By Rich Bockmann
The city recently released the massive list of discretionary funds allocated by the City Council to individual members and one southeast Queens councilman brought home far more cash for his district than his colleagues.
Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) raked in more than $1 million in member items to support nonprofits within his district, with the largest chunk going to the city Parks Department for programs at Roy Wilkins Park.
Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) came in a far second with a little bit more than $588,000, the major beneficiary being Margert Community Corp., which provides recreation, socialization and education services for seniors.
Nonprofits in Councilman Ruben Wills’ (D-Jamaica) district split about $578,000, with the Parks Department receiving the largest portion to be used for recreational activities in the district.
Wills was one of two Council members, the other being Councilman Larry Seabrook (D-Bronx), who were barred from dishing out their own member items.
In early June, Quinn stripped Wills of his ability to request member items until the Council Standards and Ethics Committee completed a formal review of allegations made by the state attorney general’s office that the councilman had been less than cooperative with a probe into an unaccounted-for $33,000 state grant made to a nonprofit Wills was in charge of.
Wills’ allocations were made by the speaker’s office in conjunction with the chairman of the Queens delegation, who just so happened to be Comrie.
Comrie said the process of vetting new groups is a long and arduous one that starts in January, and he was already familiar with most of the groups in Wills’ district that received funding.
“All the groups had pre-qualified already and met the conditions for funding. I tried to make sure I continued what he funded last year,” he said. “I didn’t go and interview every group that asked for money. I got that responsibility quite late to get it done.”
Between the two of them, Comrie and Wills were able to provide the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults’ Friendship Center with $129,500. The center, which provides a range of services for seniors with special needs, was planning to close its doors when the city Department of Mental Health and Hygiene announced it would eliminate the center’s funding earlier this year.
Comrie said he and the entire Queens delegation were able to successfully lobby the department to restore enough funding to keep the center open.
JSPOA Executive Director Beverly Collier said the Friendship Center may still have to make some cutbacks, but will remain open.
“That’s the main point,” she said. “The money is going to help us to service this population, which we wouldn’t be able to do without it.”
Despite his impressive take, Comrie said he did not consider it to be a lot of money.
“I had over $3 million in requests and only about $1.1 million to give,” he said. “Discretionary funding only fills a small part of the need. Most need more money than I can give them.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.