Erik Engquist's "Brooklyn Politics" Column
- By Erik Engquist
As printed in the Courier Life Newspapers
February 16, 2004
GREEN GUILTY The guilty plea of Assemblyman Roger Green to petit larceny charges ends his legal troubles, but not his political ones. Given his admission that he claimed reimbursements from taxpayers for expenses he never incurred, the question being asked in political circles is no longer when Green will run for Congress. It's whether he'll even run for reelection this year. Technically he can, since he pleaded to only a misdemeanor. A felony would have forced him from office. Did he take the plea for that reason-so he could run again? Perhaps, but there were other reasons for him to want to stay at least through the end of his current term.
First, his pension vests when he turns 55 years old this summer. And second, he might want to get his son a job with the New Jersey Nets when Bruce Ratner assumes ownership of the team, insiders say. That should happen in a few months. Green is in a position to place people in jobs with Ratner because he supports the developer's $2.5 billion plan for an arena, housing, and office space in Prospect Heights. If Green doesn't run, who would? Probably a bunch of people. One certain candidate would be Hakeem Jeffries, who lost Democratic primaries to Green in 2000 and 2002.
"Green's admission of guilt is further evidence that Albany's a cesspool of corruption," Jeffries said. "The only way to change the government is to change the people who are governing." Jeffries said last year he was finished running against incumbents. But Green is now an incumbent with an asterisk, and the fine print says, "Pension about to vest. Tired of Albany, but ambitions for higher office dashed. May resign without warning." So we suspect Jeffries will gather petitions to make the 2004 ballot, just in case.
ARENA ANALYSIS: Opponents of Bruce Ratner's proposed Atlantic Yards basketball arena project distributed some propaganda in September countering the notion that sports facilities boost the local economy.
Among the quotes they cited was this one from a study co-authored by Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economics professor: "We and 15 collaborators examined the local economic development argument from all angles. In every case, the conclusions are the same. A new sports facility has an extremely small (perhaps even negative) effect on overall economic activity and employment. No recent facility appears to have earned anything approaching a reasonable return on investment."
The naysayers must have been shocked to learn that Zimbalist actually supports the project, and did so even before he had any inkling Ratner would hire him in early December to do some economic analysis of it.
"The main reason I've been supportive of this project-and I was supportive before Forest City Ratner asked me to help them with some economic projections-is not because of its potential to raise per-capita income or employment, but because it's wonderful for Brooklyn, for cultural enrichment, cultural identity, to restore something that has been robbed from Brooklyn. I think Brooklyn lost an important part of its heritage when [Walter] O'Malley moved the Dodgers.
"The idea of supporting a sports arena is similar to supporting a public park. You don't do it because it's going to raise per-capita income."
That said, Zimbalist believes the project (a 19,000-seat arena, 4,500 units of housing, 2.1 million square feet of office space, and 300,000 square feet of retail) would add a little money to the city treasury, unlike municipally financed sports facilities he's criticized in the past.
"The typical case is the public is spending hundreds of millions on a new arena and it's a net drain on the public coffers. Here there's a net plus," Zimbalist said. "Most new stadiums or new arenas create a hole in the budget. This is not going to do that." He added, "Whether the net plus is $2 million or $20 million (per year), it's still a small number. One would not say, 'Let's move the Nets to Brooklyn to help the local economy.'" Of course, many supporters are saying exactly that. They'd probably enhance their credibility by adopting Zimablist's more realistic point of view.
BANNEKER KIDS NOT PAWNS, RATNER SAYS The press event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music announcing the purchase of the Nets by Bruce Ratner was attended by children from Benjamin Banneker High School, which Assemblyman Roger Green loves to remind people he helped create. Because Green supports the Nets arena proposal for Brooklyn and also attended the press event, project opponents assumed the assemblyman orchestrated the Banneker kids' participation. "I have been really crushed by what he's doing, but that's the lowest of the low. He lent children to Bruce Ratner," one opponent said.
"Absolutely not," responded Barry Baum, a spokesman for the project. "That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of. We reached out to kids at schools all over Brooklyn. Several students from Banneker High School came to this exciting event at BAM and we were thrilled to have them."
ORTIZ CUTS THE FAT Usually when politicians talk about cutting the fat, they're speaking of budgets. But Assemblyman Felix Ortiz means it literally. He knows Americans are too fat, and that the problem is best addressed in children, 20 percent of whom are overweight in New York. The problem is even more acute among Latinos, who make up 55 percent of his Sunset Park-Red Hook district. Ortiz's latest effort is a bill to require chain restaurants in New York to post nutrition information next to each menu item. Labeling is already required of foods sold in stores, so why not at restaurants? "Consumers should be informed about what they are going to eat," Ortiz told the Albany Times-Union.
His colleagues on the Assembly Health Committee agreed, approving his bill with one objection-by a Republican who felt it unfair to require some restaurants but not all to disclose what's in their food. Ortiz's bill applies only to eateries with five or more locations in New York.
NELSON IN LULU LAND Councilman Mike Nelson gets a $10,000 annual lulu for chairing the council's Revenue Forecasting Subcommittee, while Councilman Lew Fidler gets just $8,250 for chairing the Youth Services Committee. Why does a subcommittee chairman get more than a committee chairman? And why is Nelson's lulu $2,000 more than that of other subcommittee chairmen?
The answers: Fidler gets less because he asked for less when the city's fiscal crisis hit two years ago (he borrowed the idea from Speaker Gifford Miller, who allotted himself a lulu 25 percent smaller than that of the previous speaker, Peter Vallone). Nelson gets more because he has seniority, having joined the council in early 1999, while most of his colleagues took office in 2001. The same is true for Tracy Boyland, whose lulu as Women's Issues chairwoman is $15,000.
You might be wondering why Nelson, despite his seniority, doesn't chair a full committee. The reason is he's never been especially driven to do so. He might well not have even inherited his subcommittee chairmanship from the convicted Angel Rodriguez had Fidler not lobbied for his appointment (a favor that won't be repeated, since Nelson voted to oust Fidler as Brooklyn delegation chairman).
POLITICAL TIDBITS More than a year ago, the vending machine in the post office on 7th Avenue in Park Slope stole $14.40 from us. We filed a report. No response. We filed another report. No response. We filed a third report. No response. Detect a pattern here? And the U.S.P.S. wonders where the phrase "go postal" comes from…
A New York Post item about Republicans wooing black churches in Brooklyn suggested that former City Council candidate Tony Herbert is a Republican "leader." But the next sentence, introducing an opposing viewpoint from Councilman Charles Barron, read, "Other black leaders-some of whom have even won elections-disagreed." Ouch…
Rep. Anthony Weiner hasn't decided yet whether to run for mayor, but he's already ratcheting up the campaign rhetoric against Mike Bloomberg. "He's going to lose in '05," Weiner told the Daily News. "All of the visits to the boroughs in the world are not going to change the fact that there is almost a spiritual divide between [Bloomberg] and those that he's governing."
Brooklyn high schools on Mayor Mike Bloomberg's Dirty Dozen list of the most dangerous: Canarsie, South Shore, Franklin K. Lane, Sheepshead Bay, and Thomas Jefferson…
Brooklyn Democratic Party spokesman Bob Liff has been rumored to be advancing the potential candidacy of lawyer Arnie Kriss for Brooklyn D.A. But Liff told us he is not. He is simply friends with Kriss, whose law practice is in the same office suite as Liff's employer, George Arzt Communications…
A former parent leader from a brownstone-area school e-mailed us, "Unfortunately I am no longer involved with any parent organization for Region 8/District 15. The politics there was more influential than the desire to empower parents." Politics in a school district? Say it ain't so.
Contact Brooklyn Politics at (718) 399-3693.
- By Erik Engquist
As printed in the Courier Life Newspapers
March 1, 2004
GAYS BACK OFF MARRIAGE ISSUE When candidates appear before Lambda Independent Democrats, Brooklyn's lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) political club, they are inevitably asked where they stand on gay marriage. One of the club's missions is to put legalization on the front burner of elected officials. But in the presidential race, Lambda takes the opposite tack. The club wants the Democratic nominee to minimize the issue so as to increase his chances of defeating George Bush.
That's one reason the club had no qualms about ditching Howard Dean and supporting Senator John Kerry for president, even though Kerry is dancing around the thorny topic of gay marriage. "Of course he is. Why wouldn't he?" said Lambda president Dan Tietz. Bush and his political strategist Karl Rove may try to make gay marriage a wedge issue in the race, something Tietz would prefer not to see. "Do we all think we deserve the right to marry just as straights do? You better believe it," Tietz said. "And that day will come. The question is when and how. And it's not going to come with this president."
He added, "The LGBT community and certainly the voters are rapidly suggesting to all of us that we're all on the same page, that we all have our own issues…but first and foremost is having a different president." Kerry may avoid the topic of gay marriage throughout the campaign, but Tietz said his club is quite comfortable with his history on gay issues.
"John Kerry has been very brave on LGBT rights," Tietz said. "In 1985 John Kerry was a principal sponsor of an LGBT anti-discrimination measure in the Senate. Here he was in 1996 in the tightest race of his career, and losing, and he bucked his own president and voted no [on the Defense of Marriage Act]. He's certainly way out there on civil unions."
ROPER TIES UP HYNES A Brooklyn woman named Mary Lee Ward has on four occasions accused attorneys of ripping her off. One of those attorneys, Sandra Roper, once ran against Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes. Guess which one of the four accused attorneys got indicted? That, at least, is Roper's version of events. Hynes's version is unknown, because the D.A. ain't talking. We should note that Hynes handed the Roper case to a special prosecutor to avoid a conflict of interest. He wouldn't want anyone to think he prosecutes people for political reasons, right?
Never mind that political muckraker John O'Hara was stripped of his law license, fined $20,000, forced to pick up trash for 1,500 hours, and otherwise had his life destroyed because he voted using his girlfriend's address, thanks to a Hynes prosecution that lasted a decade and probably cost taxpayers more than $1 million. Roper, who challenged Hynes in 2001 and earned a respectable 36 percent of the vote despite a shoestring campaign, cited the O'Hara case in a motion she filed last week. Roper claimed that Ward accused four other attorneys of forgery, larceny, filing of false documents, and fraud. The first three times, Hynes referred Ward to private counsel. The fourth time, he alerted the grievance committee of the New York State Appellate Division, Second Department.
In Roper's case, which began one month after she declared her candidacy against Hynes, the D.A. gave the complaint to the grievance committee and to a special prosecutor for criminal investigation. Did Roper really rip off Mary Lee Ward? We don't know, but it's worth mentioning that the bar association's grievance committee investigated and found the complaint without merit. The committee generally holds its attorneys to a higher standard than district attorneys do.
GOLDEN BOTCHES ABORTION STATS In a letter to this newspaper, State Senator Marty Golden declared, "The soaring number of abortions must be reversed." We have good news for you, Marty. It has been reversed. In fact, it never soared in the first place. It's been declining since 1973, the first year abortion was legal. Not only is the number of abortions dropping, but so is the rate (abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44).
We found the stats in about two minutes on the Alan Guttmacher Institute's Web site. Planned Parenthood of New York City spokesman Roger Rathman said of abortions, "They are going down, year after year. There are no soaring numbers, in any demographic or in any age group. It's all on the decline." The national abortion rate, which dropped the fastest during Bill Clinton's presidency, fell about 28 percent from 1981 to 2000. In New York, it dropped 20 percent from 1985 to 2000.
PREZ RACE PURGATORY A check of state Board of Elections records reveals how many Brooklyn political and community leaders put their money on the wrong horse back when no one knew who would be the Democratic nominee for president. Among those who filed to be delegates for Howard Dean were Reps. Jerry Nadler, Major Owens, and Nydia Velazquez, Councilman Domenic Recchia, Assemblymen William Boyland Jr. and Nick Perry, future congressional candidate Chris Owens, former Council candidate Ken Diamondstone, and Lambda's Renee Cafiero. Councilman David Yassky was also a Dean endorser but failed to speak for Dean as scheduled at a recent candidates' night hosted by the three major Democratic clubs in his area.
In the Rev. Al Sharpton's camp are Rep. Ed Towns, his son Assemblyman Darryl Towns, State Senators Kevin Parker and Carl Andrews, and district leader Gale Reed-Barnett.
Supporting General Wesley Clark were Rep. Anthony Weiner, his father Mort Weiner, State Senator Seymour Lachman, former Councilman Sal Albanese and fellow Bay Ridgite Gloria Melnick. Their candidate at least outlasted Senator Joe Lieberman, whose withdrawal from the race left in the lurch Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz, district leader Maryrose Sattie, Thomas Jefferson club leader Alan Maisel, and political consultant Elnatan Rudolph.
Backers of the first candidate to bite the dust, Rep. Dick Gephardt, included Councilman Vinny Gentile (who quickly jumped to Senator John Edwards) and Canarsie civic leader Gardy Brazela. On Rep. Dennis Kucinich's team are former Assemblymen Joe Ferris and Frank Barbaro, former City Council aspirant Elliott Kramer, and Marion Cleaver (an aide to Assemblyman Bill Colton).
Still holding out hope for Senator Edwards are Councilman Bill deBlasio, district leaders Lori Citron-Knipel, Ralph Perfetto, and Booker Ingram, former Council candidate Sam Palmer, and Marine Park activist Saul Needle. Incredibly, just three noteworthy Brooklynites filed to be delegates for John Kerry, who emerged as the frontrunner: former School Board 22 President Eileen O'Brien; Michael Benjamin, an aide to Councilman Lew Fidler, and Andrew Kurzweil of Sheepshead Bay, chairman of the Disabilities Issues Caucus for the NYS Young Democrats. Assemblyman Colton jumped aboard Kerry's train on February 18.
State Senator Marty Malave Dilan was listed as a Kerry delegate but withdrew his name on January 6, perhaps because his son, Councilman Erik Dilan, joined the Edwards campaign. The younger Dilan even drove with deBlasio to Iowa to knock on doors for Edwards just before the caucus there. The most mysterious listing we found was the name of Caribbean Life editor Kenton Kirby in the column of perennial outlier candidate Lyndon LaRouche.
BROOKLYN NETS NOTES Opponents of Bruce Ratner's arena/housing/office project are amused by the streetscape renderings depicting an idyllic scene bereft of double-parked cars, beggars, and sidewalk vendors. And about two vehicle lanes of Atlantic Avenue have been replaced by trees. "Hilarious. No one can drive on Atlantic Avenue, so [they] can put trees on the middle of it," one neighborhood activist said.
Will double-parking be absent? Not if the recent politician-laden press event announcing the sale of the Nets is any indication. "They were all double-parking on Lafayette Avenue with their engines running for two hours," the activist said… …While Councilwoman Tish James and other opponents of the arena plan have dominated the conversation, countered only by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, we continue to hear great excitement about the Nets' potential move from non-political folks (the kind who read the sports page and trash the rest of the newspaper).
"I'll be the first guy sleeping on the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic to buy tickets," e-mailed Brooklyn's Joss Williams, a Nets fan who's grown increasingly unwilling to schlep to the Meadowlands to see games.
HATE MAIL BLASTS POLS A carefully crafted piece of anonymous literature blasting three southern Brooklyn politicians is turning up in mailboxes of Democratic Party insiders across the borough. The flier blasts State Senator Carl Kruger and Councilmen Domenic Recchia and Mike Nelson as "Democratic sellouts" who "have been identified as contributing to the detriment of our party."
