The "Respected" Met Council And Sheldon Silver

In reading about the Rapfogel embezzlement scandal at the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty,  you can't get through an article without the author somewhere mentioning how "respected" the Met Council was here in New York.  The Daily News here on August 15 calls the Met Council "one of New York's once-most-respected charities."  The New York Times on September 15, commenting on the failure of government "oversight" to catch this long-running scam, says "There was little reason to wonder about the integrity of Met Council, a respected 40-year-old organization."  And even the Post on September 25 describes Rapfogel as "head of the well-respected Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty."

This is just another difference between me and almost everyone else here in New York.  The Manhattan conventional ignorance is a complete sucker for anything that sells itself as doing "good," without applying even a hint of critical thinking.  Long before it was caught in the current scandal, I thought that so-called "anti-poverty" non-profits like the Met Council and its ilk were bad, even despicable. 

The Met Council fundamentally is and always was an entrenchment scam for politicians, with any help to the poor as a secondary by-product at best.  What kind of legitimate "anti-poverty" organization takes $90+ million of annual taxpayer anti-poverty funding and never raises a single person out of poverty?  A legitimate anti-poverty organization would have as its number one goal to move its clientele to middle class independence as rapidly as possible and shrink itself gradually out of existence. 

Not these guys.  Absolutely the last thing they want is for the "poverty" population to shrink.  Then the funding would go down!  The basic idea is in kind handouts of one sort or another.  As readers here know, those do not count at all in the official measures of "poverty" and therefore will never remove anyone from the rolls.  Look at their list of programs here:  "providing quality housing," "providing clothing, furniture, and help with home repairs," "assisting seniors with essential living tasks," "helping families recover from domestic violence," "enrolling New Yorkers in low and no-cost health care and food stamps," etc., etc.   There is no risk at all that these kind of things will decrease the poverty count by a single soul.   

And it's not just that the in kind handouts don't count in the definition of "poverty"; they also function as a trap that keeps people from moving themselves up the real income ladder.  Things like Medicaid, food stamps and public housing have eligibility criteria that you had better not cross by succeeding on your own.

Nobody who actually wanted to end or reduce poverty would ever design a so-called "anti-poverty" agency in this way.  But while this kind of program may not be very good for the poor, it is perfect for politicians bent on perpetuating the power of themselves and their colleagues.   The programs create a permanent class of handout-dependent people who know that if the out party ever gets in, the funding could well go away.  And that's only the beginning.  Lots of people work for these agencies.  They are reliable advocates for continuing and increasing their funding, and for the election of the politicians who promise to do that.  They also can be counted on to rally their friends and supporters to fight for continuation of their funding.  Here on the Met Council web site is the section where they urge readers and supporters to "Advocate against budget cuts."  "2000 frail homebound New Yorkers are at risk" "778 households Utilities turned off Unable to pay rent Nowhere to turn"  etc., etc.  Oh, is that advocacy paid for by the $90+ million of annual taxpayer funding for the organization?

And then there's the very best part:  political contributions to fund campaigns.  The allegation in the AG complaint against Rapfogel is that, as the Times describes it, he "conspire[d] with someone at the insurance brokerage . . . to pad the charity's insurance payments by several hundred thousand dollars a year. . . .  Mr. Rapfogel . . . pocketed some of the money and was involved in getting the rest to politicians who supply the government grants to the nonprofit organization. . . ."     

Now, even though Rapfogel's wife has been Sheldon Silver's chief of staff for decades while this was going on, I don't have any reason to believe that Silver knew the details of the mechanism by which Rapfogel stole taxpayer money and funneled it back into the political campaigns of Silver and his friends.  But here's what I do know.  I know that Sheldon Silver is a very competent man, and does his main job well.  His main job is perpetuating the large majority in the New York Assembly of Democrats, particularly Democrats loyal to himself.  And if he is to do that job at all competently, he must keep very, very close track of the flow of political money to himself and his supporters.  He must know in great detail which of the taxpayer-funded non-profits in the state come through with big contributions for his machine from their executives, their employees and their boards, and he must have that information in his head when he is influencing which of them get more and less money from the taxpayers in the coming year.  And he must see the Bill Rapfogels of the world regularly at political and social events, and he must let them know how much he really, really appreciates their contributions to help get his candidates elected, as well as their efforts to get additional contributions from the employees of the organization.  If he doesn't do these things, he's incompetent; and he is definitely not incompetent. 

A reader yesterday asked me if I thought there was any hope for cleaning up the current situation, such as through the state Moreland Act (ethics) commission appointed by the governor.  The short version of my answer is, there will be hope for cleaning this up when organizations like the Met Council are no longer "respected" in polite New York society.  We have a long way to go.