Author Topic: City Councilmember Helen Sears  (Read 12275 times)

Offline earbears

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #30 on: April 25, 2008, 03:39:21 PM »
We had a great city council person when John Sabini was there. Very responsive and follow-through.
Helen hasn't been as responsive - perhaps a different adgenda. Helen has been fairly "ok" towards education in the area.
Sometmes we need to fight different ways - 311, Beautitfication Group and/or multiple calls to all.

As far as borough president, who else is running? We need to have someone who will hear from all neighborhoods and be responsive.

Offline ECG

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #31 on: April 25, 2008, 05:26:10 PM »
Helen Sears made the front page of the New York Times today. Probably not the way anyone would want to. Here is the article without the chart. I don't know how to post part of a story, sorry.




April 25, 2008
In Council Campaigns, Relatives on the Payroll

By RAY RIVERA, RUSS BUETTNER and WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM
This article is by Ray Rivera, Russ Buettner and William K. Rashbaum.

In 2005, when Larry B. Seabrook, a city councilman from the Bronx, was running for re-election, he committed close to $50,000 — virtually all of his campaign’s privately raised money — to hiring one employee: his brother, the manager of a halfway house.

Mr. Seabrook is hardly alone among City Council members who have hired relatives to help with their political work. A review by The New York Times found that more than a dozen of the 51 current members have used campaign funds to pay family members — or themselves — at election time.

The list includes legislators like Helen Sears, from Queens, who has doled out more than $117,000 in campaign funds to family members since 2001 to help her win and keep her seat. In Brooklyn, Domenic M. Recchia Jr. paid his wife $6,600 in rent in 2005 for the use of part of their family home as a campaign headquarters.

It is not illegal to hire relatives to work on campaigns, although candidates are barred from using any city money provided for their campaigns to pay family members. The Campaign Finance Board said it regularly audits the use of campaign money and has not found that council members are routinely flouting its regulations.

And several council members said hiring relatives is a legitimate way to attract loyal and dedicated workers.

The test for when it is proper to hire a relative to work on a campaign, said one government watchdog, is asking whether the relative is chosen because he or she provides a necessary and particular skill, or is just a family member who could use some work.

“Certainly, having a relative as a campaign manager is something that happens a lot,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of New York Common Cause, a nonprofit lobbying group that promotes open government. “I think that’s a question of trust. But when there are other roles, the question always is: Is there value for the money, or is this just another way to divert campaign funds for personal use?”

The practice of hiring relatives does appear to be assisted, at least in part, by the city program that uses taxpayer dollars to finance campaigns. The central hope in creating the public financing program — the city currently awards $6 for every dollar privately raised — was to provide badly needed funds to candidates who might challenge incumbents, but lacked a ready machine for raising money.

The program was not designed, analysts said, to provide surplus money to candidates in uncontested races who might find themselves able to afford a range of additional expenses, including the hiring of relatives as campaign workers. Indeed, The Times’s review found several instances in which relatives were paid from political treasuries swollen by the addition of public matching funds and in which the candidates were involved in barely competitive races.

In Mr. Seabrook’s case, for instance, he went to the Campaign Finance Board in 2005 seeking the additional taxpayer money in part because he said he feared a hotly contested challenge from a rival he asserted was going to be backed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

There was little evidence, however, that his opponent, George Rubin, actually posed a threat. In Mr. Rubin’s prior try for public office, a State Senate race, he garnered 531 votes out of more than 90,000 cast. But the Campaign Finance Board approved $71,000 in public matching funds for Mr. Seabrook, nearly double what he raised privately.

The competition never surfaced, though. Mr. Rubin got no financial help from Mr. Bloomberg, or anyone else, never spent a dime on the race, and lost badly to Mr. Seabrook, who collected 87 percent of the vote.

The Council’s spending habits have been the subject of increasing scrutiny. Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn admitted several weeks ago that the Council had routinely stored public money in holding accounts using fictitious names for local community groups, and later awarded the money to neighborhood organizations in the districts of individual council members. And two aides to a Brooklyn councilman were indicted recently, accused of misusing tens of thousands of dollars in public money.

Though city regulations prohibit candidates from using public money to hire relatives, city officials have long recognized that the taxpayer dollars have the effect of freeing up private funds to do just that.

