Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics



Replacing Miguel Martinez

Photo from Miguel Martinez's Facebook profile
Martinez at a recent press conference in his district

A little after 10 a.m. Monday, Miguel Martinez's re-election campaign conducted its last official duty: It delivered approximately 3,000 signatures to the city's Board of Elections, presumably to get the councilmember on the ballot for a third term.

Two days later, the campaign broke out the "white-out."

Sub in: former councilmember Guillermo Linares, freshly resigned as the city's commissioner for immigrant affairs, who swooped in a day after Martinez's resignation to take his signatures and, more importantly, his place on the ballot.

Martinez resigned on Tuesday and pleaded guilty on Thursday to fraud and money laundering, making him the first elected official to fall from the City Council's slush fund scandal. His abrupt departure triggered an obscure section of election law, which spurs a three-member committee, all appointed by Martinez, to select a replacement candidate.

Linares at an October 2007 event with adult education students and teachers at Lincoln Medical Center

The move in some areas of the Upper Manhattan district promises to create ballot warfare as opponents claim Linares' latest candidacy is illegal and misrepresents the intent of thousands of voters who signed petitions for the now shamed Martinez.

For more on how the city's petition process works, play Gotham Gazette's latest game: Bump.

A Legal Replacement?

About 306 pages, each with 10 John Hancocks, would now go to Linares. Representatives for the lead insurgent candidate, Ydanis Rodriguez, say they should all be thrown out.

"The petitions are circulated and they say Miguel Martinez on them," said Leo Glickman, Rodriguez's attorney. "No one that signed that petition was interested in putting Guillermo Linares on the ballot."

Reportedly, the Martinez camp was shopping for a new candidate last week, which could call into question the intent behind the campaign's petition filing on Monday -- three days before the deadline. Already his opponents are questioning whether the petitions filed early last week were ever meant to ensure a Martinez candidacy.

"Councilmember Martinez knew this was a possibility," said Glickman, referring to the former elected official's plea bargain on Thursday. "Rather than being honest they are trying to trick the public."

The Rodriguez campaign is formally challenging the petitions at the Board of Elections in hopes of getting Linares thrown off the ballot. Glickman said he expects the board will have a hearing on the challenge next month.

Other candidates in the district, which stretches across Inwood and Washington Heights, agree that the inclusion of Linares on the ballot makes the race unfair.

"This is not the right thing to do," said Cleofis Sarete, who had tried to get on the ballot. "If he wants to come back and run for City Council, he should go through the process. He should go and collect his own signatures."

But the state's election law may differ. According to the city Board of Elections, a selection committee is tapped if a vacancy occurs after a candidate's petitions have been filed (in Martinez's case it occurred a day later). As long as the petitions are accurate and there are enough valid signatures, this three-member committee can select anyone to fill the spot -- regardless of the circumstances triggering the vacancy.

Calls to Linares's reported spokesperson at the Mirram Group went unanswered, and his election lawyer, Henry Berger, refused to answer questions about his candidacy.

Linares Versus Martinez

Last triggered following the assassination of City Councilmember James Davis in 2003, this particular section of election law doesn't raise as much ire among good government groups as it does among the district's candidates. Though the circumstances revolving around this incident differ greatly from the Davis vacancy, some voting and good government organizations say there still should -- in all circumstances -- be a back-up plan in case a candidate can't run or, as in 2003, dies.

"There is always a committee on vacancy," said Gladys Krasner, co-chair of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York. "Anything can happen. They can drop dead. It doesn’t have to be a scandal."

Filling a vacancy on the ballot is not like filling a vacancy in office, advocates say. The final decision is still left up to voters.

That final decision may now be affected by the connection between Linares and Martinez. Even if Linares stays on the ballot, his road back to 250 Broadway could be a rocky one.

The vacancy committee that selected Linares, which includes Even Marie Santana, Placido Rodriguez and Agusto Diaz, was hand-picked by Martinez. The connection, some say, could taint the candidacy of Linares, who was the first Dominican elected to the City Council in 1991.

