You would never know it from the media that Councilmember Lewis Fiddler funds one of the city’s largest non-profit patronage operations in the city. Coming in with the third highest amount of member items in the council, with just over $700,000, Lewis Fidler, assistant majority leader and Chairman of the Youth Services Committee, said he is proud to be considered the third "biggest pig" in the council. The Councilman uses the city’s budget to provide jobs for his friends, campaign workers and to continue the illusion that a once-powerful club is still going strong.
Today’s reporters do not cover politics like Jimmy Breslin, Jack Newfield, Pete Hamill, Murray Kempton and other members of their hard-working greatest generation, who understood neighborhood politics and never quoted politicians like celebrities. Reporters of Newfield’s era understood that elected officials always had motives, and that truth could only be reported by analyzing their words and investigated their actions. Fidler is one of the most quoted councilmembers in the city’s newspapers and blogs on virtually every topic and issue, except for one: what he does with the member items money in his district.
Some people claim that the way the media covers Fidler shows a racial bias in its reporting of political corruption. By reading the dailies we know how Councilmembers Erik Martin Dilan and Leroy Comrie sent member items funds to nonprofits that hired their wives. Maria del Carmen Arroyo sent money to nonprofits that employed her sister and nephew. Darlene Mealy tired to find a nonprofit to hire her sister. Hiram Monserrate, Larry Seabrook and Kendall Stewart used nonprofit money to help in their campaigns.
What is never covered is a more complicated corruption in the white community where member item funds and campaign contributions go through interlocking nonprofits, lobbyists and special interests developers. Umbrella nonprofits like Fidler’s Millennium Developers are just the tip of the iceberg of corruption; Emily Giske of Bolton-St. Johns, Parkside’s Evan Stavisky, Jeff Plaut’s Global Strategy, George Artz, Yoswein, Geto & De Milly, and Knickerbocker SKD help campaigns more than Councilman Hiram Monserrate’s nonprofit Libre get a free ride from the media’s corruption coverage.
Putting racial motives aside, it is clear that the owners of the mainstream media control how and when it reports on political corruption. Not one word has been printed about the councilmember items slush fund scandal since all the major papers’ editorial boards came out for extending term limits. Earlier this year, for a few months, there was a story almost every day about the council’s member item’s “little tin box”.
Fidler’s Member Item-Funded Nonprofit Reelection Industry is a Widespread Practice
The late former Assemblyman Tony Genovese, who made the Thomas Jefferson democratic club into a powerhouse with the late county leader Meade Esposito, invented the scheme which uses member items and other government funds to build political power for their club in their district. They set up an umbrella nonprofit called New Perspectives that received and distributed government funds to most of the local nonprofits in their community. Genovese wanted all power to emanate from his club. His clubhouse hack pal Alan Weisberg ran Perspectives. Genovese’s Assemblyman Stanley Friedman was the last elected official in the city to open up a district office outside the Jefferson Club. In the days of Tammany Hall all elected officials operated their district office out of the clubhouse. Genovese and Esposito’s genius created the umbrella nonprofit funded by the government tied to the clubhouse to keep the Thomas Jefferson Club powerful in an era in which most clubs were dying off.
Since that time, elected officials and consultants throughout the city have copied Genovese’s umbrella nonprofit model. Brooklyn Democratic Leader Vito Lopez, an early protégé of Genovese, funds the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Center as an umbrella-type nonprofit with millions of dollars in government patronage to his district. Bolton-St. Johns’ Emily Giske uses the High Line and the health care industry to build an umbrella for her team, including $50,000 to Speaker Quinn for her mayoral campaign from High Line supporters. The Parkside Group used their relationship with former Speaker Miller, former Queens Democratic leader Tom Manton and convicted felon Brian McLaughlin to pull in over $7 million in consulting fees from nonprofits receiving council funding. Former Thomas Jefferson Club leader Bruce Bender, now working for as chief lobbyist for Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner, helps fund Borough President Markowitz’s umbrella nonprofit Best of Brooklyn. Pedro Espada just defeated State Senator Efrain Gonzalez with the help of his nonprofit organization, Soundview Healthcare.
Fidler and the Jefferson Club’s Nonprofit Patronage Networks
After Genovese’s death New Perspectives got in financial trouble, so Fidler and the other new stewards of the Jefferson Club simply closed it down and transferred Perspectives’ functions to a new nonprofit, Millennium Development. Paul Curiale, the husband of Fidler’s council aide Debbie Malone, runs Millennium Development. Both are heavily involved in the operation of the Thomas Jefferson Club and regularly collect signatures for candidates endorsed by Fidler’s club.
