We wondered about how the scrubbing of Johnson's bio was authorized, so we called Mary Steyer, the Director of Communication for the Center and asked her about it. 

Mary Steyer, who could not be more helpful, looked into the matter and called us back.  "I investigated the issue and have an answer," she announced cheerfully.  "Corey Johnson called the webmaster and asked him to remove the bio."   

Mary Steyer was puzzled when we suggested that helping a prominent candidate for office bury information about himself might not be in the mission statement of a major non-profit organization, and didn't see what the issue was.  "He said the info was outdated, and it didn't strike us as odd."

 (Let me point out that the Gay Center, on 13th Street, is in the 3rd Council District, where Corey Johnson is running.  The Center receives major allocations from Corey Johnson's advocate Speaker Christine Quinn.  It was until recently headed by Mario Palumbo, Jr., a Johnson contributor and partner at Millennium Partners, a highly-connected real estate development firm.  The Gay Center is a large and politically-connected non-profit group in the middle of the West Village.  I imagine someone on the staff there must have an idea about what constitutes best practices when it comes to dealing with political campaigns.)

On the other hand, as we have said before, we aren't campaign law experts.  Maybe one of you is.




Picturesque This!

From my new column at City & State

The City Council funding process is so intentionally opaque, so jackstraw and piecemeal that it should not even be a surprise to find the Members from Kew Gardens or the Upper West Side sponsoring $75,000 allocations for the High Line.  Yet even one of the sponsoring council members in question was surprised to discover that she had been credited, in the 2013 FY Budget, with such an unusual allocation.  CM Gale Brewer, asked why she had given money to the High Line, which is not in her district, flatly denied the designation, insisting, “First time I ever heard about it.”

Read the rest of it there

Corey Johnson's Continuing Deceptions

CD 3 candidate Corey Johnson misrepresents his role in developing affordable housing in Brooklyn, repeatedly taking credit for a project that not only has no affordable housing: it has no housing at all.

Last month, City Council Watch broke the story of Corey Johnson’s work for real estate developer GFI, which he had scrubbed from his record.  In response, Johnson has changed his campaign website, adding some information about his work history and his present employment:

[…serving] at GFI Development Company on community outreach on two hotel projects in Manhattan and an affordable housing related project in Brooklyn. Corey currently works part-time in LGBT marketing at the Sydell Group.

The “affordable housing related project” Johnson refers to is 470 Vanderbilt Avenue, in Fort Greene.  The building, a former tire factory which was at one point supposed to house tech companies, stood in disuse before GFI bought it in 2008 with plans to rehab the building as mixed-use residential and commercial space, ideally capturing a major City agency as a long-term tenant.

As part of the deal to allow GFI to build out the structure and sign the Human Resources Agency to a 20-year lease, the company agreed to build a 350-unit residential building on the site of the building’s parking lot.  The company, after negotiations with local Council Member Letitia James, agreed to include 90 affordable units, more than the usual 20% allowance in such projects.

Corey Johnson worked for the GFI development team at 470 Vanderbilt, and at a West Village community forum on June 19, he made a strong case for the good work he and GFI did in increasing the stock of affordable housing in Brooklyn.  Video was taken of his speech, and we have transcribed his comments:

One more thing, to be fully transparent:  the same company that built that hotel on 29th and Broadway, they were going to do a residential building in Fort Greene in Brooklyn, on a former manufacturing lot.  They asked me to come in and work with the local community board in Fort Greene, and the local Council Member, to make sure there was an affordable housing component to that building.  When we started off, before I came in, they were going to do 20% affordable housing.  When the rezoning was over, I got them up to 26% affordable housing, and maximized the number of two-bedrooms, for people in the community that needed affordable housing.

Sounds great!  Between this impassioned and detailed description of all the affordable two-bedroom apartments Corey Johnson fought to build, and his discussion of the project on his website, who can deny that Corey Johnson and GFI are a force for good?  As he says, he single-handedly pushed GFI to increase the amount of affordable housing they were going to build.

The only problem is that none of the housing was ever built470 Vanderbilt is an office building.  Nobody lives there, and nobody can live there, because the entire lot, including the part where the residential units were to be built, was zoned as commercial real estate by GFI in 2011, while Johnson was still employed by the company.

Corey Johnson hedged the impact of his work on 470 Vanderbilt when, on his campaign website, he speaks of an “affordable housing related project.”  But when he spoke at the community forum he  lost control of what he was saying: he takes full credit for plans that were never realized.  The two-bedrooms that he is bragging about having built “for people in the community” do not exist. 

We spoke to Council Member James about what happened to the affordable housing component of the 470 Vanderbilt project.  She commented about the problem of getting developers to commit to actually building what they promise to build, and noted that this problem is endemic to the land use process in New York City generally.

Regarding 470 Vanderbilt, CM James said, “I pushed very hard to get affordable housing established in that project. Corey was part of the development team, and he may have negotiated behind the scenes.  I don’t know the extent of his work on the project.  However, unfortunately, the lot is still a parking lot.”

So, according to the council member with whom Corey Johnson claims to have worked to build more affordable housing, his involvement was vague at best, and James has no specific recollection of his participation. 

We thought that Corey Johnson was slightly deceptive when he tried to deflect attention from his professional association with a real estate developer, but many candidates for office massage their bios, and it isn’t necessarily a major sin.  However, we now see Johnson making public speeches where he overstates and distorts his role in land use negotiations, and furthermore, brags passionately about fantasy residential developments that were never built, as though people are actually living in them!

Corey Johnson builds castles in air and is irate when his good faith is challenged.  We have heard a lot of grandiose megalomaniacal politicians talk wildly about their achievements, but they usually take credit for things that actually exist. Johnson appears to be an utter fabulist, an egoist with scant regard for reality, pointing at a barren lot and waving at all the happy people he has housed there.


Ruben Wills' 3-Ring Circus

Council Member Ruben Wills was back in the news this week when it turned out that he had allocated more than $30,000 in discretionary funds to the Young Leaders Institute, whose own leader, Van Holmes, was arrested for stealing money from the non-profit.  Wills, like Holmes a protégé and beneficiary of Shirley Huntley and her largesse, faces similar suspicions about a non-profit he himself founded, New Yorkers 4 Life, from which $30,000 has gone missing.

The FY 2012 budget records that Wills made a $28,000 allocation to YLI in 2011, his largest single discretionary line item. Wills’ campaign spokesperson, arguably splitting hairs, insists that this figure represents the combined disbursements of 2010 ($11,000) and 2011 ($17,000).  However, given Wills took office at the end of 2010, five months after the FY 2011 budget had been passed, it isn’t clear that there are any hairs to split anyway.

The spokesperson also explained that Ruben Wills is “committed to assisting the Attorney General to root out corruption in the City Council, and has not been charged with any crimes.”  When asked about reports that Wills had ducked meetings with the AG’s office about New Yorkers 4 Life, and even walked out of a meeting, the spokesperson answered, “the Council Member had several other meetings with the Attorney General.”

An odd item appears in CM Wills latest campaign filing: a sizeable contribution from his own defense attorney.  Steve Zissou, a noted Queens criminal defense lawyer, and Zissou’s associate Christopher Renfroe, each gave the Wills campaign $1,150 in the past month. Zissou’s other prominent clients include Christopher “Dudas” Coke, the drug kingpin whose 2010 arrest in Kingston by the Jamaican military resulted in more than 70 confirmed deaths, and drug-related murderer Richard “Buju” Gilliam.

There is no particular reason why a politician shouldn’t accept campaign money from his own defense attorney: the CFB manual says nothing about it.  It may make good sense from the attorney’s point of view, especially if re-election could lead to more business, but it seems strange.  Edward Wilford never contributed to Larry Seabrook’s campaigns, and Joseph Tacopina never gave money to Hiram Monserrate.  Miguel Martinez didn’t get any contributions from George Bellinger, and Shirley Huntley never got anything from Sally Butler.

On the other hand, Dan Halloran has taken contributions from his attorney Dennis Ring, who also used to be his chief of staff…maybe Halloran is the exception that proves the rule.

Ruben Wills ran into some trouble in mid-June when, according to the Post, he “saw a group of about 20 youngsters go into [Baisley Pond] park at about 12:15 p.m. and followed them because he thought they looked suspicious.”  One of the youths flashed a gun at the Council Member.

Given the hubbub that ensued in Florida when a community watchman followed a “suspicious looking” youth to see what he was up to, is it tendentious to ask what Wills was thinking?  What makes a bunch of kids going into the park at lunchtime suspicious?  The article does not say what the kids looked like, but the scenario raises the question of what does and what does not constitute “profiling.” 

Wills’ spokesman says the Post has it wrong.  “He did not follow some people because they looked suspicious,” she says.  “He saw an altercation about to transpire and he went to break it up.”

In either version of the story, is this behavior foolish or heroic?  Noble or insane?  Wills is neither a police officer nor a trained mediator. In a sense he is fantastically lucky that he wasn’t beaten up or shot.  On one hand we have to admire the grit and sense of civic duty that led him to intervene; on the other, we have to ask when and in what circumstances we should make the assumptions that lead to such interventions.   Wills’ instincts about the situation were correct, as it turns out, but his judgment about what to do about it was, sadly, flawed.


Queens Members Supported Bogus Young Leaders Institute

Van Holmes’ arrest today should implicate four sitting Council members who have dealt with his bogus “Young Leaders Institute.”

Holmes, whose organization received most of its funding from former Sen. Shirley Huntley, is accused of having pocketed $77,000 out of $80,000 in recorded government disbursements.  The group’s early tax filings are filled out in a nearly illegible scrawl, and record Holmes’ annual compensation as $100,000.  No other officers or employees are listed.

