Posts Tagged ‘New York Politics’

On Rep. Anthony Seminerio (D-Ozone Park), Now Indicted

September 11, 2008


 Anthony Seminerio of Queens

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.





Vincent “Buddy” Cianci on Eliot Spitzer

March 26, 2008

The Prince of Providence


I’m a little late in posting this. But I think it’s colorful enough to still enjoy. In the wake of Eliot Spitzer’s resignation last week, I called one of New England’s more intriguing political figures.


F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously said “there are no second acts in American lives.”


Fitzgerald never met Vincent “Buddy” Cianci was the larger than life former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island not once, but twice. Cianci’s first 9 consecutive years in office came to an end after his resignation in 1984 after he plead no contest to charges that he assaulted his estranged wife’s paramour. Cianci came back as mayor in 1990 having won a rousing election campaign. He lead Providence for another twelve years, helping to revitalize downtown Providence and making it one of America’s comeback communities, all until being convicted on one count of racketeering conspiracy, out of an indictment that originally carried 30 counts. He resigned and completed four and a half years in federal prison. Since last May, he has been back in the limelight in Providence, hosting a highly-rated radio talk show on WPRO appearing as a political analyst on the city’s ABC television affiliate.


If any politician in American can help the disgraced former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, find a way to rebuild his life and reputation, it’s Cianci.


Cianci is quick to distinguish his case from Mr. Spitzer’s. First, he says, he fought prosecutors tooth-and-nail on the charges against him, ultimately being convicted on only one of a slew of charges against him. Second, he always maintained a significant portion of his popularity in Providence: “I was mayor for 22 years and I’ve been to ever bar mitzvah and every first communion and every wake. I became part of the fabric of the city.” Third, he points out, he never portrayed himself as a moral paragon as Mr. Spitzer did.


Of the events that lead to his first comeback, Cianci says, “the first thing … a guy was fooling around with my wife and I gave him a couple slaps. It’s a lot different.” Of the charges that lead to the second, he says “I was found not guilty of all the predicate acts but guilty on the conspiracy.” All this, he emphasizes, is different than being linked to prostitution, particularly for a politician who made a name prosecuting others. “When you fall from grace, it’s a lot more difficult to come back.”


The first shock Mr. Spitzer will have to overcome, Cianci says, is the adjustment after years of being an elected official to returning to life as an ordinary citizen. “This guy’s going to go through some tough time when he wakes up and finds he doesn’t have the trappings of office,” Cianci says.


Another obstacle Mr. Spitzer faces, according to Cianci, is the possibility that legal charges could be brought against him. “He’s lucky he’s rich,” Cianci says, noting the financial cost of protracted court fights.


Despite the differences he cites, Cianci talked about the pain of a draining legal battle and prison sentence. “I went to work every day after court,” he says. “But it does take a toll on you. You have to have a lot of testicular fortitude to go through that.”



Surviving prison, he says, was a challenge. “It’s boring. It’s not a pleasant place to be,” he says. “The first six months I was there, I worked in the kitchen mopping floors. Then I got a job in the library.” Through it all, he took things “one day at a time.”


Before Mr. Spitzer or anyone else reclaims his public image, he must restore his relationships with his family and his own psyche, Cianci says. “You have to reach down into your soul and believe in yourself and have tremendous self-confidence,” he says.


Cianci’s come back has been helped that his gift of gab is coupled with a roguish but inherently likable personality, which, of course, is one recipe for a successful talk show host.  Cianci has shown up on the airwaves after both instances of downfall. It’s hard to imagine the often-dour Mr. Spitzer jousting with work-a-day callers on the airwaves. Still, it’s possible to envision Mr. Spitzer some day down the line teaching or writing after the passions of the moment subside.


Today Cianci’s reputation is revived to the point where he gives talks across New England on urban redevelopment and appears as a public personality at local festivities. On Sunday, he introduced a series of Irish singers at the Providence Performing Arts Center. Later Tuesday, he spoke at Brown University, to tell his story to students as well as members of the public.


His may not be the recommended career path, but Cianci’s life offers Ivy League students and alums a Phd. in come backs. It’s one talk that would be of use to a Harvard Law School graduate, class of 1984.