Another way Fidler controlled government money was to appoint Georgia Hamilton, the wife of his driver Daniel MacBride, to Neighborhood Advisory Board 18. The board distributed city and federal youth money in Fidler’s district. Fidler knows a lot about how funds are distributed through the Neighborhood Advisorary Board system as chairman of the Council’s Youth Services Committee. With the Councilman’s knowledge, Hamilton illegally continued to serve on the Advisory Board after she moved out of the community. Fidler said in a recent blog post that he received the most discretionary funding last year at $985,000, and snagged a considerable amount of capital too, because he chairs the Youth Services Committee, which oversees a lot of the programs in the city that would be eligible for these types of grants. "Which is also why I am able to put together a pot of properly vetted discretionary items,” said Fidler.
What the Press Did Not Report
As Chair of the Youth Services Committee, Fidler oversaw the funding of the Donna Reid Memorial Education Fund. Two staffers of Councilman Kendall Stewart, including his chief of staff Asquith Reid, were indicted by U.S. Attorney Garcia for skimming at least $145,000 from the Donna Reid fund, a charity that had received council funds. Fidler’s committee funded the Memorial Education Fund after the Department for the Aging rejected the group's application for city money in 2004 after noticing that its office address was identical to Asquith Reid's home address. Reid, like Fidler’s staffer Georgia Hamilton on Board 18, was a member of his Neighborhood Advisorary Board – Board 17 – which funded youth groups like Donna Reid in his community. Councilman Erik Martin Dilan’s North Brooklyn Community Council and Councilman Hiram Monserrate’s Libre are other nonprofits that have been funded with council funds dispensed by Fidler’s Youth Service Committee that have been written about in the press for their practice of hiring the councilmembers’ family members and helping in their reelection bids. Not one word has been written in the press about how the questionable funding was approved for these and other nonprofits by Fidler’s Youth Committee, which, by the way, he gets paid $10,000 extra a year for chairing.
Judging by a series of recent loses by the Thomas Jefferson Club, Fidler’s funding of the nonprofit Millennium network is about the only thing keeping the councilman’s club from falling apart. Last year, the club lost its control over the Brooklyn Surrogate Court when its candidate Judge Shawndya Simpson lost to Judge Diana Johnson. Judge Johnson only lost by 200 votes in the club’s 59th district and won in the Assembly District where Fidler is District Leader (the 41st AD) two to one. The Club’s former Assemblyman and Surrogate Judge Frank Seddio was pressured into retirement, according to The Daily News, because of illegal contributions from his Assembly account to Fidler and other elected officials of the Jefferson Club when he was running for the surrogate judgeship. The club lost the other Surrogate position in 2005 when Judge Margarita Lopez Torres beat their candidate. In addition, the Jefferson Club only managed to get 11% for the candidate it backed in the 2005 Democratic Mayoral Primary, Gifford Miller. In the General Election that same year, Fernando Ferrer, the Jefferson Club’s endorsed candidate, only got 27% in its district. Moreover, in 2001, the club’s candidate in the Democratic Primary runoff, Mark Green, failed to carry the Jefferson Club’s district or Fidler’s District Leader district. Finally, in the primary that same year, the club’s City Councilman Herbert Berman lost the controller’s race to William Thompson.
Fidler’s smart enough to know his good relationship with reporters allows him to get away with almost anything
Fidler represents a boutique niche market lending company called LawCash. Fidler’s cousin was made V.P. of the company right after he graduated college. New York Supreme Court Justice Ira Warshawsky said that LawCash, which advances money to plaintiffs while their civil lawsuits are pending, charges high usurious rates. The judge blasted LawCash for making a high-interest loan to a poor African-American family. LawCash has charged 50% or more in interest for one of their loans. Fidler’s loan company operates like subprime mortgages in that they both take advantage of the uninformed poor. A representative of LawCash said his firm can charge such high rates because, unlike banks, its money is "advanced," not lent, to plaintiffs, and this is a high-risk investment. When elected officials use their position to make money and deliberately fail to protect the public by promoting weak laws and regulations, the people suffer. Wall Street called derivatives trading “barter” instead of an insurance policy to avoid government regulations. Now the federal government must bail out that $600 trillion dollar business. Many of the high level consultant firms in the city today call their services education to avoid lobbying regulations. They make secret deals between each other in a type of exclusive “Star Chamber” that runs campaigns, nonprofits, and healthcare institutions without any legal requirement to report their cooperation on city or state financial forms.
