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Last Refuge of a Rock Critic: A Bicentennial Search for Patriotism

Editors’ note, July 2, 2021: There was so much happening in New York City during the Bicentennial all those years ago that the Village Voice spread its coverage over two issues, spanning June 28 to July 12, 1976. The Big Apple was ready to party: King Kong had just left town and the Democrats were rolling in, preparing for their quadrennial convention two years after a Republican president — a liar, cheat, and bully who attempted to use his office to punish political and personal enemies — had resigned in disgrace. There was some sort of cosmic justice in Richard Nixon flaming out after winning re-election in a landslide but before he could preside over the Bicentennial, that nationwide celebration of American democracy’s survival after one civil war, two world conflicts, and countless cultural battles.

It was in the Spirit of ’76 that Greil Marcus, author of the previous year’s Mystery Train — a monumental collection of essays delving into the heart of rock ’n’ roll to reveal a luminous chunk of America’s soul — undertook a wide-ranging disquisition on the meaning of patriotism in the pages of the Village Voice. (Mark Alan Stamaty’s boisterous, labyrinthine cartoons added to the wild and woolly mood.) As they do in Mystery Train, Marcus’s references, digressions, and footnotes shoot off like fireworks. Radiant as a rocket’s red glare — think of Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” aurally transmuting Francis Scott Key’s “bombs bursting in air” into bombs dropping on screaming Vietnam civilians — Marcus’s Voice article asks us to look at America’s full history, both glorious and savage. He finds beauty in “an essential harmony, a recognition of uniquely American things shared,” but also quotes Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered shortly before the Civil War reached its bloody end. The president, who would be assassinated just 42 days later, was acknowledging that the carnage was penance for allowing slavery to have been a part of the nation’s founding. “Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ ”

Marcus also quotes W.E.B. DuBois from 1897, when America’s freed slaves were still waiting for the forty acres and a mule that had been promised to help them start new lives more than three decades earlier. “One ever feels his two-ness — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

And in typical Marcus fashion, we get a bonus line of dialogue from Claude Rains, in his role as Captain Renault in 1942’s Casablanca: “Well, Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot.” Marcus was in some ways less concerned with whether patriotism is truly “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” as Dr. Johnson so famously put it, than with the divisions that were fracturing the nation into the broken mirror we gaze further into today. “America may be breaking up into separate ‘patrimonies.’ The rise of ethnicity and cultural nationalism on all fronts suggests this; so does the widening split between cities and suburbs, between classes, sexes, races, religions, nationalities.”

In November 1972, shortly after he’d won re-election, Nixon — whose somber Quaker facade in public was belied by the profane conniver heard on the Watergate tapes — discussed cabinet changes with an adviser, noting that he might keep one lawyer on to be the “house Jew” and to “handle the Bicentennial and all that nonsense.” Such nasty cynicism has long permeated the political right — consider Coolidge’s desiccated view, “the business of America is business” — because it cannot reconcile lust for unfettered profit with government’s role of legislating for the common good. Marcus worked on Mystery Train as the Watergate scandal was unfolding. In his author’s note, he points out, “To do one’s most personal work in a time of public crisis is an honest, legitimate, paradoxically democratic act of common faith.” Although this book about the music that bound America together across generational, racial, class, and political divides was not published until 1975, Marcus signed his note with a precise date: “August 9, 1974.”

Certainly not coincidentally, that was the day Nixon resigned the presidency.

So, sometime this week, between helpings of apple pie and baseball games, take a few moments to revisit the 200th birthday of a great, if forever flawed, nation as seen through the typewriter of an ever-thoughtful writer grappling with the meaning of patriotism in these United States. Note how he praises conservative members of the House Judiciary Committee who voted for the impeachment of a conservative president whose lies, capriciousness, self-aggrandizement, and intimidation tactics they could no longer stomach: “They made distinct efforts to trace a line between their particular responsibilities and the founding of the country.”

My, how times have changed. —R.C. Baker

***

In America Even the Humblest Harmony Is an Incredible Dream

By Greil Marcus
July 12, 1976

…In America, the humblest harmony is still an incredible dream.
— Edmund Wilson, “Night Thoughts in Paris,” 1922 (1) 

“Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot!”
— Claude Rains to Humphrey Bogart, at the close of Casablanca, 1942 (2)

To claim patriotism in America, where the thing is so undefined, is to claim a very great deal. It is to claim, in one way or another, to embody the republic. So as I thought about what I might say regarding patriotism, which seemed to me an appropriate subject in a week that falls between the Fourth of July and the opening of the Democratic Convention, one conviction that took shape very early was that one could not claim to be a patriot and that anyone who does should be instantly suspected.

This no doubt sounds familiar — patriotism as “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” (3) as Dr. Johnson put it — but that is not at all what I mean to get at. Rather it is what I mean to get behind me, and to do that it’s necessary to deal at least briefly with the People’s Bicentennial Commission.

The PBC, organized by activist Jeremy Rifkin, presupposes to offer the real, people’s, revolutionary-at-its heart America, as opposed to the official America promulgated for Bicentennial purposes by various hucksters and governmental agencies. The PBC has received some media coverage for its “counterdemonstrations” held alongside various commemorative exercises and dress-up shows.

PBC members are self-described “New Patriots”; you can become a “New Patriot” simply by joining the PBC. According to the PBC line, America is divided into “Patriots” and “Tories” — in fact, all American history, and the American present, can be seen this way. “Patriots” past and present are those the PBC aligns on the side of social and economic justice, defined in the usual radical/liberal manner; Tories are all those who are perceived by the PBC to have resisted such goals. Thus Alexander Hamilton, despite his role in the Revolution, was really a “Tory,” as are Republicans, bankers, factory foremen, and mean high school principals (I’m not making this up).

This approach is indistinguishable from that of the American Legion. There’s nothing troublesome or ambiguous about PBC patriotism; all it takes is a correct stand on the issues, and maybe a membership card. What’s the PBC program? “Patriots” should publicly expose “Tories.” Political candidates should be forced to sign oaths affirming their loyalty to the creed of the revolution.

The PBC makes me think of James Mann of South Carolina, Walter Flowers of Alabama, and Caldwell Butler of Virginia, three conservative members of the House Judiciary Committee who were crucial to the successful impeachment votes against Richard Nixon. In PBC terms they are quite obvious “Tories”; in a PBC America is it irrelevant that in working out their decisions on impeachment they made distinct efforts to trace a line between their particular responsibilities and the founding of the country. (With Mann there was perhaps no “effort” — that line may have always been visible to him, as it clearly has been to, say, Sam Ervin and William O. Douglas.)

