Wednesday, June 30, 2010


The US government has stated it's case against the Russian spy ring. The focus of the charges centers around their failure to declare themselves as agents of a foreign government. One should note however, that this law is applied selectively:

Scope of the Act
The act requires people and organizations that are under foreign control ("agents of a foreign principal") to register with the
Department of Justice when acting on behalf of foreign interests. This law defines the agent of a foreign principal as someone who: Engages in political activities for or in the interests of a foreign principal; Acts in a public relations capacity for a foreign principal; Solicits or dispenses any thing of value within the United States for a foreign principal; Represents the interests of a foreign principal before any agency or official of the U.S. government.

The Department of Justice has found that most violations of this law are unintentional and is attempting to work out problems without legal action.

Selective Enforcement
Although the act was designed to broadly apply to any foreign agent (and was first used against German Nazi and Soviet propagandists), in practice FARA is frequently used to target countries out of favor with an administration (such as
Venezuela or Iraq during the George W. Bush administration).

In the 1960s, the American Zionist Council was found to be engaged in massive violations of FARA by being funded by and acting on behalf of Israel and was ordered by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to register as a foreign agent. The DOJ reversed those enforcement efforts under pressure from both the Israel lobby and the Johnson administration during its reelection bid. Controversy regarding lobbying on behalf of Israel continued after the American Zionist Council was reorganized as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), with former Senator William Fulbright and former senior CIA official Victor Marchetti calling for registering the lobby. The issue was renewed in 2004 by the AIPAC espionage scandal.

AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations are not registered at the USDOJ (and therefore not available in the USDOJ's FARA database)

Peláez Colleagues Express Disbelief at Arrest

by Marianne McCune
See  full size image
Vicky Peláez

NEW YORK, NY June 30, 2010 —Colleagues and followers of columnist Vicky Peláez continue to express disbelief that she’s one of 11 alleged Russian spies arrested earlire this week. Peláez is scheduled to appear in federal court tomorrow for a bail hearing. Many of her friends and acquaintances say she's a journalist with strong beliefs--but none have to do with Russia.

Vicky Peláez' writing appeared weekly in the Spanish language daily El Diario/La Prensa and at times in Latin America--including on a Cuban government website called CubaDebate. Peláez has consistently criticized U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America and defended leaders like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro. As a journalist in Peru, she was known for having been kidnapped by revolutionary guerrillas and interviewing their leader while in captivity. On Twitter and in blogs, many of Peláez' fans say they suspect the U.S. government just wants to silence her.

Here in New York, some of Peláez’ current and former colleagues are equally skeptical of her guilt. The staff at El Diario have been instructed not to comment, but court reporter Candida Portugues said she felt compelled to--because she can't believe the Vicky Peláez she's known for seven years is a spy.

“I can't believe it. I can't believe it,” she whispered with awe. “I will have to see it. Let's see the case when we go to court. Because I can't believe it. I can't believe it.”

Portugues said she spent time with Peláez in the newsroom and in her home and that she's a hard-working journalist and mother. She said part of Peláez' job is to turn wire copy into newspaper articles. And that her once-a-week column does not have her mixing it up with high-powered government officials. At night, Portugues said, Peláez goes to painting class or home to her 17-year-old son, whose talent as a pianist she's worked hard to help foster. And while the U.S. government says it has videotape of Peláez receiving a bag full of money from Russian officials, Portugues said she can't imagine Peláez would trade secrets for financial gain.

“She's not interested in money,” Portugues said. “She's not interested in money. I mean she's interested in money like everybody because we need to pay our bills. But that's it. The money for her is that.”

Javier Gomez says Vicky Peláez mentored him from the time he started at El Diario as an intern through his four year stint as a young staff reporter. He says she took him under her wing and taught him to write a great lede and cover the most important stories.

“I have read the complaint and I know the person,” he said. “It’s just very incompatible.” Gomez said Peláez was all about economic and social justice, but Russia was never an area of interest. “I don’t think I’m in a position to challenge what the FBI is saying,” he said, “but the person I know is so far removed from any of those accusations.”

Another colleague at El Diario said Peláez has an equal number of followers and detractors and that it's up to prosecutors to present evidence she's a spy. Meanwhile, some of the columnist's detractors say the only surprise is that she's not spying for Cuba, given the tone of her columns.

Peláez' husband is also one of the alleged spies, and the government says at one point in the conversations they recorded, he complained to Peláez that the Russians were disappointed with his intelligence because he didn't provide any source. The complaint says Peláez advised him to 'put down any politician from here.' Peláez’ older son has told reporters that the charges are preposterous. And in Peru, her mother said she's heading to New York to figure out what's going on.

More from the WNYC Newsroom:

Spies Among Us: How Common Are Espionage Rings?

Russian Immigrants React to Arrests

Spy Case: Meet the Russian 11

Mara Gay

Mara Gay Contributor

(June 29) -- So far, little is known about the true identities of the 11 people accused of spying for Russia. But the group has at least one thing in common: Their neighbors are shocked.

From Seattle to New York, neighbors and acquaintances have described the suspects as strikingly ordinary members of the community, upstanding citizens who walked their children to the bus stop and seemed to enjoy things like gardening. In other words, they fit it.

A look at the suspects:

Cynthia and Richard Murphy, Montclair, N.J.

Who they are: The New Jersey couple appeared to be living the American dream in a $481,000 colonial in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, along with their two young daughters.

Alleged cover: The Star-Ledger of Newark reports that neighbors thought Cynthia was an accountant working on her MBA, and Richard an architect.

