Chris Quinn and the Slow Motion Return of the Slush Fund Scandal

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The latest round of two-years-out mayoral polls shouldn't be taken too seriously: They mostly track name recognition (so there's no need to lose sleep fretting about Mayor Markowitz), and in any case the preferences of the city at large don't have much to do with those of Democratic primary voters. But with Council Speaker Chris Quinn leading the early pack - granted, with about half as many backers as "undecided" - the big question may be whether or not voters still care about the Council slush fund scandal that nearly ended her political career.

The $49 million fund that the Speaker doles out to loyal Council members, who in turn use that money to buy local support emerged as a front-page issue in 2008 and 2009, when it came out that the speaker's office had "given" millions in member items to phantom groups to hold the money and then dole it out off the books. (The practice appears to have started under her predecessor as speaker, Gifford Miller, and continued under Quinn.) Top Quinn aides walked the plank, and former Council Member Miguel Martinez of Manhattan was sentenced to five years for his use of member items, while current Council Member Larry Seabrook of the Bronx has been indicted on a host of charges, some of them tied to his use of member items.

While Mayor Michael Bloomberg's poll numbers plummeted when he and the speaker pushed through a term-limits extension that the public loathed, Quinn took little heat for her key role in pushing through the law that also bought her four more years to revive her reputation and prospects. This year, she's been riding high on the same-sex marriage wave and numerous reports that Bloomberg will back her in 2013.

Lately, though, pols have been trying to put her past back in play.

First, the Post ran a scathing editorial last month after Brooklyn Assmblyman and political boss Vito Lopez cleaned up on Council funds, with groups in his orbit receiving $4.4 million from four members close to the speaker.

Then, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a potential 2013 opponent, issued a report calling for an end to member items, calling them "a murky and subjective process... [with] a chilling effect on open debate, not just among elected officials but non-profit leaders as well."

The issue came up again yesterday in the special election to fill Anthony Weiner's seat in the Ninth Congressional District, where Republican Bob Turner, who lost a surprisingly close race against Weiner in 2010, has jumped on the slush fund question -- trying to force his Democratic opponent, Assemblyman David Weprin, who was the Council Finance Committee Chair in 2008 and 2009, to engage with the scandal.

"David Weprin either knew about these fake charities or he wasn't doing his job," Turner campaign spokesman William O'Reil said in a statement. "Did he look the other way, or is Mr. Weprin really that careless with the public's money?'

While the 9th District Race doesn't matter much in its own right, the prospective mayoral candidates are surely watching closely to see if this is an issue that moves voters.

This item was updated to correct the name of Larry Seabrook, the Council member who was indicted in 2010.

[harrysiegel@gmail.com / @harrysiegel]

Go to Runnin' Scared for all our latest news coverage.

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6 comments
Sdunford15
Sdunford15

I'm not writing this to support Ms. Quinn or any other potential mayoral candidate,  but not all member items are pork --

In fact most are not - I run a small a small non-profit in the Bronx (budget about $350,000). We have been in the commjunity for 30 years and are well respected.  Our staff of 3 full timer, and 2 part-timers provided assistance for over 1,200 low-income households, including stopping evictions, assisting immigrants become citizens, and identify and get services to isolated senior citizens.   Member items make up about a third of my budget, and are frankly a godsend.

 I do not have funding to hire a Development person to do the proposals that would be required if Scott Stringer has his way. That means I have to stop working with clients to become a full-time administrator so that our agency could compete with the larger agencies, (last month in addition to administration, I assisted 25 clients). 

I understand the need to monitor what agencies are real and actually accomplish something with the funds we get.  The City has taken great strides towards cleaning up the process including much tighter contracting, auditing  and reporting.  (My last report/voucher I submitted was over 60 pages - most of which was back-up documentation - the voucher amount? $20,000).  

It would be nice if journalists actually did research before they label programs with such a broad brush.  If member items were lost and I had to lay off my staff, I'm confident they could find other jobs.  But many of the clients we serve would not manage so well.

Donny Moss
Donny Moss

Here's what happened:  Quinn is busted for allocating millions to fake charities, and the City launches an investigation.  Bloomberg and Quinn cut a deal.  If Quinn extends term limits, then Bloomberg will call of the City's investigation and back her for Mayor.  So dirty.

VJ Machiavelli
VJ Machiavelli

As Chairmen of the Finance Committee he and his staff were in charge "Right" and he is running on his Expertise as a Finance person.So did he know or is he just a figure head" and the real power is else where ?BTW how many clients of the Parkside Group received "Council Grants" from David Weprin.I believe they were his "Campaign Consultants" So once they help elect him they then Lobbied him ?Before there was the "Oracle at Delphi" there was Count Vampire J. MachiavelliVJ Machiavelliwww.VJMachiavelli.blogspot.comThe Legislative Budget is Too Damn High 

Suzannah Troy
Suzannah Troy

Christine Quinn is no Harvey Milk although she is attempting to milk marriage equality for everything she can.  She did not join us when we protesting against Diaz’s large group last Sunday instead riding the media blitz.  Christine Quinn is Ms. Slush and Intimidation, Mike Bloomberg’s mini-me and a real estate whore who sold out the people (no offense to sex workers).  She should never be mayor but she will fight to keep a NYC gov just so the tax payers continue to pay her outrageous legal bills.  She thinks the NYC tax payers are her very own Goldman Sachs which is perhaps why she approved Sullivan & Cromwell to represent some of her staff as exposed in The NY Post.

SeanMcConnor
SeanMcConnor

I just paid $ 23.86 for an iPhone and my girlfriend loves her Dell laptop that we got for $ 38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UPS I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 42 inch LED TV to my boss for $ 665 which only cost me $ 62,81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from, GrabPenny.com

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