Monday, April 13, 2009

Nadler, ACORN and the Working Families Party: No Credible Evidence?


Before Bertha Lewis ever kissed Mayor Bloomberg or charmed the world with her YouTube hits and appearances on Lou Dobbs; she was a political force to be reckoned with in New York. Bertha’s reach extended beyond ACORN’s traditional constituency of low income and minorities as a small leftist third party began to emerge in New York during the late 90’s.


Wikipedia describes the Working Families Party (WFP) as:

a minor political party in the United States founded in New York in 1998. The party also has chapters in Connecticut, South Carolina, and Oregon, and is working towards establishing itself in Massachusetts and California[1].

New York's Working Families Party was first organized in 1998 bya coalition of labor unions, ACORN and other community organizations, members of the now-inactive national New Party, and a variety of public interest groups. The party blends a culture of political organizing with unionism, 1960s idealism, and tactical pragmatism…

As of 2006, the executive director of the WFP is Dan Cantor. The party's Co-Chairs are Sam Williams, UAW Region 9 CAP director; Bertha Lewis, ACORN's executive director; and Bob Master of the Communications Workers of America. The WFP also has a powerful alliance with Dennis Rivera and Local 1199/SEIU (Service Employees International Union). The intensely activist union is known to contribute more than $100,000 a year of the party's $1.4 million annual budget.”

The entry lists the ACORN Brooklyn office as its headquarters and with Bertha Lewis acting as its co-chair, ACORN’s interests seemed to move from being member driven to more financial and political goals .Like most organizations with ACORN roots, the WFP had intricate personnel and financial ties to ACORN National. According to a 2006 report:

“Field operations have been assumed by Clare Crawford for 07, who will be missed in the ACORN Field Operations, but understood the priority and the challenge on this frontier. The integration of the WPF into the COUNCIL and the overall ACORN family of organizations made such a transfer possible, and one recognizes many nam es from ACORN in any stroll through the WFP Empire.”

According to Wikipedia, the WFP takes advantage of:

New York's electoral fusion laws that allow cross-endorsement of a single candidate by multiple parties. This allows sympathetic voters to support a minor party without feeling like they are "wasting" their vote. Usually, the WFP endorses the Democratic Party candidate, but it has occasionally endorsed Republican Party candidates in Westchester, Nassau, and Erie counties, often as a strategy for spurring bi-partisan action on its policy priorities. The party's sometime-position at the balance of electoral power and the threat of Republican endorsement has allowed it to influence the politics of local Democratic candidates and the state Democratic party. The support of the WFP can even be important in Democratic primaries.”

HOW INFLUENTIAL IS THE WORKING FAMILIES PARTY?

New York ACORN has become the model for building power within ACORN across the country. Jon Kest, New York’s head organizer began training staff on the principle of building power after a successful 2006 elections.

In 2006, the WFP claimed several major victories for the Democrats, including a congressional seat that paved the way for Gillibrand’s nomination to the Senate. By endorsing Democratic candidates, the WFP and ACORN were able to form strategic partnerships that would come to ACORN’s aid later.


Over the past several weeks, ACORN has been in the news regarding the startling call by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) for a hearing on ACORN after Heather Heidelbaugh read my testimony into record at a hearing on March 26, 2009. However, “House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) shut down a request by Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) to launch an investigation into ACORN, with Nadler citing not enough “credible evidence” to proceed.” Here is a link to the video that was released in response to this.


Nadler has been a fixture in New York politics since 1992, but may have missed some of the “credible evidence that exists in his own state. He has been cross endorsed by the Democrats and the Working Families Party for years, and does attend WFP sponsored events. During the controversial Atlantic Yards deal, ACORN and Bruce Ratner seemed to divide the city and lead some to question ACORN’s motivations and tactics. In a article written in 2005 called Calling the Question of ACORN, the author Mark Winston Griffith, states:

Last night the "Newshour with Jim Lehrer" rebroadcast a story on the looming development of downtown Brooklyn, which includes the Nets Basketball arena and a dominating, Manhattan-like, Frank Gehry-designed skyline.