Background: Richard claims to be from Philadelphia, and Cynthia says she was born Cynthia A. Hopkins in New York City. The FBI, however, says they've been in the United States since the 1990s.

The kicker: According to one neighbor, Cynthia was a solid gardener as well. "They couldn't have been spies," Jessie Gugig, 15, told The New York Times. "Look what she did with the hydrangeas."

Patricia Mills and Michael Zottoli, Arlington, Va.

Who they are: A couple with a toddler son and a baby who lived in a high-end apartment in Arlington, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C. According to WUSA9 news, neighbors described them as "friendly" and "social."

Background: Mills claims to be a Canadian citizen, and Zottoli says he was born in Yonkers, N.Y. According to the FBI, however, Zottoli has only been in the United States since 2001.

Tracey Foley and Donald Heathfield, Cambridge, Mass.

Who they are: Foley and Heathfield were known as a married couple, maybe in their 40s, who lived in an apartment in Cambridge with their two teenage sons.

Power couple: Foley is a licensed real estate agent with Redfin in the Boston area, which says it didn't notice anything out of the ordinary when it hired her. "Redfin validated her social security number, her deal history and that her real estate license was in good standing," the company said on its corporate blog today. "As with every agent we hire, we ran a criminal background check, which came up clean."

Heathfield, Foley's husband, is a senior business consultant with an international management firm based in Cambridge. According to his LinkedIn profile, Heathfield's specialties include "Comprehensive management of Risks and Uncertainties," and "Capture of Strategic Opportunities."

In 2000, he received a degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Former Harvard classmate Craig Sandler told The Boston Globe that Heathfield seemed "a little bit mysterious."

The kicker: Heathfield had apparently assumed the identity of a Canadian baby who died in 1962.

Vicky Pelaez and Juan Lazaro, Yonkers, N.Y.

Who they are: The married couple lived in Yonkers, outside of New York City, with their son, Waldo Mariscal. Pelaez is Peruvian born. Mariscal told The Wall Street Journal today that the only connection his mother had to Russia was a passion for Tchaikovsky.

Alleged cover: Pelaez was a well-known columnist with El Diario/La Prensa, one of the country's oldest Spanish-language news outlets. Lazaro was a professor at Baruch College in New York.

The kicker: Lazaro's students told The New York Times he was a fan of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and vehemently disagreed with U.S. foreign policy.

Anna Chapman, New York City

Who she is: Chapman, 28, says she runs an online real estate business. But according to the feds, she met regularly with a Russian official to exchange sensitive information.

The kicker: Chapman is a looker. And the Village Voice, which broke the story about sexy banker Debrahlee Lorenzana, is worried that Chapman may be too sexy to be a spy. "Anna Chapman -- if that is her real name -- is hot," the paper wrote. The New York Post calls her "red hot."

Mikhail Semenko, Arlington, Va.

Who he is: Semenko, who is described as being in his late 20s, seems to be the flashiest suspect. He drove a Mercedes S500 and spoke to his girlfriend in Russian, The New York Times reports.

Robert Christopher Metsos

Who he is: The 55-year old was arrested in Cyprus late Monday and is thought to be a Canadian citizen.

Elizabeth Williams, AP
9 photos
Anna Chapman, left; Vicky Pelaez, second from left; the defendant known as "Richard Murphy," center; the defendant known as "Cynthia Murphy," second from right; and the defendant known as "Juan Lazaro" are seen in a courtroom sketch Monday. They are among the 11 people the FBI arrested for allegedly serving for years as secret agents of Russia's intelligence agency.,feedConfig,localizationConfig,entry&id=903453&pid=903452&uts=1277907581
Suburban Spy Ring?
Anna Chapman, left; Vicky Pelaez, second from left; the defendant known as "Richard Murphy," center; the defendant known as "Cynthia Murphy," second from right; and the defendant known as "Juan Lazaro" are seen in a courtroom sketch Monday. They are among the 11 people the FBI arrested for allegedly serving for years as secret agents of Russia's intelligence agency.
Elizabeth Williams, AP
Elizabeth Williams, AP
Filed under: Nation, Crime

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Council's Pork Budget: Look But Don't Touch

alg_pig.jpgThe City Council's total Schedule C of discretionary spending will go up 9% to almost $397 million in FY11, with much of the increase used to restore Mayor Bloomberg's cuts -- like keeping fire companies and pools open.

That's a different impression than Speaker Christine Quinn's made when she said at the handshake press conference that "the discretionary and initiative funding we've put in will be at a degree significantly less than last year."

Pure pork spending -- excuse me, member items -- went up just $50,000 to $48.9 million, and new initiatives fell 36% to $115.3 million, so she's technically correct. She just didn't mention at the handshake that pure restorations shot up 48% to $231.6 million.

The pork budget is always the most interesting, of course. It spawned the slush fund scandal, it has proven fertile ground for federal investigators, and it has been where even the sketchiest groups have been able to suckle tax dollars in the past.

Quinn has done an awful lot to reform the slush fund -- the sponsors of all items are now disclosed, all recipients get extra vetting from the Mayor's Office of Contract Services, and the recipients are posted online. And this is all light-years ahead of how pork-barrel spending is dispensed in Albany or Washington.

Yet when the Council put its discretionary spending list online late today, it was in one big 530-page pdf document -- difficult to search and impossible to sort. Budget geeks would like to be able to easily round up how many city dollars will go to Brooklyn Democratic Chairman Vito Lopez's Ridgewood Bushwick empire, for example, but you can't do it without repeatedly hitting the "search" function and adding it up with pen and paper. (The DN's Frank Lombardi did, and reports it's at least $530,000.) And forget about easily adding up how much a particular Council member gets -- much less comparing them all against each other.

