Money at root of all city politics

Six people, including New York City Councilman Daniel Six people, including New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran, left, and State Sen. Malcolm Smith, have been arrested as part of a public corruption investigation, the FBI says. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine; AP

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997, initially as a staff writer for the New ...

If the U.S. attorney is correct, Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) tried to grease the way to a Republican mayoral nomination by paying off officials of a party in which he never enrolled.

At first glance, the case might feel like a departure from political custom. Here's a public official charged with offering cash to other people to gain another job. You might think of the traditional model as confined to an elected official selling favors in exchange for a benefit.

But in New York City, in 2013, favors and money flow different ways.

Under billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city's top official used his self-made fortune -- legally -- to fill GOP coffers, fund his campaigns and corner the market on political consultants and television airtime. Part of his appeal was that he lacked motive to be on the take.

His political investments, governing record and palpable popularity meant five straight terms in which two ex-Democrats, running on the Republican line, held the mayoralty. Even after an embarrassing episode -- in which one of his Queens operatives was convicted of bilking hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds -- Bloomberg may in the end have increased the market value of the GOP mayoral brand. That's no mean feat in a city where the party's enrollment totals less than 11 percent of registered voters.

Smith had to be fantastically optimistic in the first place to think he could pin down a Republican mayoral nomination after the chaos-wracked two years he served as Democratic Senate majority leader in Albany. One top GOP leader said Tuesday that Smith never would have been the mayoral nominee given his history, and certainly without a deeper commitment to switching parties.

In the mayoral race, the splatter patterns quickly emerged from this latest scandal.

One co-defendant, Queens GOP vice chairman Vincent Tabone, was not only a campaign consultant to mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis when the indictment hit, but general counsel to the supermarket magnate's Red Apple Group. Yet Tabone allegedly arranged to help Smith for money. Catsimatidis said Tuesday that, since learning of the probe, "my campaign and my business have fully cooperated with law enforcement."

Two other co-defendants in the alleged scheme -- Bronx GOP chairman Jay Savino and Councilman Daniel Halloran (R-Bayside) -- recently came out for Joseph Lhota, the former MTA chairman. If they'd ever truly backed Smith, it would be hard to tell from their most recent actions.

On the Democratic side, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former Comptroller Bill Thompson sought to direct some of the splatter to rival City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) by calling for a new probe of member-item funding, the focus of charges against Halloran.

Halloran in some ways is a more traditional defendant. In this indictment issued by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Halloran is accused of soliciting cash for doling out a City Council pork-barrel expenditure to a nonprofit organization.

Halloran is caught on tape saying: "That's politics. That's politics. It's all about how much. Not about whether or will, it's about how much. And that's our politicians in New York, they're all like that . . ."

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