Among the interviewees, there was Bertha Lewis, the electrifying spokesperson for Brooklyn-based ACORN, patting herself on the back for getting Forest City Ratner, the developer of this mega-project, to agree to set aside 50% of the proposed residential units as affordable housing.


Although there's no guarantee that Ratner will honor this agreement, I'll leave it to others to argue whether this was a good deal for the residents of the surrounding area. It could end up being, as Bertha indicated, a coup for affordable housing and job seekers. Or it could end up being a cruel and opportunistic selling out of a neighborhood.


This question will continue to be explored intensely for the next few years. But an issue that also deserves public debate is the role that ACORN continues to play in New York City politics and community development. From Bertha's famed spit swapping with Mike Bloomberg, to ACORN's penchant for striking shady, self-profiting, deals with huge corporate interests, ACORN has muddied the idea of community organizing as a process of developing grassroots leadership and building community power.”

Griffith goes on to make a point that is eerily similar to the same charges that members of ACORN’s own board have made in a civil RICO complaint that has been filed in 14 states and DC.

“To assert their legitimacy, ACORN's will point to the thousands of members they have. But if you have ever been to an event organized by ACORN in New York or a meeting with an ACORN organizer, it's hard to see their members as little more than animated props and set pieces in ACORN's elaborate political theater.”

Nadler and the committee received copies of the complaint that was filed by the ACORN 8 this year, but apparently, the ACORN debate was at a fever pitch in New York around 2005. Among the noteworthy figures in New York politics who responded to this post was Chris Owens, candidate for the 11th Congressional District. Owens, an opponent of Atlantic Yards, seems take a pointed jab at ACORN and politicians who have worked with them.

“One would hope, therefore, that the political leadership -- particularly Black leadership -- would be working overtime to use public policy as a counterweight to the housing market. This has not been the case; "development" has gone wild. And, as implied by Mark, many Black -- and white -- elected officials and advocates pride themselves on "cutting the best deal" with developers on a given project.

Elected officials, in particular, feel that they are at the mercy of the next big contributor: that's one more or one less phone call that needs to be made. People power, or "democracy", is not a primary consideration…

There must be faith that things can change when people stand up. There must be laws that create tools for change -- laws that few incumbent elected officials are interested in passing. And there must be a new emphasis on "equality" -- not "equal opportunity" -- as the standard for success from a public policy perspective…

ACORN's leadership knows how to play the game, as does Rev. Sharpton and many others. It is time, however, for the game to change.

Nadler represents the 8th Congressional District, which stretches from Manhattan’s Upper West Side to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, and includes the Borough Park and Columbia Street waterfront sections of the 39th Council district. He is Chair of the Housing Committee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee of the Housing Judiciary Committee, and the ranking Democrat from New York State on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. With part of Brooklyn as his district, it is almost certain that during his political career that he has heard some bad things about ACORN. Even so, it did not preclude a $500 donation directly to Brooklyn ACORN in 2003.

Interestingly enough Nadler has also received donations from Bruce Ratner and his brother Michael (who has sat on boards and panels with Nadler). As Norman Oder explained in his Atlantic Yards Report, the Ratners and ACORN have quite a lot of negative history with the residents of Brooklyn.

RATNER, BRUCE C
NEW YORK,NY 10128

FOREST CITY RATNER

6/20/94

$1,000

Nadler, Jerrold (D)

RATNER, JULIE H
NEW YORK,NY 10128

STUDENT

6/20/94

$1,000

Nadler, Jerrold (D)

RATNER, MICHAEL
NEW YORK,NY 10014

SELF/ATTORNEY

3/16/08

$2,300

Nadler, Jerrold (D)

RATNER, MICHAEL
NEW YORK,NY 10014

SELF/ATTORNEY

3/16/08

$2,300

Nadler, Jerrold (D)

RATNER, MICHAEL
NEW YORK,NY 10014

ATTORNEY

6/12/96

$250

Nadler, Jerrold (D)

While signing onto ACORN letters of support and attending ACORN organized events like the much touted Christmas dinner with foreclosure victims,Nadler seems to only see the bright side of ACORN despite FBI investigations and complaints by its own board members of a criminal conspiracy. Nadler’s relationship with the Working Families Party illustrates this. During the 2007-2008 cycles Nadler gave a total of $41,000 to the WFP, and it was listed as transfer of excess campaign funds.

