By Rebecca Henely
In the wake of charges that outgoing state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) misused taxpayer dollars, City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said every nonprofit connected to an elected official should be the subject of scrutiny.
“It’s rife for corruption,” the councilman said.
Vallone discussed the role of nonprofits in political scandals, policing and a potential run for borough president during a recent interview at TimesLedger Newspapers’ offices with editors and reporters. The councilman said the second he was elected in 2002, people recommended that he build a nonprofit of his own.
Vallone said the nonprofits often act as places to employ former staffers or relatives of the elected official associated with the nonprofit and can serve as fronts to build up campaign treasuries or otherwise use money or resources for the politician’s own political gain.
Huntley, who recently lost a primary election to City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton), was charged in August with conspiracy, tampering with physical evidence and falsifying business records amid allegations that she used her Parent Workshop Inc. nonprofit to steal almost $30,000 from taxpayers.
“It’s outrageous that any elected official would violate the trust of the people they represent,” Vallone said.
The councilman, chairman of the Council Public Safety Committee, also reiterated multiple changes he would like to see made in how the city conducts its policing. Vallone said he believes there has been an attitude shift among city officials who say the problem of crime in the city is over.
He said the Safe Cities, Safe Streets program, implemented in 1991, eventually increased the city’s police force from 31,000 to 41,000. That number has since dropped to less than 35,000, and while the city is far less dangerous than it was in the early 1990s, crime has started to rise in all areas except homicide, Vallone said.
“I’ve been warning that this crime increase would occur,” he said.
The councilman has long been an advocate for hiring more police officers. Vallone also criticized the overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, controversial statutes originally passed in 1973 which set a minimum of 15 years to life in prison for anyone convicted of selling more than 2 ounces or possessing more than 4 ounces of heroin, morphine, opium, cocaine or marijuana.
The mandatory sentences were removed in 2003, but Vallone said putting sentences in the hands of judges means many dealers have opted to go to treatment instead of doing prison time. He said officers have cut back on the number of drug busts they conduct since the criminals will usually be back on the streets soon.
“Drugs are violent,” Vallone said. “I don’t think there’s any such thing as a non-violent drug deal.”
Vallone also defended the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, saying the policy has taken 800 guns off the street. The councilman said officers must explain why they are frisking those they stop and conceded that some cops are bad and overstep their boundaries.
But he emphasized that complaints to the Civilian Complaint Review Board are down.
“I think they’re making an effort to do things the right way,” Vallone said.
The three-term councilman will not be able to run again, and while he has not formally declared, his eyes are on the borough president’s office. He said Borough President Helen Marshall is well-liked, Brooklyn’s Marty Markowitz is a cheerleader, Manhattan’s Scott Stringer is good on policy and the Bronx’s Ruben Diaz Jr. is stellar at working with his borough’s Council delegation.
“I’d like to bring all that to Queens and bring what I brought to Astoria on a boroughwide level,” Vallone said.
But if things were different, Vallone said, he would like to stay where he is.
“It was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Vallone said of running for Council. “I love public service.”
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.