The Young Leaders Institute also received substantial money from the City Council.  In 2011, Council Members Ruben Wills, Leroy Comrie, James Sanders and Mark Weprin gave a combined $40,000 to Holmes’ group.  Wills allocated $28,500 to the organization, by far his largest single discretionary grant that year.

Ruben Wills, another Huntley protégé, has his own problems with a fake non-profit group, New Yorkers 4 Life, which he established for seemingly the same purpose as the Young Leaders Institute: as a way to get government money for personal use.

In 2012, Wills’ discretionary funding was stripped from him and superintended by the head of the Queens Council delegation, Leroy Comrie, who together with Mark Weprin steered a mere $8,500 to the Young Leaders Institute.

Van Holmes has made campaign contributions to his benefactors on the Council.  Leroy Comrie received $440, Wills $200 and Donovan Richards $100. 


District 19: Paul Vallone, Coming and Going

Following his arrest for charges of bribery, District 19 Council Member Dan Halloran decided not to run for re-election, and opened the field up to a number of well-connected contenders hoping to take his seat.  

Austin Shafran, former mouthpiece for the Senate Dems and the Empire Development Corporation, has leveraged his mother's position in the Teamsters Union to great effect, and has snapped up endorsements from labor and the establishment.  He has even garnered contributions from the executives of the Epoch Times, so at least we know he is solid on Red China.

John Duane, brother of former state Senator Tom Duane, was an assembly one-termer back in 1982, and is seeking his grand return to elected office now.  He caused a minor scandal 30 years ago when his campaign, supposedly without his knowledge, released a forged letter of endorsement from then-Senator Frank Padavan. Devoted corruption-watchers will thrill to know that a young(ish) Carl Kruger organized the dirty tricks on behalf of Duane, who lost his re-election bid in 1984.

Paul Vallone, of the Astoria Vallones, took up technical residency in Flushing in the 1990s, though he continued voting in Astoria until 2004.  He vied for the nomination in 2009 and lost, and has decided to try again.  Paul Vallone has been active in the community in the usual way, serving on the community board, cleaning up graffiti, “singing Christmas Carols at Queens Cerebral Palsy Homes for almost 30 years,” etc., etc.

Professionally, Paul Vallone is listed as the Managing Partner of Vallone & Vallone, a legendary Astoria law firm founded by his grandfather in the 1930s.  The firm, however, no longer seems to exist as an independent entity.  Its website is non-functional.  Furthermore, Paul Vallone and his father Peter, Sr., and the firm of Vallone & Vallone itself, are listed as “of counsel” to Sacco & Fillas, another Queens law firm.

It is rather unusual (possibly unheard of, and possibly unacceptable) for an entire law firm to be of counsel to another law firm, and probably represents a kind of end-run around regulations against fee splitting arrangements.  In other words, the Vallone name carries a lot of weight and generates phone calls, but the firm farms out the legal legwork to Sacco & Fillas, and is officially of counsel to keep things looking ethical. 

Paul Vallone’s bio on the Sacco & Fillas website notes that Vallone & Vallone “can get you through the door from staff to principal,” and indicates the real value of the Vallone name: influence.  Indeed, the actual family business since Peter Vallone the Elder left politics has been lobbying city government on behalf of a variety of clients through the firm Constantinople & Vallone.

Paul Vallone doesn’t say it anywhere in his campaign information, but he is officially registered as a Constantinople & Vallone lobbyist, along with his father and his brother Perry.  A number of Paul Vallone’s major campaign contributors are among his lobbying clients.  For instance, Deborah Gaslow of Boca Raton contributed the maximum $2,750 to the campaign.  Ms. Gaslow is the wife of Peter Gaslow, owner of furniture maker Empire Office, which has paid Constantine & Vallone $40,000 over the last 18 months.       

The owner and senior employees of Mega Contracting have donated more than $3,000 to the campaigns of both Paul and Peter Vallone, Jr., while Mega Contracting has paid Constantinople & Vallone $240,000 in fees since 2010.  Mega Contracting, incidentally, has been awarded contracts for the construction and rehabbing of a number of municipal projects, including NYCHA houses, MTA station upgrades, and work on schools, police precincts and city hospitals.

So Paul Vallone has represented these folks as a lobbyist, and hopes to continue to represent his former clients when he takes office.  Seems like putting the cart before the horse, doesn’t it? The usual trajectory of a political career is first to be a public servant and eat bread from the sweat of one’s brow, and then after a time to leave office and cash in as a lobbyist.  Paul Vallone is reversing the typical course of a political career, starting out as a lobbyist, and then seeking elected office!  It looks as though the revolving door revolves both ways.


Rory Lancman: The Sad Fate of District 24

Former Assemblyman Rory Lancman has been avidly seeking a better job for several years.  In early 2012 he announced his intention to run against Bob Turner for Anthony Weiner’s old seat, but was hobbled in his search when the 9th Congressional District was eliminated.  The new district, the 6th CD, had been designed to be New York’s first “Asian seat,” and Lancman annoyed Queens County Dem bosses when he decided to play the spoiler in Grace Meng’s run.  In the end, Meng won an absolute majority of the vote against Lancman and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, and a week after the November election the outgoing Assemblyman announced his intention to run for the 24th Council District, held for three terms by the term limited James Gennaro.

Lancman lucked out when two of his competitors for the nomination dropped out of the race: Isaac Sasson, lottery winner and election perennial, and Martha Taylor, popular district leader and activist, who appeared to have the support of Queens powerbroker Joe Crowley.  Health problems sidelined Taylor, and Sasson has decided to focus on philanthropy, leaving Lancman a virtually clear shot at the Council seat in central Queens.

So who exactly are they getting at the southern end of Utopia Parkway?  As an assemblyman Rory Lancman liked to promote alarming-sounding bills, preferably containing the word “terrorism.”  His most notable piece of legislation is the “Libel Terrorism Protection Act,” which would shield New Yorkers from libel judgments in countries that make it particularly easy to establish defamation, i.e. Britain.  The New York law addressed a legal problem commonly known as “libel tourism,” or the practice of shopping a case to find a favorable jurisdiction.  Changing “tourism” to “terrorism” may have helped Lancman win headlines, but resulted in the meaningless phrase “libel terrorism.”  Why not a bill addressing “arson robbery” or “rape embezzlement?”

Along similar lines we have the “Non-Profit Homeland Security Preparedness Study Act,” which requires the state to examine the “security needs of New York State non-for-profit institutions and what resources and strategies are available to assist with providing security.”  The initial survey of non-profit groups revealed the startling fact that “88% identified funding as a needed resource.”

One week following the allegations that Dominique Strauss-Kahn had raped a maid at the midtown Sofitel, Rory Lancman announced, at a press conference outside the hotel, that he would introduce a bill to ensure that chambermaids be given alarm buttons in case they are set upon.  As Lancman ominously described it, “We send hotel workers into rooms. By themselves. With no security.”  And here we are, several years later, and people are still entering rooms.  By themselves.  With no security.

Rory Lancman’s real work, however, has been in the service of his own guild, trial lawyers.  He agitated vigorously for a bill called the “Institutional Investor Recovery Act.”  This law would supposedly strengthen the unusually robust Martin Act, which gives the New York Attorney General practically unlimited power to prosecute securities fraud, with the terms “security” and “fraud” defined as broadly as imaginable.  The IIRA piggybacked on the anti-bank sentiment of the post-collapse Occupy Era, and promised implicitly to “recover” the moneys lost by large pension funds as the stock market went down.  The real function of the act would be to empower securities fraud lawyers with the authority of the AG to go wildcatting.  Did the fund lose money?  Let’s sue!

Maybe it would have been a great spur for social justice if the bill had passed.  Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann certainly thought so.  BLB&G is one of the largest law firms in securities litigation, and recently negotiated a $730 million settlement out of Citigroup, for which they requested $146 million in fees.  Passage of the IIRA would give BLB&G latitude to pursue settlements of this size with an unprecedented degree of freedom.  In their self-published magazine “The Advocate for Institutional Investors” BLB&G came out strong for Lancman’s bill.  The firm and its employees have also contributed at least $7500 towards Lancman’s campaign.

Rory Lancman has also been a vigorous advocate for worker safety, and chaired the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety.  Some of the contacts he made in that role paid off for him after he left the Assembly: the personal injury and class-action “mass tort” law firm Moretti Ratner (partners of which contributed $10,000 to his campaign) hired Lancman at some point in the last year, it appears.  In what seems to be a theme this electoral season, the candidate does not mention his actual day job in any of his campaign material. 

Just as a piquant endnote to this article, we direct your attention to Alex Adjmi, part of the Adjmi real estate family, which owns a great many high-profile buildings.  Alex Adjmi contributed the maximum $2750 to the Lancman campaign in January of this year.  Some years ago, in an earlier chapter of his life, Mr. Adjmi served 44 months in federal prison for laundering tens of millions of dollars in cash for South American cocaine cartels.  Pecunia non olet and all that, but surely there are some limits!


District 48: Who Watches the Watchman?

With a certain Florida neighborhood watch group so much in the news, New Yorkers might be puzzled to note that we have such groups operating here as well.  And not only within gated communities either, and not necessarily privately funded.  So let’s take a look at New York City’s own paramilitary, quasi-religious and City Council funded neighborhood watch groups, the founder of one of which is currently a leading candidate for City Council.

