Along With Anti-Bribery Measures, Gov. Cuomo Proposes Election Reform

Might as well use this recent scenario to hit two birds with one stone.

Last week, Governor Cuomo announced the Public Trust Act. The bill, which came in the wake of the scandals that rocked New York politics this month, would expand the powers given to state bribers to locate and detain those involved in bribery. It would also make it much easier for a prosecutor to bring a case against this type of corruption. It was Albany's reaction to the Holleran/Smith and Stevenson controversies, both of which gave the public a rough glimpse into the dirty world of money and politics.

Moving beyond that, the governor has used the opportunity for something else. At a press conference yesterday, Cuomo proposed another idea he's been talking about for a while now (with the backing of President Obama's Organizing for America squad, too): reforming the means by which we elect our representatives in New York state.

More »

Assemblyman Nelson Castro Resigns After Ratting Out Eric Stevenson (and Maybe Others)

There's a good chance this week will go down in New York City political history textbooks. And not for the best reasons.

If you've watched the news (or Twitter) over the past three days, you've come across the Dan Holleran/Malcolm Smith story that involved bribing and mayoral rigging. Then, of course, the outgrowth of blame directed at Christine Quinn. And don't forget even more drama between her rivals--all of which directly leads back to the exposure of Holleran's illegal use of city funds.

And, yesterday, yet another politico was booked for corruption. South Bronx Assemblyman and Democrat Eric Stevenson was caught by federal authorities for accepting bribes of upward of $20,000. With this money, he planned on passing a law that would solely benefit four adult day care developers. Like Holleran and Smith, somehow he expected to get away with it.

As if this story couldn't get any wilder, the mole was Stevenson's fellow assemblyman, Nelson Castro, who's currently facing perjury charges from 2008. And late afternoon yesterday, he resigned from his seat and described just exactly what has been going down over the past four years.

More »

Sal Albanese Duels Bill de Blasio Over Quinn's Member Items Mishap

How do you create more mayoral drama? Start fighting over who's better at dealing with previous mayoral drama.

Yesterday, we reported on the Halloran/Smith scandal's foray into the electoral spectrum. News swirled around the fact that Councilman Dan Holleran had planned to use Council/taxpayers' funds to get in on state Sen. Malcolm Smith's brigging scheme. And who oversees those funds? None other than City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn.

So her rivals took the floor to take shots at her. Bill Thompson called the scandal an outgrowth of shitty oversight, and Bill de Blasio said this would've never happened had Quinn passed reform measures. The backlash arose from a New York Times profile of Quinn this week, in which she was reportedly caught handling member items like chess pieces in one big political game.

For clarity, member items are the cash flow amounts given to councilmembers so they can lavish their districts' organizations with funds. And this control-by-speaker is a quasi-parliamentary power given to the speaker, and in Britain it's commonplace strategy.

Out of that story, rivals Sal Albanese and Bill de Blasio have taken it upon themselves to direct the mud-slinging at each other in an attempt to distinguish to voters who's the best person to deal with council corruption.

If the past week is any indication, it seems like this mayoral race will give us a new drama to talk about on a daily basis.

More »

Latest Bronx Schemer of the Week Entry: Larry Seabrook

Proving that it is always too early to predict who should win the Bronx Schemer of the Week Award, the Times today produces a strong bid for City Councilman Larry Seabrook.

The veteran pol, reports Ray Rivera and Russ Buettner, somehow managed to parlay a nondescript, one-story office building on White Plains Road that he rented for $40,000 over three years into $157,000 in rent expense reimbursements doled out by the city. The reimbursements went to several nonprofit groups created by Seabrook and his crew,  and which received city contracts courtesy of the dapper lawmaker. The groups, the Times explains, conveniently sub-let space from their founding sponsor who seems to have set rent levels somewhat north of his own costs.

Dollar-for-dollar, Seabrook's feat falls slightly short of yesterday's strong Schemer entry -- the indictment of Bronx state assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo's grandson, Richard Izquierdo Arroyo, for the Amex credit card rip off of $180,000 from a nonprofit housing group long controlled by the Arroyo clan.

It's also not as audacious as the award front-runner and still heavy favorite to win, Bronx state senator Pedro Espada Jr., who on Monday bolted over to the Republican side after Democratic majority leader Malcolm Smith hesitated about awarding $2 million in grants to two brand new nonprofits created by Espada cronies.

Still, Seabrook makes a strong contender on several counts: He didn't let the fact that prosecutors have already investigated him three separate times get in the way of another innovative ploy; he kept up the scheme even in the face of a devastating 2006 audit by the city's Department of Small Business Services; and he has not even tried to punch out Rivera or Buettner like he did the Voice's Bill Bastone and Marc Asnin back in 1986 when they took the first look-see at his enterprising operations.

Note to possible late submissions for Schemer of the Week Award: Entries must be received or postmarked no later than Midnight, Saturday June 13.

Feds Probing Larry Seabrook Non-Profits in Council Slush Fund Inquiry

Bronx Councilman Larry Seabrook is a target of several probes of financial abuse at the City Council, it was reported today.

Non-profit organizations financed by Seabrook are being probed by both federal investigators and the Department of Investigation, according to the New York Times.

One of those non-profits, the Bronx African-American Chamber of Commerce, was blocked from receiving nearly $1 million in funding that Seabrook had requested for it, the Voice reported last week. The organization is located in Seabrook’s White Plains Road district office and would not produce tax records upon request.

Seabrook and other Council Members have come under fire in recent weeks for funneling taxpayer dollars into suspicious organizations with ties to their friends and families. Such funding, known as “member items,” is handed out at the council members’ request with little, if any, City Council oversight.

City Freezes Bronx Councilman's Million-Dollar Non-Profit Play

Too close for comfort?

Amid recent revelations about a secret Council slush fund and taxpayer-funded shenanigans at non-profits, the city has denied Councilman Larry Seabrook's near million-dollar request to fund a new non-profit that's located within his district headquarters.

The city system of checks and balances denied the Bronx Democrat's appropriations, freezing his Fiscal Year '08 requests of $887,244 to fund the newly founded Bronx African-American Chamber of Commerce. The non-profit did not have the proper paperwork in place for the money to be released.

A divider is all that separates the commerce chamber, at 3687-B White Plains Road, from Seabrook's district headquarters at 3687-A White Plains Road.

More »

City Council Scorecard: Two Indictments and an Ongoing Investigation

The City Hall headline for tomorrow will read that a top aide to a Brooklyn councilman, along with another staff member, were indicted in Manhattan federal court for ripping off $145,000 of city grants to a nonprofit group they controlled.

Asquith Reid, chief of staff to councilman Kendall Stewart (D- Flatbush) is charged with embezzlement and witness tampering, facing up to 80 years in prison; Joycinth Anderson, council staff member, faces embezzlement charges as well, and up to 40 years in the clink. As of late Wednesday afternoon, the two had yet to be arraigned. Kendall was not named in the charges.

But the subtext of the crimes—the phantom budget lines that were used to fund the nonprofit group, and whether Council Speaker and likely mayoral candidate Christine Quinn faces any legal jeopardy here—is going to be much more important. Here's what law enforcement officials had to say on that score:

More »