Tag Archive: Clinton Democratic Club

Oct 29 2012

THE MAN WITH THE “CAMPAIGN MIND”

The 3rd Congressional District was reapportioned with sections of northeast Queens, a part of town where U.S Rep. Steve Israel needed to build name recognition.

The redistricting of 2012 opened the door for New York Congressman Steve Israel to step into the political consciousness of northeast Queens, but despite conventional wisdom his national job as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) wasn’t enough to raise his name recognition, it was a strong grassroots campaign initiative which helped ensure victory on Election Day.

He didn’t grow up in Queens, but he spent every Sunday here with his grandparents and his dad in the shadow of Shea Stadium, dreaming of someday playing centerfield for the New York Mets.

Being new to the area, over the summer his campaign team launched a concentrated effort to raise name recognition in Queens. Virtually overnight, campaign signs peppered the neighborhood, bumper stickers were given out, and soon civic groups and political organizations met members of his campaign team.

Israel’s iconic green and blue “Steve Israel t-shirt” became ubiquitous throughout the new parts of New York’s fifth CD running from the tip of Whitestone and as far South as Glen Oaks.  But some questions remain, who is Steve Israel, what does he stand for, and what will he do for Queens?

Steve grew up in Long Island, deep in Nassau County in Dix Hills, so naturally the question arises, does Israel know what he is getting into with us Queens folk? We don’t know for sure, yet, but what we do know is that Israel hit the campaign trail with style and it’s been hard to ignore.

To put his ear to the beat of the neighborhood, Steve began visiting the Democratic clubs, including the Clinton Democratic Club, where he was welcomed with much fanfare. Upon meeting Israel, the club’s president, Paul Vallone, concluded, “He’s an exemplary leader for New York.”

Israel made further rounds at the FDR Democratic Club, and then with a plethora of civic groups and senior centers all the while meeting one on one with community leaders. Last week Israel was greeting voters at Waldbaum’s in Bay Terrace.

Who is he, where does he stand? Steve Israel has a strong progressive record. “Steve Israel is a champion of progressive values in the United States Congress and has done an excellent job to restore the Democratic Majority in the house,” according to Steve Behar, a community advocate for northeast Queens and a national figure in progressive politics.

The eastern edge of Queens now in NY3 (in blue) includes Bay Terrace, parts of Bayside, Beechhurst, Little Neck, Douglaston, Glen Oaks, Bellaire, and Floral Park. Map from CUNY Center For Urban Research.

But with a fickle constituency like in northeast Queens – a place where large pockets of voters register as Democrats but tend to lean Republican – Israel will have to remain cordial and open to a sense of pragmatism to transcend these differences and win the hearts of this odd mix.

So far he’s off to a great start. “I don’t care if they’re Dems or Republicans – for me before I was taught to be a Democrat, I was taught to be a Mets fan,” joked Israel – a sound bite that will bode well with voters in northeast Queens.

The political world might see Rep. Israel as the chairman of the powerful DCCC, but first and foremost comes the needs of his constituency. “My primary job is to be the representative and my part-time job is to try and take the majority,” said Israel. His statement expressed the dichotomy of his role as both a member of Congress to provide services for the new constituency and as DCCC Chair to help elect Democrats across the nation, however the line between the two can sometimes be blurry. During the interview he emphasized that the needs of the district will be his primary objective but in regards to strategy to retake the majority (which he believes will also serve not only the district, but the entire country) Israel said it’s very straightforward. It’s mostly raising awareness. “We want to remind people under the Republican majority a budget was passed that ends Medicare in order to fund tax cuts for millionaires…the Republican majority for 24 months has been trying to shut down Planned Parenthood instead of trying to open up small businesses.”

He continued, “big corporations that want to outsource jobs to China and receive tax breaks when instead we should be making it easier for middle class families to afford college in New York.” Israel believes we should expand student assistance programs, including amending the tax code. “Middle class families should be able to write off a big part of their college investments. That is a much better investment to growing an economy than letting a giant corporation write off the cost of opening up a plant in China,” the influential Dem said.

The Congressman’s voting record is as liberal progressive as his talking point. On abortion he is pro-choice (NARAL gave him a 100 rating) and he supported same-sex marriage in 2010. Year after year he receives an ‘F’ from the National Rifle Association for his position on gun rights. On the economy, Israel believes in reducing defense spending and increasing income tax brackets in order to balance the budget. In the past he has advocated for federal spending as a means of promoting economic growth and he believes in providing tax incentives to businesses for the purpose of job creation.