To do that, you'd need to get the Excel spreadsheet -- because the formatting of the pdf document clearly looks like it was generated from Excel. But the Council's press office says it can't immediately get that spreadsheet from its Finance Division.

"We released the pdf today so that we could get it out today," writes spokeswoman Maria Alvarado. "As I'm sure you are aware, we have a fully searchable online database where everything can be sorted and searched by Member, keyword, group name, borough, etc. This year's data will be uploaded to this database ASAP. It simply wasn't possible to get it done today. The database is a tool that lends itself to full transparency and accessibility, as it is intended."

Anyone want to place bets on whether the Council's 2 p.m. meeting to vote on the budget will come before or after the public can slice and dice the numbers themselves?

CM Ydanis Rodriguez Investigated In "Touching" Incident

ydanis rodriguez.png

The City Council’s Ethics Committee has launched a preliminary investigation into an allegation that Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez inappropriately “touched” a female Council staffer during an argument over budget matters.

Rodriguez emailed a terse “No” to the Daily Politics in response to a question of whether the allegation is true. His lawyer, Leo Glickman, said the councilman “categorically denies he ever touched anyone in an assaultive, aggressive way.”

The Ethics Committee met behind closed doors yesterday and appointed three of its members, including Ethics Chairwoman Inez Dickens (D-Manhattan), to investigate.

Sources described the staffer as a woman who works for the Council’s central staff, not for Rodriguez. The incident reportedly occurred last Friday night, after a handshake agreement on the new budget at City Hall. Council officials had no comment.

Rodriguez, 44, was elected last November, succeeding the now-jailed Miguel Martinez, who pleaded guilty to charges of stealing funds from his Council office. Rodriguez is chairman of the Higher Education Committee, having been named to that post in January when Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron was forced out by Council Speaker Christine Quinn, with the near-unanimous backing of the entire Council membership.

One source, who did not want to be identified, said that Rodriguez chewed out the staffer for not having kept him properly informed in the hectic hours prior to the hand-shake deal of developments in funding for CUNY. It was not disclosed how the incident turned into a formal Ethics Committee investigation.

The Council rewrote its rules on harassment and other misconduct following the scandal that saw then-Councilman Allan Jennings (D-Queens) censured by the Council for sexually harassing several female staffers, both on his district office’s staff and on the Council’s central staff. Jennings was defeated in a primary in 2005 and has failed in other come-back attempts.

Mexican governor candidate killed by gunmen, Calderon says assassination tied to drug gang violence

Monday, June 28th 2010, 8:27 PM

Mexico's President Felipe Calderon, center, gave a televised press  conference Monday to deplore the assassination of Mexican candidate  Rodolfo Torre.
Mexico's President Felipe Calderon, center, gave a televised press conference Monday to deplore the assassination of Mexican candidate Rodolfo Torre.

Just two days after singer Sergio Vega's murder rocked Mexico, the country reeled again Monday with the news that gunmen had assassinated Rodolfo Torre, the leading candidate for governor of a Mexican border state.

Torre was ambushed by attackers as he headed to the airport in Tamaulipas, the Associated Press reported, a state ravaged by violent drug gangs. At least four people traveling with him were also killed.

President Felipe Calderon condemned the murders in a televised press conference, warning against the efforts of organized crime to affect the country's elections.

"Today has proven that organized crime is a permanent threat and that we should close ranks to confront it," Calderon said. "We cannot and should not permit crime to impose its will or its perverse rules."

Torre, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is the first gubernatorial candidate to be assassinated in Mexico in recent memory.

In the run-up to Sunday's elections in 12 states in Mexico, corruption scandals, threats, and attacks on politicians have sparked suspicion that the country's infamous drug cartels are funding candidates they support and tampering with politicians that stand in their way.

Jose Guajardo Varela, a mayoral candidate for the Tamaulipas town of Valle Hermoso, was murdered in May after receiving multiple threatening warnings to abandon his election bid.

After allegations of his ties to drug traffickers surfaced last month, Cancun mayor Gregorio Sanchez was arrested in a huge corruption scandal and had to give up his quest to become governor of the Quintana Roo state. He was ultimately charged with protecting two of Mexico's most vicious drug gangs, accusations he has denied.

Several political parties said they were at a loss to find anyone willing to run for mayor in some towns and border states because of the danger posed by drug gangs, the AP reported.

Gang violence in Mexico has surged since Calderon declared war on the drug cartels in 2006, sending thousands of troops and police across the country to put a stop to the trafficking. Since then, roughly 23,000 people have been killed in connection with drug gang violence.

Torre, 46, had held a significant lead in the polls before his death. A physician, he had served as the state's health secretary from 2005 to 2009, and was married with three children.

With News Wire Services

Ciudad Victoria.- El Agente del Ministerio Público de la Federación inició la investigación oficial sobre los hechos en los que perdió la vida el candidato a gobernador del PRI-PVEM-Panal, Rodolfo Torre Cantú y al menos seis integrantes de su comitiva.

El Agente ministerial llegó hasta el kilómetro siete de la carretera Ciudad Victoria-Soto La Marina para iniciar las pesquisas sobre la emboscada que tendió un grupo armado a la comitiva de Torre Cantú quien iba a tener una reunión privada en Soto La Marina y posteriormente se disponía viajar hacia Matamoros.

Según fuentes de la Procuraduría General de Justicia en Tamaulipas, además de Torre Cantú, murieron en el ataque su suegro, Enrique de la Garza, sus cuatro escoltas Gerardo Sotero, David Castelo, Dante Quiroz y Aurelio Balleza y el diputado local Enrique Blackmore Smer, mientras que el secretario particular del candidato a gobernador, Alejandro Martínez, murió en el hospital general una hora después de los hechos.

