2008-06-26 / View From the Middle

View From The Middle

How The Council's Slush Fund Scandal Hits Home
By Charles Rogers

Unfortunately, there are those in our society who are downtrodden. Although they have tried to "make it" in life, somehow - whether by providence or God's will - they have not been successful. We've all seen them and, even if their very arrogance, at times, makes us want to turn away, we'll throw the quarter or dollar into the proverbial tin cup because, after all, if we think of it, "there, but for the grace of God, go I."

There are some who have been successful and then have seen their businesses go down and down until there is none. Jobs are lost; families are shattered. The waning economy has done its job on the individual and, lo, he - or she - must finally reach out and depend on others. Meanwhile, in some, you can see that dependency becomes almost unbearable after awhile. While some can weather the horrors brought on at times by the human tragedy and fight back, there are those who just can't.

Wisely, our society has taken note of such dilemmas and provides, as well as it can, for those unfortunates. The philosophy is not to judge how those citizens got there, but what we can do to help them. Now! Immediately!

Luckily, there are compassionate people out there who have established many agencies through the years - charitable groups, if you don't mind alluding to them that way - who help provide for the needy. Here, we call them non-profit agencies, that is, they are funded by either charities or by the government, with, supposedly, money and services going to support the needy. In cities and towns throughout the country, non-profits are what put our form of society a cut above others.

Except for grants from individual philanthropies or philanthropists, funding is usually handled by our elected representatives who see that the communities under their governance have the opportunity to use certain tax money for the non-profits. That's why the "slush fund" scandal that involved the City Council a couple of months ago is farther reaching than many may think.

What the council did (supposedly unbeknownst to Speaker Christine Quinn) was allocate funds to "phantom" groups, so that, when a favored member needed money for a pet project in his (or her) neighborhood district, voilà!, there it was. Meanwhile, some of that money could have been going to charities that needed it; to worthy causes; to NON-PROFITS! Instead, it was doled out as pork: patronage appropriation money for pet projects in order to pander, usually to people who might get a politician reelected.

As soon as the slush fund was discovered, around last April, the city's Department of Investigation (DOI) froze almost a hundred city contracts with non-profit agencies. All of them. Some of them, of course, were beyond reproach and their contracts were renewed right away. Some didn't require a heck of a lot of investigation, or a heck of a lot of money, and those contracts were taken care of within a short period of time.

Some, however, have taken longer to investigate. They are still closed and have no contract. They cannot do business. Those needy people are still needy people, but their needs are more desperate. According to an article in The New York Post recently, one of the agencies is the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty. While they are not destitute, they have lost a great deal of funding; money that would help their immigrant population and the poverty stricken. The Met Council, as it is called, has for years been a staple of support and relief for the impoverished. Now no one knows what will happen from this point - just because of the slush fund scandal.

I remember the many, many times the Jewish Community Council of Canarsie hosted food give-aways near the Passover or Chanukah holidays as people lined up halfway around the block where Remsen Heights Jewish Center was located just to get hold of some free cheese and bread and maybe some matzo. These staples were donated for this altruistic cause by the Met Council.

We don't know if they will be able to afford it this year unless their normal contract with the city is reinstated.

Another agency mentioned by The Post is the stalwart Citizens Committee for New York City, a 33-year-old non-profit that, well, along with other duties, is responsible for directing non-profit agencies to the proper sources for funding. Hell, now they can't even help themselves get money!

These are just two agencies among dozens affected because of either incompetence or greed. The Department of Investigation has not yet completed its investigation. Meanwhile, it should suffice to say, "…but for the grace of God…"

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