Chaim Deutsch, founder of the Flatbush Shomrim, (Hebrew for “watchers”) is hoping to succeed his boss Council Member Michael Nelson in the 48th CD, straddling Ocean Avenue and crossing Sheepshead Bay to encompass Brighton and Manhattan Beach.  The Flatbush Shomrim, founded in 1991 in the immediate wake of the Crown Heights riots, is staffed primarily by Orthodox Jewish men (typically “married or divorced”) who patrol the neighborhood and ostensibly serve strictly as the “eyes and ears” for the police.  There are a number of these Jewish shomrim groups throughout Brooklyn, and they operate in loose conjunction with each other.

The problem is that the shomrim, as neighborhood watchmen everywhere seem to do, sometimes get carried away with the grandeur of their own self-appointed authority.  In 2011, for example, when Leiby Kletzky disappeared on his way home, his parents notified not the NYPD, but the local shomrim organization, the Brooklyn South Shomrim, which called upon the Flatbush Shomrim to help look for the child.  Neither group contacted the police, although the boy’s father eventually did.  Unfortunately the amateur detectives wasted precious time examining security footage and his abductor killed the boy.

The Flatbush Shomrim receives public funding, in substantial amounts.  The 2014 budget earmarks $63,500 for the group in discretionary funding, from Council Members Michael Nelson, Lew Fidler, Jumaane Williams, and David Greenfield, in descending order of amounts given.  The Flatbush Shomrim also possesses a $250,000 command and control van, modeled on and decorated like an NYPD vehicle, which was paid for by Council funding in 2009.  The group operates in close conjunction with the local precinct, and acts much like a quasi-auxiliary force, with special jackets and flashing lights on their vehicles.

Chaim Deutsch is a Council employee, working as “chief of operations” for CM Michael Nelson.  Because his boss provides so much funding to the Flatbush Shomrim, Deutsch is no longer listed as an officer of the organization in its IRS documents.  But he is still closely associated with the group, and is frequently mentioned as its “leader.” 

Deutsch gained a great deal of visibility during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when he participated in salvage and clean-up of Manhattan Beach and other neighborhoods.  He became popularly identified with a chainsaw he carried around, blitzing fallen trees until the city ordered him to stop.  He supposedly even “rescued” CM Nelson from drowning.  His legitimate indefatigability and seemingly good works post-storm have raised his standing in the community, and when he announced his bid for the Council he shocked everyone with the speed of his fundraising, essentially maxing out his contributions in less than a month.  As the leading non-Russian in the field, Deutsch has quickly become the odds-on favorite for the nomination, and also has support from the growing Muslim minority population in the district, with whom Deutsch has built a coalition through his years of public safety work in the area.

City Council Watch is not endorsing or gainsaying Chaim Deutsch.  But we definitely think it is weird that the city, which already has a police force larger than many national armies, funds private security groups composed exclusively of Orthodox Jews to patrol public streets.  As Michael Lesher, a prominent Orthodox critic of the shomrim puts it, “If the Nation of Islam were to set up a private force of Muslims, ostensibly to scour Harlem for ‘bias crimes,’ would City Council members be heaping public money into its coffers?”

Probably not.  But that’s New York!


District 5: Micah Kellner, Wine Salesman and Derby Tout

Last month City Council Watch brought you the story of Assemblymember Micah Kellner and his vigorous efforts on behalf of the Vehicle Production Group and its miracle taxi.  (In case you missed it, the New York Post recapped it yesterday.)  To refresh your memories, Kellner was given more than $20,000 upon completion of his favorable testimony before the TLC.  Unfortunately, things went sour for VPG, and it isn’t likely that much more money will be flowing from that company to the Kellner campaign, now that the government has seized its remaining assets.

However, Micah Kellner made sure to cover his bets, and has brought his dedication to product placement to the service of several other industries.  For example, Kellner has agitated for an end to New York State’s prohibition of the sale of wine in grocery stores.  In 2009 Micah Kellner wrote an editorial for the Buffalo News in which he spoke of allowing supermarkets to sell wine as a “sacred responsibility.”

In 2010 Kellner brandished a “smoking gun” which, he claimed, proved that liquor manufacturer Diageo had improperly worked on behalf of liquor stores trying to preserve their franchise.

In 2011 Kellner, citing a study by “New Yorkers for Economic Growth and Open Markets,” a coalition of wine producers and the food industry, called allowing grocery stores to sell wine “the ultimate win-win-win.”

In 2012 Kellner wrote to the New York Times that the inability to buy wine in supermarkets is the supreme “inconvenience” for New Yorkers.

Here is what he got: $21,600 in NYS and NYC donations from grocery store owners and lobbyists.  Kellner received money from Devon Fredericks and William Wachtel (Zabar family spouses); John Catsimatidis (Gristedes); Howard Glickberg (Fairway); Daniel Wegman (Wegman’s); Whole Foods; Joni Yoswein (New Yorkers for Economic Growth and Open Markets); and a variety of wine and beer wholesalers around the city.

Another good fight that Micah Kellner has been waging is the restoration of Off-Track Betting in bars and restaurants.  Horseplayers and simple devotees of the sport of kings apparently have been at a loss since the last OTB closed its doors.  We read:

Using the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands to make his point, New York Assemblyman Micah Kellner, who represents Manhattan, railed on officials for not moving to offer offtrack betting at bars and restaurants in New York City…

“How is it that New York is such a bad bookie that we can’t make a buck on Derby day?” Kellner said in a May 5 release. “On the day of the most famous race in the country, New York has to get back on the horse. The New York Racing, Wagering and Gaming Commission, with its stalling, is forcing not only the hardcore handicapper but the casual Kentucky Derby fan to scratch from the race.”

Did anyone else know that the Kentucky Derby is now officially called “the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands?”  I didn’t.  But I bet that Micah Kellner does, as he received $4000 in donations from Yum! Brands between 2010 and 2012.

Incidentally, the only other politician to get money in that period from Yum! Brands was Governor Cuomo, and he only got $1000.  Micah isn’t cheap, but he works hard.

So it is good to know that Micah Kellner is on the front lines, working to ensure that New Yorkers can buy a pint of Thunderbird at the local grocery store, put it in their pockets, and then head over to the nearest bar and blow the milk money on the ponies.


District 7: Open Seat Scramble in Upper Manhattan

Few council districts have been as radically altered by redistricting as District 7, which used to comprise west Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood up to the Harlem River, and which has essentially been bumped south about 40 or 50 blocks.  District 7 now includes Manhattan Valley, Morningside Heights and Washington Heights only up to 165th Street.

Demographically the new district is now whiter, more Asian, slightly more Hispanic, and substantially less black.  The current Council Member, Robert Jackson, is term-limited and the open seat and new boundaries have thrown the race wide open in a kind of electoral land rush.  At least 10 and perhaps as many as 18 hopefuls are currently petitioning to get on the ballot, and a number of prominent District 7 candidates have found themselves living not just in adjoining districts, but two districts away from the people they plan to represent.

City Council Watch interviewed five of the highest-profile candidates in the CD 7 race in order to bring some perspective to this free-for-all.

Mark Levine is currently a district leader, and drew attention in 2010 when he ran a tough race against Adriano Espaillat to replace Eric Schneiderman in the State Senate.  Levine has mended fences with Espaillat, drawn endorsements from the most elected officials and labor unions, and is widely considered the front-runner if not the presumptive winner, to the annoyance of the rest of the field.  A resident of Washington Heights until very recently, Levine has just relocated to Hamilton Heights to comply with the rules of primary domicile.

Levine spoke of himself as “passionate about schools,” having taught in NYC schools for two years in the early days of Teach for America, whose New York chapter he later led as executive director.   He “dissents strongly from the Bloomberg [education] legacy, starting with how teachers have been treated,” saying that educators have been “demonized and blamed” and that they “need to get the tools they need,” rather than “punished” by the “emphasis on high-stakes testing.”

It is no surprise that Mark Levine has the support of the powerful UFT, and he describes himself as “unabashedly pro-union.”  Yet he walks a fine and cautious line, as he is also a proponent of charter schools.  He has accepted significant contributions from Ravenel Boykin Curry, a wealthy supporter of education reform and trustee of Girls Prep charter school, which made the news in 2010 when Joel Klein used emergency powers to displace the public school program for autistic children with which Girls Prep was co-located.   

Levine argues that charter schools must be “accountable,” and mandated to accept special education and English language learner students in proportion to their population in the district, and cites the Green Dot schools as models of how charter schools should operate.  Green Dot schools have what are called “thin contracts” with their teachers, where the teachers forgo tenure for higher pay, and a pension plan for a corporate-style defined contribution retirement plan.  Mark Levine contrasts the Green Dot model with the controversial Success Academy approach of Eva Moskowitz, whom he criticizes as “unnecessarily hostile and critical towards traditional schools,” adding that “the tone she takes towards unions is misguided.”

However, we see that these lines are not so sharp: Gideon Stein, founder of Green Dot, is a major contributor  to the Levine campaign, and he is also Vice-Chair of Success Academy.  One can’t fault Mark Levine for dancing with the education reform crowd and also making nice to the UFT: the future of education is very much in flux and nobody knows how it will all play out. 

In any case, Levine “feels great about the coalition” he has built and speaks of himself as someone who can “bring together the most diverse district in Manhattan."

Zead Ramadan, former head of NY-CAIR, is campaigning to be the first Arab-American elected to the Council.   Former Chair of CB 12 and a small business owner (he is the proprietor of the X Café at the site of the former Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was assassinated), Ramadan stresses his deep ties to upper Manhattan, where he has spent much of his life since emigrating from Kuwait as a child, and his work in promoting economic development in Upper Manhattan. 