Though the PBC is not to be taken seriously (“Have your political club ask that the Declaration of Independence be displayed at the polling place, so that citizens may spend their time thinking about self-evident truths,” they suggest), the PBC mode of thought is to be taken seriously, if only because it is a mode liberals and radicals often fall into. These days especially, we want our political affairs simple, clean and above all pure. Politics may be many things but it is narcissism first and foremost, because there is more safety in the certainties of separation than in the contingencies of wholeness.

The belief that patriotism is a question of the correct stand on vital social and political issues is not only the most hollow but the most invidious version of the concept; it empties the concept of all possible meaning. The truth is that patriotism makes stranger bedfellows than politics.

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Rather than something that can be easily fixed on individuals for the asking or that adheres to issues because of their necessity, and rather than something that can be claimed, awarded, or withheld, patriotism in America is a conundrum. Most who consider themselves sophisticated in their politics think patriotism is something to outgrow, preferably by the age of 12; many more Americans of all sorts, as John Scholar has written, “are simply without patriotism.… They do not think unpatriotic thoughts, but they do not think patriotic thoughts either. The republic for them is a vague and distant thing.” Yet it seems to me that patriotism should be explored, evoked, doubted, acted, and written out. The language of patriotism needs to be retrieved, invented, nurtured, and spoken, but we should not be too quick to decide who is a patriot and who is not, nor be too careful about establishing standards for the virtuous to meet. It isn’t my purpose here to prove my patriotism to you nor to provide guidelines with which you can prove yours to yourself — should you wish to. Instead I simply want to make the idea real; and I will try to do that by focusing on two themes central to an understanding of the possibilities of the patriotic spirit in America: wholeness, or harmony, and division, separateness.

***

Three texts:

One ever feels his two-ness — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
— W.E.B. Du Bois (4)

When I think of Greenwich Village, it is almost with tears. For there this battered battalion dress their guns against a whole nation… From the darkest corners of the country they have fled for comfort and asylum. You may think them feeble and ridiculous — but feebleness is always relative. It may require as much force of character and as much independent thought for one of these to leave his Kansas home and espouse the opinions of Freud as for Wagner to achieve new harmonies or Einstein to conceive a finite universe. The thought of them makes me respond with a sharp gust of sympathy, precisely because they are ridiculous and yet stand for something noble. And one is touched by something like reverence when one finds among this strange indifferent people, to whom the rest of the world is a newspaper story, history a tedious legend, and abstract thought a form of insanity, a man who really knows on what stage he is playing, for what drama he has been cast. By his realization he makes us realize, too, for what drama our setting is the setting: for the drama of humanity, in a sense, no setting can be trivial or mean. Gopher Prairie itself, in all its ludicrousness and futility when the human spirit rears itself there, has its importance and its dignity. 

And now that a breach has been made what a flood might sweep off the dam! — what a thundering torrent of energy, of enthusiasm, or life! Things are always beginning in America; we are always on the verge of great adventures. History seems to lie before us instead of behind.
— Edmund Wilson, “Night Thoughts in Paris,” The New Republic, March 12, 1922 (5)

…The patriot is one who is grateful for a legacy and recognizes that the legacy makes him a debtor. There is a whole way of being in the world, captured best by the word reverence, which defines life by its debts: One is what one owes, what one acknowledges as a rightful debt or obligation. The patriot moves within that mentality. The gift of land, people, language, gods, memories, and customs, which is the patrimony of the patriot, defines who he or she is. Patrimony is mixed with person; the two barely separable. The very tone and rhythm of a life, the shapes of perception, the texture of its hopes and fears goes from membership in a territorially rooted group. The conscious patriot is one who feels deeply indebted for these gifts, grateful to the people and places through which they come, and determined to defend the legacy against enemies and pass it unspoiled to those will come after. 

But… we are not taught to define our lives by our debts and legacies, but by our rights and opportunities. 
— John. J. Schaar, “The Case for Patriotism,” American Review 17, May 1973

I suggest that to truly “read” these passages, which is what I will be doing for the remainder of this piece, it’s necessary to pay as close attention to the voice of each writer as to his words. Du Bois, meditating on truths that predated his time and which he does not seem to expect to change, is stymied, perplexed, quietly angry, yet full of a sort of determination that perhaps suggests the bridging of gaps he is telling us cannot be bridged. Schaar, with his eyes on the past (not merely the American past, but the past per se, the past as something that constantly informs the present), speaks in tones of regret; his cadences are measured and restrained, and what is measured out is the pain of loss, the loss of the “way of being in the world” he is describing. All this is evident well before his final disclaimer: that we are not taught the rich and complex values that make patriotism possible but cheaper values that imply the separation of each man and woman from every other as the positive basis for American society.

But Schaar and Du Bois speak as realists; their words communicate an almost tragic refusal to grant a single assumption they do not see as justified by the disappointments and betrayals of the American story. They will not speak a word they cannot prove. But they will whisper. Wilson’s “in America, the humblest harmony is still an incredible dream” — and not harmony as consensus, or lack of crucial disagreement, but an essential harmony, a recognition of uniquely American things shared — is at the heart of what both men are saying. They are saying that whatever the American reality, or even the American fate, the possibilities of such harmony cannot be decently abandoned; that harmony is an absolute necessity if Americans are to keep the promises on which America was founded: the promises that flowed instantly from the original justification of America in 1776 as something new under the sun, and perhaps even the promises as they were reclaimed in 1865, with Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, when he incorporated the truth that the betrayal of those promises in fact preceded the promises themselves into the fabric of official American thought, where it has been officially buried ever since. (See box.)

To turn from the fundamental gloom of Du Bois and Schaar to late-night meditations of a young Edmund Wilson, thinking of America from a distance, where a good deal of the best of such thinking has been done, is a shock. One may have to read what he wrote carefully to appreciate how bizarre it is.

When I first came to Berkeley, in 1963, a campus veteran told me that Berkeley and Greenwich Village were the only places in America where a person could be really free. Wilson begins with this cozily embattled fallacy; a farther shore from the kind of patriotism Schaar speaks of can hardly be imagined. And yet — or perhaps, “and so” — Wilson then drives straight back into the “darkest corners” of the country, to what Fitzgerald called “the dark fields of the republic,” and embraces them with all the restraint of a Fourth of July orator. Suddenly he has delivered himself from the repression of the American present, as only the future is of any consequence. But there is the slightest hint of condescension in Wilson’s “Gopher Prairie itself” — and, perhaps in flight from doubts that not even the most visionary moment can banish, Wilson abandons the fatal pull of specifics for a virtual manifesto of American mysticism. It’s as if he is seeking, against the terrific odds he has been careful to establish in advance, to fix precisely those things Americans can recognize — those attributes by which they can recognize each other — the feeling that “things are always beginning in America,” blown up suddenly with exclamation points into images of a great dam breaking and a flood of — not ideas, not justice, not even freedom (which was what Wilson started with, but which is somehow no longer exactly the question) — “energy, of enthusiasm, of life!” And this is because what Wilson was working out of in Paris was not a “feeling,” but a leap of faith — a leap straight across what were to Lincoln the almost predestined American crimes and divisions, the crimes and divisions that were the source of Du Bois’s torment.