Jerrold Nadler - 2008

Recipient

Amount

Date

Description

Working Families Party, Brooklyn, NY

$10,000

June 22, 2007

Transfer of Excess Campaign Fund

Working Families Party, Brooklyn, NY

$6,000

August 22, 2008

Transfer of Excess Campaign Funds

Working Families Party, Brooklyn, NY

$25,000

June 04, 2008

Transfer of Excess Campaign Funds

This donation represents a progression of the ties between the WFP and Nadler. Opensecrets.org list prior cycle donations as:

Jerrold Nadler - 2002

Recipient

Amount

Date

Description

Working Families Party, Brooklyn, NY

$1,000

May 01, 2002

CONTRIBUTION

Working Families Party, Brooklyn, NY

$600

November 30, 2001

FALL FUNDRAISER TICKET

Working Families Party, Brooklyn, NY

$200

April 15, 2001

Other Disbursement Patron Ticket

Working Families Party, Brooklyn, NY

$300

March 29, 2001

Other Disbursement Reception Tickets

Jerrold Nadler - 2004

Recipient

Amount

Date

Description

Working Families Party, Brooklyn, NY

$2,500

June 02, 2003

Contribution

Working Families Party, Brooklyn, NY

$3,000

March 02, 2004

Contribution

Jerrold Nadler - 2006

Recipient

Amount

Date

Description

Working Families Party, Brooklyn, NY

$3,000

April 21, 2005

Contribution

Working Families Party, Brooklyn, NY

$5,000

May 04, 2006

Contribution

Working Families Party, Brooklyn, NY

$10,000

July 16, 2006

Transfer of Excess Campaign Funds

According to ACORN’s own website, Nadler joined with Charles Rangle in supporting the WFP “Take Back Congress” initiative. Here is an excerpt from the letter:

"Everyday we are more confident that Democrats have a historic opportunity to regain majority control in the House this cycle and that with so many competitive races in New York, our state will be the key battleground in this effort. As Dean of our Delegation and your colleague in the Delegation, we write to remind you that we are poised to play a pivotal role by supporting Democratic Congressional candidates across New York. This is not the first time you have been asked to help our Congressional candidates, but today we are urging you to do so by supporting the "Take Back Congress – New York" campaign, an effort of the Working Families Party.

A review of the relationship between ACORN, the WFP and Nadler may indicate why there seems to be a problem with finding credible evidence to proceed with a hearing. In their most recent union, Bertha Lewis and Al Sharpton were able to get a hearing in Nadler’s committee on Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio

“As a result of street actions by Arizona ACORN members and other pro-New American organizations, the voices that many of you raised through petition efforts like the one ACORN launched on February 5th, and meetings between ACORN leaders in DC for our annual Legislative and Political Conference and the staff of House Judiciary Chair John Conyers, Chairman Conyers issued a request today that puts Arpaio's actions squarely in the cross-hairs.

Joining Chairman Conyers, a lion of America's Civil Rights Movement, were Immigration Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Crime Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who all called on Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.”

I have to wonder if Bertha still holds Conyers in such high regard? However, judging from the hearing I attended, they still seemed to have one staunch ally in their corner. Even after a group of ACORN board members formed the ACORN 8 to take action against ACORN’s illegal activities and allegations of misconduct across the country; Nadler claims that he can not proceed because the evidence is just not there. Which led one blogger to wonder

“…Isn’t that credible enough for Nadler? Or is he too much in ACORN’s grip that nothing short of a signed and videotaped confession by all of ACORN’s leadership will pique his curiosity about election fraud? Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.”

Nadler summed up his position by adding that: “It’s not our business to say ACORN is terrible or ACORN is wonderful. That’s not a congressional job,” Mr. Nadler said. “The evidence - I’ve listened to it - I think most of it is nonsense. If it’s true, it’s a law enforcement matter.” I may not be a mind reader, but from the credible evidence out there, its seems that Nadler has already made up his mind and ACORN is – wonderful.

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