2008-05-02 / Front Page

Drinking At The Public Trough

By Howard Schwach

The residents of New York City are some of the most heavily-taxed citizens in the nation, and many locals are beginning to take a closer look at how that money is spent.

The recent news stories revealing a slush fund set up years ago to park funds that could later be used for special interests has only served to heighten the controversy over member item spending, the funds given to local organizations by City Council members with little oversight or questioning of who is getting the money or how it is spent.

The Wave recently obtained a copy of the City Council's 2008 budget showing the member items for this year. They reveal a pattern of funding friends and political allies.

For example, $120,000 went to Democratic District Leader Geraldine M. Chapey for her Chapey Trinity Senior Services program, listed on the accompanying chart as "Trinity Senior Services, Inc. the former name of the organization, which runs a van service that takes seniors to activities around the city.

Chapey reportedly charges for the service, and some locals wonder why she needs a large chunk of public money to operate her van.

"There is a built-in impropriety and conflict of interest involved with Trinity Services," one local political activist, who asked not to be identified for fear of party retribution, said. "She has a large say over who gets the party nomination for seats in the city council and state government, as well as who gets the nod to run for judgeships, and the politicians who are interested in running or in their reelection all have to pour money into her organization. Is it because her organization is doing such a wonderful job with seniors, or because they want her backing in the next election?"

The great majority of money funded under the member item program goes to legitimate community organizations (see chart on page 67).

Most of the funds provided by City Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. go to senior citizens' programs, arts programs, youth sports programs and volunteer fire departments.

All of those organizations depend on the member item money to keep the programs afloat.

Addabbo told The Wave that he doesn't see the money he gives to Chapey as a conflict of interest.

"I never saw it as that. She provides a credible service to a needy population," he said. "I give to organizations that provide a community service and Trinity Services falls into that category."

While the majority of Sanders' money goes to valid community organizations as well, there are locals who say that some of his member item funding is "troublesome."

For example, $25,000, his largest single-donor amount, goes to the Friends of Gateway for senior citizens' programs. Friends of Gateway is dedicated to protecting, enhancing and improving public awareness of, and access to the National Recreation Area on the west end of the peninsula. They profess not to have senior citizens' programs as such.

Because the organization's website does not mention any specific programs for seniors, we questioned a spokesperson for the organization.

After some hemming and hawing, the spokesperson said that the $25,000 would be used to get seniors involved in cleaning and replanting Twin Ponds, a small body of water bordering the Belt Parkway.

"We want some real community response on this," the spokesperson said. "We want this to be a stewardship between the park and the community."

The park is owned by the federal government as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, however, and experts say that city money is rarely used there for cleaning and reforesting projects.

There are two other organizations on the list for funding that may no longer exist or, some say, may never have existed in the first place.

Sanders gave $24,000 to Hilda Gross and her Rockaway Peninsula Civic Association.

According to Jonathan Gaska, the district manager of Community Board 14, that organization has not existed for at least two years.

The other is the Rockaway People's Network.

"I never heard of them," Gaska, who is heavily involved with all the civic groups on the peninsula, said.

In addition, Sanders gave a total of $7,000 to two local yeshivas for "general operating expenses," something that experts say is most likely illegal under the Constitution.

Both Sanders and Geraldine Chapey were contacted for comment about this story, but the calls were not returned by press time.

ADDABBO

Organization Amount
Connolley Dance Studio $ 5,000
Forest Park Senior Center $ 5,000
Howard Beach Senior Center $ 5,000
Locust Grove Civic Association $ 5,000
Our Lady of Grace Golden Age $ 3,500
Ozone Park Senior Center $ 5,000
Queens Council For Social Welfare $ 5,000
Queens Symphony Orchestra $ 8,250
Rockaway Park Senior Center $ 5,000
Seaside Senior Center $ 5,000
St. Camillus Golden Age $ 2,500
St. Francis de Sales $ 3,500
St. Rose of Lima Golden Age $ 2,500
St. Virgillus Golden Age $ 3,500
Trinity Senior Services $ 30,000
United Hindu Cultural Center $ 5,000
Wakefield Senior Center $ 5,000
Woodhaven Senior Center $ 5,000
Point Breezy Volunteer Fire Department $ 5,000
Rockaway Artist Alliance $ 12,428
Rockaway Music and Arts Council $ 7,929
Rockaway Point Volunteer Fire Department $ 5,000
Rockaway Theatre Company $ 5,000
Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department $ 5,000
Semantics, The $ 3,500
St. Helens Golden Age Club $ 2,500
St. Rose of Lima Basketball Program $ 3,500
St. Thomas More - St. Edmund Golden Age $ 3,500
West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department $ 7,000
Institute for the Puerto Rican Hispanic Elderly * $250,000
Trinity Senior Services, Inc.* $ 90,000
Lindenwood Volunteer Ambulance Corps $ 5,000
Midori and Friends* $ 35,000
Little Flower Children Services $ 4,000
Peninsula General Hospital Rehabilitation Center $ 1,500
Peninsula Performing Art Conservatory $ 3,500

SANDERS

Organization Amount
Bay/Eden Senior Citizen Program $ 3,500
First Church of God Golden Vessels $ 3,500
Friends of Gateway $ 25,000
Golden Age Senior Center of Laurelton - Rosedale $ 3,500
Gunhill Senior Center $ 3,500
Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults - Friendship Center $ 3,750
Jewish Association for Services for the Aged (JASA) - Roy Reuther $ 3,500
Jewish Association for Services for the Aged (JASA) - Brookdale
Village $ 4,000
Margaret Community Corporation $ 3,500
People United for Local Leadership (PULL) $ 10,000
Robert Couche Senior Center Community Corporation $ 10,000
Rockaway Peninsula Civic Senior Program $ 24,000
Service Now for Adult Persons (SNAP) $ 3,500
Rockaway People's Network $ 4,000
Young Israel of Wavecrest and Bayside Senior League $ 3,500
Intermediate School 231Q $ 3,500
Margaret Community Corporation $ 7,000
Metropolitan Eagles $ 4,857
People United for Local Leadership (PULL) $ 9,000
Rosedale Civic Association* $ 13,500
Rosedale Rockets Soer Club $ 6,000
Yeshiva Darchei Torah $ 3,000
Yeshiva of Far Rockaway $ 4,000
Institute for the Puerto Rican Hispanic Elderly * $250,000
Trinity Senior Services, Inc.* $ 90,000

* - funds collectively given as part of the Queens Delegation. The information on this chart is exactly

* - funds collectively given as part of the Queens Delegation as presented on the City Council website.

The information on this chart is exactly as presented on the City

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