Progressive Caucus wants to ‘Occupy’ Council

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Call it the Council commune!

Insiders say that Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) is attempting a radical re-shaping of the city’s legislative body on the model of an Occupy Wall Street working group.

Lander, who co-chairs the Council’s ultra-liberal Progressive Caucus along with new Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D–Manhattan), wants to create an egalitarian “leadership circle” that will replace the posts of majority leader, assistant majority leader, and majority whip. The circle would include an undecided number of senior council members, who will meet without titles and on terms of complete equality.

Sources were skeptical about the legality of Lander’s circle, since the New York City Charter clearly and sharply delineates the roles of Council leadership.

“I’m not sure they can pull it off,” one insider said. “The leadership hierarchy of a legislative body is fairly clear and set in stone.”

It is unclear at this time if the Council will distribute acoustic guitars and lyrics sheets for “Kumbaya” to members of the circle.

• • •

Sources close to Rep. Michael Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) say the pol is furious over the recent arrest of Diana Durand, whom the Federal Bureau of Investigation accuses of illegally contributing $10,000 to the congressman’s 2010 campaign — and his allies say the ongoing investigation looks like a politically driven witch hunt.

Durand’s arrest is the latest incident in a three-year federal probe into the two-term congressman’s fund-raising during his first bid for office, and some of Grimm’s backers point out that breaks in the case seem to surface at convenient times.

A flurry of reports about the probe came out in 2012, when Grimm faced an unsuccessful challenge from Mark Murphy, son of disgraced Rep. Jack Murphy. The investigation then went silent for all of 2013, only to begin making noise again in time for the beginning of 2014, another election year.

“It’s kind of strange this went away for a while, and nobody heard anything about it, and then it pops up again now,” said a major Brooklyn backer of Grimm.

In 2012, the feds took Israeli citizen Ofer Biton, a former aide to Manhattan Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, into custody on immigration-related charges. A New York Times report had accused Biton of strong-arming members of Pinto’s congregation into donating to Grimm’s campaign —a charge Grimm has denied.

The Houston-based Durand — who was reportedly romantically involved with the divorced congressman — stands accused of funneling funds into Grimm’s campaign via so-called “straw donors,” who allegedly donated Durand’s money to the GOPer under their own names in order to illegally bypass the individual donor limit.

Sources inside congressman’s camp could not confirm rumors of Grimm’s romantic entanglement with Durand, but said the congressman was enraged that authorities targeted a private citizen in an apparent effort to wring out information damaging to the pol.

“They arrested Ofer Biton and they couldn’t get anything out of him, and now they’re going after this single mother in Texas,” one insider near Grimm said. “I mean, how long is this going to go on?”

The accusation of a political motivation behind the investigation first came from Guy Molinari, Grimm’s mentor and main backer on Staten Island, which makes up the bulk of the district. The Republican power broker and ex-Rock borough president alleged that Sen. Charles Schumer had goaded his protege, disgraced former congressman and failed mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, into going to the feds with allegations that Grimm had extorted Pinto’s congregation.

“Schumer is orchestrating all of this,” Molinari told the New York Post in 2012. “He sees Grimm as a serious threat.”

Schumer denied Molinari’s claim.

Grimm faces a challenge from former Coney Island councilman Domenic Recchia. Recchia has not released any statement on Durand’s arrest.

Grimm has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

• • •

Assembly insiders say they are certain former councilman Erik Dilan will undoubtedly seek the state legislature seat vacated by his former chief-of-staff, ex-Assemblyman and now-Councilman Rafael Espinal (D–Bushwick).

And unlike Espinal, Dilan may face no real opposition in his quest to represent the district spanning Cypress Hills, East New York, Bushwick, and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Sources close to Jesus Gonzalezwho ran against Espinal on the Working Families Party line in 2011 — said the labor and immigrant rights activist is not interested in campaigning again for the seat he came within 630 votes of winning. The sources said Gonzalez has landed a comfortable job with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union and is focused on municipal-level political organizing.

“He really is focused right now on things in the city and doesn’t want to go to the state,” the ally said.

The only question is if Dilan will go through a Democratic primary in the fall, or if Governor Cuomo will call a special election earlier in the year — in which case, party operatives allied with Dilan will anoint him the successor to the seat.

Both Dilan and Espinal were close allies of disgraced Dem boss Vito Lopez, and Espinal enjoyed strong support from his former employer and the Brooklyn Democratic establishment in his run against Gonzalez.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him attwitter.com/WillBredderman.
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Reader Feedback

Jason from Park Slope says:
Molinari is right.
Schumers go-fer Pret Bharra is always running some politically motivated investigation for Schumer.
Preet put down John Liu as a favor to Quinn.
You wont catch Preet looking into tens of millions of dollars Schumer has in his campaign stash
Jan. 22, 2014, 12:32 am

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