This past Tuesday, The Daily News confirmed last week's Forum West report regarding Councilman Dennis Gallagher's dealings with the foreign developer seeking to build 70+ housing units on the historic St. Saviour's Church site in Maspeth and the Parkside Group lobbying firm who was hired by this developer. Reporter John Lauinger got the inside scoop from the Department of City Planning, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Gallagher himself.
According to the article, "...a planning source told Queens News that as recently as two weeks ago Gallagher had inquired about the status of the development's application, wondering why it was taking so long to be certified."
Does this sound like the actions of a council member working on behalf of the community he was sworn to represent, or someone looking out for the best interests of a developer with deep pockets? If Gallagher doesn't push for the zoning change to be certified, the plan will likely remain stalled and the site will remain open space that much longer, with the possibility of saving the entire property for use by the public. But instead, he wants dozens of cheap houses built at the site ASAP.
The most revealing quote came from Queens BP Helen Marshall, however. The article states, "Marshall said the property is 'an eyesore right now' and suggested the development would likely move forward. A portion of the grounds would be used as a park, 'but mostly for people who live in the development,' she said."
While claiming that the developer would save a parcel of land for use as a park, Gallagher didn't make clear that it would be for the private use of the residents of the new housing development ‒ an important detail he conveniently left out. In addition, the property is an eyesore because of the actions of the developer and Gallagher; it had been completely renovated by the San Sung Korean Methodist Church just before they had received a monetary offer they apparently just couldn't refuse. The buildings were actively used through Christmas 2005. The fact that the developer has allowed the church to remain open to the elements and to vandalism does little toward proving that preservation of the historic building is in his plans for the site.
The icing on the cake was Gallagher's interesting money claim. The article continues, "He also said he put $1 million into the city's 2008 budget to preserve the church property, but couldn't come up with $2 million more needed to seal the deal." When did the magic number become $3 million? Only after questions were raised as to where the original $1 million appeared in the budget and why it wasn't being used to take possession of the church building. Questions remain as to whether or not the money ever existed in the first place.
Councilman Dennis Gallagher has a long history of acquaintance with lobbyist Bill Driscoll, a founding partner in the Parkside Group, for many years. Driscoll was well-known as Gallagher's "go-to" man when he [Driscoll] served as chief-of-staff to the late congressman, Thomas Manton. Gallagher often turned to Driscoll for help with problems that arose. Now, Driscoll and Parkside are pouring thousands of dollars into Gallagher's campaign coffers and are allegedly getting free lobbying in return from the councilman. There are rumors that Gallagher will become a lobbyist for Parkside after he is term-limited out of office in 2010, if he is not convicted of the rape charges pending against him. Could St. Saviour's be his litmus test for that position?
If the powerful Parkside Group is contemplating Gallagher as an addition to their lobbying force, Parkside could fall by the wayside.
If James Maurice, the 19th century elected official who represented Maspeth, stood up to Tammany Hall (and won) and donated the land upon which St. Saviour's stands, can see what has become of his gift to Maspeth, he must be turning over in his grave. If he is aware of the type of representation his hometown now has, then he may actually be spinning in it.
*The web version of this editorial differs slightly from the print version.