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Doling Out Pork


Photo (cc) dumbskull

This story was based on the first version of the council's discretionary budget released on Thursday, June 18. Therefore, our list does not include member items for aging and youth programs.

Bring on the fat.

Five City Council members have sponsored more than 100 member items each (better known as pork barrel spending) this year, including the City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the Finance Chairman David Weprin.

The items, which are doled out to local community groups thanks to the council's largesse, were released in the latest list of discretionary spending last night -- a day before the council is expected to approve the city's new $59.4 billion budget. In total, the council is proposing to dole out $48.8 million in discretionary spending, a slight increase from the $48.5 million they handed out last year.

The funding includes money specifically for the city's aging and youth departments, funding the speaker distributes for larger initiatives and another pot for each councilmember to do with as he or she sees fit.

This year, Councilmember Inez Dickens is sponsoring the largest number of member items, according to an analysis by Gotham Gazette. Dickens, if the budget is approved today, could receive 149 items that have her name attached to them, ranging from a $100,000 appropriation to the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty to $3,500 handout for an ice skating program in her Harlem district. This number includes items she is sponsoring with other council members.

Dickens' proposed appropriations far outnumber some of her council colleagues, like Tony Avella (notorious foe of the city's political establishment) who is slated to receive only 15 member items, or Councilmember Larry Seabrook, who also has 15. Seabrook's previous allocations are currently under investigation. On average, a council member has sponsored 51 member items this year.

The amount each member receives often varies, and city council members have said it fluctuates depending on their relationship with the speaker or whether they have a leadership position.

COUNCILMEMBERS NUMBER OF MEMBER ITEMS
Inez E. Dickens
149
David I. Weprin
112
James S. Oddo
105
Leroy G. Comrie Jr.
104
Christine C. Quinn
103
Kenneth Mitchell
98
Robert Jackson
98
Bill de Blasio
97
Lewis Fidler
97
Domenic M. Recchia Jr.
95


**This chart shows the amount of items each council member is sponsoring. Because it was based on the first version of the council's discretionary budget released on Thursday, June 18, it does not include items for aging and youth programs. It does not reflect the amount of funding a member brought back to his or her district. These items can range from $1,000 to $600,000. Larger items are usually sponsored by several members together. For the full breakdown of member items, click here

The vast majority of the council's funding is given to community organizations and nonprofits, from a Little League to an area after school program.

For instance, if the budget is approved, Councilmember Erik Martin Dilan's $15,000 largesse will give the Brooklyn Ballers Sports, Youth and Educational Corp. uniforms and equipment to shoot hoops this year. Councilmember Darlene Mealy, also of Brooklyn, has proposed to give $20,000 to an after school program at Betsy Head Memorial Park, while the generosity of Councilmember James Sanders might land $12,500 for Lammies Day Care for business services for the "underprivileged."

For these member items, there is always the conventional and the unconventional.

This year, Councilmember Joel Rivera has proposed to appropriate $37,000 to the Friends of Crotona Park in the Bronx for events throughout the year, including a hip-hop festival. Across several boroughs, Councilmember Kenneth Mitchell wants to give $1,000 to the Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries on Staten Island to refurbish abandoned graveyards.

While many community groups rely on the City Council's funding and say they couldn't get by without it, other observers allege it is another way for local officials to spread good deeds, but expect something in return. That return may be even greater in an election year.

In addition to its discretionary spending, the council also released details of funding it plans to direct to city agencies for programming -- largely aimed at making up for cuts proposed by the Bloomberg administration. In total, the council is proposing to inject the budget with $362.3 million, a drop from the $411.3 million it appropriated last year, according to the council.

The largest restoration, according to the council's budget document, was for libraries for approximately $72 million.

In the past, the council's discretionary funding has not had the cleanest of records.

In 2008, the council's dollars became the subject of two separate investigations, after a report in the New York Post revealed there were fake groups within the discretionary funds. The fake organizations acted as holding accounts, and the funding was distributed to legitimate organizations at a later date. Since then, the dollars have been under greater scrutiny, and some misappropriation has been uncovered. Last year, two council employees were indicted for fraud and money laundering.

In the aftermath of the scandal, Quinn implemented new regulations regarding council funding, which requires several city agencies and the council's finance department to review each organization that receives an appropriation.

Who Got What - FY 2010


COUNCILMEMBERS NUMBER OF MEMBER ITEMS
Inez E. Dickens
149
David I. Weprin
112
James S. Oddo
105
Leroy G. Comrie Jr.
104
Christine C. Quinn
103
Kenneth Mitchell
98
Robert Jackson
98
Bill de Blasio
97
Lewis Fidler
97
Domenic M. Recchia Jr.
95
Maria del Carmen Arroyo
76
Peter F. Vallone, Jr.
67
Rosie Mendez
62
Elizabeth Crowley
61
Simcha Felder
58
Gale A. Brewer
55
Vincent Gentile
52
Joel Rivera
48
David Yassky
47
Melinda R. Katz
47
Annabel Palma
42
Letitia James
41
Vincent Ignizio
39
Albert Vann
38
Thomas White, Jr.
38
Melissa Mark Viverito
35
Darlene Mealy
33
Charles Barron
32
Daniel R. Garodnick
32
Helen Sears
31
Jessica A. Lappin
31
Alan Gerson
30
Erik Martin Dilan
30
James Vacca
30
Kendall Stewart
30
Maria Baez
30
G. Oliver Koppell
29
Michael C. Nelson
29
Miguel Martinez
28
John C. Liu
26
James F. Gennaro
25
Sara M. Gonzalez
25
Diana Reyna
24
Helen D. Foster
24
Mathieu Eugene
17
Eric N. Gioia
16
Julissa Ferreras
16
Larry B. Seabrook
15
Tony Avella
15
James Sanders
14
Eric Ulrich
10