While "contributing to the detriment" is awkward English, the flier otherwise appears professional, indicating that its author is experienced in political literature. "This person definitely knew what he was doing," Recchia said. The ostensible motivation for the flier is that Kruger, Recchia, and Nelson have all crossed party lines to endorse Republicans. Kruger takes the brunt of the flier's attack. The flier says Kruger "tries to be a crusader for education," but it questions the value of Kruger's own college degree.
Kruger, who's usually quick to answer accusations, would not discuss his educational background with us, saying he does not respond to anonymous literature. Kruger's chief of staff Jason Koppel told us if the author were to identify himself, the senator would address his concerns. (With a club, perhaps? Just kidding.) In his online Senate biography, Kruger simply states that he has a bachelor's degree in political science. He does not say where it's from. The other eight Brooklyn senators all name the schools they attended.
Politicians are not required to have any degree, and the quality of an official's degree often has no bearing on his effectiveness. Nonetheless, if Kruger runs for public advocate in 2005, he'll likely have to address this issue. As for Recchia, the anonymous flier reports, "Recchia 'graduated' from Atlanta Law School. Atlanta Law School is not approved by the American Bar Association. To be a NY lawyer and take the bar, the school had to be approved. How is this guy a lawyer?" Glad you asked, Mr. Anonymous Flier Writer. Recchia, as a Kent State undergrad, didn't get into accredited law schools because dyslexia sank his LSAT scores. So he went to Atlanta, which Recchia said "is a great law school" that has produced more Georgia judges than any other school.
Well, it's not a great law school any more, because it's been closed for years. It's produced fewer members of the state bar (1,439) than Georgia's five existing law schools. And only 51 percent are members in good standing, compared to about 90 percent of members from other Georgia law schools. Not that we're knocking Recchia's education. He persevered when others might have quit. And Atlanta Law indeed has some esteemed graduates. By the time Recchia graduated from law school, students with learning disabilities like his were being given extra time, enlarged print, and other handicaps on bar exams. That helped Recchia pass the bar exams in Indiana (though he turned down a job there so he could return to Brooklyn) and later New York.
He qualified for the New York Bar by spending a year at an accredited school, namely Touro Law Center. So who sent the flier? No one is sure (one suspect, campaign manager Gary Tilzer, told us it wasn't his work), but all agree it's odd to see a flier like this when no election is imminent. It's possible the sender was motivated by the three politicians' meddling in Community Board 15's controversial district manager hiring.
Another theory is that the real target of the mailing was Kruger, with Recchia and Nelson added as a diversion. The information on Kruger was fresher and more specific, while the comments on the other two were partly inaccurate. For example, the flier said, "Recchia is best known for starting nasty rumors about fellow Democrats and hanging his own people out to dry." But one unaffiliated insider, "That's not his reputation." Also, the innuendo about Recchia's law degree has circulated in past years, Recchia said.
Of Nelson, the flier said he "coasted to re-election without a Primary or a General election." In fact, Nelson had a Conservative opponent in the general last year. The flier also asserts that Democratic district leader Mike Geller is Nelson's "puppet master." But people who know Nelson say Geller is absolutely not his puppet master. Kruger is his puppet master.
TIDBITS The simmering feud between Rep. Nydia Velazquez and Assemblyman Vito Lopez has boiled over into the New York Post, which quoted Velazquez saying a Lopez-linked organization is trying to force some tenants from their Bushwick homes. The tenants don't want the housing organization Lopez founded (now run by his girlfriend, Angela Battaglia) administering a government grant to repair their homes. Velazquez suspects the city is circumventing federal rules to award business to the organization, the Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Citizens Council…
The campaign committee of Peter Williams, who finished behind James Davis and Tish James in the 2001 City Council race, was fined $3,600 by the Campaign Finance Board, including $2,500 for "grossly defective" filings of financial statements. Somehow, we learned of the fines before Williams, who had been trying to resolve the matter…
Unemployed copy editors should call State Senator Carl Andrews, whose latest constituent mailing includes a chart that's supposed to explain three different types of parking restrictions, but instead lists "No Stopping" on all three headings.
- By Erik Engquist
As printed in the Courier Life Newspapers
March 8, 2004
MARTY ON EMINENT DOMAIN Borough President Marty Markowitz wasn't allowed to take the microphone at the recent community forum in Park Slope about Bruce Ratner's arena/office/housing complex, but he eagerly spoke to a street-corner gathering outside. According to our spies, the beep said he was strongly in favor of the arena for the Nets but had misgivings about the size and scope of the rest of the project and was troubled by the extent to which eminent domain might be used. That prompted one project opponent to shake Markowitz's hand. A witness later asked if we thought Markowitz was as sincere as he seemed. We believe so. Markowitz has long dreamed of bringing a pro sports franchise to Brooklyn. But he never dreamed about knocking down perfectly good buildings so larger ones could be built in their place. Look for Markowitz and others to persuade Ratner to scale down the project. UNDERDOG WINS, THEN HITS WALL Nothing could be more embarrassing for city lawyers than to lose a case against a non-lawyer representing herself. But that's what happened when a Fort Greene woman, whom we'll identify by her initials "A.B.," sued for being falsely arrested 14 years ago. In a bizarre act of defiance, the city is now refusing to pay the half-million dollars A.B. was awarded by a jury, she told us. Actually, the city is simply pursuing the case to its bitterest legal end, delaying things longer than a non-lawyer would think possible. The story began when A.B., who's of African descent, was asked by the wife of the Mozambican ambassador to help promote a purported fashion designer's clothing line in the U.S. When the designer started passing bad checks, A.B. and a dozen recipients of the checks contacted the NYPD. A.B. and another person, initials M.M., then met with Detective William Wallace, who proved somewhat less accommodating than his namesake from Mel Gibson's "Braveheart"-he charged them with armed burglary. The designer, the one who'd passed the bad checks, had accused them of stealing $300,000 worth of clothing. Never mind that there was no evidence in the way of a gun or clothes, and that the accused were all upstanding members of the community with no criminal records. A.B. and M.M. spent three days in jail. (It took that long for A.B.'s then-husband to find her because the detective had recorded the arrest of a man from Afghanistan rather than a woman from Africa.) The case soon fell apart because the fashion designer disappeared. A.B. and M.M. were released and their arrest records sealed. They sued for false arrest and malicious prosecution and went before Judge Bernadette Bayne. M.M. settled with the city on the first day of trial, but A.B. rejected the offer and tried the case herself. It's said that someone who represents herself has a fool for a client, but in this case, after two weeks in court and two days of jury deliberations, the fool won half a mil. That was two years ago. The city has yet to pay a cent. Corporation Counsel, the city's legal arm, has filed motion after motion to wiggle out of paying, or at least delay it. It has lost every time, most recently on February 6 when Brooklyn Judge Karen Rothenberg denied the city's umpteenth motion as untimely. The city then filed another motion to ask Rothenberg to change her mind. A.B., perplexed that the case still has legs, has spent countless hours on the phone with dozens of bureaucrats, reporters, anyone who'll listen. But no one can do anything because the case remains alive, albeit barely (the city is now arguing that it's still timely to argue that A.B. didn't sign off on the trial transcripts). She called Ralph Perfetto in Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's office, and when he couldn't help, she thought he was undermining her. He wasn't, but years of frustration will trigger such conspiracy theories. She called Alan Fleishman and others in Comptroller Billy Thompson's office, who were stymied by Corp Counsel, which answers to the mayor. So she called the mayor's office (again). The mayor's people told her Corp Counsel had instructed them not to talk to her. Then they transferred her-to the police. "I've been on this for 14 years," A.B. e-mailed us. "It has prevented me from working, from living, from taking proper care of my family and myself. I had to write four legal papers this week." In the process, she lost her apartment. Her case doesn't exactly speak wonders for our legal system. We are reminded of another saying: "People who love sausage and respect the law should never watch either being made." PRE-K FUNDED AT P.S. 282 With all the talk of city, state, and federal budget deficits, we were shocked to learn that money has been allocated to launch a full-day pre-kindergarten program at P.S. 282 in Park Slope this September. One P.S. 282 person told us admission was guaranteed to kids in the school's zone. Later we learned admission would be based on other factors, including "need" (financial?), and that the number of seats was unknown. (P.S. 321 has a lottery for pre-k, the odds of which are only slightly better than Lotto.) When we asked where the funding for pre-k came from, a P.S. 282 insider hesitated, then declined to answer. But we were assured that the program wouldn't be cut. That's terrific news for parents of 4-year-olds whose only previous option was private school for $15,000 (nearly three times more than undergraduate tuition at SUNY-Albany). But last month, many parents put down non-refundable deposits for private schools without knowing they could send their 4-year-olds to P.S. 282 for free. The school did distribute some fliers but the local parents we know never saw them. This was a story that should have been pitched to the local papers. Still, the effort to improve P.S. 282 is welcome. For years, 282 has toiled in the shadow of Park Slope's vaunted P.S. 321. Slope parents in the P.S. 282 zone fake their addresses to get kids into P.S. 321. Others rent apartments in the P.S. 321 zone, enroll their kids, then buy a house outside of the zone-but keep their kids enrolled (which is legal). As a result, a startling percentage of P.S. 321 kids live outside the zone, and the school has become quite crowded. It now has 1,260 students, compared to 662 at P.S. 282. But P.S. 282 is hardly a school of last resort. While some Slope parents avoid it, parents from other neighborhoods seek waivers to get their kids in. You know the cliché: One man's junk is another's treasure. Can P.S. 282 achieve the reputation of its ballyhooed neighbor? One way to raise test scores is to attract students who'll likely score better-kids from wealthier families. Few educators will say that, because it's not politically correct. But columnists can. This year, 63 percent of P.S. 282 students are eligible for free lunch. At P.S. 321, the number is just 24 percent. Higher income levels are correlated with higher standardized test scores, and that is indeed the case at 321 and 282. P.S. 282's scores are good, but 321's are always better. And test scores, for better or worse, are how many parents judge schools. Parents also look at suspension rates. P.S. 282's is seven times P.S. 321's. That may reflect more misbehavior at 282, a different approach to discipline, or both. We know of one parent who withdrew his son from P.S. 321 because a boy who bullied him went unpunished. There are promising signs for P.S. 282. First, thanks to the mayor's revamping of city schools, 282 is no longer in a different district from 321; both are in Region 8, headed by Carmen Farina, and in the same subsection of the region, led by Joan Kaufman. But more important is the pre-k program, despite its haphazard launch. Pre-k could attract middle-class parents who'd rather save money for college than write huge tuition checks for 4-year-olds. If their kids stay at 282, they'd lift scores on the fourth-grade exams. Pre-k will also give an educational head-start to kids whose parents can't afford private schools. That, too, should lead to higher test scores five years later. Higher scores will attract more kids from good home environments, who will lift scores yet again. You know the cliché: Nothing succeeds like success. BOYLAND TO RETURN CASH Councilwoman Tracy Boyland will return the corporate donations improperly deposited into her congressional campaign fund and hire a professional to handle future Federal Election Commission filings. "My treasurer is very inexperienced," Boyland told us. "She was excited about the broad-based support that we got. She deposited all the checks we've gotten." By federal law, only individuals may give money to campaigns for Congress. By our count Boyland received over $60,000 from ineligible contributors, as we reported last week, but she said only about $20,000 would have to be refunded. Boyland got cash from a bunch of businesses outside of the district in which she's running, currently represented by Rep. Major Owens. But Boyland said no specific effort to lobby these far-flung donors was made. "We told people, and word spreads, that we were thinking about running for Congress," she said. "People just started telling other friends." One veteran of Brooklyn politics was dubious. "It was no accident," the insider said. TOWNS BUGS UNIONS In our March 10, 2003 column, we reported that an invitation for Rep. Ed Towns's annual breakfast fundraiser lacked a "union bug," a logo indicating the printing was done by a union shop. Politicians, particularly those who court support from unions, usually use union printers. When we asked Towns's office last year why a non-union printer was used, we were told the local residents who arranged the breakfast "were not aware of the political sensitivity of the subject." Well, invitations for this year's fundraiser on March 19 just went out, and guess what-no union bug. Towns aide Karen Johnson said the fundraiser is a small one (the cheapest ticket is $50) and that union printers are used for larger events. FOLLOW THE MONEY A reader suggested we explain how to look up campaign contributions "so we can learn who is beholden to whom." We're inclined to say yes to folks who use "who" and "whom" correctly. So: To see campaign finance data for New York City candidates, go to nyccfb.info and click on "public disclosure." (Data for campaigns that didn't apply for matching funds is not available on line. You must visit the Board of Elections.) For campaigns for state office, see elections.state.ny.us/finance/fdismenu.htm. For federal campaigns, see fec.gov/finance_reports.html. One politician not afraid of what you'll find on these lists is State Senator Carl Kruger, whose chief of staff sent e-mails celebrating Kruger's recent fundraising prowess. "Senator Kruger's disclosure statement will show that of the $416,000 [in his account] over $265,000 was raised in the last six months," Jason Koppel wrote. "In addition to ongoing fundraising, Senator Kruger has several major fundraising events scheduled in the next few months." TIDBITS Councilman Simcha Felder asked Mayor Mike Bloomberg if he'd host a Felder fundraiser at the mayor's townhouse, and the mayor said yes. The event was scheduled for March 15. Usually the mayor doesn't do such favors for Democrats, but Felder also had the Republican line in the 2003 election, which gave Bloomberg political cover to help him… The withdrawal of Senator John Edwards from the presidential race was costly for Councilman Bill de Blasio, who had been making $6,000 a month as a campaign consultant for Edwards since July 2003. The councilman is now supporting Senator John Kerry… Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz got a response from the Department of Sanitation on the matter we raised about garbage going uncollected during snowstorms. The department suggested trash be put out no sooner than 5 p.m. the day before the scheduled collection. It also claimed residents can get information on garbage-collection delays by calling 311. We have our doubts, given our past experience with the local Sanitation garage. Our suggestion is when a blizzard is imminent, call 311 for an updated collection schedule before putting trash on the curb. Then hope for the best… Speculation is that Anatoly Eyzenberg, a/k/a Tony Eisenberg, will run for Democratic district leader this summer in Brighton Beach against incumbent Mark Davidovich, a fellow Russian-American. If successful, Eyzenberg would try to challenge Councilman Domenic Recchia again in 2005. Eyzenberg got kicked off the ballot by Recchia last year because he listed his shop, Brighton Meats, as his voting address. That, uh, spoiled his chances… How does candidate Frank Barbaro feel about the Iraq situation? "Get our soldiers home, let the U.N. go in, stop the sweetheart contracts for [Vice President Dick] Cheney's friends. Use that money to rebuild America," he said. The former assemblyman from Bensonhurst is challenging Rep. Vito Fossella… Former State Senate and City Council candidate Omar Boucher is considering running for Democratic district leader in East Flatbush's 58th Assembly District. The position is currently held by Councilman Kendall Stewart, who plans to leave it. Stewart wanted to quit the Democratic state committee in October 2003, but held onto it when his aide Asquith Reid and his former ally Weyman Carey began fighting for the position. Look for those two to run for it in September.
