By Joe Anuta
The arrest of former state Assemblyman Jimmy Meng, father of Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), could send ripples through the Flushing political world, although opinions differ on how much it will affect his daughter’s congressional race.
Meng was arrested July 24 after accepting a fruit basket containing $80,000 in bribe money from a person who had initially sought the one-time lawmaker’s advice on how to beat tax crime charges, but then began working with the FBI to catalog Meng’s alleged fraud through recorded conversations, according to documents from Brooklyn federal court.
The indictment seemed to blindside many in Flushing political circles, but not everyone was shocked.
“I was not a bit surprised,” said former Flushing City Councilwoman Julia Harrison, who has known Meng for more than 30 years.
Meng has been a prominent figure in the neighborhood for decades, and is considered a potent force for getting out the vote, according to Flushing political insiders, who said prospective candidates often tried to curry favor with the successful business owner in order for him to call on his large network of friends and connections.
If any candidates were seeking Meng’s assistance in this year’s elections, they may be scrambling for an alternative, the source said.
Meng is facing a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted, and the manner in which his case proceeds could affect his daughter’s race.
According to Harrison and other political observers, if his trial gets strung out for months during the campaigning period until the election in November, it could form a dark cloud over the race.
But Grace Meng’s camp was not worried.
“The situation does not make the race more competitive. Queens voters are concerned about the issues that affect them and their city and will head to the polls in November with one thing in mind — who will best represent them in Washington?” said spokesman Austin Finan. “Grace Meng is the only candidate in this race who can be trusted to fight for working, middle-class families in Queens.”
And David Birdsell, a dean at Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs, said though Grace Meng’s Republican rivals will likely try and connect her to the indictment, he does not believe it will deal a fatal blow to her chances.
“It is obviously a problem and an embarrassment for Meng,” he said. “It is not necessarily a campaign killer.”
The camp from City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) declined to comment on the story.
Jimmy Meng first ran for a Flushing Assembly seat in 2002 and lost to now-Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik. But two years later Meng came back to win, bucking the Queens Republicans and highlighting what many in the community saw as a power struggle between Meng and former Flushing Councilman and current city Comptroller John Liu.
When Meng beat Grodenchik, who was backed by Liu and the Queens Democratic Party, the comptroller said he was more upset about the loss than Grodenchik and that he would support his chosen candidate on the Working Families Party line. Grodenchik eventually decided against running on the third party line.
Meng’s win was temporarily called into question by an investigation by the city Board of Elections after several voters appeared to have been registered at businesses owned by Meng.
But the board eventually exonerated Meng, who denied any wrongdoing.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.