Billy Phelan's Greatest Scam [UPDATED]
Yesterday, almost simultaneously, I got both a Facebook Message and an email from “Reform” Brooklyn District Leader Lincoln Restler. He asked but one question:
“WHO IS BILLY PHELAN?”
Regular readers of this column may be aware that it has sporadically been brightened by the participation of my brilliant alter ego, a former Albany Wise Man who goes by the name Roscoe Conway--a nom de blogue via Albany’s James Joyce, William Kennedy, but not, as some suspect, a nom de blogue for Gatemouth.
Roscoe’s name is taken from the title character of a Kennedy novel which fictionalizes the story of Albany’s legendary Democratic Machine led by Boss Dan O’Connell, his brothers Edward, Patrick and Solly, and his nephew John, and their respectable front men, the Corning Family.
As some may recall, one day, without solicitation or forewarning, Roscoe (the blogger) just began attaching brilliantly written commentary to my posts, and virtually only my posts, in much the manner that legendary NYC DJ Vin Scelsa, used to receive in the mail anonymously (or so he claimed) the brilliantly pun-filled letters he read on the air from “T-Shirt and Razoo Kelly”. Roscoe channels the greats: Nelson Algren, David Mamet, Marty Connor, Jean Shepherd, Groucho and (unaccountably) Kurt Vonnegut, and Roscoe’s storehouse of New York political lore far exceeds my own.
Sadly, Roscoe rarely visits in recent years, but lately there has been a new Williams Kennedy-inspired pretender to Roscoe’s throne:
As the fictional Roscoe served the real life Cornings and O’Connell’s, the fictitious Billy serves the real life Vito Lopez.
Let’s take a look at the record:
Just over a year ago the Daily News ran an article in which Vito Lopez was accused of trying to get the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn to close churches in his district where the clergy had allegedly been overly friendly to his enemies.
Typically, I found problems with both Lopez and his accusers:
To me, the really distressing thing here is not the charge, but the admission. Just hypothetically, let's take Lopez at his word: He did not try to use the power of government to get the Diocese of Brooklyn to close churches; he used the power of government to try to get the Diocese of Brooklyn to keep open churches they wanted to close. While this may not be quite as great an evil as the allegation in this article, is it not just as great a violation of the Free Exercise clause for a politician to use the power of government to interfere with the internal decisions of a religious denomination?
Just to be fair, let me also question what the dissident priests were doing "allowing" supporters of a Diana Reyna to campaign outside their churches. Either those sidewalks are open to everyone to do the same thing without permission, or, in the alternative, those churches have a problems with the IRS.
In the thread that followed, Billy makes his Room 8 debut.
BILLY PHELAN: NY Times on Churches Did you see the NY Times article today on the Church re-organization?http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/nyregion/16diocese.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion
The Father Powis quote is priceless: "I have serious difference with Mr. Lopez, and I'm sure he does not wish us well. But I don't have any quarrel with the decision to close my church. It's falling down."
I mean, how does one get from yesterday's front page "conspiracy" in the News to the Times' article today?
I think the pendulum is about to start swinging...
Billy next appearance on Room 8 came almost a year later in a thread for a column post mortem-ing the recent 9th CD special election for Congress.
Billy's appearance,in turn, helped to inspire a follow-up, where I documented his response, and my response to it:
I initially wrote:
Those who will claim last night was a loss for Vito Lopez are not without an argument.
Bob Turner’s extraordinary two to one victory in the 9th District’s Brooklyn portion (Weprin eked out a small victory in Queens) was the story of the election, but from the beginning, thoughtful observers (defined here as me and Colin Campbell) knew Turner was going to win Brooklyn.
As the coach noted in Chariots of Fire, one can’t put in what God left out.
Maybe a flawless and relentless Brooklyn operation could have yielded Weprin 40% there, but it was not going to do much better in the current climate, and would probably not have won there even in a better one.
Anyway, Vito won the races he cared about, and won them convincingly (Assembly candidate Rafael Espinal) or big (Civil Court candidate Sharen Hudson).
