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Phil Reisman Journal News: Spano signs power over to Obama in HUD deal

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Phil Reisman Journal News: Spano signs power over to Obama in HUD deal

September 09, 2009 - 20:19

Article from LOHUD on 9/3

Spano signs power over to Obama in HUD deal

If there's any remaining doubt that the Obama administration hasn't actively extended its long arm into the affairs of day-to-day community life, then Westchester's $62.5 million housing settlement with the federal government should be a convincer.

More and more, this fuzzy deal looks like a triumph of centralized bureaucracy over local practicality.

Is there racism in these parts? You bet there is. But this curious case seems to have less to do with racial justice than it does with the assertion of power - federal power.

And the stark fact is that County Executive Andy Spano literally, though perhaps unwittingly, signed that power over to the feds. The smoking gun is contained in a deposition he gave.

Said Spano: "I signed whatever I have to in order to get the money from HUD."

The New York City-based Anti-Discrimination Center, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, alleged that Spano's admission was evidence of the county's "false claims" that it had complied with requirements to "affirmatively further fair housing" when it secured $52 million in grant money from the Department of Housing and Development.

Evidently, Spano didn't read HUD's fine print before he signed on the dotted line and took the money. Or worse, he did read the fine print and didn't think about the consequences of any failure to adhere to it.

Either way, it just seems dumb. Like the farmer Jabez in "The Devil and Daniel Webster," Spano took the short-end dough while forgetting that some day the devil would come to collect on his side of the bargain.

The money was distributed to a consortium of 40 Westchester towns, villages and cities that were supposed to use the funds to provide affordable-housing opportunities for minorities, thereby reducing a pattern of de facto segregation.

However, according to a federal court brief filed by the ADC, the county's stance was to take a hands-off approach with the municipalities.

Citing a 2005 meeting between the ADC and Deputy Planning Commissioner Norma Drummond, the brief alleges that Drummond said that the county, "would not, as a matter of policy, withhold or threaten to withhold" the federal money from the towns.

The county's policy, Drummond allegedly said, "has never been to chastise municipalities," nor is it "to tell a municipality what to do."

So now the federal government is telling the municipalities what to do. Actually, more to the point, it's ordering them to figure out what to do.

The confounding details of the settlement involves the acquisition or new construction of 750 units of housing to be spread out over mostly white communities.

How this will be carried out exactly is anybody's guess. What is certain is that an appointed federal overseer will have the far-reaching power to accept or reject any plan.

Spano, a self-described loyal Democrat, doesn't want to alienate the Obama-ites who clearly are making Westchester out to be some kind of a national example of unfair housing policies. With Election Day looming, his interest is to quickly ram this settlement through the Board of Legislators, which was left out of the legal proceedings and is only this week trying to decipher what the agreement means.

That guy looking over their collective shoulder is Big Brother.