By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
At a recent community meeting in Marine Park, City Councilman Lewis Fidler asked the crowd how many distrusted the government. Nearly everyone in the audience of 75 raised their hands.
Councilman Fidler wasn’t surprised. After all, it has barely been two years since Brooklyn State Senator Carl Kruger was arrested and sent to prison on bribery charges and only days since Brooklyn State Senator John Sampson was charged with embezzlement and obstruction of justice.
Both state senators represented parts of Marine Park. “It has really hit home for us,” Councilman Fidler admitted.
The meeting was hosted by the Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association. Councilman Fidler was joined by U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch and other local politicians, all of whom hoped to assure community members that not everyone in politics is corrupt.
“Councilman Dan Halloran was caught saying ‘it's all about the money.’ Well, it's not," said Councilman Fidler, referring to the Queens city councilman arrested on bribery charges last month. "I started out as a child and there was no money in it. I just wanted to make my neighborhood a better place."
Lynch took that message a step further when she said that not only should people not give up on the political process, but also that their participation is necessary.
“Don’t give in to apathy,” Lynch said. “Don’t give up. Stay involved, stay focused and vigilant.”
U.S. Attorney Lynch stated that apathy hurts the democratic process and that – along with wiretaps, undercover officers, and witnesses using recording devices – ordinary citizens who notice inconsistencies often play a big role in bringing corrupt politicians down.
“We are all enforcers,” Lynch said. “We all play a role. People need to get involved. ‘See something, say something’ is not just a slogan for the subway.”
Lynch also cautioned people to be patient in corruption cases and warned that just because somebody’s name is brought into the mix doesn’t necessarily mean they are corrupt.
“There can often be names that come out that should not have come out because, especially early on in an investigation, it’s impossible to determine their involvement and often it just tars their names,” she said.
When Lynch was questioned about whether black politicians are unfairly targeted, she replied, “Not stealing money is not a high standard. We look at the behavior of everyone. Our goal is to protect communities. You deserve integrity regardless of what your background is.”
Brooklyn Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein also spoke at the meeting. She explained that she is currently working on legislation that would oversee not-for-profit charities to ensure that funds are being properly used for their designated purposes.
“There have been too many stories of people embezzling from charities,” Weinstein charged. “For those of us trying to work hard and do our jobs, it’s a little frustrating, saddening, and disappointing to see all of the corruption.”
Assemblyman Alan Maisel explained that further steps need to be taken. He contended that corrupt politicians should not be allowed to use campaign finances for legal fees and that they should lose their pensions if they are found guilty.
"If you have to spend $1 million out of your pocket on legal fees and could potentially lose your pension, then maybe you’ll think twice about defrauding the system,” Maisel said.
After the meeting, many attendees thanked U.S. Attorney Lynch and said that her remarks had assuaged their fears.
"A lot of people were wondering who we could trust," said Ed Jaworski, President of the Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association. "That was the thought we had when we invited our speaker here tonight, and she did a great job answering a lot of our questions.”