Los hechos ocurrieron cerca del Centro de Investigaciones Científicas de Tamaulipas, luego de que varios vehículos con hombres armados cerraron el paso al convoy del candidato, quien tendría por la tarde su cierre de campaña en Matamoros.

El grupo armado colocó un camión de remolque para interceptar a la comitiva del candidato PRI-PVEM-Panal a la altura del kilómetro siete de la carretera Ciudad Victoria y Soto La Marina, a la que disparo en varias ocasiones.

El abanderado priista se reuniría este mediodía en Matamoros con representantes de los medios de comunicación y por la tarde estaría en el cierre de campaña del candidato a la alcaldía, Alfonso Sánchez Garza, y los diputados locales por los Distritos 10, 11 y 12.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


By Rafael Marteinez Alequín

Here is a partial list of Latino politicians who have opted to remain silent. In the wake of immigrant bashings, the following prefer to sip their lattes while reading about the incidents in the daily newspaper.

Ydanis Rodriguez, Melissa Viverito (both arrested 26 FEd. Plaza), Rossi Mendez, María del Carmen Arroyo, Joel Rivera Marcos Serrano, José Peralta, Bill Perkins, Pedro Espada, Sampson, Malcolm Smith, Rubén Diaz Sr., José and Naomi Rivera, Peter Rivera, Carmen Arroyo, Nidia Velazquez, José Serrano and Charles Rangel

Union kings like Metal Polishers Local 81-2A's Hector Lopez live lavish lives as members suffer

BY Brian Kates and Benjamin Lesser

Sunday, June 27th 2010, 4:00 AM

Hector Lopez (b.), president of IUPAT 8A-28A answers door at his  Oakland Township, N.J., home.
Denver for News
Hector Lopez (b.), president of IUPAT 8A-28A answers door at his Oakland Township, N.J., home.
Denver for News

As president of Metal Polishers Local 8A-28A, Hector Lopez has an unusual living arrangement - the lavish suburban mansion he calls home is owned by a company he bargains with.

The Cadillac Escalade he drives appears to have been bought with help from the union's strike fund, and he collects a salary that's $40,000 a year over what's allowed.

All of this for a union that's swimming in red ink with cash on hand to cover only a week of operations.

Lopez is one of a handful of New York City labor leaders who, critics say, use their unions as personal ATMs, enriching themselves at the expense of dues-paying members.

While the rank-and-file struggle with a faltering economy, leaders of some of these smaller boutique unions put family on the payroll, buy luxury sedans and fly off to weekend conferences in Hawaii and Florida.

Recent high-profile examples include Daniel Hughes, the ex-president of Port Authority Field Association Local 111-S, who admitted stealing $300,000 to spend on hookers and gambling.

Then there's Melissa King, an administrator charged with skimming $42 million from the sandhog union's benefit funds to buy jewelry and show horses her daughter rode in competition. She's awaiting trial.

A Daily News review of U.S. Labor Department and internal union documents, along with interviews with union members and experts, uncovered several examples of union bosses living it up on their members' money.

Take Lopez, president of the cash-strapped 1,400-member Local 8A-28A. Allegations of abuse surfaced in a recent audit conducted for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades after Lopez tried to split from the IUPAT. That power struggle is in the courts.

The audit found the union had a $329,910 deficit at the end of 2008 and barely enough cash to cover a week of operations.

Nevertheless, Lopez's $148,000 salary was $40,000 more than allowed by the local's by-laws; his weekly $445 per diem was $200 more than allowed, the audit found.

A random review of the union's Jan. 2008 American Express card bills found Lopez charging 32 transactions worth $4,395.65 whose union purpose couldn't be explained. In just one month, for instance, Lopez charged $912.34 for gas.

The audit also red-flagged two July 2007 checks totaling $20,000 - including one from the union's strike fund - that were deposited in another union account. Auditors say that same day a $20,000 check from that account paid for a new Cadillac Escalade - a violation of union bylaws.

Lopez lives in a brand new 3,600-square-foot two-story Colonial with four bedrooms in leafy Oakland Township, N.J. Records show it's owned by a Linden, N.J., window washing company, Total Building Services Inc., which, records show, has a contract with Lopez's local.

Court papers filed in May 2009 indicate Lopez planned to buy the house. No deed transfer was recorded, but The News found Lopez at the house recently where he declined comment, citing the court fight. Lopez has denied charges of financial irregularities.

Robert Fabrizio, Total Building Services president and a trustee of Local 8A-28A's welfare fund, did not return calls seeking comments.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


When I was very young, I was drafted in the army. I was stationed in Munich, Germany in 1954. I saw the concentration camps and the ovens. I was appalled at the extent of the cruelty. But what was more appalling was the history of silence. That silence, the denial and cowardice on the part of those who knew about the atrocities that killed six million Jews. Today, that cowardice prevails amongst the Black and Latino community regarding Latino immigrants.

Mexican immigrant, Alejandro Galindo was beaten so badly that he may lose the sight of one eye. And despite his beating, he wanted to go to work the next day but was persuaded against it by his daughter. He is now in critical condition. He was assaulted for being a Mexican drinking a beer after work on Staten Island. The lack of outrage from both Latino and Black politicians is deafening. Where are their "cojones"? Does Al Sharpton need a visa to visit Staten Island? Guillermo Linares, former commissioner of immigrant affairs is conspicuously silent although he campaigns for election as an assemblyman. And we have yet to hear from the righteous Catholic politicians of Staten Island such as James Oddo and Michael McMahon. They are all "pseudo men".

