By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Al D'Amato missed 10 of his final 11 Nassau County Board of Supervisors' meetings--a 91 percent absentee rate--when he first ran for Senate in 1980, failing to vote on 966 ordinances and resolutions over the course of the year, a Voice review of board minutes reveals.
D'Amato was absent for five out of the six bimonthly board meetings that preceded his November 4 election, dating back to August 11. He did not show up for any of the five sessions that followed his election either, missing a total of 646 votes during this combined five-month period. As presiding supervisor from one of the county's biggest towns, Hempstead, D'Amato had 35 of the countywide total of 130 votes under the board's weighted voting system, more than any of the other five members.
He did attend the first 15 meetings in 1980, though he was late twice and left early on five other occasions, missing 320 more votes. He was present for the entire meeting only 35 percent of the time, throughout all of 1980 and the first meeting of 1981, when he was still on the board and marked absent.
Ironically, the entire thrust of D'Amato's commercial and debate attacks on Chuck Schumer have revolved around the congressman's sudden drop in House attendance during the protracted 1998 Senate campaign. Blasting Schumer for "putting political ambition over the people's needs," D'Amato has ridiculed Schumer for missing routine committee votes to campaign. Of course, 1980 was the last time D'Amato ran as a challenger with little statewide visibility, as Schumer is now. D'Amato beat four-term incumbent Jacob Javits and Congresswoman Liz Holtzman.
While many of D'Amato's missed votes were on ordinary property tax assessment and personnel matters, he also skipped votes on special funding for the same sorts of programs he has taunted Schumer about missing--community services for the elderly, "psychosocial" rehab for cancer patients, a coordinating project for runaway youth, a contract with the Coalition for Abused Women for victims of domestic violence, a hypertension control program, senior day care, the monitoring of sewage sludge at ocean dump sites, a child nutrition initiative, and an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice for a Drug Enforcement Task Force program.
Most important, he did not attend the December 8 public hearing on the county's expense budget for the next fiscal year, and he missed the budget vote December 15, as well as a series of measures that actually set tax rates. He skipped a dozen votes on bond issues during that year, tallying in the tens of millions and financing such key capital projects as the reconstruction of a police precinct. When the county executive sought emergency approval for new fire hazard control regulations, D'Amato missed that vote too. Even though the county was convulsed by fuel shortages at the time, he did not vote on an energy crisis assistance program.
In addition to his pivotal role as a county supervisor, he presided at meetings of the Hempstead Town Board. But Hempstead officials declined repeated Voice requests to make those minutes available.
D'Amato announced for the Senate on January 7, 1980, leaving a board session early and missing 93 calendar items. He appeared at a 90-minute Danish-and-coffee chat with editors at The New York Times on October 20--marking another absentee day at county meetings. The Times reported that he cited his Hempstead experience during the interview, "depicting himself as a government executive who was experienced at coping with unreasonable bureaucracies."
Instead of attending an October 6 board session, D'Amato went to a Manhattan press conference where he was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He walked Wall Street sidewalks and made his way onto the stock exchange floor on September 8, shaking hands while his fellow supervisors met. He toured Buffalo and Syracuse on November 3, missing one more day of scheduled votes.
Though still presiding supervisor and a month away from beginning his Senate service, D'Amato went to Northern Ireland that December on a fact finding mission, ducking the Hempstead budget hearing. He also took a November vacation in Puerto Rico. His final absence on January 5, 1981, was more understandable than the others--he was sworn in as a senator in Washington that day.
Ambition, as the senator put it when describing Schumer, might explain D'Amato's campaign absences. Utter disregard is the only excuse for dropping out completely after he was elected. Loan Scandal
Never before in the modern history of state politics has a candidate run with such a fundamental question about the legality of his campaign financing hanging over his head. Yet Eliot Spitzer, who has ostensibly spent almost $2 million a year of his own money since he began chasing his dream of becoming attorney general in 1994, has avoided offering so much as a semblance of an answer.
Nonetheless, neither the media nor the public appears to care if he's broken state law in an effort to become its highest law enforcement officer.
In debates last Friday and Saturday, as well as in a new television commercial, Dennis Vacco, an AG whose record begs for replacement, has literally dared Spitzer to clear himself and explain the $9.7 million he's loaned his two campaigns. Yet Spitzer says simply that everything he's done is "proper," and launches an unrelated counterattack. The press has allowed itself to be stymied by this evasion, obscuring it beneath bloodbath reportage, and never weighing in, even on editorial pages, about Spitzer's obligation to come up with a detailed reply and disclosure.
Spitzer ducked the Voice during the primary when we pressed him with questions about the loans. Confronted outside the Woodbury, Long Island, studio where he and Vacco debated on Friday, he kept promising he'd provide documents that would make it all clear by Monday. Instead, on Monday, he was still in hiding, where he has spent much of the last few campaign weeks, avoiding questions like these:How could Spitzer repay the $4.2 million he borrowed to finance his 1994 campaign on an income that then averaged less than $300,000 a year? Debt service on the loans alone would consume most of his earnings. (He did not sell any of the eight co-op apartments he owns in a luxury West Side building to repay the loans, since he listed the same assets in 1994 and 1998 and is still using the apartments as collateral to obtain new loans.) Did his father, multimillionaire developer Bernard Spitzer, repay any portion of the 1994 loans? If so, that would violate state election law, which limits his father's contributions to roughly $100,000?Will Bernard Spitzer also repay the $5.5 million in 1998 loans, win or lose? Why didn't Spitzer or his father disclose the details of these loans on submissions to the AG that all co-op apartment owners must make? How can the Spitzers justify filing sworn co-op documents in 1994 and since that claim the apartments have not been used as collateral and at the same time file Board of Elections documents that insist that they have? How did Spitzer qualify for a combined $9.7 million in bank loans on properties he now tells the Times are valued at $7 million to $10 million? Why indeed would he spend that much of his own money supposedly on a long-shot campaign when it appears to be all he's worth? Is his father officially or unofficially guaranteeing the loans in violation of state campaign-contribution limitations?
"I'm not going into that right now," Spitzer told the Voice when we sought answers in the corridors of Cablevision on Friday. "I will answer it and you'll understand why," he promised. But Oliver Koppell, the former AG who's twice run in Democratic primaries against Spitzer's money, has been demanding answers to questions like these for almost five years. Even though so sweeping a violation of state law would transcend the disturbing yet by now par-for-the-course quid pro quo allegations dogging Vacco, Spitzer just stonewalls.
If Bernard Spitzer wanted to finance his son's fantasy, he could've given him, not his campign, whatever millions were necessary and paid the due gift taxes. Instead, his son has wound up in a legal quandary, awash in money he cannot explain, even while he seeks the very office charged with probing precisely this kind of conduct. Research: David Kihara, David Shaftel, and Nicole White