In tonight’s comptroller’s debate on NY1, Councilman John Liu accused Councilman David Yassky of steering $55,000 to a phantom community organization.
Though he has reportedly embellished facts about his own record in the past, Liu called out Yassky on his steering of public funds toward the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation, a Brooklyn non-profit located on Hamilton Parkway (just a few storefronts away from public advocate candidate and councilman Bill DeBlasio’s office — and De Blasio did not give any money to them).
The non-profit, founded by former councilman Steve DiBrienza, has received millions of dollars in public funds, but when the New York Post and The Brooklyn Paper poked around last March, the organization appeared to have little to no presence in the neighborhood where it claimed to sponsor youth sports teams and anti-graffiti drives. When a reporter from The Brooklyn Paper, called one of the Catholic schools where DiBrieza claimed the group sponsored a sports team, the school’s sports director said he hadn’t heard of the organization. The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation is financed almost entirely by taxpayer funds, another sign that it doesn’t have a large base of local support for its mission (It also doesn’t have a website).
But when Liu pressed Yassky for an answer, Yassky defended the group…
He maintained that it sponsored little league teams in his district. Had he ever been to a little league game? No. He goes to his own kids games, he said, but he doesn’t have time to go to all the games in his district. He did say, however, that he had attended “dinners” with members of the group.
A City Council member may not be able to keep track of every non-profit organization in his or her district, even to those to which the politician steers money (As Yassky himself has said, discretionary funding is just a bad system). But as our Tom Robbins points out in his column this week perhaps the fact that the group was staffed byDiBrienza’s family members — something Yassky should have known if he had indeed had “dinners” with members of the organization — should have raised a red flag for the councilman. The fact that the group was receiving a significant chunk of taxpayer money — nearly two million dollars — to fund just a few little league teams and an anti-graffiti drive could have raised a red flag too. Sources in Brooklyn tell the Voice that the group wasn’t exactly a phantom, but did very little in light of the amount of public funds it was receiving.
Yassky also told the Times that he had never personally inspected the group. That’s hard to believe, considering tonight’s assertion that he went to dinner with its members and the fact that it was run by a colleague who Yassky actively courted for support (see Tom’s column).
In tonight’s debate, despite many serious questions about the group’s credibility and the use of public money, Yassky affirmed the worthiness of the group. And that itself raises a red flag about Yassky — a man who is running on a platform of transparency.