Monday, November 06, 2006

Another Editorial Says Sweeney Must Go

North Country Gazette:

COMMENTARY - John Sweeney Ethics Preclude His Reelection To Congress

When Congressman John Sweeney's son was charged with second degree assault as a result of a fight in Stillwater on Aug. 19, 2004, which seriously injured the victim, he turned to Troy attorney E. Stewart Jones.

Although his son could have faced up to seven years in prison for the vicious assault, he walked, escaping all jail time.

Reassure us, tell us politics had nothing to do with that.

Now three news outlets have produced an incident report concerning a report of domestic violence at the Sweeney home, obtained from the New York State Police and Sweeney, embroiled in a contentious race for Congressman in the 20th Congressional District, claims the report is fabricated. He has in essence accused the media, three separate news organizations, of falsifying evidence and says that he's going to produce the real report.

So where is it?

Once again Sweeney has turned to attorney E. Stewart Jones who says he's been hired to find out who "leaked" the report. He says he's advised Sweeney NOT to produce the "real" report.

Is there one? We suspect there's only one report, the one the media obtained.

Not only is there a huge problem involving John Sweeney's character and fitness for public office, but he has a humungous credibility problem.

It appears that the news organizations had been trying for months to obtain the police report from a 911 call made after midnight on Dec. 2, 2005, by Sweeney's wife, Gaia "Gayle" Ford Sweeney. According to the police report, she told a trooper who responded to the call at their Clifton Park home that they got into an argument that "turned a little physical by her being grabbed by the neck and pushed around the house" by Sweeney. The report relates that the couple appeared calm when the trooper arrived but that the Congressman had scratches on his face.

No one was arrested.

It is unlikely that three competing news organizations would "conspire" against Sweeney, as he in essence alleges, to produce a false report of domestic violence and his claim that there's another report just doesn't ring true, especially since he can't or won't produce it and now claims it's all the fault of Kirsten Gillibrand.

His lack of honesty and credibility came forth at his hastily called news conference with his wife when he had to read from notes held down in front of him when commenting about the incident. He couldn't even look directly into the camera and if he was speaking openly and honesty, he wouldn't have needed crib notes that someone had apparently prepared for him.

His wife obviously has a lot to gain from Sweeney being reelected and who knows if she has been threatened in any way to now say that she was never assaulted by him. At least one TV news outlet has reported that Sweeney may have a history of domestic violence, indicating that in 1998, his former wife also reported a similar incident to the police.

Instead of admitting the incident and coming clean, he instead is trying to blame the whole situation on his opponent. Not only is he unwilling to take responsibility and accept the blame for the fallout from his own actions, but he's trying to divert the blame to someone else, a woman---in our view yet another form of domestic violence and his attack ads against the woman have been relentless and possibly defamatory and slanderous.

Instead of accepting responsibility, he calls in the GOP big-whigs to rally around him ---Gov. George Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and former NYC mayor Rudy Guiliani. Bruno shouldn't be vouching for anyone, he should be under intense investigation by the New York State Ethics Commission himself.

Maybe the reason that Sweeney can't produce what he claims is the "real" report is that he can't convince anyone in the State Police to make up a report that he can show around to claim it's the "real thing".

There's no doubt that politics played a role in the criminal charges against his son who avoided jail time after admitting to felony second degree assault.

In a rare action, Republican Fulton County Judge Richard Giardino reversed his earlier decision to sentence John J. Sweeney Jr., 19, of Schaghticoke and John J. Manupella of Troy, also 19, to jail for a brutal assault of another teen last year which fractured his skill and left the victim with long-term vision damage and recurring nightmares. He will also have to undergo reconstructive dental work after losing one tooth and having three other teeth chipped in the assault.

The pair had pleaded guilty to second degree assault in a plea bargain negotiated with the Montgomery County district attorney's office in exchange for a sentence of four months of weekends in jail or 45 consecutive days in jail plus probation and community service.

Second degree assault is a class D felony and they could have received up to seven years in state prison.

But when the pair appeared in court before Giardino, he reversed his earlier decision, and negated the plea agreement. He suspended the jail time, granted them youthful offender status and sealed the court records.

Giardino said that he weighed a number of factors. He didn't happen to mention if politics and the Republican party were among them.