Alejandro Galindo is undocumented and without health insurance. He does not vote. He has no political value to the esteemed elected officials. But, he is a man who has raised four children. He is a man who exists to work and pay his bills as we all do. We do not have to evaluate his status. We have to evaluate the status of political figures who demand our allegiance and respect. Who demand our votes and our loyalty. Who swear to God on the bible to uphold the law. Who pray to the Virgin Mary on Sunday. My dear friends, they are liars. Alejandro Galindo may loose part of his eyesight. He too prays to God, unseen by the TV cameras. He prays to be able to see and to return to his construction jobs again. Such a simple request.

The danger of ignoring Alejandro Galindo merely fuels the anger in potential immigrants either legal or undocumented. The wave that washes across the border will not stop. And unless our so called leaders legislate to protect the undocumented, that wave will become an angry monsoon that will destroy not construct.

Pineapple For Voters 2: Courtesy Soundview Health Care Center

On Saturday, June 26, N.Y State Senator Pedro Espada Jr., came to Vladeck Hall at the Ammalgamated Housing Corporation in the Bronx. He exchanged bags of fruit (pineapple) and vegetables for votes. The question is who paid for the food. The Soundview Health Care Center receives financing from the State and Federal Government. It is also well known that Mr. Espada and his cronies have been charged by N.Y. State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo with stealing $14 million from the Soundview Health Care Center. In addition, he is under investigation by the New York State Attorney General, and Federal authorities.
Watch the following video in front of Vladeck Hall.

Watch the following videos in front of Vladeck Hall. In this video you will see Pedro's son, Pedro Gautier Espada (a former City Council member and his mother the one wearing a hat).

Also, among the people getting free fruit and vegetables is the mother of N.Y.S. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who claims poverty.

video by Rafael Martínez Alequín

video by Rafael Martínez Alequín

The following video was taken at the Amalgamated Housing Corporation's Vladeck Hall during the state senate primary race in 2008. Here too, N.Y. state Assemblyman, Jeffrey Dinowitz's mother is given free food by Pedro Espada Jr.This was paid by taxpayer monies from Espada's Soundview Health Care Center.

Video by Rafael Martínez Alequín.

Pedro Espada and Ruben Diaz Confused On Senior Centers?

Frank Lombardi of our City Hall Bureau reports:


State Sens. Pedro Espada Jr. and Ruben Diaz Sr. should do an Emily Litella “Never Mind” bit right now over their day-late and totally confused letter (which you can read more about here on State Of Politics) to Mayor Bloomberg criticizing his “ill-advised plan to shutter 50 senior centers on June 30, 2010.”

For you kids out there, Litella was the perpetually confused TV commentator on Saturday Night Live sketches back in the late 1970s who used to rant and rave over something or other — such as confusing endangered species with endangered feces —and when told of her mistake, would deapan into the camera and say, “Never Mind!”

Such is the case with the Espada-Diaz letter to the mayor, dated June 24, which takes the mayor to task for planning to close 50 senior center even though the Senate conference on June 14 had approved an emergency budget extender that included $18 million in Title 20 funds for the city, specifically earmarked to keep the 50 centers open, and not “to fill another city budget need.”

The senators, however, were confusing two different sets of senior centers.

There are 50 centers that had been on the chopping block because of budget cuts requested by the mayor. But most of those 50 centers were saved by the budget agreement announced late last night by the mayor and City Council President Christine Quinn. Using entirely city funds, all but 5 top 10 of the targeted centers, won’t be closed. The list of those still in jeopardy has yet to be released.

There was ANOTHER set of 60 senior centers that had been in jeopardy because Gov. Paterson had diverted Title 20 federal funds from the city, to be used in helping offset state expenses for other social service programs. Those centers would have had to close—in addition to the other 50 in jeopardy because of city budget cuts—if the Legislature and governor had not agreed to send it to the city.

So, the senators should do two “Never Minds” — one for confusing the 50 centers with the 60 centers; and two for sending their letter on the same day the mayor and Council cut their budget deal and rescued most of the 50 endangered centers.

By the way, in their letter, Espada and Diaz cite the Tolentine-Zeiser Senior Center in the Bronx as an example of a center in danger of closing because of the mayor’s supposed diversion of Title 20 money for other uses.

That center wasn’t among the set of 60 centers affected in any way by the Title 20 funding. It was on the set of 50 centers that had been on the chopping block until last night’s city budget deal. Whether it’s one of the five to 10 centers on that list that still might have to close has not been disclosed.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bloomberg's Million-Dollar Ripoff

The mayor's 'crime'

Previously, the only robbery victims known to clam up and get all defensive like this were drug dealers and mobsters, who understandably don't gripe about the loss of ill-gotten gains. We now add to this category mega-millionaire politicians whose campaigns are cloaked in secrecy and who would rather take a seven-figure hit than suffer the spotlight of a criminal inquiry.

Right now, the man accused of conning the mayor out of $1.1 million is also keeping mum. The only public comment so far from John Haggerty Jr., a second-generation Republican political power, was at his arraignment on grand larceny charges. "Not guilty," he said.

If he could safely do so, Haggerty would have a great many interesting things to say. It may be true, as Vance's indictment alleges, that he misled Bloomberg's campaign into believing that he would field an army of poll watchers. It may also be true that his goal in this scheme, as also alleged, was to get the money he needed to buy out his siblings' interest in the graceful brick home in Forest Hills that belonged to their late father, Jack Haggerty, the former leader of the Queens Republican party.

