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DiBrienza scandal has him rethinking Council race

The Brooklyn Paper
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Ex-Councilman Steve DiBrienza is considering pulling the plug on his race to win back his old seat in the wake of a growing scandal over yearly, six-figure payouts from the City Council’s so-called “slush fund” to the non-profit DiBrienza has run since leaving the legislature in 2001.

The former lawmaker’s campaign tailspin began last Friday when the New York Post reported that the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation — the shadowy Windsor Terrace group DiBrienza founded after his failed race for public advocate — has been entirely funded by $1.19 million in taxpayer funds it has received from the Council since 2002.

The money is supposedly spent on youth sports teams and organize anti-graffiti drives.

When reached by The Brooklyn Paper, DiBrienza said his group sponsored soccer, basketball and softball teams at three Catholic schools in Windsor Terrace and Park Slope.

But a sports director at one of the schools said he hadn’t heard of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation or seen DiBrienza in years.

“I know all the sponsors,” said the athletic director. “[DiBrienza] has helped us in the past, but I couldn’t tell you the last time.”

Neighborhood activists also said they have barely heard of DiBrienza’s group or seen it in action.

“I respect the work he did when he was a council person, but to be honest, I haven’t seem him around the community in eight years,” said Randy Pairs, the chairman of Community Board 7 who is also supporting DiBrienza rival Brad Lander in the seven-man race to succeed Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D–Park Slope).

DiBrienza’s non-profit is small. Its annual budgets have ranged from $100,000 to $209,825 — almost all of it from the Council grant and almost all of it spent on salaries to its executive director and others who are not required to be identified because they draw pay of less than $50,000.

Executive Director Gail Bauccio, who worked for DiBrienza in the Council, was paid $54,000, plus benefits, for 2007, the last year for which records are available.

Two other employees, including DiBrienza, pulled in $83,262. DiBrienza said that he made $20,000 “at most,” but he must have made more or else the other salary earner’s name would have passed the $50,000 threshold, making his or her name available in city records.

Past salaried employees have included DiBrienza’s wife and other former staffers, including Josephine Beckmann, now district manager of Community Board 10 in Bay Ridge. Beckmann did not return a call.

The city Department of Youth and Cultural Development has audited the organization and reported “no significant findings.”

Bauccio said that 155 students participated in Neighborhood Assistance Corporation sports leagues at schools like Holy Name of Jesus on Prospect Park West, and Immaculate Heart of Mary on Fort Hamilton Parkway so far this year. She also said there were 42 participants split between its family services programs and the anti-graffiti program, which draws students from schools like Bishop Ford HS who need to perform community service to graduate.

Not all of the schools returned calls for comment.

“It’s a small niche program serving a working- and middle-class community,” said DiBrienza. “My role is doing community outreach.”

But the connection to the Council’s slush fund — and the high percentage of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation’s budget that goes to salaries — had one of DiBrienza’s council rivals calling for an investigation.

“The people of New York need to know that their hard-earned tax dollars support organizations that provide legitimate services,” said Josh Skaller, a Park Slope resident and club member of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats. “I was saddened to read that the City Council has been giving Mr. DiBrienza so many dollars for so many years with so little transparency and accountability — raising so many questions.”

Questions have also arisen about the connections between the city money and DiBrienza’s role in a congressional election. In 2006, Rep. Major Owens retired, setting off a five-way Democratic primary that included Councilmembers David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) and Yvette Clarke (D–Crown Heights). DiBrienza’s group got $40,000 from an unidentified councilmember or councilmembers that fiscal year — the names of the sponsors were not revealed to the public until reforms that stemmed from last year’s slush fund scandal.

DiBrienza ended up endorsing Yassky in the race. Yassky sponsored DiBrienza’s group with a $15,000 Council grant the next year.

Yassky stood by his disbursement — and denied any quid-pro-quo to win DiBrienza’s endorsement for his ultimately unsuccessful congressional run.

“I always endorse the person I think is going to do the best job,” he said. “I always figure that people endorse me for the same reason.”

Yassky added that he asks the Speaker’s office to fund dozens of groups both inside and outside his council district every year.

