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Cops Who Kill

You take the M train to Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn to reach the Bushwick-Hylan Housing Project where Kenny Gamble and Ricky Lewis lived until they were shot to death by police from the 83rd pre­cinct early on the morning of Saturday, October 18.

From the el platform you can see the Bushwick-Hylan Houses almost immediately across the street, Borinquen Houses to the left, the Thompkins projects behind them. On a fair day, the sun reflects off the sheet metal that covers the windows of row upon row of abandoned tene­ment houses; there is little else.

It is not a pretty place to live and it is not an easy place to survive, but within the ugly scheme of things Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble did all right. Lewis, 24, was the more successful of the two. He had finished night school at Eastern District in Brooklyn, was trained in construction work by Bronx-based Black Eco­nomic Survival, landed a con­struction job on Bushwick Av­enue, and went to work every day. Several years ago his father gave him a 1976 red two-door LTD — the car he was killed in. Ricky Lewis had no criminal record. In fact, everyone in the Bushwick-­Hylan Houses called Lewis “Civ,” short for “Civilize,” because that’s how he was, that was the effect he had on the people around him.

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Kenny Gamble, 18, dropped out of Eastern District high school in 1979, some­thing that is not surprising for black kids in New York City, particularly in poverty-­level communities like Bushwick. What was surprising was that in the fall of 1980 Kenny Gamble dropped back in, intent on graduating. Apparently school was going better for Kenny. In October he brought some school work home to show his moth­er; his grade was 88.

Kenny had been arrested twice, once at 16 for allegedly loitering in the lobby of his aunt’s apartment building at the Thomp­kins project and again at 17 as the result of a scuffle in the subway station at De­lancey Street. At the time of his murder, Kenny Gamble was on three years proba­tion on the second charge.

On Sunday, October 18, The New York Times ran an article headlined, “2 Dead, 2 Hurt, 3 Arrested After Shootout in Brooklyn.” According to the Times story, which carried no byline and quoted only police sources, plainclothes detectives Joseph Esposito and Fred Falcone were driving past The Garage, a social club on Cedar and Evergreen streets, when they heard shots and stopped to investigate. Officers Falcone and Esposito approached a group of young men outside the club, who fired at them with a shotgun. The officers returned fire and the men jumped into a car and sped away, with the officers in pursuit. They were soon joined by two other cops in a patrol car, Michael Cohen and Gaspar Cardi. According to the Times the chase ended 12 blocks later on the corner of Bushwick and McKibbin ave­nues, where the car was forced to a stop and more shots were exchanged. When the shooting stopped, Kenny Gamble and Ricky Lewis were dead. Of the four other occupants of the car, two, Gary Jones and Lemuel Thompson, were wounded, Thompson critically. Miraculously, two others who were in the car, Jackie Thomp­son and Kevin Young, escaped unharmed.

According to the survivors of the shootout on Bushwick and McKibbin and eyewitnesses to the incident, however, something very different than what the police and The New York Times say hap­pened occurred on the morning of October 18.

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Late on the night of Friday, October 17, Ricky Lewis gave 18-year-old Gary Jones a ride to the Bushwick Garage social club on Evergreen Street, about 12 blocks from the Bushwick-Hylan Houses where both lived. Gary was on his way to pick up his 14-year-old sister, Jackie “Black” Thompson was already at the club, having arrived early with his older brother, Lemuel. Also at the club, a recycled garage used as a disco on weekends, were Kevin Young and Kenny Gamble. All six lived in the Bushwick-Hylan projects and knew each other. All were unarmed.

“I was sittin’ outside in Ricky’s car and some guy came out of the club and pulled a gun on another guy,” said Jackie Thompson. He swung at him with the gun, the guy ran and he started chasin’ him and shootin’.”

When the shooting started, everyone in or near the club panicked. Some tried to get back inside, others ran for cover near the building or down the street. In the melee, Kevin Young injured his leg and Lemuel Thompson was shot as he ran to the car. Ricky Lewis offered to take Thompson and Young to Greenpoint Hos­pital. It wasn’t until the car began to pull away that Jackie Thompson and the oth­ers realized that other gunmen had also been firing. They were later identified as plainclothes cops. “They didn’t say any­thing,” says Jackie. “I didn’t even know they were shootin’ at the car until they shot out the back window.” As Ricky Lew­is prepared to pull off, Jackie Thompson, Kevin Young, and Lemuel Thompson were in the back seat. Gary Jones and Kenny Gamble, the last to get in, sat in front. At that moment, the two gunmen ran around the corner and reappeared moments later in an unmarked car. At no time, say Gary, Jackie, and other wit­nesses, did the plainclothesmen identify themselves as cops.

“We went up Evergreen and made a left on Myrtle,” says Jackie, “and they was still shootin’ at us, at the driver’s side. Their driver would pull up beside us and the other guy — he had half his body out the window — was shootin’ at Ricky’s side.”

The six young men crouched down, trying to avoid the bullets hitting the car. Lemuel Thompson, already wounded, curled into a ball in the back seat, along with his brother Jackie and Kevin Young. As the two cars sped up Myrtle, other marked patrol cars joined the chase.

“There was an unmarked car and at least two police cars on Myrtle and more cars were comin’,” says Gary Jones. “There had to be at least nine or 10 cops. See, nobody knew they [the two men in the unmarked car] were police, they didn’t say anything, they just came out and started shootin’.”

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“After we got up Myrtle and made a right on Bushwick,” continues Jackie, “another car bumped us off on Bushwick and McKibbin and we hit the johnnypump and stopped, but the cops kept firing.” Ricky Lewis’s car had come to a stop in front of the RC Supermarket at Bushwick and McKibbin, across the street from P.S. 147, the elementary school all six had attended.

“Before Civ crashed he said get down and everybody got down. Lemuel was saying, ‘Don’t get out of the car.’ The cops got out of their cars and kept firin’. I don’t know how many shots were fired because I kept my head down; I just heard a lot of shots.”

“I could hear them still shootin’ at the car,” recalls Gary Jones.”Half my body was still in the car — my legs were stuck —  and the upper half of my body was layin’ out on the sidewalk. That’s when I got hit.

“I was layin’ on the sidewalk and I looked up and saw the police comin’. They was runnin’ and firin’ away at the car. I just seen a big clump of smoke, I could see the fire jumping out the barrels, oh, man. They was stepping through the smoke and kept on firing. I didn’t expect to live. I thought they were killing everybody in the car.

“The police laughed and said, ‘They all dead,’ ” remembers Gary Jones. “I was bleedin’ from the head and one cop said, ‘This one’s dead’ and stepped on my face and then started draggin’ me out of the car. Hey, after the car bumped us I was gonna get out and put my hands up, but they was shootin’ so bad, even after I got hit in the front seat.”

Gary Jones and Jackie Thompson esti­mate that after the car hit the john­nypump and stopped the cops continued to fire at the car for at least 30 seconds, maybe a minute and a half. This was when Ricky Lewis’s head was blown open in the driver’s seat. Lemuel Thompson thinks he was hit at least once, maybe twice, in addition to the wound near his spine that he had received outside the social club. And Kenny Gamble had disappeared.

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Gloria Yournet, who lives with her husband and three daughters across from the RC Supermarket in the Borinquen Houses, saw what happened to Gamble.

Sometime around 12:30 on the morning of the shooting, Gloria’s girlfriend, sitting in her living room window smoking a cigarette, called her to “come, look out here,” gesturing out the window. “All of a sudden there was a red car coming down Bushwick,” says Gloria Yournet, hugging her arms around her as if she is cold. “There was a squad car behind the red one and an unmarked car next to it. As they were approaching McKibbin, the squad car drove onto the sidewalk by the school and the unmarked car continued to chase the red car. By that time there was a second squad car behind the red car. As the red car approached Bushwick and McKibbin, one guy jumped out with his hands up in the air. All of a sudden the cops started shooting at him, and he fell. Around five cops jumped on him, hand­cuffed him, then started kicking him all over.”

A neighbor of Gloria Yournet also saw what happened to Kenny Gamble. “I woke up around 12:40 and saw a whole lot of cops beating up on one dude,” says the woman, who was afraid of what the police might do if her name were used. Like Gloria Yournet, her apartment in the Borinquen Houses faces Bushwick and McKibbin. “There were more than 10 of them. They picked him up and hit him against the car and the ground, then they threw him in the car.” She stares out the window as if she can still see it happening. “I guess he was beaten on his head or something. They was kicking, punching, beating him with nightsticks. I heard a lot of people screaming.”

Cary Ann Stewart has lived in Bushwick-Hylan Houses for 21 years. She and her husband, who works for the Tran­sit Authority, have raised 11 children there, including eight sons. She is a tall, brown skinned, fast talking woman, still attractive after bearing so many children. As we talk, she moves around the stove and sink in the kitchen, a cigarette dangl­ing from her mouth, casually making lunch or coffee or giving instructions in an off-hand way to the children who come and go, kissing her husband a warm good­bye as he leaves for work. On the morning of October 18, Mrs. Stewart was looking out the window of her first floor apartment facing Bushwick Avenue. Earlier that evening, she had an argument with her 15-year-old son because she had refused to give him money to go to the Garage. From her window she saw a car speed past, going up Bushwick toward Greenpoint Hospital, followed by a police car. As the police car passed Moore Street, another police car appeared from the opposite direction.

“Then all I could hear was shooting, 25 or 30 shots. Police cars started coming from every direction, then there was more shooting.”

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Because Mrs. Stewart is the sort of woman who gets involved, because she has lived in the community for 21 years and knows just about everyone, and because she has sons and was afraid maybe one of them was in trouble, she pulled on her raincoat and slippers and walked down to Bushwick and McKibbin to see what was going on.

“I said to myself, ‘Oh my God, that’s Ricky Lewis’s car.’ I saw three boys laying on the ground, hands cuffed behind them, laying on their stomachs. I walked over and looked at each one of them, Kevin Young, Gary Jones and Lemuel Thomp­son, and I said to the police, ‘You got the nerve to have handcuffs on him [Lemuel] and he’s shot.’ And the way he was shot­ — the bullet had ripped away his clothes, you could see the hole in him.” She shakes her head rapidly.

“The cop said, ‘Lady, get away from here, you don’t know him.’ I said. ‘What do you mean? These are our boys! What have you done to our children?’ The cop said, ‘This is my fuckin’ job, I did what I had to.’

“There was blood everywhere. The seat of the car had been torn out and there was even blood under it,” she says in disbelief. “You could see the way the car was shot up that a lot of shots had been fired. The way it looked, that cop must have pulled out his gun right then and there and shot into that car.

“They were fine boys, beautiful chil­dren,” says Mrs. Stewart of Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble. “I don’t have any­thing bad to say about any of those young fellows.”

For the police of the 83rd Precinct who were involved in the shooting, Mrs. Stew­art and many others in Bushwick have nothing but a building rage. “They don’t go cruising around in now white neighbor­hoods, standing and waiting for something to happen, so why was they up there [at the club] anyway, that’s what I want to know?” she asks. “They were out looking for trouble, going into black neighbor­hoods and doing this nonsense. These boys were like mine, I seen them grow up, that’s what makes me so angry about the whole thing.”‘

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The events of the night of October 18 still haunt the people who witnessed them. For Gloria Yournet there is a recurring dream. “I dream about it almost every night,” she says bitterly, hugging her three small daughters to her as she looks down at the junction of Bushwick and McKib­bin. “Sometimes it’s my brother who jumps out of the car with his hands up, sometimes my husband or someone else I know, And then the cops just kill him, BANG, BANG, BANG!”

For Yournet’s neighbor down the hall, the horror is that of not believing her own eyes. “I seen dudes being messed with, you know, beat up by cops before,” she says, “but never anything like that. It was like something on TV, like it wasn’t real.” But this time it was and she knows it. Nothing can erase the image of 10 cops beating an already wounded Kenny Gamble to his death.

By the time the shooting stopped on Bushwick and McKibbin, Ricky Lewis, Lemuel Thompson, and Kenny Gamble were at least critically wounded. Lewis may already have been dead. Gamble, who eyewitnesses say jumped out of the car with his hands up in surrender, was beaten for several minutes and then thrown into the back of the unmarked police car, which then drove off. Police have yet to explain why the car made a U­-turn and took Kenny Gamble to Wycoff Hospital, a 15-minute ride, when Green­point, the neighborhood hospital, was only six blocks away. (Gamble was pronounced dead at four o’clock the morning of Octo­ber 18.) This remains one of the many peculiarities of the case.

Gary Jones, Kevin Young, Lemuel Thompson, and Jackie Thompson, the four men who survived the fusillade, insist that no one in the car had a shotgun or weapon of any kind. This is supported by eyewitnesses, who say they saw no guns or gunfire coming either from Lewis’s car or any of the men in the car at any time. “The people in the car didn’t have no weapons whatsoever,” Gloria Yournet says angrily. “The detective who went through the car didn’t find anything. Then all of a sudden he held up a shotgun, but the way he did it was funny because it didn’t come out of the red car. I know that because before he went into the red car he had the shotgun in his hand.” Drawing a breath, Yournet shakes her head in disgust, “he went to the back seat of the unmarked car and came out with a shotgun, then he went to the trunk and came out with something like a suitcase. He put the gun in there and he brought the suitcase to a blue-and-white police car that was park­ing and put it in the car. What they did with it after that I do not know,” she says.

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According to Gary Jones, Kevin Young, and Jackie Thompson, following the shooting they were taken to the 83rd Pre­cinct and held for nearly 24 hours. During this period they were threatened with ar­rest on a variety of charges, including assault with intent to kill a police officer, reckless driving, and resisting arrest. In actuality, none of the three was charged with anything, either that day or subse­quently.

The only person charged with any crime who was in Ricky Lewis’s car the night of October 18 is Lemuel Thompson, who was critically wounded during the police attack. On October 20, while still in the hospital, Thompson was charged with the murder in Queens last August 21 of Yat Yeung Lam during an attempted robbery of a Chinese restaurant. (A grand jury recently began hearing evidence in the case.) Thompson, his friends, and his fam­ily insist that he is not guilty of this crime. They say that the police are trying to justify killing Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble by saying they were in pursuit of a murderer. Like Jackie, Lemuel’s younger brother says, “The police didn’t know nothing about nobody in Queens until a day after they shot my brother up.”

Since the arrest of Lemuel Thompson, who recently was released from Rikers Island on $25,000 bail, and the release of Jones, Young, and Jackie Thompson, the police have been silent concerning the events on Bushwick and McKibbin. Re­peated calls to the 83rd Precinct fail to elicit answers to the most basic questions: Are there any charges against anyone ex­cept Lemuel Thompson? Where are the guns the youths allegedly fired at the police officers? What happened to the shotgun that, according to the police and The New York Times, was supposedly found at the Garage after the shooting but which Gloria Yournet says she saw a plainclothes police officer take from his car on Bushwick and McKibbin? Where are Kenny Gamble’s clothes and personal effects?

All calls to the 83rd are referred to the public information office at the NYPD and all calls there are referred to the office of Brooklyn D.A., Eugene Gold. There, Rhonda Nager, director of public information, ends all inquiries by saying, “The D.A.’s office is unable to discuss a pending investigation. I can tell you it [the investigation] involves all aspects of the incident, including wrongdoing on the part of anybody,” says Nager. When reminded of the dismal record in the city of New York and nationally involving criminal prosecution of white police officers, Nager acknowledges, with a note of apology, “There are cases in which we have ob­tained indictments and prosecuted cases and the jury has acquitted. It is not always within the power of the prosecution to do what’s right.” Nager concedes that resi­dents of black and Hispanic communities “have some legitimate complaints.”

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Twenty-four-year-old Vernon Lawrence lives in the Bushwick-Hylan Houses, grew up with Ricky Lewis, knew the five young men in the car. Lawrence is a suc­cess story in Bushwick. He graduated from Baruch College with a degree in account­ing and hopes to continue on to business school. Like Ricky Lewis, he has a good job, a nice car, goes to work every day. Lawrence and Lewis were partners, “like brothers,” is what the people who knew them say, and maybe it was only chance or luck that Vernon wasn’t in the car with Ricky on October 18.

“My mother woke me up, she was screaming, ‘I heard Ricky was shot!’ I went downstairs and saw an ambulance pulling off. There must have been 30 police cars. When I got there the police were congratulating themselves: ‘Good shooting,’ singing, ‘Another One Bites the Dust,’ and laughing,” says Lawrence, “They told one lady, ‘You don’t care about these niggers, why don’t you get out of here?’ They didn’t know everybody out there knew them. People kept telling them, ‘Leave the boys alone, why are you kicking them, why are you hurting them?’ The cops’ response was, ‘Suck my white, prick.’ A cop walked up to Gary Jones and said, ‘Goddamn, I thought I blew your head off.’ ”

Since October 18 Lawrence, in addition to working full-time at Upper Harlem Medical Associates, has worked full-time, organizing the community to protest the killing of Ricky and Kenny and the shoot­ing of the two other men. On the Sunday after the killings Lawrence and about 7o others marched in protest to the 83rd Precinct to demand information from the police. The officers at the 83rd responded by throwing eggs on the demonstrators from a second floor window.

While the mood in Bushwick runs the gamut from disbelief to despair to rage, it is characterized by a unity of outrage and a commitment to struggle until some sort of justice is done. Under Lawrence’s lead­ership, community residents have held at least two community-wide meetings a week to discuss the killings, collect evidence, and plan strategy. The strategy focuses on methods to insure that Kenny and Ricky’s killers are brought to justice and to guarantee that in the future com­munity residents are protected from those who are supposed to protect them — the police.

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On December 24, a Brooklyn grand jury, after hearing evidence concerning the events of October 18, indicted Thompson with two counts of attempted murder of a police officer in the first degree and one count of illegal weapons possession — the shotgun police say they recovered at the social club. Still, several critical questions remain unanswered: What about Gloria Yournet’s testimony that the gun did not come from Lewis’s car but from the trunk of the unmarked police car? If, as the indictment alleges, Thompson shot at the plainclothes officers outside the Garage and then dropped the shotgun, why did the police chase the car for 12 blocks, blasting away at a suspect with no weapon? Why didn’t the police officers identify themselves?

After initial reports quoting the police as saying they either “heard shots” or were fired upon by “a group of youths,” the grand jury indicted Lemuel Thompson for these acts. How the D.A. was able to identify Thompson as the one who fired the shots at the club — something the po­lice themselves could not do — also remains a mystery.

The evidence and eyewitness testimony compiled by this writer clearly do not support the indictment of Lemuel Thompson. Instead, the testimony raises serious questions as to the conduct of the four officers from the 83rd Precinct — Esposito, Cohen, Cardi, and Falcone — who were centrally involved in the shooting.

As the case now stands, the police killed Gamble and Lewis allegedly in the chase to capture Lemuel Thompson. Ac­cording to the police version of events, that Ricky and Kenny lost their lives was simply a matter of tough luck; they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Community residents have called on the U.S. Attorney to begin a federal in­vestigation. As yet, there has been no response. For now, the people of Bushwick wait, caught between a rock and a hard place as they ask the systems that sanc­tion the police department to investigate the conduct of some of its officers. While their mood is not one of optimism it is also not one of despair — yet. Instead, it is the limbo of waiting and hoping so familiar to black people. “If this were happening in any other ethnic community in the city there would be an outcry by your government of­ficials,” says Vernon Mason, the 34-year-­old graduate of Morehouse College and Columbia Law School who is representing the families of the deceased. “We have heard very little from the mayor when these killings occur, we have not heard any outcry from the local churches except in the black communities across the board. We have not had any response from syn­agogues, rabbis, the Council of Churches, from ministers throughout the city,” con­tinues Mason, who as general counsel to the National Conference of Black Law­yers, an organization of progressive black attorneys, is familiar with these cases. “There has been no response. We have requested that the Justice Department investigate after all these killings, and there has been no response.”

“It might be a surprise to me because it’s my son,” says Kenny Gamble’s moth­er. A school aide for eight years, the last three at Sarah J. Hale High School in Brooklyn, Mrs. Gamble looks almost like a teenager herself. Her husband, Walter, has been a mail carrier with the post office for 11 years. “But it’s just like Luis Baez [killed in August 1979 by Brooklyn police after they were summoned by his mother whom the mentally ill Baez was menacing with a pair of scissors.] Do you mean the police couldn’t just wrestle him down? Just like Elizabeth Magnum, who wanted to stay, in her house. Next thing you know, she’s dead [killed by Brooklyn police in August 1979, after they had been called to her house to assist in carrying out an eviction order]. To this day no cops have come to me to notify me that my child is dead. Because they know they was wrong.” Mr. and Mrs. Gamble were told by a doctor at Wycoff Hospital that their son had “expired,” and that was all. Since Kenny’s death, the Gambles have received three bills from Wycoff Hospital addressed to “The Late Kenneth Gamble.” That is the extent of any official communication.

“What we intend to do is to bring a wrongful death action along with an action charging civil rights violations on behalf of the families of Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble,” explains Vernon Mason. “We intend to bring these actions in federal court and we intend to sue the police officers who did the shooting.” Mason and the NCBL are also representing the ten ­apartments were ransacked and who were threatened in predawn raid by FBI agents allegedly searching for the “soul of the Black Liberation Army,” Assata Shakur. Mason plans to file a federal civil rights suit in this case also.

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Whatever the outcome of the suit in behalf of the Lewis and Gamble families, “I think we will see more and more of these types of incidents, not only in New York but all over the country,” says Reverend Calvin O. Butts, executive minister of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and a political activist.

“My greatest fear is this: Given the election of Ronald Reagan and the kind of attitude in the city with his coming into the presidency, groups like the Ku Klux Klan or groups similar to them, like the New York Police Department, will feel, more so than ever before, that it is open season on black folks. I believe in non­violence,” Reverend Butts says with a soft smile. “But the question is, who is the violence being brought against? We must defend ourselves, because the police are not protecting us, they’re shooting us.”

Long before genocide becomes official policy it is an attitude that manifests itself in seemingly random violence toward members of a specific racial, cultural, or political group. Incidents of violence against black people in the United States have reached epidemic proportions. When the police department — which is supposed to stop these crimes — is in fact implicated in them, genocide as official policy against black Americans cannot be far behind.

Peter Funches, Nicholas Benilla, Em­ery Robinson, Louis Rodriguez, Elizabeth Magnum, James McRee, Herbert John­son, Darryl Walker, John Davis Jr., Wil­liam Harper, Curtis Garvey, Jay Parker, Abdul Hadi, Sonny Evans, Edwin Quin­ones, Michael Furse, Luis Baez, and now Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble are just a few of those who have been killed by police in New York City since June 1979. Almost all were males, all were black or Hispanic, all were shot under highly questionable circumstances. No police officer has been convicted for any one of these murders. ❖

Many thanks to Dave Walker of the Black United Front’s Police Brutality In­vestigation Unit, without whom this arti­cle could not have been written. 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

John Lennon, 1940-1980

In 1971, I wrote something about John and Yoko that they liked a lot, and to show their appreciation they invited me and my girlfriend Dominique to John’s 31st birthday party — in Syracuse, where a Yoko Ono retrospective had been mounted. I’ve never been one to hobnob with the stars, but who could resist John Lennon? He’d always been my own personal Beatle, and probably yours. He was the one who could have been a friend of ours, the one we might have known in school or on the scene — the bohemian, the artist, the intellectual. Still, even after the party jet and the room down the hall from ex-Beatle security, I was reluctant to intrude. But this was the only famous person Dominique had ever wanted to meet in her life, and she wasn’t about to let the chance slip by. Eventually we got to the Lennon suite, where J&Y watched themselves on the news and signed 26 autographs for Dominique’s fifth-grade class. Among those present was Ringo Starr, grumpy because he’d called room service an hour before and there was still no food.

“Did you tell them who you were?” Lennon asked.

It should go without saying that Ringo hadn’t.

“Well, why not?” Lennon asked. “You’ve got the fucking fame — you might as well get something out of it.”

