By Courtney Dentch
Three councilmen, including Jennings, abstained from the Jan. 21 vote, which gave the seat to Councilman Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), and also created four new committees.
The decision marked the first time a council committee chairman was removed from a leadership position in 10 years, said Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village).
“It shows that his colleagues lost their trust in his ability to run his committee,” said Gallagher, who sits on the Civil Service and Labor committee and voted for the change. “We never voted out a single bill in the first two years he led it.”
Jennings, who will also lose his $10,000 chairmanship stipend along with the seat, declined to comment.
The lawmaker remains a member of the committee. He also sits on the Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations; Environmental Protection; and Public Safety Committees.
Critics have said the Civil Service and Labor Committee has languished over the past two years under Jennings' leadership. One committee meeting last year had to be postponed because no witnesses were scheduled to testify, a problem Jennings blamed on Speaker Gifford Miller's (D-Manhattan) staff.
“This was a practically unanimous decision due to the way the committee was conducted and due to the fact the committee was nonproductive,” said Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), chairman of the Rules, Privileges and Elections, which proposes committee changes. “They made the collective decision to boot the guy.”
Jennings also came under fire when he released personal information on undercover police officers assigned to desk jobs at a committee hearing he was chairing.
“We had very few substantive oversight hearings and we had several hearings where the committee chairman failed to show up,” Gallagher said of Jennings.
The Jamaica councilman has been accused of forcing female staffers to clean his house on mornings when they picked him up. The women, who no longer work for Jennings, also said he made sexual jokes and gave one woman a Caribbean doll with a giant phallus after returning from a trip there. Jennings has denied the allegations.
Both the city Department of Investigations and an outside arbitration firm are looking into the charges.
But Comrie said the charges are not related to the decision to remove Jennings from his chairmanship.
“This was not a political attack,” he said. “He's put himself in a position where this was allowed to happen.”
Jennings has earned a reputation as a maverick in the City Council. The councilman has clashed with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Miller over the past two years, most notably when he voted against the negotiated 18.5 percent property tax increase in 2002. After the vote, Bloomberg's office withheld Jennings' parking permit and the Council voted in February to remove him from the Finance Committee, moves Jennings called retribution.
Early last year Jennings took out half-page ads in Chinese-language newspapers proclaiming his appreciation for the Chinese community and highlighting his personal relationships with two women.
At the Jan. 21 meeting, the Council also voted to create four new committees on veterans affairs, waterfronts, immigration and technology and government.
“We in government can use technology more effectively and wisely,” Gallagher said. “It gives us the potential to do e-purchasing. We might be able to save up to $200 million a year.”
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at email@example.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.