Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Will the Meeks Not Inherit the Earth?

The Miami Herald reported yesterday (via Liz) that our old pal Congressman Greg Meeks might be in serious trouble for doing some extracurricular-and perhaps illegal-special pleading for the miscreant financier Allen Stanford: "A 2006 trip to Venezuela by Rep. Greg Meeks that was apparently orchestrated to help disgraced financier Allen Stanford could be big trouble for the Queens Democrat who, with an assist from the White House, has seen his profile rise in recent months.The Miami Herald reports Meeks was called on by Stanford to try to get President Hugo Chavez to intercede in a messy internal fight at a Venezuelan bank that was part of Stanford's worldwide banking network."

And this morning the NY Daily News reports that Meeks was barnstorming the Caribbean on this crook's dime: "Rep. Gregory Meeks has been a frequent flier to sun and sand with a little help from an unusual source - accused Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford. The Queens Democrat, sometimes accompanied by his wife, Simone-Marie, took six trips to sun-drenched locales from Antigua to St. Lucia, courtesy of a Stanford nonprofit called the Inter-American Economic Council, records show. Stanford, once listed by Forbes as one of the richest men in the world, was indicted in June, charged with fleecing investors in a $7 billion Ponzi scheme."

All of which doesn't surprise us a great deal about Meeks. A decade ago when we helped to organize over 500 homeowners in Meeks' Queens neighborhood against the building of the Air Train from Kennedy Airport, we met in the congressman's office to enlist his support for the effort. Meeks declined, famously informing his constituents that he simply couldn't expect to win re-election with only the contributions of his own constituents (the construction big Skanska was deeply involved in the air train project-as was the New York Building Congress).

But now the chickens are coming home to roost-and just what is in the water in Queens which has experienced an epidemic of political corruption-with two of the top county Dems going off to prison? As the News tells us: "Since 2007, Stanford and his employees have been regular contributors to Meeks' campaign, coughing up $12,100. After Stanford was charged, Meeks said he gave the money to charity.Records show Meeks has been a repeat guest of the nonprofit funded by Stanford, the Inter-American Economic Council. Barry Featherman, the group's president, did not return calls. Since 2003, the group has spent at least $22,347 on airfare, hotels and meals for Meeks and his wife to various locales, usually for "business round tables," records show. During a Jan. 11-15, 2006, trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica, Meeks and his wife stayed at the luxurious Ritz Carlton, running up $2,711 in lodging expenses, $5,365.46 on airfare, and $1,470 on meals. They flew in a Stanford jet."

This, we hope, will be fodder for our dear friends over at the Concerned Neighbors of Southeast Queens and its president Ruth Bryan-one of the leaders of the Air Train fight (The group is part of the Queens Civic Congress). Bryan, along with Ruth Duberry, are examples of true civic commitment, and they deserve a better representative than the jet setting Meeks. Perhaps the New Year will see them getting what they deserve.


The NY Post also weighs in on the Meeks contretemps: "Queens Rep. Gregory Meeks allegedly agreed to intercede directly with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez on behalf of a now-indicted fat cat who helped bankroll several lavish Caribbean trips for the congressman, it was revealed yesterday. The allegations could raise major ethical headaches for Meeks, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, whose stock has been on the rise in local politics and who has been allied with the White House on key issues."

Meeks, who many saw as a White House intermediary in the attempt to get Governor Paterson to stand down in favor of AG Cuomo, is no stranger to suspect controversy-as we have been reminded by those in the know. He has been linked to Wal-Mart-and one of his key aides went to work for the Walmonster, but not before the congressman started to use the company as a political ATM.

As Working Life asks, while listing Meeks' $7500 contribution from Wal-Mart in 2008: "Why would any political leader, who represents him or herself to be a defender of the working person, want to be affiliated with such a company?" And indeed, in 2005 we caught a whiff of Meeks' dalliance with the possible siting of a Wal-Mart store in Southeast Queens.

Not to be outdone, Meeks also has his hand in another potential gravy train owing to his deciding vote for NAFTA/Cafta. As Public Citizen pointed out: "With NY Jobs at Risk, and Dominican-American Constituents Opposing, Did Rep. Gregory Meeks Trade Deciding Vote for CAFTA-NAFTA Expansion in Exchange for Corporate Campaign Cash, Pork Barrel Funds or Other Empty Promises?"

And the organization went on to say: "Given the strong opposition to NAFTA expansion in his district, the known threat to New York jobs and the unwillingness of any businesses related to JFK airport to pledge that CAFTA would increase jobs there, many people were disgusted by his deciding vote for CAFTA and now wonder, for what could he have traded this important vote that could possibly make up for the damage NAFTA expansion will do?” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch."

Inquiring minds want to know-but clearly, we have an auctioneer of the highest order in one Greg Meeks. As he said to his own local voters in the meeting we cited above: he simply couldn't expect to win re-election with only the contributions of his own constituents.