But it's also true that, right up to that fateful election day, John Haggerty Jr. had worked his heart out for the Bloomberg cause with no apparent payment by the most generous political candidate in municipal history. Other top officials of Team Bloomberg scored the biggest paydays of their lives. Haggerty worked for free—at least as far as filings show. Yet his tasks were just as crucial, if not more so. He played the leading role in persuading five cranky Republican county leaders to get over their hurt feelings and give Bloomberg their nomination, even though the mayor had jilted them two years earlier by quitting their party. Take a look at those photos of Bloomberg's pre-nomination meetings in which he pleaded with GOP officials to let bygones be bygones. There's John Haggerty, quietly at his side.

Without the GOP nod, Bloomberg would've been forced to slog it out as a third-party candidate against an African-American Democrat on his left and a Republican spoiler on his right. We know how that would have turned out: Even with the GOP in line, Bloomberg managed only a 4 percent win, despite spending more than $108 million. We'd be talking today about Mayor William C. Thompson. That seems like reason enough to want to throw Haggerty a million bucks worth of thank-yous.

"John was responsible for the mayor's election," says Tom Ognibene, the former Queens Republican Councilmember. "Without the Republican line, he was not getting re-elected."

Ognibene is now running for lieutenant governor with millionaire Carl Paladino, for whom Haggerty is handling a Republican petition drive. But the men were once antagonists. Back in 2005, Ognibene angrily denounced Bloomberg's Republican bona fides, and tried to mount a primary challenge against the mayor. Haggerty was one of those who helped Bloomberg knock him off the ballot. "He was in the Board of Elections, day in and day out, scrutinizing my filings," says Ognibene.

Again, there were no disclosed payments from Bloomberg's campaign to Haggerty. But Ognibene says he was told at the time by Robert Muir, one of Bloomberg's election lawyers, that he was paying Haggerty out of his own contract with the campaign.

Muir died in 2006, but this makes a lot of sense. For one thing, as the Daily News' Adam Lisberg has noted, Muir cashed in big from Bloomberg's 2005 re-election effort, taking in a total of $1.9 million for petition work and voter canvassing. Plus, Haggerty and Muir went way back together: Haggerty's first job out of college was working as a paralegal for Muir's Brooklyn law firm. The two worked side by side in the campaign of Ron Lauder, the millionaire who set the pre-Bloomberg record for mayoral campaign spending when he ran in 1989. In the 2005 campaign, Bloomberg was so appreciative of Muir's efforts that he kept paying his widow for several months after he died.

Ognibene says that after he filed suit to remain on the ballot, Muir encouraged him. "Bob said, 'You are doing me a favor. Keep going into federal court.' He said, 'I'm taking care of Haggerty.' He was candid about it."

That past history persuades Ognibene that the reason Bloomberg never cried thief last year is because there was no harm and no foul. "John got this money funneled to him," he says. "That's why there was no complaint filed. He never took a penny. He could've been making hundreds of thousands of dollars. This was John's bonus."

Then there's Bloomberg's own curious performance in all this. Vance says that he's had complete cooperation from the mayor and his campaign, and that neither are targets. For that, Bloomberg can thank the state's election laws, which are murkier than a Louisiana oil slick.

For one thing, there's the fact that when the mayor launched his re-election committee, he had to sign a sworn candidate's form agreeing to do all his campaign spending via his designated committee, Bloomberg for Mayor 2009. And he did. Except where it suited him not to. When it came time to wire $1.2 million to the Independence Party so it could hire Haggerty to handle Bloomberg's election-day poll-watching chores, the mayor dipped into his personal account. Exactly why he did this remains a mystery. It was one of the questions that sent the mayor into his royal snit last week with reporters.

The most obvious explanation is secrecy. If the mayor did it through his campaign, the big-bucks contract would have been an instant news story since it would've been publicly disclosed just before voters hit the polls. It's easy to envision the headline, something along the lines of "Mayor Mike's Million Dollar Thank-You for Indy Party Endorsement.

By routing it through his own checking account, the mayor guaranteed that it would stay secret until mid-January, the party's next required public filing. That much of the scheme Haggerty was clearly involved in. In a note to Bloomberg's campaign staff cited in Vance's legal papers, Haggerty wrote that the payment for the operation should be funded with "a Housekeeping contribution that will not be reported until January 15, 2010."

Not that Mayor Mike needed help figuring that out. He did the exact same thing the year before, when he ran another million-plus dollars through his compliant friends at the Independence Party so that they could pay a secret Bloomberg campaign squad to work for Republican state senatorial candidates. Those payments didn't become public until weeks later. By then, only the Voice thought they were a big deal.

Right now, it's the Independence Party that's on the hot seat. Last week, the D.A. took the rare step of putting the party's lawyer in front of a grand jury to ask where the records are from this debacle. Party officials said they've already given what little they have. If so, it puts the spotlight back on City Hall. That's one more thing the billionaire media mogul who still nurtures White House dreams would rather not talk about.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Neal Tepel: City Budget is Debastating

video by Rafael Martínez Alequín for laborPress

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Denizens of Room 9 In Exile

By Rafael Martínez Alequín

This video portrays the "so called journalists" aka the denizens of Room Nine. They are the select group who cover City Hall politics. Soon, they will be in exile in a trailer across the street from City Hall. The trailer is provided as a courtesy by the city while the east wing of city hall is being renovated.

Even though they will be reporting from City Hall Plaza, merely a stone's throw from the office of Mayor Bloombito, nothing will change. Hopefully, they will awaken from a vegetative state and begin to inform their readers of the true politics of City Hall. Bloombito and his City council twin, Christine Quinn have been given a free pass by the City Hall press corps. They have consistently been fed softball questions by these milk toast reporters dealing with trivialities and social nuances as opposed to the hard hitting journalism expected of them.