“People used to leave the area to go out to dinner,” says Ramadan, who points to the burgeoning nightlife scene on Dyckman Street as one of his successes.  He also claims that he has done more for Upper Manhattan job creation “than the rest of the other candidates put together.”  Ramadan also emphasizes the need for more “affordable housing,” a shibboleth in local politics that every single candidate solemnly swears by, and for supplemental education to assist local kids who need extra academic help.

Until very recently Zead Ramadan lived in Riverdale with his wife and child, but has moved into the district to comply with residency laws.  Though he boasts of a “tremendous grassroots ground team,” his support, if you go strictly by CFB filings, is also mostly outside the district: of the more than $100,000 he has raised, less than $3,000 comes from District 7 residents.  The bulk of his donations comes from Arab-Americans in Brooklyn and Westchester.  The candidate responded that his “formula is to bring money from outside the district and not pick the pockets of the voters…I bring money from outsiders who appreciate what I have done for the community.”  Campaign contributions aren’t normally construed as a form of economic development, but fair enough.

The conversation took an odd turn when Zead Ramadan brought up the subject of the “establishment candidate,” Mark Levine.  Ramadan repeatedly said that a “cabal” had chosen Levine “an outsider, not from around here…a Harvard kid from the Baltimore suburbs” to be the favorite.  He spoke darkly of the early endorsements of Levine by elected officials and unions that had “poisoned the waters” against him.  Given the ugly tone set earlier in this race by former candidate Thomas Lopez-Pierre who criticized a black supporter of Mark Levine for “sucking Jewish cock,” one might imagine that the remaining candidates would make an effort to avoid certain linguistic clusters.

Ramadan went on to say that the reason he was not given institutional support was because he is an Arab.  “If my name were Rodriguez, Johnson or Kline I would have been elected already, but since I am an Arab I have no natural base.”  Asked why Levine in particular had been the early favorite, Ramadan insisted that the choice was “political,” and that even Levine’s supporters don’t really like him.  Regarding Levine’s endorsement by the Council’s Progressive Caucus, Ramadan said, “they are holding their noses to endorse him,” and again insisted that unknown forces had “caballed” against Zead Ramadan.  He cited unnamed union political directors who complained that “Mark Levine has been harassing us for five years” as the reason why they had to endorse him.

Asked about the diverse demographic nature of the district and the crowded field, Ramadan returned to the question of Mark Levine and said, “Levine hopes that all the people of color divide their vote and he wins by default.  If the election were just between Levine and me I would win easily.”

Well, unfortunately for Zead Ramadan, his dreamed-of championship match-up is not likely to occur, as there are a number of other strong candidates in the race.  Luis Tejada is a Dominican-born engineer and teacher who founded the Mirabal Sisters Cultural and Community Center in Washington Heights.  Tejada, who claims to have helped organize more than 80 tenant associations, has never run for office before but says that his years of community organizing are essentially no different from campaigning.

Tejada contrasts the local nature of his fundraising with those of both Ramadan and Levine, and claims that 90% of his donations come from district residents: CFB records indicate that the figure is closer to 65%, which is nevertheless substantially higher than the others, and in terms of money eligible for city matching funds the three are close.  Tejada speaks of his strong connection to the Latino segment of the district, but says he has close connections with the black and white populations as well.  He coordinated an unusual outreach program which targeted neighborhood newcomers, unaware of the unscrupulous practices of uptown landlords.  The program, Tejada says, educated middle-class whites, who have been priced out of other neighborhoods, to the question of illegal rent increases.

Criticizing Mark Levine as a “nice guy” who is out of his depth politically, Luis Tejada suggests that Levine should be running in the 10th CD, where he would “probably” unseat CM Ydanis Rodriguez.  Calling himself “controversial,” Tejada slammed CM Rodriguez’ highly-publicized co-naming of a stretch of upper Broadway for Juan Rodriguez, who in 1613 became the first “Dominican immigrant” to New York.  “How was he the first Dominican, when the Dominican Republic wasn’t founded until 1844?” demands Tejada, though to be fair, CM Rodriguez appears to have called Juan Rodriguez the first “immigrant” to New York, not the first Dominican.  Tejada also called CM Robert Jackson a “sellout” for approving Columbia University’s expansion plans, and is proud to report that the Mirabal Sisters Center returned a $5,000 grant to Jackson’s office in protest over this perceived betrayal, an unusual act of conscience for any non-profit.

Further south in Manhattan Valley, Joyce Johnson is positioning herself as the leading woman in the race for the 7th CD seat.  This campaign marks her fourth time running for office, which Johnson rather optimistically cites as a positive, in that she has experience and good name recognition.  Joyce Johnson ran against Charles Rangel in 2010 and came in third, though she did outpoll Adam Clayton Powell in the 69th AD. 

Regarding Mark Levine’s early lead, Johnson remarks, “I wasn’t in the race when he got those endorsements,” and “nothing is decided yet because no votes have been cast.”  Johnson points out that in a 70% minority district where 60% of the prime voters are women, it is impossible to count out an African-American woman who has both extensive corporate and governmental experience. 

Johnson worked for Seagram for many years, ending up as head of Equal Employment Opportunity for the company.  She then worked in city government, including stints under Rudy Crew and in the Comptroller’s office.  Recently she was CEO of an organization called Black Equity Alliance, from which she was fired for supporting Mayor Bloomberg’s 2009 re-election campaign.  In a wrongful termination suit against Black Equity, Johnson claims that the board of the organization told her it didn’t look good for her to be seen endorsing a Jew for mayor.

Another contender for the 7th CD seat is Mark Otto, assistant principal of a “socially conscious” high school, for whom education is a prism on politics.  “I see policy issues through my students, including questions of affordable housing and stop and frisk,” says Otto.  He favors, not unexpectedly, more development of housing for low and middle income people.  As with many of the other candidates running, Mark Otto took shots at Mark Levine, whose campaign he claims has “zero momentum,” and who is “personally disliked,” even by his endorsers.  Mark Otto says that though he faces name recognition challenges, many of his students are district residents, and they will vouch for him as he makes his rounds.

Mark Otto fun fact: his campaign has received contributions from 25 different employees of Spirit Cruises, totaling more than 15% of his total fundraising.


District 3: Corey Johnson's Secret Life

The race to succeed Christine Quinn in the 3rd Council District, covering the west side of Manhattan roughly from Canal Street to Central Park, is shaping up to be a battle between 2009 Council contender Yetta Kurland and Community Board 4 Chair Corey Johnson.

Yetta Kurland has a civil rights law practice and, until recently, her own radio talk show.  She incurred the undying enmity of CM Quinn in 2009 when she ran against her in the primary and, to the Speaker’s embarrassment, won more than 30% of the vote.  Coupled with Kurland’s vociferous opposition to the Quinn-approved closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital, Christine Quinn initiated a vendetta against Kurland, waging a virtual “Anybody but Yetta” campaign that has worked for the benefit of her rival, Corey Johnson, “the youngest” chair of a community board.  Quinn’s influence has won Johnson the support of the local clubs, local political endorsements and some labor backing.

Johnson boasts a long resume of accomplishment.  To wit:

Corey is also a Director on the Hudson Yards Development Corporation, a Member of the Hudson Yards Community Advisory Committee, a Member of the Moynihan Station Community Advisory Committee, a Member of the Javits Center Community Advisory Committee, a Member of the Hudson River Park Strategic Planning Task Force, a Member of the Friends of the Hudson River Park Trusts Neighborhood Improvement District Steering Committee, a Board Member of Save Chelsea, a Member of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, a Member of the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, a Member of the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, and a Member of the 100/200 West 15th Street Block Association.

What is odd about this extensive list of activities is the absence of any positions that offer remuneration, i.e. money.  Nowhere on his campaign material, nor in his interviews, nor upon repeated questioning to his campaign manager will the Corey 2013 machine explain the most primary question we all have about anyone we meet: What does he do for a living?

This is not an idle question.  Poke around on candidate websites for a little while and you will have no trouble figuring out how these people make money.  In fact, the subject is usually foregrounded, because in New York City politics it is important to have some kind of explanation for how you pay the rent, before other people reach their own conclusions.   So the wall of community service cited above becomes a screen: an act of misdirection that we are demanded to accept.  The guy is hiding something.

What it turns out he is covering up and scrubbing from his Internet presence is his work as Director of Governmental Relations and Community Affairs for GFI Development Company, beginning in July 2008.  GFI Development is the real estate development branch of GFI Group, which according to the company website “has been at the forefront of credit derivative brokerage services, leadership that we are now leveraging to help establish an active, liquid Exotic Credit Derivative market.”

Exotic credit derivatives, for those among us with short memories, are those quaint financial instruments that enable banks to make massive bets on the failure of loans, without having to actually own any of the underlying debt.  Credit derivatives caused a minor kerfuffle in the markets in late 2008.  GFI Group “handled as much as 40 percent of the credit-derivatives trades between the world's banks in 2007,” according to Bloomberg.

Well, Corey Johnson had nothing to do with any of that, of course…he worked for the real estate development arm of GFI.   And real estate development firms are wholesome, salubrious entities.  Which must be why after I asked Johnson’s campaign manger about his work there, his speaker bio at the Gay Center website was scrubbed.  (Compare here and here.)  And his LinkedIn profile was closed. 

GFI Development buys old buildings and turns them into hotels, condominiums and the like.  Corey Johnson’s job was to facilitate the political side of things, as we see in this June 2009 article detailing his advocacy on behalf of a GFI development before Community Board 2 in Brooklyn. 

