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Freeport mayor to join officials in trade trip to China

The Freeport mayor is looking far afield in his search for investors to develop properties in the village - to the Far East.

Mayor Andrew Hardwick and Freeport special counsel Douglas Thomas are the only municipal government officials joining an October trade delegation to China with state legislators and businesspeople, said a spokesman for state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans).

The nine-day trip, sponsored by the Manhattan-based nonprofit Asian-American Business Development Center through the cooperation of Smith's office, is expected to cost the village $9,000, officials said.

Thomas, a special counsel for intergovernmental affairs, said the Hardwick administration is seeking investors to fund the redevelopment of North Main Street and industrial zones in the southeast section of Freeport.

"We're not in a position where we can ask the taxpayers to fund these projects," Thomas said. "We have got to find independent sources of money to fund the things that have to be done, and that's what we're in the business of doing."

Asked about the cost of the trip to taxpayers, he said: "We're going there for the village. The village is going to pay for it."

Freeport Trustee Bill White said the board of trustees didn't approve the trip. "All they did was mention it to us," White said. "I fully support doing all that we can to promote the expansion of business opportunities in Freeport." But, he said, sending a delegation to China "may be more than our taxpayers can afford."

Dick Dadey, executive director of the Citizens Union, a Manhattan-based government watchdog group, said the village should be paying for such a trip only if it already has a deal in the works and needs a representative to complete it.

"It strikes me as particularly odd that a local village mayor would join a State Senate junket to China," Dadey said. "The abysmal state of local government funds requires exceptionally scrupulous use, and this junket with a vague public purpose doesn't seem to warrant spending scarce public dollars."

The trip, scheduled for Oct. 9-18, is the second annual "Invest in New York" trade delegation to China led by the Asian-American Business Development Center.

It will include visits to Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Suzhou, according to a spokesman for Smith, Travis Proulx. In part because the trip includes nonbusiness excursions, such as a visit to the Great Wall of China, Smith has decided to use campaign funds to pay for his own trip, Proulx said.

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