Gurney's Inn
May 17, 2006

Pot Calls Kettle Black

Perhaps he needs legislation because he can't exert self control on his own. That was the criticism Ben Zwirn, County Executive Steve Levy's liaison to the legislature leveled last week, as the body's Ways & Means committee reviewed Jay Schneiderman's proposed amendment to the county's rules regarding campaign contributions.

Citing a desire to end a "pay to play" culture within county government, the South Fork lawmaker has filed a bill capping the amount of money a candidate may receive from private firms that do business with Suffolk.

Rather than offer remarks relating to the substance of the bill, so far the executive branch has lasered in on Schneiderman. Zwirn told committee members last week that Levy's team reviewed the local legislator's own campaign filings. The result? According to the executive branch, it's a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

While running for re-election, in one day Schneiderman accepted $4000 in contributions from local businessman Ben Krupinski. Since Schneiderman moved his district office from space at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton to a more central location in Sag Harbor, Krupinski has been his landlord. That means he is a vendor for the county and under Schneiderman's measure would be prohibited from contributing more than $500.

"I'm aware of that," Schneiderman said this week. He emphasized that it was perfectly legal to accept the contributions at the time and said he would be more than willing to abide by the restriction should his bill pass.

However, Schneiderman pointed out that Krupinski is not exactly the type of businessman he had in mind when devising the restriction. While Krupinski does receive rent in the amount of about $34,000 per year from the county, the stipend pales in comparison to potential millions county vendors can make undertaking such capital projects as road improvements. Many contractors trace the lion's share of their annual income to hefty county contracts, and would surely suffer without them. By contrast, given the scarcity of commercial space on the East End, and especially in downtown Sag Harbor, Krupinski could easily rent the space should the business relationship with Suffolk dissolve. He doesn't need the rent from one office to balance his books, Schneiderman's chief of staff Eric Brown pointed out.

Additionally Schneiderman pointed out that the lease of the Sag Harbor space went through a committee process to receive approval. He alone didn't make the decision to lease the space.

A public hearing on the bill was slated to be held yesterday. Schneiderman wasn't particularly optimistic about its chances for approval given Levy's opposition and the influence he can exert over the legislature's Democratic majority.

When the proposal debuted, the CE's spokesman Ed Dumas dismissed the measure as a "pretend reform." He said Levy, whose Friends of Steve Levy campaign filings depict tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from county vendors, plans to propose "sweeping" reforms in the coming months.

Perhaps those reforms might include a prohibition against soliciting vendor attendance at big-ticket campaign fundraisers, one political naysayer sniped following last week's committee meeting.

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