In 2008, around when they hired Corey to be their front man in New York City, GFI Development bought the old Breslin Hotel, on 29th Street, which was an SRO.  Their efforts to evict or buy out the existing tenants led to a series of court battles, but eventually the Breslin gave way to the trendy Ace Hotel.  Corey Johnson had his birthday party there when it opened in 2010, and was so delighted that he even wore a tiara, according to this record of the evening.

At the time of the Ace Hotel’s opening, Corey Johnson, top lobbyist and community affairs director for GFI Development, was also Vice-Chair of Community Board 4 and Co-Chair of the CB4 Land Use Committee.  Is this a conflict of interest?  Well, it is true that the Ace Hotel at 29th and Broadway is two blocks east of CB4’s eastern boundary, so maybe not, technically.  But it clearly isn’t something Corey Johnson is proud of, or else he would mention it at least once, wouldn’t he?

Nor, it is fair to say, is Corey proud of his “community affairs” role in the cleansing of the tenants of the Breslin hotel.  Charges of mismanagement of the hotel once GFI bought it abound.  Water turned off, heat turned off, neglect of upkeep: all the usual things that happen when a developer wants to gut a property and redo it for a better class of tenant.  We know he isn’t proud of it because he doesn’t talk about it.  Nor will he specify when he left the company, which seems to have happened in 2011 at some point.

It is easy to let politicians say whatever pretty things they want to about themselves and their good works.  Corey Johnson cleans up well, but that doesn't mean he isn't dirty.


District 8: Who Owns El Barrio?

The 8th Council District, represented by CM Melissa Mark-Viverito, was recently reshaped drastically to straddle equally East Harlem and the South Bronx, cutting out Manhattan Valley and Central Park.  The net effect of this restructuring was to cut approximately 20,000 white non-Hispanics out of the district while capturing about the same number of Hispanics on the other side.

This move, long desired by the Puerto Rican-born CM Mark-Viverito, reflects the transition of Manhattan Valley from being part of south Harlem into part of the Upper West Side: the neighborhood since 2000 has become substantially more white and Asian, and quite substantially less black and Latino.  In incorporating all of Mott Haven and part of the East Bronx up to Highbridge, the CM looks to garner support among her base, but bears the risk of having to appeal to tens of thousands of new district residents who have not yet succumbed to her electoral charms.

Indeed, for a two-term incumbent, Mark-Viverito faces a crowded campaign field.  Some of her opponents are hoping to exploit her lower profile among Bronx voters, but are also aware of the fact that the CM is not especially popular or beloved by her constituents.  Her 2005 election was extremely close, and she won in 2009 with only 45% of the vote—not the worst showing that year by an incumbent, but close to the worst for an incumbent not hampered by allegations of corruption or senility

City Council Watch spoke to three primary challengers for the 8th CD seat, and reached out to several others.  Ed Santos, born in Detroit, is a former math teacher and member of the local community board in East Harlem.  His parents are Filipino immigrants and his mother is a nanny.  Santos stresses his experience as a community builder and his work to create a liquor license subcommittee for CB 11. 

As a teacher, Santos believes he has a unique perspective on the educational needs of the district, and also cites his “humble upbringing” as the child of the working class, specifically contrasting his background to that of the incumbent, who had a privileged youth as the daughter of a successful doctor.  He accuses CM Mark-Viverito of hypocrisy for having voted against the term limit extension five years ago, only to seek a third term herself.  Ed Santos has done a respectable job raising campaign money, and with matching funds he should have the resources to conduct a vigorous operation, despite CM Mark-Viverito’s union-stuffed war chest.

Ariel Guerrero is a son of the Bronx and a Fordham graduate, now living in El Barrio, who characterizes himself as “a community guy.”  A former administrator for the East Harlem Tutorial Program, Guerrero describes an “absolute disconnect between leadership and the community,” citing high rates of asthma and unemployment with “not enough being done” in the last eight years to justify a third term for the incumbent. 

Guerrero is also of Filipino extraction (and Puerto Rican and Polish, he added), and made some sensible comments about affordable housing.  He explained that when white people move into East Harlem, “it is because they have been priced out of other communities,” and it is not an insidious process or invasion. "I am very, very careful about using the word 'gentrification.'"  The solution to the housing problem is more housing, and Guerrero hopes to promote development with “private-public partnerships,” saying perhaps over-optimistically that the 80-20 standard should give way to a 60-40 market rate-to-affordable housing ratio.

Gwen Goodwin is a longtime East Harlem activist who ran against Melissa Mark-Viverito in 2009, winning 1200 votes.  She claims that this year her apartment has been carved out of the 8th District, and the redistricting map appears to support her assertion: there is a little notch around her block that puts her in the 5th District.  Goodwin helped save PS 109 from destruction in the 1990s, and waged a single-handed fight against the School Construction Authority to force them to replace the roof after tearing it off, and succeeded in having the building landmarked.

PS 109, built in 1900 by Charles Snyder, was left empty for years, declared an eyesore, and then sold by the DOE for $1 to a community group chosen by Mark-Viverito to handle its renovation as condos for artists, in conjunction with a well-heeled Minnesota organization called Artspace.  CM Mark-Viverito campaigned against returning the building to use as a school, supporting the City’s insistence that East Harlem’s schools are underutilized, a claim that has been countered and refuted by many advocacy groups.  Leonie Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters, points out that PS 109 is large enough to be turned into a high school, and notes that “half of the city’s kids attend overcrowded high schools.”

Gwen Goodwin sees CM Mark-Viverito as engaged in a wide conspiracy, along with Mayor Bloomberg, first to depopulate and then to raze East Harlem, replacing the existing buildings with luxury condominiums.  This kind of extreme characterization, while more than a little implausible, does reflect the perfervid intensity in which the housing debate takes place in El Barrio.  And Melissa Mark-Viverito’s preference for an exciting arts community over another public school does make one wonder what her vision for New York really is.

All of CM Mark-Viverito’s opponents raise the matter of her personal wealth as a factor in the campaign, claiming that her privileged background makes it difficult for her to relate to the needs of her mostly-poor constituency.  But how rich is she, and does it in fact matter?  The CM’s financial disclosures indicate that she has partial interest in a number of properties in Puerto Rico which put her net worth in the $1-2 million range.  She has an annuity that appears to give her some additional income.  Her father, who owned a plane, founded a hospital that was later sold to a large conglomerate, and there are rumors in the East Harlem community that her family possesses wealth in the hundreds of millions of dollars. 

There have been extremely wealthy liberals and radicals, of course, and being rich does not make you evil.  It does, however, leave you open to the charge of hypocrisy.   As the Co-chair of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, Melissa Mark-Viverito has built a reputation as possibly the most liberal council member.  Her protests against the bombing of Vieques (just off the coast of Ceiba, where she co-owns seven acres of undeveloped land), her advocacy for the release of FALN member Oscar Lopez Rivera (currently serving 70 years for seditious conspiracy), her trumpeting of the Occupy cause, etc etc, have established Mark-Viverito as a staunch leftist in the activist tradition.

But when we hear the CM loudly proclaiming her membership in the 99% against the millionaires who run the country, it sounds like she is laying it on a bit thick.  Even if she doesn’t stand to inherit tens of millions of dollars, and can only hope to retire on a paltry 4 or 5 million, wouldn’t that nevertheless put her in the top 2 or 3 percent of the country, if not the top 1?  The public loves a poor politician who rises above squalor, and a rich politician who has the common touch.  But someone who pretends to be what she isn't deserves all the opprobrium she gets.

District 17: The Shameless Venality of Maria del Carmen Arroyo

Last July the Daily News ran a story about CM Maria del Carmen Arroyo of the 17th District in the Bronx.  The story explained that the council member had paid her husband, lawyer Ricardo Aguirre, $15,000 for “consultant” work.  

It appears that it is technically legal to pay a close family member out of campaign funds, as long as the money is from private contributions, not from public matching funds.     However, the money that you have received as a private contribution and since given to your husband is still allowed to be matched by public funds at the 6-to-1 ratio.  Got that?

To City Council Watch this argument about the non-fungible nature of campaign moneys is reminiscent of a child who keeps his lunch money in one pocket, and his comic book money in another pocket.  Or perhaps, as in the patois of the street, “Let me hold five dollars.”

In any case, one would think that CM Arroyo would have been taken up short by the revelation that the majority of her campaign contributions were being paid to her husband, and would have curtailed the practice, if not so much out of embarrassment, then out of pragmatics.  It doesn’t look nice.

But CM Arroyo has not stopped paying her husband since the Daily News story.  In fact she has ramped up her payments.

According to the Campaign Finance Board, the Arroyo 2013 campaign has taken in $55,600.  Of that sum, $42,500 has been paid to her husband for consulting.  The campaign is little more than a pass-through to her own household. 

Well, some may argue, so what?  The people who are contributing to the Arroyo campaign are surely aware what’s up, that 75 cents of every dollar they give to the campaign winds up paying for her and her husband’s vacations or cable bill or whatever.  So, while sleazy, by the low standards set by other recent Bronx politicians, nothing exceptional is going on here.

I thought that too, until when looking through her reported contributions I stumbled upon a tranche of payments over a few days this April from employees of the non-profit social welfare organization the Puerto Rican Family Institute: a dozen or so payments of $5, $10, or $20.  I could list the names and sums given, but you can look it up easily enough: I suspect that the donors have already suffered enough humiliation.

The PRFI does the sort of social work you might expect from the name of the organization.  It helps poor people find housing, get jobs, feed themselves, etc.  The group gets money from the City Council, and receives discretionary grants from CM Arroyo, among several others.

Only CM Arroyo received contributions from the employees of the Puerto Rican Family Institute, however, and in the same month when each council office allots discretionary money.

