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Leffler punished after criticizing Vallone

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City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) has been knocked off the Finance and Land-Use Committees because of a disagreement he had with City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria).

Vallone acted after Leffler criticized Vallone's leadership of the council in a Jan. 18 Newsday article, the day after Vallone gave his State of the City address.

Leffler was quoted in the article as saying he had received little support from the speaker when he brought bills to the council floor calling for greater Police Department accountability. Leffler told the reporter Mayor Rudolph Giuliani "has been appreciative" of being able to make deals with the speaker "without excessive contentiousness."

Both the mayor and speaker of the City Council give a State of the City address.

Six days after the Newsday story appeared Leffler lost his spot on the two committees.

"I was removed from the Finance and Land-Use Committees," said Leffler, who is a candidate for Queens borough president. "Instead, I have been put on the Health Committee."

He said he was told to meet with John Banks, Vallone's chief of staff, after the meeting of the Finance Committee, at around 12:45 p.m. Jan. 24. and was ousted from his positions on the two committees. Leffler said his removal followed a recent Vallone-sponsored cell phone news conference at which Leffler spoke as well as the Newsday article questioning what the Hollis councilman called "the speaker's proposals in his so-called State of the City Address."

For years as the chairman of the Public Safety Committee, Leffler had been pressing for more reporting on the Police Department as a way of holding the NYPD accountable. He said that over the years he has had 15 to 20 meetings with Police Department officials going back to when William Bratton was police commissioner from January 1994 through April 1996.

Leffler said he has always tried to be open and truthful with reporters in an effort to answer their every question. Thus when the Newsday reporter called him about Vallone's State of the City address and police accountability, he responded to the questions.

In his speech Vallone called for improving relations between the community and the NYPD and hiring additional civilians to do administrative work, which would put more uniformed police on the streets.

Leffler has strongly advocated these changes and told Newsday he received little support from Vallone when he pushed similar ideas.

"I don't think you muzzle or punish the official, but respond to the comment," Leffler said. "No one has said Leffler's comments were wrong."

"It was an internal move," said Jake Lynn, a spokesman for Vallone. "It was not a punishment but more of an internal structural move. Other council members expressed a keen interest in the committees. He was just a member of the Finance and Land-Use Committees. We're not stripping of his chairmanship."

He said it was the speaker's decision to move Leffler off the committees and there was no "big ulterior motive." Lynn said committee memberships are shifted during the first month of the Council's session every year.

City Councilwoman Julia Harrison (D-Flushing) said there is reshuffling when a new person is elected to the Council. She said she was moved off one committee this year, but did not think it was done as a punishment.

Other members of the Queens delegation on the City Council said they did not know why Leffler was taken off the two committees.

When asked if his transfer from the Finance and Land-Use Committees to the Health Committee was a demotion or a lateral move, Leffler said "that is in the eye of the beholder."

"I have a particular interest in finance and land use," he said. "Before being elected to the Council, I was a securities lawyer for seven years after I graduated from Harvard and have a master's degree in tax law from NYU."

He said he was put on the Finance Committee during his first year on the Council in 1978 and other members thought he had done a good job on the committee.

"I think I had a lot to contribute and wanted to be on the committee," he said. "I think it is in the best interest of the city for me to be on the committee. In addition, the Land-Use Committee is an important and desirable committee."

It is not known what effect Leffler's problems with Vallone will have on his race for Queens borough president, but Leffler thinks the people of the borough will "vote for the candidate who is forthright and paid a price."

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