- By Erik Engquist
As printed in the Courier Life Newspapers
March 22, 2004
BOROUGH HALL BLUES A recent New York Times article contrasted the architectural magnificence of Brooklyn Borough Hall with the relative unimportance of what goes on inside. Indeed, we can't think of a single crucial government function performed in the building, and it's not the fault of Borough President Marty Markowitz-it's the way city government is set up. Of course, Markowitz wasn't thrilled with the piece. "The Times article was absolutely not balanced," he e-mailed us. "The article typified a Manhattan-centric focus and mindset…That's the Manhattan Times for you!" Borough presidents once had real power, but the elimination of the Board of Estimate (ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989) rendered them cheerleaders and ombudsman.
Markowitz hosts events, seminars, and hearings almost daily at Borough Hall, but the building's potential as a revenue-raiser goes untapped. Imagine the cash it could generate if rented out for swank weddings and private parties. Markowitz has. But he was told the law apparently forbids the use of public space to compete with private caterers. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Brooklyn Museum of Art (which receive public funding but are not government institutions) have booming wedding operations.
The Brooklyn beep is still exploring whether Borough Hall could legally be used this way. But if the law can't be changed, perhaps a not-for-profit could be established to take ownership of Borough Hall. The city, instead of laying out huge sums to maintain the building, could merely pay rent to the not-for-profit, which could make additional millions annually running a catering business on evenings and weekends. Unfortunately, selling public buildings generally involves an open auction. The thought of Bruce Ratner converting Borough Hall into condos would probably bother a few people.
HOW RUMORS GET STARTED When they last talked to each other, at the bar of Albany's Crowne Plaza Hotel, Chris Owens (son of Rep. Major Owens) and former Assemblyman Frank Boyland (father of Councilwoman Tracy Boyland) had the following conversation:
Boyland: So, Major's running?
Owens: Yes, indeed!
Well, that doesn't make for very good gossip, so the wags spiced it up a little. They created a hostile exchange in which Owens, angry that Boyland's daughter was challenging his father in the Democratic primary, threatened to run candidates against Boyland's son, Assemblyman William Boyland Jr., and against district leaders allied with the Boylands. To which the elder Boyland replied, "Yeah? With what operation?" (A reference to the congressman's nonexistent political machinery.) Now, that would have been interesting enough for this column. Alas, it didn't happen that way. "Pure fiction" was how Chris Owens described the story.
BARRON DEMANDS PROBE Councilman Charles Barron asked Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to investigate the shooting of blacks by white cops. "A pattern has developed, it seems, with white officers: they discharge their weapons into black citizens, but it doesn't seem to happen with Latino or black officers," Barron said at a press conference.
Well, it does happen sometimes. Recall the tragic death in 1994 of Nicholas Heyward Jr., 13, shot dead while carrying a partially orange water pistol mistaken for a real one by a black cop patrolling the Gowanus Houses in Boerum Hill. As the Rev. Al Sharpton has been off pursuing a national identity, Barron has increasingly become the black leader the New York City media turns to when police kill unarmed blacks. But coverage of Barron is still spotty.
Barron was quoted extensively in Newsday's coverage of the recent press conference-the headline was "Barron pushes for shooting probe"-but he wasn't mentioned in the Daily News's report, which only quoted Councilman Bill Perkins. The Post mentioned neither councilman, and the Times ignored the story entirely. No doubt a media conspiracy is under way.
MUSICAL CHAIRS Observers who expect Councilwoman Tracy Boyland to lose the Democratic Congressional primary against Rep. Major Owens and Councilwoman Yvette Clarke this year foresee more musical chairs from the Boyland family in 2005. That's when term limits will prevent Tracy from seeking reelection. But her brother, William Boyland Jr., could win her seat and vacate his Assembly seat, which would then be filled by special election. The Democratic nominee for that election-virtually guaranteed to win because the Brownsville district is heavily Democratic-would be chosen by the Democratic county committee members of the Assembly district.
These members are controlled by the Boylands and would surely pick Tracy Boyland. "I wouldn't hold out a lot of hope if I were Reginald Bowman," one insider commented, referring to a frequent opponent of the Boylands. It's the same process by which Tracy's brother won the Assembly seat in 2003 after their father, Frank Boyland, abruptly abandoned it after 10 terms.
If Tracy Boyland decided not to swap seats with her brother, or somehow won the Congressional race, her father might well run for her Council seat in 2005, sources said. Others who've been mentioned for the seat include Frank Boyland's nephew Jonathan Gabriel, the strikingly tall (6-foot-8) director of the Brooklyn chapter of the American Red Cross, and Democratic district leader Alicka Ampry-Samuel. Gabriel told us he has no plans to run and didn't even know insiders considered him a potential candidate.
ADELE WOULD WELCOME WAL-MART To hear Assemblywoman Adele Cohen embrace the notion of Wal-Mart opening a store in Coney Island, you'd never guess she was a union employee for 18 years before joining the Legislature. Here's what Cohen told our reporter Steve Witt for a story about false rumors of Wal-Mart coming to her district: "I would like any honest business to come to Coney Island that would provide jobs for our local people. If Wal-Mart comes in and hires local people, it would be wonderful."
But is Wal-Mart an honest business? According to numerous accounts in the mainstream and liberal media, the company has frequently violated the law to squelch unionization movements in its stores. And is it wonderful to work for Wal-Mart? The company is notorious for its low wages, unpaid overtime, failure to promote women, and medical benefits package too expensive for its underpaid employees.
To organized labor, Wal-Mart is Public Enemy Number One: the world's largest employer and fiercely resistant to unions. Surely Cohen is aware of that, having been an office manager and benefits director for Local 99 of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union for eight years, then an attorney for District Council 37 for 10 years.
Our guess is Cohen would also disagree with Wal-Mart's policy not to sell the morning-after pill at its pharmacies, which in rural areas may be the only pharmacies for many miles. Given that the pill is only effective when taken within 72 hours of sex, the company's refusal to sell it probably leads to unintended pregnancies.
When we asked Cohen to reconcile her union background with her pro-Wal-Mart statement, she e-mailed a response averting the issue entirely. But in the interests of fairness, we will print it (edited for space): "One of the greatest problems we have in Coney Island is the lack of jobs. A great deal of attention has been focused on the revival of Coney Island, but we have only seen very limited results, and few benefits for the thousands of residents of the area. So-called economic development initiatives over recent years have produced few new jobs in the community when we need thousands of them.
"There needs to be a comprehensive strategy for the future of Coney Island that will provide the improved economic base-and the jobs-which the community urgently needs. This strategy needs to encompass: improvement and expansion of the housing stock, development of better retail and commercial services, modernization and expansion of the amusement area, physical improvements to the beach and boardwalk and far better community utilization of KeySpan Park, and a planned approach to bringing new life to the dozens of vacant or underutilized properties scattered throughout Coney Island and adjacent areas."
IF YOU CAN'T BEAT 'EM, JOIN 'EM Two years ago, Green Party candidate Kenn Lowy was trying to drum up interest in his race against Democratic Assemblywoman Joan Millman, who didn't pay him much mind even when Lowy was e-mailing us statements like, "Joan Millman's failure to campaign demonstrates that she is not interested in meeting the people she represents."
Millman must be a forgiving person, because when Lowy sought to join the board of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats last month, Millman spoke highly of him to IND. He was then elected. Also elected, somewhat curiously, was campaign consultant Peter Weiss, though he lives on the south side of Prospect Park, far from IND's Carroll Gardens base. At least one member saw a connection between Weiss's affiliation with Councilwoman Tracy Boyland and Boyland's campaign for Congress, for which she'd like support from clubs like IND.
"It's no coincidence that after Tracy Boyland shows up at IND, Peter Weiss joins the board," the club member said, referring to Boyland's recent visit to the club. The member added, "Assemblywoman Joan Millman was none too happy that Peter Weiss inserted himself into the affairs of IND." But hey, Weiss didn't insert himself. He merely offered himself up for insertion, and club members complied.
RATNER FOE HAS MOVED ON If you're wondering why we haven't heard criticism of Bruce Ratner's proposed arena/housing/office complex from Ted Glick, who fought Ratner's Atlantic Center mall plan in the 1990s, it's because Glick left his cramped Boerum Hill apartment for a house in Bloomfield, New Jersey six years ago.
Predictably, he became active in politics there, becoming the Green Party's U.S. Senate candidate in 2002 (and getting just over 1 percent of the vote). Glick, co-chairman of ATURA from 1985-1995, ran for City Council in 1991, losing to Ken Fisher. We asked Glick if he hates shopping malls, why did he move to New Jersey? Primarily because his wife got a teaching job in Newark, he said.
We also asked him to comment on how Ratner's Atlantic Terminal project turned out. "The original project was a bad idea," he said. "There were changes made to the original plan that made it a better project." Glick added, "It's a disappointment that that senior citizen housing was never built."
TIDBITS Park Sloper Bob Bell might have lost his interest in local politics, but he hasn't lost his wit. The former School Board 15 member recently left us this tongue-in-cheek message correcting something we'd written: "You got the story wrong. I go whitewater kayaking, not rafting. People are going to think I'm a weenie when you talk about whitewater rafting. Kayaking is a man's sport. Let's get it right next time." Will do, Bob. Keep that helmet on…
Some folks continue to believe that State Senator Carl Andrews will have an aide gather petitions to challenge Rep. Major Owens in the primary, but not really to challenge Owens. Rather, it's a backup plan in case Owens withdraws and has his committee on vacancies give his ballot spot to his son, Chris Owens. In that case, Andrews's aide would also withdraw and have his committee on vacancies give his ballot spot to Andrews…
How liberal is the Democratic club CBID? When club members chose a presidential candidate to endorse, no-hope left-winger Dennis Kucinich came within one vote of frontrunner John Kerry, even though a leader of the club, Assemblyman Jim Brennan, had spoken for Kerry. One club member allied with Brennan told us this wasn't a sign of Brennan's weakness, just his reluctance to pressure club members to do his bidding…
Upstaters have taken to calling Chuck Schumer "Senator Pothole," which was the nickname of the very man he defeated to win his seat, Al D'Amato. "Schumer has been called this fairly frequently up here and has shown D'Amato-like tendencies," Times Herald-Record reporter Nathan Hegedus informed us. "He is up here constantly on the most minor of issues. Some appreciate this while others think it is beneath the scope of a United State senator." The reporter's paper covers Orange, Ulster, and Sullivan counties. Schumer visits every county in the state at least once a year…
Former Republican City Council candidate Tony Herbert and some allies were said to be planning to ambush (verbally) Chris Owens and Democratic district leader Francis Byrd at the last 77th Precinct Community Council meeting. But Byrd was away on business and Owens was at another meeting…
Herbert, who continues to call our cell phone despite our request that he use the number printed at the end of every column, recently called our cell phone again and asked for our e-mail address. That's also at the end of every column…
Former Councilman Ken Fisher gave $500 and former State Senator Donny Halperin $100 to Councilwoman Tracy Boyland's campaign for Congress against Rep. Major Owens…
Also running against Owens is Councilwoman Yvette Clarke, who told Caribbean News she began thinking about the seat early last summer when rumors of Owens's retirement circulated. Will Clarke be hurt by Boyland's presence in the race? Not according to Clarke's people. They contend Boyland will siphon votes from Owens toward the Brownsville end of the district, far from Clarke's Flatbush base.
A big beneficiary of the Owens-Clarke-Boyland Democratic primary will be State Senator Kevin Parker because it will boost turnout in his district among blacks, most of whom will vote for Parker over former Councilman Noach Dear…
Rep. Nydia Velazquez is charging that President Bush's budget underfunds the Office of the Controller of the Currency, which helps protect people from predatory lending.
Contact Brooklyn Politics at (718) 399-3693.
- By Erik Engquist
As printed in the Courier Life Newspapers
March 29, 2004
FLAG-HAPPY POLS City Councilman Simcha Felder surveyed 17 schools in his Borough Park-Midwood district and found 70 percent in "dire need" of American flags. In a subsequent press release issued jointly with Assemblyman Bill Colton, Felder repeatedly capitalized the "f" in American Flags. That small detail was indicative of what happens to politicians when any issue involving patriotism and young children arises: their eyes get very wide and they begin salivating. In fact, Pavlov could have staged his experiment with elected officials and American flags just as effectively as he did with dogs and food.
But it's easy to see why. Constituents tend to be impressed when their representatives purport to nurture children's love for country, and newspapers tend to reward them with puff pieces, as the Daily News did Felder and Colton. "We are doing this for our children," Felder said in his release. "Every child deserves a flag in their [sic] classroom." Colton told the News, "Patriotism and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance are things that unify us."
The curmudgeon's view: For most children, reciting the pledge is a monotonous ritual from which they derive little or no meaning. An occasional classroom discussion about how our Constitution tries to provide "liberty and justice for all" (and whether our government achieves it) would be more unifying than a daily pledge. Also, more useful than asking schools if they need new flags in every classroom would be asking if they need textbooks.
BAD RAP FOR MAJOR Rep. Major Owens found himself on the front page of the New York Post for his unusual "rap play" titled "The Viagra Monologues." The paper's editors seized on the lyric, "Monogamy is for chumps" which led to the front-page headline "B'klyn pol takes rap at monogamy" and, in the paper's West Coast edition, "Major Chump." But it's obvious the lyric refers to an attitude some men have, not Owens's own attitude. "It's unfortunate that the Post has chopped this up and misrepresented the whole substance of the play," said Chris Owens, the congressman's son.
He noted that his father had sent the rap play to a Post reporter who wrote a cute story which, after the editors got through with it, bore no resemblance to the one that appeared in the paper. That should come as no surprise to people familiar with the conservative, sensationalist editors who run Rupert Murdoch's paper. The question is, why didn't the congressman see it coming?
Major told us he didn't see it coming because he considered the reporter who requested the 3-year-old play to be a friend. "Very politically motivated editors did a smear job," he said. "It's a misrepresentation, plus it's blown up out of proportion. It must have been a very slow news day." He said the Post's implication that he was criticizing monogamy was absurd, saying the play "is all about attitudes of a whole range of people," not just his own. Lady Macbeth having blood on her hands doesn't make Shakespeare a murderer, he added.
The lead writer of the story sounded surprised that Owens made the front page. "I certainly agree about the speed of that particular news day," said Gersh Kuntzman, "but I of course deny a political smear job. I don't write the headlines, but I would like to remind the readers that the article was intended to celebrate Major Owens's artistic gift and vision. If it failed to do that-and I'm not sure it did-I certainly apologize." Kuntzman, of Park Slope, is the Post's Brooklyn bureau chief.
The Owens camp isn't sure whether Major's opponents in this year's Democratic primary, Councilwoman Yvette Clarke and Tracy Boyland, would try to use the Post article to discredit him.
MARTY SUED OVER BCAT "Rent Wars" producer Ronin Amato, a tenant activist, filed suit in mid March to stop "the Marty Markowitz channel grab" at Brooklyn Community Access Television. "I've been watching as services for [BCAT] producers have been closed to make room for special Markowitz staff quarters. For a while I've been watching the reports in your paper about the Marty Markowitz takeover of BCAT. This is a disturbing thing," Amato e-mailed us.
