2010-02-19 / Editorial/Opinion

All In The Political Family

It seems clear to us that the dual investigations centering on two of our local politicians, State Senator Malcolm Smith and Representative Gregory Meeks, points out once again that non-profits should not be run by and for the benefit of politicians and their families. Take, for example, New Direction Local Development Corporation. Founded in 2001 by the initiatives of Meeks and Smith, state papers show that Smith’s wife, Michelle, was a founding board member. Also on the initial board, papers show, was Cathy Green, the wife of Darryl Green, Smith’s former business partner. Green was convicted in 1999 of stealing $500,000 from city agencies and private firms that hired him as a consultant on affirmative action hiring practices. He was also a partner, along with former Congressman Floyd Flake, in the Aqueduct Entertainment Group, which was just awarded a $300 million “Racino” deal at the aging racetrack in Ozone Park. Flake, you will remember, was the political mentor of both Smith and Meeks. Records show that between 2001 and 2006 Smith helped funnel at least $56,000 to the charity through state earmarks. The largest chunk of money came to New Direction at the behest of Smith, $250,000 from the developer of a cargo facility across Rockaway Turnpike from JFK Airport. The deal to trade the right to build the facility in return for community development money was brokered by Smith, Meeks and City Councilman James Sanders Jr. Edwin Reed, who is listed as the treasurer of New Direction, is also the head of the development arm of Flake’s church, the Greater Allen AME Church in Jamaica. Flake has become the power behind the scenes in Queens Democratic circles. His development group was recently given the keys to Aqueduct Racetrack to run a gambling Racino there. A week before Flake’s group got the nod, the minister was talking up Andrew Cuomo for governor. Shortly after the deal was made, Flake visited the governor in Albany and then declared that his mind was not made up and that he might back Paterson for a full term. Under the New Direction umbrella, Smith and Meeks started a charity for Katrina victims who had come to New York City. It collected some $30,000. It paid out less than $2,000. Now, federal investigators are looking for the missing money. They are also looking into New Direction and the connection between Meeks and Smith and the Aqueduct deal. Some non-profits that deserve a closer look are also closer to home. You’ll remember Democratic District Leader Geraldine Chapey’s Trinity Seniors organization. She ran a single van, providing rides for seniors to luncheons and events. For that, she took in more than $1.5 million in public money over a ten year period, both from city agencies and from local politicians who provided her with earmarked funds. Allowing politicians to run their own non-profits, or to turn them over to family and cronies only provides the possibility of corruption, and the practice should be stopped now.

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