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A few weeks later the J&Y entourage picked me up on Avenue B, where the limo attracted more attention than the star–one of the local youngsters thought I was the Beatle, while another didn’t know what a Beatle was. After sitting around awkwardly in my dingy living room for a few minutes we repaired to the Cookery for discussions of Chuck Berry’s jail years and celebrity as a depletable resource — John wondered whether he should lay low for a while. He seemed astonishingly quick and intense — partly, no doubt, because he was. But it’s also true that unprotected by professional obligation I found myself starstruck, and I remember the meeting, our last, with some embarrassment — even as we analyzed how finite his fame was the man radiated an energy that befuddled me, just by being John.

More than most pop stars, Lennon tried to do good with his fame, but that doesn’t mean he had much success. By the time I’d met him there’d been bed-ins and the beginnings of war-is-over-if-you-want-it, so mystically well-meaning that they cost him almost nothing and accomplished little more. But less than a year later he squandered his resources on the ill-fated agitprop of Some Time in New York City — the most politically ambitious and artistically impoverished music he ever recorded. After that came the traumatic separation from Yoko and the half-hearted professional rock, a vocation for which this compulsively honest and necessarily direct artist showed little taste. In the end he chose — bravely and wisely — to lay low, to keep silent until he had something to say. Reunited with Yoko, finally a father again, he retreated into domestic pursuits, and when the couple returned to the studio after five years it was their pursuit of mutual retreat that they celebrated. One astute observer said Lennon seemed “infantilized,” which is true, but while the record was no Imagine or Plastic Ono Band, I found its candor irrefutable. Lennon had always seemed like someone who might make good new rock and roll when he was 60 — and I was 58. Nothing about Double Fantasy damaged that fantasy for me.

Well, the dream is over. Lennon’s death was unprecedented. This tragic superstar wasn’t another chronic suicide; he wasn’t killed, or even murdered. He was assassinated, a fate heretofore reserved for kings, politicians, and captains of industry. Yet as I sit here alternating between my records and WNEW’s all-night vigil, I must admit that my feeling of loss is qualified by a false sense of inevitability. We’ve been expecting this to happen, haven’t we, ever since Phil Ochs wrote “Crucifixion” and various assholes (the acid freak who introduced me to the Doors was one) began imagining Bob Dylan’s martyrdom?

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As I began writing it bothered me that I wouldn’t know much about the alleged killer, Mark David Chapman, until after deadline. Then I decided that whether the putative motive was ambulatory anomie or personal ressentiment or even twisted politics, the underlying pathology would be the same — the anonymous eating the famous like a cannibal feasting on testicles. But that’s too simple. As my wife said despondently an hour after the event: “Why is it always Bobby Kennedy or John Lennon? Why isn’t it Richard Nixon or Paul McCartney?” The fact is obvious enough. Dylan, of course. Jim Morrison, possibly. Neil Young, conceivably. But Paul McCartney? Neil Diamond? Graham Nash? George Harrison? Ringo Starr? Never — because they don’t hold out hope, even if they’d sort of like to be able to. John Lennon held out hope. He imagined, and however quietistic he became he never lost that utopian identification. But when you hold out hope, people get real disappointed if you can’t deliver. You’re famous and they’re not — that’s the crux of your relationship. You command the power they crave — the power to make one’s identity felt in the world, to be known. No matter that the only thing you’re sure it’s good for is room service. No matter that you’re even further from resolving anyone’s perplexities than the next bohemian, artist, or intellectual. You’re denying your most desperate admirers the release they need, and a certain percentage of them will resent or hate you for it. From there, it only takes one to kill.

Of course, many more of your fans will be like Dominique — enthralled, yet basically self-possessed. And they’ll mourn. ❖

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COMEDY ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Inside George Carlin’s Head

HOLLYWOOD — Energy spills out. George dressed all in blue, his thin blue frame moving, jerking, limping, dancing, slurching — George being an ant —slurching along a sidewalk — eyes crossing, hair splayed out all into the wind, hands moving, smoothing the hair back, smoothing the hair back, always smoothing the hair back — the grossest of crossed eyes like ­some satanic yogi master, eyes all crossed looking at the third eye — up toward the secret of the golden flower — gold records — millions of them selling all across the country — five records in the last four years and every one of them gone to gold.

George Carlin at the Roxy, now slinking like a cat — cat colliding with a big glass door — cat recoiling, straightening — cat trying to ­keep its cool — look like he really MEANT to do that — proud cat — saving face — “FUCKIN’ MEOW!” —  screams George — “FUCKIN’ MEOW!” Funny as hell — the audience is roaring. Funny? Why is that so funny? Goddammit, that’s what we all want to scream out every time we’re trying to keep it together and we fuck up, blow it and can’t show it, can’t let on — have to keep on keepin’ on — George up there saying it for us: “FUCKIN’ ME — that’s ME. Me hurtin’ — ow! ow! ow!” Thank you. George — the guy in the front row laughing — just knocked over his martini glass — the girl with the blonde hair in hysterics — collapsing on the stage.

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George Carlin is funny. He’s really very funny. George being a kid, George being a dog, George being the guy by the watercooler with freshly picked snot on his fingers and the boss just comes along — tryin’ to hide the snot­ — shake it off — get rid of it — whaddya do? “Can’t wipe it on the walls­ — and the furniture is full” — “I say — PUT IT BACK!” (Pause while the audience takes that in — ­howls — squeals) — ” Jacques Cous­teau tags ’em and puts ’em back!”

We’ve met before. That was George’s starting point. How are you doing? he asked the audience at the Roxy, throwing the respon­sibility for our reactions right on us. Are we going to be a good audience tonight? Will our section win? Will we be a credit to our row? — So we’re laughing al­ready — we’re on stage, too. There. Right there. We are IN this show.

Funny. I sat in a crowded room of people — mostly young — but not the campus crowd, more a Hol­lywood Scene — and they laughed their heads off. I sat through two shows. The first one I was down there in the ranks and everyone was laughing except the critic for the L. A. Times who thinks he’s supposed to be critical so he was miserable and downed four double brandies and his girlfriend was miserable too because she really wanted to be laughing and she’d start to and then she’d glance over at him and stop herself so as not to appear to be such an asshole as to laugh at something that wasn’t funny enough to suit her date.

George Carlin running down all the places we’ve met before. “Stoned in the supermarket — you smoke eight joints and bring $200 — frozen-food aisle — God it’s cold!­ — uh — honey — I’ll be over by the bar­becued chickens — get the Rocky Road ice cream — see you later­ — Dropping stuff back after you’ve got six carts linked together and you know you’ve gone too far — va­nilla extract in with the Brillo — the ham goes back with the frozen waffles — liverwurst slices — half of them are gone now — tucked in behind the please don’t squeeze the Charmin — don’t worry honey­ — they have these little men with purple fingers who come around at midnight and straighten it all out.”

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“We’ve met in the cookie section —  in any head neighborhood — looks like a WAR ZONE — half the packages are open! — and all the GOOD cookies are gone! — where are the Mallomars? — the Mallo­mars never even make it to the store, man — people are lining up outside at the truck!”

We’ve met on the radio dial (“down towards the hopelessness of 540 — why do they stop there?­ — what kind of great stuff are they keepin’ from us down at 310?”), in the classroom (“Farts — farts are great — kids love ’em — look at it this way — a fart is just a shit without the mess!”), tripping on sidewalks, on the Monopoly Board, comparing dogs: “Animals: — the new people from the church have dropped by for a spot of tea and there’s the dog in the corner and he’s LICKIN’ HIS BALLS! And what’s even more amazing: NO ONE LOOKS AT HIM! There’s this perfectly spectacular thing going on in one corner of the room and no one says a word! If I could do that myself, I’d never leave the house!”

We’ve met before, he says, and he draws everybody in. He really does, me too. I’m laughing my head off. But when I go to talk to him — that’s different.

I have a theory about why George Carlin is funny. It has to do with words. Kids and words. We’re sitting in Little David Records, in the back room, and George has his feet propped up on the big round table and he’s smoking and drink­ing Heinekens and club soda (se­parately — he’s alternating) and he’s not saying anything. He says there’s nothing to talk about any­way since I haven’t seen his show yet.

I say well yes but I’ve listened to his albums — I even designed one once — the “Class Clown” album. Doesn’t matter, he says — doesn’t count for anything — ya hafta see the show.

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So I launch into my Pet Theory Number One on what makes things funny. I came up with this about a year ago one time when I was stoned. It was important to me at the time because I am hardly ever stoned, so it took on great significance (hold on — I’ll get to it in a minute), but later, thinking about it, it occurred to me that George is about 39 now and he’s been stoned continually from the time he was 16 (except recently — that’s the main news about George Carlin, folks — George Carlin has cut out coke and he’s HARDLY EVER STONED!) — so he must be having these great significant revelations CONTINUALLY — and in fact, lis­ten to his records, he sure is.

“Nixon is the perfect symbol for the country — looks like he hasn’t taken a shit in a month — he’s just not a regular guy — every four years he gets the runs — ‘Look! He’s running again.’ ”

“Getting high on the plane — they always tell you — ‘please get ON the plane’ — ‘Fuck you,’ I tell them — I’m getting IN the plane — ­let the DAREDEVILS get ON the plane.”

Well, my weird idea about words: When I was stoned I sud­denly saw this magic plane I used to go to all the time when I was very little, before I learned to talk. A fantasy place — a great spot — full of alleyways with pink and purple trees, high white blossoms, shapes all changing. I went there every night, walked down the street, checked out the new buds on all the branches. Great place. And I had buried it for all these years.

Then I saw picture diction­aries — first the word written out, then the picture, then, tagged to every word, a FEELING that I had about the word, and a kind of COLOR that went with it! Eerie. Every word I ever learned was there, all tagged and colored. Then I was in New Rochelle Public Library, staring up at the stacks on the mezzanine. Staring up the way I used to when I was just a little kid. And I knew that those white stacks with the dark alleyways between them looked to me like the radiators in my house — the high white pipes and the dark dark spaces, scary spaces, in between them. The spaces, and the pipes repeating and receding when I looked down them from one end.

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Then I saw that every word I had ever learned repeated and receded like the radiators, like the stacks. That every word I ever learned was surrounded by auras, feelings, colors — echoes of the hundred thousand times I ever had made contact with that experience before it boiled down into one dinky, distillate, poor-excuse-for-the-re­al-experience WORD.

And then I felt, knew, experi­enced, that the worst trauma in the world for me as a kid hadn’t been being weaned from the breast, or being rejected by my father — or whatever they say on psychiatrists couches years later — the real trau­ma was having to learn WORDS, having to come up with the right WORDS for everything.

And more than that: SANITY was coming up with the right word. Anything that had no words for it was (bad, naughty, unresponsive, irresponsible, antisocial, immoral, and) INSANE. That’s why I buried my magic secret nighttime gar­den: there were no words for it. It was “crazy” and it had to go.

So here I am making an asshole of myself running on to George Carlin who God knows is a busy man — 10 shows at the Roxy this week, plus shows with Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson, a Perry Como special, prison benefit at San Quentin on the weekend, one film­making session coming up on Fri­day, and four days of shooting for a Mac Davis special coming up next week — then off on tour — and here I am.

I push on — the thing is, I tell George — the reason kids like word jokes so much — the reason they think it’s so hysterically funny when you point to a cup and say “tree” or point to a car and say “potato” — is that it’s a relief from the trauma of having to get the words all right — it kind of makes a little space for kids to get back to that great live conscious BEING place where they were when they were still preverbal.

Stop. End of Theory Number One. Look up. This man must think I’m nuts. Where’s he at, I wonder. I look at him across the table.

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George Carlin looks like Christ in my “Bible Stories for Children” ­book that I used to sneak peeks at when I was supposed to be going to Ethical Culture Sunday School and singing songs by Pete Seeger and being a rationalist. Carlin also reminds me of somebody in my second-grade class — a class-clown type — maybe it was Pete McSweeney — but anyway there were a lot of Irish and Italian Catholic kids on my block and I used to walk home with the girls and memorize their catechisms and wish I had a white organdy dress like they had to wear to Confirmation. Where I grew up, the Catholics weren’t simply win­ning — they had WON. In fact the only distinction of any meaning was between the Irish Catholics, who had mothers who were thin, and the Italian Catholics, who had mothers who were fat. My mother was thin, and only a little Jewish, and I did NOT FIT IN.

And we all knew it.

And now here I am and there’s George Carlin and I feel like­ — THERE’S A PROBLEM. Not only because he looks like Christ on my secret book, but because — I feel like he is Of-the-People, By-the-People, and For-the-People — and I know that even though he may secretly find me in the dark when we play Spin-the-Bottle at my birthday party, out on the playground. when we’re choosing sides for baseball, he’s going to pick me LAST.

So I look up. “Yeah,” says George about my word theory. “Yeah” — (he’s almost smiling) — “Yeah — that’s really good. That bit about words being the real trauma — that was really fun.” He does a bit about kids, he says­ — another about words — and there’s a piece about kids’ words — I’ll see that in his show, he says — It’ll answer all my questions.

But I have one more question — I ask him whether he’s consciously worked out any theories about why all this is funny.

No, he says — it’s just INSTINCT — something he’s al­ways known — something that just occurs — “Because the creative child in me is — very active — and really rules the roost — and the three qualities that go into creativity you know — or spontaneity — are three qualities that are present in CHILDHOOD — the most creative state — they are INNOCENCE, CURIOSITY, and ENERGY.”

Most people, when they have a little faint stirring of the “creative child state” — they bury it — they’re afraid of it.

“Right,” says George. “They fear the child.”

And then I said “Okay — you’re excused from class,” and then he grinned (for the first time) and said “Oh Wow, Golly! I get to go home early!” and then he gave me a nice little kiss (like Pete Mcsweeney used to do in Spin-the-Bottle) and said “Thanks for the Good Vibrations” and I was on my way.

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Funny — he wasn’t even funny. Not in person. That is — not with me. And he isn’t funny talking with me that night either, talking be­tween shows. He’s straight, serious, full of “answers-to-test-­questions type analysis.” But then in walk the executives from Little David records — Monty Kay, Jack Lewis, Burt, and Ben — and the whole scene changes. “Hey it’s da first team!” calls out George, coming on mannish-clannish macho. “The fuckin’ Regulars — da varsity squad is here!”

Right — I knew it — he’s picking them for baseball. Where’s he coming from? I go back and listen to his records:

“I grew up in a little Irish neighborhood, right next to Har­lem. On one side, Columbia and everything connected with Columbia — Juilliard, Union Theological Seminary, Jewish Theological Seminary, Riverside Church, St. Luke’s Hospital, St. John the Di­vine — all that stuff on one side — one the ether side” (long pregnant pause — mean deep voice) “HARLEM. We used to call our­selves ‘White Harlem’ — sounded BAD you know; ‘Hey man, where you live?’ — ‘White Harlem’ — oh! — sounded so FAGGY — to us anyway — Faggy had nothing to do with sex — a fag was a sissy — a fag was a guy who wouldn’t stay out late of go stealin’ or hitchin’ on trucks or something — ‘Aw go home, you fag — go home, fag — it’s 10 o’clock — the big fag’s gotta go home!”

“Queer — we knew what a queer was — a queer was the word we learned right after we learned ‘homo’ — ‘Ah — he’s a queer! — he’s a HOMO — yeah, yeah!” — A FAG was a guy who wouldn’t go downtown with you beaten’ up queehs! —part of that Irish Street Macho.”

Irish Street Macho — so that’s it — George simply doesn’t relate to women the way he relates to men — and he isn’t funny with women because he doesn’t have to be.

“Bein’ funny on the street. It was good to be funny on the street, especially if you weren’t one of those big fighter dudes and you were tired of running — it was good to be funny — would save you from an ass-kicking if some guy from another neighborhood came around — who’s gonna kick a guy who’s making cross eyes and screwin’ up his mug and going GAURRGHHH!!!? — ‘Lay off him, Charlie — don’t touch that one — it’s bad luck to hit a guy like that.’ ”

Girls — that is, women: girls and nuns and mothers — girls are not gonna kick you in the ass down on the street so GIRLS ARE NOT THE PROBLEM! You do not have to be funny when you talk to girls! (And he can’t think of any other way to be with them either, except kind of nice and POLITE, so the conversation kind of FALTERS — ­which it certainly did with us.)

Actually I did all the talking, and then I said ‘Okay — you’re excused from class — you can go home early,’ and he said ‘Oh wow golly,’ and that was right because he was being like a good little boy come to take the test (“all interviews are like tests,” says George) and I was being like a teacher/nun.

First it’s just that put-down feeling — and then it’s the typical Jew­ish psych-the-whole-thing-out ap­proach. Well, the man’s had a tough time of it keepin’ up the Irish Macho business — doesn’t deal with women anyway — they’re not on his album either — everything else is there — cats, dogs, farts, football vs. baseball, news, weather, dirty words, masturbation — he does try on that one to take the woman’s view — but it just doesn’t have that authoritative ring — the albums have an almost VIRGINAL quali­ty even when he gets into what he calls the “more gushy areas of universality” he doesn’t tread on SEX — when I him how his sex life with his wife was, he just said “fine” — kept it private — not that he should do anything else — it’s just that there’s been very little that he HAS kept private — his stock-in-trade is to talk about all the things people never talk about — all the forbidden subjects — so why not this one? but no — I sense it — this one is off limits.

But these thoughts all come later. Right now it’s Wednesday night, and I’m out there in my row at the Roxy, laughing like crazy, and George has gotten into his kid thing just like he said he would­ and h0w he’s getting into his words thing.

“Words are great — in the beginning was the word — GOD got to choose the first one and he got the best one — they had words — ‘my word’ — word for word’ — word contradictions: ‘jumbo shrimp;­ well, which is it for God’s sake?­ — let them make up their minds!­ — smithereens — why is it always talked about in plurals? — ‘Hey Johnny — look! Just found that smithereen left over from last year’s explosion!” — dirty words — finding the middle ground — somewhere  between ‘bloomer’ and ‘cuntlapper’ — the FUCK — substituting the fuck for the word kill  —’ to fuck a mockingbird’ ” (George makes an obscene gesture — grinds his groin (“where does my groin end and my loin begin?”) and stretches out his hands — to fuck a mockingbird — hold gently by the wings.’ ”

Words. So George is running through all this and now he’s kind of wriggling and talking about this kind of shaking that happens to you when you take a piss — “what does that mean? — TAKE a piss? you don’t TAKE a piss — you leave one” and he’s saying “What is that? — that shaking? — There’s n0 WORD for it — I call it the PISS QUIVERS” and suddenly I hear him saying, “Kids really like word jokes because they’re so hassled  learning words.”

Hey! How ’bout that! So George was really listening to my Pet Theory Number One! — and I suddenly get a glimpse into where George gets all his stuff — he gets it everywhere — anywhere — all day long!

I check out Carlin in “I Ching” and it comes up with a hexagram called INFLUENCE WOOING — and I realized that the word influence (in—fluence) literally means “a flowing in” — and in Chinese the  hexagram mean “general,” “universal,” and also stimulating” — thus conjuring up a picture of an individual being open to currents from all sides, being stimulated by them, and stimulating them in his turn.

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And it seemed to me that George was very much like that: he is open to every twist, weirdness, irony, surprise, delight — when I talked to him between the shows again, a bit of that exchange had been incorporated by the second show! If so, if he does that with me, he must do that with everyone, continually. Everything get worked in, a constant process, like the building of a shell.

“I noticed you worked in that thing about kids learning words.”

“Oh yeah.” George looks pleased, grinning. “Yeah, I’ve already started to work that in.”

Backstage at halftime — George sitting very quiet at an old oak desk, sitting in an old oak chair­ — like school. Heineken’s again. Club soda with a red straw. A lemon.

Interviews: George Carlin re­minds me of Joni Mitchell — who says all he has to say is in his work — there isn’t anything else to say — the rest is mainly filling up the spaces — showing up for the blue book and then saying­  — what? — well — not NOTHING — but saying all that left-brained, logi­cal, after-the-fact type stuff­ — polite analysis to satisfy the questioners — theories and reasons.

He wears blue because it’s like Mime, because he’s striving for “stark contrasts, stark emotions, classicism.” His work is new all the time (although he’s always using “old” material) because he changes the “order, the intonation, the choice of words, the look you give after you say it — you must have the feeling you’re kind of thinking of it for the first time — so you remember the JOY of thinking of that joke — that way you can say it again like it’s half — half not SPONTANEOUS or NEW — but just — half SURPRISE — you know — you have to feel the AWE!”

Does he ever worry about run­ning out of funny things to talk about?

“No — not really — I’m getting into other forms — I’m getting into creating on the typewriter, too­ — and through film — but rapping — it always will sustain me — I wouldn’t want to chase the same goal all the time for the next 20 years — but I’ll alway be able to do some rap­ping.”

Right now, what turns George on is: he’s getting into film — “Everybody has a path — I’m get­ting to another level. It’s just not out there on the table yet to show everyone, but we’re filming here Friday night, for instance, to have the basis for a lilm — It’s something — ­you don’t really want to talk about a lot, cause it’s just an embryo­ — but it’s a very healthy one.”

No doubt it is. Reports vary, but George is estimated to be raking in anywhere between $300,000 and $1 million a year these days. But he can’t stay on the college circuit forever — he’s surfacing — that’s why he’s playing at the Roxy this week, even though the money isn’t anything like what he’d be making in a bigger hall. “I want to reach these people — the Hollywood In­dustry people — I’m a kind of secret success to them. They know I’m doing well, but they don’t really know what I do.”

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I point out that he seemed to do less playing with the audience than he used to do two or three years ago.

“Well there was a real need to establish that in myself then — that moment-to-moment, let’s look at the event — heehee — you and I are here — and I’ve done a lot of that­ — I’ve felt those feelings — and I’ve established that kind of feeling about myself — so those things fade — they come and go. As they’re needed — This is all such a basic — psychological trip — you know — like that word is really good in terms of the process because you’re really just telling — you’re doing analysis up there, of sorts. You can’t help that-the things that are most significant about you are bound to surface — without your  even knowing it — or WITH your knowing it — whatever …

“So you go through stages just as you do in your own thinking — in your little fears — your experiments — all the various things that make up people — you know — happen there too as you develop your career — you grow — and grow up, you know. I’m kind of reaching young manhood again now for the second time — for four or five years now I’ve been acting out my adolescence in public — in terms of almost everything that applies to that part of your life: dress, and irreverence, and language, and drug experimentation — and alienation — and now that’s kind of rounding out in me.”

I ask him — George — what is the payoff?

“The payoff,” he said — “was getting people to stop for 10 minutes on the street corner and just PAY ATTENTION. Power — power to get the fuckers to stop and HEAR ME, HEAR ME FOR CHRISSAKES HEAR ME!”

And so he did it — did it as a kid — does it — does it far longer and longer periods of time — more and more people — worked it to perfection — well, not quite perfection — ­and that explains what he was saying in the break between the shows.

“It’s really funny— wanting to do those extra 30 minutes” (he had to cut the show down at the Roxy, to fit in two performances in one night) — I feel like — gee — you ought to know about my neighborhood — I got some really nice stuff on that that’s a lot like this other thing — you’d really like it — I got this rap on death — lexicon on death and violence — ‘that kills me,’ ‘that slays me,’ ‘that wipes me out’-nice stuff-missed that­ — couldn’t fit it in.” That bothered him — can’t say it ALL.

And what if he DID?

Power — PROOF — the money’s nice, he says. The life-style’s nice — being popular is nice — that’s getting closer to it — yes, he likes that — but the best part — the ATTENTION. “They’re all listen­ing to me! Wow.”

But how does he DO that! What is he selling that we pay so much attention?

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George Carlin is funny. Congenitally, genetically funny. He’s got these harty-har-har chromosomes and genes. Then there’s environment, too — lots of Irish Catholic Macho street kids learned to be FUNNY not to get their asses kicked in when some big tough fighter dude from the next block’s gang came sauntering down the avenue — but Carlin’s FUNNIER THAN THAT. Carlin is TRANSLUCENTLY funny.