He added, "I really love Marty. He's the politician who helped me years back against my slumlord when others ignored me (except for [Rep.] Ed Towns)…But the defense of free speech forces my hand here." Amato tried to work out his differences with the borough president before suing, "But despite promises to the contrary, Marty has gone for even more airtime," he wrote.
"What a dangerous precedent if all the borough presidents set up a political propaganda channel…it seems as if over 60 percent of the programming at BCAT is now under Marty's control." Markowitz issued a statement that it would be inappropriate to comment on a pending legal matter. In the past, he's insisted that he's not micromanaging BCAT but would like to see the station do more to promote Brooklyn.
BOYLAND'S BATTLE One of Councilwoman Tracy Boyland's problems in her race against Rep. Major Owens is that her Council district includes just an edge of the congressional district she seeks. By contract, another challenger, Councilwoman Yvette Clarke, represents a district smack in the middle of Owens's. "Sometimes those obstacles are very tough to get over," Boyland told us. "I'm confident that once I get into the entire congressional district, they'll be responsive to me." If not, she'll be out of city office in January 2006, thanks to term limits.
Owens, who was once Boyland's boss and a friend of the Boyland family (the Owenses and Boylands both hail from Memphis), concurred that Boyland's political base being on the periphery of the congressional district doesn't bode well for her chances. "Everyone sees that but her," Owens said. But when we asked if he thought Boyland had a hidden agenda for running, Owens answered, "I think she really thinks she can win." Obviously, he doesn't agree.
The congressman added that he'd file a formal complaint with the Federal Elections Commission over contributions from businesses and other non-individuals to Boyland's campaign fund. Boyland told us that she'd have to return about $20,000 to donors, but Owens said more than $60,000 given to Boyland was illegal under the new campaign finance law. "I don't know what kind of math she could have used" to come up with $20,000, he said. Owens added that Boyland's filing doesn't show what she paid two restaurants to host fundraisers. All expenses and even in-kind contributions must be disclosed to the FEC.
BLACKLISTED JUDGE SUES Civil Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres, blocked for years from running as a Democrat for Supreme Court by Assemblymen Clarence Norman and Vito Lopez and other political insiders, is suing to change the system. Currently, Democratic power brokers control the process because they control the machinery that "elects" their cronies to the judicial nominating convention. "Elects" is in quotes because these cronies are unopposed nearly 100 percent of the time, so you never see their names on the ballot.
At the annual convention, which is held during lunch hour so no one has to miss work, the cronies robotically approve judicial candidates as instructed by their masters. Why don't shut-out judges like Lopez Torres try to get their own cronies elected as judicial convention delegates? Because it takes a massive political operation to collect 500 valid signatures in each of the 24 Assembly districts that make up the Second Judicial District (Brooklyn and Staten Island). That's 12,000 signatures. It only takes 7,500 to run for mayor.
District Attorney Joe Hynes released a statement commending the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, which is representing Lopez Torres and other plaintiffs, "for challenging a process where party leadership determines who becomes a Supreme Court justice through an 'election' system that is a sham," Hynes said.
Another Democrat put it this way: "Both election and appointment have their problems, but our unique system of nomination by convention manages to combine the worst aspects of each system with the benefits of neither. One can defend elections, or one can defend appointments, but the current system is indefensible."
PROF PONDERS OWENS RACE A little-known Mercy College English professor named Gabriel Adetokunbo "Toks" Pearse is eying the Democratic primary for Congress this year in the 11th District, currently the domain of Rep. Major Owens. Pearse, a native of Nigeria, has launched a rather elaborate campaign Web site that tells much more than you'd ever want to know about him-but neglects to mention where he lives. We checked state Board of Elections records and the statement of candidacy he filed with the Federal Election Commission and learned he resides on Woodruff Avenue off Ocean Avenue, a block from Prospect Park.
Pearse takes some conservative positions on his Web site, calling for more government grants for faith-based organizations and more funding for private schools, though he avoids the term "vouchers" (the right wing now tries to avoid that word). He also gave $1,970 to the 2002 reelection campaign of Governor George Pataki, who's more disliked in the liberal 11th Congressional District than just about anywhere.
Pearse's prose is not exactly blessed with the elegance you'd expect from an English professor with four degrees in English literature, English, and education. "Government schools, such as public schools, alone cannot accommodate the educational needs of the community. Imagine if there were no private colleges, and the only colleges we had were the city and the state colleges. The shortage in higher education will be devastating," he writes. Note to Dr. Pearse: imagined scenarios call for "would" rather than "will"-as in, "If Pearse wins the election, I would sell my children and donate the proceeds to his campaign fund."
Plentiful typos, including "cahirmen" (chairman) and "hnorary," indicate Pearse's site may be unfinished. But we will nonetheless mention that commas are interjected randomly throughout Pearse's writing, causing readers to stammer like a Ferrari filled with diesel. For example: "I will assure the people that when I am in town I will meet with them, both, for reports and to receive their input." Putting aside the extra commas, we appreciate the assurance. We wouldn't want a congressman who refuses to see his constituents. Not that Pearse can even hope to win the race, which figures to pit Councilwomen Yvette Clarke and Tracy Boyland against Owens.
If Pearse is naïve, it's not because he's a political neophyte. He earned $6,704 drumming up votes for Ken Fisher's failed bid for borough president in 2001 and $1,550 for helping to get Alan Hevesi on the mayoral ballot that same year. (Pearse's online bio says he was a "consultant" to both campaigns, as well as to Assemblyman Clarence Norman's runs in 1998 and 2000, though we found no record of Norman paying Pearse in 2000. We did find a record of Pearse paying Norman, though-$50 to Norman's 2000 campaign, before Pearse moved from Crown Heights to Flatbush.)
A friend of Pearse, former City Council and State Senate candidate Omar Boucher, told us Pearse put up the Web site while looking for support for a run, but didn't find much and probably wouldn't run. Pearse didn't return our e-mails.
BIKE PATH CHEERED Republican Susan Goodstein didn't come close to defeating Councilman Lew Fidler in the 2003 general election, but we did like the straightforward answer she gave during a candidates forum in Manhattan Beach. Asked if she'd get rid of the controversial traffic and bicycle lanes on Oriental Boulevard, which were implemented by the city over the community's objections, Goodstein immediately answered, "No, I wouldn't. Many times I've nearly been run over on the sidewalk by a bicycle. I think we need more space designated for bicycles."
Most candidates reflexively blast the city government, agree with the community's objections, and demand that police confiscate bicycles on the sidewalk. Instead, Goodstein delivered an enlightened answer that made sense. While the traffic pattern on Oriental Boulevard is unusual, it hasn't been the disaster many residents and politicians predicted.
KENDALL CASHES IN A noteworthy contributor of $500 to Councilman Kendall Stewart's reelection campaign was his office manager, Cislyn Boucher, the ex-wife of one of Stewart's opponents in the Democratic primary, third-place finisher Omar Boucher. She wasn't the only familiar name we found on Stewart's donor list. Former State Senator Donny Halperin gave Stewart $250. (Halperin still lives in the Sheepshead Bay area but now practices law for a Midtown firm.) Caribbean business leader Roy Hastick Jr. handed Stewart a whopping $1,900 while Eda Hastick added $400.
Former Assembly Speaker Mel Miller (who used to represent Flatbush) donated $250. So did State Senator Kevin Parker. Stewart's Council aide Asquith Reid contributed $400 and Stewart's co-leader Gail Reed-Barnett gave $275. Wellington Sharpe, who ran against State Senator Carl Andrews in 2002, donated $500. Former Councilwoman Una Clarke gave $100, and Rep. Ed Towns gave $250, as did political operative Vaughn Toney, manager of Friends of Crown Heights. Incidentally, Stewart received $12,880 in public funds for the general election, in which Stewart received 89 percent of the vote against a nominal Republican opponent. It would be a nice gesture for Stewart to return the money, since it was totally unnecessary and the city is in financial straits.
He might be obligated to give it back anyway, unless he can show it was legitimately spent. One of his Democratic primary opponents, Erlene King, told us she saw no Stewart literature, posters, or election workers after the primary. The Campaign Finance Board audits every campaign that receives public money, though sometimes it takes more than two years.
BYRD FEED Democratic district leader Francis Byrd of Prospect Heights blasted Council Speaker Gifford Miller for allegedly pressuring a councilman to cancel a hearing on Bruce Ratner's arena project. Byrd wrote, "I, as a citizen, a community and party leader, and deeply disturbed by your actions." Byrd wears another hat as well: he works for Comptroller Billy Thompson, who might run against Miller for the Democratic mayoral nomination in 2005.
Contact Brooklyn Politics at (718) 399-3693.
- By Erik Engquist
As printed in the Courier Life Newspapers
April 12, 2004
PERMIT PARKING REVIVED When Councilman David Yassky asked the city Department of Transportation to launch a pilot project in which some parking spots in Boerum Hill and Brooklyn Heights would be reserved for local residents, the DOT didn't budge. But Newsday just reported that when developer Bruce Ratner suggested residential permit parking, presumably to increase community support for his Atlantic Yards arena-office-housing project, DOT said it has been considering the idea.
"That's fascinating," Yassky said, sounding somewhat stunned. "The DOT response has been that they don't like the concept." Yassky was glad to hear the DOT might be coming around to the idea, but didn't sound too thrilled that the city seems more swayed by a developer than by a councilman. But, wisely, he bit his tongue. "I will be disappointed if the mayor pushes through the downtown development plan without protection for the residents who park in the neighborhoods nearby," said Yassky, referring to the rezoning proposed to allow big office buildings in downtown Brooklyn. "In fairness, I think the administration is still considering the residential permit parking idea for downtown as well."
Perhaps the mayor could reserve parking for residents and help balance the budget as well by charging $500 or $1,000 for an annual permit. Unfair, you say? Consider that it costs $100 for a tennis permit, which allows for one hour per day on a public court for six months. Yet it's free to park 24-7-365 on public streets.
POST WRITER RESPONDS The lead writer of the New York Post article about Rep. Major Owens's rap play "The Viagra Monologues" took exception to the congressman's characterization of the paper's coverage as "a smear job" by "politically motivated editors." Owens had blasted the paper's front-page placement and headline "B'klyn pol takes rap at monogamy" and its West Coast edition headline, "Major Chump." Owens had told us, "It must have been a very slow news day."
The Post writer sounded surprised his story made the front page. "I certainly agree about the speed of that particular news day," said Gersh Kuntzman, "but I of course deny a political smear job. I don't write the headlines, but I would like to remind the readers that the article was intended to celebrate Major Owens's artistic gift and vision. If it failed to do that-and I'm not sure it did-I certainly apologize." Kuntzman, of Park Slope, is the Post's Brooklyn bureau chief. He assured us, "The Post as an institution does not have a vendetta against Major Owens."
NO TREES TO GROW IN BROOKLYN A New York Times article seemed to cast Bed-Stuy's Billy Thompson as the bad guy for ruling, as the city comptroller, that the Parks Department must hire $40-an-hour laborers rather than $15-an-hour gardeners to plant trees. As a result, the per-tree cost will rise from $750 to about $1,000, and the Parks Department will probably miss the entire 2004 tree-planting season in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens while it appeals Thompson's decision.
Thompson's people told us the change was necessitated by state labor laws and a collective bargaining agreement. We're sure the Building, Concrete, Excavating & Common Laborers Local Union 731 would agree-its members will be making the $40 per hour. If this were a case of political payback, we couldn't find it. There's no record of Local 731 giving money to any city candidate in the last 14 years. But there's always next year.
ENVYING GREEN'S SEAT Will Eric Adams run? We left a message for Adams, co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care and a rumored candidate this September against Assemblyman Roger Green, but Adams didn't call back. Usually aspiring politicians wait until they get elected before they start ducking calls.
Is Adams viable? One close observer of 57th Assembly District politics thinks so. "If he raises the money, he could actually be a strong candidate: he's a good speaker and reasonably well known, he is an attractive personality for folks in some of the new 57th A.D. projects, etc., he is anti-arena so he will garner the support of the disaffected, and his law enforcement background creates a strong contrast with Roger's current legal problems," the observer offered.
We asked Rep. Ed Towns's people about a rumor that Towns would back Adams, and got a simple answer: "Not true."
Another likely candidate, but only if Green doesn't run, is Robin Brown, an education activist who hails from School District 13 (Fort Greene). Brown is the new president of the United Parents Association and is also president of New Brooklyn Leadership. The floating of Brown's name indicates that the club wants to have a candidate ready if Green quits. "I strongly support Roger Green in his candidacy," Brown e-mailed us. "At whatever point in time Roger Green decides not to run, I will look forward to exploring all of my options."
A third possible candidate, attorney Hakeem Jeffries, may end up running only for Democratic district leader or nothing at all. With a new job and a new baby, he's seen as unlikely to commit to a third exhausting Assembly campaign.
The current district leader, Francis Byrd, is likely to run, and Geoffrey Davis, brother of slain Councilman James Davis, might run for the unpaid position too. James Davis was the last person elected to the seat; after his death, the other 41 Democratic state committeemembers appointed Francis Byrd to finish Davis's two-year term.
RATNER DENIES PUSH-POLL A reader told us he'd been called by what sounded like "FCR Polling" on March 28 and being asked about Bruce Ratner's arena-office-housing proposal above the Atlantic Avenue rail yards. The reader, Park Slope's John McCrory, described it as a "push-poll"-a survey that tries to steer the respondent to one side of an issue, in this case to support the arena project. He assumed FCR stood for Forest City Ratner. We mentioned the alleged push-poll to Forest City Ratner's arena project press guy, a friend of ours from Boerum Hill named Joe DePlasco, and asked for the script, the cost, and the purpose of the poll. DePlasco e-mailed back only, "Hey Erik, how are you. You are wrong." We replied that the poll recipient had a very specific recollection of a 15-minute interview about the project. It didn't sound like he was making it up.
DePlasco e-mailed back, "I didn't say there wasn't a poll that went out-and I'm sure you are busily reading through the Quinnipiac poll that is out there too, 79 percent favor Nets in Brooklyn proposal-I just said your information was wrong." The key word there is "too." That tells us there was another poll in addition to the Quinnipiac "Nets-Jets" one. So we knew we were on to something. We asked McCrory for more details about the call he received.
McCrory, who is against Ratner's project but is not part of the organized opposition, e-mailed back: "The young-sounding man who was calling…asked if I was familiar with the proposal for the downtown Brooklyn Nets arena and I said yes. I asked where he was calling from and he said California, though I was skeptical about that. I asked who they were conducting the poll for, and he paused, apparently not certain how to answer, then said, 'No one. I guess we're just doing this poll for ourselves.'
"He read from a script, beginning with questions about whether I favored the arena plan or not. When I said I was opposed to it, he read off a list of reasons to oppose it, asking me in each case to rate its importance to my opinion. I said using public money and the powers of eminent domain for private purposes were my main reasons for opposing the plan; I also objected to the displacement of residents the plan would require.
"He then provided information about the plan, its housing, shopping, and office space, etc., asking whether I was aware of those aspects of the proposal. Then he asked whether 'knowing this new information,' was I favorable to the proposal. The questions iterated like this for several rounds, with the caller asking if I was aware of various things about the proposal (positive and negative) and then asking again to see if my opinion of the plan had changed…
"In addition, the caller asked me to rate the strength of various arguments pro and con…Over the course of the call, I'd estimate that the caller spent twice as much time offering arguments in support of the arena plan as he did describing reasons to oppose it.
