Sunday, June 24, 2018

Where are Today’s Progressives?

Tammany Hall Still Runs NYC's Political Parties…/tammany-hall-st…

Disgraced Brooklyn Party Boss Regains Influence
Theodore Hamm Jun 28  INDYPENDENT
He’s retired, out of politics,” says Brooklyn district leader Geoffrey Davis regarding former Democratic party boss Clarence Norman. But then again, Davis adds, “Does anyone ever really retire?”
Since his return from prison in 2011, Norman has indeed steadily reasserted his influence. Starting with Ken Thompson’s successful 2013 effort to topple his nemesis, District Attorney Joe Hynes, Norman has played a key role in local elections. This past May, Norman effectively chose the Brooklyn party’s candidate for surrogate court judge on this fall’s ballot.

Judge selection may not sound like a consequential move, but backing candidates is one of the party organization’s main functions. And picking judges has been a primary concern of the current Democratic boss, Frank Seddio.

Norman went to prison for a slew of campaign violations, including extortion in civil court judge campaigns. His return to backstage influence raises important questions about the future of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party. That’s especially the case because many insiders predict that Norman, via his ties to the ascendant Hakeem Jeffries wing of the party, will exert plenty of influence when it comes to choosing Seddio’s successor.
For various county party organizations, the local courthouses function like a Tammany Hall patronage mill, albeit for white-collar types. Queens Democratic boss Joe Crowley, for example, has long ensured that his cronies control that county’s surrogate court, where unclaimed estates serve as a piggy bank for connected lawyers. Crowley’s consigliere, Gerard Sweeney, reportedly collected more than $30 million from 2006-2016 for his work “administering” the estates of people who died without heirs.

The civil branch of Queens Supreme Court that Crowley and Sweeney run is considered by many to be a “foreclosure mill.” Frank Seddio, whose law firm represents lenders, has been trying to help Brooklyn’s civil Supreme Court match that rep. Two judges who have worked on behalf of borrowers have both fallen out with Seddio (and as a result, both were smeared in the New York Post). In her federal lawsuit against Seddio, former judge Laura Jacobson alleges that the party boss helped ensure a former bank attorney would oversee the accelerated foreclosure process in Brooklyn.

During Norman’s reign as party leader in the 1990s and early 2000s, several Brooklyn judges he helped elect found themselves in the headlines, although not because they were fighting on behalf of the little guy. One Kings County Supreme Court judge accepted cash as wells as cigars and rum in exchange for favorable divorce proceedings. Another was caught taking $18,000 in unmarked bills in court. Meanwhile, one of Norman’s surrogate court judges, Michael Feinberg, steered millions in excessive legal fees to a longtime colleague. After Feinberg was forced out, his replacement was none other than Frank Seddio, who resigned two years later amid allegations that he funneled campaign money to his inner circle.

In 2003, Hynes began to investigate Norman, his former ally, for allegedly “selling judgeships.” The editorial boards and Mayor Bloomberg cheered Hynes’ crusade, although many insiders suspect that the DA was motivated mainly by his anger at Norman, because he felt that the party boss didn’t work hard enough to squash Sandra Roper’s upstart 2001 campaign for him. Between 2005 and 2007, Brooklyn prosecutors — led by Hynes hatchet man Mike Vecchione — brought four trials against Norman. After scoring various convictions for minimal campaign infractions, Vecchione nailed Norman for forcing civil court judge candidates to pay his preferred consultants.

Late in his ill-fated attempt to fend off Ken Thompson’s 2013 bid to unseat him, Hynes began warning of Norman’s role in helping Thompson’s campaign. But the charge didn’t help the six-term incumbent, whose tenure was marked by a large number of wrongful convictions. In last year’s race, Norman — via his longtime ally, political consultant Musa Moore — initially supported Patricia Gatling, one of the two black candidates in the race. After first pocketing between $18,000 and 30,000 from Gatling, Moore then began to work for Eric Gonzalez, pocketing another $30,000 from the eventual winner. Such handiwork puts the former party boss on better terms with the current DA.
While Norman has mostly operated behind the scenes, his name surfaced in the headlines last year during the Bedford Armory controversy. BFC Partners, the project’s developer, pledged at least $500,000 to the Local Development Corporation of Crown Heights, which Norman oversees. Norman was allied with Laurie Cumbo in her reelection bid last year against Ede Fox, who made the Armory a central issue. Critics of the project fear that it will only contribute to the area’s gentrification, but political players gain far more by working closely with developers than against them.
The transfer of properties at Surrogate Court also can accelerate gentrification. Norman’s pick for that position, Civil Court Judge Harriet Thompson, has been part of a team of Brooklyn judges tasked with reducing the backlog of foreclosure cases in Brooklyn. While Thompson reportedly closed nearly 400 cases in 2017, whether she did so on terms favorable to lenders or borrowers is not clear. Her actions in such proceedings would be fair game if she faced a competitor in the race, however.
But at the moment, Thompson has no challenger. According to veteran Brooklyn political consultant Gary Tilzer, who has managed several successful campaigns by judge candidates not backed by the party, the uncontested race is part of a larger trend. “The reform political clubs in Brooklyn no longer care about challenging the machine,” laments Tilzer. “And the courthouse is the lifeblood of the party.”
One reform-oriented group that is calling attention to party decision-making, New Kings Democrats (NKD), was recently accused of “political gentrification” by a handful of black district leaders. NKD is organizing a “Rep Your Block” campaign aimed at expanding membership in the party committee. “We’re trying to do basic things like get open agendas for the committee meetings, yet we’re seen as the enemy,” says NKD president Brandon West.

