Several City Council members struggle with own finances, high debt, home foreclosure - JuniperCivic.com
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Several City Council members struggle with own finances, high debt, home foreclosure

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NY Daily News Sunday March 20, 2011- page 8

The City Council manages your tax dollars through the city budget, but for some lawmakers, managing their own money has been a disaster.

Two Council members' homes are in foreclosure.

Several are buried under mountains of credit card debt.

And one filed for bankruptcy shortly before running for office.

A Daily News probe found:

HOME FORECLOSURES

The homes of Queens Councilmen James Sanders, a Democrat, and Daniel Halloran, a Republican, are now in foreclosure.

Sanders has long railed against predatory lenders, pushing a bill to bar the city from hiring firms that benefit from such practices.

At a November hearing, he called his southeast Queens district "the area where the predatory lenders have feasted on us."

He failed to mention that he had stopped paying his mortgage and his home was in foreclosure.

The no-money-down mortgages he got to buy a $588,000 two-family in Far Rockaway in 2006 proved overwhelming; Sanders quit making his $3,000 monthly mortgage payment by April 2009.

He calls himself a "victim" and represents himself in court, trying to avoid eviction and damning predatory lenders.

"From the very beginning of the financial crisis I set out to learn all I could about the real estate bubble," he said. "It was only then that I discovered my family and I were likely the victims of dishonest, deceitful and ... corrupt lending practices that have put our home into foreclosure."

Sanders declined to discuss his case, but predicted his final settlement will allow "other victims to learn that they, too, have a way to fight back."

Halloran's tale of woe began three months before he was elected to the Council in November 2009, when Wells Fargo moved to foreclose on his brick one-family in Murray Hill, Queens.

Halloran said his income "got cut in half" during his run for Council, and he could no longer keep up with two mortgages he had on the $650,000 home. He's trying for a loan modification.

PERSONAL BANKRUPTCY

Two years before her first Council run in March 2001, Elizabeth Crowley (D-Queens) emerged from personal bankruptcy.

Claiming $600 a month in income from alimony and no assets, she listed $9,980 in debts, including $3,745 in medical bills and $5,500 in credit card debt.

Her March 1999 discharge from bankruptcy meant she didn't have to pay her creditors a dime. She began raising campaign money two years later.

She lost her first run for office, but won in 2008. During all of this time, there's no evidence her personal bankruptcy ever came up.

She downplayed its significance, saying through a spokesman: "I was a 20-year-old full-time college student with two infants ... and had recently separated with my husband. My debt, largely from medical bills related to the birth of my children, overwhelmed me."

She said her credit has since been restored "through hard work and careful financial planning."

Some recent events call her money management skills into question, though.

Her Council website boasts of her "experience managing economic recovery" because she "helped administer a $32 million" grant helping businesses hurt by the 9/11 terror attacks.

She was a staffer with the Consortium for Worker Education, a nonprofit labor group that administered the grant.

Her website doesn't mention a February 2008 federal inspector general audit that uncovered a host of problems with how that grant was administrated and recommended $11.2 million be refunded to the government.

The audit was settled in January, and the consortium was not required to return any of the money. She dubbed the audit "routine" and said the grant distribution was found to be in compliance with federal laws.

CREDIT CARD DEBT

Several Council members have hefty credit card debt.

Councilman Oliver Koppell (D-Bronx) admits that in 2009 he had about $270,000 in credit card debt. He attributed that to his law practice, "but also as a way of having cash resources. ... When it's paid off, I take out another."

In March 2009, Koppell co-sponsored a resolution in the Council voicing support for the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights that Congress was considering.

Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez (D-Brooklyn) was sued in January 2010 over $2,857 in Citibank credit card debt. Spokesman Michael Schweinsburg said the councilwoman refinanced her home to pay off her credit cards, and records show she was advanced $7,963. He said "mistakenly" Citibank wasn't paid off and she has since settled the debt.