Talk about a sweetheart deal!
Former Coney Island Councilman and Democratic Congressional hopeful Domenic Recchia is paying his wife Kimberly rent out of his campaign funds for the use of his campaign headquarters, which the Recchias jointly own.
Filings from Recchia’s campaign to unseat Rep. Michael Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) show that the Dem challenger paid his missus $1,750 last year for the use of space in their building at the corner of Gravesend Neck Road and E. Second Street in Gravesend.
Not that this is surprising for Recchia, who state campaign finance records show has been forking over dough from his campaign coffers to his wife since at least 2009. What is strange is the way Mrs. Recchia’s rates have fluctuated over the years.
Records from his 2009 re-election campaign show he paid $1,000 for the month of August, $1,250 for September and October, and $1,500 for November, with the total bill for the year tallying $8,000.
In 2010, the rent for the year dropped to $6,000, then bounced back up to $8,000 again for 2012.
For Jan. 2013, the month before he filed to run for Congress, the rent shot up to $3,500 for the month. But for the rest of 2013, federal filings show that the payments dropped to $250 per month, dropping the yearly total down to $6,350.
A Recchia staffer said that the yo-yoing rates reflect changing usage of the building.
“The rent reflects market rate for the amount of space and utilities used during that time period. While at certain points in a campaign cycle, larger space and increased utilities were used on a daily basis, at other times, a smaller space was used only intermittently,” said a campaign spokeswoman.
The staffer said that the Congressional campaign is paying Mrs. Recchia instead of reporting the use of the space as an in-kind contribution in order “to maintain consistency in our compliance reporting throughout the election cycle” in the event that the rent goes up. If the campaign needs more room or electricity, the spokeswoman explained, the campaign could surpass federal in-kind contribution limits.
But for jointly owned assets like the Recchias’ building, the Federal Election Commission allows candidates to make in-kind contributions of up to half the value of the property, so based on the city tax assessment, Recchia would have to charge himself more than $201,000 — or $16,750 a month — to risk busting the cap.
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The attorney for Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto — the enigmatic religious leader at the center of allegations of illegal fund-raising for Grimm’s 2010 campaign — turns out to be a donor and bundler for Recchia.
Bay Ridge attorney Arthur Aidala, who is representing Pinto in a federal probe, has given $4,500 to Recchia’s Congressional campaign. Aidala also collected $6,475 on behalf of the Recchia for New York campaign committee in 2012.
A 2012 New York Times report claimed Grimm, with the help of Pinto aide Ofer Biton, strong-armed Pinto’s followers — many of them foreign nationals — into illegally donating to the Congressman’s campaign. Biton was later arrested for visa fraud and pled guilty in 2013.
Pinto has since filed a blackmail complaint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and testified against Grimm. He took off for Israel last month, where now faces an indictment for allegedly bribing police officials.
Both Recchia and Aidala said that they have known each other for more than 20 years, and that the donations have nothing to do with Pinto. Aidala additionally noted that Pinto is a complainant against Grimm, and said that the contributions therefore do not represent any conflict of interest.
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The field is widening in the competition to become one of the tandem leaders of Brooklyn’s Council delegation.
Councilman Steve Levin (D–Greenpoint), Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D–Fort Greene), and Councilwoman Darlene Mealy (D–Brownsville) have joined Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park) in the scrum for the two positions which jointly negotiate the city’s budget on behalf of their borough.
The two-headed leadership structure is a bureaucratic perversity unique to Brooklyn, bequeathed by then-councilmen Bill DeBlasio and Albert Vann, who joined forces in a 2004 coup to oust ex-Councilman Lew Fidler.
The joint leaders have since tended to be racially mixed. Mealy and Councilman David Greenfield (D–Borough Park) held the positions in 2012.
Levin and Menchaca are both members of the Council’s dominant Progressive Caucus, while Cumbo and Mealy are closer to the official Kings County Democratic Party machine. Cumbo and Menchaca are both freshman legislators, while Levin is in his second of three potential terms, and Mealy is in her final term.