District leaders appear to fear that NKD’s effort could eventually undermine their current power to pick the next party leader. Norman, among others, is taking a keen interest in who that figure will be. The current favorite is Walter Mosley, who occupies the Clinton Hill assembly seat formerly held by his mentor, Hakeem Jeffries. Mosley has made no secret of his interest in becoming the next party boss. The only question is whether he will challenge Seddio this September or two years from now.
Mosley’s ascension would expand Jeffries’s control over the party, and Norman has longstanding ties to Mosley too. Seddio’s base is in South Brooklyn but he’s also close to Borough President Eric Adams as well as to the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats and other political clubs. Yet other than control over the courthouses, ballots and other turf, it’s not clear what any of the factions of the Brooklyn Democratic Party actually stand for.

What is clear is that Clarence Norman, still only 66 years old, shows no signs of retiring anytime soon.

The Founding Mother and Location of the New Deal Progressive Movement in NYC are Endangered of Disappearing  

By Gary Tilzer
Today’s elected progressives have converted the progressive movement into identity politics away from the original values and mission of its founding woman Frances Perkins.  The progressive movement started during in the 1890’s under Theodore Roosevelt and hit its full effects during the reign of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his labor secretary Francis Perkins.  Perkins was the first woman cabinet member, who helped to develop and shape’s FDR’s New Deal, including social security, minimum wage, 40-hour work week and an end to child labor.  
In the early 1900s, Frances Perkins, who was a social worker at Hartley House Settlement House, met the local democratic district leader Thomas J. McManus of Hell’s Kitchen.  This meeting started Perkins’ career of lobbying Tammany Hall politicians such as Governor Al Smith and his successor Franklin D Roosevelt to embrace her progressive solution to problems including lifting Americans out of poverty and restoring economic security and safety to working families and their children.

The progressive’s New Deal began on March 25, 1911, the day of the Triangle Shirt Factory Fire in New York City.  Perkins exposed dangerous working conditions in factories after the fire.  She became instrumental in working with Governor Roosevelt, Mayor Wagner and the political bosses in turning this tragedy into progressive legislation that broke control of political bosses and their real estate and business clients in blocking fire and worker safety laws.

Now in what is called by many a progressive city, developers are going after the Hartley Settlement House, the place where Perkin stated her career that changed America.  “The loss of Hartley House would not only be a loss to the local community, served by the settlement house, but also a significant loss to the political history of the progressive movement in a city that claims to be the most progressive city in the world”, said Jim Kaplan, the President of the National Democratic Club.  Kaplan, a published historian of New York City, is deeply concerned that the settlement house building located in trendy Hell’s Kitchen could be destroyed for another condo apartment building.  He is currently working with the local community board to change the street name in front of the Hartley House to honor Perkins.  If these progressives understood their own movement and history, they would be marching on City Hall and demanding that the building be land marked. 

New York’s government, crippled by corruption and incompetence, needs changes that are as effective as the reforms that Francis Perkins implemented with the progressive movement of the early 1900s’.  Modern progressives have done nothing to stop lobbyists at the center of the pay to play corruption in City Hall and Albany.  Today’s progressives are organized around important social issues such as gay, transgender and immigrant rights, building bike lanes and calling for more transparency in a city where there is none.  However, in a city where most elected officials call themselves progressives, a growing number of homeless live on the city’s streets, lack of affordable housing and rising rents force thousands out of their homes and public housing tenants freeze in the winter time.  Perkins’ progressive mission was to get the job done.  The public is better served when the special interests’ control of government is kept in check and blocked if necessary, just like Francis Perkins did in her day.  Modern progressives create an illusion of tackling problems such as lack of affordable housing by tweeting and issuing press releases.  They deliberately fail to solve problems for fear of harming the clients of political bosses and lobbyists that got them elected.  

Government corruption is at a crisis level because the norms that prevented lobbyists from running campaigns have been broken.  In an apparent conflict of interest, many recent progressive’s campaigns are run by lobbyists and funded by the developers and other city contractors who are clients of these lobbyists.  DUMBO developer Two Trees employs lobbyist campaign consultant Berlin Rosen, who has run over a dozen Working Families council campaigns and is one of de Blasio “secret agent” campaign managers.  Berlin worked for de Blasio’s PAC, Campaign for One NY, which was shut down after the start of the FBI investigation.  It appears that today’s lobbyist campaign managers are akin to the landlords and their political bosses back in early 1900s, who blocked fire safety laws before the Triangular Shirt Factory tragedy, prior to Hartley House’s Francis Perkins. 
As the late journalist Wayne Barrett said, “lobbyists make kings, so they can make deals with the kings they made.”  Modern progressives do not push to resolve problems like Francis Perkins strived to do in her day.  On the contrary, these new so-called progressives rely on the city’s lobbyists and party bosses, the kings, to stay in office.  

(Person note: this article was rejected by a couple of NYC's leading media organizations)