Gotham Gazette

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Who Got What: FY2011

Photo (cc) stgermh

When it comes to bringing home the bacon, some City Council members do a lot better than others.

According to an analysis by Gotham Gazette, Councilmember and Finance Committee chair Domenic Recchia sponsored more individual member items than any other council member in this year's budget (more on its approval here). Recchia raked in nearly $1.3 million for nonprofits of his choice.

Recchia was one of four members -- Lewis Fidler, Leroy Comrie and James Oddo are the others -- who topped the million-dollar mark in member items, often referred to as council pork.

At the other end of the spectrum, Elizabeth Crowley garnered the least amount of money with $358,321, falling behind recently indicted Larry Seabrook, who had $362,276. Vincent Gentile, Gale Brewer, Margaret Chin and Helen Foster also got less than $400,000


These figures only include each councilmember's individual youth, aging and discretionary funding. All council members receive the same amount for youth programs and for senior programs. The difference comes in the so-called discretionary funding, which can go to a wide array of nonprofits.

The figures below do not include funding doled out by the speaker's office in consultation with the rest of the council (known as the speaker's pot or list). That pot was nearly $18 million this year, and its programs are often sponsored by one or more members.

When asked yesterday how discretionary money is doled out, Council Speaker Christine Quinn said more experienced members know how to navigate the discretionary funding system more than newer members. So, it's not surprising those that top the list are members of the council's leadership.

If a member wants to fund a program,"you got to ask," Quinn said.

Recchia said his position as finance chair means some member items that benefit the whole city have his name attached.

"A lot of these things are for the city of New York, not for my district," Recchia said. "These are all good programs."

The programs Recchia funded this year include $75,000 for the Brooklyn Arts Council and $15,000 for the Kings Highway Beautification Association to clean graffiti.

The numbers below are about 19 percent of the council's total discretionary funding, which is valued at about $165 million in fiscal year 2011. The vast majority of that, about $115 million, goes to citywide initiatives, such as combating domestic violence or adult literacy programs, among many others. This does not include another $231.6 million the council used to restore programs cut by the mayor.

Domenic M. Recchia, Jr. $1,371,839
Lewis A. Fidler $1,244,089
Leroy G. Comrie, Jr. $1,118,121
James S. Oddo $1,089,131
Joel Rivera $998,901
Peter F. Vallone, Jr. $978,321
Inez E. Dickens $940,464
Erik Martin Dilan $881,339
Annabel Palma $857,651
Christine C. Quinn $852,464
James Vacca $712,651
Robert Jackson $710,464
Thomas White, Jr. $703,571
Vincent M. Ignizio $702,131
Maria Del Carmen Arroyo $683,526
Albert Vann $682,839
Stephen T. Levin $672,339
Deborah L. Rose $672,130
Diana Reyna $651,839
Jessica S. Lappin $612,664
Melissa Mark-Viverito $592,964
James Sanders, Jr. $578,321
Eric A. Ulrich $578,321
Mathieu Eugene $577,339
Michael C. Nelson $577,339
James F. Gennaro $543,321
Sara M. Gonzalez $539,839
Mark S. Weprin $534,321
Daniel Dromm $528,321
Julissa Ferreras $528,321
Karen Koslowitz $528,321
James G. Van Bramer $528,321
David G. Greenfield $502,339
Darlene Mealy $502,339
Fernando Cabrera $498,151
Letitia James $487,339
Jumaane D. Williams $477,339
Ydanis A. Rodriguez $460,464
G. Oliver Koppell $457,651
Daniel R. Garodnick $453,114
Brad S. Lander $427,339
Peter A. Koo $416,321
Daniel J. Halloran III $415,321
Charles Barron $414,703
Rosie Mendez $414,664
Vincent J. Gentile $377,339
Gale A. Brewer $367,964
Margaret S. Chin $364,464
Helen D. Foster $362,651
Larry B. Seabrook $362,276
Elizabeth S. Crowley $358,321

Stated Meeting: Fines for Unlicensed Plumbing


Installing pipes at any project without a license is about to cost a whole lot more.

Cracking down on unlicensed plumbers and fire prevention workers, the City Council unanimously approved legislation on Tuesday to more than double fines for contractors working on projects without a license.

Plumbing Fines

The bill (Intro 68) would increase the fine for the first violation from $1,000 to $2,500 and a second violation from $2,500 to $5,000.

When asked how often plumbing or fire suppression work is installed at a project by an unlicensed contractor, Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she did not have statistics. She said the council often has heard anecdotal complaints.

"This is too much of an important issue not to leave to experts," said Quinn.

City officials said increasing fines for unlicensed plumbing and fire preventions work would deter shoddy construction in new and renovated buildings.

The law, which the administration testified in support of in April, will go into effect 90 days after it is signed. The Mechanical Contractors Association of New York and the New York Fire Sprinklers Contractors Association also support the bill.

Astoria Rezoning

The neighborhood best known for spanakopita and airy, European-esque cafes received what some residents called a lifeline from the council yesterday in the form of a rezoning.

The rezoning, one of more than 100 approved during the Bloomberg administration, would preserve the character of the neighborhood and prevent out-of-scale luxury development prevalent during the building boom, said city officials.

"I've lived in Astoria my whole life," said Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., who represents the area. "Today is a great day for Astoria."

According to Vallone, the neighborhood has not been rezoned since 1961.

The rezoning will allow for larger buildings along the neighborhood's major thoroughfares, like Steinway Street, and require smaller buildings along its residential side streets.

Both the Queens borough president and the local community board supported the rezoning.

