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17th December
2004

First Published in The New York Sun, December 17, 2004

By Andrew Wolf

Mayor Bloomberg recently fumed about the hiring of Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez as a consultant to Cablevision, charging,of all things,politics.Cablevision,which owns Madison Square Garden, Gotham’s largest venue for indoor events, wants to keep that status. The mayor is eager to build a new football stadium for the Jets within shouting distance of the Garden, and Cablevision is bent on stopping him.

Ms. Cortes-Vazquez was hired, the mayor and I both suspect, not because she is some supreme strategist, but due to her connections with New York’s most powerful Hispanic politicos, most notably the former president of the Bronx, Fernando Ferrer.Mr.Ferrer is,by all accounts,gearing up for his third try at Gracie Mansion,and some polls show him actually beating the mayor. Pulling the strings is Mr. Ferrer’s consultant — some might say alter-ego — former assemblyman and Bronx County Democratic boss, Roberto Ramirez.
Of course,it should come as no surprise that Democrats are lining up against the stadium, or in fact against any major public work, particularly one so fervently backed by a Republican mayor.

I doubt if the mayor is really surprised by any of this. Nor should he be surprised when Mr. Ferrer runs against him. With such good poll numbers to build upon, Mr. Ferrer would look awfully wimpy should he pass up this opportunity.

Mr. Bloomberg should have realized this long ago.The tacit support he got from Mr. Ferrer and his allies in the 2001 general election (or rather the support withheld from the Democratic nominee, Mark Green) did not signal a permanent relationship. The alliance expired the day Mr. Bloomberg assumed office, even though he rewarded the Ferrer-Ramirez crowd by giving one of their loyalists, Carol Robles-Roman, a spot as deputy mayor.

As Mr. Bloomberg lives in the false hope that this alliance will stick, the Ferrer-Ramirez political machine is gearing up to crush him.They have set up a network of consultants and non-profit groups that are working overtime on Mr. Ferrer’s shadow campaign. Ms. Cortes-Vasquez is a big part of this.

She is a long-time Ramirez acolyte who is a member of the New York State Board of Regents, a post controlled by the Bronx Democratic organization,and formerly was the organization’s choice to sit on the Civilian Complaint Review Board.As the executive director of the Hispanic Federation, she is right at the center of the curious convergence between the worlds of politics and philanthropy. In this gray area, it appears that the clever have found a way for our federal, state, and city governments to finance political endeavors.

Just before the September primary election, the Hispanic Federation placed an advertisement that appeared in a number of community and ethnic weekly newspapers.The ad “thanked” members of the State Black, Puerto Rican, and Hispanic Legislative Caucus for “protecting” health care benefits.In Bronx newspapers this ad highlighted the work of Assemblyman Peter Rivera, with Mr. Rivera’s name prominently displayed in large type, along with a sizable photo. This looked to any casual observer like a campaign ad. Certainly the timing, appearing just days before Mr. Rivera faced his first serious primary challenge in years, would suggest that this effort was geared to help re-elect Mr. Rivera.

The tax-deductible contributions to the Hispanic Federation that funded this ad indirectly shifts the burden of its cost to other taxpayers, many of whom,we suspect,have no interest in Mr. Rivera’s continued service in the New York State Assembly.

Perhaps the appropriate government officials should look into this. But the state official with oversight into New York nonprofits, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer,already has a tight relationship with the Hispanic Federation and is committed to the candidacy of Mr.Ferrer.Mr.Spitzer also has close ties to Mr.Ramirez,having for years funneled hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars to Ramirez-connected consulting firms.

This has already paid off as Ms.Cortes-Vazquez played a pivotal role in the close 1998 election that first brought Mr.Spitzer to state government.

Last year, Mr. Spitzer settled a securities trading case against Philip Anschutz, the former chairman of Qwest, for $4.4 million, funds that were donated to charities selected by Mr. Spitzer’s office. Among the 32 charities chosen was the Hispanic Federation. Mr. Spitzer denies that this selection was made at his direction. But of the tens of thousands of worthy charities that could have been selected, this bit of good fortune for the Hispanic Federation hardly seems a random event.

But as Mr. Bloomberg wakes up to the forces lining up against him, he has at the same time been aiding them. The city recently awarded a contract to a Bronx social service agency known as Regional Aid for Interim Needs, or RAIN Inc. Rather than continue to deliver daily hot meals from local community-based Meals-on-Wheels programs, RAIN’s contract calls for seniors to get a week’s worth of frozen meals in one delivery.

This contract has unleashed a sea of criticism from Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, other elected-officials and the seniors themselves.How did RAIN get this sweetheart deal? The word on the Bronx street is that Mr. Bloomberg’s chief of staff,Peter Madonia,hammered this out over a cigar on City Island with his good friend and neighbor, Stanley Schlein, the attorney for the Bronx Democratic organization. And by the way, the executive director of RAIN is a fellow named Louis Vazquez, who happens to be the husband of the woman whose ties with Cablevision and Mr. Ferrer upset the mayor so much, Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez.

© 2004 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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