Billy Phelan wrote back:
I disagree. Last night was a victory for Lopez.
Perhaps he misunderstood me when I said:
Vito won the races he cared about, and won them convincingly.
Billy went on to opine:
If anyone should take heat for how the 54th AD race impacted the NY 9 congressional race it is the WFP and the democratic electeds that failed to realize they were pursuing a failed strategy in both districts and tying up much needed democratic foot soldiers. Leading this piece like you did is unfair to Lopez, and let's ALOT of people (WFP, Lincoln Restler, New Kings Democrats) completely off the hook.
I don’t think it’s giving Lopez “heat” to say: “one can’t put in what God left out. Maybe a flawless and relentless Brooklyn operation could have yielded Weprin 40% there, but it was not going to do much better in the current climate, and would probably not have won there even in a better one”
A better description of that sentence would be to say I was letting Lopez almost completely off the hook.
As to letting NKD, WFP and Lincoln Restler off the hook, I think I was rather unyielding in criticizing progressives for cluelessness in their choices for allocation of resources in these races:
7/12/2011: Meanwhile, on Facebook, some of New York’s most outspoken progressives have done little but express their outrage about the candidate selection process…
Lincoln Restler (Brooklyn District Leader) (July 7): freedlander explains the 1 person democracy that is a NY State special election...and how we ended up David Weprin. The Weprin Choice, or How to Win Your Party’s Pick for a Special Election | PolitickerNY www.politickerny.com...
I have to ask, with all due respect,
WHY THE FUCK DO THE PROGRESSIVES HAVE THEIR HEADS UP THEIR ASSES?...
All of the “progressive” energy in the room seems to be sucked up by the fight to beat Vito Lopez’s candidate and elect Jesus Gonzalez to the Bushwick/Cypress Hills Assembly seat.
Although I’m leaning to endorsing Gonzalez myself, I am unimpressed by the idea that beating Vito Lopez is more important that beating John Boehner.”
7/18/2011: It’s a Gatemouth World Part Two: “Lincoln Restler Eats Crow”
Lincoln Restler: This is how Democrats ended up with Assemblyman David Weprin, widely praised for his “loyalty” to the Queens machine, rather than any variety of qualities we might hope for in our newest Member of Congress.
GATE: I don't disagree that the process sucks--no mention of runoff in the proposal Restler supports, so I'll have to withhold judgment as to whether it'd be a gift to the GOP.
But Jesus H. Gonzalez, man, could you not even spare one sentence to mention that Weprin's a decent liberal who is highly preferable to the Republican?
Lincoln Restler: I‘ve stated publicly my support of his candidacy. I want every vote we can muster to get Nancy her gavel back
GATE: Nice if you had mentioned it--even in an aside; people in places like Sheepshead Bay read that Paper and might get a different impression, given that your prose in the article strongly implies a total lack of support.
Phillip A. Saperia: I agree with Gatemouth. David Weprin is a tested liberal with a credentialed record.
Lincoln Restler: Thanks, Phillip. I also support him in this election.
7/19/2011: I am puzzled why "progressives" who say that a Democrat accepting the Conservative line is disqualifying and makes it imperative we support the WFP candidate [in the 54th AD], cannot bring themselves to declare that a Republican accepting the Conservative line is also disqualifying and makes it imperative we support the WFP candidate (who happens to be the Democrat) [in the 9th CD] When will Lincoln Restler’s parents be sponsoring a fundraiser for David Weprin?
9/6/2011: The idea that Vito Lopez, however bad he may be, is somehow a greater evil than John Boehner, Eric Cantor and the Tea Party is just unfathomable to me, as is the thought that a race between three candidates who will vote the same way 97% of the time is somehow worth more effort than the chance to make a difference in a race between a moderately liberal Democratic and a Tea Party Republican, which if we lose, will be a right wing propaganda victory of monumental proportions to be used across the nation as a bludgeon against Health Care Reform and Same Sex Marriage.