The desperation in Wilson’s voice is as palpable as the joy. A moment later in the essay he will pull back again; America will become a monster of banality. But he can’t quit with this. He returns as an American St. George come not to slay the dragon but magically to transform it. The passage continues: “Our enemy offers huger bulk than the enemy in Europe, but he is much less firmly rooted. Two generations might rout him. To arms then! Let me return; I shall not cease from mental fight nor shall my sword rest in my hand till intolerance has been stricken from the laws, till the time-clock has been beaten to a punch-bowl!”

In the great tradition of John Wesley Harding, who never made a foolish move, Wilson does not choose a foolish word. The struggle he is lining out is a matter of spiritual life or death for him, and — in the sense that a true patriot, one who truly perceives and accepts a patrimony, embodies the republic — for the country equally so. Thus Wilson’s language is overblown, with every pretension undercut by self-parody (“my sword” a seemingly absurd weapon for a “mental fight”; “till intolerance has been stricken from the laws” taken down a peg by “till the time clock has been beaten to a punch bowl”). Only with a frame of the ridiculous can Wilson get away with the absolute and discomforting seriousness of every word he is speaking. He is dedicating — like Lincoln in 1865, rededicating — himself, and his country, to the liberating destiny that his country, like no other before it, set out for itself; he recognizes and affirms that the republic, along with itself, invented a birthright each American would, in a way of his or her own determining, have to accept, as a burden, before he or she could fully claim to be American.

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This overblown way of speaking is the language, or a language, of American patriotism, and its affirmation also a settling of affairs. It sweeps right by Du Bois’s analysis of what cannot be resolved, even though Wilson’s words do not quite leave Du Bois’s statement of the facts out. “How far can love for my oppressed race accord with love for the oppressing country?” Du Bois wrote at another time. “And when these loyalties diverge, where shall my soul find refuge?” (7) Here and above, Du Bois speaks of black people, but the question he insists on contains all Americans who have been, and are, systematically refused America’s promises and excluded form its patrimony. That exclusion has been and is more widespread in terms of class than of race — and it is equally as subtle, as debilitating, and as resistant to fundamental change. As Du Bois would have said, the question of racial oppression is also a question of class. My attempt to follow the meaning of Du Bois’s idea applies, as metaphor, to Americans of all kinds who are excluded — and given that America was once known as “a good poor man’s country,” there are many whites who were included in the past who are excluded now.

Du Bois says that any resolution a black man or woman can make of Wilsons’s contradictions will by necessity be very different from and properly fall far short of, the glorious unity Wilson saw. The black American patrimony is separation and division; not simply because the “American” side is so full of horror and crime, but at least partly because it is so alive with promise. As Theodore Rosengarten’s All God’s Daughters, the life of Ned Cobb, a black Alabama sharecropper, makes clear, a full recognition of “the injustice of the laws” does not preclude the deepest recognition of that promise nor the determination to fulfill it precisely on its original, 200-year-old terms. But the laws refuse to recognize Cobb’s claim to his “American” patrimony, and without that double recognition Du Bois’s words hold.

It is very questionable whether the burden I spoke of Wilson accepting, or the debts and obligations of which Schaar writes, can be set forth by me, or anyone, as a necessary part of the patrimony of a black man or woman in America. Black men and women have made their own history in America, which America ignored or did not even see, and the evidence is strong today that it is in that specific history that black men and women are finding their patrimony — their debts, obligations, promises, possibilities — finding what it is they have to live up to, finding a way of being in the world. In Lincoln’s terms of crime and punishment, it is a measure of the price white Americans of any sort must pay for the forced odyssey of black people in America that a black American patrimony, which grows out of an altogether different kind of heroism and resourcefulness than white Americans draw on — different in kind and in quality — may not only be impossible for whites to connect to, but wrong for them to connect to. With Gayl Jones’s Corregidora, Lucille Clifton’s family memoir Generations (which begins with the story of Clifton’s great-great grandmother, born in Dahomey in 1822, brought to the New Orleans slave markets and made to walk to Virginia at the age of eight, whose message to her family, into this century, was “Get what you want, you from Dahomey, women”), Alice Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland, or the film of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a white American may feel that he or she is somehow violating these tales simply by responding to them. To say, this is part of my legacy, my patrimony, too, which is to say that the “American” patrimony is, or should be, that of a black man or woman is to go much farther than any white can decently go.

Because of such history, and because the language of patriotism in America has not flourished — because it is not easily spoken nor easily understood when it is spoken; because the “way of being in the world” of which Schaar writes is foreign to most of us, so foreign as to be hard to imagine clearly — ­America may be breaking up into separate “patrimonies.” The rise of ethnicity and cultural nationalism on all fronts suggests this; so does a widening split between cities and suburbs, between classes, sexes, races, religions, nationalities. I don’t mean such groupings are always in explicit conflict, but that people are locating their primary loyalties away from “America,” as a place, a society, a republic, an idea, a promise, whatever. Historian William Appleman Williams’s recent Bicentennial book, America Confronts a Revolutionary World, takes this movement apart to one conclusion: He argues that America can best be true to its best self by returning to the Articles of Confederation, and fragmenting, by secession (violently if need be; “I will meet you on the barricades,” he says) (8), into regional socialist republics. This is a bad moment in the work of a valuable historian. But there is some truth in the book — as a skewed metaphor for retreats from America that are already well advanced.

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It may be that this is not a problem to “solve” but a reality to accept or struggle against, on an individual level, at least in the beginning. Schaar writes of America, an invented political and moral society, as a place where patriotism is not simply a matter of inheritance or lack of it — in America, patriotism is an earned choice, an earned recognition. Wilson, 51 years earlier, agreed when he spoke as baldly as he dared of a “mental fight,” of a battle he would carry on, in American letters, as a critic and a reporter, to rout the enemy, to make the wisp of American harmony he glimpsed one night in Paris more real.

When we speak of patriotism in America we must recognize an inevitable division of self in the very act of speaking, and in that sense Du Bois’s statement can serve for anyone. America is big, conformist, monolithic, faceless, cruel, and its economic game is rigged. For any sense of freedom the first impulse is to separate oneself, either following the trail of countless American lone-wolfs, solitaries, and Ishmaels, or settling for the homogeneous familiarities and protections of “one’s own”: family, religion, nationality, race, region. Yet America is still astonishing — too big, too complex, and too various for any mind to take in, and in that astonishment, in the realization of an enormous place finally justified and held together by little more than a few phrases from an old document, comes the yearning to make America whole by seeing it clearly; by pursuing that patrimony, discovering it, retrieving it, inventing it, or simply affirming it. What is it that Americans share? In what images, of crime or beauty, do Americans uniquely recognize themselves as no others would, recognize that in an essential way they are linked, that they can carry on certain conversations about certain things that others could not or would not think to enter?

