Goodbye Congressmember Gary Ackerman


| lpenner@queenscourier.com |

Is anyone surprised that at the 11th hour before any candidate other than New York State Assemblymember Grace Meng sponsored by the Queens Democratic Party clubhouse could find the time to raise necessary funding and organize a petition campaign to enter the June 26th Democratic Party Primary, 5th Congressional District after Congressmember Gary Ackerman decided to call it quits.  Was this his parting gift to the Democratic Party machine, so that they, instead of the voters could determine his successor?  Time will tell.  In the meantime, take a look down memory lane concerning Ackerman’s 30 years of public service. 
Holding public hearings for constituents was never a priority.  Just ask Queens civic activist Joyce Shepard who was critical of his absence in many neighborhoods. Ackerman obviously believed he had no need to conduct public hearings for Ms. Shepard or other constituents.  Ackerman grew far too comfortable enjoying the perks of public office.  He has not had to break a sweat triumphing over GOP challengers during the past three decades.  Former Republican State Senators Frank Padavan (Queens), the late Michael Tully and Michael Balboni (Nassau) along with previous Town of North Hempstead Supervisors, local GOP State Assembly members or neighboring Queens NYC Councilmembers whose districts overlapped never stepped up to the plate to challenge Ackerman.  Any one of them would have started off with significant name recognition and perhaps the ability to raise a million dollars.  You need $1 million to fund weekly media buys, phone banks and numerous direct mail to compete against incumbents.  Those already holding public office such as Ackerman have perks such as pork barrel member item spending, numerous taxpayer funded district mailings and their own taxpayer funded staff to ghost write letters to the editor or guest op-ed submittals.  Lucky for Ackerman, Republicans consistently ran unknown second or third tier candidates with no name recognition or funding to be competitive.  As a result, Ackerman has been free to take very arrogant liberal stands on issues and held no public hearings as opposed to mainstream middle of the road positions during his term in office.   
The last Republican Congressmember from Queens was Seymour Halperin who after the 1972 reapportionment declined to run against Democrat Lester Wolff of Great Neck, when both were merged into one Queens/Nassau district. In 1982, GOP Congressmember John LeBoutellier briefly recaptured this seat for one term.  (Bob Turner who won a special election in September 2011 to represent the Brooklyn/Queens 9th CD has elected to run for the US Senate instead of another term.)  The 5th Congressional District has been gerrymandered with the help of Democratic Assembly Speakers. This includes Sheldon Silver and the judge appointed magistrate  either of whom drew up favorable district lines under the 2010 reapportionment. His proposed new district in Queens would have continued insuring Ackerman had a job for life voting any way he personally chooses without any consequences.  
Ackerman would prefer to forget his memorable appearance on a February 2009 ABC World News Tonight broadcast.  He looked like a deer caught in headlights as he was repeatedly at a loss for words while being interviewed.  At first, he denied the reporters question about remembering a recent trip to England.  Then, he denied knowing about the cost of the trip on a first class flight, claiming his staff made all the reservations and he wasn’t consulted.  Members of Congress including Ackerman routinely fly first class or are frequently transported by military charter at taxpayers expense.  If Coach is good enough for his constituents, why isn’t it good enough for him?  Many so-called “Fact Finding” missions conveniently double up with lots of down time to visit tourist attractions world wide.  Nobody in Washington can identify how many millions of taxpayer dollars are used by these Congressional junkets.  Why can’t members of Congress like Ackerman use the Internet and teleconferencing to learn about the world like everyone else, instead of constant trips abroad?   With a $15.5 trillion national debt, perhaps there are better ways to spend taxpayers funds.  The millions of dollars in frequent flyer mileage accumulated by Congress should be donated to charity!
Congressional Republicans returning to the majority in 2010 implemented elimination of all new earmarks saving taxpayers billions.  Ackerman fought to the bitter end for his right to earmark funds for his favorite charities and institutions.  He would never vote for existing offsets to other programs as a funding source for his earmarks. 
 