"I was also asked what team name I liked best (Brooklyn Nets, Brooklyn Kings, New York Nets, etc.-all of which were pretty dull, and one of which, the Kings, doesn't make sense since there's already the Sacramento Kings). He asked if I was familiar with Bruce Ratner and Forest City Ratner, and whether I had a favorable or unfavorable opinion about them…He also asked my opinion of MetroTech." McCrory was also asked how important he'd consider the opinion of various elected officials including Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Borough President Marty Markowitz, Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Councilmembers David Yassky, Bill DeBlasio, and Tish James, Assemblyman Roger Green and Rep. Anthony Weiner.
We'd guess from this that Ratner wants to know which politicians he most needs to buy off, er, to lobby. We should mention that McCrory didn't find the poll particularly insidious or distasteful. "As push polls go," McCrory wrote, "it was pretty tame-they were not only trying to influence my opinion but were trying to gather some actual data.
"On Monday, as you probably know, Forest City Ratner announced they planned to 'scale back' the plan to 'save some homes at the project's southern end'-one of the questions the pollster asked me was specifically about the displacement of some 400 residents; I'm guessing they found through their weekend poll that this was one of the biggest objections to the plan."
POST: NO BILLS FOR MANY POLS A New York Post article singled out Councilmembers Tracy Boyland and Domenic Recchia for introducing just one bill each since January 1, 2002. Neither passed. Boyland, in fact, has had just one bill enacted-a street name change-since she took office in 1998, the article noted. Boyland didn't return the paper's calls.
Recchia did, telling the Post that his priority has been negotiating the mayor's tort-reform legislation and spurring Coney Island development, in part by persuading the city to create a local development corporation. Councilman David Yassky, meanwhile, proposed 34 new laws over the same 27 months. Three of them passed. Yassky e-mailed the article to his supporters with a note saying it highlighted his efforts but was unfair to some of his colleagues.
TIDBITS Try as we might, we couldn't find an angle to belittle Assemblyman Felix Ortiz's bill to require cars sold or registered in New York to have a device that disables the vehicle if the driver is drunk. If the device is reliable and doesn't inconvenience sober drivers, we can't see the harm. We do have one nitpick, though: Ortiz's press release was headlined, "Ortiz takes away the choice to drink & drive." Well, no. He just introduced a bill, one that likely won't go anywhere…
We were worried that our recent item on "flag-happy pols" would draw complaints from indignant flag-lovers. Instead, the feedback was positive. One reader wrote, "the flag-happy pols passage in your last column was terrific. The fact that this crap goes on all the time without being noted is a crime." Another wrote, "This week's little piece on flag-happy pols was too true. If it weren't so sad it would be hilarious!"
Transportation bills edging toward approval by Congress would return a higher percentage of gasoline taxes to the states from which they're collected, which would means billions less for states like New York that use public subways, buses, and ferries. That infuriates Rep. Jerry Nadler, reported The New York Times. "New York has invested huge sums in mass transit," Nadler said Thursday on the House floor. "Therefore, we are more energy efficient. And apparently, because we are more energy efficient, because we save on sending money to the Middle East, we must be punished by getting less." The reason: Congress is controlled by pols from gas-guzzling states…
The prolific fundraising of Councilman Simcha Felder has spawned speculation that he would run for Congress if Rep. Anthony Weiner leaves his seat. But Weiner would probably only do that if he's elected mayor, which is something of a longshot…
The Campaign Finance Board fined Sam Taitt's 2001 City Council campaign $6,346 for "failure to respond to initial request for audit documentation." Taitt plans to challenge Councilman Kendall Stewart again in 2005…
Sharon Toomer, who was a spokeswoman for Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes until he eliminated her position in December 2002, has resurfaced as director of communications for Borough President Marty Markowitz…
The City Council committee chaired by Yvette Clarke released figures showing the FDNY is 91.7 percent white and 99.72 percent male. "This is an endemic problem that can faithfully be repaired with the proper re-evaluation of the recruitment procedures," Clarke told Newsday. "To say we have a problem is an understatement."
Correction from the March 29, 2004 column: Democratic district leader Francis Byrd no longer works for Comptroller Billy Thompson. In November he became a senior analyst for Moody's.
Contact Brooklyn Politics at (718) 399-3693.
By Erik Engquist
As printed in the Courier Life Newspapers
April 19, 2004
SARA STEERS CLEAR An ugly incident between a family and 72nd Precinct police in Sunset Park on July 4, 2003 has put Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez in an uncomfortable position. So she's decided to take no position. The Independence Day clash between cops and the Acosta family began when, according to the family, an officer pulled up to their building at about 10 p.m. and, saying nothing, yanked the power cord from the boom box of 14-year-old Orlando Acosta.
The boy's mother Elena Acosta confronted the officer, who then ordered another cop to arrest her. When she walked up the stoop, an officer grabbed the back of her shirt. She fell over the railing and broke her elbow, according to a Village Voice article. It escalated into a melee involving a bevy of 72nd Precinct cops and Acosta family members. Police say the officer who unplugged the radio was "verbally abused," the Voice reported.
Four family members are facing criminal charges. Seven family members are preparing to sue the city. And the NYPD's Internal Affairs is investigating. Gonzalez has been unwilling to take the Acostas' side, perhaps because she doesn't want to offend local cops, according to a friend of the family.
"She was dodging the meetings and not showing up," said Dennis Flores, adding that the councilwoman tried to discourage the family from organizing a protest rally. That's bogus, Gonzalez told us. She said she wasn't even invited to the rally, which was ultimately held last September and led in part by Councilman Charles Barron of East New York.
According to Flores, Gonzalez seemed to feel she was being harassed by the family, who in turn wondered if the councilwoman was allied with the police, given that the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association had donated $1,500 to her campaign. But Gonzalez said she's simply not prepared to make a judgment on an incident she didn't witness. "I was not there. How could I step in and decide who's right or wrong?" she said. "I don't think that's something a councilmember should do."
Of course, Barron wasn't there either. Perhaps he's seen the medical records showing police exaggerated their injuries to shift blame to the Acostas. We asked Gonzalez if she resented her colleague traipsing into her district from the far side of the borough to slam 72nd Precinct cops. "Not at all," she said. "That's Charles Barron…He has to do what he has to do. I have no problem with that." The councilwoman said she's been working with the family to provide constituent services, such as helping one who lost her job to find new employment. But Gonzalez said she would take no position on the legal matter.
FELDER KNOCKS PEACENIKS City Councilman Simcha Felder recently told us he respects those who hold strong opinions even if he doesn't agree with them. But last week he accused those who object to the war in Iraq of wanting American soldiers to be killed. "What a terrible, despicable thing to have a rally against the war," the Democrat said during a Bay Ridge press event, as quoted by Courier-Life reporter Helen Klein. "In my mind, free speech is wonderful, but in essence, you are telling people who are fighting for this country, 'We are not with you, go to hell, drop dead, we don't want you there.' Don't tell me it means 'Bring them home.'"
In other words, Felder feels Americans shouldn't criticize any military actions ordered by their government, regardless of how unwise or unjust they may be. And those who do are rooting for U.S. soldiers to be blown to bits. So if the president ordered U.S. soldiers to invade and occupy Israel, we could expect to hear not a peep out of Councilman Felder. Right.
UGLINESS IN EYE OF BEHOLDER The Brooklyn Museum of Art is nearly finished constructing its new glass entrance, but don't expect universal applause. We're aware of some longtime Brooklynites who've seen the rendering and consider it hideous. They even had a notion to show up at the grand unveiling with signs that say, simply, "UGLY." We'd have to agree. Why obstruct classic columns with a ghastly new pavilion-and spend $63 million to boot? On the bright side, the museum is reverting to its previous name, the Brooklyn Museum, after having added "of Art" in 1997. The museum's new emphasis on exhibits that attract more and younger patrons is preferable to the old philosophy, which was to draw stuffy rich folks from Manhattan. They never came anyway.
RATNER TANGLES WITH WEB MASTER Clinton Hill resident Vernon Jones has been using his Web site, nycbasketball.com, to bash Bruce Ratner's arena/office/residential proposal for the land beside the Atlantic Avenue train station. "Think it has anything to do with the fact that he is upset because he didn't get the $500,000 he wanted for a pro-Nets Web site?" one arena supporter asked.
Jones, as you might guess, told us a different story. Ratner's people came to him and asked if he could put together a Web site and an office for them, and he gave them a proposal. But Jones said he began to get a bad taste in his mouth when he asked the kids at a pro-arena February 8 press event at City Hall why they were there, and they couldn't say. He began to think they were being used as props.
Then he asked the high schoolers who write for his Web site about the Ratner deal. "They said, 'Vernon, you can't take his money. It's tainted.' So I pulled the proposal off the table." He added, "I could have made money. I could have lined my pocket."
Not so, said Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco. "He sent in a proposal to provide a Web page for hundreds of thousands of dollars, which we thought was kind of absurd. And then he decided to bash the proposal." DePlasco added, "There's a word for when people ask you for a lot of money and then respond critically when you refuse to pay up. I'm sure people can guess what it is."
Ratner ultimately put his site up at www.bball.net. DePlasco, incidentally, said Ratner did not arrange the City Hall press event. The Ratner spokesman also debunked the argument Jones makes on his site, which is that $67 million earmarked to build the Sportsplex in Coney Island is being sought by Ratner to build a practice facility for the Nets which the team would share with amateur athletes. "We've never, ever suggested that we're using that (Sportsplex) money," DePlasco said. It's not yet known where the Nets would practice either, he said. (We doubt it would be in Brooklyn, since NBA players tend to live in the 'burbs.) Asked how Ratner's proposal affects plans for the Sportsplex, DePlasco said, "It doesn't."
MARTY'S BCAT SPAT Borough President Marty Markowitz initially declined to respond publicly to Ronin Amano's petition alleging he's hogging up BCAT's airtime, but reversed course last week. In a letter to The Brooklyn Paper the beep claimed he's "a target for what appears to be a frustrated producer and his attorney who simply are misguided and incorrect in their characterization of my efforts to (improve) BCAT." The beep's letter also said he had just one hour-long show per week on BCAT, repeated once. But Amano noted that before his petition, the show was repeated seven times.
"For him to claim his 2 hours (3 more time slots than most BCAT producers, who only get 30 minutes) is not hogging, when both your paper and The Brooklyn Paper wrote that when the petition was filed he had 8 hours for that one show (plus another 3 for his Neighboorhood Beat shows) is simply dishonest. It's like a bank robber seeing the police, throwing $6,000 back to the teller and trying to claim that the $2,000 he's holding was with him when he came. This is dishonesty with a capital D." We sent that to Marty, but his reply was PR'd to death: "I make no apology for the goal of making BCAT a sense [he meant source] of pride for Brooklyn and its neighborhoods, organizations and people that make up the rich tapestry of Brooklyn life."
CLARKE SLAMS SLUMLORDS The Flatbush Development Corporation took Councilwoman Yvette Clarke on a tour of four run-down apartment buildings in her district. Clarke was outraged at what she saw-broken mailboxes, stoves, and windows, leaking ceilings, cracked walls, sink-less kitchens and non-flushing toilets-and vowed to expose the "slumlords" (as she called them) and have the city force them to make improvements. She called her tour "an eye-opening experience and heart-breaking," adding, "I'll be damned if I sit by quietly while this happens in the 40th Council District."
All well and good. But hasn't Clarke been in office for more than two years? Her detractors could well accuse her of "sitting by quietly" all that time. Also, she was preceded in office by her mother, Una Clarke. How long did she sit by quietly? To be fair, we could point out that politicians can't know of every problem in their districts. But then, politics isn't always fair.
OWENS HOPES TO NET CASH Rep. Major Owens has always been a big promoter of technology, if not a practitioner of it. But now he's adopting Howard Dean's Internet-based fundraising strategy as he tries to raise $500,000 for his campaign against Councilwomen Yvette Clarke and Tracy Boyland, both fellow Democrats.
Incidentally, the fundraising letter Owens mailed last week lists Asquith Reid as his treasurer. Reid is the right-hand man of Councilman Kendall Stewart.
ARENA NEWS Opponents of Bruce Ratner's arena/office/housing project have again reduced their estimate of how many people would be displaced by the development. Last year they said 1,000, in January they said 864, and on March 26 they told the New York Post the number would be 569. Of those, 334 are residents and 234 work at the site, between Atlantic and Vanderbilt avenues. Ratner says all would be fairly compensated, but he might reconfigure the project to save more buildings.
Meanwhile, a leading opponent of the project, Patti Hagan, questioned why most or all of the kids at a Ratner-sponsored basketball clinic in Fort Greene were black. Uh, let's see. The kids were chosen by their schools, all of which were near the clinic site. White children in these schools are rarer than pork chops in Borough Park. P.S. 56 and P.S. 307, for example, are both 0.9 percent white… Speaking of the arena plan, our favorite feature of Frank Gehry's rendering is the ice-skating/running track on the roof. No fence or barrier is shown between the skaters and a six-story drop to the sidewalk below. Remind us not to walk on that block of Atlantic Avenue…
RABBI ON GAY MARRIAGE In accepting an award from the reform club Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Rabbi Ellen Lippman wondered why the clergy is doing government work. "I do think marriage in general in this country raises profound questions about the separation of church and state. What are clergy doing invested with the power of the state of New York, and why is it clearly illegal for me to officiate at a wedding between a woman and a man without a license?
"My wish is that we sever what we might call civil unions for all from religious weddings. Every couple, straight or gay, could go to the City Clerk's office, get a license, have it signed by an official vested with the power of the state, and then if they wanted to could have a wedding officiated by a clergy person of their choice. It would be simpler, cleaner, and completely equitable.
"Then the only fights about gay marriage would be in religious denominations, and I can only do something about that in my own, which supports both civil and Jewish marriage for gay men and lesbians. Religion, or any one religion, would be unable to counter the state's issuance of licenses to couples, gay or straight."
TIDBITS The last time we ate with Council Speaker Gifford Miller at his usual meeting spot, the Park Plaza diner in Brooklyn Heights, we asked what he'd do if he were running for mayor and the Brooklyn Democratic organization told him its endorsement would require he fork over campaign money. "I don't purchase endorsements," Miller replied…
Some insiders believe the departure from New York of Chris Browne, a close political adviser of Hakeem Jeffries, makes it more likely Jeffries won't run a third time for a major seat. But Brown, who took a job in New Mexico, said of Jeffries, "He remains very interested in public service and he's waiting for the right opportunity to arrive." Browne said he keeps in touch with his Brooklyn friends and added, "I am still a regular reader of Brooklyn Politics." He moved to New Mexico and still reads this column? We hope his new benefits package covers mental illness…
Councilman David Yassky and his Queens colleague Eric Gioia were described as "enterprising young city councilmen" by The New Yorker in an article describing the effort to get Exxon-Mobil to clean up Newton Creek. The two legislators have joined a lawsuit against the oil giant to accelerate cleanup of a 17-million-gallon oil spill more than 50 years ago.
Contact Brooklyn Politics at (718) 399-3693.