Nouns and verbs and participles and arms and legs all dangling, gerundives, possessives, mostly subjunctives — what if? — and subjectives — MY story — MY street — MY class — Corpus Christi — Sister Marie Richard — my best masturbation stories that I traded with my old pal Bill — statements — periods — ­long periods of waiting, chewing, digesting, puking, processing, wasting away, the shitty parts, the pissed-off places, the stopping and the belching, farting away the time of day, the night, caffeine in his blood, caffeine, coke, grass, speed, beer, caffeine in the skin, the bones, the arteries, humor in another vein — no bones about it­ — the starting IS the stopping.

Translucent: the whole process is revealed. Translucent. That’s what it is — He’s crawled inside his own body, his brain — he’s let us see it — see the insides — see the blood swishing, turning — the snot running, the shit, the farts, the balls, the cock, the eyes, the brain — and once in a while — maybe — more and more — once in a while — the heart.

He gets high and we get high. Trippy, tripping — but mostly it’s that he sees right through himself. (“Hey! They’re all listening to me! Wow!”) and we see right through him. George Carlin seen as a pane of glass — set against the black background of general world TOTAL CHAOS. He becomes a mirror — and we see ourselves.

We look pretty funny too, God-dammit.

Cracks us up. ❖

1976 Village Voice profile of George Carlin

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The Mob is Dead! Long Live the Mob!

WHERE WERE YOU when the Mafia died?

It has been more than a year since that historic Thursday when a Brooklyn jury adjourned for lunch and found John Gotti guilty before the soup arrived. “The mob as we have known it in New York City is on its way out,” eulogized James Fox, head of the FBI’s New York office. “This could be the death knell for organized crime … in the United States.”

Gotti’s conviction, the experts crowed, was the culmination of the government’s most recent war against organized crime, a crusade begun in the mid ’80s by racketbuster Rudolph Giuliani, our erstwhile Tom Dewey with a comb­over. The swift verdict confirmed what The New York Times had been tirelessly report­ing for years: the mob was on life support, finally reduced to the street gang J. Edgar Hoover always knew it was. We were wit­nessing the “twilight of the dons,” one TV special informed us.

In fact, the Mafia’s prospects appeared so bleak, it seemed inevitable that the Italians would be usurped by other ethnics: the Ghost Shadows would seize control of Teamsters Local 282; the price of concrete would now be fixed by the Jamaican pos­ses; and the Albanians would become the secret force at Kennedy Airport.

It seemed like just yesterday that the Ma­fia was perceived as the enemy within. With Gotti doing life, was it really possible that the next capo di tutti capi might be a Russian from Brighton Beach? How did things disintegrate so quickly?

John Gotti was the guiltiest of pleasures for investigators and journalists alike. The underworld has long been dominated by bland men in zipper jackets and polyester blends, which made Gotti’s cheesy suits and 40 mph haircut seem all the more refreshing.

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And just as Nicky Barnes once played and dressed up to his reputation as Har­lem’s reigning pusherman, Gotti introduced the Method to the Mafia, becoming the Dapper Don. What’s not to like about an Italian guy in a silk raincoat leaving a Mulberry Street social club, entering a $60,000 Mercedes-Benz, and heading to Regine’s for some Cristal? Such “style” hadn’t been seen since the heyday of Frank Costello.

Television was especially guilty of inflat­ing the Gotti myth. But who could blame them? Those Brioni suits and garish hand­painted ties were so much more visual than the standard Adidas warm-up. When Gotti waved an index finger at WNBC’s John Miller and warned the reporter to “behave yourself,” well, that was great television. The telegenic Gotti is a convicted mass murderer, but his Q rating probably ap­proaches those of Barney and Roseanne.

Even his homicide style got high marks: the brazen rush-hour murder of Paul Cas­tellano had such panache, it seemed almost an homage to the classic New York rub­outs: Albert Anastasia in the Park-Sheraton barber shop, Kid Twist out a window in the Half Moon Hotel, Carmine Galante’s last supper.

So it is not surprising that many report­ers — like Daily News gossip Linda Stasi­ — appear to be suffering from separation anxiety, judging by the regular accounts of the exiled Gambino boss’s prison reading habits and exercise regimen. Tabloid read­ers have also been provided with detailed accounts of a Jon Peters-produced Gotti movie (screenplay by Joe Eszterhas!) and a lame rap tribute (lyrics by Big Lou!), which deserves a spot under Calvin Butts’s next steamroller.

Banished to a cell in southern Illinois, Gotti has been forced to live on in absentia as the Boss of Bosses, the Godfather — titles bestowed on him by the FBI in the wake of the Castellano rubout. The titles had been previously tossed about, but nobody had grown into the role — or captured the pub­lic’s attention — like Gotti. Does anyone really remember Godfather Frank Tieri?

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But in the media’s rush to coronate Gotti, nobody bothered to ask just what the Godfather did, what great powers the Boss of Bosses exercised. Gotti surely didn’t con­trol the city’s four other crime families, and there wasn’t even a consensus in law en­forcement circles that the Gambino gang was New York’s premier crime syndicate; the Genovese family was just as large, prob­ably earned more money, and exerted influ­ence over crime groups in other cities, like Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Cleveland.

In the midst of the media frenzy follow­ing the Castellano murder, the FBI virtually signed on as Gotti’s press agent, puffing him up in anticipation of the day it would bring him down.

Of course, the notion that Gotti — or any single mob figure — was some sort of omnipotent New York mafioso is ludicrous. The word “Godfather” had a nice, Brando-­esque ring, but the title itself is a fraud. It was far simpler for law enforcement offi­cials — usually the FBI — to try to encapsu­late the entire Mafia into a single Boss of Bosses than it was to explain the complicat­ed relationships among New York’s five mob families.

More importantly, when Gotti was con­victed — and he would be convicted — it would be easier to claim victory over the entire Mafia with the Godfather wearing prison blues.

The FBI’s rabid promotion of Gotti-as­-Godfather reminded one prosecutor of a story about Mafia investigations: “We used to joke that when we started an investiga­tion, the target was considered a mob asso­ciate. Then, by the time we reached the grand jury, he had magically turned into a soldier. And when we held the press confer­ence announcing the indictment, we’d pro­moted him to captain.”

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In the end, it wasn’t the bureau’s bugs, Sammy Gravano’s tales from the crypt, or the twin curse of greed and hubris that doomed Gotti. He took the bait and was swallowed whole by the Myth of the Godfather.

The “death of the Mafia” talk, which has grown since Gotti’s conviction, first cropped up following Giuliani’s successful RICO prosecutions of the Commission and the mob’s concrete cartel. The Times has delivered Mafia obituaries since at least 1988 and has regularly chronicled organized crime’s “widespread instability” and “disarray.”

Earlier this year, the paper reported that the FBI was so pleased with its recent ef­forts against Mafia bosses that the bureau was now lowering its sights to middle man­agers. The paper even noted that some FBI officials were considering deëmphasizing Mafia investigations in favor of focusing on emerging “nontraditional” crime groups like Jamaican posses or Colombian drug gangs. “I think the FBI is ready to declare victory and move on,” one federal prosecu­tor told the Voice.

Beginning with Hoover, FBI officials have underestimated the Mafia’s influence and tenacity and, in the process, allowed organized crime to become a part of the fabric of New York City, where it remains as the openly criminal wing of the city’s Permanent Government.

A Voice review of more than 500 pages of confidential FBI memorandums, volumes of court testimony, plus interviews with two dozen investigators and prosecutors in­dicates that, despite a rash of convictions over the last five years, the New York mob has shown a resilience rarely acknowledged by FBI officials, other law enforcement agencies, or the media.

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The latest round of prosecutions will probably result in the convictions of a few dozen high-ranking mob figures, principally from the Gambino, Luchese, and Colombo families. This leaves, by city police department and FBI estimates, a total of more than 1000 initiated members spread among New York’s five families. In addition, thou­sands of uninitiated “associates” are affili­ated with these made members.

Historically, the conviction or death of a boss — whether it be Genovese, Luchese, Corallo, Persico, Salerno, Rastelli, or Gotti — means little to the family’s criminal entrepreneurs, who are well suited to sur­vive the fall of a boss. In fact, a recent FBI affidavit asserted that the Luchese crime family — undeterred by the defection of two former high-level mobsters and intense law-enforcement scrutiny — “continued to con­duct business as usual,” receiving payments from a wide range of criminal operations, including shakedowns in the Garment Cen­ter, area airports, union locals, and building contractors.

The very grassroots nature of the Mafia, with thousands of mob figures surviving the fall of a boss, means that organized crime still has its hand in the everyday lives of New Yorkers. Mobsters like Angelo Prisco and Liborio “Barney” Bellomo — ­hardly household names — are the Mafia’s backbone, men content to operate in the shadows while dopes like Gotti pay dearly for their turn in the spotlight.

Build a road, buy a dress, go to dinner, fill up the car, attend the San Gennaro festival, even clean up the debris in the aftermath of the World Trade Center bombing. It’s all brought to you by the mob.

Gotti’s imprisonment has been por­trayed as the government’s crushing blow to the mob. But while bosses may be at the top of those nifty FBI flowcharts, the Ma­fia’s real power comes from the ground up. A family’s lowest-ranking members, “sol­diers,” and the family’s associates are the true criminal masterminds: they still con­trol industries, infiltrate unions and legiti­mate businesses, and run gambling and loan-sharking operations.

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Since late 1991, the FBI’s pool of intelli­gence about New York’s crime families has expanded greatly, thanks in large part to the cooperation of a variety of former mob figures. These ex-mobsters have provided an unprecedented look at the Mafia’s mind­boggling array of economic crimes and, in the process, debunked the repeated claims that successful prosecutions have left the mob mortally wounded. Industries suppos­edly cleaned up by previous prosecutions were quickly reinfiltrated by the mob, the informants reported.

Despite the FBI’s public declarations of victory and death knells, informants in fact have provided so much information that the bureau’s organized-crime squads have been unable to investigate most of the ex­tortions and shakedowns they have been told about. Investigators conceded in Voice interviews that these economic crimes — at the Mafia’s very heart — are still rampant.

“We have to pick and choose what cases we’ll pursue,” one federal prosecutor said. “We have a mountain of raw intelligence, but the majority of the crimes we’ve been told about can’t be pursued because of stat­ute problems, corroboration, or manpower problems.” Another prosecutor noted that “most of the recent RICO cases are based on murders and murder conspiracies. You don’t see us doing shakedown and extortion cases because the so-called victims don’t cooperate. In fact, I don’t even think the agents bother chasing those down.”

Despite the recent wave of Mafia defec­tions, FBI organized-crime squads are still staffed at the same levels as they were a decade ago, according to bureau spokesman Joe Valiquette, who declined to detail how many agents work on each of the groups assigned to the five Mafia families.

While Sammy Gravano’s testimony against Gotti has received the most atten­tion, the government’s most prolific Mafia asset has proved to be former Luchese member Alphonse D’Arco, whose recall of criminal activities fills more than 350 pages of FBI debriefing memos.

D’Arco, along with Gravano, has provid­ed investigators with a new insight into the mob’s continued corruption of the concrete industry, supposedly cleaned up years ago when Giuliani successfully prosecuted the mob’s concrete cartel for rigging $140 million in construction bids.

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In August 1991, according to D’Arco, representatives of three mob families met secretly to carve up another piece of New York.

John A. Gotti Jr. was there representing the interests of both the Gambino family and his imprisoned father. The Colombo gang’s acting boss, Victor “Little Vic” Orena, took a break from his own family’s civil war to attend. And D’Arco, then the Luchese family’s acting boss, rounded out the power trio.

The August sit-down was then just the latest in a number of clandestine meetings about the Mafia’s control of the concrete industry. Despite the late-’80s attempt by Giuliani and the FBI to dismantle the city’s bid-rigging “concrete club,” the mob had quietly regrouped and again cornered the market. The August meeting’s agenda car­ried one item: what to do with the West 57th Street concrete plant.

The Manhattan plant was designed by the Koch administration in 1986 to be a Mafia-free zone, operating on city-owned land that would provide concrete for mu­nicipal projects. The city viewed West 57th Street as its best chance to break the mob’s concrete monopoly and considered the plant’s $2 million price tag a wise investment.

But by 1991, the plant’s inexperienced operator, Philip Elghanian, was flounder­ing, and his troubles were becoming of great interest to the Colombo and Luchese crime families, according to FBI reports.

Both the Colombo and Luchese families were secretly connected to major concrete producers eager to get control of the Man­hattan plant, with its central location and its built-in municipal work. The Colombo family’s concrete stake, according to Gra­vano and D’Arco, has been exercised through Ferrara Brothers, a Queens-based supplier (Ferrara Brothers’s distinctive or­ange-and-white trucks and mixers have pro­vided concrete for jobs at Battery Park City, Kennedy Airport, and the Archer Av­enue train station). The Lucheses were as­sociated with businessman John Quadrozzi and his assorted companies.

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D’Arco told the FBI that in early 1991 Quadrozzi came to him and complained that he believed Ferrara had secretly gained control of the West 57th Street plant. D’Arco stated that Ferrara “… because of his organized-crime associations, could not purchase the 57th Street yard. Ferrara made arrangements to purchase the compa­ny through another individual.” City rec­ords indicate that Elghanian relinquished operation of the plant in March 1991; the plant’s new manager denied in a Voice in­terview D’Arco’s assertion that the Mafia has infiltrated the West 57th concrete operation.

D’Arco said the August 1991 sit-down ended with Orena stating that “the Colom­bo, Gambino, and Luchese LCN [La Cosa Nostra] families would all have a split in the money from the 57th Street yard.” D’Arco then added that before he began cooperating with the government in Sep­tember 1991 — one month after the concrete sit-down — the Luchese family had al­ready received two payoffs in connection with the West 57th Street operation.

D’Arco’s account raises serious questions as to whether, despite the best intentions of the Koch and Dinkins administrations, the Mafia has infiltrated the one concrete oper­ation designed to be clean. Besides produc­ing concrete for city construction projects and street repairs, the West 57th Street plant has branched out and supplied both state and federal projects, including the new federal courthouse near Foley Square.

Though the operation was supposed to produce concrete at below-market prices, the West 57th Street plant has been charg­ing the city 12 per cent more than the local average for a cubic yard. Daniel Kryston, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Construction, which monitors plant opera­tions, acknowledged the increased price in a Times interview. “We tried a new tech­nique to bring down costs and we think it’s working,” he said, emphasizing that one of the city’s goals was to reduce mob influence in the concrete industry.

D’Arco first told the FBI of the mob’s West 57th Street connection in late 1991, but the feds have never bothered to inform city officials about D’Arco’s claim that three Mafia families apparently have honed in on the operation. The FBI has long been criticized for refusing to share its informa­tion with local law enforcement agencies, let alone with bureaucrats at City Hall.

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Both Gravano and D’Arco have identi­fied Thomas Petrizzo, a Colombo family captain, as Ferrara Brothers’s main mob contact, according to testimony and FBI records. D’Arco recalled one 1990 meeting he attended with Luchese underboss Antho­ny “Gaspipe” Casso, Petrizzo, Orena, and Joseph Ferrara Sr., president of his family firm. The meeting concerned a joint Quadrozzi-Ferrara Brothers cement importa­tion business and how payoffs would be made to the two families as well as to an associate of the Gambino organization. Gravano has also told of attending a meet­ing with Petrizzo, Orena, and John Gotti in which the men discussed boosting the price of concrete by $5 a yard.

Ferrara Brothers is the current employer of Anthony Ameruso, the former Koch transportation commissioner who was con­victed of perjury in 1987, and Ferrara has also used influential attorney Sid Davi­doffs firm as its municipal lobbyist. Joseph Ferrara Jr., the company’s attorney, denied in a Voice interview that the firm had any­thing to do with the mob. “I don’t know where they get that from,” Ferrara Jr. said of D’Arco and Gravano.

Quadrozzi, too, has denied any involve­ment with the Luchese crime family. He was indicted last year on contempt and conspiracy charges after D’Arco testified that the businessman paid the Luchese fam­ily $20,000 a month for “labor peace.”

The importance of the Luchese-Colombo control of the concrete market was under­scored by D’Arco, who provided the FBI with a behind-the-scenes account of plans to kill Lou Valente, a Bronx-based concrete producer who precipitated a price war. Va­lente decided to drop his prices in a bid to expand his business. Valente’s gambit led both families to consider murdering him because of their concern that Valente would steal business away from the Ferrara/Qua­drozzi operations. After D’Arco checked with Gravano to make sure Valente wasn’t associated with the Gambino gang, “serious talks began about killing Valente,” D’Arco reported last year.

Valente was not eventually harmed by the Colombo-Luchese avengers, sources said, because he decided to abandon his price war. Valente did not return Voice calls.

Addressing the Mafia’s attraction to le­gitimate industries, Robert Mass, former chief of the Manhattan district attorney’s labor-racketeering unit, noted that “unlike narcotics trafficking, law enforcement ef­forts in the field have tended to be weak and sporadic; and the criminal penalties for the fraud and bribery crimes arising from industrial racketeering are not severe.” Mass added that industrial racketeering gives mob members and associates “the ability to make illegal money for the family, while retaining status and credibility in the legitimate community.”

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The mob survives in New York’s very infrastructure, and not only in concrete. Due largely to spotty law enforcement at­tention, a steel company controlled by Co­lombo captain Petrizzo has prospered, becoming the textbook example of a firm that has capitalized on its Mafia connections.

Headquartered in Keasbey, New Jersey, Petrizzo’s company, A. J. Ross Logistics, specializes in the production of rebars, steel rods that reinforce concrete used in build­ings, bridges, roads, and other structures.

Despite — or possibly because of — the mobster’s upfront role with the company, A. J. Ross has done work on almost every major public and private construction job in New York over the past decade, includ­ing the IBM building. Equitable Towers, the North River sewage treatment plant, the Javits Convention Center, the refur­bishments of the FDR Drive, and the ongo­ing West Side Highway project. Petrizzo’s client list contains every major city con­struction firm: Lehrer/McGovern, H.R.H Construction, Olympia & York, Tishman Construction, Turner Construction, and dozens more.

Petrizzo founded A. J. Ross in December 1975 and took the company public in 1985, according to Securities and Exchange Com­mission records. Petrizzo is the firm’s larg­est single stockholder and, until he stepped down as president and Chief Operating Of­ficer last year, his salary was $329,409. SEC records also reveal that Petrizzo, who re­fused to take Voice calls, has received an unsecured $800,000 loan from the company.

D’Arco, Gravano, and former Luchese captain Peter Chiodo have all told the FBI about Petrizzo’s booming business and how the mob steers business to him in return for kickbacks. D’Arco said that, in connection with A. J. Ross’s work on the West Side Highway, Petrizzo kicked back $800,000 to the Luchese family; the payment was made by the Colombo captain because he was doing the highway project in conjunction with a contractor associated with the Luchese family.

Chiodo recalled his dealings with one businessman who not only tried to avoid paying off the Luchese family, but who also refused to use Petrizzo’s steel company on his construction jobs. The Luchese hierar­chy was so annoyed by the contractor’s behavior, Chiodo was ordered to kill the recalcitrant businessman. The attempt was foiled when Chiodo’s gun jammed.

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As with most of its municipal construction work, Petrizzo’s firm was a subcontractor on the West Side Highway project, which allowed it to avoid the screening and background checks that are standard for a project’s general contractor. Loopholes like this — which are commonplace on govern­ment construction projects — allow Mafia figures to continue hiding in plain sight. The one exception to this rule is the School Construction Authority, which has established an aggressive screening process to weed out undesirable contractors. SCA officials, some of whom have worked with the state Organized Crime Task Force, gather information on firms from a variety of sources — court cases, press accounts, in­vestigators — in an effort to keep public dol­lars out of tainted hands.

Clearly, the Mafia’s infiltration of the construction industry has never waned; hundreds of businessmen owe their success to an affiliation with organized crime. When a major general contractor like Her­bert Construction hires Gambino member Anthony Scotto as an executive, it sends a clear message about the mob’s influence. Scotto, a former crime captain, was demot­ed to soldier following his conviction on labor-racketeering charges.

Two other prominent businessmen are indicative of both the mob’s entrenched role in the construction industry and the government’s inability to combat this alliance.

Thomas Nastasi has been implicated — ­but never charged — in bid-rigging and brib­ery schemes dating back a decade, but this has not prevented him from becoming the drywall industry’s most prominent figure. Nastasi’s Queens-based firms, Circle Indus­tries and Nastasi-White, have done work on everything from the American Embassy in Moscow to the platform at last year’s Dem­ocratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden. Nastasi, who has long been associated with Genovese crime family fig­ures, is also a friend of U.S. senator Al D’Amato and has helped organize fund­raisers for the politician.

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Like Nastasi, Bronx-based contractor Sidney Silverstein has also been tied to a Mafia bid-rigging conspiracy, but he con­tinues to do significant business with public housing agencies. Silverstein’s firm, Spar­row Construction, has built hundreds of units of low-cost housing in the Bronx and Brooklyn under contracts with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Devel­opment and the city’s department of Hous­ing Preservation and Development.

Silverstein once admitted to the Voice that he employed Luchese captain Steve Crea as a “labor consultant” and paid him more than $100,000 a year. When a report­er mentioned Silverstein’s mob ties to HPD’s inspector general — the city agency’s in-house cop — he did little more than shrug his shoulders.

Along with direct links to construction firms themselves, the mob’s control of vari­ous labor unions continues to be a source for tens of millions in payoffs. Though fed­eral prosecutors and union trustees have targeted some locals over the past few years, D’Arco has said that these efforts have been minimally successful in breaking the mob’s union stranglehold.

The government’s filing of civil RICO lawsuits against mob-tainted unions has proved successful, but such litigation is ex­pensive, time consuming, and demands a governmental commitment that has sometimes lagged. For example, after almost three years of arduous pretrial maneuverings, the government’s civil racketeering lawsuit against the corrupt, Mafia-riddled District Council of Carpenters is finally scheduled to open later this month in Foley Square.

Like many construction unions, various carpenters locals have been transformed into Mafia outposts, where businessmen are forced to pay as they go. The FBI debrief­ings of Chiodo and D’Arco contain more than a dozen instances in which representa­tives of the Luchese family shook down construction contractors and developers for labor peace.

Nobody, not even the wealthy or politi­cally connected rides for free. D’Arco cited one instance in which one of the city’s best­-known developers allegedly paid Luchese soldier Dominick Truscello “a substantial amount of money” to “settle a labor dis­pute” that arose during the late 1980s con­struction of a residential high rise on the Upper East Side. “After making the pay­ment to Truscello,” D’Arco reported, “the labor dispute was settled.”

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Every major mob turncoat over the past 25 years — Yalachi, Fratianno, Cafaro, Leonelli, Lonardo, as well as the recent group of inductees into the Witness Securi­ty program — has told investigators that the Mafia’s corrupt influence of labor unions and legitimate businesses often falls to crime family associates. These operatives come from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds — many are not ltalian and are therefore ineligible for initiation — and are key cogs in the Mafia’s criminal machines.

“He’s a good Jew,” Anthony Casso once said proudly of Sidney Lieberman. “If he wasn’t a Jew, we’d straighten him out,” the Luchese underboss added, referring to the prospect of inducting Lieberman into the Mafia.

Like Nastasi and Silverstein, Lieberman is one of thousands of money-making asso­ciates dispersed among the five New York families. He is the family’s key contact in the Garment Center, which has been a Lu­chese family stronghold since the 1950s, when John “Johnny Dio” Dioguardi ruled Seventh Avenue.

FBI records indicate that Lieberman fronts for the Luchese family in a number of trucking companies and that he “shakes down businesses … awards concessions and sweetheart contracts along with con­ducting extortions in regard to which ma­terials … businesses in the garment center must buy and from which manufacturer they must buy them from.”

Like most successful mob associates, Lie­berman has avoided the limelight and has so far dodged criminal prosecution, becom­ing in the process one of the most powerful figures in the Garment Center, the emin­ence grise of Seventh Avenue.

During the Manhattan D.A.’s investiga­tion of Thomas and Joseph Gambino’s trucking operations, Lieberman was caught on wiretaps counseling Thomas Gambino about trucking industry matters. He was never charged. Investigators now concede they were unaware of Lieberman’s extensive Mafia contacts.