Perhaps the temporary trailer will put them more in touch with the common people to whom they serve. A portable toilet on a cold day can be a very humbling experience.

See video where they will be temporarily exiled.

video by Rafael Martínez Alequín for YFP

CNN drops AP

Paltalk News Network

NEW YORK - While growing up in Detroit, we, of course, cheered for the Detroit Tigers. But we had a healthy respect for the New York Yankees. Later in life, while stringing for UPI, we competed ferociously with, but had the same kind of respect for, the AP.

AP was the seemingly omnipresent news giant.


Because the Associated Press is a cooperative. Which means that the work of every member newspaper, TV station, radio station, cable news network and now - Internet news site - can be picked up by the wire and sent to all the other networks.

So, while its bureaus are an important component of what the AP does, they key to being all knowing and all seeing are its members.

It's always been common belief among journalists that if you're an operation of any size, you need the AP to know what's going on in the world.

Apparently not at CNN - which bills itself as the world's news leader.

CNN has dropped the AP, effective immediately.

To be sure, CNN is beefing up its internal wire service - adding reporters to its bureaus. And it will backstop its own news gathering capabilities by re-subscribing to Reuters for breaking news.

Also, - just like AP depends on its members - CNN relies on its affiliates to tip them to things happening in their backyards. But even so, CNN can't hope to cover as much ground as does the AP.

Which means the news content will suffer.

CNN already experimented by previously dropping its AP membership at its radio network. I worked at CNN Radio (or CNNRadio as we liked to brand it) for a decade as bureau chief and correspondent in New York. My friends at CNN Radio in Atlanta tell me they've been struggling to cover breaking stories ever since.

They'd see an AP news flash on CNN television but they'd not be able to report on it until they were able to independently confirm the information. Or until the CNN wire caught up with the AP.

Extremely frustrating when you're putting together an hourly newscast and trying to compete with NPR and CBS and ABC Radio.

Now the same frustrations will be felt by their colleagues at CNN television. When other all-news networks and stations interrupt with breaking news, CNN will be lagging behind. Except when it, its affiliates or Reuters are on top of the story as well.

CNN has one other advantage. It's built up a loyal following of citizen reporters, who dutifully send in video of news events - like tornadoes, fires and floods - they stumble upon. Oftentimes that actually puts CNN ahead of the AP

So maybe this will work for CNN. In the end, it probably doesn't matter if it does or doesn't. What matters is the perception of the audience.

If the audience believes CNN is kicking its competitors' butts, this will be viewed as a tremendously astute cost-saving measure.

But if the consumers of news get the impression CNN is lagging in news coverage - and ratings suffer - it will be seen as folly.

Of course, CNN can compensate with better analysis of the news it presents. Giving it perspective and depth. But that's something the network - and all news outlets - should be striving for anyway. Whether they are AP members, or not.

Andrew Cuomo Re-Confirms His Youthful Acquaintance With The Doobie Brothers

State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo re-confirmed today that yes, he did try a little pot in his younger days.

That information's not new, but the way it came up was kind of interesting.

Cuomo was speaking at a news conference on fighting child pornography when he mentioned "hash values," a kind of numerical fingerprint carried by files and images. Cuomo's office has built a database of these fingerprints, so much the better to target the images and stop them from getting to the Web.

The mention of "hash values" sparked a question in the inquiring mind of NY1's Josh Robin -- had Cuomo ever smoked hash? (Really, what politician hasn't at least tried drugs?)

"What I've said -- the question's come up before, Josh, and I said I did experiment with marijuana when I was a youth. In no way do I suggest that any young people should do any experimentation whatsoever," the AG told Robin.

Cuomo said that's the limit of his illegal drug use.

Watch (Video shot by NY1):

Brawl Over New Domino Development Ain't Too Sweet

By Celeste Katz

The team of Frank Lombardi and Erin Durkin brings us this report:

domino plant.jpg

Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez and his protege Councilman Steve Levin (D-Williamsburg) are again facing off against Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Williamsburg) and Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Bushwick) over a borough development project.

This time, it's the New Domino project on the Williamsburg waterfront, where developers want to build 2,200 apartments -- 30% of them affordable -- at the site of the old Domino sugar refinery.

Reyna and Velazquez showed up to lead the charge in favor of the project before a hearing at City Hall this morning. Cheered on by a crowd in matching yellow Domi-YES! t-shirts, they touted the plan's affordable housing and open space benefits.

"The past few years have not been friendly to our community as...businesses, families and properties are squeezed out of our neighborhood," Reyna said. "This is a vision of what the Latino community in the south side has wanted for so many years."

But Lopez and Levin say the plan is too big and will swamp neighborhood services, especially the already-packed Bedford Ave. L train. They want the number of apartments reduced and towers up to 40 stories chopped to 28.

At a press availability before the hearing by the Council’s Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee, Lopez -- whose district doesn’t include the refinery site -- blasted the ambitious project as essentially a deal concocted by bankers “to make over $400 million in profit,” with the help of the city. “It’s outrageous,” he fumed.

The two held a rally, joined by Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D-Williamsburg), Community Board 1 officials, and their own crowd of cheering but t-shirt-less supporters.

"No one here, I know, has any paid t-shirts," Lopez said. "It's outrageous -- the T-shirts, the buses, the money."

"They have not budged an inch," he said of developer Community Preservation Corporation Resources. "They're arrogant."

Lopez got in a shot at Reyna, his protege turned rival, for speaking up on a project in Levin's district: "The City Council has a history of respecting the local council person's jurisdiction. Diana now has repeatedly done this, on Broadway Triangle, Rose Plaza, and Domino. I assume she'd be very upset if people interfered with her projects."


