2009-04-24 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Orbiting Political Bodies

I wish that I could stop writing about politics in this space and move on to other topics, such as education or sports.

The stories involving our politicians and our tax money are so compelling, however, that I can't stop myself.

My train of thought in that direction started long ago, but the private fundraiser that Mayor Michael Bloom - berg held at his posh Manhat tan townhouse for City Councilman James Sanders Jr. touched off my most recent musings about politicians.

You might ask yourself why Bloom - berg would hold a private fundraiser and invite all his big-money friends to contribute to Sanders' campaign for a city council seat far from the seat of power.

I asked myself the same question, and could come up with only one an - swer. Sanders was one of the handful of Democratic City Council members who voted to give the mayor a shot at a third term by voting for the extension of the term limits law.

The private fundraiser has to be some sort of payoff for Sanders' loyalty to the imperious mayor, who says he wants to increase jobs in the city while, at the same time, threatening to fire 7,000 city workers.

If you can come up with another reason that the mayor would so honor San ders, let me know. I wait with bated breath.

Sanders told me a few months ago that he voted with the mayor for the sake of his district. He said that the district's reward would be a new vocational training center on the penin sula.

Instead, he gets a private fundraiser.

I called him several times last week to find out how much he raised and if any Rockaway people were present at the fundraiser.

I was told that his son was ill and that he was out of town. I'll try again this week, but I am not hopeful that he will talk with me about this subject.

I wonder about a lot of things that politicians do or promise and do not do.

I know that astronomers, for example, cannot see many heavenly bodies, but they know that those bodies are there because they know how the other bodies around them react to their presence.

Politics is a lot like that. You instinctively know that something is not kosher when you see politicians act in certain ways; perform out of character of do things you do not believe that they would ever do.

For example, I have wondered for a long time why Geraldine Chapey turn - ed down a seat on the New York State Workers' Compensation Board, a job that would have paid her nearly $100,000 a year for relatively little work.

The official explanation presented by the Workers' Comp Board was that Chapey the younger did not want to leave her work in Rockaway, even a couple of times a year.

My bullshit meter went off immediately, but I have a very sensitive meter after covering politicians for more than 20 years, and I thought that there must be another reason.

At first, I thought perhaps that she was raking in so much money from her teaching job and her non-profit that she would lose money by taking the job, which would have forbidden her from running her van service, or performing any other job. I discounted that idea, because it would have been a simple process to transfer that non-profit to her husband, or somebody else.

It was a puzzlement, and something I returned to now and again when I had nothing more productive to think about, or when I had trouble falling asleep.

This week, however, I got an anonymous letter from someone who claims to have inside information.

I have tried in a number of ways to check the veracity of my correspondent's letter, but have been unable to do so, because nobody wants to talk about it. The information in the letter, however, if true, may explain why Chapey turned down the invitation to join the Workers' Comp Board. That goes along with my "heavenly body" theory. Chapey's actions were formed by unseen bodies named Seminerio and Jamaica Hospital.

There are a number of players and institutions involved.

The story involves Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, Jamaica Hospital, Geraldine Chapey, and the Workers' Compensation Board. I tried to contact them all for comment.

Jamaica Hospital would not even confirm that Chapey was a member of their board and promptly hung up.

Chapey has not returned my calls for more than a year. She has steadfastly refused to speak about how the taxpayer money she gets each year is used. We are not talking about chump change here. In 2006, her non-profit took in more than $200,000. So, I am not going to find out anything from Chapey herself or her minions.

Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio is the third player in this drama, and he has just been indicted on bribery charges by the feds, so I doubt if he will talk to me. I did place a call to his former press representatives, but they did not return my calls.

A spokesperson for the Workers' Compensation Board told me again that Chapey's decision is a personal one and he can't discuss either why the governor appointed her or why she backed out.

The letter is so important to understanding Democratic politics in Rock - away, however, that I decided that I had to tell the story.

It raises important questions, and I am hoping that the person who sent me the letter will come forward and make his or her knowledge public.

The letter says that in 2007, the Jamaica Hospital Center attempted to merge with a number of smaller hospitals in Brooklyn and Queens.

In an attempt to gain some political muscle, Chapey, the Democratic Dis - trict Leader, was added to the hospital's board of directors.

Chapey reportedly spoke with Semi - nerio, who represents the district in which the hospital is located.

Seminerio reportedly told Chapey and others that he and his wife had recently started a public relations firm and that their firm could help the hospital. The hospital signed a contract with Seminerio's company. According to the anonymous source, Seminerio, once one of the most powerful of political figures in Queens, asked the governor to appoint Chapey to the Workers' Comp Board as a reward for helping him with the Jamaica Hospital issue.

You might all remember that Chapey's mother, also named Geraldine, was appointed to the Board of Regents after her daughter voted to make Gregory Meeks a Congressman at the request of Democratic boss Thomas Manton. The family is not new to the deal-making propensity of politicians everywhere. After Seminerio was questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and was charged with bribery for his activities in Queens, Chapey was reportedly asked by state officials to step down because of the attendant publicity and the fact that her appointment might be tainted by politics.

She did step down, using the "I love Rockaway" excuse to explain it away.

Of course, the anonymous letter might well be only one of the possible explanations for what Chapey did or did not do. Soon, however, Seminerio will have to tell his story in court, and we will all know whether or not my correspondent's assertions are true.

Until then, all I have is the "heavenly body theory" that explains everything, and to me that is important, so I can sleep at night without thinking about politics and other things that give me a headache.

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