New York's latest bribery scandal reverberated in the city's mayoral campaign Wednesday, with Democratic front-runner Christine Quinn accused by rivals of having been slow to crack down on City Council members' corrupt use of discretionary funds.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio called for the elimination of council "member items" at a news conference on the steps of City Hall, noting there have now been four council members arrested in the past four years over the misuse of funds that are supposed to be directed at worthy programs in council districts.
He said Quinn, the council speaker, shares blame. "The facts speak for themselves: These things happened on her watch," De Blasio said of the previous cases. "Whatever efforts she made or didn't make, they happened under her watch."
Attempted misuse of the funds was a separate charge in the 28-page federal criminal complaint against Councilman Daniel Halloran (R-Bayside). Along with State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis), Halloran was charged with conspiring to bribe Smith's way onto the Republican primary mayoral ballot.
Quinn, at an earlier campaign appearance in midtown, said she led the effort to increase scrutiny of the funds. She said the safeguards she had in place would have prevented Halloran from following through on his alleged offer of $80,000 in council funds to developers in exchange for campaign contributions.
"It's real nice for Bill de Blasio now that he is out of the City Council to be saying we should be changing member items when he never raised those issues in any significant way when he was getting them," Quinn said after appearing at the National Action Network conference organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
A spokeswoman for former city comptroller and Democratic candidate Bill Thompson also took shots at Quinn.
"Member items have a place, but the integrity of our tax dollars deserves real oversight," Thompson spokeswoman Dani Lever said in a statement. "There are valuable community groups that deserve and depend on this funding to help people, but Speaker Quinn has failed to oversee this process in a way that ensures the money is spent appropriately."
Another Democratic contender, Comptroller John Liu, did not mention Quinn, but echoed the calls for tighter control of member-item spending.
"It's not just yesterday," Liu said. "There have been too many problems with member items over recent years that have cried for serious reforms, including far greater transparency [and] far greater checks and controls on the disbursement of these funds."
Republican mayoral hopeful Joe Lhota said in a phone interview that the corruption case highlighted the need for a City Council inspector general "with all the bad characters we seem to be dealing with."
Common Cause NY and a coalition of other civic groups urged city leaders to revamp the use of member items and reform campaign financing.
"In the pay-to-play system, it's the money chase that causes a culture of corruption," said Susan Lerner, director of Common Cause NY, at a news conference in front of City Hall.