Speaker Quinn tries to quell Council troops upset over Slushgate probe

Speaker Quinn tries to quell Council troops upset over Slushgate probe
by Adam Lisberg, Matthew Lysiak and Elizabeth Benjamin
New York Daily News

Monday, April 14th 2008, 4:00 AM -- City Council Speaker Christine Quinn burned up the phone lines over the weekend, trying to calm an uprising by rank-and-file Council members infuriated by the financial scandal on her watch. Her fellow lawmakers were caught by surprise when Quinn's secret slush fund was exposed, then were blindsided again Friday when she said she would reform the system by limiting their discretionary funds as well. That prompted a series of extraordinary meetings by delegations from Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, Council sources said.

"We're upset," Councilman Erik Martin Dilan said at Brooklyn Borough Hall last night, after the Brooklyn delegation emerged from a 2-1/2-hour meeting. "The Council wasn't briefed about the investigation, and now the speaker is proposing changes," Dilan said. "We acknowledge we need change, but don't want to cede the power of the City Council." Councilman Kendall Stewart, who was subpoenaed in connection with the probe last fall but said he is not a target, added, "The changes that the speaker is talking about cannot be allowed to happen. A lot of our smaller groups would be left out." Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron has called for Quinn to step down, and although other members tossed around the word coup yesterday, they said there were no plots to oust her from her post.

Quinn spokesman Jamie McShane said the speaker acknowledges the hurt feelings and is calling and meeting with her colleagues to address them. "Chris acknowledges that she should have consulted her members prior to announcing the reforms," McShane said. "She's reaching out, seeking feedback and suggestions, and she'll continue to do so throughout the week."

Brooklyn Councilman Lew Fidler told the Daily News there was no reason to push Quinn from the speaker's office - just a need for "better communication."

The slush fund scandal - in which money was parked in the names of phony groups to pay for midyear expenses - has muddied Quinn's reputation as a reformer, which she had hoped to use in a run for mayor next year. Some Council members suggested she recuse herself from budget negotiations and that the Council's Ethics Committee should probe the multimillion-dollar funds. The changes were praised by Mayor Bloomberg and good-government groups, but could make it harder for members to dole out pork in their districts. That worries some candidates planning to run for the Council in 2009, when 36 of the 51 members will be term-limited from office.

"People have been unnerved for some time by [Quinn's] complete abdication of power to the executive," said one lawmaker. "She has surrendered the Council to the mayor for a couple of years now."