Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The City Council Slush Fund Scandal Is Way Bigger Than Miguel Martínez

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

By Gary Tilzer

When Councilman Miguel Martínez resigned abruptly yesterday in the face of federal charges expected to be announced this week, a whole lot of Martínez’s colleagues at City Hall suddenly got very nervous.

After all, Martínez, who is the first elected official to go down for his role in the long-simmering slush fund scandal, is reportedly going to be indicted for activities that appear to be almost standard practice among his fellow councilmembers. And to make things worse for his comrades-in-crime, Martínez appears ready to enter a quick guilty plea, which generally means that he’s ready to sing like a canary in exchange for a lighter sentence.

What did Martínez do? Allegedly, he steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money into a questionable nonprofit on which his sister served as a board member. Was he alone in this practice? Absolutely not. In fact, dozens of his colleagues, including Speaker Quinn, have been under investigation for over a year for the exact same abuse of “member items” – better known to the public as earmarks. The U.S. Attorney’s probe has been so serious for so long that Speaker Quinn hired for herself and the rest of the council attorneys (at taxpayer expense) to represent the entire City Council as early as April 2008.

After vowing last year to put an end to the Council’s criminal slush fund – which Quinn’s former finance director has said publicly she operated with full knowledge of its abuse – Quinn declared yesterday that it was “a sad day for the City Council”. This is the exactly the same empty rhetoric Assembly leaders used to dismiss the recent convictions of disgraced Queens politicians Anthony Seminerio and Brian McLaughlin as isolated incidents in which formerly good apples inexplicably went rotten.

But for once, Quinn was telling the truth – inadvertently, of course. While she meant to imply that Martínez’s conviction was a sad day for the people of New York, who have for the umpteenth time been forced to suffer a perversion of the public trust, what she actually said was that it was a sad day for many of the City Councilmembers, who realized yesterday that, there is a third branch of governmen, prosecutors in Washington who are not elected locally and thus beyond the reach and control of the political machines, which protect incumbents and elected DAs who will look the other way when it comes to political corruption. The City Council has turned into a criminal enterprise. Would it be great if the FBI can gets Martínez to rat on the way member items are cut up behind closed doors by the council's leadership, so we can get the big bosses in this crime against the people of New York.

The press have become the enables of the political corruption. If the mainstream media muckrake like they did years ago, the Feds would have been forced to prosecute the slush fund scandal and half the seats in the City Council would be vacant overnight – and not coincidentally, most of those seats would belong to the 29 council members who voted to extended term limits so they could continue to serve (themselves to) their communities. Instead, however, the press is all too eager to repeat Quinn’s transparently phony calls for reform as if they were sincere and pounce on petty crooks like Miguel Martínez as rogue elements in an otherwise sound system.

But what the limp editorials the dailies churn out every so often after an elected official gets hauled out of office in chains fail to understand – or deliberately ignore – is that the problem is not the Miguel Martínez’s of the world, it’s the system itself. Besides being a dumping grounds for family members who cannot find jobs, government funds for non profits have become the most important tools in the reelections campaign of incumbents. Non profits funded by the government have also turn into great place to fund raise and find campaign workers for most incumbents as pointed out in the series of newspaper articles that were published last year about the council slush fund scandal. Almost no article have been published in the past year on that the council scandal, the media owners and the handlers of the mayor must feel that if the scandal explodes during the reelection campaign of the mayor it can hurt his reelection chances. After all the mayor also gave member item funds to his most loyal council members.

If it turns out, as it appears, that Martínez abused his office to profit or hire a family member using a nonprofit as a shell, it is hard to come down too hard on Martínez for his actions, because so many of his colleagues were doing it, they probably had all convinced themselves it was just one of the perks of the job.

Of course, that doesn't excuse their wrongdoings. On the contrary, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But what it does demonstrate is that we need strong safeguards put in place to curb our elected official’s influence, since they clearly are unable of control themselves. One of these safeguards was the term limits law that the Mayor and the City Council were all too eager to discard. Unfortunately, however, when the term limits debate flared up last year the media conveniently forgot all about the fact that the entire City Council was under investigation for just the type of abuse of power the term limits law was designed to curtail, and framed the issue simplistically as a referendum on the then-popular Mayor’s saving the city in its worst economic crisis in a generation – just as Bloomberg, the media owners and business had planned. Not a word was written about how the term limits law was put into effect after the Parking Violations scandal in the late 1980's demonstrated that Mayor Koch put an entire city agency was under the control of the Bronx and Queens democratic organization.

We need a radical systemic changes, which would likely require a state constitutional convention to implement, we need an independent Department of Investigation, not controlled by the mayor or the political machines to live up to its name and come down on our elected officials hard. As long as our politicians see that only the stupidest or most unlucky of their colleagues get punished, they'll continue to play the odds and flaunt our legal system. It is only when our politicians live in fear of violating their oaths of office that they might finally remember that they are supposed to work for the public good, not their own.

The Dishonor Roll - The Shame of New York Newspaper reports of Councilmembers misuse of member items and their office

True News has been publishing exclusive after exclusive on the City Council slush fund scandal and the growing corruption in New York's government, examples follow: Member Item Slush Fund Cover Up *** Massive Lobbyist Scandal at City Hall *** Cover Up At City Hall Continues *** Inspector Clouseau Investigates *** Organize d Crime Politics, Rigged Elections *** The Real Campaign is to Suppress Challengers *** Brian McLaughlin Rats, Only the Daily News Does the Right Thing *** Organized Crime Politics Part 1 *** New York’s Political Mob Wars *** Council's Puppetgate, Burning Up Education Blogs *** Political PARTIES 4 SALE, Organized Crime Politics

Council's Pay to Play DI$GRACED COUNCILMAN CALLS IT QUITS (NYP) *** City Councilman Steps Down as Criminal Charges Loom (NYT) *** Council's slush fund probe claims its first culprit: Manhattan's Miguel Martínez to plead guilty (NYDN) *** Councilman Martínez Resigns As Feds Close In: Report (WNBC) **** NYC councilman resigns amid slush fund probe (Newsday) *** City Councilman Resigns Amid Federal Probe (NY1)

Play to Play Albany Two-Ton Tony's got a pair of brass balls Tony Seminerio, who abruptly resigned his seat last month and pleaded guilty to a corruption charge, is soliciting his former colleagues to write a "character letter of reference" on his behalf prior to his Oct. 20 sentencing *** The DN accused the Senate Democrats of holding Walder's appointment for "ransom" *** Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza said "personal issues" led her to show up for work in Albany just 36 percent of the time and called her own attendance record "abysmal". (She hasn't yet decided whether to seek re-election in 2010)

Too Big to Be Indicted? Black Star News' Edward Manfredonia wonders why AG Andrew Cuomo hasn't indicted Steve Rattner A Crack In Steve Rattner Protection Racket (True News) *** NY Quadrangle Probe Intensifies (Washington Post)
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