The Conservative Party will meet tomorrow in Albany to make Buffalo Carl Paladino its new nominee and we can only hope this time around no one gets hit in the head with a brick.
We are talking real bricks here.
Yes, hard as it may be to accept for True Tea Party Believers, the Conservative Party likes political patronage jobs just as much as the rest of the crowd. And the last time it backed a winning candidate for governor its politics-as-usual performance — despite all that drown-government-in-the-bathtub rhetoric — led in a fairly straight line to tragedy.
It happened in Brooklyn in 1998 when a 15-year old girl named Yan Zhen Zhao was killed by a brick that blew off the roof of a public school undergoing renovations in Borough Park. It was later established by investigators for the School Construction Authority that the reason the brick was able to flatten an innocent passing pedestrian was because an inexperienced and often-absentee project supervisor at the SCA had decided that the work at P.S. 131 didn’t require a sidewalk shed — the kind with a solid wooden roof that protects you from falling objects.
Stay with us here.
Said bureaucrat was a man named Gary Marrone, who had gotten his $57,000 a year job thanks to the intervention of his wife, a Conservative Party district leader named Frances Vella-Marrone. Ms. Vella-Marrone had her own $68,000 a year patronage job as special assistant to an SCA trustee named Paul Atanasio, a well-connected bond lawyer who was also a top Conservative Party figure and donor, as Wayne Barrett laid out here in much better detail back in 1998.
Atanasio’s appointment came courtesy of then governor George Pataki who, like Carl Paladino is hoping to do, won election in 1994 thanks to Conservative Party backing (Pataki wasn’t even very conservative; he supports women’s right to abortion, which is supposed to be a knock-out punch for candidates seeking the party’s line. But don’t get us distracted, that’s a tale of a different hypocrisy.)
As Vella-Marrone later admitted to the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, she was told by top SCA officials that she shouldn’t push husband Gary’s application because it violated agency anti-nepotism rules. Vella-Marrone paid no attention to this whatsoever. She managed to get her husband the job anyway, she later confessed, by telling other officials that “Paul wants it.” That would be Paul Atanasio, the Conservative Party bigshot whose name is going to come up again soon, so try to remember it.
On the merits, Gary Marrone might have had a tough time getting his job. For one thing, he didn’t have a college degree which was supposed to be required for project managers. Then there was his most recent experience, working as a project manager for a contractor then under indictment. He also had a conviction for fraud and past arrests, including one for “disorderly intoxication.”
This proved to be significant, since the principal of P.S. 131 later told officials that Marrone was often absent from the job, and when he did show up he had liquor on his breath. When the principal complained to the SCA that Marrone had shown up drunk, she was told that it was just his medication.
As things worked out, the only thing that happened here to these Conservative Party stalwarts was that they lost their phony baloney jobs with the SCA. The contractor pled guilty to second-degree manslaughter and was fined $10,000. SCA’s insurance company paid the victim’s family $1 million. Oh yes, Vella-Marrone paid a $5,000 fine.
Fast forward to this week: You opened up the Post on Monday and there was Paul Atanasio’s name — a true blast from an ugly past — in Fred Dicker’s column. It seems that Carl Paladino’s campaign finance chairman is a woman named Nancy Naples, another Conservative Party bigshot who used to be the comptroller of Erie County, which is where Buffalo is. It also seems that Naples was so fond of Paul Atanasio that she kept using him as bond counsel for the county even as he moved between different firms. She resigned in 2005 after the Buffalo News reported that Atanasio had earned $5.25 million in fees thanks to her support.
Atanasio is an old Marine buddy of Conservative Party chairman Mike Long who is now urging his party to give Paladino its endorsement, even though he was saying the Republican candidate is “crazy” as recently as a few weeks ago (Memo to T-Partiers, yes, these abrupt changes of opinion happen often in politics. What? You think Long’s being insincere?)
Atanasio is so fond of Long that he put him on his payroll back in 1995 as a $5,000 a month consultant. This happened just as Atanasio was raking in other major bond business from the Pataki administration.
As for Frances Vella-Marrone and husband Gary, records show she has stayed active in politics, working with another true blue conservative, state senator Marty Golden on anti-gay marriage efforts. Also, earlier this year, she and Gary Marrone incorporated a new company in Florida. It is called “Inspectors-R-Us.” We dread to think what it does, but you Tea Partiers can’t say we didn’t warn you when it shows up with a fat construction safety contract from the Paladino administration next year.