Archive for the tag 'elections'

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz is backtracking on details of an overseas trip in which he spent more than $1,300 in campaign funds at a hotel, three restaurants and a gift shop in Barcelona and Germany, bringing guffaws from good government advocates.

The local pol’s European spending, first reported by the New York Observer, covered a three-day spree in February. Cymbrowitz’s campaign finance disclosures show he spent $189 at a souvenir shop in Munich, which he filed away as “office expenses.” In Barcelona, the assemblyman spent $819 at the five-star Hotel Majestic, and nearly $300 over four visits to three restaurants, including the top-rated tapas bar Cerveceria Catalana.

Asked about the spending by Sheepshead Bites following the Observer article, Cymbrowitz spokesperson Adrienne Knoll forward the following statement which was also sent to the Observer:

As the child of Holocaust survivors, I promised my parents I would do everything in my power to help Holocaust survivors and to not let our world fall into the destructive grips of fascism ever again. In keeping that pledge I made more than 50 years ago, I visited Munich, Germany, and had an opportunity to visit the Dachau memorial site, where more than 32,000 Jews and non-Jews were killed. During my visit I was reminded of the fact that one in four of the approximately 140,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States – 38,000 of whom live in Brooklyn, the majority of them in my district – are living at or below the poverty line.

After a number of Russian-speaking survivors in my district were denied benefits from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany due to bureaucratic snafus, my office intervened. To advocate on behalf of these Russian-speaking Holocaust survivors, I met with a board member from the Claims Conference during my trip to Munich, as well as with a number of board members back here in the U.S., in order to rectify the situation and to ensure that some small measure of justice is achieved.

I also met with city officials in Munich to discuss the issue of Neo-Nazism and how the German government works on putting together programs for the Jewish community to help Jewish seniors and children. As the state legislator with the largest Sephardic Jewish population in the state, I was invited to Barcelona to meet with city officials and members of local, prominent Jewish organizations.

The spokesperson added the following, “[Cymbrowitz] went with other legislators. [The Observer] made it sound like a solo excursion and that wasn’t the case.”

However, after follow-up questions asking Cymbrowitz’s office to specify legislators were also on the trip, the spokesperson reversed course on that assertion.

“One correction….he didn’t go with other legislators. Sorry,” Knoll said, via e-mail.

In response to our request for details on his being “invited” to Barcelona, we received another e-mail stating, “He was not invited to Barcelona. That was an error. As the assemblyman who represents a large Sephardic community with roots in Spain, he went to Barcelona to meet with the remaining members of the Sephardic community to talk about the rise in anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism.”

Cymbrowitz’s office did not respond to additional questions about the “city officials and members of local, prominent Jewish organizations” he met with while in Barcelona, and declined to provide an itinerary or appointment calendar.

His office also declined to explain why $189 was spent at a souvenir shop and listed as “office expenses” for the campaign.

The expenses did not involve taxpayer money, and campaign finance regulations allow funds to be spent at the candidate’s discretion, so long as they can explain how it relates to their office they’re running for.

Cymbrowitz’s spending, though, has brought criticism from Common Cause, a good government group that advocates for tighter controls of campaign spending as well as publicly financed campaigns.

“This kind of conduct, using campaign dollars to stay at five-star hotels, to buy expensive souvenirs in exotic places, simply fuels the public cynicism about elected officials and campaigns,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause. “There should be clear delineation between what is and isn’t a campaign expense, especially since so many public officials don’t seem to have their own guidance system about what’s appropriate.”

Lerner said Cymbrowitz’s explanations – and back-tracking – doesn’t pass the sniff test, and reflects poorly on Albany culture.

“It’s kind of amazing. He’s trying to come up with justifications [for travel spending] after the fact. It just seems to be egregious to justify the spending at five-star hotels and restaurants in the interest of Holocaust survivors. It’s really kind of unbelievable,” she said.

She added that she doubted his claim of visiting Barcelona’s small Jewish community to discuss antisemitism, since most contemporary incidents are in central Europe.

“There seems to be tenuous connection [between visiting Spain and his duties as an office-holder] and there should be a full accounting of the facts and a precise record of his activities. Then voters can decide for themselves,” she said.

Sean Henry (Source: Henry campaign)

State Senate candidate Sean Henry is putting issues of homelessness and poverty at the center of his campaign to unseat Senator John Sampson. For Henry it’s a personal battle, having emerged from homelessness in a story that could have been penned by Horation Alger.

The East New York resident was profiled by DNAinfo earlier this week, reflecting on his own history of homelessness growing up in Chicago.

