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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It’s history: Riverdale’s political movers and shakers

By Shant Shahrigian
Posted
File photo by Mekea Hurwitz
Guy Vellela
June Eisland during an early campaign.
Adriaen van der Donck
George Washington Plunkitt
Stanley Simon with his wife, Irene.
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Here is the second installment in our listing of politicians with noteworthy northwest Bronx ties from over the years (incumbents excluded). 

Who would you add to the list? Let us know at www.facebook.com/riverdale.press.

George Washington Plunkitt

The man who coined the dubious phrase “honest graft” during Tammany Hall’s reign of New York helped make Bronx the borough of parks during his decades on the state assembly and senate.

Bronx Borough Historian Lloyd Ultan said Plunkitt and his friends profited from the process, as when the latter used Plunkitt’s inside knowledge to buy the land that became Van Corltandt Park shortly before the city decided to acquire it for a relatively large sum at the time.

“I’m gettin’ richer every day, but I’ve not gone in for dishonest graft — blackmailin’ gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc. — and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics,” Plunkitt was quoted as saying in William Riordan’s classic biography. “There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin‘: ‘I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.’”

Guy Velella

The last Republican to be elected at any level in the Bronx, Guy Velella’s long career in the state assembly and senate came to an end in a major bribery scandal. In 2002, he was found guilty of taking bribes for steering state contracts to people.  

Mr. Ultan said until then, Mr. Velella used his leverage as head of the Bronx County Republican Party to fund projects throughout the borough.

“He brought home the bacon,” said Mr. Ultan, who continued, “If anybody in Riverdale asked for something and it was within his power and purview, he would try and get it.”

While the 2002 scandal was not the first to involve Mr. Velella, Mr. Ultan said many people at the time speculated that the politician “fell on the sword” and pleaded guilty in order to protect his elderly father. Guy Velella died in 2011.

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