9/10/2011: Hamilton notes that Gonzalez is backed by ”The New Kings Democrats,” and however much NKD are rich white outsiders, they are also genuinely reformist, if sometimes painfully out of touch (NKD Leader Lincoln Restler recently wrote about the special election selection process with such vitriol that one practically had to put a gun to his head to get him to admit that David Weprin was preferable to Bob Turner).
That all being said, Mr. Phelan was correct that the article should have noted the lame efforts of both Lopez and “progressives.”
In my follow-up, I went on to note that NKD, a local club, Restler, a local District Leader, and Lopez, in his capacity as a local District Leader, were perfectly within their rights to focus their efforts on a race in their neighbor’s neighborhood, and that Restler earned special criticism only because he went out of his way to insult Weprin, while his protestations of support were delivered sotto voce.
However, I also noted that the WFP, and Lopez, in his capacity as County Leader, are a different matter. Both made conscious choices to deploy their resources to the detriment of Weprin by putting them towards a race which meant far less.
While I did not criticize Lopez (or Restler) for deploying his club and other local supporters on behalf of Espinal, I did criticize Lopez for deploying his resources from around the County in the Espinal race, and not for Weprin.
However, I also noted that the same, in even larger measure went for the WFP, who made the wrong choice both based on the importance of the issues involved, and in its cost benefit analysis of what it could accomplish. I also pointed out that, in both cases, election day was not the real sin. Weprin seemed to have had a pretty adequate election day operation.
It was the lack of troops throughout the campaign where both Lopez and WFP failed Weprin and the national Democratic Party. And, in that measure, the WFP was worse, as Lopez was providing Weprin with some support, and then pulled it, while the WFP basically did nothing at all.
Billy next appeared on Room 8 on October 27. I’d written a couple of items with made passing reference to Restler and his club, the New Kings Democrats:
The picture accompanying this article indicates that among those who made Vito's march were members of the Buddy Scotto-Real Estate Industrial Complex; Buddy's daughter Debra will likely be challenging Reform District leader Jo Anne Simon next year as Vito's handpicked candidate.
And word is Simon made it as well, which surely drove Vito nuts, which might alone justifies her presence, though Lincoln Restler appears to feel otherwise.
I’m on record saying this rally, which embraced a very specific proposal, was a good idea, if only for that reason alone--so I can hardly criticize people for attending it.
But let's face facts; the whole purpose of the rally was flag wrapping, but a dead mackerel wrapped in American flag still smells, even if you salute it, and no matter how many condiments you put on a dead mackerel sandwich, its nature is not altered.
So if one feels as Simon does about Lopez, one probably would not want to assist him in attracting a crowd, even if it pissed him off.
And does anyone believe Buddy Scotto really wants to pay more in taxes? Vito Lopez Leads Occupy Wall Street Protest; ‘Write About How This Was A Successful March’ | The New www.observer.com
A few observations about Vito Lopez's so-called charm offensive:
3) Why is the press so infatuated with the idea that "New Kings Democrats" is the Brooklyn Reform movement? To cite one contrary example, Vito got his ass kicked by Reformers far worse in the Brooklyn Heights based 52nd AD than in NKD's Williamsburg stronghold, where Regulars still hold the Female District Leadership.
4) Vito can criticize "reformers" all he wants for backing Ed Towns for a vacant District Leadership, but Towns' election would have been a victory for pluralism. On a Party Executive Committee where Lopez already handpicks 11 members, "reformers" are quite within their rights to take pluralism any way they can get it.
