Meeks takes Vegas trip amid work on auto bailout

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U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D−Jamaica) was on the defensive this week after a published report and photos revealed that he was in Las Vegas when his fellow congressmen were working on the failed auto industry bailout plan.

An article in Sunday’s Daily News found the six−term elected official was staying at the famed Bellagio Hotel and Casino Dec. 5 for an event for his fund−raising committee, Build America. Meeks’ trip took place on the same day that the House Finance Committee, of which the congressman is a senior member, grilled the CEOs of the three major auto makers over the bailout loan package for the beleaguered companies that failed to pass in the Senate last week.

Mike McKay, a Meeks staffer and political director for Build America, defended the Meeks fund−raiser, which he claimed was planned months before the auto bailout hearings.

“This was a private trip in which no taxpayer dollars were spent,” he said in a statement. “The congressman has been fully engaged in the auto bailout legislation since its inception, questioned each CEO of the Big Three automakers during a congressional hearing and has never missed a vote on this matter.”

Meeks did not have a comment about the trip before deadline Tuesday.

His constituents of the Sixth Congressional District, which covers most of southeast Queens — including Far Rockaway, Hollis, Jamaica, Laurelton, Queens Village, Rosedale, St. Albans, Springfield Gardens and South Ozone Park — were not amused with their leader’s trip.

Jamaica residents, like Louise Johnson, said Meeks’ fund−raiser was an insult to them during the nation’s recession.

“People here are suffering and he’s out in Vegas getting money. People are scuffing around here and don’t have any jobs,” said Johnson, who is unemployed.

The News article, which included photos of Meeks checking into the hotel, indicated Build America raised more than $70,000 at the fund−raiser, but none of Meeks’ staff could confirm that figure.

Meeks’ visit to the casinos came on the same day he released a statement in which he pushed for a bailout of the American car industry that ultimately did not pass in the Senate. The White House was expected to approve a new auto loan deal this week, according to Reuters.

In his statement, the congressman said the failed $15 billion government loan to General Motors, Chrysler and Ford would have stopped further decay of the American economy.

“This Congress must leverage our resources to provide for accountability to the American taxpayer and to ensuring a viable American auto industry,” Meeks said in the statement.

Although several of his constituents said they were disgusted with the congressman’s fund−raiser effort, some said they still have faith in his leadership, citing his nearly dozen years in office and work for the community.

“It’s not like he stole anything like that governor in Illinois,” said Juanita Nilson, 50, of Ozone Park.

Build America has received more than $153,000 in donations from various private donors during the 2008 election year, according to the Federal Election Commission. In addition to Meeks, 12 other Democratic members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, were recipients of the fund−raising group, FEC records show.

A non−partisan Washington watchdog Web site known as said the congressman has taken 45 trips around the world. The flights cost a total of $172,540 and various sources sponsored them, including the pharmaceutical company Pfizer and the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, according to the Web site.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 146.

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