Is it really a stretch to imagine what I am imagining: that through some kind of cajoling or veiled threat, in the style of thugs throughout history, the campaign of Maria del Carmen Arroyo conveyed the message that continued funding for the PRFI was dependent upon tribute from the employees themselves?  And that the case workers and staffers of the organization, which is not even located in the same borough much less the same district as the Member, opened their wallets and pocketbooks and coughed up the next week’s lunch money, most of which was to be rolled through official channels and then paid out, legally, to her husband?

Maybe it wasn’t like that…maybe the social workers at the PRFI love Maria del Carmen Arroyo and would gladly tithe to her campaign.  A spokesperson at PRFI claimed to have no knowledge of why 13 non-executive employees who live all around the city would have each decided to give a Bronx council member around twenty dollars, all at the same time.

There is a human component to greasy corrupt politics.  A human component, and a human cost.


District 5: Micah Kellner, Car Salesman

Micah Kellner, currently a member of the assembly, is seeking a 20% pay raise, a shorter commute and a 4-year election cycle by becoming Council Member for the 5th CD, on the Upper East Side.  AM Kellner hopes to replace term-limited Jessica Lappin, and he has received her endorsement and the support of other local electeds, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney.  Money has flowed in from the UFT and 1199 SEIU, and his fundraising is running 3-to-1 against his only serious primary opponent.  All the stars are aligning to elect AM Kellner to the City Council.  

Micah Kellner has served the 76th District since a special election in 2007.  Prior to that he worked as an aide for a variety of New York State politicians.  Kellner has garnered attention for being the first “openly bisexual” Assembly Member, and also for having been born with cerebral palsy.  His attention to issues impacting the queer and disabled communities has earned him a measure of visibility and respect that more senior politicians might envy.  Even while serving as a state legislator he has found time to serve as the “Assistant Organizer” for the “NYC Bisexual, Pansexual and Queer Meetup Group” on meetup.com.

Assembly Member Kellner has accepted an exceptionally large amount of money from the taxi industry, which might strike one as unusual, considering that he does not serve on any transit-related legislative committees.  In this election cycle he has taken at least $12,000 from taxi or taxi-related entities, which is about 8% of his total fundraising so far.

Micah Kellner’s 2012 run for the Assembly provides some depth to his relationship with the transportation industry.  That year, when he ran unopposed in the primary, he accepted at least $40,000 just from transit-related individuals and corporations, much of which was filed as “uncoded” with the state.  This money came from major medallion owners, including $4000 each from Evgeny “Gene” Freidman (who was recently in the news for his assertion that Mayor Bloomberg personally promised to “destroy [his] fucking industry” when he leaves office), Guy Roberts, and Neomi Yakuel, all of whom are on the board of the Greater New York Taxi Association, a powerful trade organization.  To give some perspective to these numbers, Guy Roberts gave $5000 to Governor Cuomo: aside from his contribution to AM Kellner, that was the extent of his state giving that year.  The same disproportionate activity holds for much of Kellner’s donor list.

So while the taxi industry is known for its deep pockets and its campaign advocacy, something odd is definitely going on when a three-term Assembly Member without significant committee membership is raking in this much cash.  We can begin to understand what made AM Kellner worth it to the yellow cab industry when we look at the controversy that attended, and continues to attend, the “Taxi of Tomorrow.”

Mayor Bloomberg, starting in 2011, attempted to resolve a number of problems with taxis in New York City.  He wanted a standard “iconic” taxi that medallion owners would be obligated to use.  And he wanted to answer the need for street hails in the outer boroughs, where livery companies provide ad hoc illegal service.  The Mayor pushed the Taxi and Limousine Commission to pick a standard model (the Nissan NV 200) and he convinced Albany to pass a bill that would allow the TLC to issue up to 30,000 street hail permits that would allow livery cars to make street hails in upper Manhattan and outside Manhattan.

Medallion owners were not pleased with these developments, especially the latter, which would diminish the value of their franchise: medallions now auction for upwards of $1 million, and their number has only been increased three times in 75 years. 

But another group was angry, too.  Advocates for the disabled were already suing the city for not providing an accessible taxi fleet, and the fact that the Taxi of Tomorrow would not be wheelchair-accessible was not lost on them either.  These two groups, medallion owners and advocates for the disabled, joined forces to stop the Mayor’s efforts, and were willing to use any available legal means.  So we saw the Greater New York Taxi Association, not generally known for its good works (Gene Freidman’s bio on the GNYTA website lists the “Israeli Defense Force” as one of his favorite charities), suing the City over ADA requirements, over its failure to allow for hybrid vehicles as stipulated by the City Council, etc etc.

Into this breach stepped/was pushed AM Micah Kellner, who offered as a kind of minor Great Compromise his Access-for-All bill which would mandate expanded accessibility for yellow cabs and livery cabs, and would allow for a greatly-reduced 6,000 livery street hail medallions.  The GNYTA and other industry groups were very happy with this proposal.  The advocates for the disabled were somewhat assuaged.  And Micah Kellner could rest knowing he had demonstrated his willingness to do the bidding of industry while maintaining his reputation as a representative for disabled people.

But if the story ended there, there wouldn’t be much story.  Pushing things further still, Assembly Member Kellner didn’t just choose to fight for accessible transit: after all, that is a laudable goal, and if it requires compromises with industry, well, who is the virgin amongst us?  No, Micah Kellner chose to fight for one specific vehicle that the City should adopt as its answer to all its taxi needs.  And here is where he crossed into shadow country.

On October 20, 2011, the TLC held a hearing to consider approval of a new wheelchair-accessible vehicle, the MV-1, produced by a new automobile company called the generic-sounding Vehicle Production Group or VPG.  Speaking on behalf of the MV-1 was the chairman of VPG, Fred Drasner.  Also testifying for adoption of the MV-1 was Assembly Member Micah Kellner, who spoke of the car’s “terrific suspension,” and who concluded by stating that “when the time comes, I think you should vote for this rule because this vehicle does work.”

Council Member Oliver Koppell also testified in favor of adopting the MV-1, but the difference between the two elected officials is that Oliver Koppell never accepted money from the maker of the MV-1, while Micah Kellner did.

Fred Drasner, chairman of Vehicle Production Group, contributed $3800 to Micah Kellner’s 2010 Assembly campaign.  And after AM Kellner demonstrated what a great car salesman he could be, the money really started to flow. 

On December 2, 2011 the TLC approved the MV-1 for use as a yellow cab.

On December 7, 2011 Fred Drasner contributed $2500 to Micah Kellner’s campaign.

On January 10, 2012 the Vehicle Production Group released a press release about the unveiling of the MV-1.  The release included the following quote from NYS Assembly Member Micah Kellner: “The time for a taxi for all has arrived.  Whether you are on two feet or four wheels, the MV-1 will insure no one is left at the curb."

On January 10, 2012 Fred Drasner contributed $5000 to Micah Kellner’s campaign.

Also on that date, the Vehicle Production Group and Clean Energy Fuels, a major investor in VPG, each contributed $5000 to Micah Kellner’s campaign. 

In July, 2012 VPG contributed another $5000 to the Kellner campaign.

When asked for comment multiple times, the Kellner campaign did not respond.

I am not an expert on campaign finance law, and cannot say whether this timeline indicates violations of those laws.  But I think anyone with the tiniest speck of understanding of cause and effect could draw certain inferences that don’t make Micah Kellner glow with moral rectitude here.  Basically it seems that the folks at Vehicle Production Group (which sounds like an East German factory conglomerate) spotted a likely front for their push to get a juicy contract, an agreeable legislator with solid credentials as an advocate for the disabled, and decided to buy him.

It is funny: back in August of 2011 when Micah Kellner was making the case for his compromise bill, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg said, “we didn’t realize that [Kellner] had quit his job as an assemblyman and become a spokesman for the medallion owners.” 

The sad truth is that Kellner didn’t have to quit his assembly job.  In fact, he realized it was more lucrative and effective to do both jobs at the same time.



In just the last few weeks, there were even more baroque developments in this twisted story.  Vehicle Production Group was one of five automobile companies to have been given loans by the Department of Energy to pursue "green cars."  The other companies were Ford, Nissan, Fisker and Tesla.  VPG went belly-up in early April 2013, and its assets have been seized by the Treasury.  It appears that the company was never really in a position to produce as many cars as it said it could, or else the contracts it was hoping for never came through.

There have been no charges of fraud proffered (yet)  regarding VPG, but the taxpayer is out $45 million of the $50 million the company was loaned.  Intriguingly, Jim Johnson, an Obama bundler who led the 2008 vice-presidential search committee, is Vice Chairman of Perseus, one of the lead investors in VPG.


Tish James has Options; John Liu has No Options

Things are looking up for CM Tish James of the 35th CD in Brooklyn.  Her campaign for Public Advocate is getting a lot of press, she doesn’t seem to be in danger of being arrested anytime soon, and she has choices.

She can continue her current ostensible run for the office her old friend Bill de Blasio occupies now.  She would likely make a good Public Advocate, notwithstanding the fact that the office was hacked apart from two sides by Speaker Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg, whose scorn for the position was so deep he called publicly for its abolition.  Any new Public Advocate has the advantage of having very few predecessors who have done much of anything before, so the role is filled with protean promise.

In actuality, however, the Public Advocate, much like the vacancy of the Vice-Presidency, is basically a living body to replace the Executive if he dies.  The PA may as well be suspended from the ceiling and fed by tubes.

But it is a city-wide elected office and offers public exposure.  So there are reasons to want it.  But the question everyone is asking now is whether CM James has a real shot.  She is behind Senator Dan Squadron and never-elected Girl Who Codes Reshma Saujani in fundraising.  So why fight a bitter expensive battle just to give your wealthier opponents a runoff?

