‘This Administration Has No Honor’
Councilmember James Sanders Jr., as he prepares for a potential early exit from the City Council he’s served on since 2002, had some strong words this week for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with whom he once sided on many issues.
Sanders, who is running for State Senate and will face incumbent Shirley Huntley in a Democratic primary this September, sat down with The Wave this week to talk politics.
The Rockaway councilman says he once had great faith in the mayor and was one of his biggest supporters, especially after his first term. However, Sanders says he would eventually “grow disenchanted as time went on.”
“He has become less open for criticism and new ideas. He has surrounded himself with yes men and has isolated himself from any criticism. He has a reason to be concerned about his legacy.”
The turning point in his relationship with Bloomberg, however, occurred back in 2009 after he once again sided with the mayor and voted to extend term limits. Even though Sanders to this day defends his vote to allow Bloomberg to run for a third term as something he “believed in,” he admits there was a certain understanding at that time between him and the administration.
The failure, however, to come to terms with that understanding is what Sanders calls his “greatest disappointment” as a city councilman. He was told that the city would channel $3 million worth of funding to transform the former Beach 59 Street firehouse into a state-of-the-art vocational school for residents of the community. It was a plan that Sanders had been working on virtually his entire tenure as councilman.
When the news came in 2009 that the school would be given to the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance to be turned into home base for their operations, Sanders says he felt “betrayed.”
“This administration has no honor,” Sanders said. “You must keep your word.”
The vocational school was meant to be a stepping stone for a renewed sense of hope in the community. Admitting that not every kid was cut out for college, Sanders said, the vocational school was to train men and women to get jobs they can succeed with and support a family on.
It’s that sense of hope, Sanders believes, that can keep kids out of trouble. The school would have provided an alternative to selling drugs, hanging out on the street in a gang or buying guns. So with Sanders vying to overthrow the controversy ridden and incumbent Shirley Huntley in September’s primary, he feels a seat in Albany is just what he needs to have a bigger impact on some of the same parts of Rockaway that he currently serves on the City Council.
State Senate is a tall order for Sanders, however, who will go from representing approximately 188,000 people in his council district to nearly 477,000 as a member of the State Senate. Sanders does feel, though, that his democratic primary opponent is vulnerable.
Huntley’s record has drawn a lot of attention as of late. This week she was cited as having one of the worst attendance records in Albany. Last year four associates of Huntley, including her niece and her top aide, were indicted on charges of participating in a scheme to pocket taxpayer dollars intended for public services in New York City.
The investigation detailed the scheme in which a nonprofit set up by Huntley funneled member item funds to those associated with it, including the senator’s aide and an individual who shares a residence with the senator. Huntley was not named in the indictment, but a spokesperson for the state’s attorney general told The Wave that “the investigation is ongoing” and that there may well be future indictments in the case.
According to the indictment, the president and treasurer of the Parent Workshop, Inc. submitted fraudulent documents to New York State to obtain public money from a legislative member item. Instead of providing the promised programs, the two defendants pocketed approximately $29,950. Two additional defendants were charged with falsifying documents to cover up the theft once the investigation commenced.
“Character is going to be an issue in this election,” Sanders said. “Name recognition is always important, but there are a lot of new people I have never represented before here as well.”
The new district line drawn as a result of the 2010 census shows the 10th Senate District encompassing the northern edge of the Rockaway peninsula along Jamaica Bay, from Hammel Houses at Beach 86 Street eastward to almost the Nassau line and including many southeast Queens neighborhoods.
Sanders says his top three initiatives in the State Senate would be expanding education, foreclosure prevention and, above all, economic development.