Queens Councilman Ruben Wills is going to prison. He was convicted of stealing $33,000 in government funds meant for charity.
The money–a grant to the charity he founded, New York 4 Life–instead went towards his campaign, a Louis Vuitton bag, a Nintendo Wii, and other small purchases at Nordstrom’s, Century 21, and Macy’s. Wills’ attorney insisted that it was just a matter of poor bookkeeping. After the verdict, Wills continued to proclaim his innocence: “I’m just going to sit here and make sure that my community knows that I’m innocent. I didn’t steal any money. I’m disappointed in the verdict.”
Victory for AG Schneiderman
This is a big victory for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has made pursuing corruption a priority. He recently faced a defeat in the trial of GOP Sen. Rob Ortt but there are obviously plenty of other corrupt pols to prosecute. In a statement celebrating the ruling, Schneiderman declared “New Yorkers deserved better.”
So what’s next?
Wills faces sentencing on August 10, after which he will no longer be a member of the City Council. The Council isn’t waiting around to hear how much time Wills will be in prison, though. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said that Wills is “unfit to be a member.” His bio and Council webpage have also been removed.
This ruling was not a surprise and Wills already had two opponents running against him in the Jamaica-based district, Hettie Powell and Richard David. Wills’ District 28 is relatively poor and heavily African-American, with typically low-voter turnout. Especially since there are few other open City Council races, outside interest groups will be paying close attention and may pour money into the race, knowing that a little can go a long way.
How’s the race shaking up?
It’s unclear who the frontrunner is and since this is a City Council race, don’t expect much polling (especially publicly).
Hettie Powell lost to Wills in 2013 and has already raised over $56,000 for this campaign. However, her website does not seem to be active and she does not appear to have much of a social media presence. Richard David, on the other hand, has 1,750 followers on Facebook and has raised $40,000–not as much as Powell so far but enough to run a serious campaign. At least right now, this race looks like a real toss-up but if unions or other groups get actively involved, it could change quickly.