Brooklyn Politics by Erik Engquist

DEM CLUB VOTE FUROR: The months leading up to the Independent Neighborhood Democrats endorsement for Brooklyn district attorney featured a steady stream of whispers that candidate Mark Peters was stacking the club with his supporters.

The vote itself appeared to confirm that: Peters got 30 votes on the first ballot, second to the 41 of incumbent Joe Hynes but well ahead of non-club-stackers Arnie Kriss (14 votes), Paul Wooten (4), Sandra Roper (1), and State Senator John Sampson (0).

Because Hynes fell just short of a majority, a runoff was held. Hynes won that easily as Peters’s vote total dropped from 30 to 12. “Where did those 18 people go?” asked one club member. “They clearly came to vote for Peters and leave.”

Peters alleged later that Hynes supporters “tampered with the ballot box.” But we heard there was a simple mix-up over when votes could be cast, and it involved an insignificant number of votes.

Hynes’s campaign issued a press release ridiculing Peters for busing in supporters but losing anyway. The Peters campaign denied that, saying Peters supporters went home because IND leaders told them their votes wouldn’t count.

But the Daily News quoted a Peters pal saying he voted early and left so he could put his kids to bed. And we found no evidence to support the claim that Peters supporters were disqualified.

It bears mentioning that Hynes didn’t win the endorsement strictly on the merits either. Rumors of a deal between pro-Hynes IND leaders and Council Speaker Gifford Miller were widespread; each man’s supporters were to vote for the other. Not surprisingly, Miller won the IND endorsement for mayor (with 51 votes to Rep. Anthony Weiner’s 24 and Freddy Ferrer’s 12).

We also heard that Miller made the same arrangement with Peters, but while Peters delivered his votes to Miller, Miller’s people went with Hynes. “It seems that Miller stabbed Peters in the back,” said one Weiner supporter.

But appearances can be deceiving. The reality is that Miller couldn’t control all of his voters’ ballots in the DA race. Take, for example, influential IND member Buddy Scotto, whose support for Miller was reinforced by Council money allocated by Miller to Scotto’s pet projects. Scotto was going to vote for Hynes—who once helped get Scotto’s daughter into Brooklyn Law School—no matter what.

Another club member said Peters lost because “people became conscious of the deal and the packing, and it made them feel their club was being hijacked. And that brought out a very large turnout of old-time IND members.”

There was even debate over whether it’s uncouth to pack a club. When some IND members stood up at the meeting and complained, Peters supporter and former club president Greg Atkins (now chief of staff for Borough President Marty Markowitz) declared, “I’m shocked that people are saying that. This is a political club—you pack it. That’s what you do.”

Maybe so. And when you do, you tell your people to get babysitters.


BOOST FOR GALARZA: The Independent Neighborhood Democrats endorsement for the Sunset Park/Red Hook City Council seat went to David Galarza over incumbent Sara Gonzalez and Eddie Rodriguez, who had won IND’s support in 2002.

Why did the club sour on Rodriguez? “Eddie Rodriguez hasn’t been around in the last two years,” said one club member. “When people asked him where he’s been, he gave a real non-answer.”

Give the guy a break—he’s been working for a living! But then, Galarza also has a job but has found time to be active on Sunset Park issues.

Galarza has raised only $11,510 for his campaign, however. Rodriguez has collected $26,755 and Gonzalez $25,315.

Incidentally, Galarza has been endorsed by activist Susan Loeb, who’s decided not to run for the seat herself. Loeb finished second in the first primary won by Gonzalez’s predecessor, Angel Rodriguez.


KING SEEKS TAITT AUDIT: Flatbush City Council candidate Erlene King is upset that the 2003 Campaign Finance Board audit of one of her opponents, Sam Taitt, is not yet public information.

The reason is simple: the audit’s not complete. But King is still angry because it gives the impression “that he had a perfect campaign.”

“Why is this not on the [CFB] Web site?” she asked. “Even if the audit is not finished, the discrepancy should be there. You have to inform the public in a fair manner.”