By Erik Engquist
As printed in the Courier Life Newspapers
April 26, 2004
KRUGER, NELSON ON TWO SIDES OF FENCE Senator Carl Kruger raised a big stink when city inspectors descended on a block of East 21st Street where private fences overlapped public property. Kruger called the city's action obnoxious and a waste of time. But it turns out the city was responding to a complaint brought to its attention by Councilman Mike Nelson, Kruger's close ally and his former chief of staff.
Sources told us when Kruger found out, he wasn't too thrilled. "For like a week, Kruger didn't talk to Nelson," one insider said. But a source close to Kruger said all was well between the two. "In any family there are disputes. But Senator Kruger loves Mike Nelson, and Mike Nelson loves Senator Kruger right back," the source said.
VITO'S BRIGHT IDEA Politicians love to talk about simplifying the tax code, but they rarely if ever do it. In fact, they tend to do the opposite. Take, for example, Rep. Vito Fossella, who is sponsoring legislation that would make over-the-counter medications tax-deductible. Imagine saving your supermarket receipts for seven years (in case of an IRS audit) and totaling all the Advil, Preparation H, NyQuil, and other such purchases annually. Also, we wonder what exactly would qualify as deductible. Vicks cough drops? Dr. Scholl's insoles? Coppertone sun lotion? Selsun Blue? Oil of Olay? Chapstick? Band-Aids? Anbesol?
Fossella apparently believes the government should cough up some cash every time a taxpayer gets a toothache. "Millions more will benefit financially by making over-the-counter drugs tax-deductible," Fossella said, as quoted by this paper's Tom Tracy.
Well, yes. Just as gardeners would benefit if tulips were tax-deductible. Tulips are pretty. Why not introduce a bill for them, too? (Note to Fossella: do not actually do this. We are kidding.) The discrepancy Fossella seeks to correct is that purchases of prescription drugs are deductible if they and other medical expenses exceed 7.5 percent of a taxpayer's income. But non-prescription medications don't qualify. "This is yet another example of an out-of-control tax code penalizing hard-working Americans," Fossella said.
That's like saying the tax code penalizes people who eat out with their families by only allowing business meals to be deducted. Dear Vito: It's not omissions that "penalize hard-working Americans" and render the tax code "out of control." It's the additions. The tax code is now 6,000 pages. Making toothpaste tax-deductible would only lengthen it and expand the role of government, which conservative Republicans like Fossella claim should be smaller.
SARA STEERS CLEAR An ugly incident between a family and 72nd Precinct police in Sunset Park on July 4, 2003 has put Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez in an uncomfortable position. So, unlike Councilman Charles Barron, she's decided to take no position.
The Independence Day clash between cops and the Acosta family began when, according to the family, an officer pulled up to their building at about 10 p.m. and, saying nothing, yanked the power cord from the boom box of 14-year-old Orlando Acosta. The boy's mother Elena Acosta confronted the officer, who then ordered another cop to arrest her. When she walked up the stoop, an officer grabbed the back of her shirt. She fell over the stoop railing and broke her elbow, according to a Village Voice article. It escalated into a melee involving a bevy of 72nd Precinct cops and Acosta family members. Police say it began because the officer who unplugged the radio was "verbally abused," the Voice reported.
Four family members are facing criminal charges. Seven family members are preparing to sue the city. And the NYPD's Internal Affairs launched an investigation. A family friend said Gonzalez has been unwilling to take the Acostas' side, perhaps because she doesn't want to offend local cops. "She was dodging the meetings and not showing up," said Dennis Flores, adding that the councilwoman tried to discourage the family from organizing a protest rally.
That's bogus, Gonzalez told us. She said she wasn't even invited to the rally, which was ultimately held last September and led in part by Councilman Barron of Canarsie and East New York. According to Flores, Gonzalez seemed to feel she was being harassed by the family, who in turn wondered if the councilwoman was allied with the police, given that the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association had donated $1,500 to her campaign.
But Gonzalez said she's simply not prepared to make a judgment on an incident she didn't witness. "I was not there. How could I step in and decide who's right or wrong?" she said. "I don't think that's something a councilmember should do." Of course, Barron wasn't there either. That hasn't stopped him. Perhaps he's seen the medical records showing police exaggerated their injuries to shift blame to the Acostas.
We asked Gonzalez if she resented her colleague traipsing into her district from the far side of the borough to slam 72nd Precinct cops. "Not at all," she said. "That's Charles Barron…He has to do what he has to do. I have no problem with that." The councilwoman said she's been working with the family to provide constituent services, such as helping one who lost her job to find new employment. "I've worked very hard and diligently for the family," Gonzalez said. But she said she would not get involved in the criminal and civil cases.
RATNER TANGLES WITH WEB MASTER Developer Bruce Ratner's spokesman lashed back at Clinton Hill resident Vernon Jones, who has been knocking Ratner's Nets arena plan on his Web site. "He sent in a proposal to provide a Web page for hundreds of thousands of dollars, which we thought was kind of absurd. And then he decided to bash the proposal," said spokesman Joe DePlasco. "There's a word for when people ask you for a lot of money and then respond critically when you refuse to pay up. I'm sure people can guess what it is." Ratner ultimately put his site up at www.bball.net.
His spokesman also debunked the argument Jones makes on his site, which is that $67 million earmarked to build the Sportsplex in Coney Island is being sought by Ratner to build a practice facility for the Nets which the team would share with amateur athletes. "We've never, ever suggested that we're using that (Sportsplex) money," DePlasco said. It's not yet known where the Nets would practice either, he said. (We doubt it would be in Brooklyn, since NBA players tend to live in the 'burbs.) Asked how Ratner's proposal affects plans for the Sportsplex, DePlasco said, "It doesn't."
JUDGE PANEL THROWS IN TOWEL The reformed judicial screening panel that's supposed to keep hacks off Brooklyn's bench has bungled its first assignment. The panel will only screen Supreme Court candidates this year, leaving the Civil Court elections at the mercy of the usual political process. Sources said the panel wanted more power than it was given by the Democratic district leaders who put it together. "When they came together, they decided they wanted to write their own rules that differed from the mandate," said Councilman and district leader Lew Fidler. "They wanted to restrict us to three people for each vacancy, which basically would give the screening panel the right to make decisions for us, which is more than we intended."
The panel apparently spent more time arguing over this than it did readying to interview Civil Court candidates. So it won't bother with them this year. "If that is in fact is what happens, we will be disappointed because we have a commitment to consider only those candidates found qualified by the independent screening panel," said Brooklyn Democratic Party spokesman Bob Liff.
Fidler said the panel might also have been delayed by the legal problems of Brooklyn Democratic Party leader Clarence Norman and executive director Jeff Feldman, who are under indictment. "Clarence is probably going to recommend that we make no endorsements in the Civil Court races," Liff said. That would mean a departure from the usual County-versus-insurgent theme of Civil Court primaries. On the bright side, it would produce judges who owe nothing to the organization.
And who might those judges be? Six candidates have emerged for three county-wide seats: Harley Diamond, April Neubauer, Gerry "Don't Call Me Jerry" Dunbar, Saul Needle, Bob Dorf, and Evelyn LaPorte. If all make the ballot, the election would be "at-large," meaning the top three vote-getters would advance to the general election, where victory for Democrats is virtually assured. Seats are also up for grabs in the second district (where Geraldine Pickett and Robin Kelly Shears figure to run) and the sixth (Bernie Graham, Johnny Lee Baynes, and Ingrid Joseph).
"We're basically not going to get any direction from the panel on whether these people are qualified or not," said district leader Alan Fleishman. Marty Edelman, chairman of the panel, did not return a call before our deadline.
THE OWENS SCORECARD A little proofreading could have saved Rep. Major Owens from printing such quotes on his latest campaign mailing as "These savage pressures will drive living standards down to the future." On the bright side, the literature did have a nice color photo of Owens.
But lest we be accused of focusing on trivial matters, we'll take a look at the "Congressional Report Card" Owens posted on his mailing-ratings from eight different special-interest groups based on his votes in the House. While the numbers appear stellar, they seem commonplace when compared with the scores of Owens's New York colleagues.
Owens noted his 100 percent rating from the American Federation of Teachers. But the other 18 Democrats in the delegation also got 100s. His 100 percent from AFSCME was matched by 16 other New Yorkers. His perfect score from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare was matched by 13 others. In the previous Congress, Owens's 83 percent ranked him 15th in the state.
More distinguishing was his perfecto in 2003 from Americans for Democratic Action. Only three other New Yorkers achieved that: Anthony Weiner, Jerry Nadler, and Louise Slaughter. But Owens was not one of the four New Yorkers with perfect ADA scores in 2002 (he got a 90). Nor was he perfect in 2001 (he missed one vote) or 2000 (he missed two). His previous perfect ADA score was in 1999. If you like the AFL-CIO, you'd like the 99 percent lifetime score the union federation gave Owens. But you'd also like the 14 other New York House members with scores of 92 percent or higher. (Nadler got the only perfect score.)
Owens reported a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign. That's accurate for 2003, but Owens missed two of the six votes on which the rating was based. (So did Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Ed Towns.) Some groups count missed votes against a politicians' rating, but not the HRC. Otherwise, his score would have been 67 percent.
We did find one discrepancy: Owens's mailing said his American Conservative Union score was 0%. In fact, it was 12 percent in 2003, thanks to two votes at the end of the year with which the ACU agreed. Owens still tied for the lowest ACU rating in the state, which (as a proud liberal) he wears as a badge of honor.
What were those two pro-ACU votes? Owens and most of his fellow New York Democrats agreed with the conservative union that a measure authorizing spending for Patriot-Act snooping intruded on civil liberties. Owens and the ACU also both opposed the expansion of Medicare in November, which will cost about $200 billion more than the president advertised.
TIDBITS Next time you're asked to donate money to the Brooklyn AIDS Task Force, consider that rather than go towards fighting AIDS, your cash might be funneled to a politician's campaign, as was the case when the Boerum Hill-based BATF handed Councilwoman Tracy Boyland's campaign for Congress $50. Corporations aren't even allowed to give money to candidates for Congress. Our calls to BATF weren't returned…
State Senator Velmanette Montgomery's car was totaled by a truck on April 15 as she traveled from Albany to Brooklyn on the Thurway. Montogmery was reportedly not hurt…
City Councilman Vinny Gentile is pressing the MTA to save weekend express bus service to western Brooklyn. Somehow it seems we've heard this story before-about once or twice a year since we began at this paper in 1991. Without threats to express bus service, politicians in Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst might go out of business…
A Department of Education inventory check found that Region 8, which includes School Districts 13 and 15, has one computer for every 4.93 students-best in the city…
Rep. Anthony Weiner is calling for the Jets to be relocated not to the West Side, but instead to Queens. Coincidentally, Weiner also represents Queens…
Rep. Major Owens just attended a conference in the Bahamas. This is the kind of thing politicians might want to avoid during a campaign, lest their opponents accuse them of going on "junkets" paid for by others. We'll try to get some details on Owens's trip share them in a future column…
The last time we ate with Council Speaker Gifford Miller at his usual meeting spot, the Park Plaza diner in Brooklyn Heights, we asked what he'd do if he were running for mayor and the Brooklyn Democratic organization told him its endorsement would require he fork over campaign money. "I don't purchase endorsements," Miller replied.
Contact Brooklyn Politics at (718) 399-3693.
JEFFRIES BLASTS GEOFFREY DAVIS Geoffrey Davis, or should we say Geoffrey A. Davis (he likes to use his middle initial, as did his late brother, Councilman James E. Davis), e-mailed us that he'll "almost definitely" run for Democratic district leader in the 57th Assembly District. Big deal, you might say. Who even knows what district leaders do? But this race promises to be a political war, with lots of back story, rivalries, and bad blood.
Davis's e-mail discussed his potential opponents, incumbent Francis Byrd and former Assembly candidate Hakeem Jeffries. Jeffries had passed up the 2003 race to succeed James Davis, making Geoffrey Davis the favorite, an advantage he squandered in losing to Tish James. "Hakeem, I respect tremendously for not running against me out of respect for my brother," Davis wrote. "He must understand my brother was also the district leader. Should I run for district leader (almost definitely) I expect Hakeem to continue that respect for his first and only major endorser."
James Davis did indeed endorse Jeffries in 2002 against Assemblyman Roger Green. But that was because Green had supported Tish James over James Davis in 2001. Whatever the case, Jeffries didn't take kindly to the suggestion that he owes Davis another free pass. "The guy's had his 15 minutes of fame. It's over now," said Jeffries, who blamed Davis for "single-handedly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" in the Council race.
"The number of people who take him seriously in the community can be counted on one hand," Jeffries added. He wasn't finished. "He has all of his brother's bravado and none of his brother's gifts," Jeffries said. "I certainly won't be taking political advice from Geoffrey Davis."
This is as angry as we've ever heard Hakeem Jeffries, who's known for his reserved demeanor and measured statements. It could be that he's trying to step out of that shell, or he could be a little resentful of how the Council race turned out. Remember, Geoffrey Davis and his mother, Thelma Davis, could have given Jeffries the Democratic nomination. Had they not determined that the 35th District seat belonged to the Davis family and thrust Geoffrey into a race that he was ill prepared to undertake, Jeffries would probably be in the City Council today. Instead, it's Tish James, a disciple of the man who defeated Jeffries twice, Assemblyman Roger Green.
Lest we leave Byrd out of the fray, here's what Davis wrote about the incumbent: "I think I can beat Byrd. I have far more name recognition than him, I work much harder and now I have the election experience. He is not Tish James-the community knew her already from running two grueling elections against James (the 2001 Council primary and general elections). I strongly don't think her votes will transfer to him."
Yet Davis thinks his late brother's votes will transfer to him, as about 3,000 did in the Council race. "Should I run again, I'll keep my brother's original 3,000 votes (2,000 in the 57th A.D.) and pick up my own 3,000 to 4,000 votes, which is a total of 6,000 to 7,000 votes. The political machine understands that." That may be news to the political machine.
But let's hope he does run, and Jeffries, too. A three-way race with Byrd, who has ties to the Tish James-Roger Green camp, would surely be a highlight of the summer-even if the prize is just one of 42 unpaid Democratic state committee positions in Brooklyn. "If [Hakeem Jeffries]…decides to run," Davis wrote, "then let's get ready to rumble."
NOACH DEAR BY ANY OTHER NAME In a bizarre story reported by Errol Louis of the New York Sun, former City Councilman Noach Dear said he's now using the name "Noah" because it's easier to pronounce and understand. But Dear's opponent in the upcoming Democratic primary, State Senator Kevin Parker, charged that Dear is "trying to Christianize his name" to help him campaign in black churches.
That might be a stretch. Given that Dear wears a yarmulke, the new name would only help him with blind parishioners. A Dear spokesman told us the name change would prevent the mispronounciations of Dear's first name during his 2002 campaign. It seems he was sometimes introduced as if his name rhymed with coach, poach, and roach. But Dear may have to do more than remove a single letter from his name to beat Kevin Parker in a district that's 58 percent black. We would suggest something entirely new.
For example, he could change his name to "Kevin Parker." That would assure him of a 50 percent chance of victory, since voters wouldn't know which Kevin Parker was which. There are other possibilities for new names. If Dear appeared on the ballot as "Al Sharpton," he would likely break his three-election losing streak.