In January 2011, Congress passed legislation reducing members office budgets by $35 million or 5%.  This symbolic effort had little impact on the $14 trillion long term debt, though it does set an example for others to follow.  The vote cut across party lines with 410 in favor and only 13 opposed.  Ackerman was one of the greedy 13 voting no.  Ackerman refused to go along with most members of the New York delegation in supporting this legislation.  Ackerman believed that he deserves both his pay and that of his staff for all the great work they do representing constituents. Regardless of a public official’s party affiliation, voters are entitled to constituent services.  Taxpayers are paying for district offices and staff to provide this basic function.
Perhaps Ackerman forgot that both he and his staff were not drafted for their jobs.  If he or any of his staff don’t like their respective work place conditions, they are free to resign and move on.  He should allow his constituents to show him the door on the way out. Ackerman appears to have a limited understanding of how many constituents are out of work or working two jobs. They have to survive on far less than he does.
Ackerman’s constituents have never shared in the perks that members of Congress and their staff take for granted.  Federal civil servants have accepted wage freezes for three consecutive years.  They can’t accept meals, gifts or trips from lobbyists and vendors. They aren’t allowed to accumulate frequent flyer mileage traveling first class or on military jets for so called “fact finding” missions around the world.  Government employee jobs are legally classified as full time unlike public officials who are classified as “part time.”  This affords members of Congress far more opportunities to double dip and hold down second jobs. On average, members of Congress earn three times the salary of the constituents they represent.  Everyone knows about the hours, salaries and perks that members of Congress enjoy. This also includes staff to chauffeur them around Washington and in their home districts. Many members of Congress retire and relocate to the infamous K Street becoming lobbyists. Most retiring members of Congress have “golden” parachutes” and go on to enjoy the good life.  Are any former Congress members having problems meeting household bills or collecting food stamps?
Under Ackerman’s watch from 1983 to today, the long-term federal debt increased from $3 to $15.5 trillion. America can’t keep borrowing without dire consequences to our economy and freedom.
Ackerman supported and voted for fellow Democrat and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s commitment to drain the corrupt swamps of Washington and implement “pay as you go” spending. Three years later, we have added $5.0 trillion in new debt under President Obama, Senate leader Reid and former Speaker Pelosi, all ably assisted by Ackerman. It is no wonder voters have little faith in them.
Republicans proposed first returning to 2008 spending levels. There was no public outcry from Ackerman in 2008 that the sky was falling. He didn’t say that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and a multi-trillion dollar government safety net were going to end. The 2008 budget was prior to the one-time stimulus, TARP, auto industry bailouts and cash for clunkers expenditures. Now everything needs to be on the table including the infamous “third rails” of American politics — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and military spending.
There are solutions which Ackerman would not support such as actually implementing “pay as you go” budgeting, means testing for all government assistance and sunset provisions for agencies and programs that have completed their missions. End pork-barrel member item spending, stop paying farmers to not grow crops and abolish corporate welfare subsides via tax deductions.
Close down obsolete military bases abroad and reduce United Nations and foreign aid to those who offer no support when needed. Ask our European and Arab friends to reimburse the costs of our military adventure in Libya. End the wasteful war in Afghanistan. Return to an open budget process rather than midnight omnibus budget adoption.
America is on a path to go from the world’s superpower to the world’s super debtor nation. The poor and middle class will suffer. There will be no safety net for anyone. We need real action today, rather than to wait until 2023 to balance our budget, as Obama, Ackerman and their colleagues propose. By then it will be too late for America to save itself.  Sadly, Ackerman voted like the cowardly lion rather than standing out as a profile in courage.
Not to worry, Ackerman will enjoy his golden years in retirement with a very fat pension thanks to taxpayers.  Hard working constituents may end up with a bag of coal.  Perhaps Ackerman as a private citizen with lots of free time will join me and others in the Letters to the Editor section.  Without staff on the taxpayers dime and time, he will have to write his own material.