The Sheepshead Bay portion of Sampson's district, which connects to the remainder of his district via a one block stretch. (Click to enlarge)

The Sheepshead Bay portion of Sampson’s district, which connects to the remainder of his district via a one block stretch. (Click to enlarge)

His parents split up in the 1980s and he was left in the care of his unemployed single mother. They shuffled between the homes of family members, struggled to put food on the table, and eventually landed in homeless shelters.

Throughout that, Henry worked his way through one of Chicago’s leading high schools, joined ROTC and enlisted in the Army Reserve. With help from the G.I. Bill he went on to obtain an undergraduate degree and then a graduate degree at NYU.

He began working for the city’s Department of Homeless Services, advocating for those whose challenges he knew better than most.

From the profile:

If elected, Henry said he wants to fight to eradicate homelessness, not just build new shelters in neighborhoods like East New York.

“We have a record amount of people in shelters and we have to get them out, but we have to get them out long term,” Henry said.

Rather than spend money to house families in shelters, city and state agencies should instead spend money on resources to keep them in their homes, like social workers and housing attorneys, he said.

“We’re spending the money anyway, if they’re going to a shelter,” Henry said. “So why not spend much less and keep families in their home?”

Henry also emphasizes education and more resources to the area’s impoverished schools, as well as fighting for affordable housing.

Henry blasts Sampson’s inability to represent the district while being mired in legal troubles. The pol is facing charges for allegedly stealing more than $400,000 from the sale of foreclosed homes to finance a political campaign, as well as separate charges for lying to the FBI about a liquor store he owned.

The charges have apparently kept Sampson busy. During the legislative session this year, he uttered just one word and introduced no legislation. And Henry said Sampson has utterly failed to obtain Superstorm Sandy recovery funds to hard-hit Canarsie.

“I’m sorry for John,” Henry told DNAinfo. “But he just has too many legal issues and can’t do the job.”

Check out the full profile.

Sampson (File photo)

State Senator John Sampson, facing three primary challengers and multiple federal corruption charges, has the backing of Brooklyn’s top Democrat even as his reelection chances look bleak.

The influential chair of the Kings County Democratic Committee, Frank Seddio, says that the organization is not formally backing the embattled pol. Seddio, however, is also a district leader in Sampson’s area and the head of the powerful Thomas Jefferson Club. In those capacities, he’s tossed his hat in with Sampson.

“I’m the local district leader in this area. John Sampson represents almost my entire political district, 59 percent of my district, and he’s been our senator for the last 18 years,” Seddio told City & State. “So our club is supporting him. The county (Democratic committee) doesn’t take positions on these types of things.”

Seddio has put his attorney to getting Sampson challenger Dell Smitherman, considered a leading contender for the seat, kicked off the ballot. The attorney, Bernard “Mitch” Alter, has formally requested that the Board of Election toss out hundreds of petitions – signatures needed to get on the ballot – which would leave Smitherman out of the race.

Sources told City & State that Seddio views the race as a test of his leadership within the county party, not just within the Jefferson clubhouse that Sampson is a member of.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the inner workings of Brooklyn politics described the situation differently, linking Seddio’s support for Sampson directly to the official Brooklyn party organization.

“Frank Seddio, the chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, is taking two races very seriously and as a test of his leadership,” said the Brooklyn political insider. “The first is the recently vacated seat of Eric Adams, and the second is the Sampson seat. He is doing everything he can … to ensure that John Sampson is protected and reelected.”

While the county organization might not be formally backing Sampson, there’s little to differentiate between Seddio’s wishes and that of county. Having Seddio’s support, for example, could give Sampson access to campaign donors eager to curry favor with the county boss, not to mention that it’s already given him access to election lawyers as the petition process shows.

Similarly, Seddio’s influence as county boss extends to all of his other roles, insiders say.

One insider with a Democratic club told Sheepshead Bites that Seddio was unhappy with the group after they released their first batch of endorsements, which included Smitherman. Seddio requested that he be consulted on future endorsements – a request that was granted as the club needs Seddio’s approval as a recognized chapter of the Democratic party. In that role, he was able to vouch for his candidates as district leader and head of the Thomas Jefferson Club, but his words were given extra consideration because he’s county chair, the insider said. (The insider notes that they now consult with him on all endorsements, although they do not always endorse the candidates Seddio supports.)

Seddio’s support is about all Sampson can count on, though. The 18-year-incumbent and one-time head of the State Senate Democratic Conference has seen support dry up, raising only $34,000 for this year’s campaign. Smitherman reports having $47,000 on hand, and Sean Henry reported nearly $56,000. Both Smitherman and Henry have also scored crucial union endorsements.