Of course, even Dear might deem a name change to Al Sharpton too great a sacrifice to win an election. If so, he could go with "Colin Powell." But voters might not believe Colin Powell was running in Brooklyn. Perhaps Dear could call himself "Major Owens" instead. Unfortunately, we won't have a repeat of the 2003 legal challenge by Councilman Domenic Recchia against Anatoly Eyzenberg, who attempted to appear on the ballot as Tony Eisenberg. That's because Dear will appear on the ballot under his given name, Noach.
THE OWENS SCORECARD A little proofreading could have saved Rep. Major Owens from printing such quotes on his latest campaign mailing as "These savage pressures will drive living standards down to the future." On the bright side, the literature did have a nice color photo of Owens. But lest we be accused of focusing on trivial matters, we'll take a look at the "Congressional Report Card" Owens posted on his mailing-ratings from eight different special-interest groups based on his votes in the House.
While the numbers appear stellar, they seem commonplace when compared with the scores of Owens's New York colleagues. Owens noted his 100 percent rating from the American Federation of Teachers. But the other 18 Democrats in the delegation also got 100s. His 100 percent from AFSCME was matched by 16 other New Yorkers. His perfect score from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare was matched by 13 others. In the previous Congress, Owens's 83 percent ranked him 15th in the state.
More distinguishing was his perfecto in 2003 from Americans for Democratic Action. Only three other New Yorkers achieved that: Anthony Weiner, Jerry Nadler, and Louise Slaughter. But Owens was not one of the four New Yorkers with perfect ADA scores in 2002 (he got a 90). Nor was he perfect in 2001 (he missed one vote) or 2000 (he missed two). His previous perfect ADA score was in 1999.
If you like the AFL-CIO, you'd like the 99 percent lifetime score the union federation gave Owens. But you'd also like the 14 other New York House members with scores of 92 percent or higher. (Nadler got the only perfect score.) Owens reported a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign. That's accurate for 2003, but Owens missed two of the six votes on which the rating was based. (So did Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Ed Towns.) Some groups count missed votes against a politicians' rating, but not the HRC. Otherwise, his score would have been 67 percent.
We did find one discrepancy: Owens's mailing said his American Conservative Union score was 0%. In fact, it was 12 percent in 2003, thanks to two votes at the end of the year with which the ACU agreed. Owens still tied for the lowest ACU rating in the state, which (as a proud liberal) he wears as a badge of honor. What were those two pro-ACU votes? Owens and most of his fellow New York Democrats agreed with the conservative union that a measure authorizing spending for Patriot-Act snooping intruded on civil liberties. Owens and the ACU also both opposed the expansion of Medicare in November, which will cost about $200 billion more than the president advertised.
GOLDEN KNOCKED ON ABORTION A reader who clearly doesn't like State Senator Marty Golden e-mailed us this: "I read a recent letter to the editor by Pat Russo that stated Marty Golden should be judged by his 'votes, deeds, and words.' Golden's votes, deeds and words on the issue of abortion have not been consistent…He wants conservatives to believe that he's championing their cause, when in reality he doesn't care if he can get more votes. Just look at the fact that he endorsed abortion doctor Oleg Gutnik for City Council back in 2001. Golden also accepted a $500 contribution in Sept. 2002 from (a medical practice) in Bay Ridge which prescribes emergency contraception. Golden will screech at conservative meetings that he is against certain practices, but he has no problem accepting money and support from those who profit from such practices."
We faxed the message to Golden for a response but didn't get any. Why he'd rely on us to defend him against accusations of hypocrisy is a mystery, but here we go: Number one: Gutnik, a gynecologist, is a Republican, so it shouldn't be surprising if fellow Republican Golden endorsed him. Number two: Emergency contraception prevents pregnancies. It does not cause abortions. Even if Golden opposed the "morning after pill" he could hardly be expected to ask all doctors who contribute to his campaign whether they prescribe it. And if he knew they did, what would it accomplish to return their donations?
TIDBITS In a Brooklyn Paper article, Sunset Park activist David Galarza said his decision to support George Martinez in the 2002 special election for City Council may have added to the enmity between him and Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez, who didn't reappoint Galarza to Community Board 7. Gee, you think? Martinez was running against Gonzalez! If Galarza wanted to remain on CB 7, he should have made nice with Gonzalez after she won the election. Perhaps he's not given to being obsequious, but that's the way the game is played…
It's looking certain that Mark Peters will run for District Attorney in 2005. He's hired a high-powered fundraiser and is aiming to build a war chest of $2 million to $3 million. He told Crain's, "Unfortunately, to get the message out in a borough this big, that's what it takes." Especially when few Brooklynites have heard of you…
Bruce Ratner's Brooklyn Nets Web site says, "Brooklyn was, at one point or another, home to basketball greats like Michael Jordan, Red Auerbach, Red Holzman, Connie Hawkins, Lenny Wilkens, Bernard King, Billy Cunningham, Ro Blackman, World B. Free and Stephon Marbury." Not making the cut were playground legend Fly Williams, former Nuggets and Sixers coach Doug Moe, and Pistons coach Larry Brown…
We got four press dispatches in one day from Comptroller Billy Thompson. Maybe he really will run for mayor…
Councilman David Yassky's PR machine continues to hum along. He co-authored a Daily News opinion piece promoting his code-of-conduct bill for gun companies. The he appeared on NPR talking about the lawsuit he joined to clean up Exxon/Mobil's Newtown Creek oil spill…
Unlike Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, who support only civil unions, Rep. Jerry Nadler supports gay marriage as well. "I suspect that people in the gay community will understand the nuance of the difference between civil unions and marriage a lot more than most other people," Nadler told the Observer. "If you're supporting civil unions, unless you think you're going to really explain the difference, you might as well support gay marriage."
Half of the new power plants proposed for New York City in the last three years have been slated for Rep. Nydia Velazquez's district. Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Sunset Park are particularly inviting targets for power companies. Fed up, Velazquez introduced a bill that would prevent communities from being disproportionally exposed to contaminants. It's a nice gesture, but don't expect it to pass. Some areas will always have a greater share of power plants, which need access to water and the right zoning…
Last week we left Michael Gerstein off the list of potential Democratic Civil Court candidates in the 6th Judicial District. Gerstein, who has a commercial litigation practice, told us he's "strongly considering" running and could make an announcement after May 20. Gerstein finished second to Sylvia Hinds-Radix in the 2001 race, losing by just over 2 percentage points…
Councilman Charles Barron answered criticism that his candidacy for mayor is designed to boost his chances of someday winning Rep. Ed Towns's seat by telling The New York Times, "If I wanted to run for Congress, I wouldn't have to run citywide to do that." Rather, Barron said, "I'm running because I want my kind of progressive-some call it radical-politics included in the campaign. I'm running because I intend either on being the mayor or influencing who does become the mayor." But first he'll need the courts' permission to run for reelection at the same time…
Next time you're asked to donate to the Brooklyn AIDS Task Force, consider that rather than go towards fighting AIDS, your cash might be funneled to a politician's campaign, as was the case when the Boerum Hill-based BATF handed Councilwoman Tracy Boyland's campaign for Congress $50. Corporations aren't even allowed to give money to candidates for Congress. Our calls to BATF weren't returned.
Contact Brooklyn Politics at (718) 399-3693.
- By Erik Engquist
As printed in the Courier Life Newspapers
June 7, 2004
ODDBALL EYES TOWNS When you're strange, no one remembers your name. So sang The Doors, anyway. If they're right, Sam Sloan will have a hard time connecting with voters in the race against Rep. Ed Towns, an entrenched Democrat. But chances are, Sloan won't even make the ballot because he blew his cover-that is, the appearance of normalcy-when making his pitch to Republican district leaders.
Initially, Sloan might have seemed like an intriguing candidate to the G.O.P. because he claims to speak 15 languages including Spanish "virtually fluently," to be an expert chess player, and to be the last non-lawyer to have represented himself before the Supreme Court and won (in 1978, when as a bond trader he was sued by the SEC, represented by Harvey Pitt).
Sloan, a sometime cab driver and author, had even run before-as a Libertarian in the special election to succeed Assemblyman Al Vann in February 2002. Not that he did very well. Of the 2,610 people who went to the polls, exactly 11 voted for Sloan. On his candidate's statement, the 59-year-old Sloan expressed views in keeping with Republican ideology. "I support small government, low taxes, low spending…I oppose rent control," he wrote, for example. Sloan wrote that as "a man of high ethical and moral principles," he would only accept campaign contributions up to $2,000 from individuals and nothing from corporations. He didn't mention that that's the law for all congressional candidates.
That, along with Sloan's failure to comb his hair for his campaign photo, were the first signs that something was amiss. Brooklyn Republican leaders met with Sloan after he expressed interest in challenging Towns, but postponed an endorsement vote because "some of our leaders got bad vibes about him," one leader said.
Sloan later called a district leader to lobby for the nomination and said, "Don't you know I'm famous? I'm on the Internet." Big mistake. The leader quickly went on-line and discovered Sloan's personal Web page, which explores such questions as "Are women genetically programmed to spread their legs when a man approaches?" Sloan also writes on the site, "Women feel a genetic need to strip naked, spread their legs and pose on the Internet. That is my opinion."
Brooklyn Republicans no doubt concluded it might be difficult for Sloan to attack Towns on the character issue. Elsewhere on his Web site, Sloan describes the "female rapists" of the Trobrian Islands, off the coast of Papua New Guinea. He posts a photo of an attractive, topless "typical Trobrian Islander girl" and comments, "I am sure that you will agree that it would be a horrible experience to be raped by such a girl."
Sloan also writes in detail about orgies he organized at Cal-Berkeley and his sexual conquests, potency, and refusal to use condoms. For example: "I was tested to have an exceptionally high sperm count of 144 million sperm per cc, whereas most American men have less than 20 million sperm per cc…My potency is demonstrated by the fact that I have eight children …plus historically all of my girlfriends have become pregnant right away." This might not be what Republicans have in mind when they talk about family values.
Embarrassingly, before researching Sloan, Republican leaders voted to give him an exemption so he could run as a Republican despite not being a registered party member. They were relieved to discover their action was technically invalid. The party later chose Isabelle Jefferson to run against Towns, meaning Sloan would have to collect signatures on his own from the few registered Republicans in the V-shaped congressional district, which runs from Sloan's neighborhood of East New York to Midwood and to Boerum Hill.
It would be a daunting task, but Sloan strikes us as the kind of guy who might try it. He's already spent countless thousands of hours on such projects as tracing his family tree back to the 1500s to prove his relation to King Erik XIV of Sweden, and that he and Queen Elizabeth II are 12th cousins two times removed. Somehow, we believe that. After all, there is a history of madness in the British royal family.
WEINER VEERS RIGHT Continuing to edge toward the political right and away from the more liberal House Democrats who represent only Brooklyn, Rep. Anthony Weiner (whose district is 70 percent Queens) voted with conservative Vito Fossella and the Republican leadership on an unfunded tax giveaway. The bill would make permanent a $1,000 child tax credit and expand it to include more families.
Very few politicians have the guts to oppose this kind of bill, lest they be labeled anti-family. But it begs the question: why should childless taxpayers (such as Weiner) subsidize the procreation of others? We asked Weiner's press secretary exactly that. His reply: "Of course the Congressman preferred the Democratic alternative, but he represents an inordinate amount of large families who deserve a tax break."
That's the answer we'd expect from a press secretary, or, for that matter, from a politician, who sometimes seem like press secretaries themselves. Most of Washington would answer the question that way. The problem is, it doesn't actually answer the question. Which, in case you've forgotten, is why should Americans with children get tax breaks that others don't?
You might be thinking: That's obvious-raising children costs money. A tax break for parents helps pay those extra bills. Well, sure it does. But for people who can't pay bills, there's welfare. Targeted tax breaks have a different purpose: to encourage beneficial actions that wouldn't otherwise happen, such as charitable giving or buying an electric car. Nobody has children to get tax breaks. One irony here is that Republicans who once accused welfare mothers of having children to increase their benefits are now giving tax breaks for breeding.
We don't mean to single out Republicans. Weiner was one of 58 Democrats to vote for their bill, which 135 Democrats opposed, including Reps. Jerry Nadler, Ed Towns, and Nydia Velazquez. (Rep. Major Owens missed the vote.) Only three of 227 Republicans voted no. Nor are we implying Weiner has become a closet Republican. He was one of only 34 members of the House to vote against the recent $447 billion military package that included another $25 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. Five of the nay votes came from Brooklyn's Democrats: Weiner and Reps. Jerry Nadler, Major Owens, Ed Towns, and Nydia Velazquez.
PEOPLE IN GLASS HOUSES . . . Underdog candidate Peter Hort's eyes lit up when he saw an Associated Press story linking a shipping executive to the Mafia and to the congressman whom Hort is challenging, Rep. Jerry Nadler. The AP reported that Sal Catucci, who runs American Stevedoring on Piers 6-11 in Red Hook, and his brother Ronald were called "Gambino associates who do business primarily out of Brooklyn" by a federal prosecutor during the May 10 sentencing of a Catucci business associate for tax fraud.
The AP added that Catucci is a regular campaign contributor to Nadler, who supports Catucci's request for a long-term lease extension from the Port Authority for the piers. The PA wants to give Catucci just two more years, after which the city would modify the piers and lease them to cruise ships. Catucci suspects the city leaked news of the prosecutor's statement and his Nadler donations to sabotage his lease negotiations.
But the Republican Hort used it to attack Nadler, a Democrat against whom Hort seems to be mounting a serious campaign. His press release summarized the AP story, then added this quote: "I am not surprised to learn that Congressman Jerrold Nadler has received thousands upon thousands of dollars in donations from questionable business figures…You don't spend a career in politics without making some interesting bedfellows."
Hort wasn't done. "We can't afford to let our city be taken over by the well-connected," the Republican opined. Four different Catuccis have given Nadler a combined $10,000 over the last seven years. But Hort forgot to check his own accommodations before throwing stones.
A quick Internet search would have revealed Catucci contributions of $6,000 to Republican George W. Bush, $500 to the New York Republican Federal Campaign Committee, $1,000 to Steve Forbes, $1,000 to Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, and $250 to Staten Island Republican Robert Straniere. Catucci has also reportedly donated $5,000 to Republican George Pataki and $30,000 to the Conservative Party. Given all that, we wonder if Hort feels the nation, the Republican Party, the New York governor's mansion, and Staten Island are also being "taken over by the well-connected."
Hort might also be unfairly dragging Catucci's name through the mud. Catucci says his Italian name and Brooklyn waterfront business don't make him a mobster. The Waterfront Commission vetted Catucci and gave him a license. The PA gave him a lease and wants to extend it. The only allegation of mob ties came from a federal prosecutor trying to get a defendant a longer sentence. Prosecutors have certainly lied for less. If there's any evidence against Catucci, the feds haven't released it, nor have they charged him with anything.
A Nadler aide released this statement: "For 25 years, Jerry has advocated for a working waterfront in Brooklyn and is now fighting to make sure there is a continuous container operation there without any temporary inactivity. No one serious would ever question Jerry Nadler's integrity on this or any other issue."
