City politicians received big campaign donations and funneled tax dollars to developers

Some city politicians received big campaign donations and funneled tax dollars to developers
New York Daily News
by Benjamin Lesser
Sunday, July 12th 2009

City Councilman Al Vann has funneled hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to a construction company with a history of complaints for shoddy work, records show.

The Brooklyn Democrat sponsored $880,000 for Delight Construction, including $300,000 after homeowners complained to him about the company's lousy work on a Bedford-Stuyvesant project.

Vann got taxpayers to subsidize the firm's construction of affordable housing from a little-known pool of public money known as the capital discretionary fund.

This is the Council's other slush fund - about $375 million this fiscal year alone, or eight times the size of the controversial, better-known slush fund Council members use for pet programs.

In fiscal 2009, Council members set aside capital money for more than 1,000 building and renovation projects, mostly specific schools, parks and libraries.

A handful of times, the Daily News found, money was set aside for for-profit entities, usually to build affordable housing.

Some of the beneficiaries returned the favor with campaign donations.

Vann got $3,000 in campaign money from Delight execs between 2000 and 2002.

Not all Council members think that's such a hot idea.

Manhattan Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito sponsored $1 million for Loewen Development's 111-unit project in East Harlem, but didn't take a dime from Loewen.

"I don't take accept money from developers," she said, although she declined to criticize Council members who do. "I have my personal policy. I don't pass judgment."

Council members have used this money for years, but have publicly identified who sponsored what only in the last two years.

The News identified six private developers who got sums ranging from $250,000 to $3 million from Vann, Mark-Viverito and four other Council members.

For various reasons, including the downturn in the economy, the money has yet to be released.

Government agencies pick the developers.

Council members then target funds for specific developers and projects.

Here's the lineup:

Al Vann

Two years ago, The News reported problems with 29 two-family homes Delight Construction built in Bed-Stuy. Today, residents say, not much as changed.

"Everybody has got problems with Delight," said Michael Brown, 54, who rents a Delight unit on Clifton Place. "Ain't nothing done properly."

Brown talks of a leaking ceiling, of improperly installed kitchen tiles and cabinets, of difficulty getting Delight to fix problems.

Shanita Wells, one of the original buyers in 2006, has been fighting Delight since the day the sale closed.

She said she met with Vann and Delight owner Mohammed Aziz in 2007 and is not happy the councilman slotted taxpayer dollars for the company.

"I would tell him to take care of his community," she said.

Since 2007, the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development has forced Delight to fix up four of the units. Completion of six more was delayed a year due to "environmental remediation."

Housing spokesman Seth Donlin said owner Aziz is still fixing mistakes and met with residents as recently as last month.

The $300,000 Vann sponsored is for construction of 14 new two-family homes. The city says nothing moves forward until Aziz repairs existing problems.

"We're still watching to see how he deals with these problems," Donlin said.

Delight's spokeswoman, Carolyn Daly, would not say how Delight approached Vann. She said Aziz "has a purely professional relationship" with Vann.

She said the company has fixed all the "minor issues" cited by a "small number of owner occupants."

She said Delight provided three years of no-cost maintenance though only one year was part of the original agreement.

Vann spokeswoman Mandela Jones said he supports Delight: "To his understanding, the problems have been fixed."

Maria Del Carmen Arroyo

In the last two fiscal years, the Bronx councilwoman sponsored $1.5 million for two affordable housing projects done by Queens-based TNS Development and it's construction arm, Great American Construction.

On April 16, 2008, company executives wrote four checks totaling $8,500 to Arroyo's campaign. Council requests for capital expenditures for fiscal 2009 were due that month.

In that fiscal year Arroyo sponsored $500,000 for 25 units of affordable housing and 7,000 square feet of commercial space for a TNS project called Longwood Gardens in the Bronx.

She's seeking $1 million more for a second TNS project called Prospect Court.

It would have 58 apartments and 12,000 square feet of commercial space.

TNS' president, Thomas Metallo, said he didn't remember writing Arroyo a $2,500 check.

"My intention is to allocate capital funds to projects that will reduce rents and create more affordable housing for residents who live in my community," Arroyo said.

Annabel Palma

More than a third of the $30,000 Bronx Councilwoman Palma raised in campaign donations ($10,500) came from entities affiliated with Idle LLC.

As it happens, this fiscal year Palma sponsored $3 million for Idle to build 134 units of affordable housing in the Bronx.

Palma said her support of the Idle project reflects her longstanding mission to increase affordable housing in the city.

"Projects like this make sure that the people who make our communities great places to live can continue to live there," she said.

Idle did not return calls.

Peter Vallone Jr.

Councilman Vallone sponsored $250,000 toward D&F Development's construction of 58 affordable apartments for seniors next to the St. George Episcopal Church in Astoria.

That was on top of state-sponsored tax credits that allowed D&F to raise $7 million to help fund the project.

Executives with D&F and their wives donated $7,500 to Vallone's 2009 campaign. D&F did not return calls.

Vallone said D&F requested a subsidy to cover the cost of preserving the church, which owns the land.

He also noted he has been friends with D&F partner Leonard D'Amico for years.

"I would be disappointed if he didn't donate to me," Vallone said.

While acknowledging that most of the $250,000 will end up with D&F, Vallone said his "sole motivation was preserving this beautiful landmark church."

Christine Quinn

Speaker Quinn sponsored $2 million for the Dermot Company's plans to build open space as part of 800 mostly market-rate apartments in the Hudson Yards development.

Dermot execs have donated $24,750 to Quinn in the last two years.

Dermot failed to obtain adequate financing to build the towers and the project is off. Dermot did not return calls and Quinn declined comment.