Monday, February 15, 2010

Enabling Nonsense

The NY Post goes after the entire member item/slush fund serial fiascos on both the local and state levels-seeing Larry Seabrook as emblematic: "Embezzling $1.2 million in taxpayer cash -- as Bronx Councilman Larry Seabrook allegedly did -- violates even the ludicrously lax standards of the New York City Council. According to federal prosecutors, Seabrook funneled the money to himself, his family members and a girlfriend by setting up a series of sham nonprofit corporations, which he then larded up with council pork. But count on this: Seabrook never would've gotten away with it for so long if a lot of his council colleagues weren't neck-deep in much of the same muck. All members get hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to slather all over their districts. It's a time-honored legislative tradition in New York."

So far, so good. But one thing is missing here-the role of the current mayor in playing three blind mice with the council speaker: "Sure, most of them may not be lining their own pockets (as far as is known). At least some of the nonprofits they fund may even do valuable work. Nonetheless, it's still profoundly corrupting -- with the bulk of the cash going straight to folks the pols know will be useful come election season."

Just as Speaker Quinn has been useful to the mayor-so why is it that the Bloombergistas didn't go postal on the council when the scandals first burst forth? Politics isn't being played on only one side of city hall, and it would be nice if the Post and the News recognized this fact and commented on it in an even handed manner.

And then there's Pedro Espada, the tabloids favorite whipping boy: "The sleaze is just as bad, if not worse, in Albany:

* Slush-fund scandals recently sent Queens Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin and Bronx Sen. Efrain Gonzalez Jr. to jail and may yet trip up Senate President Malcolm Smith.

* Influence-peddling on behalf of private clients sunk Queens Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio and former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno -- and should raise serious questions about Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's relationship with tort-law firm Weitz & Luxenberg.

* In a class by himself is Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, whose Medicaid-funded Soundview Health Clinic in The Bronx serves as an Espada family mint."

Really? Comparing thirty years of delivering health care services in the South Bronx to jailbirds like McLaughlin and Seminerio? It really does matter what public money is actually being used for; and keep in mind that Soundview was created by Espada long before he was elected to public office. As far as we know, however, Espada hasn't given any money to victims of Hurricane Katrina; but maybe the Post can investigate the criminality in that!

The council slush funds have never been properly investigated-and we agree with the Post's observation about the role of the speaker (but also the mayor, folks): "Council Speaker Christine Quinn is especially culpable: She says she's instituted "reforms," but pork remains her No. 1 tool for enforcing discipline. She was even caught budgeting cash for made-up groups in order to quietly dispense it to allies later."

The fact that there hasn't been a more thorough review of these practices relates back to the care and feeding of the person of one Michael Bloomberg-someone who claims to be above tawdry politics, but who has absorbed and now practices, the old pol Sam Rayburn's maxim: "If you want to get along, go along.”