Monday, June 16, 2008

City Council's glazed ham is still porky

When City Council members give money to nonprofit groups run by their relatives, we call it pork.
So what do we call it when a city agency gives away $2 million to help vulnerable people, and $700,000 of it goes to groups heavy with political clout?
How about glazed ham? It's better than pork - it's a prime slab of cash from a respected agency, untainted with the odor of Council member items. And it has a sweet, shiny coating to shield it from any hint of favoritism.
This glazed ham was served up in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, two Brooklyn neighborhoods where a big rezoning led to fears that greedy landlords would push out poor tenants. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development put aside $2 million to counsel and protect tenants, and said it would hire local groups to do the work.
A coalition of seven nonprofits from the neighborhood applied as one in a bid to handle the whole project. The city liked them well enough to give them $1.3 million and more than half of the area as their territory.
Who got the rest? Some went to United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, an Orthodox group that politicians like to court. It asked to serve the Orthodox parts of Williamsburg that it knows better than any other group, and got $216,570 to do it.
But how to explain the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council?
That group - synonymous with its founder, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the powerful head of the Assembly Housing Committee - applied for areas it wanted. The city agreed and gave it $475,265.
"They said it was done through a blind process," said Paul Cogley of Churches United, one of the seven groups. "It seems like a very political decision."
Some wonder why a group based in Ridgewood and Bushwick is serving Greenpoint and Williamsburg. And some have noted that Lopez helped broker the rezoning deal that included the $2 million in the first place.
"Whether or not the group has clout, they put in a good proposal," said Bill Carbine, HPD's assistant commissioner for neighborhood preservation.
HPD said Ridgewood Bushwick's application got the highest score of the three, but didn't reveal the criteria or the results.
"They're looking for someone who has the capacity," added Lopez, noting that Ridgewood Bushwick already handles legal assistance work in Williamsburg. "I'm open to having a reasonable dialogue with anyone who wants to work on this."
Ridgewood Bushwick has a long history and a solid track record in its neighborhoods. It is also no stranger to pork, glazed ham and other choice cuts of your tax dollars: Ridgewood Bushwick has received almost $21.5 million in other city funds over the last three years.
There's much more at stake. The city is working on rezoning 19 acres of old factories for up to 1,000 new homes on a triangle of land where Williamsburg meets Bushwick meets Bedford-Stuyvesant.
When nonprofits get picked to develop those homes, they'll get money, staff and influence. And when HPD held a seminar last fall to figure out the future of the area, the invited groups included UJO and Ridgewood Bushwick.
It's not pork. It's glazed ham.
City Council's glazed ham is still porkySaturday, June 14th 2008, 7:00 PM NY Daily News

A powerful Brooklyn lawmaker who has delivered millions of dollars in state aid to his district is also on the payroll of one of the community groups he has funded - but won't say what he's paid to do.
Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Bushwick) has been a consultant to a not-for-profit housing group since 1998, earning as much as $57,600 a year, according to tax records and check stubs obtained by The Post.
Lopez's consulting fees come on top of the $92,000 annual salary he earns as a state lawmaker and committee chairman.
When asked about his role as a consultant and any possible conflict with his position as chairman of the Assembly's Housing Committee, Lopez erupted in a bizarre tirade.
"On Tuesday we're feeding 2,000 senior citizens, what are you doing?" he snapped.
"How much do you get paid?" Lopez continued. "Unless you tell me how much you get paid and what you're doing on Christmas, I won't answer your questions."
Yet even when that information was provided, Lopez still refused to discuss his consulting work or explain what the housing-management group does in his district.
Lopez even suggested The Post's questions be posed to one of his daughters. He later tried to say he was joking with that suggestion.
Lopez is among Gov. Pataki's strongest supporters in the city. He has boasted of the tens of millions of dollars that he has brought to his district annually for housing and other programs.
Groups he has founded depend heavily on state largess. His Bushwick-Ridgewood Senior Citizens Center, an umbrella group for many of the district's not-for-profits, receives $7 million a year in public funds.
Community Property Management Inc. operates housing built or rehabilitated by groups affiliated with the Bushwick-Ridgewood Senior Citizens Center. Officials at the management group did not return calls for comment.
In filings with the state's Legislative Ethics Committee, Lopez, as required by law, declared his consulting work for Community Property Management during 1998, 1999 and 2000.
In those filings, Lopez described the work as providing technical assistance for program development, but was not required to state his income.

Source Citation: "POL BENEFIT$ FROM STATE-AIDED GROUP.(News)." New York Post (New York, NY) (Dec 23, 2001):

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