Councilman Peter Koo, a longtime advocate for the Flushing neighborhood where he made millions in the pharmacy business, is making good on his campaign pledge to donate his entire city salary to local non-profits.
Earlier this month, Koo handed out checks of $2,000 to ten organizations in his 20th Council District of Northeast Queens. The list of recipients included the YWCA, Asian American Arts Alliance and the Queens Botanical Garden Society, among others.
Koo, the founder and CEO of the Starside Pharmacy chain, will dole out the rest of his salary - around $78,000, after taxes, according to his office - over the course of the next six months.
In an interview, he said he plans to give away all of money he earns as a memeber of the City Council, adding that his small business success was the principal reason behind his decision to forego a city salary.
“Giving is always more rewarding than receiving,” he said.
The groups on the receiving end of his largesse certainly aren't complaining.
Some of them, like the Botanical Garden, received money from Koo in the past, before he was elected to the City Council in November of 2009; others were pleasantly surprised by the donation.
The gifts appeared to be divorced from politics, if that is really possible for a wealthy elected official disposed toward philanthropy.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, has been a shrewd investor in New York City causes since taking office, using the goodwill it engenders to leverage political support for tough issues and reelection campaigns.
The practice has been effective, though Bloomberg has caught criticism for the appearance of a conflict of interest in some of his giving.
In Koo’s case, several directors of the groups that received his money said they felt no attendant pressure to support him or his projects.
“We really feel as though this is a personal act of generosity on the councilman’s part,” said Andrea Louie, executive director of Asian American Arts Alliance. “He is privileged to be able to do so, and we’re fortunate to benefit from that.”
YWCA Executive Director Rho Kim said the donation it received would “absolutely not” impact the institution’s relationship with Koo or his office.
“We always look for someone who is most appropriate for the position [of councilman], not at what they do financially,” Kim said.
For his part, Koo pointed to a long history of charitable donations.
“I’ve been doing this since I started my business in Flushing,” he said. “I contributed a lot before I even knew about the City Council.”