HERBERT FOR SENATE Republican Tony Herbert announced his candidacy for State Senate with an invitation to a kickoff event. Oddly, his invitation failed to identify the district in which he plans to run. A subsequent press release revealed his target as Democratic State Senator Carl Andrews. Can a Republican win in any of the heavily Democratic districts in which Herbert resides? No. But if nothing else, Herbert provides an interesting foil to local Democrats.
He also contributes some major run-on sentences. Here's a typical one from his latest press release (take a deep breath): "Herbert a former Democrat and now a registered Republican and currently the director of Gov't Affairs for a minority owned advertising firm on Park Ave. who has done several stints in government working for Congressman [Ed] Towns, former City Councilwoman Priscilla Wooten, and former State Senate Minority Leader-Senator Martin Connor, stakes the claim, that 'Senator Andrews doesn't want the job' citing that Andrews just got the seat last year and has already organized and filed a committee to run for another seat this year, with his hopes to challenge incumbent Congressman Major Owens in the 11th Congressional district."
TIDBITS Conspiracy theorists have been circulating a rumor that Rep. Major Owens will quit in the middle of his next term, resulting in a special election in which Democratic insiders would name State Senator Carl Andrews the party nominee, assuring him of victory in the heavily Democratic district. Party insiders would then choose Owens's son Chris Owens to be the Democratic nominee in the special election to succeed Andrews. Asked about it at a recent club meeting, the congressman said, "Contrary to that rumor, I'm in better health than I was in 1991 and I plan on serving the full two years. I am a person of integrity."
Some people believe Rep. Ed Towns persuaded Bob Dorf, whom Towns had been supporting for Civil Court judge, to withdraw from the countywide race at the request of the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club, which is backing Saul Needle and didn't want a split of the white male vote. In exchange, according to the rumor, the T.J. Club will support Towns's son, Assemblyman Darryl Towns, for his father's seat whenever the elder Towns retires. We didn't bother calling Towns for the obligatory denial…
Responding to criticism from potential congressional primary opponent Gabriel Toks Pearse, the press secretary for Yvette Clarke said written requests are required to meet with the councilwoman because her previous open-door policy resulted in meetings with constituents all day on issues her staff could handle. The press secretary, Rance Huff, added that Clarke hasn't yet decided whether to run against Rep. Major Owens this year. But she will have raised over $100,000 by the next filing date, Huff said…
Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein made a rare appearance in the press when she introduced a bill to forbid Con Edison from sealing settlements of negligence lawsuits. She was quoted in The New York Times saying the legislation would enable the media and government to learn "promptly" about public hazards. But it seems to us that Con Ed would eliminate hazards alleged in lawsuits before settling those cases…
Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez finally took a position on the controversial proposal for an Ikea in Red Hook, coming out in favor of it. She cited its potential economic benefits…
Another who would consider running for Councilman David Yassky's seat (should Yassky quit to run for district attorney in 2005) is Bob Zuckerman, a past president of the Stonewall Democratic Club, a citywide gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender organization. Zuckerman recently moved from Cobble Hill to Sackett Street in Park Slope, which is in Yassky's district…
Ballpoint pens being given away by Noach Dear's campaign don't say "DEAR for State Senate" but rather "DEAR State Senator." To attain that title, he'll have to beat incumbent Kevin Parker and perhaps Wellington Sharpe.
Contact Brooklyn Politics at (718) 399-3693.
- By Erik Engquist
As printed in the Courier Life Newspapers
July 19, 2004
YASSKY DEAL ROILS CB 1 City Councilman David Yassky's deal with a developer has rankled some of his Williamsburg constituents, including Assemblyman Vito Lopez and members of Community Board 1. When developer Moishe Kestenbaum applied for his second variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals to build luxury apartments in a former industrial building at 184 Kent Avenue, Yassky agreed to support the plan if Kestenbaum contributed $355,000 to a fund for affordable housing in the neighborhood. Coincidentally (or not), Kestenbaum's lawyer is Yassky's predecessor in the Council, Ken Fisher, who recently contributed at least $5,000 to Yassky's campaign fund.
When he ran for borough president in 2001, Fisher got $4,000 from two Kestenbaums working in 184 Kent Avenue: a secretary named Gitty Kestenbaum who forked over a cool grand, and a merchandising company manager named Margaret Kestenbaum who ponied up three grand and also gave Yassky $360 last year. A principal of 184 Kent Avenue Associates (according to Yassky's office), Cheskel Schwimmer, gave Fisher $1,010. But we digress.
Yassky thinks the $355,000 was free money because the BSA would have approved the $80 million conversion regardless of Yassky's opinion, just as it granted (in 2000) the variance that initially allowed apartments to be built at 184 Kent Avenue, a six-story, 90-year-old building overlooking the East River at North 3rd Street. However, in the 2000 case the community board supported the conversion, though some activists opposed the variance and even sued (unsuccessfully) after the BSA approval. In 2004, CB 1 thumbed its nose at Yassky and voted against the variance 24-13, which could influence the BSA's decision.
Yassky spokesman Evan Thies explained the councilman's thinking. "He talked to the developers to see if the community could get something out of this deal. What he was worried about was that the BSA was just going to pass this through…and no matter how much this community wanted affordable housing there, they weren't going to get it," said Thies.
Of course, some would argue that there is already affordable housing at 184 Kent Avenue. The Daily News reported that the building houses about 250 tenants, mostly yuppies and artists, paying an average rent under $1,000. An untold number would apparently have to move if the variance were granted.
Sorry for the interruption, Evan. Back to your explanation. "David told the developers he'd support it if they agreed to pay a certain amount per square foot toward affordable housing in the community. This is getting something out of it that we most likely wouldn't under normal circumstances. It's a small victory, but David believes it's a victory for the community."
Unfortunately, Yassky has had a hard time convincing locals that $355,000 is a meaningful donation from a developer who stands to make tens of millions on the project. Assemblyman Lopez told the News that the money "doesn't amount to anything." In City Limits Lopez called it "a sham." Councilwoman Diana Reyna also opposes the variance.
Thies said Yassky made a similar deal on another building in which the developer would donate $700,000. "If we keep getting money out of these variances," Thies said, "out of thin air we are creating affordable housing money that's desperately needed." The downside is that manufacturing jobs vanish into that same thin air with each building conversion, critics say. But in Yassky's defense we must note that he stands to garner $1 million for affordable housing just for writing two letters to the BSA.
JUDICIAL RUNDOWN More than a few people have noticed that the first year of Civil Court races without the influence of the Democratic county organization features a particularly strong collection of candidates, rather than the hacks who sometimes finagled their way onto the bench in years past. Coincidence? Probably not. With the machine on the sidelines, qualified candidates sensed an opportunity to win without having to play as many political games as in the past.
That is not to say politics has been removed from the process. Every Democratic candidate has lined up political backers, including legislators, Democratic district leaders, and their clubs, because without them it's hard to collect enough signatures to make the ballot or raise the six-figure sums to win.
The countywide Democratic primary for Civil Court features nine candidates: Johnny Lee Baynes, Joanne Minsky Cohen, Harley Diamond, Gerry Dunbar, Charles Finkelstein, Evelyn LaPorte, Richard Izzo, Saul Needle, and April Newbauer. The top three vote-getters advance to the general election, which they'll win, and then get 10-year judgeships carrying $125,000 starting salaries.
Two judicial districts will each elect one Civil Court judge as well. In the 2nd District, Geraldine Pickett and Robin Kelly Shears are the only Democrats running. Both are black women, so neither will have the ethnic advantage that often decides judicial races in which most voters know nothing about the candidates.
In the 6th District, former Civil Court Judge Maxine Archer has made a belated entry into the race, joining Pam Elisofon, Bernie Graham, and Ingrid Joseph. Assemblyman Clarence Norman, the Democratic county leader, is backing Archer, while Norman's ally, State Senator Carl Andrews, is sticking with Graham, president of the Park Slope Civic Council. Andrews no doubt hopes to score some points with voters in the white end of his district by backing Graham, while Norman might hope an Archer victory sends a message to Rep. Ed Towns, Norman's rival, with whom Archer had a much-publicized falling out a couple of years back. Or perhaps Norman is trying to help Graham by using Archer to drain black votes from Joseph. It's not inconceivable that Elisofon could win if the black vote is split among Archer, Joseph, and Graham (who is white, but whose "name sounds black," one observer commented).
In the countywide race, if the three largest voting constituencies in Brooklyn-black, Latino, and Jewish-each elect a candidate, that would bode well for Baynes, LaPorte, and Cohen. Cohen included "Minsky" on her petition to remove any doubt about her background.
Finkelstein is also obviously Jewish, but some politicos contend that everything else being equal, voters prefer women judges. Of course, everything else is not always equal. If Assemblyman Dov Hikind can muster a big turnout in Borough Park, Finkelstein's chances would improve. Noach Dear also will try to boost turnout there as he runs against State Senator Kevin Parker, consequently helping Finkelstein (not that Dear wants to aid Hikind's candidate).
But anyone could win. A large turnout among voters hoping to elect the first openly gay male judge boroughwide could propel Diamond to victory. Dunbar is buoyed by support from the Hasidic communities in northern Brooklyn. Needle has strong support among political and civic leaders in southern Brooklyn. Newbauer seems to have many backers in the brownstone neighborhoods and the Bay Ridge end of the borough. Izzo, we assume, has a constituency as well (Italian-Americans, perhaps). Otherwise he wouldn't have bothered staying in the race this long, given the time and resources it demands.
Even keen observers of Brooklyn politics don't know who'll win. But the consensus is that whoever does will be an asset to Brooklyn's bench-except perhaps for Archer, whom one attorney told us is "as dumb as my shoes."
LAMBDA PEEVED AT WFP Lambda Independent Democrats, a gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender club, is upset that its candidate for Civil Court, Harley Diamond, was not endorsed by the Working Families Party, even though Lambda had endorsed three WFP candidates last year (Councilwoman Tish James, Judge Margarita Lopez Torres, and Rosemary Palladino). Though three countywide Civil Court seats are open, the WFP only endorsed two candidates, Bernie Graham and April Newbauer.
"I'm extremely disappointed," said Democratic district leader Alan Fleishman, a leading Lambda member. "I thought we had a better understanding with the Working Families Party about supporting each other's candidates." WFP spokesman Alex Navarro said the endorsements were based on interviews and questionnaire evaluations by the local party chapter.
FIDLER BACKS BOYLAND At the formal announcement of her candidacy for Congress, Councilwoman Tracy Boyland was joined by Councilman Lew Fidler, even though she voted to oust him as Brooklyn delegation chairman last year. Fidler endorsed Boyland over Councilwoman Yvette Clarke and the man they're challenging, Rep. Major Owens.
"I have never considered Congressman Owens to be a terribly effective incumbent," Fidler said. "I endorsed Una Clarke against him last time" (in 2002). Why didn't Fidler support Una's daughter this time? "I think Tracy's a better candidate. I think Tracy has a more serious campaign on the ground," Fidler said.
ADELE COHEN CHALLENGED There's word that Russian-American Inna Kaminsky is running in the Democratic primary against Assemblywoman Adele Cohen in the 46th A.D., which stretches from Brighton Beach to Bay Ridge. We couldn't find a number for Kaminsky, a Coney Island businesswoman, so we checked with the next best source-Cohen, who spotted her challenger July 8 collecting signatures to make the ballot.
"I met her," the assemblywoman said. "We shook hands. I wished her well." Cohen omitted some details. We found out later that she was called down by one of her campaign staffers who spotted someone else petitioning.
Reported the Kaminsky petitioner, "She asked Inna, What are you running for? Inna told her, and (Cohen) said, 'Let me tell you right now, watch out, because they'll try to get your money.' We were like, What money?" Then Cohen started pulling at the clipboard with Kaminsky's petition to see what other candidates were on it. Meeting resistance, Cohen said, "What's the big secret?" Diplomacy was never Cohen's strong suit. But when she finished reading the petition, she did say, "Have a nice day."
Cohen said she was looking forward to the campaign. "We'll have debates. We'll get the issues out there," she told us. Mind you, legislators would always rather be unopposed. Two years ago, Cohen barely staved off Susan Lasher, who received strong support among Russians and would have won if more had gotten their voter registrations and polling sites straightened out before the election. (Lasher is now on Kaminsky's petition as a judicial delegate.)
We have no idea if Kaminsky will do better, but one guaranteed beneficiary of her candidacy is in an entirely different race. Civil Court hopeful Joanne Minsky Cohen will pick up votes from the increased turnout the Kaminsky-Cohen race will inspire in the heavily Jewish high-rises near the shore.
RUNNING FOR OFFICE? Candidates for Assembly, Senate, and Congress are invited to appear at the sixth annual Courier-Life/Caribbean Life Political Forum at Lundy's from August 16-19. Each candidate will appear for 30 minutes before a panel of impartial reporters and community leaders. Time slots are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis. Call Jennifer Stern at 718-615-3802.
TIDBITS There's speculation that Coney Island's Rodney Knight was planted in the race for State Senate by Councilman Domenic Recchia to siphon black votes from Kelvin Alexander, thus helping Diane Savino win the Democratic primary over those two and Cole Ettman. Recchia is endorsing Savino. The primary winner will take on Republican Al Curtis to fill the seat being vacated by Seymour Lachman. Obviously Knight and Recchia would deny any such conspiracy theory, but neither would be surprised that some are suspicious…
A passerby noticed Noach Dear's campaign posters in Flatbush omitted the candidate's first name, which became the subject of some controversy when he started calling himself Noah. "In keeping with his efforts to hide his first name, Noach's posters (as seen at the Junction at least) said 'Democrat Dear for State Senate'" the observer noted. "Maybe after the Noach/Noah thing, he's now decided to change his first name to Democrat."
Rep. Nydia Velazquez secured some pork for the Red Hook Farmer's Market-$112,000 in federal funds for a garden and urban agriculture project…
The New York Times delivered a blow to Comptroller Billy Thompson, reporting that his campaign omits employment information for more than 10 percent of its contributors. Many readers likely got the impression Thompson is trying to hide something. But the Times compared his employment reporting rate to only one other campaign fund, that of Council Speaker Gifford Miller. A more thorough review might have found that 10 percent is a fairly common rate for missing employment data…
A federal judge said he was inclined to agree with Sam Sloan's argument that Sloan received a valid Wilson-Pakula from the Republican Party, qualifying him to seek ballot access on the Republican line. Unfortunately for Sloan, the case was heard just a week before the petition deadline, leaving him with the impossible task of getting valid signatures from 886 registered Republicans in the 11th Congressional District by midnight on July 15. Sloan was struggling to find three Republicans to place on his committee on vacancies, let alone 886 to sign his petitions (which he hadn't even printed). Looks like Sloan will only be able to claim a moral victory for his would-be campaign against Rep. Ed Towns…
After about 8,000 tries, 17-handicap golfer State Senator Carl Andrews shot his first hole-in-one in Florida over the July 4 weekend. "It cost me about $150 because I had to buy everybody drinks," Andrews said… …Correction: We reported last week that State Senate candidate Cole Ettman works for the Council for Unity. That should have read he worked for the Council for Unity. Ettman left that job about four years ago and now runs his own public relations business, Cole Communications…
One of about 2,500 Republican county committee members in Brooklyn is Theodore Roosevelt IV, great-grandson of the former president.
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