In 2007 Israel voted YES on regulating the subprime mortgage industry. In 2009, he voted yes for senate pay raises and in 2006 a no for requiring photo-IDs for federal elections. Israel is against privatization of social security into personal spending accounts and he staunchly defends the Affordable Care Act, or what even President Obama now calls Obamacare.

Ethics reform is also a major part of his platform. I spoke candidly to him about lobbyists in their dual role as campaign managers, funneling clients and money back and forth, and the need for regulation, he raised the ethical dilemmas of Super PACs.  “I have heard plenty of concerns about ethics with respect to elected officials but I have not heard the issue of whether campaign managers should be regulated. I will say that I think this country is in need of fundamental campaign finance reform. You know have these super PACs sanctioned by the Supreme Court that can spend anything, spend any amount, not have to disclose who they are, and they’re funded by special interests who are trying to steal elections. We ought to ban them.”

In his latest initiative Israel introduced legislation to reform the electoral college which would in effect make campaigns more competitive as well as advocating for weekend voting to increase turnout in federal elections.

As chairman of the DCCC, Israel oversees a sophisticated propaganda outfit. He can dump a fortune into your campaign war chest and optimize the use of media to sway the hearts and minds of the electorate. For example last August, ahead of the House vote to repeal Obamacare, the DCCC went on the offensive with their “Drive for 25″ campaign which targeted vulnerable GOP lawmakers on healthcare ahead of the House vote.

The initiative included television ads, online videos and robo-calls, however, despite the DCCC’s best efforts, the plan was ineffective as the Republican controlled House repealed all or parts of the Affordable Care Act more than 33 times. The ads ranged from the awe-inspiring (Check out “Health Care Victory”) to the whimsical (See The Millionaires video regarding Bobby Shilling).

While the leadership position comes with such privileges as helping fellow Dems get elected, it has also cast Israel as a national target for Republicans and the far right. Recent attacks include a NY Post story that suggested Israel’s support of the TARP program is the reason he was granted a ‘bailout’ for his home in Dix Hills. State GOP Chairman Ed Cox didn’t waste any time urging an investigation by the House Ethics Committee. “The Congressman has taken advantage of his position to qualify for a debt reduction that is supposed to be reserved for hard-working families that are experiencing a financial set back,” said Cox, adding, “It is not for a congressman that wants to avoid his obligations and a personal financial loss.”

Israel said he wasn’t fazed by the scurrilous accusations. “It’s politics as usual that Republicans, who are trying to end Medicare, would find phony issues to raise against me,” he said. “It’s unfortunate when you’re one of the national leaders trying to stop Republicans from ending Medicare to fund tax cuts for millionaires, then you should expect to be a target of their attacks – it doesn’t surprise me.”

There are plenty of battles for Steve Israel to fight for in this part of Queens, but for now the Congressman from Long Island is busy building bridges on both sides of the aisle to focus on issues challenging middle class families. “Whether you’re living in Wyandach or Whitestone it’s about strengthening the economic recovery and protecting Medicare for Seniors, and stabilizing taxes.”

Visiting Queens is something he has done for his entire life, so naturally we wanted to know his favorite deli. Cherry Valley? Chrisite’s? No, the Congressman’s favorite deli is Ben’s Kosher in Bay Terrace. He told me a story about how he how he competed in a New York deli fundraiser competition in Washington – an annual tradition in it’s 30th year run by Congressman Gary Ackerman where competitors would invite the best deli to the Hill and present a full spread to Congressman Ackerman to judge the winner.  Israel chose Ben’s Deli and his competition, U.S Rep. Jerry Nadler, chose Liebman’s Deli of Brooklyn. Each won in respective categories.

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Permanent link to this article: http://queens-politics.com/2012/10/steve-israel-dccc-chair-congressman/

Dec 14 2011

The Last Of The Clubhouse Bosses

Where have you gone Tony Seminerio? The NYC mayoral candidates turn their lonely eyes to you. It was the mid-nineties and the sun was blazing down on Ozone Park. Giuliani was in the hot seat at Gracie Mansion, he had just become the GOP Mayor earlier that year thanks to a powerhouse political club in South Queens.

Strolling down the block past La’ Bella Vita on any given evening you could hear the sounds of Frank Sinatra and the clinking glasses of a toastmaster. Tony Seminerio sat at the back table, the pungent aroma of cigar smoke would fill the stillness of the air as the revolving door opened and closed at what seemed like a thousand times a night.

