2010-07-30 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Why This Life-Long Democrat Has A Problem On November 2
Commentary By Howard Schwach

My first voting experience came in November of 1960. I was 21 and eligible to vote for the first time. You had to be 21 in those days, not like today, when 18-year-olds make the cut.

That vote was for John F. Kennedy for president. In my family, there were no other choices. It was the Democrats or the highway.

I have been a registered Democrat ever since, going on 50 years.

These days, I am ashamed to say that in public.


Gregory Meeks, Malcolm Smith, James Sanders Jr., Michele Titus and Audrey Pheffer. Democrats all and all of whom represent all or part of Rockaway. They make me ashamed.

Not all for the same reason, of course. Some of them are downright crooked, manipulating the political system for their own personal good. Another is simply absent from the community she is elected to serve. The last, a woman who I like personally, but who has done nothing to buck the party boss system for 20 years and who has done little for Rockaway during her time in office.

Let’s start with Congressman Gregory Meeks.

If you read The Wave, or any other newspaper in New York City, you will find numerous stories about his actions, any one of which would be enough to spark a movement to drive him out of office.

There are now two watchdog groups demanding that the House Ethics Committee investigate Meeks. That comes in the wake of several grand juries that have been called in both state and federal courts in relation to how Meeks bought his new home, his relationship with convicted scam artist Allen Stanford, his non-profit, New Directions in Community Development, from which lots of money is missing and his Hurricane Katrina charity, NOAH-F, from which little money actually went to survivors.

In addition, there are questions about his role in the politically-tainted Aqueduct Racino scandal and the loans he took from a Queens businessman, which might not have been loans at all and which were not repaid until the FBI took notice of the transaction.

Is that enough? There is probably more, and many of the daily newspapers, especially the Daily New investigation team, are digging up his records to come up with further transgressions.

Then, we have State Senator Malcolm Smith, who I once believed was one of the good guys.

Boy, was I wrong.

When the Democrats took power from the Republicans in Albany, Smith became the majority leader of the Senate, something that lasted about 10 heartbeats. He was so inept that his own party moved him aside.

It is interesting to take a look at how Meeks and Smith are intricately intertwined in their nefarious dealings.

Smith and Meeks are the co-founders of the New Direction in Community Development, a non-profit that took in hundreds of thousands of dollars in public and private money for Rockaway. Now, however, nobody seems to know where the money went.

Smith and Meeks, along with their mentor, former Congressman Floyd Flake, were involved in choosing Flake’s group, AEG to run the lucrative Aqueduct gambling Racino. That decision was so shamelessly political that even the state’s Lottery Commission had to turn it down.

Both were involved with the charity, NOAH-F, which raised lots of money for victims of Hurricane Katrina who had relocated to New York City. Less than $2,000 of the $32,000 that was raised actually went to those survivors. The rest of the money seems to have disappeared.

Then, there is Smith’s home-building “empire,” which went bust and left him with lots of angry customers from whom he took money but never built their homes.

And, there are his two charter schools – the Peninsula Preparatory Academy in Rockaway and the Merick Boulevard Academy in Jamaica. He now disavows that they are “his” schools, but they have been since they were built and both the developers and officials at Victory Schools (which is the educational partner with the two schools) have provided Smith with lots of campaign funds.

Add to that the fact that Smith, in a position of power in the Senate, could have easily killed the MTA’s move to cut the resident rebate on the Cross Bay Bridge, and chose not to.

Oh, did I forget the defunct David Dinkins Center in Far Rockaway that Meeks, Smith and Sanders funded long after it became a shell game.

Michele Titus doesn’t deserve more than a line, because that’s what she’s worth to her constituents. Enough said.

James Sanders Jr. has one claim to fame. He was one of the few Democrats in the City Council who voted with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to overturn term limits, allowing both Bloomberg and himself to have four more years off the public trough.

He is the only one of those noted in this column that is not up for reelection this year. He is two years and done on Election Day, unless he can overturn term limits one more time.

That leaves Audrey Pheffer, whom I really like as a person – just not as a legislator.

Not once in her 20 years in the Assembly has she bucked Speaker Shelly Silver. Not once. She backed mayoral control for the public schools, something that even she admits has been a disaster.

It’s time for a change across the board. The only problem is, the Republican candidates promise not to be much better.

What to do?

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