Brooklyn Betrayal

Una Clarke Tramples on the Truth, Friends, and the Law

She spearheaded the effort to license the illegal vans that service subway stops in minority communities, formed an alliance with Giuliani on the issue, collected $3520 in contributions from the industry, and, according to the head of Brooklyn Van Lines, participated in a van motorcade with Rudy shortly before their joint 1997 reelections. She championed $3 million dollars in discretionary Capital Funding for Giuliani's largest donor, developer Bruce Ratner, who had a megastore project in her district, and collected $18,000 in contributions from Ratner companies, subcontractors, and construction managers.

Her alliance with Giuliani gave her such sway at Kings County Hospital—the largest municipal employer in her district—that a dozen hospital administrators, including one relative with a top job there, regularly donated to her campaign committees at $50 to $150 clips, totaling almost $4000.

Clarke targeted nearly $300,000 in city money to Flatbush Gateway Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit creation of hers that for years has not filed the required disclosures with the state attorney general and is chaired by an old friend who employed her daughter. While her campaign motto is she "gets things done," the organization closest to her has failed to get any of its most celebrated projects off the ground—a garment center, Flatbush Avenue business improvements, and an elaborate new arcade for street vendors. Gateway has, however, been a slush fund for friends—with Horace Harris, an architect and campaign donor whose restaurant has catered her fundraising events, getting contracts to design two of the projects that have gone nowhere.

She's also helped win, by her own account, over $1 million dollars in funding for the Caribbean Women's Health Association, a respected community group whose leaders have funneled $3320 to her campaign, including an illegal $680 contribution from the tax exempt organization's own funds. Clarke's council office shares space with CWHA, which has also awarded its only two construction projects to architect Harris. Yvonne Graham, CWHA's director, insists that the office arrangement was the decision of the landlord—who's also an old Clarke backer—and that Harris was picked after a careful bid-and-review process. Graham denies that the organization made the illegal contribution reported on Clarke's filing.

To maintain the ties to Giuliani that have delivered this kind of funding to friends, she not only voted for the early Giuliani budgets so damaging to poor communities that they were opposed by real mavericks like Ronnie Eldridge, Sal Albanese, Guillermo Linares and others, she actually debated Albanese on the radio in support of the budgets.

A counterfeit militant who changes from African to American garb in midday depending upon her audience, Clarke was named by Giuliani to the police brutality task force he put together in August 1997, shortly after the sodomizing of Abner Louima at a precinct in her district. When a reelected Giuliani in 1998 trashed the task force, dismissing its omnibus report on improving police/community relations, she refused to criticize him. Norman Siegel, the New York Civil Liberties Union president who sat on the panel with Clarke and had represented her on an unrelated matter years earlier, says now that he was "disappointed" in her task force performance and that he "expected much more from her."

When 11 members of the task force, including Giuliani allies like Councilman Victor Robles and the Urban League's Dennis Walcott, signed a letter to Giuliani expressing frustration over the administration's lack of support for the panel's probe of police issues, Clarke declined to sign it, says Siegel. When several members went ahead with a Town Hall meeting on brutality in Brooklyn that Giuliani did not approve, Clarke failed to show up. "She was not part of any of it," Siegel recalls. "She was nowhere to be found."

While Owens was arrested at the 1999 protest that followed the killing of Amadou Diallo, Clarke showed up but declined to get arrested, instead making sure she was photographed with protest leader Al Sharpton. She put the picture her own photographer had taken on the front page of her council newsletter, which is mailed to her constituents. Inside the same newsletter, she was pictured with Magic Johnson at the City Hall press conference where Johnson and Giuliani announced a $30 million restoration of the old Loew's Kings movie theater in her district. Clarke cropped Giuliani out of the picture. The Johnson announcement was widely seen at the time by black leaders as an attempt to deflect attention from the ongoing protests, and to give Giuliani some black cover at a high point of anti-Giuliani feeling. Nothing has happened with the Johnson project in the nearly 18 months since the ballyhoo.

This record of feints and falsehoods has brought Clarke now to the race against Owens, whom she latched onto more than 20 years ago because he was the leading advocate in Albany for her beleaguered day care community. Owens was a librarian before he entered politics; he's so cerebral and decent he could not see the betrayal festering behind his back. She denounces him as a do-nothing congressman now, though he is a sponsor of 15 significant bills that became law, more than most city congressmembers and more than she can claim for herself in the council.

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