Rep. Gregory Meeks says racism, not shady politics, is to blame for the fall-out over the controversial Aqueduct racino deal.
At the center of the hullabaloo are investors Rev. Floyd Flake and Darryl Greene, both prominent black figures in the Queens community with a stake in the Aqueduct Entertainment Group, which Gov. David Paterson tapped last month to operate a new video slot machines parlor at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens.
Many perceived the governor's move to be politically motivated, considering Flake's vast influence. Days before the announcement of the contract, the influential reverend hinted he may back Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in a potential gubernatorial primary.
Amid outcry over alleged political quid pro quos, New York's top government watchdog last week initiated an investigation into the manner in which lawmakers awarded the contract.
Meeks claims the criticism stems from racial prejudice, not prejudicial politics.
"The only two people who come from the community and the only two people of color are singled out," the veteran Queens Democrat recently told the Daily News.
Asked if the uproar surrounding Flake's and Greene's affiliation with AEG was racially based, Meeks told the paper, "It seems to me if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck …"
AEG tapped Flake, who once held Meeks' congressional seat, and Greene, who was convicted in 1999 of stealing half a million dollars from the city, to act as liaisons between the company and the Queens community. But powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silverstein objected to Greene's decade-old conviction, which prompted the former business partner of Senate President Malcolm Smith to relinquish "all interest and potential interest" in AEG last week.
Yet Meeks believes that Greene's color, not his conviction, was the problem. He told the News Greene's opponents were "trying to prevent a local person of color from trying to be part of the process."
Flake maintains his company beat out other bidders for the deal fairly. He wrote in an Op-Ed for a local newspaper yesterday that the contract is an "employment and development engine" that will withstand an investigation by State Inspector General Joseph Fisch.
Paterson has also defended the deal. Today he plans to release proposals submitted by AEG and other companies vying for the project, reports the News.