One probably cannot raise such questions without realizing that if they are asked with the utmost seriousness of intent there may be no encouraging answers. But one cannot wear such questions out either. Schaar’s statement, like Wilson’s, points toward a way of being in touch with America; com­bative, suspicious, and yet deeply accepting of something like a common fate, that cannot, and should not be avoided.

***

There are two ideas around which this piece revolves, no mat­ter how erratic the orbit has been.The first is the idea of the patriot as one who embodies the republic. This is not as grand or pretentious as it might seem. A civil rights worker linking people to the re­public by convincing them to vote is embodying the republic, in many ways. Many of those on the House Judiciary Committee, by what they said and the manner in which they said it, embodied the repub­lic, for a time. James Agee, writ­ing Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, embodied the republic, in all of its mystical and factual complexity. Those who honestly and visibly refuse to let the repub­lic stop short of itself embody it.

Visibly — publicly — is the key word. Wilson spoke almost mys­teriously of “a man who really knows on what stage he is playing, for what drama he has been cast,” who “by his realization… makes us realize, too, for what drama our setting is the setting.” To say that this can mean anything is to point to the strength of what Wilson said, not its weakness; Wilson himself took this conviction to its extreme only 21 years after he first set it down. He wrote of Lincoln, in “Eight Essays”: “It was as if he had not only foreseen the drama [of the war] but had seen all around it, with a kind of poetic objectivity, aware of the various points of view the world must take toward its protagonist. In the poem that Lincoln lived, Booth had been prepared for, too, and the tragic conclusion was necessary to justify all the rest. It was dramatically and mortally inevitable that this prophet who had overruled opposition and sent thousands of men to their deaths should finally attest his good faith by laying down his own life with theirs.” The patriot is a man or woman, who, in embodying the possibilities of American life, dramatizes them in view of others. That is both an instinct — the yearning for and affirmation of wholeness — and a role — the act of wholeness.

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The second idea is that of “a whole way of being in the world.” Schaar has defined it in the lines I quoted; I cannot really set it forth more fully without a long, close consideration of how specific indi­viduals, or a group of people, made their choices and lived their lives. It is both the treasure of patriotism and the key to it. It is a constant, renewing sensitivity to questions I asked earlier: What do Americans share, what is essential and unique, in their history, experience, fate? It is a state of mind that Edmund Wilson caught as well as anyone.

In Paris, in 1922, he began his meditation on America thinking of Futurism, “born in Italy, where the weight of the past lies heaviest.” “But I can scarcely adore the locomotive,” he wrote. ” I know it all too well.” He went on to wonder at his dreams of America, to criticize America as brutally as he could manage, to pull away, back and forth, back and forth, the double vision of the American pa­triot at work, searching for at least a night’s truce with itself. Wilson turned back finally to that image of the rails: “Where there is a petu­lance and a sadness in the piping of the French engines, I shall hear in the American ones an eagerness and a zest: They have elbow room here for their racing; they can drive on as far as they like; they have an unknown country to explore, a country that no one has ever heard of — What sort of men are these who live in nameless towns? At a distance, they seem, neither intelligent nor colorful nor fine — scarcely members of the same race as the beings who have built civilization. But I know that in the wide spaces of all that wilder­ness, in the life of that loose abun­dant world, for all the reign of mediocrity and the tyranny of in­tolerance, there is a new freshness and freedom to be brought to the function of mankind — the function which, in the long run, we shall never be able to get out of: staring out in wonder and dismay at the mysterious shapes of the world, either to ask ourselves what laws move them or, combining those shapes anew, to makeshift to create a nobler world in which our souls may find a home.”

Footnotes 

  1. In Keywords, Raymond Williams’s recent book on the etymology of fundamental con­temporary social concepts, the word “patriotism” is missing (so are “roots” and “fraternity”). But because I like Williams’s idea, if not his choices, I have pulled out words from the quotes I refer to that seem to me keys to an Ameri­can language of patriotism — words that in some way signify an aspect or element of “patriotism.” Here, the keywords are “humblest,” “harmony,” and “still.”
  2. Keyword: “sentimentalist.”
  3. Keyword: “refuge.”
  4. Virtually every word in this statement is a keyword. Still: “two-ness,” “souls,” “ideals,” “dogged,” “keeps it from.”
  5. Keywords: “tears,” “against,” “nation,” “corners,” “comfort,” “character,” “inde­pendent,” “home,” “espouse,” “new,” “harmonies,” “finite,” “sympathy,” “stand for,” “noble,” “reverence,” “indiffer­ent,” “history,” “legend,” “drama,” “spirit,” “dignity,” “enthusiasm,” “beginning,” “adventures.”
  6. Again, since essentially Schaar is writing a brief on the keywords of patriotism, only a few of the less obvious: “a whole way of being in the world,” “defines life by,” “one acknowledges,” “men­tality,” “tone,” “rhythm,” “shapes,” “texture,” “taught.” The grace and civility of Schaar’s writing tells one as much about patriotism as any of his words.
  7. Keywords: “how far,” “accord,” “loyalties,”
  8. Keyword: “I will meet you.”     ❖

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With Anne Beatts, The Joke Was Always on President Ford

[UPDATE, April 22, 2021: Back in 2019, when Donald Trump was still president, we resurfaced this 1974 page, written by Anne Beatts, from our archives. Beatts blazed a path through the boys’ club of comedy writing in the 1970s, most notoriously as the brains behind the 1973 fake Volkswagen Bug ad that ran in National Lampoon with the tagline, “If Ted Kennedy drove a Volkswagen, he’d be President today.” If you don’t get the punchline we can only say that checking it out is one internet rabbit hole that is worth plunging into. You can start here. Beatts, who was born in 1947, passed away earlier this month. —R.C. Baker] 

On November 27, 1973, the U.S. Senate voted 92-3 to confirm Gerald R. Ford as Richard Nixon’s vice president after the elected veep, Spiro Agnew, had resigned due to a bribery scandal. Nine months later it was Nixon himself who stepped down to avoid impeachment for various high crimes and misdemeanors, and Ford, formerly a congressman from Michigan, became America’s first — and so far only — appointed president. 

Turns out, the joke was on him. 

Ford is probably best remembered for Chevy Chase’s merciless portrayal of the president as a bumbling buffoon on Saturday Night Live, as in this clip from the comedy hit’s first season, in 1975.

