Sometimes I forget how long I’ve been watching and covering politics. A story in today’s New York Post brought it back to me. “Statehouse Sting Snags Queens Pol,” the headline read. Local pols, don’t worry. The representative in question works in Albany, not Beacon Hill.
According to the Post, Anthony Seminerio, created a phony consulting firm to receive cash from those seeking favors in New York’s state capital.
In one episode earlier this year, Seminerio allegedly pocketed $390,000 from a hospital in his district whose officials approached him for help securing extra funding during threatened budget cutbacks. In several taped phone conversations, Seminerio said he would “go rattle some cages,” but only if the officials “find me a check.”
“That kind of relationship you can’t buy for a million dollars,” he said in one recorded conversation.
The Village Voice has an even better alleged quote:
“I was doing favors for these sons-of-bitches there, you know, they were, they were making thousands. ‘Screw you, from now on, you know I’m a consultant.’
Here’s how I come into the story. A dozen years ago, I was covering New York politics for the Forward. Unlike my colleagues who focused mainly on the Jewish world, I was a political junkie, interested even then in the vague workings of outer-borough politics. When an old classmate called me up and offered to take me on a tour of his home neighborhood, Howard Beach and Ozone Park, I eagerly said yes. I was curious to get an inside glimpse of the area that was home to Gambino family mob boss John Gotti as well as the scene of an ugly racial incident in the 1980s.
My friend drove me around. We passed some local Italian bakeries. Then we stopped underneath an elevated subway line on a busy street. “I’d like to introduce you to somebody,” my friend said. He took me inside to an old political clubhouse. In an outer room, a few old ladies were sitting on bridge chairs sipping coffee out of styrofoam cups and stuffing envelopes. We went farther in and reached a back room. The scent of seafood hung in the air. There, behind a desk sat the massive frame of Anthony Seminerio, elected two decades earlier and a man, who has reportedly spoked of being “John Gotti’s assemblyman.”
My friend introduced me and we chatted briefly. He showed more interest in holding court for his supporters and supplicants than in talking to a reporter from an obscure Manhattan weekly. At one point, we were interrupted by a campaign worker running up to him with an aluminum container of what looked-to-be frutti di mare.
“Tony, Tony, my scungilli never comes out good. It’s dry,” the man said woefully. Seminerio showed a hint of annoyance and then growled slowly: “Put a little lemon in it.”
The whole scene was right out of the movies. I didn’t pick up any evidence of corruption though. Seminerio seemed the kind of outer-neighborhood ethnic pol whose main focus was on his constituents. His web page, which provides many numbers of use to neighborhood residents, certainly reflects that.
The irony here is that somebody with Seminerio’s connections probably could have made a lot of money if he had only resigned from the legislature and waited the appropriate period to become a lobbyist. It all would have been legal.
I haven’t been able to discern a plea from the press coverage around his arrest. The Post reports that his wife when leaving federal court “told reporters, ‘Drop Dead!’ and stuck out her tongue.” The New York Sun says his office declined to comment and that his attorney could not be reached.
The sad things is, should Seminerio — who looks like a larger version of Paul Sorvino, the actor who played Paulie in the Scorsese classic Goodfellas — ultimately be found guilty and have to serve time, prison is no longer as depicted in the movie. Seminerio won’t have followers to prepare razor thin slices of garlic or hot sausage for sauce or even lemon for the scungilli.