Ever since Senator Eric Adams was revealed as one of the honored and recorded guests at salon Shirley Huntley it has been rumored that he might drop out of the Brooklyn BP race and give CM James a clear shot to fill the mighty shoes of Marty Markowitz.  This is the smart money position.

I have another scenario in mind, and one that Ede Fox and Laurie Cumbo won’t like one bit.  I see Tish James dropping out of the PA race and running for a third term in the Council.  After all, she is amazingly popular in the 35th CD: in 2009 she won her primary by the biggest margin of any Council election.  In 2003 she was elected in a special on the WFP line alone, the first third-party Council Member since the Abe Beame administration.

CM James would have, if I am doing my arithmetic right, more seniority than any other Council Member.  She is a long shot for Speaker, but she could have virtually her pick of committee assignments, even Finance.  And she would be set up for a run in 2017 for…whatever she wants to do next.

So you heard it here first: Tish James for Council in 2013!

On the other hand, we have Comptroller John Liu, whose options are miniscule and shrinking.  His campaign treasurer and top fundraiser have already been convicted of wire fraud, and his pot rattling about selective prosecution of Asian American elected officials isn’t drawing crowds.  He still shows up at the opening of every garbage can and bank statement with his 24-hour bulldog security detail, marching around like Engelbert Dollfuss, pretending that he is the next Mayor of New York, but the charade is growing thin.  Apparently Queens BP Helen Marshall, whose native district abuts Flushing, did not know until yesterday that John Liu was running!

Here is where I think John Liu is headed: an exit in June or early July, and a vigorous endorsement of Bill Thompson.  Why Thompson?  There is an odd rivalry between Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio and John Liu, but it isn’t the sort that would win the Civil War: more like start one.  Possibly the greatest moment of the John Liu Comptrollership was when he was asked to submit suggestions for changes to the City Charter, and his first idea was to change the order of Mayoral Succession, so that Comptroller would precede the Public Advocate and Council Speaker.

A Thompson endorsement would allow John Liu to save face, and he could try to bank support among minority voters for whenever he attempts his return to political life, assuming he doesn’t first join Larry Seabrook and Hiram Monserrate wherever they are.

You read it here first!

Replacing Al Vann: the Race in Bed-Stuy/Crown Heights

This election will see significant change in Bed-Stuyvesant, where Al Vann has been in one office or another for over 40 years, most recently as Council Member for the 36th CD.

CM Vann was at one time the lion of black politics in New York, and there were high hopes for him when he entered the Assembly in the mid 1970s.   Known for a time in Brooklyn as “the Mwalimu” (“great teacher” in Swahili), Vann was the moving force behind a landmark 1982 Federal case that led to the expansion of minority representation in New York at the state and federal levels. 

Since that time, however, Al Vann has become a classic career politician, content to go along with the status quo.  In 2001 he switched places with Annette Robinson and moved to the Council, and his time there has been practically somnambulistic.  Voting to extend terms limits in 2009, Vann faced a vigorous primary battle that year, but he won his third term with less than 30% of the vote. 

Legislatively, Vann did demonstrate a return to form in 2010 when he pushed a bill restricting the sale of tax liens, a concern of his dating back to at least the early 1980s.  But basically he has been asleep at the wheel while his community has stagnated.  A measure of his inactivity is the fact that after twelve years in the Council, CM Vann wound up chairing the Committee on Community Development.  Senior Council Members typically jockey for powerful committee chairs, where they can help steer important legislation and run oversight hearings.  Community Development oversees no City agencies and in this current 4-year session has had two bills referred to it.

There are four serious candidates vying for Vann’s seat this year, and befitting their place in the City of Churches, each of them is either a minister himself, or the son of a minister.

District Leader Robert Cornegy Jr. is Al Vann’s chosen successor.  Son of a minister, the almost 7-foot tall Cornegy had a brief and unspectacular pro-basketball career and ran against Vann in 2009, endorsing him in the general after losing in the primary.  Cornegy then joined the Vann-controlled Vanguard Independent Democratic Association and succeeded him as president of the club in 2012.  

His official bio is sketchy on his experience, but in the last few years Cornegy has been working as a legislative analyst for the Council.  It is not a big stretch to imagine his rabbi, Vann, thinking the job would look good on Cornegy's resume and familiarize him with the not-quite Byzantine workings of 250 Broadway.  Cornegy is the favorite candidate of the Major Owens-Yvette Clarke faction of the Brooklyn Dems, and will surely offer a formidable fight.

Kirsten Foy, former de Blasio staffer, is the favorite of the unions and the “progressive” side of the Democratic Party.  Foy won a great deal of press attention and street credibility when he and Council Member Jumaane Williams were detained following a scuffle with police at the 2011 West Indian Day Parade.  He has since filed suit against the NYPD for injuries he sustained after he supposedly entered a “frozen zone” and was tripped and manhandled by the police.

Foy has a long history of organizing against police brutality and for economic justice in Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights.  He worked with Al Sharpton and honed his rhetorical chops as a spokesman for the National Action Network.  Foy worked for the de Blasio campaign for Public Advocate and was awarded with posts as head of Intergovernmental and Community Affairs.

At some point in the recent past Kirsten Foy, perhaps on the advice of his mentor the Rev. Sharpton, became a “licensed Pentecostal minister.”  I looked into what it takes to achieve such licensure, and it appears to vary, but typically involves submitting a questionnaire and a check to the licensing authority.  Well, just remember, Napoleon was self-anointed Emperor of France after all.

Reverend Robert Waterman is the pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church and the owner of Canticles Lounge, which is an alcohol-free Christian nightclub/cabaret.  Rev. Waterman has raised a significant amount of money, most of it apparently from his parishioners.  Unlike his main opponents Rev. Waterman does not seem to have much support outside the district, but when turnout is only 6000 voters, it is hard to predict what could happen.

Our last subject in the race for the 36th Council District seat is the Rev. Conrad Tillard, formerly known as Conrad Muhammad, formerly known as Conrad X.  Reverend Tillard first came to public attention as the chief youth minister of the Nation of Islam, and then the minister of Harlem’s famed Mosque No. 7, the former seat of Malcolm X.  Reverend Tillard made some conventionally controversial remarks against white devils and Jewish slave masters, etc. from that esteemed perch, was later stripped of his ministry under a cloud of suspicion, and then underwent a second Damascene moment when he left the NOI and returned to the faith of his fathers, receiving baptism by the Reverend Calvin Butts.

I suppose in another place we could speculate at length about the Rev. Tillard’s search among famous spiritual leaders for a father figure to take the place of the jazz musician who deserted his family when Conrad was young…but who cares really?  In 2002 Tillard weighed a run for Congress as a Republican against Charles Rangel, but he never got on the ballot.  Today Rev. Tillard has a pulpit in Brooklyn and is, along with Elizabeth Wurtzel, facing a lawsuit from Penguin Books for failure to deliver after receiving a substantial advance for his memoir.

In closing, based on recent pictures of Rev. Tillard, we can say that, though you may take the man out of the Nation of Islam,  you can’t take the bowtie off the man.


Pity the 34th Council District

The race for the 34th District City Council seat is one of those convoluted knots of lunacy, intrigue and stupidity that is so unlikely, it could only be true.  The cast assembled for this campaign belongs in a Greek tragedy crossed with a French farce.

The 34th includes a swath of northern Brooklyn encompassing part of Williamsburg and Bushwick, and a sliver of Queens.  Council Member Diana Reyna has represented the district for the last 12 years.  One of the more notable moments of her legislative career occurred in 2003 when she paraded in a Carnival “mas” during a working visit to Trinidad.  The picture of 29 year-old CM Reyna in a bikini has since vaporized down the memory hole, but it was apparently a spectacle in itself.

Diana Reyna got her start as the protégé of former Kings County Dem chair Assemblyman Vito Lopez, whose Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Citizens Council is a legendary engine of political power and the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars of local and federal money.  As Chief of Staff to Lopez, Reyna was hand chosen to take the seat in 2001, and won in a three-way race.

Eight years later however, Reyna and her former boss fell out over the development of the Broadway Triangle, a 31-acre industrial zone bordered by Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy and Bushwick.  AM Lopez had arranged for the city to hand over a sweet development deal to RBSCC in conjunction with United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg.  CM Reyna opposed the no-bid deal and promoted Los Sures, a rival development organization which, like Ridgewood-Bushwick, originated in the early 1970s as a Latino tenants’ rights advocacy group. 

Lopez and Reyna both have deep interests in their respective favorite development organizations.  RBSCC produces thousands of voters loyal to Lopez, and employed his live-in girlfriend as Housing Director for a meager $330,000 annual salary.  Reyna’s mother-in-law on the other hand worked for Los Sures as head of its senior center, and the CM was questioned about the $40,000 discretionary funding she funneled there.

In any case, the once cozy pair feuded, and Lopez put up Maritza Davila, another of his protégés, to run against Reyna in 2009.  Davila lost.  This time around, Lopez himself, having been stripped of his Housing Committee and Kings County Democratic Committee Chairs following his groping scandal, has decided to run for the very Council seat that his former Chief of Staff is vacating.  Though Ridgewood-Bushwick has lost a lot of its city funding and Lopez could face federal handcuffs any day in the current storm of corruption arrests, he still has his followers on the ground.

The favored candidate for the 34th CD seat is Antonio Reynoso, current and long-term Chief of Staff to Diana Reyna.  Starting in early 2012, he has been endorsed by the entire Democratic establishment, who were presumably hoping to forestall Vito Lopez from jumping in. 