Other insiders were surprised by the scandal, saying that DiBrienza had a “clean” reputation in City Hall. But with pressure mounting around the former lawmaker, he suggested that he might drop out of the race.

“If I feel like enough people support me and think I can do a good job, then I’ll continue,” the former four-term councilman told The Brooklyn Paper.

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Reader Feedback

Ruth from Edison, NJ says:
Why is the Brooklyn Paper picking on this guy?

Oh, and will News Corp. be buying the Brooklyn Paper?
March 12, 2009, 1:22 pm
nicky 215 says:
the end of yassky and steve together. very sweet. Both are slimes one in a brooklyun suit and one in an ivy suit. Neither is interested in the public- just their own self promotion. After all Ivy david put his name on garbage palls for free publicity. Isn't that a hoot.
March 12, 2009, 5:06 pm
Eric McClure from Park Slope says:
$1.19 million over seven years? That sounds like an awful lot of money for three sports leagues and an anti-graffiti program, especially when people involved with some of those programs are having trouble remembering the alleged financial support.

With "change" the operative word in politics these days, "changing back" to Steve DiBrienza doesn't seem like a very attractive option. We need new faces and new ideas, without old baggage, in the City Council.
March 12, 2009, 5:58 pm
Dibrienza supporter from Park Slope says:
What a hit piece! Where did he say he was pulling out of the race? And the one negative quote regarding the sports program was from an anonymous source, how unfair. Leave the guy alone! It seems as though some of the other candidates are nervous. Run Steve run!
March 12, 2009, 8:49 pm
Eric McClure from Park Slope says:
Hit piece? Are you joking? $1.19 million for these programs, and the ONLY funding for the organization coming from the City Council? You might want to find a new candidate.

By the way, Brooklyn Paper, while everything that Josh Skaller said in your article is right on, you should also note that he is a candidate in the council race. That would seem to be Reporting 101.
March 12, 2009, 9:33 pm
Eric McClure from Park Slope says:
Oops! Sorry, I missed your ID of Josh Skaller as a "council rival." Mea culpa!
March 12, 2009, 9:45 pm
Christine Spinn from Chelsea says:
Lots of council persons and give money to nonprofits. We also speak and pull in people at their fundraisers. And sure, we give them secret money they don't have to be accountable for. In exchange these nonprofits don't criticize us or provide any oversight, like over last year's nasty little slush fund scandal.

Ha, ha. Not even the Brooklyn Paper or the New York Times will publish the names of the so-called nonprofits that were beneficiaries of my slush fund, "free" speaking at their fundraisers or who testified for anti-poor people policies, all for just 30 pieces of silver.
March 13, 2009, 11:45 pm
Anonymous from New York says:
Uh, one of these people scalps tickets on line. Anyone care to investigate????
March 20, 2009, 8:36 pm
Jonah from Kensington says:
The people of the district have a rare chance to send an experienced, results oriented person to the council. I think that a lot of good people might not know how rarely this occurs and how preferable it is -- especially in tight budget years -- not to be a district represented by a well-intentioned newbie.

And I neither know him personally nor do I work for him.

Also, I issue a challenge to the Brooklyn Paper (and no I am not DiBrienza, nor do I have anything to do with his campaign): Get the New York City Green Book for the last year DiBrienza was in the council. Go to the City Council senior staff section, close your eyes, and randomly pick 5 people. Then call each of them and offer then a chance to tell you what kind of councilman and what kind of person DiBrienza was. Ask tough questions about how he compared with every other colleague with regard to honesty and competence. And let them answer anonymously.

You'll have your answer. And we in this district will have someone who can deliver rather than learn.
March 24, 2009, 10:44 pm
barge12 from red hook says:
when i was in bussiness he helped everyone it did not make a difference you picked up the phone and got the job done i have no allegance to any one but since then we really have no representaion in the hook if i lived in the slope i would have a different out look to Mr Debrienza we need a fighter back again please run
March 27, 2009, 11:36 pm
jerry from Carroll Gardens says:
DiBrienza is a crook. He needs to be fully investigated as well as his old pal Yasky.
April 8, 2009, 4:12 pm

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