It was that time of year again and the candidates were getting ready. Mayoral hopefuls had descended from their chic towers in the burgeoning metropolis to make the ten-minute journey over the East River and into Queens to jockey for district endorsements.

And it was then when Assemblyman Tony Seminerio was in his prime. He was already in the state Assembly for twenty years and was already a legend. He would walk in and everybody who worked the room went wild. Thousands of constituents would ask him for help, elected officials across the state would come to pay respect to a larger than life Assemblyman.

When Tony walked into a room in south Queens everyone acknowledged him. It was out of respect. A hundred people would rise to their feet as levity was swept away by pure admiration. “Hey how ya doin’ Tony good to see ya” said the doorman. “Not too bad kid I sent your son’s resume to City Hall.” Tony responded with his thick Queens accent, a question he must have been asked a thousand times before.

Tony pulled off the political Lufthansa heist for the Mayors Seat in the nineteen nineties, and he was in the perfect position to do so.

Everyone was about to find out, the 38th A.D Democratic club didn’t shine shoes anymore.

It felt like it was 1955. Tony would throw parties; classy parties and the young heavy metal looking guys would drink beer next to the men donning their Armani suits sipping cocktails. The spirit of fraternity permeated the air. In this clubhouse, brotherhood reigned supreme. The stock 1950s characters lined up at the bar comparing campaign stories, plotting their next moves and generally shooting the concordant breeze. It was an old school atmosphere, a rebirth, a renaissance, a snapshot back in time into the glory days of yesteryear where everyone was considered family.

The club’s prowess and reputation was built on the notorious charisma of Assemblyman Tony Seminerio – a cigar smoking, red wine drinking tough guy that could have been a character in a Scorsese film but was also known to have a heart of gold and would make an effort to help as many people as he could whenever they needed it. He was Tony the Gent. When people came to him with a real workable problem Tony often got misty eyed and took his personal time to help them in any community affair. While most legislators barely help constituents within their legislative duty, Tony would go above and beyond and do anything he could to help.

When most legislators have press conferences filled with false promises and false actions, Tony never held a press conference; he would assist people in total silence.

In the Mid-nineties, Tony was able to walk through the doors of Pataki’s office, Bruno’s office, and Giuliani’s office without a slight step.

Sheldon Silver’s staff called him the dream killer,

he was the only democratic lawmaker whom after Sheldon silver passed a bill in the state Assembly had enough clout with the republican state Senators to have the bill killed. In 1988, Tony helped state Senator, Serphin Maltese get elected and as payback Tony was gerrymandered to send a message, don’t ever help out the GOP. But instead of getting rid of him, they made him.

At Tony’s meetings, Giuliani would come in with his P.B.A entourage and sit at the opposite table as Queens Democratic boss Tom Manton the predecessor of Joe Crowley while Alan Hevisi would work the room.

Tony’s club had become the base for Republican chieftains like George Pataki, Al Stabile, Thomas Ognibene and Dennis Gallagher – they all had a home at the club. Tom Long would walk in and Tony would greet him with the respect that a Statesman would deserve.

The republicans would sometimes sit next to Chuck Schumer and Anthony Weiner. It was a weird hodgepodge but while most clubs are lucky to get their Assembly Member to show, hundreds danced while Tony Seminerio sang Italian songs.

Before he was elected to Assembly, Tony served as the Vice-President of the powerful Correction Officers union. Even though he was a social conservative and a pro-life advocate, Tony never swayed from his union roots. In return for supporting pro union legislation, the unions offered him political support – boots on the ground, which became his operative base.

Tony’s ascension to political boss climaxed as the point man, the go-to-guy for candidates vying for the votes in Queens. Hundreds owed him allegiance because he was masterful in his selection for patronage posts and favor trading.  When Giuliani struggled with the Queens GOP, he went for a sit down with Tony. After all, the 38th AD was the only district Pataki took in ’98 outside of Staten Island.

Tony had a legion of lawyers, union officials, correction officers, and constituents whom would work at his behest.

Before the dawn of the Internet and social networking, Tony would make one phone call and could organize a busload of hardened campaigners and send them to any part of the city to aid an election. He even had a group of young heavy metal guys called The Vultures whom hung out in Forest park. Tony would send them around knocking at doors. They were scary looking, but effective.

