Friday, August 21, 2009

Como Still No-Go On Commissioner Appointment by Chris Bragg and Sal Gentile - City Hall News

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NYCHA post fails to materialize for former Council member, despite promises

Back when Mayor Michael Bloomberg was meeting with Republican county leaders about running on the GOP ballot line in November, his administration offered Anthony Como, the former Council member and favorite of the Queens County Republican Party, a job in his administration as a commissioner with the New York City Housing Authority.

Yet five months later, Como has yet to assume the job or collect a paycheck. And some members of the Queens GOP, the county organization which had been the most skeptical of the mayor’s entreaties, are now seething that Bloomberg is once again not living up to promises made to them.

I don’t think it was ever a sincere offer,” said one Queens Republican. “They’ll keep him dangling until the campaign season is over, so he doesn’t become an enemy. But that job is never materializing.”

Two sources in the Queens GOP who have spoken with Como say a lengthy vetting process has held up his appointment. They say they doubt whether he will ever actually be appointed to the coveted $172,311 a year post.

Reached by phone, Como disputed that anything irregular was occurring. He said he was confident his appointment was still on track, and that he was still in regular contact with top staffers in both the Bloomberg administration and the Bloomberg campaign.

We’re still going back and forth,” Como said. “Nobody has said anything about me being turned down.”

Como accepted the job just weeks after the Queens GOP endorsed Bloomberg to run on the Republican line this November. One source said Bloomberg aides delayed the appointment process after news of Como’s hiring became public in May, in order to avoid the appearance of a quid pro quo.

At the time of the hiring, some saw the appointment as part of a deal worked out between the Queens GOP, Bloomberg and Tom Ognibene. Ognibene abandoned a potential run for mayor—easing Bloomberg’s efforts to win the Republican line—and is now running for the Council seat once held by Como.

(Ognibene held the seat himself until term limits forced him out in 2001; it was then held by Dennis Gallagher until he resigned as part of a plea deal on rape charges; Como won the seat in a June 2008 special election, but lost to Elizabeth Crowley in their rematch last November.)

One Queens GOP source also noted that the appointment was in the works long before the Queens GOP endorsed Bloomberg, as Como said he first discussed the possibility of taking a job in the Bloomberg administration with Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey after losing the seat last year.

Another reason for the delay seems to be that the Department of Investigations, which performs routine background checks on administration appointees, has been looking into several zoning violations committed by Como when he was renovating his home in Middle Village.

Administration officials questioned Como about the violations in an interview earlier this year, which has made him nervous that he may not get the job, according to another person who has spoken with him. They added that the final decision about Como’s appointment will likely come some time after Labor Day.

Some in NYCHA are apparently unaware that Como was actually still under consideration for the job. When contacted, NYCHA spokesman Howard Marder said he believed it had only been speculation in the first place that Como had been offered the commissioner post.

That was just a rumor—and it’s not true,” Marder said.

When informed that the Department of Investigations had been looking into Como’s background and that he actually had been offered and accepted the job, Marder referred questions about Como to the Bloomberg administration's press office, which did not respond the inquiries about Como.

The Bloomberg campaign also did respond to a request for comment.

Como’s vetting process has already taken longer than that of current NYCHA commissioner Margarita López, which took only three months. López had several potentially more serious issues in her background stemming from her time on the City Council, including her role in procuring a $630,000 grant for a controversial Church of Scientology project.

But if Queens Republicans continue to despair that there remain too few party members in the administration, the delay in Como’s appointment has been cheered by at least one group that has often tangled with the administration: tenant activists.

I think Como would be a disastrous choice for rent regulation,” said Michael McKee, treasurer of the Tenants Political Action Committee, adding that, as a NYCHA commissioner, Como would wield outsize influence at an agency “where three people make all the decisions.”

Photo: Fox 5 News