Sampson was indicted last year for corruption. Among the list of charges is that he stole nearly half a million dollars from the sale of foreclosed homes.

grimm2Congressman Michael Grimm, facing a 20-count indictment on tax evasion, fraud and illegal hiring practices, may now head to trial in October, a month before elections.

SILive reports:

Speaking at a status conference in Brooklyn federal court on Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Gatta said that motion procedures and hearings in the case could be held by the end of September, with a trial to begin the following month.

… Gatta said that the discovery in the case is “not particularly voluminous” and that the case itself “is fairly straightforward.”

Grimm’s new attorney, Daniel Rashbaum, said that that “schedule may be OK. I don’t know yet.”

He sought a three- or four-week delay so that he could look at the evidence. By then, Rashbaum said, he’d have a better idea “what the discovery looks like in my mind.”

But U.S. District Court Judge Pamela K. Chen said she would give Rashbaum, who notified the court last week that he was taking over the defense, two weeks to “dive into the material.”

Prior to the conference yesterday, observers believed Grimm would not go to trial until after the November 4 elections, when he faces off against Democrat Domenic Recchia. If the prosecution’s request for an October court date is granted, it would be a significant blow to the pol, who will have to fight simultaneously for his seat and his freedom.

grimm2

A Staten Island supporter and fundraiser for embattled Congressman Michael Grimm put out a letter saying the pol’s Democratic opponent, Domenic Recchia, wants to build “low-income housing in our neighborhoods,” spurring accusations of racially charged “fear mongering.”

The New York Post reports:

Staten Island Republican Party vice chair Bill D’Ambrosio wrote a July 9 fundraising letter on Grimm’s behalf claiming that Democrat Dominic Recchia would be a champion of low-income housing in the congressional district that covers mostly-white Staten Island and more racially mixed south Brooklyn.

Recchia’s base is in Brooklyn; Grimm’s is on Staten Island.

“His [Recchia’s] strategy for becoming Staten Island’s congressman relies on using votes from Brooklyn housing projects . . . Staten Islanders should have no doubt that this Brooklyn political hack will sell them out to pay back these votes, and surely build low-income housing in our neighborhoods with his cronies at City Hall,” D’Ambrosio said.

Keep reading to see the full letter, the response from Democrats, and how the Grimm campaign is doubling down on the allegation.

The following is a press release from the campaign of Ben Akselrod, who is challenging Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz:

Ben Akselrod, a candidate for Assembly in the 45th district, has called on State Department of Education Commissioner, Dr. John B. King, Jr., to provide mandatory defensive driving training to all high school students throughout their high school careers.

“Auto accidents are the number one cause of death for young people,” Akselrod explained. “Now, with the popularity of cell phones, and especially texting, adding to the likelihood of distracted driving, combined with speed and a general belief of teens that they are immortal, New York State must become proactive in encouraging safe driving practices.”

In a letter to Commissioner King, Akselrod requested that the New York State Education Department develop a curriculum, covering all four years of high school, that not only teaches students safe driving techniques and accident avoidance skills, but makes them aware of the serious consequences of dangerous driving behavior. It could be offered as a mini-course within in the existing course structure of the school.

A 2012 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study reported that the fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16-19 year-olds is nearly three times the rate for drivers ages 20 and over.

“A curriculum must be developed that will be offered to students before and after they are likely to take their road tests making them vividly aware of the consequences of dangerous driving habits and empowering them with safe driving techniques,” Akselrod stated.

“While this curriculum needs to be implemented expeditiously to counter the threat of texting while driving, the subjects covered must also include other safe driving and accident avoidance information,” Akselrod said. “We need to instill good driving habits and skills in our young people that will continue on into adulthood.”

gentile

Gentile (Source: Gentile’s office)

Councilman Vincent Gentile of Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst confirmed to the New York Observer that he is considering a challenge to State Senator Marty Golden, and told the paper that he sees the Republican’s support drying up.

If he runs and wins it will be a sort of homecoming for the pol, who represented the district in the State Senate between 1996 and 2002, before being unseated by Golden. After losing office that year, Gentile ran in and won the special election for the City Council seat vacated by Golden – meaning the two effectively swapped seats.

Gentile told the paper that the recent show of support for restoring Democratic control of the State Senate is galvanizing his interest. The Observer reports:

“It would take a lot to pull me away but certainly I understand the bigger issues in our state and the goal of getting a Democratic State Senate so based on that I am getting the input I should be getting and we’ll see in a week or two,” Mr. Gentile said at City Hall yesterday. “I am enjoying my job but I’m saying there are bigger issues here.”