The 38th A.D club had a major contribution with Republicans like Thomas Ognibene, Dennis Gallagher, Serphin Maltese and Rudy Giuliani. Even Tom Long the Queens chair of the Conservative Party received a standing ovation and it was for a good reason, as a thank you. At the time, most of their campaign armies came courtesy of Tony. Even though they were Democrats, the 38th A.D club had become, in part, the foot soldiers of the Republican Party.

He also helped his fellow Dems. In 1996 when Ann-Margaret Carrozza ran against Doug Prescott, Shelly Silver made a personal request to Tony for help. In response, Tony sent a hundred foot soldiers into Bayside. Even Carrozza’s campaign manager was connected to him. Tom Catipano, who is also a former Assembly Member, had served as Tony’s consigliere for four decades.

When Eliot Spitzer ran for Attorney General of New York, he came by himself to a trattoria in Queens to kiss Tony’s ring. They brokered a deal and Tony agreed to help by sending soldiers to hand out fliers. Shortly after Spitzer’s victorious election, he took his time returning Tony’s phone calls – in a sense Spitzer was ducking him, a bad move that would later come back to haunt him as it wouldn’t be long before they would see each other again in the Capital. While standing in the well, Tony chatted amongst his colleagues.

When Spitzer walked into the room, Tony’s calm demeanor changed in the blink of an eye.

He unleashed a thunderous roar that echoed across the chamber, “Oh, you don’t return my calls? Go fuck yourself! Four years comes around real quick. ” Spitzer turned red as a group of legislators laughed at the top of their lungs.

Are there any clubs that could help out a candidate in the way Tony’s club could have helped a Marty Golden or Ray Kelly? With the Queens GOP engaged in a great civil war, the loss of clout compounded by a pyrrhic victory by Phil Ragusa over Tom Ognibene, the party is in shambles and far too fractal to field any viable candidates.

Presently, most Democratic clubs don’t fair any better than their Republican counterparts with the exception of clubs that focus on leadership, networking, attracting young people and performing community service, a winning combination.

It’s a strong formula for efficacy that is not mutually exclusive of strong leadership. The best clubs meet these requirements while  the rest are small and disillusioned by family dynasties and lobbyists connected to elected officials. For example an inside source said, “Powhattan, Tammany, it’s not what it used to be, everyone’s old.” Jumping to the other side of Queens, The Jefferson Club has twenty members and ten of them want to run for higher office. RFK is also a maturing organization. Ask certain clubs what community service they have performed lately and they’ll stare at you inquisitively, perhaps even hand over a small check – a seemingly empty gesture when compared to real political help like boots on the ground to collect petitions and help with gotv, and perhaps, maybe even a little genuine community service.

The strength of a club is measured in petitions. How many can you deliver? Typically today, the clubs are not only smaller in number then Tony’s club, not to mention aging, but they are highly unlikely to support a Republican candidate.

The conditions that put Mayor Giuliani into office no longer exist in Queens. Since then, if any Republican wants to win the Mayoralty they’d have to ally with a powerful Democratic club. Unless that happens it’s hard to imagine another Republican winning citywide office. Nowadays, a billionaire Independent can buy the election and wouldn’t even need a powerful Democratic house to bolster their ranks as the Republican party is so weak former police commissioner Ray Kelly, Marty Gold, and even Dan Halloran have been rumored to run for mayor. That’s how weak it is.

The heyday of the 38th A.D was a ten year span from 1993-2003. The club diminished when Giuliani left office and finally lost its fire when Tony had a heart attack. He couldn’t keep up with the lifestyle after his near brush with death.

Tony served as Assembly member beginning in 1978 but finally resigned in 2009 after pleading guilty to a single count of fraud, saying he had wrongly advanced the interests of a consulting client in connection with state business, according to a report in the New York Times.

In 2010, he passed away while serving out his prison sentence. With Tony out of the picture the fallout was disastrous.  Lobbying\consulting firms swelled in power and prestige as the heyday of the old clubhouse bosses came to an end.

Would Tony have payed such  groups? Doubtful, as he was his own powerbroker. This siege is underway across Queens from Astoria to Little Neck and there are only a few independent voices that stand in the way. Tony must be rolling in his grave.

To put it into perspective, Tony’s 38th A.D Democratic club was by far the largest democratic club in Queens County; it dwarfed any club that exists today. Presently, the 38th A.D Democratic club now boasts 20 members under the tutelage of incumbent Assemblyman Mike Miller and Councilwoman Liz Crowley. Down from the Seminerio heyday when there where over 750 active members.