5) I can personally attest that Lopez is not lying about the work he did for loft tenants, or the support he attracted from them. He also deserves credit for supporting same sex marriage given his socially conservative district, but credit there is mitigated by the fact that it is to his advantage to support it as a Democratic County Leader. On a charm offensive, misunderstood Brooklyn boss Vito Lopez plays defense | Capital New York www.capitalnewyork.com
Billy responded with this remarkable piece of work:
Lincoln Restler is full of it. He comes from a family that has made immense wealth (not top 1% but top .0001%) by privatizing the natural gas industry in British Columbia Canada. Talk about back room deals and cronyism, Peter Restler, Lincoln’s father and biggest campaign contributor, seems to be the man behind the curtain of British Columbia’s center right Liberal Party, and those politicians regularly come to NYC to kiss his ring. The article below follows the money and goes where NYC journalists haven’t: http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/03/21/SmartMeterRush/
Unlike Roscoe, though, Billy’s not restricted his work to Room 8.
Billy’s first mention of Restler’s family actually came in the Brooklyn Paper, the day before, after an article about Lopez’s rally in support of “Occupy Wall Street” drew some skeptical comments:
BILL FROM BROOKLYN: The biggest phonies are the New Kings Democrats that people like anywho support without thinking. Lincoln Restler comes from a family that has made immense wealth (not top 1% but top .0001%) by privatizing the natural gas industry in British Columbia Canada. Talk about back room deals and cronyism, Peter Restler, Lincoln’s father and biggest campaign contributor, seems to be the man behind the curtain of British Columbia’s center right Liberal Party, and those politicians regularly come to NYC to kiss his ring. His father basically engineered something similar to Enron in Canada for his own profit. The article below follows the money and goes where NYC journalists haven’t: http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/03/21/SmartMeterRush/
Since then Billy’s been quite busy.
Here he is on October 28, in a thread for an article where Restler was named one of City Hall News’ “Forty Under Forty”:
BILL: Lincoln Restler is such a hypocrite. He comes from a family that has made immense wealth (not top 1% but top .0001%) by privatizing the natural gas industry in British Columbia Canada. Talk about back room deals and cronyism, Peter Restler, Lincoln’s father and biggest campaign contributor, seems to be the man behind the curtain of British Columbia’s center right Liberal Party, and those politicians regularly come to NYC to kiss his ring. His father basically engineered something similar to Enron in Canada for his own profit. The article below follows the money and goes where NYC journalists haven’t (scroll down in the article to the section called Restler’s Rise): http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/03/21/SmartMeterRush/
Here he is using a different nom de blogue the next day on the “Capital New York” thread about Vito’s “Charm Offensive”:
HELEN123: I can understand why Lopez seems this is unfair. A former social worker and not for profit administrator who helped to pioneer the development of senior services and affordable housing development in North Brooklyn even before becoming an elected official, his every move is cast in dark, ominous tones, while his opponents, many of whom are wealthy corporate attorneys or come from very wealthy families that finance their campaigns, never receive any public scrutiny. Take Lincoln Restler. He comes from a family that has made immense wealth (not top 1% but top .0001%) by privatizing the natural gas industry in British Columbia Canada. Talk about back room deals and cronyism, Peter Restler, Lincoln’s father and biggest campaign contributor, seems to be the man behind the curtain of British Columbia’s center right Liberal Party, and those politicians regularly come to NYC to kiss his ring. How can helping to elect judges compare to creating what amounts to Canada's Enron for your own profit? This article below follows the money and goes where NYC journalists haven’t: http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/03/21/SmartMeterRush/
The day after that, Billy was slurring Restler on a thread for an innocuous Brooklyn Paper article about a Job Fair Restler co-sponsored in Fort Greene:
BILL FROM BROOKLYN: Lincoln Restler is a master hypocrite. He comes from a family that has made immense wealth (not top 1% but top .0001%) by privatizing the natural resources (gas and hydro power) of British Columbia, Canada. This process has mean massive jobs cuts. Also, the whole process has been done behind closed doors. Peter Restler, Lincoln’s father and biggest campaign contributor, seems to be the man behind the curtain of British Columbia’s center right Liberal Party, and those politicians regularly come to NYC to kiss his ring. The article below (esp. section entitled Restler’s Rise) follows the money and goes where NYC journalists haven’t: http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/03/21/SmartMeterRush/
The next day, Aaron Short of “The Brooklyn Paper” attacked Lopez for his March in support of “Occupy Wall Street,” saying Lopez qualifies as a “One Percenter.”