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Lieberman’s role with the Luchese family hasn’t been limited to the Garment Center. He was in the middle of a classic labor scheme at Kennedy Airport, where extor­tion and payoffs remain an everyday occurrence. The scheme, according to FBI docu­ments, involved Amerford International, a freight-forwarding company with 40 offices nationwide.

Amerford, which is owned by the German multinational Thyssin AG, has an office at JFK that once employed 30 clerical workers, all of whom were members of Teamsters Local 851. Amerford’s employee roster had a decid­edly mob flavor: the daughters of both D’Arco and Luchese captain Sal Avellino were once on the payroll and Patty Dello­russo, a suspected hitman and Luchese sol­dier, until recently served as the company’s $93,600-a-year director of national labor relations.

The freight company employed the unionized office workers until one day in 1990 when Amerford fired all the workers, replacing them with a few formerly union employees. Though such a brazen act would usually lead to pickets and union harassment, the sacking was orchestrated in part by Lieberman and a Local 851 official on behalf of the Luchese family.

In exchange for allowing Amerford to fire all of its clerical employees, the company agreed to pay a $10,700-a-week kickback­ — disguised as a management fee — to a shell corporation controlled by the Luchese gang. D’Arco told the FBI that Amerford’s man­agement was anxious to make the 1990 kickback deal “because of the savings it would receive by eliminating the union sal­aries and benefits.”

Whether or not Amerford was an extortion victim, its dealings with the mob were as an effective way to reduce company overhead. In fact, an FBI affidavit con­tends, a similar deal was discussed in which Amerford — in return for a $150,000 payment — would be allowed to sack its clerical staff in Chicago. The payoff would have been divided between Teamsters officials and the Luchese family, according to the affidavit.

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After a handful of fired employees were told by their Teamsters representatives that nothing could be done on their behalf, the employees filed complaints with the Na­tional Labor Relations Board against Amer­ford and their former union.

Amazingly, the NLRB rejected the ex­-employees’ claim that they were victims of unfair labor practices, finding that there was “insufficient evidence of an abrogation of the contract” by Amerford. Though NLRB officials were unaware of the mob’s connection to the Amerford scam, the board’s finding is still troubling in light of clear indications that the mass firing was highly unusual.

Amerford officials did not return Voice phone calls, though they issued a press release in July announcing that they are coop­erating with an ongoing federal investiga­tion into mob activity at New York’s airports. At the same time, the company canned Dellorusso as its chief labor negotiator.

The Amerford labor scheme was just one of many kickbacks and extortions that, ac­cording to Chiodo and D’Arco, regularly occur at New York-area airports. The two former mobsters have provided a laundry list of trucking companies based at JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark that have paid the mob monthly for labor peace. As with Amerford, the names of the companies aren’t familiar to most — Tangas Air Freight, P. Chimento, Air Express Interna­tional, Burlington — but they all pay off as a matter of course.

At JFK, Teamsters Local 295, which represents warehouse employees and truck drivers, is in the hands of a trustee appoint­ed last year by federal judge Eugene Nicker­son. Though the trustee, former federal prosecutor Thomas Puccio, is charged with dismantling the Luchese family’s hijacking and extortion rings, Puccio has received little support from a host of trucking com­panies that have worked in concert with­ — and paid kickbacks to — the Mafia for years.

Like most extortion victims, the trucking companies are surely worried about repri­sals if they cooperate with law enforcement. The use or threat of physical violence is a Mafia pillar, the enforcement tool that keeps mouths closed.

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The Mafia’s economic terrorism is not limited to international companies and millionaire developers. In all five boroughs, the mob continues to put the hood in your neighborhood.

The Voice spoke with six individuals identified in the FBI reports as Mafia shakedown victims; all denied having paid off mob figures. In addition, all said that they had never been contacted by FBI agents or questioned about these reported extortions.

D’Arco provided the FBI with a detailed account of the shakedown of a small Italian restaurant in the Bronx, which began when a Luchese member helped the restaurant’s owner secure a lease from a mob-connected realtor. The price tag for the mob’s inter­vention was a $15,000-a-year tribute. When the Voice reached him, the panicky restau­rant owner denied any involvement with the mob.

D’Arco also noted that the owner of a small chain of Queens video stores paid between $200 and $400 a week for protec­tion to Luchese soldier Paul Vario. In an interview, the owner denied everything.

D’Arco said he had personally received protection payments from Dom’s Trucks, a Brooklyn auto dealer. Dominick Vitucci, the firm’s owner, denied handing D’Arco envelopes stuffed with cash. “I once gave him a truck chassis as a favor for a friend,” Vitucci said. “He must be confused.”

Vitucci said that friend was Bruno Facciola, a Luchese soldier murdered in 1990 because he was suspected of informing. Af­ter he was shot to death, Facciola’s murder­ers stuffed a canary in his mouth. Chiodo identified two Gambino family members who, he reported, shook down a small Staten Island jeweler. When the Voice contacted the businessman, he admitted that one of the mobsters was a customer, “but I can’t get into the rest.” He then hung up.

A number of the informants described instances in which a businessman borrowed loan-shark money and fell behind on pay­ments; his business was then infiltrated by the mob.

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According to former Colombo associates Joseph Ambrosino and Carmine Imbriale, an owner of a lower Manhattan clothing store started as a loan-shark customer and was eventually enlisted in a credit card fraud and the sale of stolen merchandise.

A partial list of other shakedowns record­ed in the FBI memos is incredibly broad: a Brooklyn carting company, a Long Island asbestos-removal firm, an Astoria fuel oil dealer, a Brooklyn motel operator, a chain of parking garages, a Queens sausage pro­ducer, a Brooklyn asphalt producer, a Queens vending machine business, a Bronx general contractor, and a Brooklyn supermarket.

Without a victim’s cooperation, extortions usually go unprosecuted. And that makes dismantling the Mafia improbable. “What can you tell someone, that there’s not gonna be a problem if they cooperate?” one agent asked. “People read the papers. People hear about guys like Kubecka and Barstow.”

Robert Kubecka and Donald Barstow were two Long Island businessmen who tried to help law enforcement agencies combat mob influence in the caning indus­try. In 1989, both were shot to death for their troubles.

FBI reports and court testimony indicate that the Luchese family had them killed in retaliation for their government coopera­tion. Sal Avellino, a Luchese captain who controls the Island’s carting industry, has been charged with allegedly ordering the hits because, according to D’Arco, he was upset that “these two guys were still walk­ing around.”

Just as there are few ways to combat widespread extortion, law enforcement agencies have also been unable to effective­ly strike at the heart of the Mafia’s money machine — gambling and loan-sharking op­erations — which generates hundreds of mil­lions of dollars annually. As long as it can book bets and loan money at usurious rates, it is impossible for any Mafia family to be close to extinction.

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In a city beset with homicide and drug epidemics, “victimless” crimes like taking 10 units on the Knicks or handling the Brooklyn number are not priorities. From time to time, state and federal prosecutors will announce the fruits of gambling inves­tigations, but it is rare for bookies or wire room operators to receive prison terms. Gambling cases, which don’t generate head­lines for the FBI or the police, are in vogue once a year: the week before the Super Bowl, with the raids usually carrying quaint code names like “King’s Flush” or “Full House.”

For the same reason that extortion vic­tims fall mute, loan-shark debtors — often saddled with 150 to 200 per cent yearly interest rates — rarely cooperate with law enforcement officials.

In a move to supplement their gambling take, the five families have succeeded in introducing their gambling operation into restaurants and bodegas through the place­ment of video poker machines, the elec­tronic equivalent of slot machines.

The video poker machines have become such a lucrative cash source that mob mem­bers have divided up specific “routes” that then become the exclusive property of a family — a system that parallels the mob’s garbage hauling and bread routes.

D’Arco told the FBI that several high-­level sit-downs — involving the Gambino, Bonanno, and Luchese families — have oc­curred to discuss disputes involving video gambling machines placed in locations in the city, Nassau County, and on Fire Island.

Occasional raids have netted a handful of video machines, but there is little chance anytime soon that David Dinkins will mim­ic Fiorello LaGuardia, who once took a sledgehammer to Frank Costello’s illegal slot machines.

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The exploitation of video poker ma­chines shows how the Mafia is able to iden­tify and develop illegal revenue sources. Perhaps the most lucrative example of this criminal ingenuity began when an obese Colombo associate introduced the Mafia to the gasoline tax swindle. Amazingly, more than 10 years later, the money is still pour­ing in.

At its core, the scheme is simple, with the mob pocketing 14 cents per gallon in taxes that are supposed to be forwarded to the IRS. The scam relies on a long daisy chain of paper companies, in which each one passes the tax responsibility onto the next. At the end of the chain is a paper compa­ny — and a massive unpaid tax bill.

After a decade of virtually unchecked plunder — with perhaps almost $1 billion swindled — federal officials have recently begun indicting Russian and Italian mob­sters, though there is little chance that any of the pilfered money will ever be located.

The initial federal prosecutions years ago nailed the scam’s corpulent mastermind, Larry Iorizzo. and his mob protector, ex-Colombo captain Michael Franzese, both of whom eventually became govern­ment informants.

The gas tax scam initially was the prov­ince of Russian gangsters, most of whom were based in Brighton Beach, but eventu­ally the “spaghetti-heads” moved in on the action, according to the wiretapped account of one scam participant. FBI documents reveal that the lure of major paydays brought the Colombo gang and three other families back to the trough.

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The local Mafia hub was the Inwood Ter­minal on Jamaica Bay. Here, the FBI launched an undercover operation with an agent posing as a gasoline dealer. An estab­lished wholesaler who had agreed to coop­erate in the operation became the agent’s partner, and together, the two precipitated a price war against another Inwood whole­sale operation, which was controlled by vet­eran gas tax swindler Joseph Reisch.

After six months of competition, accord­ing to an FBI affidavit, two men arrived at the office of the undercover operation car­rying flowers and a telegram. The pair banged on the door and shouted, “If you don’t get out of the fucking gas business, you’re fucking dead.” Two days later, an­other man showed up at the office with a large funeral wreath. The accompanying card read, “In Loving Memory, Rest in Peace. From all your good friends in N.Y. City.”

Just over two weeks after the wreath ar­rived, FBI surveillance agents spotted a sus­pected Colombo hitman in the vicinity of the wholesaler’s home. In a move to broker a peace agreement, the wholesaler contact­ed the daughter of a Colombo captain who, in turn, reached out to Colombo soldier Joseph “‘Chubby” Audino, bagman for fam­ily boss Vic Orena. Audino, according to the FBI affidavit, suggested the wholesaler attend a sit-down with Reisch. If the FBl’s estimates are correct, Orena stood to make as much as $4.5 million from the Reisch operation over the past four years.

When Reisch met with the wholesaler and the FBI undercover, he delivered a simple message: his competitors had to cut back their operations at the Inwood Termi­nal and turn their company into the final stop on Reisch’s daisy chain. For their ef­forts, the men were offered $90,000 a month. The pair held out for $120,000 a month and soon were receiving weekly pay­ments from a Reisch courier.

Reisch was indicted recently, but has not been arrested; officials believe he may have fled the country after walking away with $30 million of the IRS’s money.

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Where’s the money?

While the FBI claims to have dealt death blows to the New York mob, nobody has been able to follow the money.

John Gotti was the most investigated man in America for five years, and the only assets the government has tried to seize — as evidence of the fruits of racketeering — are run-down Little Italy tenements and other real estate detritus: chump change for an organization grossing hundreds of millions a year. Sure, raided wire rooms may turn up $10,000 and Gotti himself was arrested with $6000 in his pockets, but that’s only walk-around money.

A safe assumption is that some money is invested in legitimate businesses while oth­er monies remain “on the street,” in the form of loan-shark loans. Where the bal­ance goes, that’s anybody’s guess. No informant has ever told of Swiss bank accounts, and it always seems that safe deposit boxes are sans cash, brimming instead with cheap jewelry.

The money riddle may be the best indica­tion that the Mafia isn’t dying. Federal offi­cials mistakenly believe that, with John Gotti in prison, the mob has suddenly been placed on the run. Actually, the Mafia has adopted a defensive posture.

History shows that New York gangsters have a keen sense of when it’s time to hit the mattresses. The spotlight always has a way of fading. That’s when you get back to business. ❖

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Paul Castellano Hit: Capo Loses Mob Primary

After all the pictures were taken and Paul Castellano’s cigar butt had been re­trieved by the cops and someone had found a piece of his skull the size of a half dollar lying near the entrance of Sparks Steak House; after the bodies of Castel­lano and Thomas Bilotti had been carted away, and the big black Lincoln had been taken to the East 51st Street station house; after all that, two middle-aged men — one black and one white — stood on East 46th Street, staring at the chalked hieroglyphics of murder on the sidewalk before them, retailing “dearies.”

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“My dearie is that the trial took up so much time, dey hadda whack him out,” said the white man, who was in his six­ties. “Nobody was mindin’ the store.”

The black man’s dearie was more up­town. “It had to be the Colombians, man. They tired of these old-time gangsters and they want to take it away from them. So they kill them. It’s simple, man.”

In the days following the murders, such dearies were everywhere. There was, to begin with, the dearie of the Castellano tapes. The government had penetrated Castellano’s home with recording devices, had listened to Big Paul discuss various Mob felonies, and would use the tapes in the prosecution of the five family heads who make up the so-called Commission. So Castellano was knocked off to save the four other bums by making the tapes in­admissible as evidence. Problem: the tapes are still admissible.

But the most popular explanation hinged on the impatience of one John Gotti. This is essentially a generation gap dearie, in which the 45-year-old Gotti, a violent little fat man from Howard Beach, had wearied of the old-world conservatism of the 73-year-old Castellano. What was all this stuff (the young hoods wanted to know), investing in legitimate businesses? Let’s do what we do best: peddle heroin! For several years, Gotti had been restrained by Aniello (Mr. O’Neill) Dellacroce, Castellano’s under­boss, in the Gambino family. But the un­happiness in Mobland was endemic.

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The Gambinos had 250 “made” mem­bers and 550 associates. Since most of these imbeciles can barely read a menu (let alone an annual report), investing in legitimate businesses did them little good, particularly if the investments were in Castellano’s name. The more cautious Castellano became, the less his soldiers had to do; it’s demeaning for a 45-year­old man to steal cars for a living. What hoodlums do best is peddle heroin and kill people.

Castellano had let out the word that he wanted Bilotti to succeed him as head of the family. And Dellacroce had gone along. Then, last month, Dellacroce died in bed. And according to the dearie, Gotti immediately went to a pay phone and called Palermo for outside contractors.

That was, in some ways, business as usual. What was extraordinary in the days immediately following the 46th Street killings was the tepid, impotent reaction among our political leaders. Mayor Koch deplored the killings, of course, and vowed that the gunmen would be caught. But his police commis­sioner was talking as if this were a shake­up at Drexel-Burnham. Neither chose all-out action. There should have been police raids all over town that night, with cops smashing into social clubs, chopping the walls to pieces in search of guns hid­den by the assassins. They should have dragged the wise guys by the hair out of their beds, exposing them before their neighbors, jamming them into police sta­tions for interrogation. Koch could have unleashed the full fury of the law. Noth­ing of the sort happened.

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Mario Cuomo reacted in an even more appalling way. He chose to mark the oc­casion of a rush-hour double homicide by complaining about the use of the word “Mafia.” Not about the killings, but the way they might be perceived. Yes, there are Cubans, Colombians, Jews, Vietnam­ese, Chinese, Irishmen in organized crime. But this branch of organized crime, in this city and this state, is Mafia. It’s a collection of 1500 to 2000 Italian-­American dope peddlers, killers, thieves, and musclemen whose continued exis­tence smears every hard-working Italian-­American in the country. Wise guys don’t work; they live like parasites off other people’s work. And what does Mario Cuomo, the tribune of the working man, have to say? “You’re telling me that the Mafia is an organization, and I’m telling you that’s a lot of baloney!” Cuomo, who will certainly be Mob-baited if he runs for president, should be leading the fight against these skanks. But he doesn’t even admit the Mafia exists; next week he might tell us there’s no Sicily either.

Denying the existence of the Mob is as bad as accepting it as permanent. The drive should he to eliminate the Mob from American life, and that task is not as impossible as books and movies make it seem. Clearly, the cases against these hoodlums brought by Rudolph Giuliani (no matter how poorly prosecuted) have already had some effect. Prosecution ties these aging bums in legal knots; it con­sumes their energies; it makes them cau­tious, diverts them from felony.

But much more could be done. The media could help by taking the romance out of the Mob; these aren’t “men of honor” out of The Godfather. They’re people who spread misery and degrada­tion through heroin; who use physical force to extort what they can’t get with work, intelligence, or talent. In the press discussion of John Gotti, law enforce­ment officials told the story of what hap­pened to a neighbor who accidentally ran over and killed Gotti’s 12-year-old son Frank. A year later, the man disap­peared, and the cops have information that he was chopped up with a chainsaw. These are not people who sit in the gar­den at twilight, reading Marcus Aurelius.

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The cops could also use some muscle in dealing with them, harassing them at ev­ery opportunity, locking them up whenever possible, letting them know that be­ing a hoodlum is a miserable life. The courts should cooperate with warrants, allowing the cops to tear apart their fan­cy homes, their lovely lawns, in search of weapons or drug money. The churches could deny these cretins respectability in the neighborhoods where they live. So­-called “straight” businessmen — particularly bankers — must learn that if they do business with hoodlums, they’re going to do heavy time. None of this can happen if elected leaders treat the Mob as an amus­ing fiction, or an unbreakable component of this society. There must be a recogni­tion that these bums are the enemy, that they’ve made this a more dangerous and degraded city by their operations. Their perceived ability to “get away with it” adds to the city’s generalized cynicism.

On the morning after Castellano and Bilotti were ambushed, I went down to federal court in Foley Square, where doz­ens of these bums — including Castel­lano — have been on trial for weeks. There was a platoon of them in the fifth-floor coffee shop, whispering, smirking, gig­gling. Not one of them had a newspaper, but they’d certainly heard the news. They did not offer any dearies. ■

Categories
CITY HALL ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Why’s a Nice Man Like David Dinkins Running for Mayor?

Except for a 109-year-old woman and some of her family members, the Most Worshipful Enoch Grand Lodge in Bedford Stuyve­sant was nearly empty on a recent April night. The 17 people in the masonic hall’s main meeting room were waiting for David Dinkins, mayoral candi­date, to arrive to present a proclamation — on the oc­casion of her birthday — honoring Aunt Jannie Glover for living so long. As photo opportunities go, it was not shaping up to be a good one: one local television camera crew, one reporter, and one photographer. An organizer of the birthday party worried about the turnout: “There were a lot of people who were supposed to show up who didn’t. I don’t know what happened to them.”

When he arrived at 6:25, Dinkins ap­proached Aunt Jannie, who was sitting at a folding table, and introduced himself:

“Hello, Aunt Jannie, I’m David Din­kins. I’m the borough president of Manhattan.”

“Who?”

“I’m David Dinkins, the borough presi­dent of Manhattan. I’m here to give you this proclamation.”

“What?”

“I’m going to be the next mayor.”

“What?”

“I’m going to be the next mayor.”

“That’s nice,” a not-too-impressed Aunt Jannie responded.

Dinkins read the framed proclamation announcing April 20, 1989, to be Aunt Jannie Glover Day in Manhattan. That Glover, a Brooklyn resident, has never lived in Manhattan a day out of her 109 years does not really matter. This is, of course, an election year, and 109-year-­olds are not that easy to come by. Espe­cially ones with family members active in the Brooklyn Democratic organization.

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IN POLITICAL CLUBS, synagogues, civic associations, and church basements across New York City over the past few weeks, a familiar scene has been played out nightly. The three Democrats actively running for mayor — Dinkins, Comptrol­ler Harrison (Jay) Goldin, and banker/builder Richard Ravitch — are each given about 15 minutes to explain to crowds numbering as few as 25 people why they should be the one to replace Ed Koch, who has not yet begun to campaign.

Ravitch, hampered by his perennially hoarse voice and plodding monotone, reg­ularly has trouble holding a crowd, though his speech is thoughtful and his resume impressive. Goldin’s presentation, on the other hand, is a high-speed trip through the failures of Ed Koch’s admin­istration, a talk that often includes the recounting of a bicycle ride through Cen­tral Park during which Goldin’s son won­ders, “Daddy, would you like to see the pushers?” The comptroller, with his arms flailing about, sounds like a mix between Lowell Thomas on speed and Eddie Mur­phy’s Gumby character.

As the front-runner in the race — the latest Marist Institute poll shows him with a 12.5 per cent lead over Koch­ — Dinkins is often the most anticipated speaker at these forums.

In his standard address, the borough president focuses on crime and drugs as well as the poor planning and “crisis-to-­crisis management” of what he calls the “current administration,” to which he rarely attaches Koch’s name. But since he has yet to unveil detailed solutions for the major problems he identifies, Dinkins falls back on general, conceptual notions. Speaking last month before the Douglas King Democratic Club in Queens Village, for instance, he said, “We must expand the criminal justice system” to deal with jail over-crowding, and spoke of the need for a “greater police presence” at the lo­cal level. Referring to drug treatment and education, Dinkins said, “We’re not handling it right. We’ve got to find options for young people.” As to other problems, the often says, “I suggest that we can do better. And we must.”

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In his public appearances, Dinkins is careful not to stray too far from his stump speech, careful not to take any unnecessary chances this early in the campaign. While he ticks off various shortcomings in the city’s hospital and health care system, all Dinkins will say about quality of care is that city hospitals “are not doing nearly as well as they might.” Of course, the candidate must realize that the city’s health system is in abominable shape, but he does not choose to say this. When asked at an East Side candidates’ forum about the conditions in Brooklyn’s Kings County Hospital, Din­kins appears surprised by the question. All he can offer the questioner is that “I’m distressed,” and that city emergency rooms have become the family doctor for many city families.

Dinkins also often avoids talking about how programs would be implemented, and what they would cost. And with bud­get restraints at the city, state, and feder­al levels-not to mention possible eco­nomic downturns, or even a recession­such a financial component has taken on added importance this election year. Din­kins’s desire to limit high school size to 1500 (some currently have more than 3500 students) and his desire for treat­ment on demand for substance abusers are commendable, but the candidate has yet to explain where the money would come from to pay for these programs.

Since announcing for mayor in Febru­ary, Dinkins has been badmouthed and second-guessed — behind the scenes — on everything from his choice of media ad­visers (the high-profile Washington team of David Doak and Bob Shrum) to his speaking style (“almost as boring as Ra­vitch,” according to one elected official), his lack of concrete proposals, and his supposedly slow-developing campaign apparatus. Although the Dinkins campaign is just beginning, the general wisdom seems to be that it’s already stalled. That the efforts of Ravitch, Goldin, Koch, and Republicans Rudolph Giuliani and Ron­ald Lauder cannot approach the organi­zation, volunteers, or enthusiasm gener­ated so far by the Dinkins campaign is rarely discussed. (Clearly, none of the other three Democrats could come close to mustering the horde of noisy supporters that greeted Dinkins at the overflow opening of his West 43rd Street head­quarters in late March.) These swipes at Dinkins may well come with the title of front-runner, but they are also surely rooted in an ugly mix of racial paternal­ism, jealously, and greed, especially from some of the city’s traditional political “handlers” who have been excluded from Dinkins’s campaign, and therefore left without a paycheck.

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But with polls showing Dinkins with large leads over his three Democratic op­ponents, this backbiting can be fairly eas­ily ignored by the candidate and his cam­paign. Bill Lynch, who served as Dinkins’s chief of staff before leaving to manage his mayoral campaign, says of his campaign apparatus, “We’re damn sure closer than anyone else. As far as I’m concerned, we’re where we should be at this point.”

In fact, campaign supporters — and sometimes Dinkins himself — sound as if the Democratic primary has already been won and that the real battle this fall is with Rudolph Giuliani, who might appear on two lines in November’s general elec­tion. In 15 campaign appearances attend­ed by the Voice over a recent two-week period, Dinkins uttered the word “Koch” only three times, while he often brought up Giuliani. His remarks at a Greenwich Village fund-raiser were typical. “I’m sure Rudy will get around to announcing someday and then it’ll be interesting to see him explain how he can be running as a Liberal and a Republican,” Dinkins said. “It should also be interesting to see him explain whether he’s been pleased with the Reaganism of the last eight years. Homelessness is a problem brought on by the Republicans in Washington. And let’s see him explain why the Justice Department he worked for did so little for civil rights.”