As a citywide candidate, you can make a thousand phone calls yet it is unlikely that one political club or one Republican county organization could have a major impact. Why? Because Tony Seminerio was the last of the clubhouse bosses.

Permanent link to this article: http://queens-politics.com/2011/12/the-last-of-the-club-house-bosses/

Oct 20 2011

UFT Spox Feels Optimistic About Chancellor Walcott

I was at the Clinton Democratic Club and our guest speaker of the evening was Queens Coordinator of the UFT, Dermot Smyth who came to give an update on city schools. He gave us the straight scoop.

Budget cuts, overcrowding, increasing parental involvement, and decentralizing an out-of-touch bureaucracy at the DOE were the primary concerns amidst a room packed with civic leaders and concerned parents.

His comments give us an inside look at what the UFT has been advocating, and he makes some valid points:

 

Dermot Smyth, Queens Coordinator of the UFT addressed the Clinton Democratic Club. See what he has to say on a host of issues with this QP exclusive report.

On Overcrowding:

“In order to serve our students we need a smaller group in the classroom. We have 20,000 new students coming in and less teachers.”

On Community Outreach:

“We have to strengthen community alliances and work with parents in tandem.”

 On Mayor Bloomberg:

“We cannot allow the Mayor to play politics with our children’s education”

“Bloomberg sold to the public that he’s done a great job. He hasn’t.”

“He’s pro-education, Pro-Bloomberg”

 On Chancellor Dennis Walcott:

“We have a chance because he [Dennis] will listen, he’s changed the tone.”

He stood with us. He talks about Dial-a-Teacher where students can call up for homework help for free.”

“Yes he has to do Bloomberg’s bidding, but I’m optimistic.”

On Former Chancellor Joel Klein:

“Disengage was Joe’s policy.”

On Priorities of Budget Cuts:

“When money has dried-up, we must protect our children –  we should do without, the city is not in as bad of a financial state as the Mayor makes it out to be. How is it fare to put kids on the pipeline?”’

On The Current Role of The DOE:

“Centralization from on high is wrong.”

 On Future Prospectus:

“More fights are down the pipeline. I rep teachers and they have already been cut to the bone”

We need new revenue sources.”

On Role of UFT:

“We will stand with you to protect our schools.”

A Call To Action:

“We need to standup and work together with elected officials so stand with us and protect our children.”

We have to protect our schools as a community institution.”

Outrage

Smyth answered questions from parents dissatisfied with the response of their concerns to the DOE. Joe Vaccarro, a Clinton Democratic Club Member, spoke of a personal experience trying to illicit a response from the central bureaucracy.

“We had every parent write a letter and the Mayors advance team didn’t even show up”.

With what Vaccarro believes to be a boilerplate response, 

“The Mayor told us to go to hell – in a nice way,” he said.

Smyth responded with a sense of empathy to Vaccarro’s concerns.

“The Central BOE is blamed with blanket decisions. It is not looked at from a community standpoint,” according to Smyth.

Darren Kaplan of College Point was outraged with “Phantom Busses” that due to nothing less than an out-of-touch centralized bureaucracy have become a mismanaged resource. Under the present policy, students are denied entry to near empty yellow school busses for no other reason than red tape. The situation is compounded by poor logistical planning by the DOE.

“Even if there’s only three students on the bus,” he said with emphasis,

“My kid has been denied entry, she can’t get to school. There is no junior high or high school in College Point, 194 in Whitestone — is the only one, and they can’t get to it under these conditions.”

“On the night before school started at 5:30 PM, I got a recorded voicemail from the principal: No bus service for 7th and 8th graders.”

“They suggested I give my 13 year old five bucks to take the city bus!”

This is outrageous. But luckily at the Clinton Democratic Club, I counted at least 16 civic and labor leaders. President Paul Vallone encouraged us to take the message back to our respective clubs and organizations. Dermot gave out his contact information to all of the attendees. There was also some scuttlebut about Occupy The Bus Stop at JHS 194. There was a lot of networking and our members did a great job expressing their specific concerns to Smyth who will take the message back to the UFT.

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Permanent link to this article: http://queens-politics.com/2011/10/uft/

Permanent link to this article: http://queens-politics.com/2011/01/clinton-democratic-club-meets/


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