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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Political Grease

The federal government’s complaint against six politically connected New Yorkers last week could only have been derived from real life. No Hollywood screenwriter is imaginative enough to conjure up a plausible scenario whereby State Senator Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) is elected mayor of New York City.

 

Yet Senator Smith’s delusional 2013 mayoral ambitions are at the heart of the federal government’s 28-page complaint, and it boggles the mind to see how many people allegedly risked their reputations and careers to advance Smith’s City Hall dreams.

 

Notwithstanding the misleading headlines, the case is not about rigging an election. It is about rigging the ballot access process, a necessary step that takes place long before the election. And to read the complaint is to feel particularly sorry for the people of Spring Valley, in Rockland County. Their mayor and deputy mayor were willing to use eminent domain—the public taking of private property for a public use — for their own personal financial gain, if the federal government has it right.

 

There are three running themes throughout the complaint: ballot access machinations, land-use decision-making and how money can potentially impact both of those things. 

 

Senator Smith, as a registered Democrat, needed three of the city’s five Republican county chairmen to support his bid to secure a place for his name on the GOP mayoral primary ballot.

 

Two county chairs would not do the trick; Smith needed three of them to say, “Okay, the city’s registered Republicans should have the opportunity to make you, Senator Smith, the GOP mayoral nominee on Tuesday, Sept. 10.” 

 

The problem was that a few of the city’s GOP county chairmen had already endorsed other mayoral aspirants, some of whom were actually Republicans.  In order to get these party bosses to change their minds, monetary inducements would be needed, the complaint alleges, and that is how the Bronx County Republican chairman and the Queens County Republican Party’s vice chairman ended up becoming defendants, along with New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran (R-Flushing).  

 

Once those three men realized someone would pay them to do what came naturally — nominating candidates for public office — Senator Smith, a lifelong Democrat, instantly became a credible Republican mayoral candidate, at least in their minds, the complaint indicates. Councilman Halloran was already envisioning himself as a deputy police commissioner in a Smith administration, according to the complaint. And all signs point to Halloran being sober while plotting this peculiar career move, a surprise given that the Councilman dropped out of the NYPD’s cadet corps 20-plus years ago, the NYPD told the New York Post. 

 

An aside: Councilman Halloran waged an unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. House of Representatives seat in Queens last fall against then-Assemblywoman Grace Meng.  Meng’s father, former state Assemblyman Jimmy Meng, pled guilty to a bribery charge in November 2012.  His sentence: a month in prison, and presumably a promise to stop trying to shake down his neighbors in the future.

Senator Smith’s interest in using his Albany-based elective office to allocate state highway transportation monies to boost a proposed Spring Valley real estate project is one of the more convoluted, and difficult to explain, parts of the complaint. Why would a state Senator from Queens care at all about Rockland County’s vehicle traffic flow? If this case goes to trial, that question might get definitively answered.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net