Cuomo's 1st Task: Scrutinize Lawmakers' Member Items
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo revealed last week that his first major area of interest as he settles into his new job will be to take a look at the legislature's member items, an announcement that surely must have caught the attention of every assemblymember and state senator.
Under pressure from reformers, who for many years have harped on the theme that it was wrong for lawmakers to receive grant money amounting to millions of dollars and, at the least, the recipients of this largesse should be revealed, the lid finally came off earlier this year.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno finally caved in and said the lists would be made public. Shortly thereafter, as an FBI probe of Bruno's financial affairs began, it turned out that Bruno had made a questionable $500,000 grant to a private business.
In announcing the project, Cuomo said his office would review 6,000 member items that were approved by the legislative leaders last year to check whether they fell under the legal guidelines that govern the granting of taxpayer funds.
Those grants found to have been made inappropriately will be recovered, Cuomo said, and all future member item activities will face the same scrutiny.
Cuomo said that in reviewing the previously secret grants he was following the same path that his predecessor, now Governor Eliot Spitzer, took in going after investor community shenanigans on Wall Street.
Cuomo will surely find many grants that legitimately go to community, civic, education, charitable and senior citizen organizations.
But many of the grants go to private fraternal and ethnic organizations which are seen as more politically motivated. It may turn out that such grants were made possibly illegally since the organizations may not meet the test of serving a public purpose.
Finally, there may be grants that have gone to businesses or private firms to create jobs or help the economy in a given area. These will surely receive major attention to determine
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this time by his father, former Governor Mario M. Cuomo. The attorney general's mother, Matilda, and his three daughters were also on hand, as were United States Senator Charles Schumer and former New York City Mayor Edward Koch.
Also calling for an end to the membership items was state Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long. "For too long New Yorkers have paid the price of this corrupted way of doing business," Long declared.
In an op-ed piece in the New York Post, Long reminded Spitzer that along with the state legislators sharing in the member items, former Governor George Pataki also received some finds for this purpose.
Long said Spitzer could do a lot toward ending the system by leading by example and refusing to accept any funds for this purpose.
"You've promised to end such undisclosed outlays; ending the governor's 'member items' on Day One would be a solid start on wiping out all of them," Long wrote.
ALWAYS THE GENTLEMAN: In the confusion of welcoming a new administration to Albany as more than 200 state legislators also returned, it was understandable that someone may have goofed on securing a chair for the only new state senator coming on board, Andrea Stewart-Cousins; a Westchester Democrat who defeated veteran Republican Nicholas A. Spano.
Not to worry, however. State Senator George Onorato (D- Astoria), sensing the embarrassing position it created for the new lawmaker, gallantly offered her his seat for the brief meeting.
COMPANY FOR CROWLEY: Everyone in the Democratic Party in Queens, as well as supporters who attend the organization's social affairs or similar other functions, knows how comfortable Queens Party Chairman Congressmember Joseph Crowley is with an electric guitar cradled in his arms as he belts out a rock tune.
Crowley may have been unique among his colleagues in this respect, but not any more, since a former rock musician, John Hall, won the Catskills congressional seat from veteran Republican Sue Kelly last November.
The new Democratic lawmaker was the lead guitarist for a 1970s band called Orleans, which could be found at the top of the charts from time to time with hits like "Dance With Me" and "Still The One" among them.
Hall, 58, had always been politically oriented through that period, as had been others in the group. He had always been civically and politically active as well in his home town of Dover Plains, where he was elected to the Ulster County legislature.
With hopes for Democrats running high earlier this year, Hall got into a crowded primary field, won and then went on to defeat Kelly, who had held the post for several terms. Hall campaigned on an anti-Iraq War platform and universal health care and won a narrow victory.
Closer to home, Crowley announced that the annual winter cocktail party will be held on Thursday evening, February 8, at Antun's of Queens Village. Crowley's district coleader, Assemblymember Margaret M. Markey, is chairing the event with District Leader Dr. Taj Rajkumar. Tickets are $250 per person.
WIN SOME, LOSE SOME: Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D- Queens/Brooklyn) was very pleased last week when federal Homeland Security officials granted his longtime demand that homeland security funds be used to pay New York City cops for that part of their jobs related to anti-terrorism tasks.
However, Weiner was disappointed by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's statement that 45 cities will still be eligible for urban homeland security grants, which Weiner and other New York City congressmembers oppose. That means, said Weiner, that New York City will continue to be shortchanged on antiterror funding.
Weiner pointed out that the 45 cities sharing in the major portion of homeland security funding cover 54 percent of the U.S., "including 14 cities smaller than Staten Island".
'STATE OF BOROUGH' ADDRESS: It's that time of year again when public officials from President George Bush on down deliver their "State of..." addresses. Here in Queens, Borough President Helen Marshall is scheduled to give her State of the Borough address on Tuesday, Jan. 23rd at 10 a.m. at the York College Performing Arts Center at 94-20 Guy Brewer Blvd. in Jamaica.
COCKTAIL RECEPTION: Jackson Heights Democratic Leader Michael Den Dekker is holding a cocktail reception on Thursday evening, January 25 at Dante Caterers, 75-01 31st Ave., Jackson Heights. Tickets range from $50 to $500.