Compared to Goldin’s slashing attacks on Koch, Dinkins has been downright genteel when it comes to the mayor. “It has never been his style to scream at the top of his lungs,” one supporter says. “And I don’t think he’s going to get into a mud-slinging contest. He’s happy to leave that up to Jay [Goldin].” While the comptroller gleefully recounts episodes from the municipal corruption scandal, Dinkins only occasionally mentions “problems with the Talent Bank,” which, he says, “apparently was used for patron­age.” On the stump, Dinkins has not ut­tered the names Donald Manes, Stanley Friedman, or Meade Esposito, or even let on that, under the incumbent’s leader­ship, City Hall had been turned over to the county organizations. Calling Koch on these dangerous liaisons, of course, would be a sticky proposition since Dinkins himself is actively seeking the sup­port of the same three Democratic orga­nizations once headed by the aforementioned crooks.

The David Dinkins that David Dinkins wants voters to see is a man who can bring the city together, who cares about the city’s growing underclass, and who can do something about New York’s out-­of-control drug and crime problems. Dinkins is confident in crowds, patting shoulders, shaking hands, and calling ev­eryone “buddy” or “darling” if he does not already know their name. His facility with crowds serves him well, for the nature of the mayoral race forces Dinkins to put in appearances at some bizarre events. There was, for in­stance, the recent ritual at the Friar’s Club, where the candidate “celebrated” —  in the Milton Berle Room, no less — the release of another vanity book by Toast­master General Joey Adams. Dinkins purchased a copy of Joey’s Guaranteed to Make You Laugh, and chatted and posed for photos with such celebrities as Cindy Adams, Anthony Quinn, Dr. Ruth, How­ard Cosell, Morton Downey Jr., Alan King, and various old Borscht Belt come­dians. The mayoral candidate was one of only three blacks not serving drinks in the Uncle Miltie Room.

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SPEAKING AT THE Gramercy Park Syna­gogue last month, Dinkins recalled being raised in Trenton, New Jersey, by his mother, a manicurist and domestic work­er, and his grandmother. Dinkins’s par­ents were divorced in 1934, when he was six years old. “I remember we moved a lot. Often times, when the rent was due it was prudent to move,” he said. As a young man, Dinkins sold shopping bags on Eighth Avenue and 125th Street and worked washing cars and dishes. “I can’t remember being without a job,” he said. Dinkins served in the Marine Corps, but World War II ended while he was in boot camp. After graduating from Howard University with a mathematics degree, Dinkins entered Brooklyn Law School; he helped pay his tuition by working as the night manager of a Harlem liquor store. Dinkins maintained a private law practice from 1957 until 1975, when he became city clerk. After unsuccessful tries for the Manhattan borough presi­dency in 1977 and 1981 (he lost to Andrew Stein by less than three points), Dinkins was elected beep in 1985 by a two to one margin.

Unlike many, if not most, politicians, Dinkins does not tailor his speech to his audience. Speaking before the mostly white, middle-class John F. Kennedy Democratic Club in the stifling basement of a Jackson Heights Methodist church in April, Dinkins departed from his stump speech and began talking about the plight of the homeless. Dressed in a blue double-breasted suit and sweating profusely (Dinkins could break into a sweat riding the elevator in the Munici­pal Building), the candidate was unusual­ly forceful. “One day an elderly couple could be living in their apartment, the next day they’re out on the street. Some­one gets sick, the bills pile up, they fall behind on the rent and then” — snapping his fingers for emphasis — “just like that, they’re on the street.”

In fact, far from pandering to his audi­ence, Dinkins often does the opposite. In Jackson Heights, after discussing the homeless, Dinkins spoke about his 1984 and 1988 support of Jesse Jackson, not­ing that some Jews were distressed about “Jesse this and Jesse that. If I thought he was anti-Semitic I wouldn’t have sup­ported him.” The candidate then told of his longstanding support for Israel, his trip to the White Rose gravesite in Mu­nich while Ronald Reagan was in Bit­burg, and his courageous 1985 denuncia­tion of Louis Farrakhan.

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Similarly, when speaking to predomi­nantly black crowds, Dinkins often does not even mention Jackson’s name­ — though to do so would draw surefire ap­plause — despite the fact that Dinkins co-­chaired the reverend’s two presidential campaigns. Speaking at the monthly meeting of the predominantly black Fred­erick Douglass Club in Queens, Dinkins told the crowd of “my deep concerns for the safety and security of Israel,” as well his belief that IRA member Joe Doherty be released from prison and granted po­litical asylum.

It is rare for Dinkins to diverge from his controlled public persona. But when he does, his flashes of passion — like the ones he showed in the Jackson Heights church basement — can strongly affect crowds who view him simply as a quiet, reserved politician. On the other hand, Dinkins can also turn off crowds when his testy side appears. When pressed in public about an issue. Dinkins can be quick to snap back at a questioner.

At an endorsement meeting of the Cen­tral Brooklyn Independent Democrats, for instance, former liberal assemblyman Joe Ferris calmly asked Dinkins to ex­plain his vote in favor of the Atlantic Terminal development, an urban renewal project that, Ferris contended, would hurt poor people. “I can’t give you specifics on that, Joe. I really can’t remember,” Din­kins replied. Ferris pushed again for an explanation, pointing out that he believed the project would create more homeless families. “Now hold it,” Dinkins bel­lowed. “Look, if I asked you to remember the last time you ate egg for breakfast, you probably wouldn’t remember either.” An indignant Ferris was set to try a third time for an explanation, but he backed off. “That was a bullshit answer he gave to a serious question,” Ferris said. “We deserve better than that,” He added later. “Based on my experience with the man, in my gut, I’m troubled by him.” The former state legislator sat out CBID’s endorsement vote later that evening. Din­kins, as it turned out, did not need Ferris: the candidate won the club’s endorse­ment by a landslide.

But Dinkins has also been able to han­dle touchy subjects well. At a meeting last week of Manhattan’s Lexington Democratic Club, the second question directed at Dinkins seemed to be a plant: “Is it fair that you live in a large Mitchell-­Lama apartment when the city is in the midst of a major housing crisis?” a man asked. “Yes,” Dinkins replied, trying to dispose of the question. When the man then asked, “Is that a proper response for a public official?”, the candidate ex­plained that he, his wife, and his two children needed the space of a three-bed­room apartment when they moved into their Riverside Drive home years ago. “Nobody told us back then that someday we would be forced to move. My 430 neighbors feel the same way,” Dinkins said. He added, “I trust that you’ll ask Mayor Koch the same question about his rent-controlled apartment.”

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The question of Dinkins’s large, subsi­dized apartment is not considered a cam­paign negative since the man most likely to raise it — Ed Koch — is himself ware­housing a one-bedroom apartment on Washington Place in the Village. Koch has said he believes that Mitchell-Lama residents without families who live in large apartments should move into small­er ones to help ease the city’s housing shortage. Dinkins says that these tenants would undergo “extreme hardship” if forced to relocate.

There are, however, two “negatives” Dinkins will have to face in the upcoming campaign: the “tax question,” and the issue of race in an increasingly polarized city.

From 1969 to 1972, Dinkins did not file tax returns. Doak and Shrum are cur­rently “massaging” that issue, according to Lynch, since it is expected that some opponent (read: Koch) will use this 17-year-old episode against Dinkins. The borough president, who deftly handled the question at his February announce­ment, recently said. “I don’t think it’s unfair to be asked about it. I have never ever avoided making a full explanation.” Dinkins, who was forced to pay $15,000 in back taxes, says he believed some of his taxes were paid and that “it was one of those things that I was always going to take care of but sometimes I did not have all the funds or I did not have all the documents.”

One city campaign consultant says that Dinkins’s old tax problems will “definite­ly be used against him. It’s going to be a real item in the campaign. It doesn’t mat­ter that it’s ages old. The approach will be something like, ‘How can he handle billion-dollar budgets when he can’t even file his own taxes?'” “It only loses him votes, that’s for sure,” a party official agrees.

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A second, and perhaps a more serious “negative,” is race. Within his campaign, Dinkins’s ability to find support in the predominantly white neighborhoods of the outer boroughs is widely considered to be the key to a primary victory and the avoidance of a runoff election. Harlem congressman Charles Rangel says that while “a lot of New Yorkers might feel uncomfortable with a black mayor,” a number of white congressmen in the city delegation are close to defecting from Koch to Dinkins. Though he would not discuss individual names, Rangel says that some of these representatives “have not yet found ways to tell their constitu­ents that they want to leave Koch.” Ac­cording to Rangel, the only two congress­men who would find it “difficult to walk away from Koch” are Queens’s Gary Ack­erman and James Scheuer.

Brooklyn’s Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, a member of the conservative Lubavitcher Hasidim community, says that “Ed Koch would have you believe that anyone who talks to Jesse Jackson is an anti-Semite. Don’t think that everyone out here agrees with that. The stereotype is that we are crazies out here, but that’s not the case. People understand that, politically, Din­kins needs to have Jesse near him.” Gold­stein, who is chairman of Community Board 9 in Crown Heights, adds, “The Jewish community outside of Manhattan has not seen much of David Dinkins. When he gets out into the communities, people will see that he doesn’t have horns on his head.”

As he addressed audiences about last month’s gang attack in Central Park, Dinkins referred to the arrested teen­agers as a band of “urban terrorists” who could have “attacked my wife, my daugh­ter.” While his proposals to combat at­tacks like these are thin — he has suggest­ed that unarmed park rangers (“Y’know, the guys with the hat”) become more involved in crime prevention — Dinkins has spoken out forcefully about the at­tack, though his words have been over­shadowed in the daily papers and the electronic media by the reactions of Ed Koch and Donald Tump.

In an interview last week, Dinkins said, “You’ve got to have a sister or daughter to feel this. It has shit to do with race. But it’s got everything to do with a real brutal fucking act. They not only raped her … but they beat the shit out of her. Now in that climate, I cannot get exercised about whether someone calls them a ‘wolfpack.'”

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Though Lynch and Dinkins dismiss the possibility that the Central Park attack will have a negative impact on the Din­kins campaign, five city politicians inter­viewed by the Voice said the event would probably hurt the Manhattan borough president. One city councilman said, “Strictly on racial terms, this does noth­ing to enhance [black] empowerment ar­guments.” Herman Badillo, a Dinkins foe, says that the park attack “has got to hurt him. It’s an unspoken disaster.” Lynch rejects this argument, contending that anyone who would be turned off to Din­kins because of the attack “probably wasn’t voting for him anyway.”

Lynch also dismisses the suggestion that the announcement last week of At­torney General Robert Abrams’s endorse­ment of Dinkins was intended to counter any white hostility stemming from the Central Park attack. Lynch confirms, however, that the campaign had had the Abrams endorsement lined up for more than a month. But he says Dinkins decid­ed to announce the endorsement now ­rather than late in the summer and closer to the primary-to “give us some mo­mentum.” This reasoning seems suspect, however, since momentum — in the form of recent major union endorsements — is not in short supply in the Dinkins campaign.

The role that Jesse Jackson will play in the campaign is also being discussed. Last month, Dinkins said that his cam­paign “will surely draw people from all over the country. I’m sure he’ll [Jackson] be here.” Dinkins declined to discuss whether the question of Jackson’s in­volvement was a concern to his campaign strategists, though this is another issue Doak/Shrum are examining. “We want everybody to remember that this is David’s campaign,” Lynch says. “We don’t want him overshadowed by anyone.” A Brooklyn Jewish leader who supports Dinkins says, “If Jesse is here one or two weekends, that’ll be fine. I don’t think anybody in this community will have a problem with that. But if he’s here all the time, well, that’s another story.”

The Marist poll released in April gave Dinkins a favorable rating of 59.4 per cent, far ahead of Goldin (41.4) and Koch (40.5). His unfavorable rating was 9.1 per cent (Koch’s was a whopping 54 per cent), while 31.3 per cent of those polled said they were unsure or had never heard of Dinkins. The only major candidate in either party with a higher favorable rat­ing was Giuliani (74.3 per cent), who also had as low an unfavorable rating as Din­kins (9.0). A New York Newsday poll re­leased last Sunday showed that if the primary were held today, Dinkins would receive 38 per cent of the vote, compared with Koch’s 28 per cent. However, it’s worth noting that neither of these polls (nor any other surveys released to date) have asked voters about any of Dinkins’s potential “negatives,” including race and taxes. One Dinkins supporter says, “Be­cause David is a new face to many people, you don’t know what the downside, if there is one, might be.” On the other hand, as David Garth recently made clear, Ed Koch’s negatives are all well-­known.

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WITH THE GLARING exception of his steadfast support for the Board of Esti­mate (and then for weighted voting), Dinkins has been the most progressive — ­while still pragmatic — voice on the Board of Estimate in his three-plus years a borough president. He has opposed the berthing of a nuclear homeport in Staten Island, beat the mayor in a showdown over the construction of heavily subsi­dized luxury housing in Clinton, and fought for community interests in con­nection with proposed commercial and residential developments at Lincoln Cen­ter and the New York Coliseum. He has been the strongest voice on the board calling for additional funding for AIDS prevention programs and the most pas­sionate spokesman for the city’s growing homeless population. His staff — which West Side council-woman Ruth Messinger calls “the most extraordinarily skilled and racially integrated staff in my memo­ry” — features some of the city’s best housing, community service, and health advocates.

But despite his record as borough pres­ident and his inspired hiring decisions, many politicians and community leaders still have reservations about Dinkins. Al­though he has proven his independence on the board, Dinkins’s organization background (he was a district leader for 20 years and is a charter member — along with Basil Paterson, Percy Sutton, and Charles Rangel — of what is derisively re­ferred to as the “Harlem Gang”) still wor­ries some.

Oliver Koppell, a Bronx assemblyman who heads that county’s “reform” move­ment, says that he believes Dinkins is untested as an “administrative manager” and that the candidate has not been an “antiorganization politician. He comes out of a regular background. Jay [Gol­din], despite some of the ethical ques­tions, does come out of a reform background.”

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Herman Badillo is more critical, con­tending that Dinkins does not have “im­pressive credentials.” Badillo adds, “The mistake that he is making is that because Jesse got 45 per cent, that he too can get 45 per cent. In reality, Dinkins is closer to Denny Farrell than he is Bo Jackson. Dinkins doesn’t stir up the passion that’s needed.” Badillo’s comments are no sur­prise, since he holds Dinkins responsible for the Coalition for a Just New York’s last-minute support for Manhattan as­semblyman Herman “Denny” Farrell over Badillo in the 1985 mayoral race. (Far­rell’s entry into the race and his non-cam­paign helped Koch easily gain reelection.)

Dinkins dismisses Badillo as “not a factor” in this year’s election. (The Latin vote may be the key bloc in this year’s primary, and, according to both New York Newsday and a recent poll conduct­ed by Local 1199 — which supports Dinkins — the Manhattan borough president already holds a wide lead over the other Democratic candidates in the Latin com­munity.) “As for the betrayal he speaks of, I was never for him [Badillo],” Din­kins says. “I was supporting Carol Bella­my.” He adds that he has been unfairly slammed on the Farrell debacle: “The vote was 28 to 14 … including such peo­ple as Herb Daughtry and Roger Green voting for Denny. Will you tell me how, in that climate, this gets to be my fault? That’s the dumbest shit I ever heard of. It’s just plain asinine. And I have been carrying the weight for that from that day right down to now, right now, with The City Sun and certain others. So they can all take a running jump.”

However, even some of Dinkins’s sup­porters are worried about the lack of “passion” that Badillo cites. A Brooklyn community activist who supports Din­kins says, “I’m concerned that David start turning up the heat a bit. I think Lynch should be feeding him raw onions­in the morning.” Charles Rangel, howev­er, insists that Dinkins “has the ability to govern. I’ve heard this stuff about him being a wimp, being quiet. But I’ve known him too long. He is a former Ma­rine. And I have seen that former Marine take charge.”

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SOME OF THE BEST receptions Dinkins has received to date have been on Staten Island, which is not usually a hotbed of liberalism. It will be in white areas of the city like this where the Dinkins campaign must make that crucial crossover, accord­ing to Lynch.

On a recent Friday night, in a Knights of Columbus hall, Dinkins spoke to about 100 men gathered for the monthly meet­ing of the Amalgamated Transit Union. The ATU has been fighting against the explosion of private bus lines on the is­land and the city’s granting of franchises to out-of-state, non-union bus companies. Many of the bus drivers and mechanics in the crowd were dressed in their MTA uniforms, having come directly from work.

After being introduced by former city council president Paul O’Dwyer and Shir­ley Quill, the widow of former Transport Workers Union boss Mike Quill, Dinkins got a standing ovation as he walked to the podium. Wearing an ATU cap and baseball jacket, the Manhattan borough president looked very much like a Little League coach. Speaking below portraits of Christopher Columbus and Fulton Sheen, Dinkins drew sustained cheers when he told the predominantly white unionists that he opposed the city’s poli­cy of granting franchises to the out-of-­state firms. As he left the hall, Dinkins proudly displayed the jacket the union had given him, with the inscription, “Da­vid Dinkins, Mayor.”

At another Staten Island meeting — ­this time, a public hearing of Community Board 3 — Dinkins reiterated his support for the transit workers. After Dinkins had departed the auditorium, Ron Bell, the business manager for a longshoremen’s local at Howland Hook, told the crowd, “We have to change the city gov­ernment come November. And I person­ally feel that David Dinkins is the man.” Bell, who is white, received a large ova­tion from the audience. People like the union leader, with his gray hair and brown flannel shirt, were once Ed Koch’s core voters.

In less than a month, the Dinkins cam­paign will begin gathering nominating pe­tition signatures for the September primary. Though the bulk of these signatures — 10,000 are needed to qualify for the ballot — will surely be collected in minority neighborhoods like Harlem and Fort Greene, it will be in such areas as Riverdale, Stapleton, and Forest Hills that Dinkins’s campaign must take root. It is in these neighborhoods that Ed Koch’s base has eroded from under him. And it is in these neighborhoods that David Dinkins must prove he is the best alternative, something he has yet to accomplish. ❖

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Langston Hughes: A Genius Child Comes of Age

Warts and all, the Langston Hughes who emerges from the first volume of Arnold Rampersad’s exceptional biography doesn’t suffer badly in comparison with the var­nished Poet Laureate of Negro America that blacks have been raised on for generations. A staple of high-school curricula and home recitation, Hughes figures in African-Ameri­can life as significantly as in its letters, a literary hero the culture cozied up to like a warm hearth. Hughes was the first black American writer many of us ever read, and some of his verses hold the high honor of having been accepted into the canon of black mother wit — “Son, life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” is the most famous; “Nobody loves a genius child” runs a close second. Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Margaret Walker, Nicolas Guillen, Amiri Baraka, and Gil Scott-Heron were all bene­ficiaries of Hughes’s lifelong encouragement of younger dark writers, and his career re­mains an inspiring model for black writers determined to make a living solely from their work.

Well, an inspiring model of sorts. As Rampersad details, Hughes spent the first two decades of an adventuresome life chas­ing fortune more doggedly than literary fame. He was fortunate in having fame thrust upon him early — publication in W. E. B. Du Bois’s Crisis in 1921 brought him the kindness of patrons black and white. Nevertheless, his youth reads like a 20th century guide to writing your way into history on $5 a day. Being a pauper didn’t keep him from covering the globe; much of Rampersad’s volume is spent tracking Hughes’s movements from the Midwest to Mexico, New York, Africa, Russia, and Spain.

Blessed with a facility for cheeriness, Hughes seems to have made it on little more than good vibes and curiosity. In the late ’30s, his veteran-bohemian advice to Man­hattan newcomer Ralph Ellison was “Be nice to people, and let them buy your meals” (according to Ellison, it paid off immediate­ly). Still, the specter of capital, or rather the lack and hungry pursuit thereof, viciously haunts Rampersad’s Hughes. In plying the writer’s trade to serve the race and feed himself, Hughes made considerable artistic, personal, and political sacrifices and com­promises. These form the core of the biogra­phy’s character revelations, though Rampersad appropriately notes how deeply Hughes’s upbringing conditioned his adult persona.

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True to the old saws that artists need unhappy childhoods and bad relationships with their fathers, Hughes spent at least half his life drawing upon the misery fate had doled out to him on both counts. His parents, James and Carrie Hughes, separat­ed not long after he was born, and young Langston thereafter saw little of his mother, who left him for long stretches in his grand­mother’s care. She was out seeking clerical work where she could find it in the poet-to­-be’s birth-state, Kansas. On his mother’s side, Hughes was descended from distin­guished free blacks, the abolitionists Charles and Mary Langston, who’d worked for the underground railroad. Mary lost her first husband, James Leary, in the Harpers Ferry raid. Hughes’s father, the self-educated son of slaves, was anything but a race man. “Detesting the poor, he especially disliked the black poor. He was unsentimental, even cold. ‘My father hated Negroes,’ Langston Hughes would judge. ‘I think he hated him­self for being a Negro. He disliked all of his family because they were Negroes.’ Where Carrie’s parents had instilled in her a sense of noblesse oblige, Jim Hughes seemed to look upon most blacks as undeserving cowards.”

Rebellion against his father, as certainly as the race history he got on grandma Lang­ston’s knee (she used to wrap him in her first husband’s blood-stained shawl), played a large part in Hughes’s decision to become a race-conscious bard. Growing up in all­-white neighborhoods throughout his school years, he developed a diplomatic approach to race relations and an intellectual and emotional rapprochement with black work­ing-class culture. Like many subsequent black middle-class writers, he entered into a professional relationship with that culture which derived in equal parts from a sense of mission and a need to work out his own obsessions. The desire to resolve the conflict between responsibility to the race and re­sponsibility to literary ideals informs much black American writing. Hughes’s resolution would both nourish and compromise his art.

In 1915, when Hughes was 13, he was taken to a revival meeting by his aunt and lied about having been saved by the Holy Ghost. While he wept over the lie, he also recognized its necessity in allowing him to keep faith with black culture. “At thirteen, Hughes probably already viewed the black world both as an insider, and far more im­portantly, as an outsider. The view from outside did not lead to clinical objectivity, much less alienation. Once outside, every intimate force in Hughes would drive him toward seeking the love and approval of the race, which would become the grand obses­sion of his life.”

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After high school, Hughes went to Mexico to live with his father, who responded to his wish to write for a living with the advice that he should learn a skill which would take him away from the United States, “where you have lived like a nigger with niggers.” Fueled by his father’s hate, Hughes wrote poems that fused his personal hurts with his desire for love from blacks — black maternal love in particular. Through these poems, he would eventually find a home in Crisis and an empathetic editor in Jessie Fauset, doy­enne of the Harlem Renaissance. After going to New York in the fall of 1920 to attend Columbia, Hughes upped the ante with ra­cial verse aimed as much at unnerving his father as at providing uplift for the masses. According to Rampersad,

At lectures and readings at the Harlem Branch Library on 135th Street, Hughes met the black intelligentsia; but his main interest was the people, of whom his vision was both intensely romantic and cold.. . Fastidious and yet bohemian, moral but determined never to judge his people, Hughes instead celebrated his kinship with these 

Dream singers,
Story-tellers,
Dancers,
Loud laughers in the hands of Fate­ —
My people … 

Dishwashers, elevator boys, maids, crap­shooters, cooks, waiters, hairdressers, and porters — he sang the ordinary and the low. In this way he met his father’s contempt for black folk and for the poor.

Hughes also wrote his pioneering jazz and blues poems in this period, works that forged the bond between the muse of black poets and 20th century black music:

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway … 
He did a lazy sway …
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.