Anne Beatts was a writer for SNL in those early years, making her an anomaly in a field that was then a fairly impregnable boys’ club. But Beatts (pronounced “Beats”) had earlier battled her way into another bastion of postwar American humor, National Lampoon magazine, eventually becoming its first female contributing editor. Despite that success she was still struggling for recognition. In an interview in Vice’s Broadly, Beatts recounted a meal with the magazine’s co-founder, Henry Beard, in which she asked him why more of her work wasn’t getting into print. His reason was succinct: “I just don’t think chicks are funny.” Beatts went on to say, “I cried and lost a contact lens in my soup — instead of punching him in the nose, which is what he deserved. So I stopped writing for the magazine altogether.”

Perhaps that was a bit of luck for the Village Voice. In the December 30, 1974, issue of the paper, Beatts contributed “Gerald Ford’s Joke Book,” observing, “If there’s anything we as a nation need right now, it’s the ability to laugh at our troubles.” Ford was a promising target because he had already gained a reputation for his malapropisms and physical clumsiness, traits Chase would begin wildly exaggerating a year later. In the Voice, Beatts displayed her chops by taking Ford’s penchant for misdelivering punchlines to old jokes by bending their banality almost 360 degrees so that they became absurdly funny again:

“A man went to see a psychiatrist. ‘Doctor, I have a terrible problem,’ he confessed. ‘It’s my memory. I can’t remember anything for more than a few seconds.’”

“’How long have you had this problem?’ asked the doctor.”

“’I don’t remember how long I’ve had it,’ the man answered.”

Beatts runs through a repertoire of such off-kilter chestnuts until she twists her concept even a few more degrees to deliver a joke that is perhaps more current than ever:

“Do you know the country is going to the dogs?”

“Yes, and if you hum a few bars I’ll sing it for you.”    ❖

Categories
CITY HALL ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES

Snapshots of Stanley’s City

Phone Log Fixes

The following snapshots of the polit­ical life of the city — some sinister, some bizarre — are taken from the appointment diaries and phone logs of convicted former Bronx Democratic boss Stanley Friedman. The Friedman records, seized by the feds ear­ly last year and released as part of his criminal case, were maintained by Fried­man’s longtime secretary, Rose Mintzer, at Friedman’s East Side law office.

Though they cover only a portion of 1985 and a couple of weeks in January 1986, the logs unveil the machinations of a remarkable range of prominent New Yorkers — from mobsters like Tony Saler­no and Tommy Gambino to publishing giant Si Newhouse and developer king Donald Trump. The sagas of Larry Kir­wan and Carlos Galvis reveal Friedman’s onetime legendary reach into state and city government, even though neither deal was achieved. And the tales of City Councilman Bob Dryfoos and Brooklyn beep Howie Golden’s daughter Michelle are commentaries on their characters, not Friedman’s. Remarkably, there are dozens more vignettes like these left in the Friedman volumes, revealing the dai­ly activities of a quintessential power broker.

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Ties to Fat Tony

Fat Tony Salerno, the boss of the Gen­ovese crime family, who is now doing a century on federal racketeering charges, and Vincent “Fish” Cafora, Sa­lerno’s constant companion who is under indictment with Salerno in a still pending case, apparently visited Friedman on Oc­tober 16, 1985. Salerno had long been a client of Friedman’s senior law partner, Roy Cohn, and a Cohn aide set up the meeting with Friedman the day before, leaving this message: “Tony and Fish coming at 2 on Wednesday to see Cohn and they’d like to see you too.” The entry in Friedman’s appointment diary for 2 p.m. on Wednesday simply says “Cohn.” A notation in the logs a couple of months later lists a phone number for “Fish.” When the Voice called the number and asked for “Fish” Cafora, a man who de­clined to identify himself, said, “He isn’t here anymore.” Law enforcement sources told the Voice that the references are to Salerno and Cafora, who were apparently on a first name basis with Friedman. Reached by the Voice, Friedman refused to answer any questions about his logs.

The indictment pending against Cafora and Salerno, who was recently convicted in the commission case, contains a count against one of their alleged racketeering partners, Milton Rockman, which says that he “misrepresented and concealed” from a federal pretrial agency in the mid­west his reason for three trips to New York while out on bail pending a trial in Kansas City. The indictment says he was meeting with Salerno and other members of the Genovese family “under the guise of consulting” with an attorney, Cohn. The indictment also indicates at least one area of interest where Friedman and Sa­lerno activities overlapped — concrete.

According to the indictment, S&A Concrete and its affiliates, owned by Sa­lerno and other Genovese crime family members, controlled all concrete con­struction contracts in Manhattan exceed­ing $2 million. One of the rigged bids cited in the indictment is a $30 million contract for the just completed conven­tion center. An earlier companion case, brought by State Attorney General Rob­ert Abrams, charged that S&A and an­other concrete company close to Fried­man, Dic Underhill, rigged the convention center bid so that S&A would win it at a price 27 per cent higher than the prebid price estimates.

A Dic Underhill affiliate, S&D, was represented by Friedman and won a $7 million city contract to repair broken parking meters (that contract is now the focus of a federal probe). Two Dic Under­hill principals, Bernard Jereski and Wal­ter Goldstein, appear on Friedman phone logs and appointment diaries half a dozen times. Dic Underhill has given $12,000 to Friedman’s Bronx Democratic commit­tees in recent years, while S&A Concrete gave $1400 to a Friedman committee and Bronx beep Stanley Simon.

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A Cuomo Lease

State Democratic chairman Lawrence Kirwan holds no state government position, but according to Friedman log entries he was in the middle of a 1985 effort to steer a Department of Motor Vehicles office into a building owned by a big donor to the Bronx organization and borough president Stanley Simon.

On November 6, Friedman was called by party secretary Murray Lewinter and urged to call Kirwan “to speak to Motor Vehicle Com’r — would like White Plains Road for Motor Vehicle office.” Lewinter left Kirwan’s Albany telephone number for Friedman. Later that day, and again on the following day, Kirwan, who was handpicked by Governor Cuomo, left messages informing Friedman that the DMV office “will happen” on White Plains Road.

The proposed DMV site, 2078 White Plains Road, is owned by Violet Camac, who, along with her son Howard, donated $2250 to Simon’s 1985 reelection cam­paign and has given $3150 to the Bronx organization since 1982. The Camacs company, Yankee Lumber, also provided material for a rehabilitation of Democrat­ic headquarters on Williamsbridge Road. Howard Camac said that he “mentioned” to Friedman that he was interested in the state lease, but did not ask for help in securing it. Camac’s lawyer, Richard Gugliotta — whom Friedman unsuccess­fully ran for civil court judge three times — said that community opposition eventually led to DMV rejecting the White Plains Road site. “It came as a surprise to Mr. Camac that Larry Kirwan was involved,” Gugliotta said.