After the 2003 election, the campaign board said in a report: “Although there are instances in which family members can be appropriately paid, the board realizes the need to address the appearance that public funds are subsidizing both appropriate and possibly inappropriate payments to family members.” Among the actions the board had taken, the report states, was stepping up family disclosure requirements for candidates.

Two years later, Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., then the board chairman, said the hiring of relatives by campaigns remained an issue that the city needed to tackle. One idea on the table then, which has never been enacted, was to tally up the amount of private campaign funds being paid out to relatives and to deduct it from the public matching funds for which a candidate had qualified.

One of the issues has long been that some of the spending occurs in races where a candidate has only token opposition. Last year, at the urging of the Campaign Finance Board, the City Council and Mayor Bloomberg tried to address the issue as a part of a series of campaign finance overhauls. Among the requirements, candidates must prove they have legitimate opposition before receiving public matching funds, like showing their opponents have received a major endorsement or won at least 25 percent of the vote in a previous election.

In recent years, council members have used campaign money to offset the cost of their homes, hire relatives for poll work and as paid campaign consultants. One council member paid her father, a former councilman, for political advice. Another sprinkled cash on eight relatives, including a brother- and sister-in-law, for campaign help.

Ms. Sears, for example, hired one son to run her campaign and another to act as her treasurer in 2005. She raised $178,901 in private money and received $92,749 in public funds for that race. Stuart Sears was paid $31,375 as campaign manager and her other son, Todd Sears, received $21,675 to act as her treasurer.

In all, she has paid her two sons and her daughter-in-law $117,322 since 2001, and says she is lucky to have her sons work for her.

“The fact of the matter is, when you’re in a campaign, you need those who are very trustworthy, and my sons are the most trustworthy people you can find,” she said. “I’ve never been in trouble with the Campaign Finance Board, and that is very key, and my sons run a winning campaign. I can’t ask for anything more than that. I consider myself to be very blessed.”

Sometimes, the campaign board requires that family members be paid, in particular in cases when they are professionals who earn a living performing the same skills, like accounting, for which the campaign is using them.

Peter F. Vallone Jr., for example, a City Council member from Queens, paid his brother, Paul, $7,500 to work as a treasurer for his campaign in 2001. He said the board told him he had to pay his brother, who is a lawyer, or the work would have been considered an in-kind contribution.

Ms. Sears declined to answer questions about her sons’ professional backgrounds and what political experience they had when she first hired them for her 2001 campaign.

Others who have hired relatives are Councilwoman Helen D. Foster of the Bronx, who has paid her mother for compliance work and rent for a “treasurer’s headquarters,” and her father, former Councilman Wendell Foster, for campaign consulting. She did not return phone calls seeking comment.

During his closely contested 2001 race, James Sanders Jr., from Queens, paid his brother, Raphael Sanders, a construction worker, $2,100 for services including moving, cleaning and staffing his campaign office.

“When a person runs, usually you’re called on to find people who believe in you,” Mr. Sanders said in an interview. “If your family does not believe in you, then that should be an indicator of your worthiness.”

Councilman James F. Gennaro of Queens paid nearly $49,000 to his stepson, Richard O’Malley, for work on his 2001, 2003 and 2005 campaigns.

Mr. Gennaro’s campaign compliance lawyer, Laurence Laufer, said in a statement that “all employees and consultants were paid market rates as required by the Campaign Finance Board, with whom staffing compensation matters passed muster following a detailed review.”

Mr. Seabrook was billed $82,752 by his brother Oliver for work on his 2003 and 2005 election campaigns. Mr. Laufer, who also represents Mr. Seabrook, said Mr. Seabrook still owed his brother about $40,000 for work from the 2005 campaign. The campaign is now in debt, according to campaign finance records.

Those records show that Oliver Seabrook, who works as the director of the Bronx Community Re-entry Center, served as a campaign manager, as a consultant at breakfasts and black-tie dinners, and on fund-raising and petition drives. A woman who answered the phone at the halfway house on Wednesday said Oliver Seabrook does not accept calls from newspapers.

“I believe it’s a liability that is certainly expected to be paid, but it hasn’t been paid at this point in time,” said Mr. Laufer. “He would have to raise new campaign money to pay it.”

