The King of Discretionary Dollars
by Courtney Gross
Jun 25, 2009
Councilmember Lewis Fidler, it's time to take your seat as the council's top earner.
The Brooklyn council member and assistant majority leader sponsored more discretionary dollars in this year's budget than any other member, garnering more than $1.3 million for 83 different programs. While a lot of that funding will go to nonprofits or schools in his Canarsie district, some of it is allocated for youth programs throughout the city.
"I advocate very, very aggressively for youth groups throughout the city and for Brooklyn groups," said Fidler, who chairs the council's Youth Services Committee. "I certainly make no apologizes for bringing taxpayer money back to my district."
Fidler's dollars include $95,000 to the Bergen Beach Youth Organization for senior services; almost $415,000 to the Bergen Basin Community Development Corporation for youth, senior and housing programs; and a $10,000 check for a puppetry program at P.S. 236. These allocations were approved by the City Council last week in a vote of 50 to 1.
Though Fidler was able to hand out thousands for his favorite programs, others were not so lucky. According to an analysis by Gotham Gazette, council members Tony Avella and Eric Gioia were at the bottom of our list, getting the smallest amount of discretionary dollars at $358,321 each. Gioia was the only member to vote against the budget this year. He did so, he said last week, so there would be more time for members, the public and the media to vet organizations slated for the council's discretionary funding.
In response to his funding allocation, Eric Koch, a Gioia spokesman, said in an e-mail: "Councilman Gioia has been outspoken about his belief that the process for member items leaves too much room for waste, misuse and at times corruption. What's sad is that need and merit aren't the determination for which worthy community organizations get funding. It's a broken system that needs wholesale reform."
**This chart shows the amount of funding each member sponsored. It doesn't include funding that was sponsored by more than one member.
These figures include $108,750 for aging programs and $151,714 for youth programs that each council member receives. It does not include items that were sponsored by more than one member.
Every member receives additional funding for what the council calls "local" programming. Much of this funding goes to local nonprofits for programming, from Little League to community theater.
In the past, members have said those close to Council Speaker Christine Quinn receive the most funding, while those who receive far less have a tendency to get on her bad side.
When asked how funding was disseminated, a spokesperson for Quinn, Maria Alvarado, said: “There are various different factors that go into making decisions regarding funding allocations."
For the most part, those who receive the most funding have leadership positions or head up influential committees. For instance, David Weprin, who is chairman of the council's Finance Committee, received $928,321, and Domenic Recchia, who is chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee, got more than $1.2 million in discretionary dollars.
Of the 22 members who voted against term limits, 12 were on the bottom half of our funding list.
Twenty members made a repeat visit to the bottom half of the list, while the top 10 is nearly identical to fiscal year 2009. Three members on the lower half, Eric Ulrich, Julissa Ferreras and Elizabeth Crowley, were all chosen in special elections and have been serving for less than seven months.
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