Who is Ed Morris, Sr.?
The question has several answers. String them together and they'll show how things get done in local politics, how public money is doled out, and how having the right friends is more important than having the right cause.
Ed Morris is a felon, convicted of defrauding the government among other public corruption charges, in his old jobs as undersheriff at the Suffolk County jail and campaign treasurer for the sheriff.
Ed Morris is a longtime and very close friend of Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, who was Morris' defense attorney before being elected DA
Ed Morris is executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, a struggling organization to which Spota, quite possibly the most powerful elected official in the county, and other officials steered at least $1.38 million in taxpayer money and other assistance.
That total does not even include the donation of a Patchogue property owned by North Fork Bank to house the Hall's museum. The plot was later sold by the museum in several transactions, netting $1.78 million.
The parcel was sold in 2013, the year the facility finally closed after sparse attendance and five mostly in-the-red years. Now the Hall of Fame essentially exists as some photos on the walls deep inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at Long Island MacArthur Airport. You need a plane ticket to get in.
The list of those who helped Morris get grants or other contributions is long and bipartisan. It includes Spota, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, former county legislator Brian Foley and former Rep. Tim Bishop, all Democrats; Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick and former Brookhaven Town Supervisor Felix Grucci, both Republicans; the Suffolk County Legislature, the Town of Islip and several individual elected officials from both parties.
None of those shepherding our taxpayer dollars seems to have asked questions about the Hall's dubious finances and plans, exposed by Newsday in a story last week. Obviously, it was more important to take care of Eddie.
Morris has a Hall of Fame-purchased car he uses for personal travel. And he has drawn hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary. Exactly how much is unclear. He has not listed his compensation on required nonprofit financial forms since 2008. And he declined to provide to Newsday any details about the Hall's finances.
How much is Morris, a longtime player in Republican Party politics, earning in taxpayer dollars? Where did the proceeds go from the sale of the bank property? And why did Spota, who donated more than $7,000 in campaign funds to the Hall, give $25,000 in forfeiture money to help fund an anti-bullying video Morris pitched to Spota? And why did Spota refuse to provide an accounting last year of how his office spent the forfeiture dollars? The video, available on YouTube, appears not to have been distributed to local schools, as was the plan.
Few would question the merits of honoring local sports heroes. It's a matter of scope. A museum like this one never increases tourism. The pool of people willing to travel to it is limited. That's why it should be housed in an existing sports facility such as the Long Island Ducks stadium in Central Islip (Bellone has arranged for free exhibit space there) or the arena at Stony Brook University. Or, make it a traveling exhibit, and bring it to schools, fairs and the like.
Nonprofits that provide clear public benefits, ones that help the least fortunate among us, struggle to get far less than what the Hall received for a de facto jobs program for Ed Morris. A lot of people should be questioning themselves over that.