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As former aides to City Councilmember Kendall Stewart entered guilty pleas in the embezzlement case that had been brought against them, the calls have begun for Stewart to resign his Council seat.
Asquith Reid, Stewart’s former chief−of−staff, pleaded guilty on June 25 to embezzling New York City Council discretionary funds, as well as to a count of witness tampering arising from the investigation into his activities.
In addition, Joycinth “Sue” Anderson, another Stewart staffer, pleaded guilty to embezzlement of councilmanic funds.
Even before the pleas were entered before U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry B. Pitman, one insurgent candidate running against Stewart in the 45th Councilmanic District stood on the steps of City Hall and called on Stewart to step down from the Council.
Accompanied by community activists and labor leaders, Jumaane Williams contended that the guilty pleas entered by Stewart’s former staff members were evidence that Stewart himself “is not a good leader for the 45th.
“This isn’t about mud−slinging,” Williams stressed. “It’s just a statement of fact. Leaders should be helping to build the community, not taking from it. Kendall Stewart can’t claim ignorance of what happened inside his own Council office. It’s not credible, so I’m calling for him to step down.
“City Council funding is a lifeline for CBOs (community based organizations),” Williams added. “That money should be going to help the community improve schools, and fight for affordable housing. Instead, it went to the pockets of his own staff, who used the council funds for Stewart’s political club and campaign mailings.”
Reid and Anderson were indicted last year on a series of charges, including conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering conspiracy, and were charged with embezzling at least $145,000 of $356,000 in city funds allocated since 2005 through the City Council to the Donna Reid Memorial Education Fund, a not−for−profit organization headed up by Reid and named in memory of his daughter.
A subsequent “superceding indictment” related to two other CBOs, Community Opportunity and Resource Development (CORD) and Central Brooklyn Community Services (CBCS), both of which received discretionary councilmanic funding through Stewart’s office.
“Reid was also the contact person for the council member’s requests for discretionary funds,” the superceding indictment noted.
Anderson’s role, according to the indictment, was as a “paid consultant.”
The funds were used, according to the superceding indictment, for “payment of political club and campaign expenses for the council member for whom he [Reid] worked.” In addition, some of the money was sent, via wire transfers “to individuals, including Reid’s family and friends, in Jamaica,” the superceding indictment recounted.
“The question now becomes, how can something go on in your office and you don’t know about it?” wondered attorney Terry Hinds, a community activist who had planned to run for the Council seat in the 45th C.D., but had dropped out of the race because of the crowded field.
“It’s unfortunate for Asquith, because he’s a likeable person,” Hinds went on. “But, it’s also unfortunate for the community, given the economic times we’re in, with money so scarce for not−for−profits that are actually doing good work.”
Stewart, for his part, averred that he has no intention of stepping down and denied any knowledge of what Reid and Anderson were involved in.
“I think he’s out of place,” Stewart said of Williams. “He may not understand that, in government, you serve the people. Just because I have been associated with people that may have done something, I’m not responsible for the CBOs, which are not part of my office. I’m not part of that. How dare he say I’m part of that and that if something went wrong with the CBOs, I should step aside.”
Asked about the use of funding for his club and campaign, Stewart asked, “How is that possible? If they could, don’t you think they would have brought charges against me? He [Williams] is grasping at straws because he knows my record. He has nothing else to hang onto.”
Nonetheless, local residents are asking whether Stewart will emerge victorious in the upcoming Democratic primary, where he is expected to be challenged by numerous insurgents. One local activist remarked that, in her view, Stewart was “complicit either way.” But, the source added, “He’s been doing such a good job of acting dumb that it could sustain him through the election.
“I don’t think it’s a walk,” the pundit added, though the number of competitors “makes it easier. He may get the seat back but not by a tremendous margin.”
Another activist said that he thought that Stewart was vulnerable despite the number of people running against him. To prove his point, the activist cited the congressional race, a couple of years back, in which Yvette Clarke emerged victorious in a crowded field, despite the fact that many onlookers had called the race beforehand for the single Caucasian candidate who had thrown his hat into the ring, David Yassky. If Clarke could do it then, the pundit contended, it’s not a stretch to think that one of the insurgents in the Council race could pull an upset.
But, Hinds was not so sure. “The numbers help his chance of re−election,” he averred. “There are so many candidates and the pool of eligible voters is slim.”
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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