Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Lessons Learned

          Here’s is a lesson to be learned for every elected official in a time when all transactions are online and available to those who have the time, energy, desire and effort to research these types of transactions while other higher level misappropriations might be overlooked.

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There is a common thought around newsrooms and in political circles, never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton. An experienced reporter, from a newspaper that focuses primarily on business news, wrote a story attempting to slam Assemblyman Michael Blake (D – The Bronx) for alleged improper or questionable reimbursements.

Blake (D – The Bronx) is a former journalist, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a candidate for Congress running in a crowded field to replace retiring Congressman Jose Serrano in the 15th Congressional District.

The district includes most of the South Bronx. It is bounded by the Harlem River on the west, the East River on the south, the Bronx River and Bronx Park on the east and goes just past Fordham Road on the north side. The district that is also one of the smallest in the country geographically, consisting of a few square miles, is one of the most densely populated and one of the few majority Hispanic districts in the country.

Crain’s New York reporter Will Bredderman wrote two articles noting that Blake had several questionable reimbursements. One such item was Blake checking into his office just prior to midnight so he could claim a full day’s per diem from the Assembly after traveling around the country attending political events and missing votes in Albany.

All perfectly legal under state Assembly guidelines, although maybe not the brightest move for someone who is ambitious and wants to move to a national political stage. The optics would not be a move a politically savvy person would do when figuring out his calculus on the matter.

After Blake responded in detail via email to all who would read his reply, Bredderman wrote another article for Crain’s New York with comments from two good government groups calling for a probe. Many reporters love a good probe to mess up a politicians’ reputation. After the probe ends and nothing is found to be illegal, the question becomes a reference from Gen. William Westmoreland, ‘Where do I go to get my reputation back?’

So the barbs continue between Blake and Bredderman. The question, however, becomes if this is the system and it is allowed to happen legally, then doesn’t the blame rest with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D – The Bronx) for permitting these reimbursements? Why would the editorial board from Crain’s New York allow a news story to be printed without quotes from Heastie’s office or Silent Carl, himself? Why would the good government groups not rest the blame at Heastie’s seat and instead blame Blake for seeking these presumably legal reimbursements?

The other side could read this situation as it may not be illegal but is it ethical or appropriate for Blake not to apply for these reimbursements? Bredderman pointed out in his first story that other lawmakers did not submit travel vouchers when the regulations allowed for the reimbursement.

 

There’s a Whole Lot of Shuffling Going On

            Of the 27 seats in Congress, New York State has only five Republican members in the House of Representatives and one vacant seat that was held by a Republican, Chris Collins, in western New York. Three other congressional seats are up for grabs due to announced retirements. They are Nita Lowey (D – Harrison, Westchester County), Peter King (R – Seaford, Nassau County) and Jose Serrano (D – The Bronx). These retirements have attracted a natural succession to Congress from the state Legislature.

For Lowey’s seat, Assemblyman David Buchwald and Senator David Carlucci are among five Democrats who have announced their candidacy. One Republican, Josh Eisen, has announced his bid for the seat. Even though the seat was held by a Republican prior to Lowey’s entry more than 30 years ago, the district has been redrawn three times and has become a difficult seat for a Republican to win. Two months ago Lowey, 82, announced she would not run again.

For King’s Long Island seat, where more than two-thirds of the voters reside in Suffolk County, the leading contender to flip the seat from red to blue is Jackie Gordon, a black, single mother who is also a military veteran. Three others are seen as possible candidates, none of which are Jewish and no one from the state Legislature. On the Republican side, however, Senator Phil Boyle, Assemblyman Michael LiPetri, Suffolk County Legislature minority leader Tom Cilmi, former Congressman Rick Lazio and three other GOPers in Nassau and Suffolk counties are all in the mix to succeed King. Republican Party leaders from the two counties will meet within the next month to pick their consensus candidate. Last month, King, 75, announced he would not seek re-election.

A successor to Serrano’s Bronx district is a wild one with no fewer than a dozen Democrats vying for the coveted seat. This is a solidly blue seat and the only opposition comes from within the Democratic Party. It is considered a seat for life. Besides Blake, who we already profiled in this column, seeking to jump from the state to federal level are Senators Gustavo Rivera and Luis Sepúlveda along with Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, the Bronx Democratic Party chairman. The others are former elected officials and community activists. After 29 years in the house, Serrano, 76, announced in March of this year that he would not seek re-election due to the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease.

Two months ago, Chris Collins, 69, resigned his seat from Congress after pleading guilty to insider trading and lying to the FBI. He served six years as a member of the House of Representatives. As of 2018, he has a net worth of $43.5 million. The district includes eight western New York counties. Also, notable, Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, 61, held that seat for one term before being tapped by Governor Andrew Cuomo to be his running mate in 2013.

The Collins resignation has opened up a district that has attracted at least six Republicans, including two from the state Senate, to move up to the federal level. The two senators are Bob Ortt of North Tonawanda, Niagara County and Chris Jacobs of Buffalo, Erie County. Jacobs, 52, a Catholic, comes from a prominent family who has acquired much wealth. They have long owned the Delaware North Companies and the Boston Bruins hockey team.

Of the two state Senators, Jacobs might have the more difficult challenge of explaining his party flipping from Republican to Democrat (1998 – 2001) and back to Republican in a deep red district that defends gun rights and President Donald Trump as if they were on the same par as their children’s health and well-being. Other candidates for the seat include elected officials on the local and county level.

If state elected officials are not successful in their congressional bid in June, there is still enough time to circulate petitions and run for their current seat in the Assembly and Senate. As the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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Marc Gronich is news director of Statewide News Service. He also operates the website JBizTechValley.com. He has been covering government and politics since 1981. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press.