"There is certainly going to be an albatross around Linares's neck," said Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Forgiving Penalties, Observing Muslim Holidays

Image (cc) miznoz

Holidays were the topic of conversation at the City Council yesterday when the body approved a three-month penalty forgiveness period for environmental fines as well as a resolution that urges the city schools to give students two Muslim holidays off.

The penalty holiday would give small businesses and individuals a three-month period after Labor Day to pay their Environmental Control Board fines minus the interest and default judgments they have accrued. Fines would only be eligible if they were issued before June, council officials said.

In addition, the council also approved the expansion of Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus.

Small Business Bills

An attempt to provide a temporary break to small businesses in a gloomy economy, the council's penalty forgiveness legislation (Intro 1041) would assist the city's businesses, which have racked up a total of $200 million in outstanding, unpaid fines at the Environmental Control Board.

On top of the $200 million in fines, which are quality of life violations, an additional $518 million in interest and penalties has accrued, said council officials. The city could end up forfeiting that revenue for the three-month period, if all outstanding violations are paid.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the city expects about 5 percent of the outstanding fees to be paid because of the one-time holiday.

First announced in Quinn's state of the city address earlier this year, the fine forgiveness holiday hopes to provide the city's small businesses with some much needed relief from the nation's recession.

"They'll make life easier, I hope, for all businesses from Steinway Street to Hylan Boulevard," said Quinn.

Businesses would only be eligible for the interest and default waiver if they have corrected the violation.

In addition to the penalty holiday, the council also approved legislation (Intro 1022) to form a task force that will review the city’s small business regulations to eradicate redundancies. The task force will include members of the administration and the council.

Quinn said the task force would report back to the council by the end of the year with recommendations. It would review outdated or unnecessary rules that hamper small business in the city, such as a ban on small businesses having anything other than their name and phone number on awnings.

Celebrating Eid Ul-Fitr

Crowding the council chamber's balcony, scores of Muslim New Yorkers turned out to watch the City Council approve a resolution to include two holidays, Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha, in its school calendar. The resolution has no force of law, and the Bloomberg administration has said it opposes including the holidays because the city's school system cannot celebrate every holiday.

The resolution (Reso 1281) was approved by a voice vote, with Councilmember Oliver Koppell dissenting.

According to the council, Muslim students make up more than 10 percent of the city's student body or between 120,000 and 130,000 kids.

"As a Muslim myself I know what it's like to have to choose between school and faith," said Councilmember Robert Jackson, the council's only Muslim member. "No parent should have to make that choice for their children."

The resolution's approval was met with applause from the Muslim attendees. Though it is unlikely the administration will adopt the policy, Quinn said this was the first step in urging the city to give the students off.

Eid Ul-Fitr is the last day of Ramadan, while Eid Ul-Adha celebrates the sacrifice of Ishmael by Ibrahim, showing his obedience to God.

Fordham Expansion

A plan a decade in the making, Fordham University's expansion was approved unanimously by the City Council. It will stretch the campus around Lincoln Center and provide several new buildings for the Jesuit university, including at the law school, graduate school of social services and the business school.

The plan was controversial for Upper West Side residents and was voted down by the community board earlier this year. After that, the university, Councilmember Gale Brewer, who represents the area, and community members were able to draw up a compromise that makes the university's campus more accessible to the neighborhood.

The expansion will be done in two phases. The first, which will include dormitory growth and public open space, is scheduled for completion in 2014. The second phase will not be done until 2032.

The new buildings, said Brewer, will all be green, and the commercial portions of the development will be rented to small, independent owners and not large retail chains.

The entire project will add 1.26 million square feet of classrooms, lecture halls, libraries, theaters and other academic facilities, and 506,238 square feet of new dormitories. It will also include 701,073 square feet of private, residential space. The whole plan will provide an additional 2.47 million square feet to the campus.

The King of Discretionary Dollars

Councilmember Lewis Fidler, it's time to take your seat as the council's top earner.