The sentence did not please the victim, Matthew Brady, 20, of Stillwater who said that he believed the pair got such favorable treatment because Sweeney's father is a Congressman. "It's all about money", Brady said. "If you have money, you have power". Brady said the sentence was totally unjust, that "they just walked away with a slap on the wrist".

They were sentenced to 240 hours of community service, five years of probation and must pay Brady's medical costs which total $18,000 to date. They are also barred from having any contact with Brady whom they assaulted in Stillwater on Aug. 19, 2004, in a fight involving 15 to 20 men. The fight between Sweeney and Brady was allegedly about a girl.

The Sweeneys are now blaming the pressures of Junior's arrest along with the Congressman's medical problems which caused his hospitalization last year as the impetus behind the call, saying that the "year-long public scrutiny reached its breaking point". If he couldn't handle the public scrutiny last year, the pressures must be really mounting now and perhaps his wife should seek added protection. His wife claimed she didn't need to be protected from her husband yet she's the one who called the police and said he was pushing her around the house.

Sweeney has some serious baggage, not only from his funding sources but from his position on the war in Iraq and his voting record.

John Sweeny: Campaign Finance/Money - Contributions 2006 Summary

John Sweeny: Campaign Finance/Money - Top Contributors

John Sweeny: Campaign Finance/Money - Top Contributing Industries

Beyond Delay has listed Sweeney as one of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress and points out that Sweeney had begun using Gayle Ford, who became his wife, as a fundraiser in April 2003. He proposed to her in September 2003.

Beyond Delay says that under the name of "Gaia Mashanta Ford", Sweeney's wife, Creative Consulting was registered in April 2003 with the Albany County Clerk's office. A day later, Sweeney hired Creative Consulting to do fundraising work for his campaign although Ms. Ford (now Mrs. Sweeney) had no previous fundraising experience and appears to have had no other clients. She wasn't paid a salary, Beyond Delay says, but instead was paid a 10% commission on the funds she raised for Sweeney's campaign.

It has been reported that Sweeney's campaign paid Creative Consulting $42,570 during the 2004-2005 election cycle and as of April 2006, had paid the firm $30,879 for the current election cycle. Beyond Delay reports that checks from Sweeney's campaign go to a P.O. Box in Clifton Park, the town where the couple lives.

It has been charged that Sweeney is converting campaign funds to personal use in violation of the federal Election Campaign Act and House Rules.

The nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy and "Congresspedia" has compiled a report on Sweeney which indicates a long history of ethical problems which include a ski trip to New York, the exchange of legislative assistance for campaign contributions his appearance at a drinking party at a frat house where he was said to be drunk and slurring his words but defended his appearance there, saying he was discussing "policy" with the students.

Sweeney invited 53 people to join him earlier this year, from Jan. 6-9, in Lake Placid for a "Congressional Winter Challenge" at the Olympic facilities where they pretended to be Olympic athletes, engaging in skiing, bobsledding and hockey at the expense of New York State taxpayers. Sweeney claims there were no improprieties but the weekend would seem to violate provisions of the House gift and travel rules.

There's other matters such as the complaint field with the Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards which alleges that Sweeney violated the Congressional franking privileges by mailing 500 letters less than 90 days before New York's Sept. 12 primary.

Sweeney has also been criticized for hosting a Utah fundraising ski trip in the wake of the scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff that included a dinner at the home of lobbyist Jeff Kimbell who represents the pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Allergan.

Congresspedia reports that Sweeney is among seven members of the House Appropriations Committee who have a political action committee which is either headed by a registered lobbyist or a former registered lobbyist with "business" before the Committee", according to the Center for Public Integrity and campaign records.

Sweeney's financial records are currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice in regard to possible ties to Jack Abramoff after he accepted money from former clients of Abramoff.

In 2001, when he traveled to the Northern Marianas Island to speak to its Chamber of Commerce, his trip was funded by the Chamber, one of Abramoff's clients. He was accompanied on the trip by Tony Rudy, former aide to former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who was then working for Abramoff. According to federal law, members of Congress must disclose all trips funded by private sources but Sweeney failed to report this trip, claiming that he thought the trip was funded by the island's government.

The police report and Sweeney's alleged history of domestic violence is the straw that broke the camel's back.

Voters in the 20th Congressional District definitely need a change, not an albatross to represent them in Washington.

Sometimes voters have to the candidate with the least baggage. In the race for the 20th Congressional District, that person is Kirsten Gillibrand. (link)


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