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In June 1923, Hughes shipped out to Africa as a sailor. As Rampersad notes, he saw Africa before elder Africanists Marcus Gar­vey and W. E. B. Du Bois set foot on the continent. Significantly, his initial observations of Dakar were anything but romantic and bordered on racist. “Hughes’s first im­pression was of crudeness and absurdity. Wandering through the town in ninety de­gree heat, his head spinning from glasses of cheap white wine, Langston that day saw Africa as ridiculous — black men dressed in billowy white gowns, sweating market wom­en with bare breasts, children stark naked to the world. Giddy, he sat down to describe the scene to his mother. ‘You should see the clothes they wear here,’ he wrote Carrie, ‘everything from overcoats to nothing. I have laughed until I can’t. No two people dress alike. Some have on capes, some shawls, some pants, some wear blue cloths fastened around their necks and feet blowing out like sails behind. Some have on preachers’ coats, others knee pants like bloomers, with half-hose and garters. It’s a scream!’ ” But by the end of August, Hughes would see Africa less as a “blur of exotic images” than as a place held in underdevel­opment by colonialism’s grip. For Hughes, Africa had become “ten year old wharf rats offering nightly to take sailors to see ‘my sisters two shillings,’ ” elephantiasis and swollen bodies under palm trees, white men with guns at their belts, inns and taverns with signs up, EUROPEANS ONLY, missionary churches with Negroes in the back seats and the whites who teach Jesus in the front rows.”

“The white man dominates Africa,” Hughes would write. “He takes produce and lives, very much as he chooses … And the Africans are baffled and humble. They listen to the missionaries and bow down before the Lord, but they bow much lower below the traders, who carry whips and guns and are protected by white laws made in Europe for the black colonies.” Hughes had been writ­ing African-identified poetry but found that no African believed him, with his copper-­brown skin and straight Indian hair, to be black like them. In response, he began to write poetry inflected with the Pan-Afri­canist ideal.

The night is beautiful
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

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Hughes visited Europe before returning to Harlem in 1924, just as the well-engineered Harlem Renaissance was entering full swing. Yet his participation in the many fêtes aimed at securing white patronage and book contracts for black bohemian intellec­tuals would be stymied by a move to Wash­ington with his mother. Life in Washington, as an upstart black poet, brought him into conflict with the black middle class, toward whom he turned up his nose in a bohemian sniff. It’s nearly tragicomic that what Hughes thought about his upwardly mobile brethren and sistren of the day describes a fair portion of their ’80s successors to a tee. “The younger blacks were obsessed by money and position, fur coats and flashy cars: ‘their ideals seemed most Nordic and un-­Negro.’ Lightskinned women coolly snubbed their darker acquaintances. College men boasted of attending pink teas graced by only blue veined belles almost indistinguishable from whites … they had all the manners and airs of reactionary ill-bred nou­veaux riches except that they were not really rich. Just middle class.”

Washington was also responsible for Hughes’s sharpening his knowledge of blues and jazz culture and further developing his working-class consciousness. Hilariously, the anything but mellifluous Hughes once dared to unleash his brand of blues singing on the Rock Creek Bridge. It provoked a passerby to rush to his aid, mistaking his unsoulful moans for agony. Hughes had en­counters with notables black and white in D.C., including famed black historian Carter G. Woodson, and the poet Vachel Lindsay, to whom he slipped some poems while working as a busboy. In Baltimore, he met Bessie Smith. When Hughes asked for her “theory of the blues,” Smith dished how all she knew was that the blues had put her “in de mon­ey.” (Though Rampersad gives this seemingly trivial rejoinder short shrift, it would carry considerable weight with poststructur­alist blues scholars and folklorists.)

In 1926, Hughes’s first book of poems, The Weary Blues, was published. Between 1926 and 1939, he would write and publish much of the best and most influential work of his prolific career — his second volume of poems, the controversially titled Fine Clothes to the Jew (“When hard luck over­takes you/ Nothin’ for you to do/ Gather up yo’ fine clothes/ An’ sell ’em to the Jew”), a short story collection, The Ways of White Folks, the novel Not Without Laughter, the first volume of his autobiography, The Big Sea, several children’s books in collabora­tion with his lifelong friend Arna Bontemps, and the most financially successful of his plays, Mulatto. He also spent time gathering information and soaking up the scenery in Cuba and Haiti, did a foreign correspondent stint in Spain during the Civil War, and spent a year in Russia. The Russian sojourn came about in 1932, when Hughes and a host of young Harlemite writers and activ­ists were entreated by a German film com­pany to star in a fiasco production of a working-class musical.

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His flirtations with socialism were partly out of self-interest — when mainstream pub­lishers wouldn’t come through for him, New Masses would pick up the slack. But his leftist poetry compromised little of his plain-spoken lyricism and engaged some very radical views. While undertaking his Russian expedition, Hughes wrote the most radically strident poem of his life, “Good­bye, Christ,” — all the more blasphemous for its sermon-like cadences.

Listen, Christ,
You did alright in your day I reckon­ —
But that day’s gone now.

They ghosted you up a swell story, too.
Called it Bible —

But it’s dead now.
The popes and preachers’ve
Made too much money from it.
They’ve sold you to too many

Kings, generals, robbers, and killers­ —
Even to the Tzar and the Cossacks,
Even to Rockefeller’s church …
You’re getting in the way of things, Lord.
And please take Saint Gandhi with you when you go,
And Saint Pope Pius,
And Saint Aimee McPherson.

Hughes never intended for this poem to leave Russia, but it was passed on to black American communist leader Harry Hey­wood, who published it. This was much to Hughes’s later regret when the rabid evan­gelist Aimee Semple McPherson mounted an attack that gathered black church forces behind her.

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There was a profound contradiction be­tween Hughes’s radicalism and his need to be accepted by the black masses. He was neither the first nor the last black intellectu­al to feel tugged apart by the ideological demands of a white-dominated left and his nationalist tendencies, as Harold Cruse’s ep­ochal work on that conundrum, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, makes clear. To his sometime patron of the ’30s, Noel Sulli­van, Hughes confessed that since poverty seemed to be his lot, “the only thing I can do is string along with the Left until maybe someday all of us poor folks will get enough to eat, including rent, gas, light and water.”

Hughes’s disavowal of politics in the late ’30s was influenced by dollar signs more than politics or feeling for the masses. “To a large extent, he gave up on radicalism not on ideological grounds, but as an impractical involvement that endangered his career as a writer. Radicalism paid very poorly in America; it also tended to estrange him from the black masses. Accordingly, he had been returning the needle of his conscience to its oldest and deepest groove, that of race. But instead of attempting to explain or jus­tify this realignment, Hughes had done ev­erything he could to conceal it … he could point to his renewed emphasis on race as proof of his distance from communism, and pass off as deep alienation what was in fact pragmatic withdrawal.”

In 1940, when Richard Wright’s Native Son became a Book of the Month club best-­seller and the best-selling black book ever, Hughes reacted with dismay and envy, not least because he had shelved a project simi­lar to Native Son, fearing it would have no market in New Deal America. Talk about your deferred dreams. Rampersad leaves Hughes still struggling (acclaim and notori­ety notwithstanding) to make ends meet for himself and his mother, whose welfare he assumed like a guilty burden rather than the duty of a loving son. In his need to become the most beloved genius child in black liter­ary history, he had sacrificed his writerly independence and forced himself to bedrock his maturity on filial responsibility. How Hughes’s recurrent conflict with mom, muse, money, and the masses is played out will surely add to the drama of Rampersad’s next chapters. ❖

THE LIFE OF LANGSTON HUGHES: Volume 1, 1902-1941 I, Too, Sing America By Amold Rampersad Oxford University Press, $22.95; $9.95 paper

[Editor’s note: Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that the photographer credit for the illustration at the top of this article is “Griff Davis / Black Star,” while on the original page back in 1988 (below) the credit is for “Greg Davis / Black Star.” We recently learned that this portrait of Langston Hughes was indeed taken by Griffith J. Davis, a storied photographer who was Ebony magazine’s first Roving Editor. Starting in 1949, he became an international photojournalist for the the Black Star Publishing Agency, and was later a U.S. Foreign Service Officer during the early U.S. civil rights movement and the Independence Movement of Africa. More information is available at www.griffdavis.com.]

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Eric B. & Rakim: Titty Boom-A-Rooney

The levitation of our dreams confirms the gravity of our wakefulness.
— 
Hollis Frampton, filmmaker and theorist

Demonic is the first word that the title track on Eric B. & Rakim’s Follow the Leader (Uni) brings to mind. Before the jam inspires dance, prance, or make-romance, it says call the exorcist. An appre­hension birthed of the fact that where most raps go off in your face, this mono­logue aims at your interior. The music on “Follow the Leader” is spooky, a science-­fiction score that sounds straight out of the Tangerine Dream songbook. Rakim’s on an elocutionary speed-trip, a black bullet train slitting through hyperspace. The rhymes are telemetric, tracking sucker-soft targets with a monomania more relentless than anybody’s Terminator. In rap’s ongoing war for poetic su­premacy, Rakim has metaphoric space he can call his own, though for others it’s a danger zone.

While Public Enemy shakes the shit out of white people, Rakim is the rapper who makes my blood run cold. Listen to “Microphone Fiend” and you say, Gött­dam this is the dope jam (mainly because the lyrics seem to mock PE’s “Night of the Living Baseheads”).

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Like Boogie Down Productions’ rapper KRS One and PE’s Chuck D, Rakim brings his own worldview into rap, his own philosophy. These brothers are hip-­hop’s major thinkers. Somebody once ex­plained the difference between the minds of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk as Powell being more likely to drop a heavy insight on you about the state of the world and Monk being more likely to lay something deep on you about Monk. Chuck D’s forte is the overview, Rakim’s is the innerview. KRS One’s homilies are more down to earth, more streetwise, than either of them. He makes the most conversational records in the idiom. Think of him as hiphop’s Sonny Rollins to Chuck D’s insane Coltrane.

“If you’ve ever picked cotton,” says the Rev. Al Green, “you will appreciate a cool drink of water.” Rakim’s persona is that of a sagacious gangster, like Miles Da­vis’s. The rapper, too, works an aesthetic steeped in the sort of cool that can’t be bought off the rack, not even at Yoji Yamamoto prices. We’re talking about that school of self-confirmed bad-assed-ness, where you don’t need spectators to know you’re looking sugarshit sharp. Drop Miles or Rakim on the moon, they’d still be chilly-most. This is less about profiling cool than about putting that iconic presence to work (yes, in the diva sense of the word, chile.)

Rakim’s work on last year’s “I Know You Got Soul” comes closer than anything ever heard in rap for matching the incisiveness of a Miles statement. Seeing Miles at Pier 84 a few weeks back — best show I’ve heard since ’75 — made me real­ize once again where these hiphop/jazz comparisons fall to pieces: tonality. I’ve yet to hear a rapper with a sound like Miles, that sonorous simulation of sex when it’s too good, killer ecstasy slipping across pain’s Cambodian border.

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Still the Miles comparisons mount with Rakim. He’s the one rapper with a mystique as devastating as his rhymes. As with Miles again, what you hear in Rakim is black cultural difference exem­plified in ways so high-handed it makes negritude or nationalist countersupre­macy sound crude. “I Know You Got Soul” is race-championing by aristocratic example, not ideology. Rakim does his ennobling African ancestry proud through the finesse and poetry of his performance alone.

Picture a mike: the stage is empty
A beat like this might tempt me
To cold show my rings and my five gold chains
Grab the mike like I’m on Soul Train
But I wait, ’cause I master this
Let the others go first, so the brothers don’t miss
Eric B. break [brake?] the sticks

The LP those lines came from, Paid in Full, is a confirmed hiphop masterwork. Masterful because like Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, and Boogie Down Productions’ By All Means Necessary, it shows how color­-struck the hiphop palette has become. I tend to be big on records, like Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, where each composi­tion is a microcosm, painted with signa­ture strokes even when the artist is work­ing in revived forms. Paid in Full is avante-garde and formally prodigious in that way. But it’s an avante-gardism whose rhythms and textures speak from an intimacy with the communalism black pop conveyed in the ’70s.

Eric B.’s rare groove choices take me back to the proletarian house parties my grandmother, a hip barber, dragged me to in Ohio. These were folk for whom party­ing hardy was synonymous to partying with family. Eric B. once told Harry Al­len that he and Rakim make records that their parents can listen to and under­stand. I can hear that, especially on the new LP’s “Put Your Hands Together.” The mix-construction on Follow the Leader is different from that on Paid in Full. It’s harsher, more jagged, jarring and less sensually inviting. On Paid in Full, Eric B.’s mixes match Rakim’s rhymes for contemplated restraint, in­vention, and lyricism. There Eric B. rocked us with more orchestral detail than anybody outside of PE in late ’80s hiphop. He also brought understatement to hiphop drum programming — almost as if he’d taken to heart Lester Young’s soft-­shell admonition to drummers, “No bombs, just titty-boom.”

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This is just a hunch, but I think Eric B. and Rakim have been taking lessons in the art of noise from Public Enemy, like PE has been going to Eric B. & Rakim’s work, among others, to study up on melo­dy. I’ve heard complaints that there are no classics on Follow The Leader like “I Know You Got Soul” or “Move the Crowd.” But those who been bitchin’ just need to listen. I said it, I meant it, and I even represent it.

On that note: Inquiring minds want to know what I think of Chuck D (the Living Messiah) branding yo’ reporter The Village Voice‘s porch nigger and a sell-out in the current Spin — os­tensibly behind doing the right thing and busting PE’s monkey-asses on charges of homophobia, sexism, and anti-Semitism. What I think is grits ain’t groceries, and the Mona Lisa was a man. ❖

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Mario Cuomo: The Governor Looks the Other Way

It’s time we started taking Mario Cuomo seriously.

He’s in his sixth year as governor, and mamma stories, as rich as they are, just won’t wash anymore — at least not as a substitute for governance. The four-year presidential tease of the Great Liberal Hope is over; an ethnic northeastern governor with a record is the nominee. The disenchanted of this state — the homeless, tenants, environmentalists, minorities, and reformers — can’t afford more schmaltzy personality profiles that devote a few buried paragraphs to Mario Cuomo’s government. It’s time to judge him for who he is and what he is doing, rather than forever anticipating what he may become.

This is the story of one test of Mario Cuomo’s government: its ethics. The governor has set a rather high moral standard for himself. He says he is inspired by no less than Saint Thomas More, who was executed for a principle. Son Andrew Cuomo, who at 30 is the only man Mario Cuomo actually listens to, has been attracting news attention for years about the ties between his booming law practice and his father’s governments. He practices in a Park Avenue office under a picture of Thomas More.

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More had a word or two for moral miscreants. “The air longs to blow noxious vapors against the wicked man. The sea longs to overwhelm him in its waves, the mountains to fall upon him, the earth to spilt open beneath him, hell to swallow him up after his headlong fall…” The wicked don’t drive Mario Cuomo quite as mad. Indeed, as the six episodes in this story demonstrate, he is gracious in the face of wrongdoing, even when committed by those with whom he has intimately shared his public trust. Loyalty is also a More virtue, but in these tales, Cuomo takes it to perverse lengths.

Documented here is a record of Cuomo indifference to the grave ethical errors of several high state officials, ranging from longtime Cuomo confidant Al Levine, who twice helped set up companies in his daughter’s name that indirectly did business with the state agency he worked for, to onetime Battery Park Authority chairman Robert Seavey, the Cuomo appointee who formed an upstate business partnership with a developer seeking designation on a Battery Park site.

This two-part series starts with the takeover of a seemingly mundane state agency, the Thruway Authority, by Levine and Hank Bersani, another Cuomo aide who’d been with him for a decade. It details their apparent attempts to turn the Authority into their own personal toll booth, and their determined support of a new Thruway exit seemingly designed to benefit a major Cuomo contributor. The final episode this week deals with the same Cuomo contributor’s attempt to secure a lucrative state lease. Three Cuomo officials — Seavey, OGS Commissioner John Egan, and State University Construction Fund chairman Sheldon Goldstein — play disturbing roles in the exit ramp or lease tales.

In each of the instances that will be described this week and next week, Mario Cuomo emerges as a man who empowers sleaze, watches in silence when news of it surfaces, and then, if pressed, publicly forgives it. Even Cuomo’s admirers have long found his tolerance for the tawdry as curious as it is consistent; it clashes with his studied monasticism. He has put himself on a contemplative hill, revering “the law” while sectors of his government slide toward the sewer.

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Under the glare of an aroused media after the first suicide attempt of Donald Manes, Ed Koch has had to answer for his government’s ties to and handling of the less-than-sublime. Well, Mario Cuomo has his own Victor Botnicks. His are less notorious, mostly because they and the governor who appointed and excused them have been protected by the Albany cocoon, operating daily 180 miles outside the range of city cameras.

While Cuomo will not discuss these issues, his secretary, Gerry Crotty, his counsel, Evan Davis, his son, Andrew, and other advisers will. They make some good points for him, and these arguments should not be a footnote to this story.

The Cuomo advisers point out that he took on the legislature in 1987 to fight for an ethics bill. He did, it got dirty, and the governor stood his ground. He vetoed a bill and forced them to make it better. It is a fact that the performances of assembly speaker Mel Miller and senate leader Warren Anderson have frequently made Mario Cuomo look saintly; but this story is not a course in comparative ethics.

Andrew describes a father who at a gut level would not broach a wayward turn. He has his own tales — about the governor dispatching him in a helicopter on a Saturday morning to a park retreat when they learned that two high officials had brought their wives there on a weekend lark at state expense. He recounts how the governor gathered lists of the state’s summer employees and compared them with the names on his own executive chamber payroll, looking for relatives who might be getting a well-placed perk.

Andrew, whose own virtues include the fact that the private HELP group he founded for the homeless may build more permanent housing than his dad’s government, tells these stories with conviction. In the end, though, Andrew’s anecdotes only make the governor’s, and his own, conduct in these tales even more inexplicable. They are apparently quite willing to resist their own finer instincts.

I asked Evan Davis three times to name a single personnel action by the governor that sent a message that he will not tolerate unethical conduct, even if that conduct does not lead to a criminal indictment. Davis kept dodging the question. The governor missed the essence of More — who spit in a king’s eye rather than acknowledge his illicit marriage, even though the king was his friend. Sometimes a moralist has to be mean.

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Al Levine’s Thruway Dowry

When Mario Cuomo was appointed secretary of state by Governor Carey and assumed his first public office in 1975, he began a 12-year relationship with a savvy former Air Force major who’d already been working at state for years, Al Levine. Except for a brief stint during the second Carey term, when Levine was employed by another state agency, he would work directly for Cuomo until his abrupt resignation as Thruway director last November.

Levine was so close to Cuomo that during the dark days of 1981, when Cuomo was lieutenant governor and his chief of staff was arrested for stealing the paychecks of fictitious employees, he asked Levine to assume the top staff job. Levine continued to run Cuomo’s office throughout the gubernatorial campaign of 1982, and he and his wife handled the computerized mailings to campaign donors out Levine’s suburban home. When the new governor took office in 1983, Al Levine, a high school graduate who’d worked his way up the military ranks as an enlisted man, was given the title of administrative director of the executive chamber, making him a centerpiece of the new power structure on the second floor of the Capitol building.

In March 1984, Cuomo made Levine executive director of the Thruway Authority, a traditional patronage haven. Levine came into the Authority shortly after a new Cuomo chairman, Hank Bersani, who also had been with Cuomo since the start of the governor’s public career.

Neither Levine nor Bersani had transportation, engineering, or even top-level managerial backgrounds. But the two did share a similar, seedy élan: the white-haired, deal-talking Bersani, who’d risen from the street politics of grimy Syracuse, and the burly, tattooed Levine, who’d ingratiated himself with the Cuomo clan, particularly the governor’s wife, Matilda, over the years. On one wall in his Thruway headquarters office Levine hung a framed copy of the governor’s speech at the 1984 Democratic convention. On the other wall he displayed half a dozen photos of his favorite trotters.

Though ensconced after 1984 at his own public agency for the first time, Levine assiduously maintained his ties to the state’s first family. That year he set up the Executive Mansion Preservation Society, a private, prestigious corporation charged with raising funds to refurbish the Albany mansion that the Cuomos rarely left. Levine met frequently with Matilda Cuomo to plan the renovations, and managed the $850,000 collected from wealthy donors like Harry Helmsley ($25,000). He used the Thruway Authority’s accounting firm to manage the books and his own lawyers to incorporate and represent the society.

When Thruway chairman Bersani had to resign suddenly in June 1987 — provoked by revelations about his criminal past — Cuomo once again turned to Levine, describing him publicly as “a trusted old friend” and asking him to take Bersani’s title while retaining his own. The combination would have made Levine the first simultaneous chairman and director of the Authority. But six days after Bersani’s resignation, a letter signed “Concerned thruway employees” was delivered to key senate Republicans. The letter leveled detailed charges about Levine’s involvement in a computer services firm that provided software to engineering companies under contract with the Thruway Authority.

As soon as the governor’s office formally submitted Levine’s nomination to the senate in mid-June, Gerry Crotty, then the governor’s counsel, got a copy of the anonymous note from a legislative source, and immediately passed it on to Cuomo’s in-house inspector general, Joe Spinelli, who began an investigation. Levine withdrew his nomination a few days later, labeling the charges in the anonymous letter “totally unfounded.”

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The next day Cuomo urged the anonymous tipster to come forward, promising his “personal protection.” He also warned that the issue should not be blown out of proportion. “Let’s not elaborate this to unreality,” he said. The IG’s investigators, however, went to the Authority immediately and found willing witnesses — including the two top Carey holdovers there, deputy director James Martin and counsel Bob Farrell, both of whom were at odds with Levine and had been identified by insiders as possible authors of the letter.

Levine took sick leave for a week while the charges exploded around him, mostly in upstate newspapers, but the decision was made to stick with him. Cuomo told reporters: “I choose to believe that he is a man of the highest quality and I have seen no evidence that proves otherwise. I know him. I love him. He’s a good fellow. The process will work and it will prove he did nothing illegal or unethical.”

But while Levine remained director, Cuomo had to come up with another candidate for chairman. Former Power Authority chairman John Dyson turned the offer down when he couldn’t get assurances from Cuomo that he could replace Levine with his own director. “I knew that Al Levine had to go,” Dyson said later. “I had heard he might have ethical problems,” referring to a period before news of the IG probe broke.

Cuomo then turned to Bill Hennessy, the former Carey transportation commissioner and ex-state Democratic Party chief. Hennessy’s first act as Thruway chairman was to fire Martin and Farrell. Levine remained in charge for months, while the suspected whistleblowers were already out the door.

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Betasoft Bombshells

Looking over IG Joe Spinelli’s shoulder virtually from the inception, and questioning many of the same people approached by him, was the State Investigation Commission (SIC), the quasi-independent, anticorruption irritant that had dogged the Cuomo administration on many ethical cases in recent years. Also a recipient of the anonymous letter, the SIC took a temporary back seat to Spinelli, but the inevitability of its eventual report had to be a prod, pushing the IG probe. In the end, Spinelli came up with hard evidence of Levine’s misconduct, then laid the details of it out in a report bereft of meaningful conclusions.

In October, the report was referred to two state prosecutors, but Spinelli carefully told reporters: “This referral does not represent a finding with regard to possible violations of the law.”

Indeed, Spinelli’s written recommendation was that a prosecutor “review” the allegations “to determine if there is a basis to commence criminal proceedings” — a curious conclusion since that was ostensibly the purpose of his own probe. The highlights of Spinelli’s factual findings were:

● After determining that the Authority needed precisely the sort of software Betasoft would eventually offer, Levine set up the company and put together a small group of investors and directors, including his daughter Michelle, which met 30 times in Levine’s home during the two-year life of the firm. The four initial partners, in addition to Levine’s daughter, an employee of the state Parks Department, were also state employees long tied to Levine — two Thruway staffers, the computer chief in the governor’s office, and the deputy general manager of the State University Construction Fund. Levine’s wife incorporated the firm and opened its checking account, and Levine personally attended all its organizational and board meetings, offering advice and acquainting himself with all of the company’s business activities.