Fidler is the District Leader in the 41th Assembly District, which has a minority population of at least 65%. Not only is the Councilman not protecting his own voters from high-interest lending operations, he profits from one. Yet the press reports that Councilman Fidler is fighting predatory lending. If you Google Fidler on predatory lending you will find articles that quote him speaking out against subprime mortgage lending. Fidler supported Frank Seddio for Surrogate Judge. Right after Seddio left the Surrogate Court he advertised in local newspapers his services to get homeowners subprime mortgages in Canarsie as a mortgage lawyer. According to Crain’s, Canarsie has the highest subprime default rate in the city. Fidler was also frequently quoted in the press how he was trying to reform Brooklyn’s corrupt judicial systems with a Blue Ribbon Commission, while he and his club backed every Norman machine judge, many of who were removed from the bench. Some went to jail.
What never gets printed in the press is how Fidler uses his control of nonprofit funding to eliminate political opposition in his community. When minority Assembly candidate H. R. Clark showed up to protest overdevelopment at a City Planning Commission’s local hearing in a building owned by a nonprofit funded with government funds, he was thrown out. According to neighborhood activist Mark Fertig, Fidler was under pressure by Assembly candidate H. R. Clark and community leaders since their meeting last year with mayoral candidate Tony Avella to downsize zoning in his district. To this day the area has not been downzoned. According to Fertig, all Fidler wanted to do is show the appearance of doing something while protecting his developer friends from downzoning.
Fidler has even figured out how to rip off the Campaign Finance Board (CFB) to make money for his friends when he runs for reelection. Fidler wrote a letter to the CFB in 2003 to qualify for full campaign finance funding after the CFB ruled he would only get 25% of the matching funds because he did not have a serious primary or general election challenger. All that is needed to quality for full funding is a letter from the elected official to the CFB saying they have a competitive primary. Fidler got $82,500 in 2003 in matching funds, the full allowable amount, and went on to get 87% of the vote in his so-called “competitive race.” He wrote the same letter to the CFB in his 2005 reelection bid and received full public funding in both a primary and general election he won overwhelmingly.
Besides using the government for political gain Fidler has not show much loyalty to his supporters. Fidler supported Ferrer for mayor in 2005, going back on the endorsement commitment he gave to Gifford Miller after the Speaker passed that year’s city budget, which contained Fidler’s pork requests for his district. Two-timing is something Fidler has always been known for. He supported Anthony Weiner for City Council against his own cousin, Michael Garson. When Weiner’s council seat became vacant in 1998 after he was elected to congress, Fidler supported Michael Nelson against Irma Kramer, despite the fact that Kramer was one of Fidler’s earliest supporters.
Sometimes Fidler’s double crosses are a work of art. At the same time Fidler’s committee was funding Councilman Stewart’s indicted aide’s nonprofit, according to Wellington Sharpe, Stewart’s 2005 Council opponent, Fidler was helping Sharpe with his ballot access. Sharpe was later knocked off the ballot after Stewart’s lawyer brought him into court and produced a mortgage prepared by Fidler that was supposed to turn over a house to Sharpe’s kids, but actually showed Sharpe as the primary resident of the house, which was outside of Stewart’s district.
“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
- Thomas Jefferson
The false way Fidler is covered by the media, while he rips off government funds to accumulate power is just a warning sign of how the press is endangering the lives of New Yorkers. Our City and Republic are in jeopardy because today’s media has abandoned its role of informing the public, leaving the people powerless to defend themselves. What the press did not tell the public during the term limits debate was that the two-term restrictions were voted for by a public that was upset with the corruption in the Koch Administration in the 1980’s and the role that the City’s impossible-to-defeat incumbents played in allowing that corruption. Now even that small safeguard against incumbent protection in our society is gone. George Orwell would have to write a new chapter in 1984 to explain how 34 City Councilmembers under investigation for illegally using the member items slush fund were able to receive press coverage that basically said that extending their time in office would increase choice, democracy and improve our economy.
Without an informed public, elected officials act like organized crime mobsters, working against the voters’ needs for personal gain. They create government-funded umbrella-type nonprofit reelection organizations to stay in office. They also create a dysfunctional, unregulated government with no legal accountability to carry out their greedy friends’ scams to make money at the cost of the public good. Our city would be a lot better off if it listened to a few independent voices about the dangers of repealing the Glass-Spiegel Act, rather then constantly devoting their coverage to political celebrities and their meaningless news conferences.
Look at what Gordon Gecko’s greed has done to Wall Street. New York City is next!