2010-07-30 / Columnists

East End Matters...

Does Meeks Deserve Re-Election?
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

It seems that every time you open a newspaper these days there’s an article about one of Rockaway’s leading legislators – articles that are not flattering. One such legislator is Congressman Gregory Meeks of the 6th Congressional District and once one of the rising stars of the Democratic party.

In an article published in the Daily News on June 20 it was reported that Meeks had failed to disclose, in congressional finance reports, two personal loans he received in 2007. On July 8 the paper reported that the Congressman was being investigated by the FBI for one of the loans – a $40,000 personal loan he received from a Queens businessman and didn’t repay until the federal agency began asking questions about it. In a statement Meeks said he didn’t repay the loan until last month pointing to the lower interest rates available now. The option to repay a loan of the magnitude of $40,000 at a time when interest rates would best suit you is not something available to many people.

Meeks called the failure to disclose the loans an oversight, for which he took full responsibility. He disclosed the loans on his 2009 financial statement and amended his 2004 through 2008 statements.

Due to the Daily News reports, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, on July 13, formally requested the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate Meeks’ conduct.

“It is unfortunate that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is now using distorted and sensationalized media reports as the basis for a complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics,” said Meeks in a press release.

Meeks’ office did not respond to a request to pinpoint the parts of the reports he felt were “distorted and sensationalized.”

This is not the first request for an investigation into the Congressman. On March 19, the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) formally asked the congressional Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to start an investigation. NLPC charges that Meeks used his office for personal gain including paying $830,000 to build his house in 2006, when it was worth more than $1.2 million. According to the NLPC, the builder has also done work for taxpayer funded projects funded by Meeks.

According to the NLPC complaint, “The real focus of any investigation should be why Meeks received such a lucrative deal and who was Meeks’ beneficiary for the bargain mansion.”

Meeks is also under investigation for his role in a non-profit organization called New Direction Local Development Corporation, which he founded with State Senator Malcolm Smith. Of specific interest is money the organization collected, under the name of New Yorkers Organized to Assist Hurricane Families (NOAH-F) for relief to families affected by Hurricane Katrina. According to NLPC, NOAH-F received $10,000 donated by Meeks’ campaign. For some reason the campaign received $5,000 back. A total of approximately $30,000 was reported to have been raised. Only $1,392 was used to help victims of Katrina.

In addition, several organizations were to receive funding from New Direction, but the money never materialized. NLPC also reviewed tax returns and New York State Budget records that showed the majority of funds New Direction collects are unaccounted for.

In March, Meeks told a Wave reporter, “My role was working along with the community to create [New Direction and NOAH-F] and to provide transparency for the organizations,” adding, “I didn’t have anything to do with the money” when asked what happened to the unaccounted funds for New Direction and NOAH-F. In the same interview the Congressman said, “I insisted on separate bank accounts and separate banks just to keep the money separated, and I wanted it all to go where it was supposed to go.”

Rockawayites need to keep all this in mind as election time approaches. For a minute let’s look at the west end. Congressman Anthony Weiner is very visible there and held his last town hall meeting in February. When was the last time Meeks took a tour through the east end or held a town hall meeting so constituents could have a give and take on the various problems facing the area?

Over the years, Meeks has fought a lot of the good fights – including most recently health care reform. That’s why these allegations and investigations are so troubling.

This will be one of the first years Meeks will be challenged for reelection. Investigations can take years. So it will be for the voters to decide if all the allegations against Meeks are enough to vote him out of office or keep him where he is.

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Let's see… A politician is

Let's see… A politician is sitting under a substantial series of ethical and criminal charges and the headline is, "Does Meeks Deserve Re-Election? " How about, "Why isn't this corrupt pol already ousted?" Votes for this standard issue "Charlie Rangel lite" is one that could only confirm just how uninformed the Rockaway constituency is. "Anyone but Meeks!" should be the hue and cry.

As for the "good fights", they are genuinely tainted by the corruption Meeks represents. A public servant is supposed to do just that--serve the public--not line his own nest, skim from charities, go on junkets or peddle influence. America is rapidly descending into a kleptocracy, it's getting so bad that it seems a regular citizen wouldn't recognize an honest candidate if they were standing on his toes.

For the sake of the nation it is high past time that two party politics played second fiddle to getting the best into office. Those who know that it is not their money that they spend, but ours and that the people are not a bottomless moneypit to sponge from.

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