Before he went into politics, Republican state senator Marty Golden spent his days running one of South Brooklyn’s most popular catering halls. He was good at it, too. The Bay Ridge Manor on 76th Street near Fifth Avenue offers fine food, classy ballrooms, and a nice neighborhood feel—the perfect place for weddings or political fundraisers, of which Golden, an ex-cop, hosted many. And even though the silver-haired legislator has moved on to become a pillar of the state senate, his campaign-finance records suggest that he misses his old job.
Since Golden won election to the senate in 2002, he has spent $205,000 of his campaign cash to host shindigs of one type or another at his former haunt, the records show. Much of the spending has come in a binge over the last 19 months—a period when there hasn’t been even a whisper of an electoral challenge to the three-term senator. Despite that, since January 2007, Golden has spent more than $115,000 at his former catering hall for some 30 separate events.
By any stretch, that’s a lot of stuffed shells and chicken parm. By contrast, two Queens Republican senators—Serf Maltese and Frank Padavan, now facing tough Democratic challenges—have spent less than half as much combined on catered events in that span.
What makes it even more noteworthy is that every time Golden’s campaign writes a check to the company, it goes into very friendly hands. Although he sold the establishment a couple of years after he entered the senate, Golden didn’t have to hunt for a buyer: His brother bought it. Also, according to Golden’s disclosure report with the state Legislative Ethics Commission, his wife Colleen serves as the catering hall’s business administrator. And the Bay Ridge Manor’s landlord? That would be Golden himself, who lists full ownership of the three-story red-brick building with the green-colored awnings on his filings.
That makes three separate income streams that the senator gets from the Manor, according to his filings: rent, his wife’s salary, and continuing payments from the 2004 sale. (Under legislative rules, Golden doesn’t have to specify how much money he and his wife receive.)
So is this campaign catering splurge a convenient way of pumping money into a family-owned business?
Golden isn’t talking. “Bay Ridge Manor? That’s the topic?” asked John Quaglione, the senator’s chief of staff last week. The aide promised a response but then ducked later messages.
Had he gotten on the phone, Golden presumably would have pointed out that on his campaign filings, he describes most of the events he holds at his former catering hall as what the state Board of Elections calls “constituent services”—in other words, ways to help out those he represents. For instance, Golden paid $6,900 in May to serve lunch to senior citizens at the hall. He also hired it to honor Teachers of the Year at a June event. And last September, records show, the senator spent $13,800 to provide seniors with a combined breakfast, lunch, and boat ride from the hall.
Golden lists just one event—a $7,700 payment in February—as related to political fundraising. In fact, the senator held his biggest recent fundraiser, a huge soiree last October, at Gargiulo’s Restaurant in Coney Island, which holds 400 guests, about twice as many as Bay Ridge Manor.
The rest of some two dozen other payments to the hall over the past year and a half, however, are unexplained in Golden’s campaign filings.
Not that Golden should have any fears that political rivals might use questions about his campaign spending habits against him. He doesn’t have any rivals. The only choice facing voters in Golden’s senate district this fall will be whether to vote for the incumbent on the Republican line or the Conservative line. The Democratic line will be blank, the same way it’s been in the past two elections.
Different people have different answers for why that’s the case. But the one thing everyone agrees on is that the seat’s current Republican-friendly district lines were the result of some masterful gerrymandering by Golden’s mentor, former senate majority leader Joe Bruno.
Before those changes, the senate seat representing Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, and a portion of Staten Island had bounced back and forth between Democrats and Republicans for years. In 2002, using his majority-leader powers, Bruno redrew the lines. Instead of a slice of Staten Island’s ethnically mixed northeast shore, Bruno rerouted the boundaries due east across Brooklyn, where he attached the white, conservative neighborhoods of Gerritsen Beach and Marine Park.
Both neighborhoods include many active and retired cops—a boon to Golden, who retired from the NYPD on disability after being hit by a car in 1983. To make that hookup, however, Bruno’s mapmakers had to make some tortured connections, including a couple of narrow, block-wide corridors skirting minority neighborhoods. The resulting district resembles a lopsided dumbbell with an extra weight in the middle.
“I think they found every uniformed worker they could find to put inside the lines,” says Vincent Gentile, the three-term Democratic incumbent who lost the seat to Golden after the redistricting. Electoral changes in Brooklyn are subject to federal review under the Voting Rights Act, but the new lines sailed through.
“How it passed muster with the Department of Justice is beyond me,” says Gentile, now a City Council member. “They created a district that was 72 percent Caucasian.”
Having successfully rejiggered the lines, Bruno began pumping huge amounts of money into the race. Gentile recalls being astonished that Golden began TV advertising in the district in May that year. Vastly outspent, the Democrats didn’t get their own ads up until October. All told, the Republicans spent an estimated $6 million to win the seat. On election eve in 2002, Golden—naturally—celebrated victory at Bay Ridge Manor. The way local papers reported it, Golden chortled about his huge margins of victory in the district’s new eastern precincts.
That was the senator’s last contested election. Brooklyn Democratic party leader Vito Lopez says there’s a simple reason for this default: “No one has stepped up to run,” he insists. Other Democratic pols dispute that, saying that one local activist who expressed interest in running two years ago was dissuaded by Lopez and other Democrats who are said to be happy with the status quo. Lopez denies it, saying he has a long-term strategy for picking off Republicans in the borough. Golden’s number just hasn’t come up yet, he says.
Whatever the reasons for his political free ride, Golden has prospered mightily. He quickly became a favorite with Mayor Bloomberg, who has held fundraisers for him. With a hefty $650,000 in his campaign war chest, Golden has even flirted with the notion of running for mayor in 2009.
He’s also done well personally. Last year, Golden and his family purchased a 20-unit apartment building next-door to Bay Ridge Manor for $2.75 million. A couple of months earlier, he and his wife bought a new home a few blocks away off Narrows Avenue for $1.5 million. Clearly, Brooklyn’s biggest Republican star has found a district that caters to his needs.