The Observer’s story came on the heels of another report that a coalition was emerging to flip Republican seats in the Senate, and was eyeing Golden in particular. The coalition was birthed during the Working Families Party convention, during which Cuomo pledged to support Democrats running for the legislative body and to break the power-sharing alliance between the Republicans and the Independent Democratic Caucus in exchange for their nomination.

NY State of Politics was the first to report that the coalition was floating Gentile as a challenger, but it had not been confirmed until the Observer report. A source told the outlet that approximately $1 million has already been earmarked to unseat Golden.

Gentile is optimistic that the Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst portions of the Senate district are increasingly Democratic, boosting his chances – although he also slipped in a slap at the incumbent Senator for gerrymandering the district to rope in as many Republican enclaves as possible.

“I think my area has become more Democratic and eventually there will be smaller and smaller pockets that Marty Golden can rely upon so if it’s not this cycle, there will be a cycle very soon where he will not have the same deep support that he used to have in the same district that he drew, that he drew the lines for,” Gentile told the Observer.

While that may be true in Bay Ridge, Golden remains popular in Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach – conservative-leaning areas where Gentile is relatively unknown.

What this means for another Democratic challenger to Golden, Jamie Kemmerer, is not yet known. Kemmerer told this outlet last month that he decided to run only once Gentile personally urged him to do so. Kemmerer could drop out and throw his support behind Gentile if he chooses to run – or he could squabble with his former backer in a primary.

grimm2

Grimm

Congressman Michael Grimm faces a 20-count indictment for tax evasion and illegal employment practices stemming from a restaurant he operated before running for Congress, charges he said are because the nation’s commander-and-chief wants to see him gone.

Grimm made the allegations against the Obama administration on Tuesday before a gathering of Republican supporters rallying for gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino. He also compared the United States to oppressive regimes in Iran and North Korea.

New York Observer reported on the statements:

“They change policy, they use regulation to legislate, they circumvent the Congress–this is now the norm for the Obama administration,” Mr. Grimm fumed at the Bay Ridge Manor in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

“And when you look and see why they come after me so hard, every day another negative story [against] the only Republican in New York City, it becomes obvious: they don’t want any opposition. This administration wants to do what it wants to do and they want you to forget about the America that you grew up in,” he said.

… “Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I’m not sure what country I’m living in,” he said. “Four Americans are killed and murdered in Benghazi–no one’s held accountable …. The IRS, arguably the most feared agency in our entire government targeting people because of their political views. Now this happens in Iran, this happens in North Korea, but this is the United States of America.”

The site reported that the statements “drew loud cheers.”

Grimm has long maintained that the investigation against him, which began as a probe into his 2010 campaign fundraising, was a “political witch hunt” by Democrats looking to see the city’s lone Republican congressman unseated. Prosecutors, however, have submitted paperwork to the court suggesting that Grimm’s own documents show he kept two sets of books and paid employees – some of which were undocumented immigrants – in cash to avoid taxes.

Grimm’s assertion that he is the subject of political retaliation has sparked snark from colleagues, including State Senator Diane Savino. The pol, whose district is largely within Grimm’s, let forth a tirade on Facebook about Grimm’s conspiracy theory back in April:

[G]et a grip folks, Mikey is not that important, he is no threat to the power structure, he is a slick talker with a nice resume who seems to be in trouble. he was not on track for greatness as a national leader, not on track to upset the national scene. Conspiracy, please….

Grimm pleaded not guilty to the charges.

dell

Smitherman (Source: Smitherman campaign)

Democrat Dell Smitherman officially kicked off his campaign to unseat embattled State Senator John Sampson yesterday at a launch event in Canarsie.

Flanked by family, friends and supporters, Smitherman said he’d stake his claim to represent the district on affordable housing, healthcare access and education.

“This district has a ton of potential, but we haven’t tapped into that potential yet,” said Smitherman. “That’s because in this district right now we have no state representation, and our incumbent cannot bring the resources we need back to our community. I’m running for State Senate to bring a real, progressive advocate to Albany, and finally demand our community’s fair share in the State Senate.”

The 19th District covers Canarsie, East New York and Brownsville, and also has a broad swath of Sheepshead Bay.

Smitherman, a former political coordinator for 1199 SEIU, has already picked up support from that union, as well as backing from Comptroller Scott Stringer and the Working Families Party.

