Monday, July 22, 2013

Dov Hikind's radio silence 

Assemblyman Dov Hikind took a minute out of his weekly radio show recently to promote a health-screening event his office was holding with Maimonides Medical Center, a hospital in his Borough Park district.

"I will be there, with God's help, to go through these tests myself," Mr. Hikind said, his voice booming through to a heavily Orthodox Jewish audience, which regularly tunes in to his Saturday-night politics program.

The longtime Brooklyn lawmaker was not merely doing a public service. An advertising firm he owns is being paid $65,000 by the hospital for promotion on The Dov Hikind Show this year, a hospital executive confirmed. Maimonides also lobbies the state government and Mr. Hikind.

In fact, Mr. Hikind's company, DYS Production, receives checks from a number of businesses, though the assemblyman has repeatedly failed to disclose income from the firm, as required. In his July filing, Mr. Hikind listed no outside income in 2012 beyond his legislative pay of $99,000.

After an inquiry from Crain's, Mr. Hikind amended his financial disclosures dating back to 2006 to reflect income from the company. Only for last year did Mr. Hikind have to list the approximate amount: between $5,000 and $20,000. Public records don't show where the rest of DYS Production's revenue went.

Advertisers on his AM radio show range from home-health-care company At Home Solutions to travel agency Do All Travel, according to recordings reviewed by Crain's. "We sell enough advertising that this show has become extremely successful financially," Mr. Hikind told City & State in 2008. "That makes my wife a little happier about it."

But the state's Legislative Ethics Commission would not say whether he had ever asked if payments from advertisers that lobby him could represent a conflict of interest. His office declined requests for comment.

Mr. Hikind's three decades in office give him considerable sway. The Assembly's assistant majority leader, he rarely sponsors legislation but is known for his ability to "bring home the pastrami," as they say in Mr. Hikind's district. But the intricate web he weaves with public funds and local nonprofits has landed him in hot water before: In 1998, he was charged with taking bribes from a social-services group that received state funds. Mr. Hikind was acquitted, though the official who paid him was convicted.

Mr. Hikind, who has spoken at ceremonies honoring Maimonides officials, frequently promotes the hospital in his governmental newsletter. Maimonides, which has thrived as other nonprofit hospitals have struggled financially, has touted its ties to elected officials who help secure funding. But hospital officials said Maimonides' payments to Mr. Hikind's company pose no conflicts on their end, and that it advertises on his show to reach local residents. Borough Park is a famously insular community.

Dick Dadey, executive director of good-government group Citizens Union, said it makes sense for Maimonides to buy time on Mr. Hikind's program. The problem is that the assemblyman repeatedly failed to make his outside income public.

"The fact that he didn't disclose it raises the question of why he didn't," Mr. Dadey said. "If there's no conflict, why not disclose it?"

In the wake of numerous scandals in state government, Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this month formed a commission to investigate corruption. Mr. Hikind has not been accused of wrongdoing since his trial 15 years ago.

Other aspects of Mr. Hikind's radio show also overlap with his public office. Political candidates have often paid Mr. Hikind's company, appeared on his show and been endorsed by him. The show is co-hosted and run by Dov Cohen, an $80,000-a-year full-time aide in Mr. Hikind's Assembly office, and has shared space with Mr. Hikind's longtime political club, the United New York Democrats. The club often paid the rent on the space between 2006 and 2009, but as its campaign account was shut down in recent years, payments were made from Mr. Hikind's own campaign fund to the building's landlord. Campaign funds cannot be used for a candidate's business expenses.

Borough Park insiders said Mr. Hikind talks privately about the money generated by the show, but some assumed it went to charity. "It's really something I have no idea about," said Zev Brenner, a popular radio host who sells airtime on WMCA 570 for The Dov Hikind Show.

DYS is named after Mr. Hikind's three adult children: his daughter, Deena, and sons, Yoni and Shmuel. The lawmaker was in the news recently for landing part-time jobs for his sons in 2011 with fellow Brooklyn Assembly members, with salaries just high enough to entitle them to government health care.

Two years ago, Mr. Hikind's son-in-law, Rabin Rahmani, a doctor in his early 30s and just off a residency and fellowship at Maimonides, raised eyebrows among colleagues by landing the post of director of medical education and research at the hospital's gastroenterology division. Dr. Rahmani, Deena's husband, has promoted the hospital as a guest on Mr. Hikind's radio show. A hospital spokeswoman said Mr. Rahmani was exceptionally qualified for his post.

Maimonides buys four 30-second spots per hourlong program and gets "dozens" of appearances on the show annually for its physicians, according to Barry Ensminger, the hospital's vice president of external affairs.

"The reason we advertise on the radio show is that it's very widely listened to in the Orthodox community," he said. The hospital also buys space in Orthodox Jewish publications such as Hamodia. He added that Mr. Hikind's show accounts for a small part of the hospital's advertising budget.

"It's something we've been doing for years and years," Mr. Ensminger said. He said the hospital's lobbying of Mr. Hikind is separate from its marketing activities.

Records show that in 2011 the hospital spent $470,000 on lobbying, including of Mr. Hikind and the Legislature. Its Albany efforts have been fruitful: In 2011, $13 million of its $16.7 million in government grants came from the state Department of Health.

A Maimonides spokeswoman said the hospital simply informs Brooklyn lawmakers of new services and funding needs, and that its lobbying does not single out Mr. Hikind.

The assemblyman has supported zoning changes that have helped Maimonides expand over the past decade. Some locals charge that potential dissent is headed off by hospital officials' money, including to Mr. Hikind's campaign fund.

"Maimonides keeps all the elected officials happy with campaign donations from [hospital President] Pam Brier and her husband [Peter Aschkenasy]," said William Handler of the Boro-Park West Community Association. "They place advertisements in all the local newspapers. Community groups get donations. Everybody who could politically oppose the hospital gets a donation."

Meanwhile, Mr. Hikind's radio program is thriving. With the 2013 races for mayor and other city offices heating up, candidates will angle for appearances and perhaps sponsor shows to court the Orthodox vote and Mr. Hikind himself. The lawmaker announced on a recent show that in August the program will move to 620 on the AM dial and air Wednesday evenings instead of Saturday nights. The
Dov Hikind Show is heading to prime time.


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