**This chart shows the amount of items each council member is sponsoring. Because it was based on the first version of schedule c released on Thursday, June 18, it does not include items for aging and youth programs. It does not reflect the amount of funding a member brought back to his or her district. These items can range from $1,000 to $600,000. Larger items are usually sponsored by several members together.

Stated Meeting: Dumbo's Dock Street Project Approved


Photo (cc) mortimer?

In a rare move, the City Council overrode the objections of a local council member, approving a 325-unit mixed-use development project in Dumbo.

Councilmember David Yassky opposes the project, known as Dock Street Dumbo, because, he says, it will permanently taint the view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

"New Yorkers, tourists but principally New Yorkers, enjoy a walk or drive or bicycle over the Brooklyn Bridge," said Yassky. "It would be a mistake to tamper with this in any way."

The development, which was approved by a vote of 40 to 9, is adjacent to the landmark and, at its tallest point, would rise to 17 stories.

Dock Street

Opponents of the project include not only those whose views would be blocked by the towering residences, Yassky said, but also people from across the country who consider any development near the structure an interference with a historical landmark.

As selling points, 20 percent of the apartments in the project will be permanently affordable, and it includes space for a new middle school. The developers have promised to contribute to the cost of the school, said council officials.

Councilmember Letitia James, who represents part of the neighborhood but not the project area specifically, supports the proposal. The project, she says, does not pose any threat to the bridge.

"It holds the promise of hundreds of new middle school seats for public school children in downtown Brooklyn," said James. "It will also create Dumbo's first, first ever, affordable housing."

The section closest to the bridge will be 75 feet tall, while its highest point will be 17 stories. The developer, Two Trees Management, first proposed the project in 2004 but has revised the proposal to address community concerns.

The community board voted in favor of the project.

Rarely does the City Council vote against a land use proposal that the local councilmember opposes. Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who controls the agenda at the council, said after touring the area with both sides, she weighed the options and chose to support Dock Street Dumbo.

"We try as much as we can on local zoning matters or land use matters to be as respectful as we can of the individual member's perspective and prerogative," said Quinn. "Sometimes, though, you end up with a different opinion."

During the debate, council members have alleged that the city's School Construction Authority had no intention of building more schools in the Downtown Brooklyn area, but chose to support the proposal as a favor to the developer. The school was a linchpin in the development's approval.

Quinn denied the project had any inappropriate dealings attached to it.

Abatement Bills

The council also approved several bills, announced last month, further regulating the city's construction agency and their abatement procedures for reducing asbestos and other hazards at construction sites.

The five bills unanimously approved by the City Council are part of a legislative package proposed in response to the fire at the Deutsche Bank building almost two years ago. The fire killed firefighters Joseph Graffagnino and Robert Beddia, who were trapped inside. The building, which had been severely damaged and contaminated in the Sept. 11 attacks, was being deconstructed. The abatement and demolition process created maze-like conditions, making it difficult to fight the blaze.

The first bill (Intro 1003) will create a permit process for abatement jobs that are particularly high risk, said city officials. It will also require the use of fire retardant materials for any abatement process, and give authority to inspectors from the Department of Environmental Protection to enforce provisions of the fire and building code.

In addition to the abatement bills, the council approved legislation (Intro 1001 ) that prohibits smoking and bans the possession of tobacco, matches, and lighters on any asbestos abatement site. Another bill (Intro 1002 ) would permanently include the construction site smoking ban in the building code, which city officials said would make it easier to enforce. Smoking is believed to have started the Deutsche Bank fire.

As part of the package, the council also passed legislation ( Intro 1005) requiring the Department of Environmental Protection, the Fire Department and the Buildings Department draft rules on how to maintain accessible exits during a building's abatement.

Legislation (Intro 1007) was also approved that would require those departments enhance intra-agency notification when violations are issued by another department. Currently, said council officials, inspectors from their respective departments enter a site not knowing what violations have been issued by another department. Increasing communication, they say, will increase safety.

The total package includes a dozen bills, which Quinn said the council will consider throughout the summer. Most of the requirements have already been implemented, officials said. But, they add, approving them at the council will ensure they are a permanent part of the city's code.

Fines at Natural Districts

The council also approved legislation (Intro 927), which increases fines for the removal of trees in the city's four natural district areas. These districts, two on Staten Island, one in the Bronx and one in Queens, provide protection for an area's natural features, such as wetlands, forests or rock outcroppings, according to the council.

Under the bill, penalties would increase from a maximum of $500 to a range of $750 to $10,000.



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