Replied Taitt via e-mail, “The lady wants to be a legislator but does not understand that there are procedures in law and in an audit process that must be followed.”

Word on the street is that Taitt’s campaign paid campaign workers in cash and didn’t keep proper records of it. Taitt told us that’s inaccurate, but wouldn’t elaborate.

King and Taitt both figure to run this summer against Councilman Kendall Stewart, as they did in 2003.


MAYORAL HOPEFUL IS SMOKED OUT: The Libertarian Party chose Audrey Silk of Marine Park only last month to be its candidate for mayor, but her campaign is already showing some cracks.

Silk, a former 67th Precinct cop and founder of the smokers’ rights group Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, threw a fit when Sam Sloan, whom she’d beaten out for the nomination, began circulating her home address on a Libertarian listserv. “When a crazy anti-smoker comes to my door with a gun, do I tell them to find you instead?” she e-mailed Sloan.

Sloan pointed out that the address of a candidate for public office is public information.

Beyond that, it’s worth asking why the Libertarians would field a mayoral candidate so paranoid that she fears gun-toting smoking opponents will hunt her down. Nothing like that has ever happened, and given the low profile of the Libertarian Party, the chances of it happening to Silk are infinitesimal.

The irony here is that someone so afraid of risk would smoke Parliament cigarettes (she won’t admit how many packs per day) and advocate for more smoking.

Incidentally, Silk’s competition for the Libertarian nomination included subway shooter Bernie Goetz.


MILLER DENIES FRAUD: The Campaign Finance Board has alleged that former candidate David R. Miller tried to defraud it in 2003 by asking for matching funds on bogus contributions. A CFB staff member even told Miller he thought Miller’s entire campaign was a scheme to game the system for money.

But talk to Miller for an hour, as we just did, and you may come away convinced that he made an honest attempt to win the 2003 Democratic primary, when he got 26 percent of the vote against Councilwoman Tracy Boyland, including 38 percent in his home neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant.

For his efforts, he lost his program certification and his campaign was fined $10,000 by the board—even though it didn’t pay him a dime in matching funds.

“You decertify me and you don’t give me any money, and they want to use David Miller as a poster boy for fraud? Come on,” he said. “I’ve run for office 25 years. I’ve never been knocked off the ballot. There’s never been fraud on my petitions. These cats take my rep that I’ve been working on for 25 years, and they smash me up.”

Miller is, to put it mildly, furious. The CFB’s action makes it difficult for him to run again this year, when term limits prevent Boyland from seeking reelection.

Miller’s campaign raised $19,075 from 232 people and asked that $17,680 be matched 4-to-1. It got nothing and ended up $53,591 in debt. Vendors are not likely to extend Miller credit again to print literature and buy the services he would need to run.

The CFB was immediately suspicious because cash made up half of his contributions and money orders about 20 percent. Of the 64 money orders, 60 were in 11 groups with sequential serial numbers.

Miller gave one example of how that happened: a fundraiser persuaded some folks to contribute, and since they lacked checking accounts, she drove them to the post office to buy money orders. Another time, Miller spoke to church members who then passed the hat, and his campaign cut some corners helping them fill out the contribution cards required by the CFB.

Miller said one CFB investigator, dubious that so many folks donated by cash or money order, rejected his explanation that black people often don’t have checking accounts. (The prober clearly hasn’t seen the lines at an inner-city check-cashing businesses on Friday afternoons.)

“They don’t understand black people. They don’t understand our culture,” Miller said. “They need some black workers down there. The entire board is white.”

Miller is no fly-by-night schemer. He’s a former school board president, a longtime activist in local politics, and runs DRM Entertainment, which produces shows on BCAT and elsewhere.

But he’s also no accountant. He acknowledged that some contributions his campaign reported as eligible for matching funds might have been falsely attributed to donors by overzealous fundraisers trying to make an impression. “I kept an arm’s length distance” from the fundraising, he said. “I couldn’t tell you what the contributions were.”

