In Indictment, Malcolm Smith Sees Conspiracy to Gentrify Queens

State Senator Malcolm Smith. (Photo: Daniel Barry/Getty Images)

State Senator Malcolm Smith. (Photo: Daniel Barry/Getty Images)

Embattled State Senator Malcolm Smith told a Queens audience last night that racially motivated forces of gentrification are behind his indictment on charges he attempted to bribe his way onto the 2013 Republican ticket for mayor.

At a debate in the Majority Baptist Church against his two opponents in the Democratic primary, former Councilman Leroy Comrie and attorney Munir Avery, Mr. Smith was given two minutes to address his legal problems. Mr. Smith warned the crowd that the accusations are part of a plot to eliminate a powerful black outer borough politician and target his district for real estate development and racial displacement.

“Don’t get caught up with the innuendos, don’t get caught up with the media spin, don’t get caught up with the false allegations. I can’t tell you much, but I can tell you one thing: being an African-American who is from Queens, who is independent, who is ambitious, must have upset somebody,” Mr. Smith, whose opponents in the primary are both also black, said. “Be careful who you talk to, be careful what you say. Because they’ve got their eye on southeast Queens, they’re trying to shift it. The same way Harlem is no longer Harlem and Brooklyn is no longer Brooklyn.”

Mr. Smith continued that he could not yet name who was behind the plot he alleged–which he claimed was behind the recent indictments of other prominent black elected leaders–but said that the culprit would be revealed at his retrial in January. Prosecutorial mishandling of evidence caused an upstate judge to declare a mistrial in the initial proceedings against Mr. Smith in June.

“You will see my innocence is exactly what I say it is. You find out who is behind the attack on all the African-American leadership in this city, that will come out as well,” he said. “If you don’t believe southeast Queens gentrification is beginning to happen, look around.”

When asked after the debate if, were he re-elected and cleared of all charges, he would seek to re-join the larger Democratic delegation–which Mr. Smith led as minority leader and as majority leader–or the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference he joined in 2012, Mr. Smith said he’d side with the Democrats. Mr. Smith explained his answer by claiming he has always been a loyal Democrat

Asked why he chose to join the IDC–which expelled him shortly after his arrest–and forge an alliance with Senate Republicans, Mr. Smith said that he made the switch in order to secure funding for the flooded Rockaways in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

“I had to take a position that would allow me to bring back resources for the Rockaways, and I was able to do that in a very dramatic fashion,” he said.

Though he has been without a caucus and thus isolated and virtually powerless in Albany since last year, Mr. Smith included the funding of universal pre-kindergarten in the 2014 budget on a list of his accomplishments in office on campaign literature distributed at last night’s event.