Child Care Reporting

The council approved legislation ( Intro 226) requiring the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to report to the council quarterly on its child care programs. Similar legislation was approved by the council in 2005, but expired in 2008.

The new bill will require the department report on the number of child care programs, their inspections, complaints of programs operating without a license and programs that have lost licenses.

Health Permits

The council also unanimously approved legislation (Intro 206) that rescinds a requirement for medical record storage facilities to receive permits from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It also revises the information needed to obtain a permit to transport milk or milk products.

Making Sure Process Servers Really Deliver

Every year, tens of thousands of New Yorkers do not show up in court to contest suits against them -- simply because they never received the papers alerting them of the action. By the time they do find out, their bank accounts could have been frozen or their wages garnisheed.

According to advocacy groups and some member of City Council, many process servers do not take adequate steps to ensure those charged receive their court papers. Yesterday City Council enacted a bill with several measures it said would remedy that.

Also at its stated meeting, the council approved bills to help public school students get library cards and to aid those children in the foster care system who also are undocumented immigrants get legal residency in the United States. In other action, the council passed its own budget for the coming fiscal year and approved a former member -- David Yassky -- as taxi and limousine commissioner.

Lost Papers

In 2008, more than 200,000 consumer cases in civil court in New York resulted in default judgments, meaning the plaintiff never appeared. MFY Legal Services and other groups have discovered that, in many cases, the person had not received notification of the action. The process servers couldn’t find the person, made little effort to do so or even threw the document away, sparking some to refer to this kind of paper serving as "sewer service."

"The very foundation of our legal system is the right to defend yourself," said City Councilmember Daniel Garodnick, the bill's sponsor, but the "sewer service" deprives people of that right. According to Garodnick, a study by MFY looked at 350 cases where client were to be served with papers for debt collection. Not a single one was served properly.

Jackie Neal, a Brooklyn woman who was on hand before the council meeting, said she went to the bank to use her debit card and was denied the money. She eventually found out, she said, that "a company I had never heard of had won a judgment against me." With the help of legal services, it took her eight weeks to correct the matter. "Checks bounced. I missed days at work trying to resolve it legally," she said.

The bill (Intro 6-A) would require process servers pass a test, keep records of papers served for seven years, and either post a bond or pay into a fund to cover unpaid fines. In addition, the server would have to use some kind of global positioning device that would record the time, date and location when he or she served papers. The latter was apparently prompted at least partly by one server who reportedly claimed to have delivered papers to 77 people over an area of 400 miles in a single day.

The companies employing the servers also would have to meet new requirements including informing all of their employees of their rights and responsibilities as process services.

City Councilmember Oliver Koppell objected to requirement that servers post bond. "Requiring businesses to get bonds is often a barrier to their doing business," he said.

All other 45 members at the meeting voted in favor.

Helping Foster Children Stay Here

Undocumented immigrant children in foster care qualify for a special immigration juvenile status from the federal government that could help them obtain legal residency and a green card.

Despite that, according to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city's Adminstration for Children's Services has "no dedicated plan or policy" to support these children or to make sure they get help. In fact, Quinn said, the administration does not even know how many children in the foster system might qualify for the special status. The council has estimated a number in the hundreds.

Intro 3-A, sponsored by Councilmember Daniel Dromm, directs children's services to identify children who might qualify, track them until they obtain special status or some other immigration help, assist them in getting their status, and provide training on immigration benefits to its case workers. Children's Services also would have to report to City Council on its efforts.

Dromm said, in a statement, that the bill aims to help "ensure that children who qualify are given the opportunities they deserve, including the ability to be put on a path toward citizenship."

While praising that "noble purpose," Councilmember Peter Vallone said the bill comes as the Administration for Children's Services faces budget cuts, making this a bad time to ask the agency to do more. He abstained.

Councilmember Daniel Halloran said he shared that concern and worried that,a year from now, council might find that "work that should be getting done by ACS may not be because of this mandate." He voted in favor, however.

The vote was 45 in favor with the one abstention.

Council Budget

The council unanimously approved a $52.9 million internal operating budget for the coming fiscal year. That represents a 4.6 percent increase for this year, although, according to Quinn, the council had previously cut its budget by $3 million and reduced its staff by 30.

Quinn attributed the rise this year to cost of living increases for council employees. Noting that other city employees had received these raises, Quinn said, "I think it would be inappropriate for the City Council to be the only entity in the City of New York not to take these increases."

If the budget picture gets even worse, she said, council would re-examine its budget. This money does not include member items, which are allocated later in the budget season.

Cards for Kids

The council unanimously approved a bill (Intro 59-A) proposed by Councilmember James Van Bramer that would provide library cards applications and information on the libraries to all public school student entering kindergarten and sixth and ninth grade. Council members said the Department of Education had informed them the applications could be provided at virtually no additional cost to the school system.

Councilmember to Commissioner

With lots of congratulations, the council approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg's nomination of Yassky to head the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The only complaint -- and an abstention -- came from Councilmember Charles Barron. Noting that Yassky had backed the mayor's successful bid to overturn term limits in 2008, Barron said, "We have to be cautious of any appearance or perception of the mayor rewarding people who support him."

Other members praised Yassky, who left the council to make an unsuccessful bid for city comptroller, for pushing for hybrid taxis while on the council. Naming him to the post, Councilmember Lewis Fidler said, was putting "a round peg in a round hole."

Several members said they hoped Yassky would address problems in the taxi system including any reluctance by some drivers to pick up black passengers or to service some sections of the city. "Now we know who to call when we can't get a cab to take us home from Manhattan to Brooklyn on a Saturday night," said Councilmember Stephen Levin.

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