Monday, March 22, 2010

Gregorian Chant

The NY Post continues its public service announcements concerning the malfesant actions of one Greg Meeks-and the chanting by the paper is so discordant to the congressman that he, heaven forfend, has refused to speak with its reporters. Inquiring minds do want to know, however, how the frugal lawmaker has been able to afford his luxurious 6,000+ square foot home.

As the Post reports: "Meeks is ranked among the poorest members of Congress, yet he lives in a Queens mansion, associates with billionaires, travels the world and has four cars. Throughout his political career, Meeks has benefited from a series of high-level friendships and political connections that have drawn scrutiny."

It seems that Meeks has embraced a fraternal order of dictators-apparently because of the commonality of interest he shares with some of the world's most notorious-and brutal-kleptocrats:

"In 2006, Meeks visited Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez during a taxpayer-funded trip portrayed as a mission to thank him for providing cheaper home heating oil to Americans. But a month earlier, Meeks was allegedly asked to use his influence with the dictator on behalf of Allen Stanford, a banker later charged in a massive Ponzi scheme. More recently he praised homicidal dictator Robert Mugabe, when he met the Zimbabwean strongman last month as part of a Congressional delegation sent to check out humanitarian projects and the country’s government. “As you know, he is a great man and we look forward to continue working with him until we have a relationship that all of us want to have,” Meeks told the local press after the 90-minute meeting. He met with Fidel Castro during a 1999 visit to Cuba, and upon his return urged the US Government to partially lift the blockade against the communist island."

But one thing that you should know about the congressman is that when it comes to taking handouts he is, well, certainly not meek-and he's living large apparently as a result of the good old political version of the five fingered discount: "Last week, a political watchdog group lodged a complaint with the House Ethics Committee about Meeks’ shady financial dealings. Among the issues raised in the complaint is Meeks’ 6,047-squarefoot mansion in Queens, which the lawmaker — who claims to not even have a bank account with more than $5,000 — bought for $830,000 in 2006. The city valued the property at $1.2 million. An analysis by the National Legal and Policy Center found that Meeks paid less than half the cost per square foot compared to homes sold in Queens in 2006."

We certainly aren't shocked, because when we represented the homeowners of Southeast Queens against the building of the Air Train a decade ago, there was Meeks representing the interests of myriad contractors and the Port Authority, famously telling his constituents that, "You know, I can't get elected only from the contributions from my local community."

So Greg is in the grand tradition of Plunkitt of Tammany Hall who described his opportunism in a way that Meeks has grasped intuitively-since the congressman is not much of a scholar: "EVERYBODY is talkin’ these days about Tammany men growin’ rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin’ the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There’s all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I’ve made a big fortune out of the game, and I’m gettin’ richer every day, but I’ve not gone in for dishonest graft – blackmailin’ gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc. – and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics. There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin’: “I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em.”

Well, it may well turn out that current ethical-not to say legal-standards might disagree with Plunkit's questionable distinctions. And the congressmen may well join with Charlie Rangel as a poster child of reform that turned into disform as the next election cycle approaches. What we do know, however, is that the folks of Southeast Queens-people like Ruth Duberry and Ruth Bryan-deserve better. And the sooner they're rid of the disreputable Meeks the cleaner the air will be in those neglected communities.