Friedman’s datebook shows three meetings with Camac in 1985, two of which included Kathy Zamechansky, the former head of the Bronx Overall Eco­nomic Development Corporation and a key party fundraiser. His phone logs refer to a fourth meeting in November, the day before the series of Kirwan messages re­garding the rental. The records also re­veal that Kirwan met frequently with Friedman, whose Bronx organization was one of the chief contributors to the state party (one notation refers to a $20,000 check Friedman was sending Kirwan’s state committee).

The DMV office was originally sched­uled to be located in Pelham Bay in space owned by a local businessman with no political ties. However, pressure from Si­mon, the late Republican state senator John Calandra, and Congressman Mario Biaggi forced DMV officials to withdraw the site from consideration. The White Plains Road site was the state’s next choice, but this time — despite Kirwan and Friedman’s support for the Camac lease — protests from civic and neighborhood groups led DMV officials to drop the location.

Kirwan did not return numerous Voice phone calls about the deal. DMV officials have now decided to lease space near Fordham Plaza owned by the Metropoli­tan Transit Authority.

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Cohn’s Demise: A Ghoulish Golden Grab

In November 1985 newspaper stories de­tailed the disbarment proceedings against Roy Cohn as well as the late attorney’s battle with what he described as liver cancer, but later was revealed to be AIDS. Since he left city government in 1978, Friedman has been affiliated with Cohn’s law firm, Saxe, Bacon, and Bolan.

As Cohn’s legal and terminal medical problems appeared in the papers, Mi­chelle Golden, the 27-year-old daughter of Brooklyn borough president Howard Golden, began calling Friedman at Saxe, Bacon, and Bolan’s headquarters, a five­-story townhouse at 39 East 68th Street. Michelle Golden, a real estate salesperson with Cushman and Wakefield, left a mes­sage on November 22 stating she was “anxious to carry” the townhouse and wanted to know what was happening with it. “She read that Roy Cohn was sick and that he had some legal problems,” Mortimer Matz, Golden’s spokesman, said. “That’s what real estate people do.”

Golden, who left seven messages about the building and met with Friedman twice, was also interested in helping the firm find new office space if it decided to leave the townhouse, Matz said, adding, “Nothing ever happened.” Golden’s sense that the townhouse may have been on the block appears accurate: property records reveal that the ownership corporation took out a third mortgage — this one for $178,000 — on the townhouse in April 1986 to apparently allow the law firm to stave off bankruptcy. The money was used by the corporation to pay off a legal judgment against Saxe, Bacon, and Bo­lan, which is described in a rider to the mortgage as being unable even to pay its rent.

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Donald’s Deals

One Friedman client who dominates his logs is Donald Trump. Though Trump conceded through a spokes­man that Friedman did represent him on occasion, he contended that Friedman was representing the other side of the deal he and Friedman discussed the most during this time period: Trump’s near acquisition of the air rights over the Parkeast Synagogue at 163 East 67th Street (Koch’s synagogue, and also May­or Beame’s). Friedman was in constant touch with Rabbi Arthur Schneier about the sale and arranged meetings with Trump. A date was set for the closing on this deal, but it conflicted with the major­ity leader election in the city council so it was canceled. A couple of days later the scandal exploded. Trump, who says it was Friedman who approached him and who had no specific plan for the air rights, dropped the deal.

Friedman did represent Trump in ne­gotiations with the state’s Division for Housing and Community Renewal con­cerning Trump’s attempt to empty a rent-stabilized building at 100 Central Park West that he acquired some years ago. Trump says that “Stanley suggested that he might be able to negotiate a set­tlement,” so Trump said that he should go ahead. Friedman then began an ex­traordinary series of at least a dozen calls and meetings with Manny Mirabal, the DHCR deputy commissioner who had a tenant complaint on the building before him. Mirabal is recorded as having at­tended meetings with Friedman at Fried­man’s townhouse office. After initially confirming the conversations with Fried­man, Mirabal ducked a series of follow-up Voice calls pointedly asking about the meetings. In the end, Trump settled with the tenants.

On November 27, 1985, Friedman and then Bronx city planning commissioner Ted Teah, who operated a law practice out of Friedman’s office, attended a meeting at Trump’s office that the logs recorded as involving Trump’s grandiose Lincoln West project. Trump says that the purpose of the meeting was a private presentation to Teah of Trump’s plans for the West Side, which were then before the planning commission. Friedman was clearly given the job of getting the undependable Teah to the meeting, as mes­sages like this one from Trump’s office suggest: “Ted must show on time.” Trump insists that Friedman was not there representing him, but was included because Friedman had represented Francisco Macri, the previous Lincoln West developer who had sold this prime stretch of waterfront land along the West 60s to Trump a year earlier. A spokesperson for the Macri interests said they could not recall if Friedman represented the project.

Suitably enough, Friedman is also list­ed as attending a meeting regarding the Hyatt Hotel with Trump and department store operator Michael Modell of the Mo­dell’s chain. It was Friedman, as deputy mayor, who approved, in the final days of the Beame administration, a series of tax abatements and other benefits that en­abled Trump to build the Hyatt — his first Manhattan deal. Trump contends that Friedman was representing Modell in the meeting, which concerned the store’s sub­-lease in the Hyatt. Modell told the Voice that he’d never retained Friedman but that Friedman was a close friend and that Friedman was helping him in his meeting with Trump. Trump was so friendly with Friedman that he once left a message providing his “direct line to his Aspen room,” and when Friedman’s candidate won the council majority leadership last January, congratulated him, adding, “He is so proud of you: hope the papers do right by you.”

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Helping Gambino’s Buddy

Thomas Gambino, the son of the late mob chief Carlo Gambino and himself a member of organized crime, called Friedman on behalf of Sal Carrera, a friend seeking a real estate broker’s license.

On October 1, Carrera called Friedman and said that “Gambino told him to call” and that he was calling about a package of papers “to go to Albany.” A subse­quent message reveals that the papers concerned a real estate broker’s license for Carrera. Four weeks later, Carrera called again and Friedman’s secretary left the following message: “Sent paperwork to Albany. From Tom. What’s the sta­tus?” Gambino called Friedman on No­vember 8, “re his friend. Also he’ll call Jackie,” Friedman’s wife. The following day, Jackie Friedman, who works in the mayor’s office, left a message reminding her husband about “1) Reservation PR 2) Gambino.” The first message refers to a trip the couple took to Puerto Rico last winter.

Thomas Gambino owns one of the gar­ment district’s largest truckers, Consoli­dated Carriers (his messages to Friedman included Consolidated’s number). While he has no criminal record, Newsday re­ported last September that Gambino was identified by a police detective in federal court testimony as a captain in the Gam­bino crime family. An FBI court affidavit contends that Gambino is a soldier. Car­rera received his broker’s license last Sep­tember through Ketrec Management on East 40th Street, where he was reached last week. Asked about Friedman and Gambino, Carrera said “That’s none of your business” and hung up. Gambino, too, hung up when the Voice called.