The Brooklyn council member and assistant majority leader sponsored more discretionary dollars in this year's budget than any other member, garnering more than $1.3 million for 83 different programs. While a lot of that funding will go to nonprofits or schools in his Canarsie district, some of it is allocated for youth programs throughout the city.

"I advocate very, very aggressively for youth groups throughout the city and for Brooklyn groups," said Fidler, who chairs the council's Youth Services Committee. "I certainly make no apologizes for bringing taxpayer money back to my district."

Fidler's dollars include $95,000 to the Bergen Beach Youth Organization for senior services; almost $415,000 to the Bergen Basin Community Development Corporation for youth, senior and housing programs; and a $10,000 check for a puppetry program at P.S. 236. These allocations were approved by the City Council last week in a vote of 50 to 1.

In total, the council allocated $48.8 million in discretionary spending -- a slight increase from fiscal year 2009 when the fiscal situation was not as grim, and it spent $48.5 million.

Though Fidler was able to hand out thousands for his favorite programs, others were not so lucky. According to an analysis by Gotham Gazette, council members Tony Avella and Eric Gioia were at the bottom of our list, getting the smallest amount of discretionary dollars at $358,321 each. Gioia was the only member to vote against the budget this year. He did so, he said last week, so there would be more time for members, the public and the media to vet organizations slated for the council's discretionary funding.

In response to his funding allocation, Eric Koch, a Gioia spokesman, said in an e-mail: "Councilman Gioia has been outspoken about his belief that the process for member items leaves too much room for waste, misuse and at times corruption. What's sad is that need and merit aren't the determination for which worthy community organizations get funding. It's a broken system that needs wholesale reform."

Lewis Fidler
Domenic M. Recchia Jr.
James S. Oddo
Leroy G. Comrie Jr.
Inez E. Dickens
Peter F. Vallone, Jr.
David I. Weprin
Joel Rivera
Kenneth Mitchell
Bill de Blasio
Christine C. Quinn
Erik Martin Dilan
Annabel Palma
Thomas White, Jr.
Robert Jackson
Maria del Carmen Arroyo
Vincent Ignizio
Miguel Martinez
James Vacca
David Yassky
Diana Reyna
Maria Baez
Albert Vann
Michael C. Nelson
Melissa Mark Viverito
James Sanders
Jessica A. Lappin
James F. Gennaro
Sara M. Gonzalez
Elizabeth Crowley
Larry B. Seabrook
Kendall Stewart
Melinda R. Katz
Letitia James
Simcha Felder
Helen Sears
G. Oliver Koppell
Darlene Mealy
John C. Liu
Rosie Mendez
Daniel R. Garodnick
Charles Barron
Mathieu Eugene
Vincent Gentile
Gale A. Brewer
Alan Gerson
Helen D. Foster
Julissa Ferreras
Eric Ulrich
Eric N. Gioia
Tony Avella

**This chart shows the amount of funding each member sponsored. It doesn't include funding that was sponsored by more than one member.

These figures include $108,750 for aging programs and $151,714 for youth programs that each council member receives. It does not include items that were sponsored by more than one member.

Every member receives additional funding for what the council calls "local" programming. Much of this funding goes to local nonprofits for programming, from Little League to community theater.

In the past, members have said those close to Council Speaker Christine Quinn receive the most funding, while those who receive far less have a tendency to get on her bad side.

When asked how funding was disseminated, a spokesperson for Quinn, Maria Alvarado, said: “There are various different factors that go into making decisions regarding funding allocations."

For the most part, those who receive the most funding have leadership positions or head up influential committees. For instance, David Weprin, who is chairman of the council's Finance Committee, received $928,321, and Domenic Recchia, who is chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee, got more than $1.2 million in discretionary dollars.

Of the 22 members who voted against term limits, 12 were on the bottom half of our funding list.

Twenty members made a repeat visit to the bottom half of the list, while the top 10 is nearly identical to fiscal year 2009. Three members on the lower half, Eric Ulrich, Julissa Ferreras and Elizabeth Crowley, were all chosen in special elections and have been serving for less than seven months.

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