Though Restler was not mentioned in the article, Bill decided he needed to be brought up anyway:
BILL FROM BROOKLYN: At a time when financiers and other bankers are making billions of dollars pushing foreclosures and privatizing our natural resources, you choose to pick on two people that have given their lives to public service? Seems like selective prosecution to me.
On November 4th, I attended Steve Cohn’s Annual Political Theme Park and Egg and Roll Festival at Junior’s and in in the spirit of T’shuva, asked Councilman Steve Levin if he wanted to join me for breakfast some morning, jokingly informing him that members of the City Council didn’t need to be anti-Israel to break bread with me.
Levin agreed breakfast or a beer would be a nice setting to talk about our mutual interest in The Blues, and then I said, maybe it should be dinner at my house, so I could show off my collection of well over 5,000 Vinyl LP’s (including the Japanese Box Set of Muddy Waters’ complete output—give or take—on the Chess Label).
Prior to stopping at Levin's table, I’d just been talking to Restler, Levin’s most likely potential opponent for re-election. Levin had seen me doing so, and Levin asked me if I’d seen the article about Restler’s father.
Levin was literally wide eyed in describing its unbelievably embarrassing nature, and highly recommended that I read it.
On Thursday, I published an article where Restler got substantial mention. I would describe my post as neither positive nor negative concerning Restler, or more accurately, as a mixture of both.
I basically criticized Restler for calling for the resignation of a less that savory pol at a moment when it was easy to do so, and then posed the question of whether Restler had the guts to do the same at a moment when doing so had would be far more difficult.
And, low and behold, Billy felt compelled to comment:
BIILY PHELAN: Restler only applies high standards to others and then only when it suits him. His race for District Leader was financed primarily by his father, a person has made immense wealth (not top 1% but top .0001%) by privatizing the natural gas and hydro power industry in British Columbia, Canada. Talk about back room deals and cronyism, Peter Restler, Lincoln’s father and biggest campaign contributor, seems to be the man behind the curtain of British Columbia’s center right Liberal Party, and those politicians regularly come to NYC to kiss his ring. His father basically engineered something similar to Enron in Canada for his own profit. Lincoln could have very easily not taken this money, but it wasn't in his best interest. The article below follows the money and goes where NYC journalists haven’t (scroll down in the article to the section called Restler’s Rise):http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/03/21/SmartMeterRush/
I now record the dialogue which followed:
MAYOR CORNING: Hey Billy, Is Lincoln Restler Canadian? Have you seen his birth certificate?
The Mayor (you know which one)
GATEMOUTH: This thread is really... ...Canucked up.
Truly Trudeau (and not Gary): Separatist.
BIILY PHELAN: No but his grandfather was...
Actually, Lincoln Restler's maternal grand-father (Peter Restler's father in law) was a Government Minister in the Quebec Regional Government for most of the 1970s and a member of the Liberal Party. Among other things, Goldbloom was Minister of the Environment for Robert Bourassa whose major accomplishment was investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Hydro Electric power for Quebec. While Quebec has managed to keep their Hydro electric facilities public over the years (mostly by dumping the center right Liberal Party), privatizing hydro power, along with natural gas, is exactly what has made Peter Restler and the Restler family so wealthy over the last twenty years. Coincidence? Doubt it. Here's the link to Lincoln's (maternal) grandfather:
BILLY PHELAN: One more thing
Gate, Canucked up is about all your comment threads are these days. While Lincoln's friends may not like the above posts, or the article written about his father, the magazine that published it (The Tyee) is an award winning progressive weekly, and has a sterling reputation in British Columbia for investigative jouornalism. The truth is that Lincoln Restler is the first person to call for people to resign, or to call people corrupt, without any proof of guilt, when in reality, his entire political career is funded by insider dealing and massive profits at the expense of the public good. Why ignore this startling contradiction when it is right in front of your face?
1) The Liberals are more accurately described as centrist or center-left.
