2010-04-02 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Turn Malcolm Smith Out Of Office On Nov. 2
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Malcolm Smith may be the Pres ident Pro Tempore of the New York State Senate, but you have the power to make sure that his legislative career ends in November, when the entire Senate is up for reelection. Smith, you’ll recall, represents Rockaway in the Senate and his fate is in our hands.

We should get rid of him once and for all.

Why?

Let me count the reasons.

The Aqueduct Racino Scandal

For the past several years, the state has been contemplating a plan to put gambling video lottery terminals (VLTs) at Aqueduct Racetrack in nearby Ozone Park. Late last year, the state got serious, entertaining several highpowered consortiums, all of which submitted bids for the plan. The problem was, however, that politics once again reared its ugly (and corrupt) head.

The final decision was to be made by the governor along with the Assembly Speaker and the Senate leadership – whoever that was at the moment. As President Pro Tempore, Smith was certainly involved.

One of the bidding groups was Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG), which counted as its investors the Reverend Floyd Flake.

Now, Flake was once our Congressman – a seat now held by Gregory Meeks. He was the mentor for a number of local black politicians, including Smith and Meeks.

In fact, Smith was his executive director here in Rockaway. Smith is presently a deacon at the Allen AME Church, where Flake is the founding pastor. Edwin Reed, who serves as the treasurer for the church, was also Smith’s campaign treasurer.

Guess who got the nod. AEG, and several investigations were begun at the state and federal level. Finally, the story got so ugly for all concerned that Governor Paterson pulled the plug on AEG and reopened the bidding process.

Certainly Smith, with his ties to both Flake and Paterson, was one of the major players in pushing the deal to the former Congressman despite the fact that many of the other bidders were far more qualified to run the Racino. Federal and state investigators will have to unravel the story over the next few months. The New Direction Local Development Corporation

Although Smith says he has no connection with the non-profit organization, it is clear that he and Meeks set up the corporation after September 11, 2001. The two are all over the organization’s website and they have both pumped lots of public money into the non-profit, which was founded to provide community development in the Far Rockaway community.

In 2004 Meeks and Smith helped arrange for a developer, who wanted to build a huge cargo facility on Rockaway Turnpike across from JFK Airport, to donate $250,000 in community development funds to the neighborhoods impacted by the airport in order to receive permission to build the facility.

That money was steered to New Direction, reportedly by Smith. Records show that the non-profit spent $100,736 on programs including a basketball tournament on the mainland, but that $150,000 remains unaccounted for.

Meeks has continually said that he wants to know where the money went. Smith has remained silent on the issues, stating that he helped community organizations to set up the nonprofit, but that he has nothing further to do with it. Federal investigators are working on the case.

NOAH-F

Shortly after the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, Smith and Meeks set up a charity under the New Direction umbrella. On its website, the organization detailed its mission statement: “It is the mission of NOAH-F (New Yorkers to Assist Hurricane Families) to support Hurricane Katrina evacuees for six months. NOAH-F plans to provide up to 30 families with full rent and utility payments for six months. In total we hope to raise $270,000 for the families. To help meet that goal, we are not deducting any money for administrative costs.”

At first, the money was to go to families in New Orleans. Then, the deal was changed so that the money would support Katrina survivors who wound up staying in a New York City hotel near LaGuardia Airport.

While more than $35,000 was raised, less than $2,000 was spent, and there is no evidence that any of that money went to Katrina survivors here or in New Orleans. Smith says he had no control over the money. Federal investigators are involved in this as well.

Porky Pig

Last year, Smith gave out more than $5.5 million in member item money. That is more than double that provided by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and more than anybody else in the Senate.

Very little of the money went directly to Rockaway causes.

In fact, the only major expenditure was $75,000 to When It’s Real, It’s Forever, a non-profit founded by Nicole Paultre Bell, the woman who was to marry Rockaway resident Sean Bell the day after he was shot by a group of undercover cops outside a strip bar in Jamaica.

The rest of the money went largely to Orthodox Jewish interests and other legitimate charities.

Peninsula Preparatory Academy

An investigation by the New York Daily News I-Team has sparked more questions about the connection among the Peninsula Preparatory Academy, State Senator Malcolm Smith and the developers of Arverne By The Sea, the developers that have provided a free home for the school and have pledged millions of dollars for the school, which was founded by Smith.

Two years ago, the publically-funded charter school moved from Intermediate School 53 in Far Rockaway to a group of double-wide trailers on Beach 67 Street, smack dab in the middle of the Arverne By The Sea (ABTS) development.

The Daily News writers questioned PPA officials on why the school would move from a place where it had a cafeteria, school yard, gymnasium and state-of-the art science lab to a site that had none of the above and was surrounded by streets and a chain-link fence.

“The phalanx of drab trailers ringed by chain-link fence in a desolate corner of Queens looks more like a prison than a charter school,” the I-Team wrote. “The cramped [school] has no science lab, no gymnasium, no playground and no on site kitchen. Hot meals are trucked in from three miles away, and the school’s 300 students have to dodge cars just to reach the front door.”

The paper argues that the school was moved to the ABTS complex for political and financial reasons.

While the official reason provided by the school was that “increased enrollment” forced the move, the Daily News reporters say that the move was a political favor to Benjamin-Beechwood, the ABTS developers who are also the favored developers of the Reverend Floyd Flake, a former Congressman for whom Smith worked for many years.

In addition, there are many, including myself, who believe that Smith is behind the closing of Beach Channel High School, a move that will clear space for an extension of the PPA into the high school realm in a year or two.

All told, Smith has proved to be the type of politician that we don’t need representing us.

Late last week, Smith hired top Albany criminal attorney Gerald Shargel to represent him in the state and federal probes.

“I think that the senator is blameless,” Shargel told reporters. “He has acted in an entirely professional, competent and ethical way. He’s done absolutely nothing wrong.”

Sure!

We should turn Smith out of office on November 2 and save the rest of the state from his machinations.

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