Like Mr. Recchia and Ms. Foster, other council members used a portion of their campaign to pay rent to themselves or close relatives. Kendall Stewart of Brooklyn, for example, paid his wife, Selene, a total of $3,600 in 2003 and 2005 for office space.

Darlene Mealy, who took office in 2006, paid herself $3,500 in rent in 2005 to offset the cost of using a portion of her two-bedroom apartment Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, as a campaign office. She paid herself $350 a month, according to the records she filed with the Campaign Finance Board.

Ms. Mealy declined comment on her rent payments, although an aide, David Jackson, who identified himself as her chief of staff, said “I don’t think your facts are right” when asked about them.

A spokesman for the Campaign Finance Board, Eric Friedman, said the agency had audited Ms. Mealy’s spending, visited her apartment and reviewed records her campaign had filed and found no irregularities. Mr. Friedman said that the city’s standard is to determine if campaign activity is occurring in a location for which rent is being paid and locations that meet that standard, regardless of ownership, are not a problem.

“In her case, these things did not set off alarms,” he said.

But one government watchdog said the practice of candidates paying themselves rent can create an appearance problem.

“That’s very questionable, it seems to me,” Ms. Lerner, of Common Cause, said of the rent payments. “It’s always the type of thing which makes ordinary voters suspicious of the motives of the candidates. It’s the sort of thing that makes ordinary voters dislike politicians.”

Toby Lyles and Carolyn Wilder contributed research.


Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
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Offline smok

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #32 on: April 30, 2008, 06:54:52 PM »
Regarding the community board - if you've ever been to board 3 meetings, you see the disfunction immediately. First, no one can understand a single word the chair says! He's a good man, but completely incomprehensible in his speech. He also says to anyone that asks that CB3 plays only an advisory role when it comes to making neighborhood change. This may be true if we are talking letter of the law, but demonstrates a real lack of understanding regarding what he could REALLY do with his position as a bully pulpit. Tell folks in CB 9, 10 or 11 in Manhattan (Harlem) where there was a recent rezoning, that their role is purely advisory and that they have no real power and they will laugh in your face and point to the fact that their collective uproar about the rezoning was what led to a much more watered down rezoning proposal. CB 3 is a joke.

Offline Mason

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #33 on: April 30, 2008, 07:58:00 PM »
Who knew that Helen Sears was actually alive?  She should run for her bed and stay there!

Offline Griswold Girl

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #34 on: June 26, 2008, 11:32:03 PM »
Helen Sears helped secure 21.4 million dollars in funding for the Queens Museum of Art's expansion.  This will be an amazing asset to the community (state of the art facility, new library branch, expanded galleries etc...) and no doubt increase values of real estate and the tax base for much needed improvements in the neighborhood.  I just moved to the neighborhood and don't know much about her but was really impressed with her initiative with the museum.

Offline Mason

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #35 on: June 27, 2008, 06:48:17 AM »
I would rather vote for a cartoon character than vote for Ms. Sears.  I see her as totally unresponsive to the community she said she wanted to serve.  It seems that the only reason she sought a City Council post was to advance her personal agenda.  This is coming from a life long Democrate.  This community is sadly lacking in qualified candidates for elected offices.  Those who do put their names out are doing so for the same reason Ms. Sears has.  It seems as though these candidates think they are politicos in some third world country.

Offline Birch-Ed

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #36 on: June 27, 2008, 07:35:45 AM »
DEJA VU!!!!   I was just thinking this morning about posting a question in reference to your opinion on Helen Sears.   I see alot of agreements.

Helen Sears seems to do more for the merchants in the area than for the folks who elected her.   Thank God for the Western Alliance Group!  We've tried to put a group together for years but to no avail.  The woman who has turned 73rd street into what is is now is a shrewd business woman from Bangla Desh.  She'll stop at nothing.  I just wonder how much it's costing her for her to get her way. 

Helen for God knows how long promised to remove the food carts from 74th and 73rd street and nothing has happened.  Oh but she'll boast that she had merchants removed their trash bins from the sidewalks.  What about all the other sidewalk vendors that clog the sidewalks making it impossible to walk in our neighborhood?

