STATEN ISLAND — Politicos turned out by the dozens to back a Park Slope councilman’s aide as she pleaded not guilty to charges of campaign finance fraud last Wednesday, shouting on the courthouse steps in Staten Island that the special scrutiny she received makes no sense in light of the approach to the Eric Garner case.
Council members from across the city and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D–Williamsburg) gathered at the courthouse in support of Rachel Goodman, Councilman Brad Lander’s chief of staff. She is being prosecuted by an appointed outside lawyer, and was indicted last month by a grand jury for supposedly fudged campaign finance filings in Councilwoman Deborah Rose’s 2009 race, which she worked on.
Councilman Jumaane Williams said the care taken with the investigation of a matter usually handled by the city’s Campaign Finance Board makes a mockery of Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan’s decision to hold onto the Garner case despite the appearance of his office having ties to the cop who choked and held Garner down last summer, killing him. Williams also had choice words for the special prosecutor on Goodman’s case, onetime Brooklyn civil court judge candidate Roger Adler.
“Dan Donovan did not recuse himself from the Eric Garner case, but he did recuse himself from Debi Rose to put in a willful imbecile to do this foolishness,” Williams said.
The assembled officials took turns blasting Donovan. Lander said that the union-backed Working Families Party, the common link among those who made the trip to the courthouse to support Goodman, cares about ending corruption in elections.
“If you stand for good campaign finance, then you stand with this coalition of people and against this baseless and vindictive prosecution,” Lander said. “This is the coalition that has fought for campaign finance laws, that embraces those laws, that works hard to comply. It is the reckless and vindictive special prosecutor that is undermining campaign finance.”
Two prominent good-government groups have backed Goodman, saying the prosecution subverts the usual campaign-finance enforcement system.
Standing with Lander in support of Goodman and her two co-defendants were Rose, councilmen Carlos Menchaca (D–Red Hook), Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush), Antonio Reynoso (D–Bushwick), and several councilmen from Queens and Manhattan.
Goodman wrung her hands and remained silent for most of the rally. She didn’t take questions from reporters, but did tell a supporter how uncomfortable she was.
“I’ve never wanted to run for office,” she said. “That is not what I want for myself.”
Goodman, David Jones, and David Thomas turned themselves in and pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges that they undervalued the services they provided to Rose’s campaign while working for an affiliate of the Working Families Party.
The company Data and Field Services worked with eight campaigns across the city in 2009, including Lander’s, but was accused of providing only Rose’s with discounted services without disclosing them as in-kind contributions. If that alleged failure to disclose were not picked up by a prosecutor, the Campaign Finance Board would normally allow the campaign to amend its paperwork, or in severe cases, fine the candidate.
“The issues raised here are routinely handled through the course of the CFB auditing process,” said finance board spokesman Matt Sollars.
Speaking after the hearing, Adler defended his pursuit of charges in the case, saying he gave the board plenty of time to complete an audit.
“I respect the work that they do, but they haven’t done it, they haven’t moved forward, and here we are,” he said, over chants of “Investigate Adler!” and “WFP! WFP!” “I attempted to wait as long as I could to release their report, but they have not yet done that. They have not released draft audit reports regarding the primary campaign or the general election campaign.”
That is a bunch of balderdash, according to the Campaign Finance Board. Adler’s investigation was what impeded the audit, not any sort of heel-dragging on the part of the finance board, a board spokesman said. In 2013, the agency released audits of eight other 2009 campaigns that contracted Data and Field Services, including four that Goodman worked on. But the board suspended its audit of the Rose campaign in 2012 — because Adler opened a criminal investigation, the spokesman said.
Congresswoman Velazqeuz said Goodman is being punished for paperwork misrepresentations, or “errors,” that happen all the time without criminal consequences.
“These are errors that are made constantly, but that is why we have a Campaign Finance Board,” she said. “Let them do their job. This is politically motivated and Mr. Donovan should be ashamed of himself.”