The incumbent, Sampson, who served as Senate leader in 2009 when Democrats briefly controlled the body, has been charged with embezzlement and corruption, for which he has pleaded not guilty.

The New York Observer reports that the announcement didn’t go without a few swipes at Sampson:

“Every day you open the newspaper and hear about the corruption,” Mr. Smitherman told his supporters. “In this district right now we have no state representation. Our incumbent has been kicked out of the Democratic conference. He cannot bring capital funds home to the district.”

“We have schools that can be built with those capital funds. Our public libraries–we can’t get those resources right now,” he added. “I don’t think Albany is working for this community right now.”

The site also reports that Sampson is running with the backing of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, giving him an advantage despite the legal woes. Two other contenders for the Democratic line have also announced: Sean Henry and Leon Miles.

Sean Henry (Source: electseanhenry.com)

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new initiative earlier this month to dramatically shrink the number of families living in the city’s homeless shelters, but a challenger to embattled State Senator John Sampson, Sean Henry, who spent his early years homeless, said the plan doesn’t go far enough.

The mayor unveiled several new proposals to help crack down on homelessness. The flagship of those proposals is an $80 million rental subsidy program that would move families living in homeless shelters into affordable housing, with a portion of the rent covered by the program.

But that program will only help 800 of the tens of thousands of homeless families living in shelters, Henry said, and does not go far enough to address the problem.

“It’s great that Mayor de Blasio understands that shelters are not the solution, but we need to be identifying and helping more than just 800 families a year when more than 12,000 families are staying in shelters every night. We need to greatly expand the proposed program so we can immediately help the thousands of families in need right now,” Henry said. “The goal should be to end homelessness completely. The funding as it stands now will not reach that goal.”

According to the candidate’s website, Henry is a Chicago native who faced homelessness as a teenager. He joined the U.S. Army in 1995, and attended Southern Illinois University. He moved to Brooklyn in 2000 to earn a master’s in Public Administration at New York University.

As a former homeless youth who worked his way up to serve as special assistant to the deputy commissioner at the Department of Homeless Services, Henry appears to be staking a large part of his campaign on an anti-poverty message, a strategy that could earn the attention of potential constituents. While the district includes a broad swath of Sheepshead Bay, it also includes all of Canarsie and East New York, and a portion of Brownsville – areas with high rates of foreclosure and unemployment.

It also stands in stark contrast to the allegations against State Senator John Sampson, who was indicted last year for corruption. Among the list of charges is that he stole nearly half a million dollars from the sale of foreclosed homes.

Here’s Henry’s press release in full:

State Senate Candidate Sean Henry Calls for Even More Funding For Rent Assistance Programs

Henry, an advocate for homelessness prevention who was homeless as a teen himself, believes Mayor de Blasio’s program needs much more funding to fix the homelessness issue in NYC

Brooklyn, NY – State Senate Candidate Sean Henry, who grew up homeless and has dedicated his life to preventing homelessness, today said Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to increase funding for rental assistance programs, while well intentioned, does not go far enough to help homeless families.

“It’s great that Mayor de Blasio understands that shelters are not the solution, but we need to be identifying and helping more than just 800 families a year when more than 12,000 families are staying in shelters every night. We need to greatly expand the proposed program so we can immediately help the thousands of families in need right now,” Henry said. “The goal should be to end homelessness completely. The funding as it stands now will not reach that goal.”

On May 19, Mayor de Blasio announced a plan to create a new program to subsidize rent on an apartment so families could move out of city shelters. Over four years, it would be an $80 million program with the city and state splitting the costs. The mayor said the program would serve roughly 800 families each year by giving them a three-year subsidy on their rent.

The program is much smaller than its predecessor, called Advantage, which Henry worked on while at The Department of Homeless Services (DHS). In its last year, roughly 5,000 people exited the shelter system under the Advantage program. When it was defunded in 2011, it led to a large number of families returning to shelters.

Henry also knows what it’s like to be homeless. As an older child and teenager, Sean suffered from chronic homelessness due to the separation of his parents and the lack of job opportunities and economic mobility that his parents faced. These experiences with homelessness and poverty would later inspire Sean to enter public service and be a candidate for public office.

Henry started at DHS as in 2003 as a Program Manager. In 2005, Sean was promoted to Director of Homelessness Prevention Services and Special Assistant to the Deputy Commissioner where he partnered with community-based organizations to provide an array of homelessness prevention and income equality services. Sean left DHS in 2011 to provide consulting services to Hudson Guild, a nonprofit organization providing community-based services such as senior services, children and teen services, an arts center and a mental health clinic.

Next »