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Stanley’s City Council Mole 

Eastside city councilman Bob Dryfoos, who double-crossed the rest of the Manhattan delegation last January and cast the decisive vote that elected the Friedman/Manes-backed Peter Vallone majority leader of the council, made his first appearance on the Friedman logs on October 9. His initial message was wedged in between two from Brooklyn borough president and county leader Howard Golden, who ultimately allied himself with the Manhattan delegation in an attempt to keep the majority leader­ship in Brooklyn (it was the retirement of former leader Tom Cuite, a Brooklyn councilman, that created the vacancy).

Golden’s first message read: “wants to meet with you next week — early part — ­just you and he — when? where?” Since Golden, Friedman, and Manes met regu­larly, this message was probably an at­tempt by Golden to sound out Friedman alone about the possibility of supporting a Brooklyn candidate against the front­runner, Vallone, who as a Queens coun­cilman was Manes’s candidate. Fried­man’s control of the six Bronx votes made him a pivotal player in any contest between Queens and Brooklyn. The very next message that day was from Dryfoos: “Yes — meet — drink coffee here one hour — reorganization of City Council and thereto, before you talk to Howard.” A short while later, Golden called again: “Don’t do anything — OK — Howie Gold­en — talk to him.” Friedman’s diary lists an October 15 lunch with Golden at Friedman’s office and an October 21 meeting with Dryfoos. Neither Golden nor Dryfoos returned Voice calls.

After this initial exchange, several mes­sages suggest a growing relationship be­tween Friedman and Dryfoos. In early November, Dryfoos called while Fried­man was vacationing in Puerto Rico and was given Friedman’s number there. Next he called for Friedman’s mailing address. Then another meeting was set in early December. As the tight race headed for its early January showdown, Dryfoos, who kept attending meetings of the Man­hattan delegation and pledging his sup­port to its candidate (Brooklyn’s Sam Horowitz), became a Friedman mole. On December 27, he called while Friedman was once again vacationing in Puerto Rico, said he “heard some news you should be aware of,” and left Friedman his own vacation number at an upstate hotel. Messages from a Bronx council­-member, June Eisland, indicate that Dry­foos met with them on January 3. On January 8, Dryfoos coolly assured his fel­low Manhattan members, moments be­fore the vote, that he was with them, and then publicly announced his vote for Vallone.

The logs also suggest that Friedman was looking for some last minute insur­ance. Council President Andrew Stein, who had no vote on the matter unless the council members deadlocked, has con­firmed that he met with Friedman and others the night before the vote. Stein insists that the meeting was only to dis­cuss the parliamentary rulings he would make the next day and that he was deter­minedly neutral. But two sources deeply involved in the process told the Voice that Stein told them he preferred Val­lone, and one of them says that the meet­ing with Friedman “might have been” to lock in Stein’s vote in case of a tie. Stein told the Voice that he met with Golden too, but in fact he met only with Golden technicians. Indeed Stein met with tech­nicians from both sides the morning of the vote. Friedman was unlikely to per­sonally attend an emergency meeting with Stein the night before the vote to discuss innocuous parliamentary decisions.

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Si’s Slip is Showing

Roy Cohn’s aide Sue Bell called Fried­man on October 10, 1985 and asked Friedman to try to get “a boatslip for S.I. Newhouse III (known as Sam) begin­ning mid 1986” for Newhouse’s 42-foot yacht, Diver Master. Publishing heir Newhouse, whose family owns Vogue, Glamour, Vanity Fair, The Staten Island Advance, Random House, and dozens of newspapers and cable TV stations across the country, wanted the boat berthed at the city’s only active Manhattan mari­na — at East 23rd Street. Cohn and Ne­whouse’s father were lifelong friends.

A series of subsequent messages indi­cate that Friedman called a top city offi­cial who ran the city’s ferry bureau and asked for help. But the ferry bureau didn’t run the marina; the city’s Depart­ment of Ports & Terminals did. So the ferry chief called Audrey Lasher, P&T’s leasing director, who supervised the city’s sublease with Skyports Inc., the company that operated the marina under an agree­ment with the city. Lasher agreed, ac­cording to the ferry chief, to talk to Sky­ports. Despite what sources say is an “exceedingly long waiting list,” Newhouse got his slip — only one of 27 — at the mari­na. Both Lasher and the ferry chief have since left the city. P&T spokesperson Marcia Reiss said that the agency’s lease with the marina operators does not per­mit the agency “to interfere in the alloca­tion of slips” and that any action taken by Lasher would not be a matter of agen­cy business.

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The Kiss of Death

A 1983 Daily News story reported that the mayor had contacted the four county leaders close to him, including Friedman, to seek their recommendations before appointing a new Ports & Termi­nals commissioner. A two-to-two tie re­sulted in Koch naming Susan Frank, who had not been favored by any of the party bosses. So when Koch began the search for a replacement for Frank after his re-­election in 1985, it was widely assumed that Friedman would once again play a role. A spokesman for Deputy Mayor Alair Townsend, who was overseeing the selection of a new commissioner for the mayor, confirmed that Friedman had called Townsend on behalf of a candi­date: Carlos Galvis, a Princeton graduate who had worked in the Lindsay adminis­tration and for Congressman Les Aspin. The phone logs indicate that Friedman did not know Galvis personally, but was contacted in late December by Robin Farkas, whose family owns Alexander’s. After Farkas talked with Friedman, Gal­vis sent Friedman a résumé.

Galvis told the Voice that both Farkas and two friends of his at the Real Estate Board suggested that he contact Fried­man for help in getting the job. While he declined to say who at the Real Estate Board pointed him in Friedman’s direc­tion, he said they also suggested that he contact Donald Manes. He added that he has known Farkas since the ’60s. Fried­man gave Galvis an appointment, and Galvis went to Friedman’s law office at 11 a.m., January 10, the morning of Ma­nes’s first suicide attempt. Galvis said that Friedman’s secretary mistook him for a senator and ushered him right in, observing that otherwise he might not have been able to see Friedman, who “was having a very busy day.” Galvis saw Friedman for about 20 minutes and re­called that throughout the interview an “unruffled” Friedman was making and receiving calls. Friedman told Galvis that “he was trying to get a car to go see his best friend in Queens, who was in the hospital.” Friedman promised: “I will call on your behalf.”

In late January, when Galvis was told he had not been hired, the city scandal had already exploded and Friedman was at the center of the storm. “Even if I was the best candidate, I had become taint­ed,” he said. “After all this started I felt like crap. I felt like the guy who got nominated for supreme court justice on the day the president got impeached.” But city officials insist that Michael Huerta, who is the now the P&T com­missioner, had already been selected by the time Friedman and Galvis met. Huer­ta was reportedly offered the job on Jan­uary 6 and the city was merely conclud­ing terms with him.

