Chris Quinn and the Slow Motion Return of the Slush Fund Scandal


The latest round of two-years-out mayoral polls shouldn’t be taken too seriously: They mostly track name recognition (so there’s no need to lose sleep fretting about Mayor Markowitz), and in any case the preferences of the city at large don’t have much to do with those of Democratic primary voters. But with Council Speaker Chris Quinn leading the early pack – granted, with about half as many backers as “undecided” – the big question may be whether or not voters still care about the Council slush fund scandal that nearly ended her political career.

The $49 million fund that the Speaker doles out to loyal Council members, who in turn use that money to buy local support emerged as a front-page issue in 2008 and 2009, when it came out that the speaker’s office had “given” millions in member items to phantom groups to hold the money and then dole it out off the books. (The practice appears to have started under her predecessor as speaker, Gifford Miller, and continued under Quinn.) Top Quinn aides walked the plank, and former Council Member Miguel Martinez of Manhattan was sentenced to five years for his use of member items, while current Council Member Larry Seabrook of the Bronx has been indicted on a host of charges, some of them tied to his use of member items.

While Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s poll numbers plummeted when he and the speaker pushed through a term-limits extension that the public loathed, Quinn took little heat for her key role in pushing through the law that also bought her four more years to revive her reputation and prospects. This year, she’s been riding high on the same-sex marriage wave and numerous reports that Bloomberg will back her in 2013.

Lately, though, pols have been trying to put her past back in play.

First, the Post ran a scathing editorial last month after Brooklyn Assmblyman and political boss Vito Lopez cleaned up on Council funds, with groups in his orbit receiving $4.4 million from four members close to the speaker.

Then, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a potential 2013 opponent, issued a report calling for an end to member items, calling them “a murky and subjective process… [with] a chilling effect on open debate, not just among elected officials but non-profit leaders as well.”

The issue came up again yesterday in the special election to fill Anthony Weiner’s seat in the Ninth Congressional District, where Republican Bob Turner, who lost a surprisingly close race against Weiner in 2010, has jumped on the slush fund question — trying to force his Democratic opponent, Assemblyman David Weprin, who was the Council Finance Committee Chair in 2008 and 2009, to engage with the scandal.

“David Weprin either knew about these fake charities or he wasn’t doing his job,” Turner campaign spokesman William O’Reil said in a statement. “Did he look the other way, or is Mr. Weprin really that careless with the public’s money?’

While the 9th District Race doesn’t matter much in its own right, the prospective mayoral candidates are surely watching closely to see if this is an issue that moves voters.

This item was updated to correct the name of Larry Seabrook, the Council member who was indicted in 2010.