2) When who controls Canadian hydroelectric power becomes an important issue in Brooklyn, I might find this more relevant.
3) It seems rather attenuated from Lincoln's politics; parents fund their children because they are their children.
4) Your purism about Lincoln would be easier to take if you hadn't been so consistent an apologist for Vito Lopez. My problem with Lincoln is that he essentially worked to undermine Weprin; that is also my problem with Vito. You, as I recall, practically celebrated Weprin's defeat as a victory for Vito, so I don't see how you can credibly take such a purist stance.
5) I don't know what this has to do with my thread.
6) It was fun seeing you at Cohn's breakfast, where you tried to sell me on this preposterous story. Please drop by sometime so we can talk more about the blues.
coln2011: Thanks for canada goose parka all the information. I have posted a link to this page on canada goose expedition my blog for all of my readers. I have also bookmarked canada goose jackets this for my future reference.
BILLY PHELAN: Not so
I've never been to Cohn's breakfast at Junior's, and I'm more of a Sea and Cake fan than a blues man. My loss I guess.
Aside from that, I guess my larger point was that it is more than a little hypocritical for Restler to be quoted publicly denouncing Lopez for being "part of the 1%" when his family is worth tens of millions of dollars, if not more, don't you think? Would be similar to JFK having started his career as a teetotaler.
While I see your point about the money not being much of an issue now, will you at least concede the point that very soon he'll probably be running for some public office (since this is what all this grandstanding is about, right?), and that money, and those connections, will conveniently make him more of a threat than any of this idealogical posturing ever could?
GATEMOUTH: I will concede... ...that it was a hypocritical for Restler to attack Vito as part of the 1% (if he did it; I didn't see that), as it was for Vito to attack Restler as a carpetbagger. I will also note that Russell Long spent his career pissing on his dad's legacy, and that our current Governor is doing the same, so I'm still not sure what the parent problem is --my problems with Restler have not been about his money.
Clearly, this scandal needs further investigation. Where is "The Onion" when you need them?
And while they're at it, maybe they can investigate whether Restler's Montreal Canadian mother is the secret Sugar Mama behind the Montreal Style Canadian Jewish Deli "Mile End" operating in the heart of Levin's Council District.
Query: Which of these Nice Jewish Boys is going to end up as the Smoked Meat Sandwich in this schmaltz-laden scandal?
Before I go any further, let me apologize for suggesting, without conclusive evidence, that Steve Levin had anything to do with these posts. They’ve been all over the place, and perhaps he was just making conversation, rather than trying to inspire an article by me about this topic--somethng he's now done, but perhpas in spite of himself.
However, the authorship of these posts need not remain a mystery. Room 8, The Brooklyn Paper, City Hall News and Capital New York all have it within their abilities to identify the IP numbers for these posts, share them with each other, and check out where and who they emanated from.
Not too long ago, Colin Campbell traced some IP numbers of commentators on Brooklyn Politics to the Ridgewood-Bushwick empire, and Nick Rizzo published it; surely, it is not beyond the institutions who’ve received this bilge to identify the perpetrator(s).eavy scandal.
UPDATE: This arrived today in my Facebook messages:STEPHEN LEVIN: Hi Gate,
I just read your Room 8 post "Billy Phelan's Greatest Scam". The reality is that I am not Billy Phelan, I have no idea who Billy Phelan is, and I have had nothing to do with his posts. In fact, this episode illustrates why I don't post comments on blogs.
I do wish, though, that you would have asked me first before making that assertion.
And I was serious about getting together sometime to talk blues.
All the best,
And while I actually apologized in this column for making such an assertion in passing, for the very reason that I do not know who Billy Phelan is (I only know who raised the topic with me, sua sponte), I still must compliment the Councilman for grace beyond the call of duty in the face of extreme provocation.
Although surely, Lincoln Restler has in this instance faced provocation of a far nastier nature.
My suggestion to Steve is a simple one. Issue a statement condemning the Phelan posts and saying that they are irrelevant.
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