Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Following up on the Times's Markowitz story: why the timing? who was left out (Bloomberg)? will Common Cause call for investigation be heeded?

Will anything come of the New York Times's coverage of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's curious end-around of campaign finance laws via campaign contributions? Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY issued a statement today:
"This is sheer pay to play and it's dishonest to pretend otherwise. The Borough President has leveraged his position for personal aggrandizement at great expense to the public cause. Democracy demands accountability from our elected officials, anything less undermines us all. We believe that there should be a full investigation by both the Brooklyn District Attorney and the conflict of interest board."
Who was missing? Bloomberg

Yes, the Times article focused on real estate firms and businesses that had reason to seek Markowitz's favor.

However, it omitted, curiously, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who's known for an even more elaborate and sophisticated charity strategy, as Noticing New York's Michael D. D. White has extensively analyzed.

And that charity extends to Markowitz. As the New York Post reported 10/14/08:
Since 2003, the Bloomberg administration has handed out at least $2.7 million in taxpayer cash to three nonprofit groups Markowitz set up to fund "free" concerts and other pet projects, a Post investigation has found.
Why the timing? Who gains?

I don't know why the Times article emerged today, or this month. As I pointed out this morning, other newspapers covered Markowitz's charity strategy three years ago.

Perhaps this article had been in long gestation.

Or maybe it was goosed by supporters of a political rival aiming to ensure that Markowitz, hardly an aggressive campaigner for 2013, stays out of the mayoral race.

Who gains? Well, the latest Quinnipiac poll, dated 10/19/11, puts Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in a slim lead with with 25 percent of New York City voters, including 17 percent of Democrats Trailing him are:
  • City Council Speaker Christine Quinn - 17 percent, with 22 percent of Democrats;
  • Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz - 14 percent, with 15 percent of Democrats;
  • City Comptroller John Liu - 10 percent, with 10 percent of Democrats;
  • Former City Comptroller William Thompson - 8 percent, with 9 percent of Democrats;
  • Public Advocate Bill de Blasio - 6 percent, with 7 percent of Democrats;
  • Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer - 5 percent, with 6 percent of Democrats.
With Kelly out of the race:
  • Quinn - 22 percent, with 25 percent of Democrats;
  • Markowitz - 17 percent, with 18 percent of Democrats;
  • Liu - 11 percent, with 11 percent of Democrats;
  • Thompson - 10 percent, with 12 percent of Democrats;
  • de Blasio - 8 percent, with 9 percent of Democrats;
  • Stringer - 7 percent, with 7 percent of Democrats.
Comments on the Times article

Most of the comments were negative, but several people either didn't see a problem or thought the ends--and the general improvements in Brooklyn--justified the means. One wrote:
As salacious a story it would be to prove Markowitz is personally benefitting from his relationships with local developers and retailers, the only thing this article shows is that he appears to be a tireless fundraiser for his charities that send poor inner-city kids to summer camp and provides free concerts to residents of the borough.
Unless there's a part of the story where he's keeping any of this money for himself and not using his direct line to these major corporations to raise money to make Brooklyn a better place for its residents (including backing developments that he actually think will improve Brooklyn, like the Atlantic Yards project), this hardly falls under the "one more corrupt politician!" label everybody seems to quick to jump on.
Except he's of course benefited by burnishing his reputation for re-election.


What about his past?

One commenter wrote:
If Brooklynites remembered that Marty Markowitz was indicted on felony charges of fraud and larceny, and made a deal which allowed him to plead guilty to a lesser crime, no one would really be surprised. This is what makes his comment, "I know the difference between right and wrong and ethical and unethical" a monumental lie. It was alleged that Marty took thousands of dollars in contributions from a credit union, then reported those contributions as though they came from somewhere else. Marty seems to always be scheming. I will bet you that this is just another scheme, albeit, more sophisticated. Dig deep enough and the truth will be uncovered. In this city, Marty Markowitz is a bad apple, masquerading as a good peach.
Here's a 5/21/86 Times article headlined CAMPAIGN GIFTS TO SENATOR TIED TO CREDIT UNION. The 8/18/88 follow-up was headlined Brooklyn Legislator Pleads Guilty To Hiding Source of Contributions:
State Senator Martin Markowitz pleaded guilty yesterday to misdemeanor charges of illegally hiding the sources of $25,000 in political contributions to his unsuccessful 1985 campaign for Brooklyn borough president. He was fined $7,500 and sentenced to perform 75 hours of community service.
''I made an error, that's for sure,'' the 43-year-old Democrat told reporters outside the courtroom in Brooklyn. But he described the violations as ''campaign technicalities'' and, as he had earlier in court, insisted that he did not personally profit from them.
The Brooklyn District Attorney, Elizabeth Holtzman, said later, however, that the criminal acts were not ''a technical violation.''
''The defendant personally engaged in a money laundering scheme to hide the source of his campaign contributions,'' she said. ''This was a crime that undermined the integrity of the electoral process and deceived the voters."

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