There is supposed to be a regulation on signage in store fronts.  You look at store fronts on 74th and 73rd street and you get dizzy.  73rd and 74th are  full of these God awful posters.

A couple of years ago, in talking to people at work, when they found out I lived in Jackson Heights and lived on 73rd street, I was asked how could I live there?  They said Jackson Heights was becoming the toilet for New York City.   I have communicated this to the Community Board and to Helen Sears, but I guess they don't care or their pockets hadn't been filled enough.

About three years ago we heard that 73rd Street was going to be closed to traffic because there was going to be a street festival which was being promoted by the merchants.  The Community Board approved it.  When we found out about it, residents from 73rd street started flooding Community Board 3 with phone calls.  One of them from me in which I told them that these two buildings on 73rd street were full of older people.  Three or Four times a week an Ambulance was always there for someone.  I told them heaven forbid if something happens and the Ambulance could not get through.   They were going to have some lawsuit on there hands.  The lawyers from both buildings threatened the Community Board.

This is a very touchy subject for me and I get extremely angry at both the Community Board and Helen Sears.

And  do hope they come here and read this message board.  Helen Sears for Boro President?  Yeah Right!

Now..since I'm all fired up about this...

Who would like some lemonade? 
« Last Edit: June 27, 2008, 07:43:59 AM by Birch-Ed »

Offline toddg

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #37 on: June 27, 2008, 09:20:44 AM »
I'll have some lemonade, please.  Extra ice!  Because I'm not sure I have as sour an assessment of the current state of the neighborhood... I see a refreshing change from the sameness of many other parts of the city. 

I agree about the general lack of responsiveness, and how important it is to have a group like the Western JH Alliance working to bring quality-of-life improvements to the area.  I believe WJHA has been proposing changes that would help reduce the traffic congestion on 73rd Street (and some of the honking that goes with it), but so far the elected officials and NYCDOT have ignored these recommendations.

But I like a lot of what I see on 73rd and 74th Streets.  The energy of that part of the neighborhood is one of the things that attracted me to the area.  I love the food carts, and I don't mind the chaotic signage (this is not an area with particularly historic character or uniform architecture).  I love street fairs, and think they can and do take place all of the time in the city while allowing for emergency access. 

I agree we need elected officials focused on addressing the traffic, noise, and sanitation problems in the area, but I'm not sure that I'd go as far as to change the fundamental character of that part of the community.  There are lots of other places that are orderly and uniform, but very few places like Western Jackson Heights!

Offline Birch-Ed

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #38 on: June 27, 2008, 10:18:39 AM »
Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the hustle and bustle.  It makes it very safe to walk outside at all hours.  But I am disturbed about the condition as you said.  Cleanliness and traffic.  But I also consider multiple signage and posters on a store/walls as overkill and it does not make it look appealing.  There is a look that Jackson Heights has and it's not being enforced on 74th and 73rd streets.
« Last Edit: June 27, 2008, 10:24:09 AM by Birch-Ed »

Offline ECG

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #39 on: June 27, 2008, 10:49:34 AM »
Birch-Ed, I have a question - what happened with your efforts to get the street fair/festival moved. Were you successful or did it go on anyway? In other words, did anyone listen?

Todd, I agree with you that the quirky aspect is fun. I enjoy walking down 74th St.

Strictly speaking 73rd St. isn't in Jackson Heights, is it?

Offline Griswold Girl

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #40 on: June 27, 2008, 11:07:59 AM »
In regards to everyone up and arms about the food carts at 73rd Street and Helen Sears non-action towards removing them-- I have to say that I live in the neighborhood and quite enjoy the carts.  I work really long hours and don't always have the money to eat out or order carryout.  By the time I get home I am too tired to cook.   Thank goodness for the food carts.  The are one of the things that makes Jackson Heights, well Jackson Heights.  I would say to the people who live near 73rd and 74th that there are pros and cons to every location in the neighborhood.  If you live down in that area you are closer to the express trains, places to eat and shopping but of course there will be more noise, crowds and trash.  If you want more quiet move up in the high eighties were I am.  It is cleaner, quieter and less crowded but you have a farther walk to the trains, foods and shopping.  It seems to me that the 70s has historically been a more crowded area not just a recent development.

Offline toddg

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #41 on: June 27, 2008, 11:12:31 AM »
Strictly speaking 73rd St. isn't in Jackson Heights, is it?

