The City Council's Big Slush Hush

Quinn, Bloomberg, Thompson are still hiding the pork

Meara is a holdover from Quinn's predecessor, ex-Speaker Gifford Miller, who presided over the council's budget when the use of secret holding codes began exploding, records show. Miller has so far avoided answering questions, and Meara has yet to say what he personally knew about the schemes.

And then there was Quinn's sorry effort to shift the blame, telling reporters on the day the story broke that "the two highest-ranking members of our Finance Division no longer work for the City Council."

Under the bus went ex–finance director Mike Keough, whom Quinn herself had installed in his job. With him went ex-deputy Staci Emanuel, one of the council's most popular staffers. Most people had a hard time believing the two aides would ever have gone against a direct order. Worse, however, Quinn flunked the stand-up test for bosses. A few days later, she corrected course, insisting that "the buck stops with me."

Quinn: Obviously, something's wrong.
Richard Levine
Quinn: Obviously, something's wrong.

But at least Quinn has tried to bring some transparency to an area that council members have collectively tried to keep shrouded for years. While the council has long been ridiculed as a legislative lightweight, its real clout has always been its control over immense pots of discretionary money that can be doled out to favored friends and allies. The full amount is still a moving target, as Quinn proved last Friday when she couldn't come up with a total figure when asked. But it seems to be some $350 million on the expense side, and more in the capital budget.

State legislators in Albany have long taken the biggest media bruising for their own slush-fund abuses, but the council's most politically potent members appear to far outweigh them in pork-barrel heft. The grants and contracts they dispense are easily converted into political backing and campaign contributions. And since so many members of the term-limited council spend much of their time these days raising money to run for some other job, the least taxpayers are owed at this point is clear information about who's giving what pork to whom.

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