2010-11-12 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Be Corrupt … Keep Winning … Be Even More Corrupt
Commentary By Howard Schwach

It is hard to understand how rational people could vote for legislators who have proven themselves corrupt, but that’s just what happens over and over again. The election last week was just one more proof that you can fool enough of the voters enough of the time to retain your elected position no matter how corrupt and venal you are and how badly you serve your community. One prime example is Rockaway’s state senator, Malcolm Smith.

Smith had two “challengers” in the election and won with 77 percent of the vote. His Republican opponent, Samuel Benoit, got 18 percent of the vote and Everly Brown, a Democrat running on the Conservative line, got 4 percent of he vote.

A word about Smith’s opponents. Benoit might as well have been invisible. The Wave tried several times to contact him for a story about him and his campaign and he never got in touch with us. He ran no campaign at all that we could see.

Everly Brown joined the race late. He came into The Wave for an interview and ran some ads.

He was running, however, against a man who was named early last week as one of the corrupt players in the Aqueduct Racino process, promising to recuse himself and then engaging in back-door deals to get the Racino contract for his longtime boss, Floyd Flake, according to the report, which was done by the state’s Inspector General. In addition, the lobbyists and those doing business with Floyd Flake’s AEG were forced to donate lots of money to the Democratic Senate Conference, which then transferred the money to candidates such as Smith, John Sampson and Joe Addabbo Jr. Neither Brown nor Benoit exploited that fact, although it was well-known and in all the daily papers as well as on the front page of this paper.

The inspector general forwarded the report to both the state’s attorney general and to the Manhattan district attorney recommending that charges be brought. The attorney general at the time was Andy Cuomo, who was kind of busy running for governor.

Not that he ever prosecuted any of the other Democratic criminals who popped up over the past few years.

The newly-elected attorney general is Eric Schneiderman, who was a state senator and one of those connected to Smith and Sampson.

Do you believe he will ever prosecute his former Senate friends? Not in this lifetime. It is puzzling why the charges were not sent to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, seeing that Aqueduct is in Queens. Perhaps Brown is too independent and will prosecute Democratic operatives.

He really should take a look at the 308-page report the state’s inspector general put out. If he needs a copy, I will lend him mine.

It’s great reading, better than a novel, and it definitely is an eye-opener about the activities of Smith, Addabbo, Congressman Gregory Meeks, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and others, all of whom won reelection on November 2. I have to say that the report did not ascribe any criminality or veniality to Pheffer, just stupidity.

The report said that she was so focused on what the winning bidder would do for the community, she did not see the financial or political chicanery that was going on all around her. For a women who has been in the business for two decades, it is hard to believe that she did not know what her fellow Democratic legislators were pulling off behind her back.

She backed AEG to the hilt because Flake was involved and that made it a community project and Flake made lots of promises about community access to construction and Racino jobs. She says that the community involvement piece was her job and that her job ended there, but she is an elected official and the head of the consumer affairs committee, and she could have served the consumers far better by keeping an eye on her fellow state legislators. Pheffer beat her Republican challenger, Dr. Harold Paez, by 66 percent to 33 percent.

As for Smith, he has been involved in so many scandals in the past two years that there are too many to recount in this short piece. He and Meeks started a non-profit called the New Directions Community Corporation. It was designed to empower the youth of Rockaway. They convinced (or extorted) the developer of a massive cargo facility on Rockaway Turnpike to “donate” $250,000 to the community. That money went to New Direction. Like the roach motels, it went in, but it never came out. The only new direction the money went was into the political maw of Queens Democratic politics.

Then, there was NOAH-F, a charitable organization, ostensibly under the New Directions umbrella, which took money and held fundraisers for Hurricane Katrina victims who had fled to New York City.

Again, the great majority of the money for the victims went in and never came out. Then, there are Smith’s two charter schools.

One of them, the Peninsula Preparatory Academy, is in Rockaway and it has received tens of thousands in state money from Smith and Meeks. Smith founded the school, but says he has backed off since he achieved a Senate leadership position. He has backed off the schools as much as he recused himself from the AEG decision, and that is not at all, I believe. In any case, Smith won big, Meeks won big, Pheffer won big, Sampson won big, Addabbo won big.

What does it take to get rid of venal or stupid legislators?

We will probably never find out.

And that’s another reason we need term limits for state officials just as we have for city officials.

Two terms and out.

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