That depends on whether you equate Jackson Heights with its Historic District.  73rd Street isn't in the historic district, but I thought people generally think of the BQE as the Western boundary of the neighborhood. 

I guess a very long time ago the very low 70's may have been considered part of the Winfield neighborhood.  But today it's in the 11372 zip code, and seems an integral part of what people consider to be Jackson Heights.

Offline Birch-Ed

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #42 on: June 27, 2008, 12:15:19 PM »
Todd....yes the festival was moved to Broadway.  We found out two days before the Festival and the word spread.  The Community Board 3 was flooded with calls and when they received the call from the lawyers, they changed the location.

As far as 73rd Street, yes it is Jackson Heights, but not the Historic site.

Offline Aronan

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #43 on: June 27, 2008, 03:28:13 PM »
The Historic district is but a small section of Jackson Heights. To the best of my understanding the boundaries of Jackson Heights are:

the BQE to the east (round about 69th st. where bway and 37th ave meet)

Junction Boulevard to the west

Astoria Boulevard to the north (there's also a brief section along Ditmars Blvd. north of Astoria Blvd. in the 70s that can be considered JH).

and Roosevelt Ave to the south. (technically speaking the Victor Moore Arcade is in Elmhurst)

While the historic district has certainly been a very good thing for the neighborhood we know and love, it's not done too much to benefit the areas around it (ie: 73rd st, or where I grew up on 70th and Bway). Free from the zoning restrictions of a landmark district blocks like 73rd st. are being over developed without proper consideration given to the impact on the surrounding neighborhood (noise, pollution, transportation, public safety etc.).

Helen Sears represents a relatively small portion of JH, most of the 70's to around 79th st., I think, while the other half of the neighborhood falls under Hiram Monseratte.

One of my biggest qualms with Helen Sears is that a great deal of her discretionary funding seems to go to organizations outside of the neighborhood. I LOVE the Queens Museum of Art and the other cultural institutions in Flushing Meadows Corona Park (Zoo, Hall of Science, and the Theatre) but having worked in the park in outreach and audience development for one of these places I can say that all these institutions suffer from the stigma of being "far away" and very few of their patrons come from Jackson Heights or CB3 for that matter (which covers East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and part of Corona). In fact due to the Grand Central and LIE, combined with ample free parking many of the theatre's (and I'm assuming the museum's too) patrons come from neighborhoods further out in Queens (Bayside, Whitestone, College Point, etc.) and even Long Island. 

Cultural institutions are fantastic things for our city and I'm in huge favor of supporting the smaller ones that work so hard to do quite a bit with so little money. But, one has to question the motives of a local politician sending so much money to other parts of the borough when her own district is lacking for adequate community space, programming for youth, adults, and seniors. As she is termed out and eying the BP seat maybe it does make sense for her to make a good impression on other Queens residents who will no doubt be seeing her name on the ballot in 2009, I just wish she wouldn't do it with money that could help our neighborhood.       
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chris1j1

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Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #44 on: June 27, 2008, 07:41:29 PM »
Someone mentioned that helen sears secured funding for the queens museum of art.  Well each council person is allocated 3 million dollars in capital funds to doll out any way they like.  So its not all that amazing, but unless they moved the queens museum of art, I didnt think it was in Jackson heights, which is our primary concern.  2.4 that was given to the museum could have gond to sprucing up travers park, possibly even fixing up the school yards for the proposed "park land idea that was floated around.

A previous poster wrote about wanting a garbage can on a side walk and was given a song and dance by helen on how difficult it was.  I've called her a few times..and thats her modus operandi.   I questioned why jackson heights has a historical district with only a few historical street lights.. I was disappointed by going to brooklyn and seeing run down neighborhoods (not even land marked blocks) with upgraded street lights...she stated it was a difficult process to secure and too expensive (well 2.4 million in cap funds goes a long way!). 

btw- she's setting the ground work for her son to take over her council spot in a few years.. she is far more concerned about that than she is about ruffling feathers to make Jackson heights a better place, which is a shame because she lives here.

Jackson Heights Life

Re: City Councilmember Helen Sears
« Reply #44 on: June 27, 2008, 07:41:29 PM »