Quinn Stands Behind Decision on Seabrook Funds

Updated, 5:23 p.m. | A slightly testy City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn on Wednesday defended her decision not to strip Councilman Larry Seabrook of control over more than $350,000 in discretionary funds in the coming budget cycle, even as he awaits a second trial on corruption charges related to his use of such funds.

Ms. Quinn is expected to run for mayor next year. Last week, the New York Post editorial page, as well as one of Ms. Quinn’s expected rivals, the newspaper publisher Tom Allon, criticized her for allowing Mr. Seabrook to dispense the funds while he was under indictment.

When she was asked, at a news conference before Wednesday’s Council meeting, whether the critique had given her any second thoughts, Ms. Quinn offered a one-word answer: “No.”

Mr. Seabrook, a Bronx Democrat who has held elected office for most of the last three decades, has been charged with steering more than $1 million to nonprofit groups under his control. A previous trial on similar charges ended in a hung jury, but prosecutors have said that they will retry him.

Asked to explain why she thought it was all right to allow Mr. Seabrook to dispense the funds, Ms. Quinn, also a Democrat, said that reforms to the process of distributing the funds had made it less vulnerable to corruption.

“We used to have a process in the City Council where basically Council members made requests to fund groups in their district, and it was a little bit of an honor system — there was the assumption that those were groups were qualified to do the work,” she said.

“We no longer have an honor system. We have a verification system, where the groups that are seeking funding from the Council are taken through an aggressive vetting process.”

In Mr. Seabrook’s case, Ms. Quinn said, none of what has been alleged “could have happened under the system we now have.”

“What we’re trying to do with member items is support many groups out there at the local level who are doing the work well, and make sure the money is scrubbed thoroughly, so it is going to those groups,” she said. “And I stand by that process.”

Ms. Quinn also had a sharp answer to a question about how the city should resolve a standoff with the teachers’ union over teacher evaluations, which has put in peril roughly $60 million in federal aid to struggling city schools.

While declining to blame either the city’s Department of Education or the union for the impasse, she expressed impatience with both parties and offered a window onto her own approach to finding resolution on contentious issues.

“I think the best way you find resolutions is you lock people in rooms,” she said, her voice rising. “You give ‘em a very limited amount of water, a couple pieces of bread, you don’t let ‘em out.”

She added: “We’ve worked things out in Council by saying, ‘We ain’t leaving the room ’til it’s over,’ and making big people stand outside the doors and don’t let you out.”

Later on Wednesday, Ms. Quinn was celebrating a policy victory. In his State of the State speech, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo had expressed support for ending New York City’s requirement that applicants for food stamps be fingerprinted — a Bloomberg administration policy of which Ms. Quinn has been a vocal critic.

“It was unnecessary, stigmatizing, and costly, and the governor has put an end to it, and that is going to help tens of thousands of New Yorkers,” Ms. Quinn said in a phone interview.

Asked if she thought her criticism of the policy had any influence on the governor, she said, “I think the voice of the Council in this was not insignificant, certainly since the mayor has a different position.”

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