Saturday, February 11, 2012

When ACORN endorsed Republican Spano in 2006, was Forest City Ratner a factor? Worth pondering, though plea deal suggests no ties to Ridge Hill

The byzantine world of Yonkers politics, revealed in part by a federal investigation into corruption, has shed light on the relationship between lobbyist/elected official Mike Spano and developer Forest City Ratner.

With the guilty plea by his brother Nick Spano to tax evasion just before the larger corruption trial involving Forest City's Ridge Hill project, there was reason to wonder about connections to Ridge Hill, but the actual plea details released yesterday cast some doubt.

Yes, Nick Spano had a close relationship with defendant Zehy Jereis--who got a no-show job from FCR after allegedly bribing Council Member Sandy Annabi to change her vote on Ridge Hill. Did Nick Spano have any connection to Forest City and Ridge Hill? Unclear, and unclear.

Two of the three Assistant U.S. Attorneys prosecuting the corruption case signed Spano's plea agreement. However, Journal News columnist Phil Reisman, in a column today headlined Sole Spano count seems like swing, miss, thinks that a one-count tax charge was not enough to take out "the political fixer and the big macher of Yonkers," who will still keep his "lucrative lobbying business":
They went after a whale, and it seems all they harpooned was a minnow. It’s hardly a stretch to think that the Ahab-like mission was to somehow tie Spano to the bribery scandal surrounding the $630 million Ridge Hill project in Yonkers. But failing in that, the U.S. Attorney’s Office did what all investigators do when they can’t get the solid goods on somebody: They nail them on taxes.
What’s more, they issued Spano’s crime sheet less than a week before the Ridge Hill trial is scheduled to begin. It may only be a coincidence, but the timing suggests guilt by association.
Spano's connection to ACORN

If there is a Forest City Ratner connection, it might add some gloss to the unusual support that Spano, a Republican, got in the 2006 election, after the 2004 election, which he won narrowly in a Democratic-dominated district.

In an 8/25/05 Nation article headlined The Power of Fusion Politics, Alyssa Katz reported on the 2004 election:
The Working Families Party gave Spano its ballot line--and with it the race. It turned into a contest so close that it had to be sorted out in court. Spano prevailed against Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a progressive African-American Democratic county legislator. He got 1,800 votes on the WFP line, and held on to his seat by just eighteen votes. This, in a state where Democrats have been laboring to retake the majority in the State Senate.
Wrote Micah Sifry in a 12/7/04 blog post:
And I certainly didn’t care for [WFP's] endorsement of my local state senator, Nick Spano, a Republican stalwart, over an upstart Democrat named Andrea Stewart-Cousins, because the party felt it had to reward Spano’s vote for the minimum wage hike–even though he is terrible on other issues and Stewart-Cousins is a stand-out.
Fast forward to 2006, and WFP was sitting out the rematch between Spano and Stewart-Cousins, but ACORN, after apparently backing Stewart-Cousins in 2004 (which would've meant it was separate from WFP, of which it's a component), was backing Spano.
As Liz Benjamin reported on the Capitol Confidential Blog 10/12/06 under the headline Political Oxymorons:
According to a press release from the re-election campaign of state Sen. Nick Spano, R-Yonkers, ACORN Executive Director Bertha Lewis, UFT President Randy Weingarten and members of their respective unions will endorse the Republican incumbent at a rally in his hometown Saturday.
That means these unions are going to be working against Democratic Westchester County Legislator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the candidate of choice for Spitzer, who has himself been endorsed by both ACORN and UFT’s parent union, NYSUT.
Lewis also co-chairs the Working Families Party, which was the first political party to endorse Spitzer back... The WFP, which endorsed Spano in 2004, has no candidate in the 35th SD this year.
UPDATE: ACORN has flipped in this race, I’m told. The union endorsed Stewart-Cousins in her first challenge to Spano two years ago, and worked hard for her.
According to Spano’s campaign, the reason for the change is, in large part, because this year Spano championed the daycare workers bill, which would have let some 52,000 providers become unionized, quasi-public employees, and led the push for the successful override of the governor’s veto of the measure. (The Assembly has yet to follow suit).
A Ratner connection?

OK, maybe there was reason to reward Spano. But wouldn't Stewart-Cousins have done an overall better job?

But in 2006, ACORN's Lewis was talking regularly with Forest City Ratner.

Pictured at bottom left next to Bruce Ratner at an 8/23/06 press conference before a crucial hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Lewis actually hosted the press conference.

The relationship back then was hunky-dory. It's not out of the question that a corporate desire to help Spano was communicated to Lewis.

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