City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, widely viewed as a leading contender in New York’s 2013 mayoral race, found herself on the defensive on Tuesday as another candidate attacked her over her management of the City Council’s discretionary funds.
The attack, voiced in an op-ed article in The New York Post by Tom Allon, a newspaper publisher and political neophyte, demonstrated that although the election is still two years off, the race is already under way. And it suggested that Mr. Allon, while enjoying little name recognition, will nonetheless be a factor in the campaign.
Mr. Allon’s salvo was the first candidate-on-candidate attack of the race so far, and targeted what is presumed to be one of Ms. Quinn’s vulnerabilities — the revelation in 2008 of a longstanding practice in the Council of allocating discretionary funds to fictitious organizations to save the money for later disbursement.
A federal investigation ultimately led to corruption charges against two council members. One, Miguel Martinez, was sentenced in 2009 to five years in prison, partly for stealing from the discretionary funds, which are also called member item funds. Another councilman, Larry B. Seabrook, was charged with using nonprofit organizations he controlled to funnel discretionary funds to family members and friends, some of whom allegedly shared the money with him. The judge in his case declared a mistrial last week; prosecutors said they would retry him.
In his op-ed article, Mr. Allon laid the blame for these actions at Ms. Quinn’s feet, saying that “this sordid litany of member-item abuses came on her watch,” and asking, “Is this how a Mayor Quinn would manage economic development dollars?”
He also proposed changes, including setting up an independent system to review member-item proposals and instituting a system where no member item is financed without the sponsoring council member signing a statement attesting that neither he nor any member of his family or staff has a business relationship with, or has received any money from, the organization being financed.
Ms. Quinn’s office responded by saying that she had already instituted changes to the financing system, including requiring that organizations seeking member-item financing go through a city-mandated qualification process and that council members must disclose any relevant relationships when they submit a request for financing.
Ms. Quinn’s spokesman, Jamie McShane, said in a statement, “Chris Quinn put into place more than a year ago every single one of the reforms Tom Allon inexplicably called for today.”
Dick Dadey, the executive director of Citizens Union, a government watchdog group, credited Ms. Quinn with making the funding process more transparent.
“The Larry Seabrook case would be almost impossible to happen now,” he said. But he said there was still room for improvement, including instituting a more equitable system for distributing member item funding among council members.
Bruce N. Gyory, a Democratic political consultant who is not affiliated with any 2013 mayoral candidate, said that Mr. Allon’s attack was an early sign both of Ms. Quinn’s vulnerability as the front-runner and of Mr. Allon’s potential, as an outsider, to have an impact on the race.
“It’s easy to dismiss a guy like Tom Allon,” he said, but “there is an important role to be played by a nontraditional candidate who can drive the tempo of the issues raised.”