Queens Weakened By Cuts
BY JOHN TOSCANO
After a week of almost nonstop criticism and intense lobbying to restore a massive $82 million slash in New York City's anti-terror funds by the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it appears that the agency is not going to retreat from its original decision.
The word from City Hall, according to one source, was that the mayor was doubtful that Chertoff could be persuaded to adjust the funding in the city's favor, despite the shower of brickbats aimed at Chertoff by virtually every lawmaker in the city.
The only glimmer of hope for additional funds from DHS came from a Bloomberg spokesman who said Chertoff had told the mayor during their telephone talk that his agency would give priority treatment to other New York City funding requests made through other programs.
Chertoff also suggested, that funding for the city's anti-terror efforts might increase once the security needs of smaller cities have been met, the spokesman said.
Since the imbroglio erupted a week ago, DHS officials had maintained repeatedly that the agency has an obligation to secure other areas around the nation as well as deal with high-risk cities like New York.
Meanwhile, United States Senator Charles Schumer announced that he plans to file legislation mandating DHS to base future allocations exclusively on the threat of terror attacks, using credible threats, risks and previous attacks to determine the threat level.
The lawmaker also said he plans to examine other DHS grant programs to determine if they could be tapped by New York as a way of making up for the 40 percent cut in the city's share of funds.
In another late development, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined in criticizing the DHS for reducing the city's anti-terror allocation from last year's $207.5 million to $124.5 million.
Giuliani told the Daily News that it appeared that the DHS actions were caused by "incompetent" bureaucrats, judging by their study which found no national monuments worth protecting in the city.
Since DHS announced its budget allocations last Wednesday, Chertoff was pummeled by city lawmakers on a daily basis. U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Congressmembers Joseph Crowley, Anthony Weiner and Carolyn Maloney; Assemblymember Michael Gianaris; City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., and state Senator Malcolm Smith, all Democrats, assailed the cuts.
These were joined by Republican Congressmembers Vito Fossella from Staten Island and Peter King from Long Island. King is chairman of the House Committee On Homeland Security.
In announcing the distribution of $711 million for 2006 to 46 cities, DHS said there were numerous flaws in New York City's application for the funds. The agency also gave poor ratings to some of the city's anti-terror programs.
There also appeared to be a basic difference between New York City's use of the federal funds and what the federal government feels the money should be used for.
For instance, the city has used some of the funding to subsidize continuing costs, such as police overtime in carrying out anti-terrorism assignments every day. The federal government indicated, however, that it would rather the funds be spent on longer range programs, such as communications systems or gas masks or for training personnel.
The city did not accept the DHS criticisms as valid. Instead, the mayor and others argued that many of the smaller, nonthreatened cities may have received larger sums than previously because the Bush administration had political and electionyear reasons to dole the funds out to them.
Perhaps the greatest fault local officials found with DHS funding cuts was the agency's perception that there are no national monuments or icons here in the city. On its face this seems preposterous considering that the city holds the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and a major branch of the Federal Reserve, just to name a few.
Several lawmakers seized on this point to criticize Chertoff and his staff for such a seemingly ludicrous goof.
Vallone (D-Astoria), tongue in check, headed his reaction comment to the sharp funding cuts, "Chertoff A Monumental Failure," and offered to give the DHS head a personal tour of the many monuments in the city.
More seriously, Vallone declared: "Washington already failed to protect New York City once and almost 3,000 of our citizens died. This is Washington telling New York to drop dead again, but this time literally." "The first time New York City got the "drop dead" message was during the 1970s fiscal crisis when the city came near to bankruptcy and the nation's leaders refused to lift a finger.
Assemblymember Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) also took Chertoff to task for claiming in a recent article that "some of the funding diverted from New York City is intended to protect a Connecticut power plant that produces the majority of electricity of New York-a complete and utter falsehood," he said.
(Actually, power plants in Astoria and Long Island City produce 50 or 60 percent of the power used in New York City.)
As for the anti-terror funding cut, Gianaris called it "a disgrace and another example of the federal government's neglect of New Yorkers." He added, "To suggest that the world's number one terrorist target does not have any national monuments is absurd. If this is the type of leadership we can expect from Michael Chertoff, then he should consider resigning."
Crowley (D-Queens/The Bronx) called the drastic cut to keep New York secure from the horror of another deadly attack "an absolute outrage."
The lawmaker said he was "amazed that after we in Congress...successfully fought to boost funding for terror grants to American cities, the Bush administration has chosen to reduce the ability of the city that experienced the single most horrific act of terror on American soil to protect itself.
"This is the 21st Century equivalent of President Bush telling New York City to 'Drop Dead'."
Fossella, who coupled his remarks in a joint release with Crowley, described the funding cut as "shameful."
He added, "Every dollar that is diverted from New York makes it more difficult to protect the city from terrorists. The pork barrel distribution of homeland security funding remains alive and well in Washington...yet the threat here remains as great as ever."
Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D-Queens/Manhattan), chair of the House Democratic Task Force on Homeland Security, expressed outrage at the funding distribution.
"This administration's approach to homeland security can be summed up in one word: incompetence. Earlier this year we were promised smarter funding. It goes to show that you can't trust this administration to get anything right," she declared.
Bashing the Bush administration for lavishing millions on smaller cities that are not nearly as threatened as New York City, as he has done for the past several years, Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D-Queens/Brooklyn) summed up the DHS action as a shocking abuse of homeland security dollars.
Weiner stated, "While New York City gets dangerously shortchanged, low-threat areas are set to receive questionable increases in funding."
Clinton joined with Congressmember Peter King in denouncing the anti-terror fund cuts. They questioned the DHS claim that the city has only four places of national financial significance and no national monuments or icons.
The two lawmakers also launched a postcard program urging
New Yorkers to send Chertoff postcards of New York City landmarks. They also
agreed they did not think Chertoff would change his mind and restore some
funding for New York City.