● Betasoft’s business was almost entirely based on the solicitation of engineering firms under contract or seeking contracts with the Thruway Authority. Even after Thruway staffer Cynthia Bloom became Betasoft’s chief operating officer, she remained at the Authority, reporting only to Levine and contacting potential Betasoft customers from Thruway offices even though the customers were Thruway contractors. According to Bloom, Levine even gave her computerized lists of Thruway consultants to solicit. In three instances he brokered discussions between Thruway contractors and Betasoft, playing a central role in the company’s first sale. Though 30 per cent of the Authority’s consultant payments went to the four engineering companies that did business with Betasoft, Levine, who single-handedly selected the consultants for the Authority, talked of going to work for Betasoft when he left state government.

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The governor refused to comment on the findings, but his new Authority chairman Hennessy concluded: “There’s no criminality of any kind even inferred here.” Hennessy said Levin was “hurt” by the Betasoft controversy, “but he’s fine. He has no misgivings about his role in it and he knows perfectly well this will have to play itself out.” Levine’s criminal attorney, Richard Meyers, said Levine had viewed his participation in Betasoft as a “good idea for his child.” In what some saw as a reference to Mario Cuomo’s role in setting up the Manhattan law firm that employs his son, Andrew, and represents clients that do business with the state, Meyers said: “Presidents and governors do it.”

The 59-year-old Levine was on sick leave when the report was released, and had already quietly submitted his retirement papers. He was awarded a discretionary disability pension, meaning that his retirement was technically not due to the findings of the Spinelli report, but to a heart condition. Combined with his federal pension, Levine began collecting $44,480 a year in benefits.

The only disciplinary action to result from Spinelli’s findings involved George Kash, a Levine protégé and $58,000-a-year data processing supervisor in the governor’s office. A shareholder and active director in Betasoft, Kash was orally reprimanded by Cuomo aide Hank Dullea for not seeking clearance from the governor’s counsel about “the appropriateness of his outside business activity.” Though the governor’s press office once claimed that Kash would also be transferred to another state agency, he still runs Cuomo’s computers.

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The SIC took another five months before releasing its own report, which drew the conclusions Spinelli had hesitated to make. “The Commission has concluded,” said the April 1988 report, “that Levine crossed this line between unethical and criminal conduct,” suggesting that upstate federal prosecutor Fred Scullin “consider the merits and feasibility of a prosecution for extortion.” The unequivocal SIC judgment was that Levine’s “conduct falls within the Hobbs Act definition of extortion,” a reference to the federal criminal statute.

The Commission was also tough on Levine’s state-employed partners, blasting Kash because he knew that the company was owned by Thruway employees, yet sold software to Thruway consultants, and criticizing the Thruway employees for “violating the Code of Ethics” and “conducting Betasoft work during Thruway work hours.” But the report was harshest in its description of Jay Handwerger, the counsel and number-two man at the State University Construction Fund. Though the SIC assailed his “poor judgment” in “overlooking the ethical issues,” Handwerger wasn’t even admonished. The governor’s counsel, Evan Davis, says that Cuomo, who appoints the Fund’s board, is powerless to act.

All the governor would say about the SIC findings was that they were “consistent” with Spinelli’s. He expressly rejected the legislative recommendations made by the commission concerning conflicts of interest, saying that the changes in law sought could be adopted by regulation. John Baniak, a Levine protégé, was inserted in his place at the helm of the mansion preservation society, and as the new number-two man on the staff of the Thruway Authority.

The SIC decision to refer the case to the feds was more likely to lead to a prosecution than the governor’s earlier decision to send Spinelli’s report to the office of Albany D.A. Sol Greenberg — a burial ground for public corruption cases. Even though Greenberg had not questioned a single witness named in Spinelli’s report, he had already publicly dismissed the possibility of any criminal case against Levine.

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Second Time Around

Almost as a footnote to its report, the SIC uncovered an early warning of Levine’s propensity for this sort of conflict of interest. The Commission found that Betasoft was the second time Levine had helped set up a company to do indirect business with the state agency he worked for, and the second time he’d used his daughter as a shareholder.

The first time was in 1980, when Levine was with the state’s student financial aid agency, the Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC), working with another protégé, HESC’s executive vice-president, Michael Cruskie, a computer whiz with a straight-arrow reputation.

The SIC reported that Cruskie, Levine, who was HESC’s director of system support development, and three other top officials of HESC combined to form Charter Account Systems Inc. expressly to sell computer services to the same lending institutions that were participating in HESC’s loan programs. Indeed, one service marketed by Charter to the banks, sometimes by Cruskie, was the administration of their student-loan portfolios, including the filing of reports with HESC. While Cruskie and the others invested directly, Levine’s stock was held by the then 19-year-old Michelle.

What the SIC did not examine was whether Levine’s role in this blatant conflict was known within the governor’s inner circle for years and ignored. In fact, it was, and the high-level indifference to Levine’s prior moral lapse may have been one of the factors that led him to believe he could get away with Betasoft.

The Cruskie/Levine affair was extensively described in a December 1981 memo by HESC counsel Gilbert Harwood, who concluded that the three Charter partners then still with HESC had “failed to meet” the ethical standards of the Public Officers Law. Harwood also noted that Levine had left HESC and had pulled out of the company when asked to ante up $7,500 on top of the initial $2,500 investment. “Insofar as Al Levine is concerned,” Harwood wrote, “inasmuch as he’s no longer with HESC, the issue as to him is moot.” As a result of the Harwood memo, Cruskie was required to sever his ties to Charter, and he claimed in a March 1982 letter that he was complying with that directive. Neither HESC nor Cuomo will answer questions about whether Levine’s involvement in Charter was known within the Cuomo inner circle at the time it surfaced in late 1981, when Levine was simultaneously taking over the management of Cuomo’s lieutenant governor’s office.

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On Levine’s recommendation, Cruskie was appointed Cuomo’s deputy commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services in March 1983 (three months later Michelle Levine went to work for him as a project assistant). In the spring of 1984, he had to file his first financial disclosure report with the state’s Board of Public Disclosure, and the board’s counsel, Bennett Leibman, noticed that Cruskie had disclosed his membership on the Charter board, an apparent violation of a Cuomo order barring such corporate connections. Leibman wrote a memo to two disclosure board members — Michael Delgiudice, the governor’s secretary, and Gerry Crotty, his counsel — calling the Cruskie revelation to their attention. They instructed him to look further.

Leibman retrieved the Harwood memo and noticed Al Levine’s involvement. He wrote another note to Delgiudice and Crotty, reviewing the findings regarding Cruskie and mentioning Levine’s role. Both recall learning of Cruskie’s and Levine’s involvement, but add that they “don’t think” they told the governor. All they did was instruct Cruskie to step down from the Charter board, an automatic requirement under the governor’s regulations. Though Crotty conceded that Cruskie’s reported activities “bothered” him, no further action was taken against Cruskie.

When the Charter issue resurfaced as part of the SIC’s probe of Betasoft, Cruskie tried desperately to cover up the fact that he had never cut his ties to the company as required in 1982, even “fabricating” a stock certificate and lying before the Commission, according to the report. A perjury and obstruction of justice case against him has been referred to prosecutors. Earlier this year Cruskie suddenly resigned from Criminal Justice, and went to work at Charter.

Mario Cuomo has yet to make a single public comment about any of the HESC or Thruway conduct, or amend the last sweeping public endorsement he made of his old friend Levine. Neither has the newly installed leadership at the Thruway Authority passed a resolution or issued a statement acknowledging any wrongdoing and pointing toward a new way of doing business. State officials have made no policy or personnel changes directly attributed to either Levine affair.

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Loyalty for a Bagman

When Lee Alexander was elected mayor of Syracuse in 1969, Hank Bersani, the president of Syracuse Canada Dry and longtime Democratic kingmaker, was the electoral engineer. A few months later, shortly after Alexander began 16 consecutive years as mayor, Bersani, already in his 10th year as treasurer of the county party, started making kickback collections for Alexander from city contractors.

Appointed by Alexander to the Planning Commission, Bersani’s job was to make periodic deliveries of cash payoffs to Alexander — usually set at 10 per cent of the value of a city contract. When Bersani would arrive at City Hall for a private visit with the mayor, Alexander would open the top left-hand drawer of his desk and Bersani would drop the envelope into the drawer without saying a word. If Alexander got confused about who the cash was from, Bersani would write the name on one of the lift-up pads kids play with, and then erase the name with a yank of his wrist.

Before Alexander was fully indicted, this onetime president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors would collect millions in bribes, burying them as nearby as in a floor safe built under his laundry room, and as faraway as Panamanian bank accounts.

After fundraising for Alexander’s unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1974, Bersani pulled back from the day-to-day tribulations of being an Alexander bagman, and went to work for Hugh Carey’s new secretary of state, Mario Cuomo. He would later claim he left because Alexander got too greedy, escalating his demands; but Alexander, backed by Bersani’s replacement as a bagman and a contractor, would later say Bersani was dropped because Alexander suspected him of shorting him on a $9,000 bribe. In any event, Bersani introduced his open-palm substitute — a business partner — to contractors at meetings in his bottling plant, and gradually drifted out of the kickback scheme.

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No one ever figured out just what Bersani’s public responsibilities were as a community affairs coordinator in Cuomo’s office, but he still did campaign fundraising and organizing in the Syracuse area for local and statewide campaigns, including Cuomo’s in 1978 and 1982. Eventually, his cousin Gene Bersani, a Syracuse lawyer whose firm did millions in city business and kicked back hundreds of thousands for it, also became an Alexander bagman. For years, Hank Bersani’s paychecks came from whatever office Cuomo held — switching from the secretary of state job to the lieutenant governor’s staff, and finally to the governor’s office, always holding the title of Cuomo’s area representative in Syracuse. He had long ago given up his troubled soda business and had been dabbling in local real estate, getting headlines when he stiffed city government for $50,000 in back property taxes. His 1984 appointment, at age 63, to head Cuomo’s Thruway Authority was a backroom toll-taker’s ultimate dream.

But a year after Bersani began his nine-year term at the authority, U.S. attorney Fred Scullin began the grand jury probe of Alexander. Finally, in August 1986, the FBI raided Alexander’s home, as well as the home of Bersani’s bagman successor, seizing records that detailed the scope of the extortion scheme. By September, even Bersani’s cousin was a cooperating witness. Though the writing was on the wall, Hank Bersani held out. Since his bag operations were supposedly more than 10 years old, the statute of limitations might have run on his crimes, unless he was charged under the RICO statutes. All the time he bartered with the government, Bersani remained Cuomo’s man at the authority, even though prosecutors soon discovered he had already brought some of the Alexander predators into a Thruway deal.

In early 1985 Bersani moved to declare a three-acre parcel owned by the authority, located just outside of Syracuse, to be surplus property. Thruway staff was mystified because the property was used to stockpile supplies and change authority truck tires. But Bersani pushed for an immediate sale of the property, staging an auction a month after the property was offered for sale and getting only one bid. The buyer, who paid the authority’s minimum price of $260,000, was a Syracuse developer who’d gotten $1.5 million in no-bid construction contracts from Alexander and had become a target of the grand jury probe.

Four months after Bersani signed over the deed, the developer sold the property to a national motel chain at a $400,000 profit. The developer used two brokers on the deal — Gene Bersani and an Alexander appointee on the city’s zoning board — and paid them $66,000. Federal investigators are still examining this deal.

The prosecutors, and the FBI, kept the governor’s office broadly informed about the case against Hank Bersani. While the FBI described Bersani’s bag operations in the conversations with state officials and predicted Bersani would be indicted, Scullin was more sanguine. Scullin says he told the state that Bersani was “a concern to us,” and that his office was “looking at certain things” involving Bersani very closely. Scullin says he gave state officials no advice about whether or not they should dump the Thruway chief, adding that he told them to “proceed as they normally do.”

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Bersani Hangs On

Mario Cuomo and his advisers decided that the sketchy information they were getting — combined with the uncertainty of Bersani’s indictment — justified retaining him until the picture cleared. One predictable lobbyist for this posture was Bersani himself, whose name was by then popping up in upstate news stories about the Alexander probe. He roamed the corridors of the second floor, assuring the governor’s staff that he believed he could emerge from the case unscathed. Though Scullin now says Cuomo’s office had no basis to take action against Bersani during this period, he did remain in a key public position for a year after the first revelations about his kickback activities, even though there were indications that he was engaged in suspicious land deals at the authority.

Scullin eventually sent an indictment of Bersani to Washington without a recommendation that it be approved. “I dropped it in their lap,” he says. Washington rejected a RICO conspiracy count, so Scullin gave Bersani limited immunity, meaning he couldn’t be charged for any crimes he testified about, but could still be nailed in the second phase of the probe that is still ongoing. Only when the Alexander indictment was imminent did Bersani finally resign.

Bersani’s June 1987 resignation was attributed in news stories to the fact that he had been drawn into the Alexander probe. All the governor’s office would say was that he’d quit for “personal reasons,” insisting that his departure had “nothing to do with the activities of the Thruway Authority.” But then, when Bersani was named as Alexander’s “bagman” in the July indictment, the mum Cuomo finally had to answer questions at a press conference. He called Bersani “a very, very fine individual who gave us public service” and insisted, “I know nothing but good things about him.”

When a reporter said that Bersani had been implicated in the Alexander case, a combative Cuomo challenged him: “He was not implicated. I wish you would not say that. He was not named in the indictment. I hope you don’t report that. Let’s get something clear. He was not named. He was not accused. He is not charged. Maybe he will be. I don’t know.” This was precisely the distinction Bersani had been making for months. But, in fact, though he hadn’t been indicted, he was named in the Alexander indictment and called a bagman.

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The Bersani issue largely disappeared until March 1988, when the Syracuse Herald American sent Cuomo copies of Bersani’s grand jury testimony, released by prosecutors as part of a presentencing memo about Alexander, who had pleaded guilty. The Herald American wanted Cuomo to examine the testimony to see if it warranted a state investigation of Bersani’s Thruway dealings, especially after the revelations that the owner of one of the companies that paid Alexander bribes was also a Thruway contractor who’d used Al Levine’s software company. A Cuomo press spokesman said he was too busy to read the testimony, and wouldn’t react to it.

Then, on the heels of this stubborn defense of Bersani, the governor named a new Thruway chairman with his own ethical baggage. Bersani’s replacement, Bill Hennessy, a longtime Albany pol, had been running his own consultant business since 1985, earning most of his money lobbying the state transportation department he’d once headed. When Hennessy took the authority job, he and the governor’s office issued an unusual statement, announcing that Hennessy would remain a 90 per cent partner in his lobbying firm, and the firm would still be permitted to lobby state agencies. Hennessy agreed, however, not to share in the profits the firm makes from its lobbying activities. (The $25,000-a-year part-time chairman, contacted by the Voice at his lobbying firm, said that his only outside earnings now are from the real estate appraisal end of his business and that he “hopes” he will be able to leave the authority soon and return to full-time lobbying activity. He acknowledged that other than a listing of his firm’s lobbying clients with the authority, the policing of this arrangement has been left to him.)

One current Hennessy client, on a $30,000-a-year retainer, is Unisys, the defense contractor whose New York lobbying operations are a focus of the Pentagon probes. The Hennessy firm began representing the company in 1987 and reported lobbying the executive chamber, the division of the budget, the comptroller, and the Office of General Services about the state’s procurement regulations concerning the purchase of information systems. Hennessy chose a former transportation department deputy, John Shafer, to replace Levine. Hennessy had appointed Shafer to his earlier transportation post, had subsequently lobbied him on behalf of private clients, and had even received a $13,000 consultant contract from Shafer.

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Highway to Heaven

In January 1984, when Mario Cuomo appointed Hank Bersani to the Thruway Authority, he also made one other Thruway announcement. In his State of the State address that month, the governor declared: “We will also explore a number of highway improvements elsewhere in the state that may have significant economic development value — for example, the construction of a new thruway interchange near Sterling Forest.”

It was an unusual statement for several reasons. The top management of the Thruway Authority had no idea it was coming, neither did the local Democratic assemblywoman who was trying to attract support for such a ramp. New exits off the thruway rarely occur. None have ever been built as a trigger to development; transportation and traffic needs have dictated thruway policy. In addition, an exit at Sterling Forest — the 30-mile tract of Orange County private timberland only an hour from the city — had been rejected repeatedly when raised in the 1960s and 1970s because of traffic studies that demonstrated it wasn’t warranted.

The other unusual feature of the Cuomo announcement was its specificity, not at all characteristic of the broad sweep of so grand a speech. Neither before nor since has the governor, the authority, or anyone else surveyed the 400 miles of thruway to determine where it might make sense to open exits for economic development reasons. Instead, the only consequence of the Cuomo declaration was that the new team at the authority — Bersani and Levine — made the Sterling Forest interchange a top priority.

Levine pushed the interchange relentlessly despite the opposition of his own planners and those in the Transportation Department. One top deputy recalls that when he raised numerous technical problems with the exit, Levine stopped making rational arguments and said simply, “This is heavy-duty political stuff.” Misrepresenting a neutral report on the exit as if it were an endorsement, the governor announced in June 1985 the submission of an end-of-the-session bill to authorize up to $7 million to build it. That July, Cuomo went to the Orange County Fair to sign the bill with great fanfare, despite the emergence of environmental issues that would’ve stalled a strip-miner.

The environmental questions began with the fact that the state identified the Sterling Forest tract, owned by the Home Group Insurance Company, as the prime potential beneficiary of the interchange, suggesting that several corporate research facilities be built on the timberlands, as well as a conference center and hotel. But at the same time, New Jersey’s and New York’s environmental agencies were contemplating acquiring portions of the tract, which lies in both states, for conservation and outdoor recreation purposes. So, in addition to the howls of environmentalists, the interchange managed to earn the enmity of the environmental agencies of both states.

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New Jersey was in a rage because the interchange-connected development of the timberlands would destroy its nearby reservoirs, the source of water for two million people. Even the New York environmental agency wrote repeated letters questioning the premises of the project, ultimately concluding that there was “little need for it other than speculative purposes,” and warning that the department “may be unable to make a positive finding” in favor of the exit.

Even as these issues publicly surfaced, Levine was quoted as insisting that the project was still one of the governor’s top priorities. It also attracted the leeches at the Cuomo Thruway Authority. The Authority awarded a no-bid design contract for the interchange to a consultant represented by a law firm that once included Gene Bersani and still did joint legal work with him. The consultant was then approached by Levine, who suggested they use Betasoft to handle their computer services.

One active developer in the region is Shelly Goldstein, a tough-talking, Rockland County-based owner of luxury condos and federally subsidized apartment complexes. Goldstein, who has personally given $49,000 to Cuomo campaigns, was one of the governor’s largest individuals donors when he was scratching for money in the struggle against Ed Koch in 1982.

At that time, Goldstein was also the most important client of the small Manhattan law firm that Cuomo’s longtime aide Jerry Weiss had set up, at Cuomo’s request, as a possible nesting place should Cuomo lose the gubernatorial race. Weiss also became a Goldstein partner in a major real estate deal, and candidate Cuomo went out to a Rockland golf outing hosted by Goldstein to raise contributions for the campaign. Over the years Cuomo became friendly with the flashy 59-year-old Goldstein, who drives a new silver Mercedes convertible, dresses “Miami Beach,” and, at one point, dyed his hair jet black.

Once Cuomo became governor, he appointed Goldstein to the chairmanship of the State University Construction Fund. Goldstein’s son Jeffrey began getting contracts to manage state housing projects. Neither Goldstein nor the governor will answer questions about whether they ever discussed the interchange; Weiss told the Voice he never had anything to do with the project.

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Goldstein’s Land Grab

What’s clear is that Shelly Goldstein has owned property in Orange County that would benefit from the interchange for 20 years, and that he began to develop a 30-store shopping mall on a 28-acre site in the Town of Chester shortly after the new exit was announced. Goldstein also bought a 160-acre site owned by the International Nickel Corporation (INCO) and his own environmental impact statement found that the development of this site would be enhanced by the interchange. Most importantly, Goldstein submitted a $35 million bid in an unsuccessful attempt to acquire the Sterling Forest tract itself, principally for the same sort of luxury housing he planned to build on the INCO site.

By the time Goldstein bid on the Sterling Forest property in 1986, however, he was no longer represented by Weiss, who’d abruptly quit the practice of law in late 1984. Andrew Cuomo, who had worked summers at the Weiss firm while in law school and joined as a full partner in 1985 at age 26, and his then girlfriend, partner Lucille Falcone, had taken over the banking and real estate interests of Shelly Goldstein. The relationships that developed were so close that Goldstein placed Andrew Cuomo on the board of a Union City, New Jersey bank as part of a settlement that permitted the bank’s management to avoid a Goldstein takeover attempt, and did the same for Falcone at the Savings Bank of Rockland, where Goldstein is a major shareholder.

At one point in 1986, the Sterling Forest acquisition was clearly the biggest deal in Andrew Cuomo’s life. He was not merely representing Goldstein, as he did on two Rockland co-op conversion plans filed with the state attorney general’s office; Cuomo was scheduled to get both legal and real estate brokerage fees on the sale, and Goldstein was going to allow him to retroactively invest those fees as a partner in the purchase.

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Goldstein and Cuomo, who ran his father’s two gubernatorial campaigns and was a special assistant to the governor during the early days of the administration, had another partner in the venture with powerful state ties — Bob Seavey, chairman of the state’s Battery Park City Authority. Seavey, 61, a developer of subsidized housing projects in the city, had been appointed by Cuomo in 1984 as the part-time head of the Battery Park board. Seavey’s son Avery later became a partner in the Cuomo firm, and Seavey and his wife joined it in 1986 — not as partners but as counsels to it. Lucille Falcone and the senior Seavey, a rumpled and grandfatherly figure, now head the firm’s booming real estate department.

A millionaire with homes in the Hamptons and Williamstown, Massachusetts, Seavey allowed one of his state- and city-subsidized projects — a luxurious complex located at 401 Second Avenue, built long before the Cuomo era — to become home for the singles wing of the Cuomo network, including at one point everyone from Falcone to Cuomo’s daughter Maria to the daughters of Cuomo friend Jimmy Breslin. The failure of many of Seavey’s tenants to meet the income requirements of the subsidy program was of little apparent concern to anyone.

Seavey’s connections to the Sterling Forest deal with Goldstein were somewhat awkward. Seavey’s Battery Park board was then in the middle of selecting a developer for its next phase of state-subsidized luxury housing. One of the finalists was Shelly Goldstein. In addition, Seavey was helping to raise financing for his and Goldstein’s Sterling Forest bid. Sometime between May and October, several developers with Battery Park City sites, including the Milsteins, some of the principals of Dic Underhill, and Related Housing, were asked to invest in the project and told that Seavey was a partner in it. Seavey’s board had acted on leases for some of these same developers, all of whom eventually declined to invest. But then, Seavey has made a career of living on just this sort of edge.

Seavey first became a focus of media attention in the mid-’60s when the State Investigation Commission criticized him for wearing two hats — representing both the cooperators in Mitchell Lama co-ops and the builder. The SIC also focused on Seavey’s relationship with Tammany Hall leader Ray Jones, the first black county leader in New York and Seavey’s number-one client. Seavey’s financial records were subpoenaed, revealing a pattern of four $5,000 payments from one Harlem housing company to Seavey, each of which was followed by huge withdrawals from Seavey’s account.

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Later a Seavey corporation and his partner were indicted in Brooklyn on charges of bilking the Mitchell Lama project at Cadman Plaza; but, after waiving a jury trial, they were acquitted by then Supreme Court judge Vito Titone. In the late ’70s Seavey was also eyed in the city’s day-care lease scandal and the comptroller wound up withholding $158,000 in rental payments to him because of suspicious overcharges.

In August 1986, just as Seavey, Goldstein, and Andrew Cuomo were getting together their bid for Sterling Forest, the Voice and Mike Oreskes, a reporter for The New York Times, were preparing news stories about the curious clients attracted to Andrew Cuomo’s small young law firm. Both Seavey and Goldstein became the focus of reporters’ questions. In a letter addressed to Mario Cuomo, dated August 26, the day before both stories appeared, Seavey referred to a conversation he’d had with the governor the night before and announced he would be resigning from the Battery Park board, effective five days later.

