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Queens Chronicle

Boro budget bacon brings boons, blues

Member item mayhem as council divvies up $50 million for districts

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Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 9:27 am, Thu Jul 19, 2012.

City Council members from Queens came out on the long and short end when City Council Speaker Christine Quinn allocated discretionary funds as part of the city’s new $68.7 million budget.

The funds — which can go to libraries, Little League fields, soup kitchens, and just about any other type of organization or activity — have been called both pork and funding necessary to advance community welfare.

But this year’s allocations may do little to dispel conspiracy theorists citywide, who in the past have accused the speaker of using the money to reward her friends on the council, and to punish dissenters.

Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), a deputy speaker and Quinn loyalist, received more than $1.1 million for programs in his district.

The sum is the third-highest among all council members and the highest by far for members from Queens.

To put it in perspective, Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) came in 17th on the council and second in all of Queens with $668,224, according to figures compiled by Citizens Union, a nonpartisan civic organization that seeks political reform in the city and state. It represents an increase to Koslowitz’s district of $137,000 from last year.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, sit Councilmembers Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) and Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village).

On paper, the take for Vallone’s district does not look all that bad, with his $628,321, tying him with Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) for third among 15 members who serve Queens and brings him in at 22 in the council.

But it also represents a cut of $60,000 from last year, and part of what Vallone sees as a pattern.

“My funding was never cut until I spoke out about the Queensboro Bridge being taken from the people of Queens,” Vallone told the Queens Chronicle last week, referring to his opposition two years ago to the renaming of the Queensboro Bridge for former Mayor Ed Koch.

“Now it has been,” Vallone said, referring to his funding. “The council claims it could not be sustained. If you believe that I have another bridge you can claim.”

Weprin’s total is an increase of $48,000 and raised him five places over last year.

While Vallone’s allocation dropped him seven places on the list, Crowley’s funding fell off a cliff.

She has been allotted $378,321, a cut of more than $286,000 that plummeted her 33 places to second-to-last place on the funding list.

The cut comes on the heels of Crowley challenging Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) for the Democratic nomination for the 6th Congressional District, a move believed to have angered party leaders — including Quinn and Crowley’s cousin, Congressman and Queens Democratic Chairman Joe Crowley — who had endorsed Meng from the start.

Crowley’s funding places her above only Councilman Larry Seabrook (D-Bronx), who has been stripped of control over discretionary funding for his district by Quinn pending the outcome of criminal proceedings against him.

Crowley’s funding also leaves her two places behind Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) with $415,321, and one slot behind Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn).

Quinn and the entire New York Democratic establishment campaigned feverishly against Barron in his recent Congressional primary against Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn).

During that race, Congressman Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) said Barron would be “an embarrassment to the party, to the Congress and to the country.”

In published reports, Quinn aides are quoted as saying that Vallone’s district had a history of high funding from the time his father, Peter Vallone Sr., was council speaker.

Quinn’s office responded to an email seeking information for this story, but did not answer questions in the email asking her to comment on Vallone’s claim; on whether or not she thought Peter Vallone Sr. abused his position to bestow money on his district; or whether or not Crowley’s steep cut was merely coincidental with her insurgent challenge to Meng.

“There are various different factors involved in the decision-making process regarding discretionary funding allocations, which results in a broad-based citywide distribution of funds,” said the statement issued by the City Council press office on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Crowley said only that the councilwoman is pleased with the funding that she has been able to deliver to her district, including two new schools, and youth and after-school programs.

The five top-funded council members remain unchanged from last year, with Finance Chairman Domenic Recchia (D-Brooklyn) tops at more than $1.56 million in funding. Lew Fidler (D-Brooklyn), Comrie, Minority Leader James Oddo (R-Staten Island) and Joel Rivera (D-Bronx) all retained the same funding ranking from a year ago.

Quinn remained in ninth place with a flat-funded $847,464.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, called the process an annual rite by which some favored elected officials seem to do better than their colleagues.

He did say that several reforms instituted to the council funding process a few years ago are working, which he sees as a positive development.

“But we would like to see more transparency,” Dadey said in a telephone interview. “The reforms seem to have taken hold, which is a good thing, so the review and evaluation of organizations is taking place to make sure the money is not misspent. We think the process could use further reforms by making funding decisions based on merit rather than personal relationships.”

Rounding out the rest of the Queens delegation are Diana Reyna (D-Brooklyn) whose district includes a slice of Ridgewood at 20 on the list with $637,464. Reyna’s funding is level with last year’s allotment.

James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) is 24th with $608,312, an increase of more than $47,000. Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) comes in 26th place with a flat-funded $603,321, while Julissa Ferreras jumps five places and $59,000 to 27th with $598,321. James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) was flat-funded at $588,321 and dropped five places on the list to 29th place.

The district of Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) dropped six positions on the list to 31, at $578,321, a place he now shares with Councilmen Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who both received increases.

Wills also has been stripped by Quinn of his power to allocate the money since last month when he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to investigators for New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The state is probing a grant that Wills received before being elected in 2010 for a charity he runs.

On the subject of coincidences, former Republican Peter Koo (D-Flushing), fresh off his switchover to the Democratic Party, received an increase of $79,500, bringing his district’s total to $498,321, and vaulting him up seven slots to number 37.

Josey Bartlett contributed to this story.

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