Reyna, in turn, (whose district lines also don't include the Domino site) says CPC has made numerous concessions, including assuring that the famous Domino sign, which isn’t part of the landmarked portion of the refinery buildings, will be preserved. She and other proponents also say the development project will create 1,000 permanent jobs, a five-block waterfront esplanade and meeting rooms for community groups.

For his part, CPC president Mike Lappin said after a grilling before a Council committee that he's willing to negotiate, but can't shrink the project too much and still pay for the affordable housing and preserving the Domino refinery building: "It's got to be a financially realistic project," he said.

The New Domino project faces a deadline of July 26 under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The inside word is that it will have to go through some modifications but is expected to eventually pass, with or without Lopez’ backing. Mayor Bloomberg has strongly supported the development.

Richard (Little Ricky) Izquierdo has date with big bad judge

Bob Kappstatter

Tuesday, June 22nd 2010, 4:00 AM

Now it's Little Ricky's turn.

A weepy Margarita Villegas, a co-conspirator with Richard (Little Ricky) Izquierdo in embezzling bucks from SBCC Management - which oversaw apartment buildings for the elderly and disabled in Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo/Councilwoman daughter Maria del Carmen Arroyo's South Bronx feifdom - was sentenced last Friday to 10 months at Chez Fed and ordered to repay the 50Gs she stole.

Little Ricky, until now Granny Carmen's chief of staff and district leader in her 84th A.D., comes up for sentencing Friday for glomming 200Gs from the same operation, mostly to live the high life, as well as fly Auntie Maria and Granny Carmen to Puerto Rico, buy new flooring for Granny's district office and pay the summer interns who worked for both of them.

Ricky's lawyer cut a guilty plea deal with the U.S. attorney's office that will supposedly mean he'll only serve 10 months to a year.

But some folks are wondering if Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein might not decide to slap Ricky with up to 10 years - to maybe loosen his tongue about Granny and Auntie's dealings.

Meanwhile, Margarita is still in charge at the same job and still pulling in a paycheck. Hmmm.

Naomi challengers

Newbie Robert Giuffre and perennial challenger Irene Estrada Rukaj are out there petitioning to try to topple Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera now that District Leader Kenny Agosto has dropped out of the race.

While everyone's talkin' 'bout Naomi being MIA in her Morris Park district, her challengers still face an uphill battle, especially since she can call for help from dad, Assemblyman Jose Rivera, who can still call in some chits from the unions for support.

A lotta folks are disappointed that Kenny, despite a lack of money, didn't go for it. The question is whether he blew his shot for the job next time around.

So long and welcome

The retirement party for longtime Longwood/Hunts Point Community Board 2 District Manager John Robert and Specialist Andrea Eisner is tomorrow night at the Split Rock Golf Course. Best of luck!

Meanwhile, the board meets June 30 to vote on John's successor, and the final choice has been narrowed down to two "very strong" candidates, said a source, who cautioned (take it for what it's worth) that "there has been absolutely zero political influence on this one."

Skip to Mosholu

Meanwhile, Longwood resident Roberto Garcia, who recently stepped down as Board 2 chairman, has stepped up to replace Dart Westphal as head of the Mosholu Preservation Corp.

Dart recently retired, with Roberto moving over from his job as senior director of community relations at Montefiore Medical Center.

BTW, Roberto's Longwood brownstone apartment was recently featured in the real estate section of a West Side English language daily newspaper.

Andrew's rainbow

Bronx Dem Party Boss Carl Heastie was quoted in the Albany Times-Union on gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo's lack of minorities on his ticket or top campaign staff:

"I'm not bothering Andrew on whether he has some beautiful rainbow. He has more than made me feel comfortable that if he gets elected, his high-level staff and his commissioners will be very diverse."

Adolfo speaks

Ex-BP/White House urban affairs czar(?) Adolfo Carrión has been heard from - at the bottom of a press release from fed Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announcing $400 mil to housing authorities around the state, including a whopping $327 mil for the city.

AC, now HUD NY/NJ regional administrator, called housing authority funding "a better way to address their capitol needs over the long haul."

Let's see how soon AC, looking at his future political options, leverages the job to move up near the top of HUD's press releases.

Nothing personal ...

We got word too late for last week's column that Fordham's Community Board 7, apparently to keep its political skirt clean, asked district manager Fernando Tirado to go on leave while he joins the pack looking to take down state Sen. Pedro Espada in the Sept. 14 primary.

Meanwhile, Bronx BP Ruben Diaz Jr. has designated his community boards' coordinator Tom Lucania to oversee the district manager's office there, running it "by remote" until Tirado returns.

In touch

It took a higher authority, but the Rev. Richard Gorman, chair of Community Board 12 in Williamsbridge/Wakefield, is finally ditching his pager.

Father Rich, whose day job is working as a lawyer at the archdiocese chancery in Manhattan, tells us Archbishop Timothy Dolan ordered him to get an office-issue cell phone.

This after his eminence thought he was dialing Gorman's cell phone instead of his pager - not pushing the pound key for the message to get through - and wondering if Gorman was ducking him.

Club dinner

The mighty Chippewa Dem Club in the East Bronx holds its annual dinner dance Thursday night at the Villa Barone, with City Councilman Jimmy Vacca and female District Leader Fran Mahony among the honorees.

Little readers

Helping to fill the dearth of bookstores in the borough, a new children's bookstore is opening soon at Suzanne Axelbank's Someplace Special Haircuts and Toys for Kids at 490 W. 238th St. in Riverdale.