In an extraordinary sequence of events, Goldstein’s partner wrote a letter to Battery Park two days after Seavey’ resignation from the authority, withdrawing his proposal for Battery Park designation. The letter noted that Goldstein’s organization, the Lynmark Group, had decided to “stay within our geographic area,” adding that it has “entered into negotiations on one of the largest parcels in that area,” an obvious reference to the Sterling Forest deal. A month later, however, Home Group Insurance Company rejected the Seavey/Goldstein offer.

Seavey and Goldstein got so friendly during the course of this deal that Goldstein installed Seavey on the same Bank of Rockland board as Falcone, and bought a condo in the Sovereign, a luxury building at 425 East 58th Street where Seavey has lived for years. Andrew Cuomo, too, continued to work closely with Goldstein, joining him in a Florida bank takeover bid that blew up in ugly court cases and uglier headlines last year. While Cuomo managed a successful settlement of the Florida situation, he says he was disturbed enough by Goldstein’s performance in this and other cases that he “has not talked to him for six or seven months.” Cuomo says Goldstein “threatened to kill” the bank’s resistant owners.

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Andrew’s Answer

In a wide-ranging defense of the events surrounding the interchange, Andrew Cuomo contended that there was no conflict because Goldstein was a Rockland developer who did not enter the Orange County market until after the interchange was approved. In fact, Goldstein owned substantial property in two Orange County towns — Chester and Woodbury — and started discussing the development of a mall with Chester officials in 1985. Cuomo, who says he knows nothing about these properties, handled Goldstein’s purchase of a third Orange parcel, the INCO site, and maintains that Goldstein’s option on this site was obtained after the passage in July 1985 of the bill authorizing the interchange. Neither Cuomo nor INCO officials, however, will say precisely when that option was signed or show the Voice a copy. INCO’s president, Sam Goldberg, testifying in a local zoning case, refused to get specific about the timing of Goldstein’s initial interest, though he did concede that the property was put up for sale within days of the 1984 Cuomo speech.

Cuomo’s argument also ignores Goldstein’s longtime dominance as a developer in neighboring Rockland, even though the governor’s memo on the interchange bill said that the exit would “enhance significantly the economic development of Orange and Rockland Counties.” Vincent Monte, the Democratic county leader in Rockland and a private realtor who’s handled title insurance for Goldstein, told the Voice that Goldstein “had always intended — long before the governor’s speech — to expand his Rockland condo development into Orange County.”

Finally, Cuomo sweeps aside the importance of the on-again, off-again nature of the governmental approval process, particularly with a project that has so many downsides and roadblocks. Goldstein, Seavey, and Cuomo could afford to speculate on the likelihood of future state actions that might impact on the interchange with a little more certainty than the next guy. If the Andrew Cuomo group had actually become the owners of this tract in 1986, the state would then have been put in the difficult position of conducting a highly controversial environmental impact review to justify the construction of a virtual driveway into the governor’s son’s land.

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Cuomo’s defense of Seavey, who would not comment, is that if any of the Battery Park developers had joined the Sterling Forest bid, “I wouldn’t have gone ahead with the deal, and I don’t think Bob would have either,” which makes it even stranger that Seavey asked them. Cuomo stresses Goldstein’s withdrawal from Battery Park and Seavey’s resignation as acts that minimized the “appearance of conflict,” adding that “any solicitation” Seavey “may have done” of BPC principals “may have happened” after his resignation. “Once all the pieces were put together on a deal” for Sterling Forest, if the offer had been accepted, he and the others would’ve analyzed the package and, if there was a conflict, “we wouldn’t have gone ahead with it.”

A year after the Goldstein bid was rejected, the exit project was suspended. By then the project was awash in opposition elicited during the environmental process and buffeted by a Times story a few months earlier that explored some of the conflict issues. New Thruway Authority director John Shafer, who had shepherded the interchange through the Department of Transportation when he was there, issued a terse and inexplicable explanation for the suspension. He cited concerns that the project would be “inconsistent” with “the possibility of state land acquisition or land-use planning for park and other environmental purposes in the vicinity.” That problem had been apparent from the inception of the project three years earlier.

Various top Cuomo officials have made contradictory claims to the Voice about how it died. Hennessy says he decided to stop it without ever talking to the governor who announced it. Cuomo’s counsel Evan Davis says it was killed “on the advice of condemnation lawyers from the attorney general’s office.” A spokesman for the attorney general says a representative from that office attended a top-level 1987 meeting on the second floor about the interchange but made no recommendation of any sort. Supposed decisionmaker Hennessy knows nothing about this crucial meeting. The demise of the ramp is as mysterious as its origins, and these conflicting recollections appear to conceal the hand of the one man with the power to both create and kill the project, Mario Cuomo.

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Lease Lust

Around the same time in 1984 that the governor first announced the Sterling Forest interchange, his largest campaign contributor, Shelly Goldstein, was getting himself involved in another controversial state project. He began discussing a partnership arrangement with Rockland County builder Harry Partridge, who had bought the old police property building at 400 Broome Street in Little Italy. Partridge had snared a multi-million-dollar state lease for the dilapidated and abandoned building in the dying days of the Carey administration, and when Cuomo became governor, he was going broke trying to renovate it.

Goldstein’s interest in the building would ultimately become a titillating feature of a SIC investigation that raised questions about his own conduct, as well as Andrew Cuomo’s and that of another top state official, General Services Commissioner John Egan.

The criminal focus of the Broome Street saga was on the relationship between Partridge and Joe Siggia, a middle-level OGS director who picked sites and helped negotiate leases for the move-out of thousands of state workers from the World Trade Center. Siggia retired from OGS and went to work for Partridge shortly after delivering the lease to him, just as he did for two other landlords who won state leases in the move-out sweepstakes. Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau eventually indicted both Siggia and Partridge on bribery charges but convicted them only of lying under oath at the SIC about whether or not they’d discussed Siggia’s future employment while Siggia was still in his state job. A judge dismissed the perjury counts after the conviction, and his ruling is now being appealed by Morgenthau.

But the SIC did not spend two years conducting over 200 interviews and 25 audits because of a penny-ante relationship between an unknown builder and a hustling bureaucrat. Beneath the surface of these shady dealings were intimations of an extraordinary power play pitting Cuomo and son Andrew against the ex-governor’s appointments secretary and Democratic Party chief John Burns.

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It was lobbyist Burns, retained by Partridge, who managed in late 1983 to get his old friends from the Carey days — OGS commissioner John Egan and Cuomo deputy Hank Dullea — to approve the state’s rental of an additional Broome Street floor. And it was Andrew Cuomo, then his father’s special assistant, who mysteriously got wind of this last-minute boon for Partridge, and the old boy network that produced it, and turned himself into a one-man state police force, interrogating deputy commissioners in the middle of the night and taking days to plough through OGS’s files on the lease. Not surprisingly, Andrew Cuomo’s expressed suspicions prompted Egan to cancel the new floor he’d just ordered, and Mario Cuomo’s displeased questions quickly convinced his deputy Dullea to turn his back on Burns.

The Cuomo version of these events is that sleuth Andrew smelled influence peddling and blew the whistle. The SIC, which never released Andrew’s testimony and never grilled the governor, could not settle the question of whether or not there was any connection between the actions the Cuomos took to block the rental of the additional floor, and Shelly Goldstein’s reasons for wanting it blocked. But the apparent coincidences of the Broome Street affair, when combined with the similar coincidences of Sterling Forest, present a disturbing scenario of possible conflict — one that has now been embraced in an ongoing civil suit brought by Manhattan Savings Bank, which financed Partridge’s renovations.

The bank’s attorney, Terry Gilheany, has argued in court that Andrew Cuomo acted “at the behest of a major campaign contributor to the governor.” The bank’s court papers suggest that the Cuomo-provoked cancellation of the additional floor, and the state’s refusal to pay the full rental that Partridge claims he is due, were part of a campaign to either force Partridge to sell up to 60 per cent of Broome Street to Goldstein at a discounted price or at least to punish Partridge for defaulting on an unrelated contract he had to install windows in a New Jersey building owned by Goldstein.

Goldstein concedes in his own SIC testimony that he “blew up” at Partridge when Partridge failed to deliver new windows on a 21-story federally subsidized project Goldstein owned, with Jerry Weiss and others, in New Jersey. “I threatened to ruin him in the state of New York. I threatened to do anything,” Goldstein testified. Partridge recalls that Goldstein said: “I am going to fucking destroy you so that you will never do business again in New York State. I am going to fucking destroy you in a way that you will know exactly where it came from, and how it was done, but you will never be able to prove it.”

Paul Adler, a Partridge lobbyist who’d known Goldstein for years and was well connected in Albany, testified that Goldstein threatened him at the same time in almost precisely the same language. “He told me my name would be mud,” said Adler.

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A Sudden Reversal

The Broome Street brouhaha climaxed in January 1984 — the same month that Mario Cuomo announced the Sterling Forest interchange. The governor simultaneously embarked on a sudden and angry campaign to get at the root of OGS’s decision to award Partridge an additional floor. His counsel, Gerry Crotty, got the lease file from OGS. Then, according to SIC testimony, the governor summoned one of his top deputies, Hank Dullea, and grilled him about his contacts with Burns, asking if anyone had suggested that the governor had a personal interest in the issue of the extra floor. Once Cuomo told Dullea he’d gotten the facts wrong about the need for an additional floor, Dullea left the meeting “very troubled.” Later Dullea, approached by Burns to talk about Broome Street near the elevator on the second floor, accused him of misrepresenting the situation in their previous discussions, and walked away.

After Crotty returned the file, Andrew Cuomo reclaimed it. Andrew would subsequently testify, according to the SIC report, that his interest in the lease was piqued by an anonymous oral tip that made no clear allegation but merely suggested that “it would be worth looking at 400 Broome Street.”

The flurry of intense activity at the highest levels of state government that following this “tip” was most unusual. In a Voice interview, Andrew Cuomo conceded that anonymous callers did not frequently get through to him in the executive chamber, and that his information might not have come from one, but rather from a confidential source whose identity he has since forgotten. He insists that it wasn’t his father, Goldstein, or Goldstein’s lawyer and Cuomo confidant Jerry Weiss who suggested he begin his unusual investigation. Andrew Cuomo also could not explain why he didn’t turn this inquiry over to the SIC, or the comptroller’s office, or a D.A. In any event, shortly after Cuomo began his internal investigation, he told Egan to kill the deal.

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By February, an embarrassed Egan, who had awarded Partridge the additional floor against the advice of all his top staff, traveled out to Broome Street, introduced himself to Partridge for the first time, and told him that he couldn’t go through with it. Egan told the Voice that his conversations with Andrew and others had convinced him that the governor himself was “damn upset” about the maneuverings to deliver the floor.

Then suddenly Goldstein’s attitude changed. He had learned all about the Broome Street lease and, according to Partridge and Adler, began talking buyout. “He indicated to me that he could cure” the extra floor problem, Partridge testified. And in a letter Partridge wrote in 1985, he claimed that Goldstein promised “to make me a rich man again” if Partridge brought him into Broome Street, suggesting he could get the lease negotiated.

A macho man who wore cowboy boots and fashioned himself a frontier entrepreneur, Partridge was by then on his knees, damaged by the decision about the additional floor and the escalating costs at Broome Street. “He broke down crying at one meeting that he was being ruined because of this building in New York,” recalled Goldstein. “Harry is a big man. This really cracked us up a little bit.” Partridge says he refused to sell to Goldstein; Goldstein says Partridge just never gave him the hard numbers on which he could base an offer.

At one point, lobbyist Adler says Goldstein told him: “What the hell’s the matter with that guy — isn’t he afraid of me, of what I can do to him? Tell him to see — he’ll be rich again.” But Partridge never buckled, ultimately lost the building, and went bankrupt. “I think it was too close a coincidence,” Adler told the SIC, “and I think there was an opportunity there to take advantage of a business venture at a weak point. I think the eighth floor was taken away.”

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A Blast from the Past

With contradictory testimony and no clear resolution, the SIC dropped this aspect of its probe. Its May 1986 report was instead an unprecedented attack on a sitting state commissioner — the gregarious career civil servant Egan. “The predominant and disturbing conclusion of the Commission’s investigation,” said the report, “concerned the utter failure by OGS to demonstrate an appropriate degree of concern for the standards of conduct required of state employees.” Citing the $371 million OGS budget, the report said that “attitudes towards ethical conflicts within the agency must be profoundly changed, from the field level employees up to the Commissioner.”

The rationale for this assault was Egan’s apparent indifference to Siggia’s conflicts with Partridge and two other landlords associated with the World Trade Center move-out, as well as his accommodation to Burns on Broome Street. The SIC characterized the Broome Street dealings as “self-serving behavior and favored treatment for old friends,” concluding that Egan’s “evaluation and professional judgment appeared to have been formed to a far greater extent on the basis of who last spoke to him rather than on the merits of the transactions.”

The SIC may have come down on Egan this sharply because, after pouring resources into its two-year probe, the commission stopped short of bringing the Cuomo/Goldstein issues to any conclusion. In any event, its hard-hitting findings against Egan have been blithely ignored by the governor’s office. Indeed Andrew Cuomo’s attitude about the SIC probe is one of contempt, even though three of the seven commissioners who conducted it, including the chairman, David Trager, were appointed by Governor Cuomo and came from the top levels of the U.S. attorney’s office. A fourth commissioner, appointed by the assembly, was Joe Hynes, whom the governor subsequently named special state prosecutor.

A couple of weeks before the report was released, Goldstein quit his post as chair of the State University Construction Fund, but Andrew Cuomo says the resignation had nothing to do with Goldstein’s bullying conduct in the Broome Street affair. Of course, Andrew Cuomo’s relationship with him grew closer in the aftermath of the report, so there was certainly no attempt by the Cuomo family to distance itself from him.

Half a dozen top OGS officials immediately below Egan were slammed in the report, or embarrassed at the hearing, none more savagely than OGS counsel Emeric Levatich, who was described as routinely approving the most blatant conflict-of-interest arrangements between OGS staffers and firms doing business with the agency. Egan and Levatich respond that Siggia’s employment by landlords who benefited from his state decisions didn’t violate the law until new legislation was passed last year — a law the SIC recommended be adopted.

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While one deputy commissioner has left the agency to return to a high-level post at the Corrections Department, it is unclear that this transfer was in any way connected to his role in the lease scandal. Other than him, a couple of low-level agency personnel were demoted. This record of response tends to confirm the indifference the report identified.

Egan says he’s survived because the governor “has a lot of trust in us.” He says Cuomo “was very much aware of the report,” and that “if the governor thought any of the allegations were true, I’d be long gone.” The commissioner makes an impassioned defense of his agency’s overall record for honesty, citing the World Trade Center move-out as an aberration that bypassed the normal leasing procedures. He also points out that he referred the case against Siggia to the D.A., though it was long after the SIC had opened its own probe, initiated by a complaint from the Republican senate.

John Egan is a man who learned early in life how to please those with power. He personally handles the petty favors in Albany that make powerful friends — everything from state cars to office furniture. Just as he had shuttled feverishly from side to side during the Broome Street battle, he appeared to weave back and forth again as a witness at the SIC a year later. In his first appearance he testified that Andrew Cuomo hadn’t advised him to cancel the eighth floor, and then, after Andrew said he had, Egan confirmed Andrew’s testimony in a second appearance. He says he didn’t know about Andrew’s intervening testimony.

Egan advertised himself during a Voice interview as someone who’d been around long enough to anticipate what governors and those with power expect of him. At the SIC he might’ve anticipated wrong. But in the end, his performance obviously satisfied the only audience that really mattered. ❖

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Of Thangs Past

The Coolidge High Five (class of ’75) — Bayray, Romeo, Kidd Funkadelic, Tetragrammaton, and Homeboy — were cozied up around the back table at their fav­orite Japanese deli, winnowing down vessels of sake and brews­kis, and winding down the debate of the day. They’d spent this re­union haggling over future rela­tions with the hiphop nation. For these aging voyeurs of the move­ment their connection had been thrown into crisis by a recent and desultory gig at the Ritz featuring 3rd Bass, Jungle Brothers, and A Tribe Called Quest.

All the fellas had agreed on one point from the jump. Hadn’t no­body been looking for a second childhood, but when hiphop came along they had no choice but to get down with the program, same as their contemporaries, those equally long-in-the-tooth and ata­vistic elocutionists from the Pub­lic Enemy posse.

“Yeah I regressed,” confessed Bayray. “Regressed like a muh­fuhkuh who had neither a law de­gree nor proper home training. And was ready to fight anybody tried to tell me grow up, stop grabbing my dick in public and yelling ‘Yo, yo, yo, wotup Bee?’ All the hos in the house say, ‘La­dies.’ Excuse me, I mean all the ladies in the house say, ‘Ho.’ ”

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Kidd Funkadelic went for his. “It was like this for me, man: when the US Funk Mob folded, shut down, went bankrupt, got lawsuited tighter than an outta­-mating-season mandrill’s ass, what choice did funkateers like us have but to hip, to hop, to up and jump on the boogie of the bang­bang boogie to be? If it wasn’t for hiphop, all the brothers that didn’t sound like Michael now would be sounding like Lionel Ri­chie. Or worse.”

Romeo took his cue. “Freddie Jackson. Fat Luther.”

“Yo man, why you got to dog Fat Luther out? If Fat Luther ain’t dope then the Mona Lisa was a man. You know he got soul.”

“Right. Courtesy of Kenneth Cole. But what does the big boy know about gittin’ busy?”

“Word, brother,” came the af­firmation from the Darth Vader-­pitched pipes of Tetragrammaton. “Yet do I detect a certain disen­chantment with hiphop as heir ap­parent to the funk?”

“From my perspective,” ranted Kidd Funkadelic, “I’m seeing Black rock on the comeback trail, and you know that’s more me than hiphop. So I’m kinda like, ‘Fuck hiphop.’ It served its pur­pose in my life and I’m outta here.”

This last statement struck Homeboy like a paper cut on the chin. “Damn if you ain’t about a mercenary muhfuhkuh. I mean hiphop is Black rock too. I still hear more freedom and rebellion, not to mention raw funk, coming straight outta Compton and Long Island than outta Living Colour. Even if Living Colour is more threatening to white boy hegemony by virtue of (a) de-ghettoizing the whole concept of black music, and (b) housin’ that travesty, the Elvis Awards! My beef is, okay, you got De La Soul, Jungle Broth­ers, A Tribe Called Quest, and that whole new Afrocentric, boho hiphop posse and they’re progres­sive, but the muhfuhkuhs put on the weakest shows in God’s creation.”

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“Yeeeah,” slid in Romeo, “like that wack overpacked-ass show at the Ritz last month where you had some main ingredients like the JBs, the Tribe-sters, and 3rd Bass. Every one of them said, Throw your hands in the air and wave ’em like you just don’t care.’ That line is older than they are. The new school needs some new lines. And some lessons in show­manship. They got to understand when they step out on that stage they ain’t stepping into the spot­light, they’re stepping into that long shadow cast by the likes of Bessie Smith and James Brown. Because right now it’s all the pimp mentality muhfuhkuhs who put on the most slammacious shows in hiphop, like Big Daddy Kane. If Monie Love hadn’t housed the gig sitting in with the Jungle Brothers, I would have left mad instead of just depressed. Monie Love is gonna be a cold craaazy star! She’s my hero, my idol, nu­mero uno. She’s not a Puerto Ri­can, but for free I’d chauffeur her limo.”

“I hear these wild-assed West Coast boys Digital Underground throw down live,” offered Kidd Funkadelic. “Their videos are wicked. That album on Tommy Boy, Sex Packets, is a motor-boo­ty affair and a half. It’s like a hiphop follow-up to Parliament’s Trombipulation, right down to that elephantine nose Shock G be wearing. The ‘Humpty Dance?’ That mug drops bass on me like I thought only Bernie Worrell could. And yo, check ‘The Way We Swing,’ how they not only sample Jimi’s riff from ‘Who Knows’ offa Band of Gypsies, but they scratch it up. So bold I for­give the blasphemy.”

Homeboy kicked it. “Yeah, them Digital boys are total fools. Remind me of my glory days as a fiendish Q-Dog frat brother. But now that I’m older, wiser, and damn near senile, I don’t know if I can be down. All they be rapping about is rapping, partying, and fiending for that fantasy drug they’re hyping, Sex Packets. I can relate to them trying to sell people on the pleasure principle over crack — very Clintonesque, right? And OK, they’re knee-deep into funk. I mean ‘The Humpty Dance’ does get your ass wriggling like the Blob was busting down a slob on you in the backseat of a bubble-tire jeep. But I want to know their position on class-as opposed to ass-struggle. They’re not N.W.A., ‘life ain’t nothing but bitches and money,’ but life ain’t nothing but a bowl of orgies nei­ther. Great food jokes, however. ‘I’m spunky, I like my oatmeal lumpy … I get ridiculous. I’ll eat up all your crackers and your lico­rice. Yo Jal girl, come here. Are you ticklish? … I’m a freak. I like the girls with lhe boom. I once g01 busy in a Burger King bathroom.’

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“Well, yo, even though I didn’t care for A Tribe Called Quest live, their Jive/RCA album People’s ln­stinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm is upliftingly dope. It’s so sweet and lyrical, so user-friendly. You could play it in the back­ground when you’re reading Proust. Their sound is so mind­-caressingly mellow, like old Jazz Crusaders with those motivatingly melodic bass lines and chestnut-­roasting Fender Rhodes chords. And they rhyme on some truly sui generis themes, like veganism and treating your woman right. Like their song ‘Description of a Fool’ basically busts this muhfuhkuh out for beating on his squeeze. Who ever did that on a hiphop record before? And this other jammie, ‘Luck of Lucien’ is a tes­tament to friendship, especially as far as its being a means for mugs to keep each other on the straight and narrow. It’s about how the Tribe adopted this sorta ignorant lumpen proletariat immigrant muhfuhkuh over from France to keep his ass from falling in with the wrong crowd. ‘Ham ‘N’ Eggs’ is the one about being vegetarians and shit. ‘A tisket a tasket, what’s in mommy’s basket.’ Some veggie links and some fish that stinks.’

“How you feel about ‘I Left My Wallet in El Segundo?'” chimed Kidd Funkadelic. “It reminds me of some classic Frank Zappa, like moving to Montana soon, gonna be a mental toss fly-coon. What I can’t figure out, though, is why my man Q-Tip, ostensible leader of the Tribe, left his wallet behind in the first place. Now that was some nonsense. Like Dr. Seuss.”

“So what’s the consensus y’all? Are these new-blacks the answer? Is hiphop as we knew it on the way out, or what?”

Before anybody could answer. Tetragrammaton went for his, quoting very, very loosely from his latest reading, Egyptian Mys­teries, New Light on Ancient Knowledge, by Lucie Lamy (Thames & Hudson, 1981).

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“Brothers listen: there is no doubt that we are dealing here with the incarnation — the becom­ing flesh — of the divine principle of light. This principle travels in a skiff in which rides Khephri, the scarab beetle, the future rising sun, framed by two Osirises sym­bolizing cyclic rebirths. The scar­ab Khephri is the preeminent symbol of the Dwat, the world of metamorphoses. He is found again where the divine entities must make darkness descend — as conducive to the germination of grains as it is to the development of the scarab’s egg enveloped in its dungball.

“In this time we must remem­ber that there can be no metamor­phoses without the destruction of the old form. The male with the voice of thunder reminds us that on one level the theme of the Egyptian Mysteries is the regener­ation of the sun. This is also the time in which we are told to ex­pect the annunciations of Tait, an Egyptian divinity of weaving. He will declare that the moment for the making of the cocoon, or the mummy’s wrap, is drawing near. Yes, the mummy’s wrap, itself a larval symbol of the transubstantiation of the flesh.”

Surprisingly, it was Bayray who immediately grasped the esoteric significance of TTGT’s ramblings and deciphered for the rest of the posse.

“Yeah, yeah I dig what you’re saying TTGT. That like with the emergence of hiphop bands like De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, 3rd Bass, who are on that positive path to enlighten­ment, that hiphop has finally tasted the maggots in the minds of its less-evolved members so it’s gonna rise above it all or drown in its own shit. But even though they’re moving to a higher level of consciousness they’re all still in that dungball larva stage.”

“Brother Black that is precisely what I am divining.” ❖