East Elmhurst, Queens, New York
The pandemic of 2020-2021 has brought out the best in people, but also the worst and most depraved. Sadly, the case here involves the community refrigerators set up in areas in the 5 boroughs, where perishable food donations are stored for the city’s neediest. At the beginning of the new year in one of the highest zip codes hit by coronavirus in NE Queens, a refrigerator set up by a state senator’s office was thoroughly destroyed and robbed of all it’s food.
Sen. Jessica Ramos went on a social media blitz to bring attention to this shamelessly crude vandalism. All local network news stations, newspapers, regional weeklies and online local news blogs gave it the collective attention it warranted. It also warranted outrage, which was achieved quite easily on Ramos’s twitter feed.
Also achieved quite easily was donations for the refrigerators replacement and the costs for the food that was lost, as Ramos’s followers and even elected officials wanted to contribute to the cause, as Sen. Ramos tweeted a URL to fundraising PAC website ACT BLUE.
A month later, there was a follow up to this story when it turned out that people gave $35,000 to Sen. Ramos to replace the refrigerator and for more food aid. But what should have been a feel good story in trouble times turned out to be the samo shit that politicians do.
A Queens politician who raised more than $35,000 to replace a vandalized community refrigerator accepted the contributions through her campaign account, raising questions about the transparency of her charity effort.
When a fridge providing free food to the hungry outside state Sen. Jessica Ramos’s East Elmhurst office was damaged last month, the outcry was loud and contributions to replace it poured in quickly.
“The community fridge outside our district office was vandalized and destroyed last night. So many of our neighbors depend on the generosity of other neighbors to get through these difficult times. Now this lifeline is gone. I’m heartbroken,” Ramos tweeted Jan. 2., garnering coverage from multiple news outlets.
In a follow-up tweet, the Democrat included a link to accept contributions, explaining, “We’re going to need your help to keep our community fridge project going. Any little bit helps! 100% of your donations will keep our fridge stocked for our neighbors.”
But the link took visitors to an ActBlue page for her campaign account. The page, since taken down, stated, “All proceeds from this link will go directly to keeping the refrigerator stocked for our neighbors in need.” Above boxes used for specifying the amount of one’s contribution, the page said, “Your contribution will benefit Jessica Ramos.”
The more than $35,000 in contributions raised through the effort made up the majority of Ramos’s campaign haul for January, according to state filings.
She spent $6,000 on consultants and a few hundred on staff meals and transportation — but no money for the fridge or food for the community.
“It’s not right,” Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of government watchdog Citizens Union, told the Daily News. “I would not mix campaign work with charity.
It doesn’t get better either.
She (Ramos) said she is moving offices and intends to use all the funds raised through the ActBlue link for a new fridge and free food at an East Elmhurst location to be determined.
She said she chose to raise funds through ActBlue “because it offers more disbursement transparency.”
“The $35,000 belongs to the fridge,” Ramos added.
Suffice to say, that’s a lot money to go to a singular fridge. But it’s elementary to see how Sen. Ramos and her aides took opportunistic advantage of this fund and people’s kindness.
What’s also elementary is how in the age of predominant surveillance technology there was no video footage of the vandalism as it occurred and how a building rented by a government official was not equipped with cameras in the first place. Because by the looks of this destruction, it must have took an hour to accomplish for they had to rip the refrigerator that was connected to a power source in the building and loot all the grub. Clearly a van was used to extract it from the wall and it must have made enough noise to wake up the neighbors. Another thing way off about this incident is that nothing was mentioned if the cops were called or if there was even an investigation after all the publicity it got.
Considering the brazen way Ramos used the donations to feed her staff and herself and to move her office to an entire new building, this vandalism has all the elements of an inside job done by hired guns. Sure not on a level of young Henry and Tommy blowing up a car dealership in Goodfellas, but considering the way how this heinous event worked amazingly well for the progressive senator to get new digs carries the same gravitas.
What makes this worse is that Sen. Ramos basically engaged in crisis acting to get all that donor lucre, which is a wonder why she has consultants for and what they are doing to earn 6 large. It’s also a wonder why a local politician needs consultants and has more than one, and why didn’t they consult her about how bad the optics are to take money that’s supposed to go to a charitable cause and then obliterating the URL for the donor page to avoid accountability, as well as how immoral and unethical all or that is.
But then again, they are consultants and in this goddamn city they are there more to find the loopholes and the short cuts to make honest graft more palatable and normalized. It looks like Sen. Ramos may learned a few things while working as an aide for a couple years under Bill de Blasio; a man whose only accomplishments running NYC for 7.3 years was to find ways to cover his ass from recidivist illicit fundraising.
With her brazen pillaging and bad faith actions, Jessica Ramos is now a major player in the game of city politricks. And you can’t get any trickier than naming the fundraiser after your own name instead of naming it the community fridge fund.
Here’s hoping she and her entourage have enough catering money left for the grand opening party at her new office.