Lobbying for Leniency

Scandal-Scarred Adult Homes Buy Pataki Protection

In April 2001, the adult-home association replaced the McHugh firm with two lobbyists—Hinman Straub Inc. and Brian Meara—each of whom is paid $60,000 a year. Meara is especially close to Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Hinman is regarded primarily as a Republican firm though Jim Clyne, one of its lobbyists on the association account, worked on adult-home matters as a Democratic assembly staffer for years. McHugh and others at his firm have contributed $17,955 to Pataki, the State Republican Committee, and the senate GOP committee since 1995, while Hinman Straub's political action committee has donated $68,000 to the same entities. Meara has given $25,000 to Silver committees. Empire State donated $31,000 to the three Republican committees.

In addition to the association, other elements of the adult-home industry have also hired Albany lobbyists with Pataki ties. The New York Psychotherapy & Counseling Center, which receives millions in state funding for providing mental health services to residents of the homes, pays $75,000 a year to Davidoff & Malito, whose senior partner, Bob Malito, was once special counsel to former U.S. senator Al D'Amato. Another major outside mental health provider, New Hope Guild Centers, was represented until recently by Bolton St. John's, a firm headed by former Democratic Speaker Mel Miller.

The state's gross indifference to adult-home abuses—turning them into what the Times called "psychiatric flophouses where untrained workers looked after severely ill people and medical fraud was common"—may well have been principally due to the powerlessness of the marginalized population it serves. But this level of high-wire lobbying wasn't just the pointless and excessive expenditure of fat-cat state capitalists. The Pataki administration has fed the homes with thousands of patients forced out of state-run psychiatric centers, cut construction of the far more successful mentally ill housing program launched by Mario Cuomo, slashed adult-home inspections dramatically, shifted oversight to the industry-friendly DOH, and ignored enforcement mandates put in place by the legislature just before Pataki took office.

Pataki: Lax state supervision of adult homes has led to unnecessary eye and prostate surgery for the mentally ill.
photo: Keith Bedford
Pataki: Lax state supervision of adult homes has led to unnecessary eye and prostate surgery for the mentally ill.

The result is the worst scandal of the Pataki era, downplayed so far by tabloids and television. It may still take center stage in the general election campaign to come, a shrill reminder of the governor's infamous detachment, and the social price of the insider politics that dominates his Albany.

Research assistance: Annachiara Danieli, Jen Dimascio, Peter G.H. Madsen

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