Monday, July 20, 2009

City Council Slush Fund Scandal Grows

One New York City Council member has resigned as a result of the slush fund scandal, but as we vote in the September primaries, we won't know whether more elected officials will be forced to plead guilty. The scandal has at least one redeeming quality; the resignation of City Council member Miguel Martinez makes room for New York City's Immigration Commissioner, Guillermo Linares to regain his former seat representing Upper Manhattan in the City Council.

Slush Fund Scandal

In April 2008, the New York City Council was embarrassed by a scandal that apparently goes back for decades. City Council members had been allocating New York City budget dollars to non-existent non-profit organizations. Sometimes, the dollars were later directed to legitimate organizations, and often the funds remained with phony organizations.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has claimed that she is a whistle-blower rather than a culprit in this scandal, despite the fact that she has been the speaker since 1996 and has led the City Council through two budget cycles that resulted in funds being allocated to phony groups. Quinn has also acknowledged that she was aware of the "slush fund" that benefited her office and gave her leverage in winning votes for her preferred initiatives. She claims that she had not supported the allocation of the slush fund to organizations that did not exist (a reasonable position, but one that she seems to have been developed only after her first two budgets as Speaker).

Despite the fact that millions of dollars have apparently been allocated to non-existent organizations for the last 20 years, we have almost no insight into how much unethical and illegal activity has occurred or whom we should hold responsible for that activity. Two City Council staff members plead guilty in connection with the slush fund in 2008, and Miguel Martinez plead guilty last week. Martinez had only been in office for one term, and we have no way to analyze whether we should expect additional guilty pleas and resignations.

At Manhattan Viewpoint, we hope that prosecutors will give New Yorkers an update soon (in advance of the September Primaries) that will allow us to enter the voting booth with confidence that we are not voting for candidates who are in the process of negotiating plea deals.

Commissioner Linares Seeks His Former Seat

Because of the resignation of Miguel Martinez, former City Council member Guillermo Linares has begun a campaign to regain his former seat. While he starts without a campaign organization or campaign funds, Linares begins the campaign with a reputation and a track record of which he can be very proud.

Guillermo Linares grew up poor in the Dominican Republic and went on to become the first Dominican elected to public office in the United States. He entered the United States at age 15 without any knowledge of English and drove a taxi to pay for college. He went on to receive a bachelors degree and a masters degree from City College and a doctorate from Columbia. He served his Upper Manhattan constituents well and is ready to serve again.

So, this scandal already has a silver lining.

1 comment:

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