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Funding for community-based projects in northeast Queens is in limbo after City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) was arrested in a bribery scandal last week and charged with plotting to misuse money meant for neighborhood groups.
For months, Halloran has been meeting with northeast Queens residents to assemble a list of initiatives the community could vote on to decide where $1 million of his discretionary funds would go in a process called participatory budgeting.
But Tuesday Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) laced into Halloran for sending out a cheery news release touting the results.
“Here you have a man who is alleged to have engaged in a highly illegal activity relating to member items in the City Council, among other things,” Quinn said. “That presents to me no real appreciation - steeped in arrogance - about how significant the charges are against him. It was outrageous.”
Halloran was not at a Tuesday City Council session, where the leadership voted to relieve him of all committee assignments and prohibit him from making any more funding allocations.
The same day his legislative director John Mulvey resigned. A day earlier, Chief of Staff Chrissy Voskerichian also stepped down.
Halloran’s spokesman said the councilman would continue working out of his district office.
The participatory budgeting process, which puts $1 million in discretionary funds into the voters’ hands for local projects, was in the final voting stage last week when Halloran was accused by federal prosecutors of a scheme to use taxpayer dollars as bribes to rig the upcoming mayoral election so that state Sen. Malcom Smith (D-Hollis) could run in the GOP primary. But that did not stop him from touting the results.
“I thank my hardworking staff and all the constituents who put so much time and effort into this process over the past several months,” Halloran said in a press release. “We all learned a great deal. I especially congratulate the winners and encourage even more participation next year, in every district.”
The morning of Halloran’s April 2 arrest, spokesman Kevin Ryan insisted his office would be moving forward with the project, referring to the participatory voting as “undisrupted”
A spokesman for Quinn said although the speaker and the Queens delegation would consider the participatory budget voting results when deciding where Halloran’s money would go, the Council could not promise that it would follow the votes as binding agreements.
That did not sit well with College Point residents, who scored the most votes for projects like a $250,000 structural restoration of the Poppenhusen Institute in the neighborhood, a $100,000 rehabilitation of MacNeil Park in College Point, and $35,000 in police cameras throughout Halloran’s district.
“We are the biggest losers here if they don’t follow through with this democratic process,” said Andy Rocco, head of the College Point Civic Association. “This totally engaged our community.”
The Participatory Budgeting Project, a non-profit group leading participatory budgeting projects around the country, and the Urban Justice Center urged Quinn to ensure the votes count despite Halloran’s legal troubles.
“Council member Halloran’s arrest should not impede the participatory budgeting process and his constituents should not be punished – especially when participatory budgeting is a proven method for injecting transparency, accountability, and democracy into the budget process, and can ward off the risk of corruption that plagues the member item system,” the group said.
Meanwhile, elected officials rallied to have funding restored to northeast Queens’ after-school Beacon program. State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he and state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) reached out to Quinn about Halloran’s member items.
“We want to make sure that we have some influence or at least some input into how discretionary funds are allocated to this district,” Avella said. “Because the one thing that concerns us greatly is outside people allocating money to this district when they may not be the best people to know what is in need of funding.”
The Bayside Beacon program at MS 158 was put on the budgetary chopping block again this year after it was ultimately included in the Council’s discretionary funding.
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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