He agreed with the CFB that he didn’t even know some of the purported donors. But he said someone trying to game the system certainly wouldn’t use the names of strangers.

He added that he volunteered that about two dozen of his contributions came from an Atlantic City bus trip the campaign organized. The contributions were promptly ruled non-matchable.

“All of these things were innocent blunders. They weren’t an attempt to defraud anybody,” he said. “I’m saying, you have to go to intent.”

The CFB, however, holds candidates responsible for their campaigns’ financial disclosures. Ignorance is not a defense.

On the other hand, board investigations lack the checks and balances of a court trial. Aside from an exchange of letters, the only chance Miller got to make an impression on the board was a “three-minute presentation” on April 14, he said.

“I’ve been trying to get a hearing from them for two years,” he said. “Shouldn’t I have an opportunity to air out our differences?”


RESOLUTION SOLUTION: How might the City Council stop getting into nasty, unnecessary debates over resolutions that have no force of law?

One way would be to stop introducing them, a thought which has occurred to Councilman Lew Fidler, who told us in 2002, “I’m starting to wonder whether or not it is a proper use of our time.”

Apparently, he’s finished wondering and concluded that non-binding resolutions are a proper use of the Council’s time, because on May 11 he introduced yet another one.

Fidler’s resolution condemned what Lenora Fulani said about Israel and Jewish people in the 1980s (and recently declined to retract). That prompted Fidler’s colleague Charles Barron to say in the Council chamber that he’d like to see Fidler condemn “the racist, bigoted” things the late Rabbi Meir Kahane said about Palestinians, or the strong-arm tactics of Ariel Sharon.

An argument between Fidler and Barron ensued and escalated until Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who was presiding, suggested they step outside.

Fidler has told us that while resolutions can be big time-wasters, he believes not condemning racism allows it to spread.


KANGOL KID RETURNS: For the City Council’s May 17 celebration of Haitian Flag Day, Councilwoman Yvette Clarke helped round up the usual assortment of civic and religious leaders and other semi-notable Haitians from various walks of life.

But there was one honoree who caught our attention: Shaun Fequiere Sr.

No doubt you can’t even pronounce Fequiere, let alone identify him. Here’s some help:

She was walking down the street

So I said Hello

I’m Kangol

From U.T.F.O.

She said, So?

I said, So?

Baby, don’t you know?

I can sing, rap, dance in just one show…

By now, either you recognize these opening lyrics from the rap smash “Roxanne, Roxanne” or you never ventured into any part of Brooklyn where black people resided in late 1984.

In those neighborhoods one could not walk down the street without hearing the song or seeing the hat that Fequiere, a/k/a the Kangol Kid, helped make must-have attire for countless thousands during the breakdancing era.

Clarke ran into Kangol at the Sister2Sister magazine party in April, leading to his Flag Day appearance at City Hall. Kangol asked the other three original U.T.F.O. (Untouchable Force Organization) members to join him, and they accepted. It was to be their first reunion in 15 years.

While U.T.F.O.’s Educated Rapper still lives in Brooklyn, where he’s a record executive, Kangol now lives in the Poconos where he’s a songwriter and music producer. He’s guiding his teenage sons, who launched a small record label after leaving Kings County for safer pastures in 1998.

Kangol is thought to be the first Haitian rapper, and while he was never able to duplicate the success of “Roxanne, Roxanne,” it’s good to see he hasn’t been forgotten.


TIDBITS: Fundraising report from the 35th Council District race: incumbent Letitia “Tish” James, $10,785; Charles Billups, $6,929; Eric Blackwell, $0. We hear Blackwell’s strategy is to give the other candidates a false sense of security…

…Brooklyn district attorney candidate Mark Peters was endorsed by the Brooklyn Democrats for Change, the club of Brian Honan, who ran against Democratic district leader Ralph Perfetto in 2002. Perfetto is backing D.A. Joe Hynes this year……Lambda Independent Democrats will meet to decide its endorsements for the Brooklyn district attorney and uncontested City Council races at 7:30 p.m. May 25 at the YWCA, 30 3rd Avenue.

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