Reynoso is an inoffensive candidate, if you think that being a City Council staffer as one’s entire qualification for office is not offensive.  Here we have again the phenomenon that City Council Watch has long identified as the signal marker of a decayed political culture: the election of Chiefs of Staff to succeed their bosses. 

One doesn’t have to agree with the Bloombergian technocratic principle that a businessman will always make the best elected official to find it weird that so many people run for office on the basis of having carried water for other elected officials.  It exemplifies machine politics for politicians to promote their staffers as their successors.  Like a monarchy or a fungus, the system divides, spawns and replicates itself perpetually.  Lopez begat Reyna begat Reynoso.  How can we seriously see Reynoso as a reform candidate when he is the spiritual grandson of his opponent?

Tommy Torres is the third candidate in the race to become the honorable member from the 34th Council District.  Regular readers of the Daily News will recall that Mr. Torres was in the news last September when it emerged that he was the boyfriend of since-defeated Assembly Member Naomi Rivera in the Bronx.

Being Naomi Rivera’s boyfriend may show questionable taste, but that isn’t enough to disqualify Torres from office.  The fact that he has worked outside of politics for 13 years as a high school gym teacher and coach could actually work in his favor.  Except it appears that Torres accepted a position on his girlfriend’s staff as a fulltime community liaison, at the same time he was working for the Department of Education, also fulltime, including after-school coaching duties. 

Nobody has yet explained how he managed to do two hands-on jobs in Brooklyn and the Bronx, simultaneously.  Sounds like fraud to me, but I think the US Attorney’s office has its hands full at the moment.  Let’s wait and see!


Quinn Fights for Designers

As election season gets into gear, all the candidates are staking out their turfs.  John Liu continues to give his monthly State of the City addresses and listen for the footfall of federal agents at his doorstep.  Bill DeBlasio is cementing his hold on the bisexual/interracial marriage community and promising to walk the dogs of every animal lover in Brooklyn.  

And Christine Quinn has come out swinging for one of the “untapped,” “underpromoted” New York City constituencies: designers.

According to the Times, Speaker Quinn has helped coordinate “a 12-day celebration of design this spring extending over all five boroughs.”

The paper adds:

Pronounced “NYC by Design” and interdisciplinary in scope, it will present the work of local designers and architects in museum exhibitions, conferences, studio tours, showroom displays, pop-up stores, art installations and a design film festival.

The goal is greater visibility for an industry with untapped economic potential, said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, whose office is leading the project with a steering committee of more than 30 design leaders from business, civic and cultural groups. “We have more designers in New York City than any other U.S. city, but we do a terrible job promoting them in their totality,” she said.

Promoting designers…fair enough.  Why not.

Christine Quinn’s aspirations to be mayor have no greater cheerleader than The New York Times.  For years now the Times has promoted the Speaker of the City Council as the presumptive heir to Bloomberg’s glorious reign.  Everything is ready, and everyone on the editorial board and all their friends are ready to salute our first woman Mayor.

One problem remains: getting her elected.

Are we at City Council Watch the only ones who have noticed that Ms. Quinn’s electoral experience is rather limited?  Unlike any of her opponents, she has never been elected to anything beyond the confines of the 3rd Councilmanic District.  Moreover, in 2009, when she ran for her third term, she scarcely won a majority in the Democratic primary, taking less than 7000 votes in total.

Larry Seabrook, now penitentiary-bound, won his 2009 primary by a greater margin than Chris Quinn.

It is easy to make the mistake that Chris Quinn wants everyone to make, which is to see her standing next to Mayor Bloomberg at handshakes and press conferences for the last decade, and to see that physical proximity as a sign of her spiritual proximity to power.  But in fact, becoming Speaker of the Council requires only 25 votes other than her own.

The Speakership is a significant role within a largely ceremonial body.  More than 95% of the municipal budget process is controlled by the Mayor.  The schools are controlled by the Mayor.  The police are controlled by the Mayor.  The Council’s legislative purview is curtailed by the State.  The Speaker of the Council is the dictator of a closed circle with a small diameter.

Chris Quinn’s main primary opponents have all won City-wide races.  They have strong outer-borough support, which she lacks.  Labor, which is vital to winning a Democratic primary, is not favorable to Quinn’s dithering on living wage and sick leave legislation.

And all those years of standing next to Mayor Bloomberg, getting the image of her proximity to power imprinted in the brains of New Yorkers, are going to gall those many voters who do not forget that she is the person who forced through the antidemocratic term limits extension.

So how does Chris Quinn win?  To follow her press one would assume that she has the gay vote tied up, though that can’t be taken for granted, given her primary challenge last cycle from two out lesbians.  Marriage equality plays well in some communities and less well in others.  It’s probably a wash.

So now she is pushing herself as the pro-business candidate…perhaps a successful general election strategy, and one that the Times will applaud, but of limited appeal to union and minority voters.

So now we see the Times pushing hard to fight her corner, pretending that a Design Week in May is a brilliant innovation on Quinn’s part, rather than just another in an endless sequence of trade shows.

Well, you play to your base.  And in Quinn’s case, it appears that her new underrepresented constituency is designers.

Splitting the Yenta Vote: the Race for Manhattan Beep

Of all the municipal races this year, are any less significant than the ones for Borough President?  Ever since the Board of Estimate was declared unconstitutional 25 years ago, the role of the “Beep” has become quaint and almost vestigial.  Like “Master of the Horse.”

Ask anyone what his Borough President does and you will receive a blank look.  When my daughter graduated from fifth grade, Manhattan Beep Scott Stringer showed up and gave a three minute speech, congratulating the students for living in “such a diverse city.” And he apparently stands outside Fairway sometimes and shakes hands.

Marty Markowitz probably is the Beep par excellence with his incessant boosterism of Brooklyn.  Eating Junior’s cheesecake, praising the Nets, basically being a clown.  When you consider that Markowitz’ predecessor as Brooklyn Borough President was the legitimate powerbroker Howard Golden, one sees how completely diminished the position really is.  It is almost like a Carnival celebration where the town idiot is crowned king for a day.

Ok, maybe the role isn’t as vacuous as it seems.  The Beep has a small amount of capital funding to dispense every year, and can appoint members of local community boards.  Borough Presidents can also introduce legislation to the City Council, though this rarely happens.  And they do have influence over land use decisions.  But mostly the position is a post for either the superannuated (Helen Marshall, Marty Markowitz) or the ambitious (Ruben Diaz, Jr., Scott Stringer).

In any case, the role pays well, provides a staff, and requires limited work, so if you are already used to living on the public’s dime, why wouldn’t you run for it?

This year’s race for Manhattan Borough President is intriguing in that the candidates are relatively respectable, and also because they represent such distinctly identifiable areas of the borough.  Council Members Gale Brewer, Jessica Lappin and Robert Jackson are from the Upper West and Upper East Sides and Uptown respectively.  Julie Menin, president of CB 1, is the candidate of Tribeca and downtown.

Jessica Lappin from the Upper East Side was former Council Speaker Gifford Miller’s chief of staff, and she has long been considered a potential candidate to fill his spot after Speaker Quinn moves on to her well-deserved retirement.  Alternatively it is said that she has her eye on Carolyn Maloney’s House seat in the famed silk stocking district, but the Hon. Maloney isn’t going anywhere soon, so CM Lappin has decided to try for Manhattan BP in the meantime.

Lappin has been a faithful Council soldier, serving competently this last term as chair of the Aging Committee.  Her legislative history is respectable: she has persistently filed intros regarding food allergies and newspaper boxes, twin obsessions of her UES constituency, one imagines.  And she has succeeded this year in getting restrictions passed on those electric scooters that restaurants rely on to buzz around the sidewalks.

Meanwhile, Robert Jackson has represented sections of Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood for 12 years.  He is known as a committed advocate for public education, and co-founded the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which won billions of dollars for city schools from the state, though most of that money has never materialized.  As a black man running against three white women, CM Jackson could capitalize on a possible split vote below 125th Street and win by capturing the black and Latino turnout.  Also, Jackson is a Muslim, which though little remarked upon, would be a significant first if he were elected to a borough-wide office.

Here is a funny video where CM Jackson shows his annoyance with a heckler.

Gale Brewer is known for her vigorous, Jane Jacobs-style advocacy for a livable Upper West Side.  One recent zoning item she pushed for limits the expanding street frontage of banks and drugstores, which have turned entire blocks of Manhattan into glassy swaths of nothingness.  She has also tried to penalize landlords who turn residentially zoned units into illegal hotels.

CM Brewer has saved her considerable wrath for her (perhaps quixotic) war against bedbugs.  No one has fought more persistently, some might say obsessively, to eliminate their scourge from our city.  CM Brewer has announced on separate occasions that she has ceased going to the movies because of bedbugs, and that she crosses the street to avoid walking past chairs or couches that are being thrown out.

The thing about Gale Brewer’s candidacy is that, although she claims that she is serious about running, she hasn’t raised very much money.  More significantly, she hasn’t spent very much money either.  Her three opponents have each spent over $100,000 so far according to the CFB, while CM Brewer isn’t on record as having spent a dime.  So what’s her game?  We will see.

The final candidate for Manhattan BP has never been elected to anything, though as our Mayor has shown us, this isn’t a disqualification for office anymore.  Julie Menin is the chair of CB 1, and has pushed development projects in TriBeCa and SoHo.  She brings a little glamour to the otherwise unsexy Borough President race in the form of her intimidatingly famous supporters, most notably Robert DeNiro.  Ms. Menin has raised more money than anyone else in the race, and will surely run a formidable campaign.

Keep posted to City Council Watch for more info and news about this race and others.