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Mr. Fixit

Friedman’s phone was the political Ac­tion Line. Requests from friends and fellow pols came in regularly for tick­ets to Broadway plays (Cats and The Odd Couple) and the Palladium (from Stanley Simon on behalf of his daughter Suzette, and from Councilwoman June Eisland). Bronx county clerk Leo Levy called ask­ing for four hotel rooms (with dinner and a show) for New Year’s Eve at Trump’s Castle in Atlantic City. Trump’s secre­tary called wanting to know, “Are they heavies at the table?” since it was a “hardship” to give up the rooms. Fried­man eventually informed Levy that he could not swing the rooms. Levy also called on behalf of Norman Goodman, the New York county clerk, asking for four tickets to a Carnegie Hall concert. Friedman also got requests for tickets to Midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral as well as local football games. Jet tickets were no problem, the logs reveal, but Friedman did not have a hook in with the Giants. He could get judges to perform weddings, though.

Lillian Delgado called in September, 1985 asking for help locating an apart­ment for $700 in Manhattan or down­town Brooklyn. Friedman put Delgado, a friend of a friend, in touch with Lew Katz, the owner of the Uncle Charlie’s chain of gay bars and a friend of Roy Cohn’s. Katz, who also helped get Fried­man’s step-daughter a job, was charged last May with stabbing to death a 37- year-old man during an argument, and is currently free on $400,000 bail. Delgado said that Katz did not find her an apart­ment. “I ended up paying a big broker’s fee,” she added.

One deal Friedman was not able to complete — through no fault of his own­ — concerned the securing of hangar space for attorney Richard Friedman’s airplane. Richard Friedman called three times in October, 1985 asking Friedman to “make the case” with officials of the Port Au­thority. Then, on December 9, the search was called off. On that day, Lewinter left the following message: “Richard Fried­man, re: plane storage. Forget it — he crashed plane & was killed.” ❖

Categories
CITY HALL ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES

How Ed Koch Handed Over City Hall

Violation! 

“After eight years of charisma and four years of the clubhouse, why not try competence.”
— Koch slogan, 1977 mayoral race

Ambitious people of­ten become the thing they hate. His­tory is full of young idealists obsessing about some en­trenched evil and then replicating that evil when they come to power. The Aya­tollah has become the Shah. George Bush spent the 1970s fighting right-wing extremists and now he wraps himself in extremist icons like William Loeb, Jerry Falwell, and Ferdi­nand Marcos. And Ed Koch, who first achieved fame by conquering Tammany Hall boss Carmine DeSapio in the early 1960s, has become Carmine DeSapio.

Not the DeSapio who later went to prison, but the DeSapio of the early 1960s and late ’50s, who Koch opposed as the personification of patronage, conflicts of interest, and cynical abuse of the pub­lic trust. Koch has also become the Abe Beame he defeated for mayor in 1977, the incumbent he accused of abdicating gov­ernance to the political machines.

This city is now witnessing the start of the largest municipal scandal since the revelation of police corruption in the ear­ly 1970s. It’s not just that Donald Manes is accused of extortion, or that the depu­ty director of the Parking Violations Bu­reau, Geoffrey Lindenauer, has been ar­rested for taking a bribe in a public urinal. Bronx Democratic leader Stanley Friedman is also under criminal investigation by U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giu­liani, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Voice has learned that in December Friedman dumped a large amount of his stock in Citisource — the company for which he got a $22 million Parking Violations Bu­reau contract in 1984 — apparently be­cause he was tipped off about the federal investigation.

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The Friedman probes focus on allega­tions of insider trading and fraudulent misrepresentation of his role in Citi­source. (No one has so far suggested that Manes’s crew at PVB had the temerity to charge Friedman for his contract; it may have been the only freebie Lindenauer, et al. handled.) Friedman and Manes are the two county leaders closest to Koch and have been bulwarks of support for his last three races, including the 1982 gubernatorial primary when Manes re­jected Queens’s hometown candidate, Mario Cuomo, in favor of Koch.

The recent conviction of Queens Su­preme Court judge William Brennan for taking payoffs to fix cases from mob defendants, and the separate federal probe of Richard Rubin, the executive secretary of the Queens Democratic party, for taking kickbacks by check for court guard­ianships and receiverships, suggest that the county party is an organized crime enterprise in a literal sense. The mayor suggests, that he thought Friedman and Manes were altar boys until this burst of revelations, but at least two prior Manes­-recommended city appointees and one Friedman associate have been involved in similar scams.

The Taxi and Limousine commissioner from Queens, Herb Ryan, pleaded guilty to taking a bribe from an undercover agent in 1982, and Nick Sands, who was apparently recommended by Manes for mayoral appointment to the board of the city’s Public Development Corporation, wound up surviving nine bullets in a mob hit and was convicted twice of embezzle­ment. Not as lucky as Sands was Rick Mazzeo, the Friedman and Roy Cohn-­connected distributor of multimillion dollar leases for city-owned parking lots, newsstands, and other concessionaires. During the first couple of years of the Koch administration, Mazzeo, who man­aged to put $564,934 into a private com­pany he started while a $15,000-a-year civil servant, ran the real estate section of Marine & Aviation, a subsidiary (like PVB) of the city’s Department of Transportation. Mazzeo was convicted and sent to jail once by the feds; but when he faced a second indictment in 1983, his body was discovered in the trunk of a car parked in Brooklyn.

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The PVB brand of civic service is inev­itable when the mayor awards whole city agencies or sections of them to DeSapio’s descendents — party bosses like Fried­man, Manes, former Brooklyn honcho Meade Esposito, Staten Island’s Nick La­Porte, as well as their top soldiers such as South Bronx kingpin Ramon Velez. Con­tracting out to the clubhouses is the root cause of the current sensational revela­tions. A mayor who does not recognize that these career party businessmen are mere vendors of the public weal is wearing blinders.

The continuation of clubhouse patron­age was a clause in the Faustian compact that Koch made with much of the city’s old-line party leadership during the run­off campaign of 1977, when he got Espo­sito, Friedman, and others to back him against Mario Cuomo. He’s renewed that pact time each time he’s run, always with the support of every county leader but Manhattan’s. Koch’s acceptance of club­house patronage is what opened the door to corruption, because it based hiring on connections and party loyalty rather than merit. It is hardly surprising that these appointees then began to award contracts and leases based on the same consider­ations that got them their jobs.

It was Meade Esposito, for example, who gave Koch his worst previous scan­dal: Alex Liberman, the city’s director of leasing, who was the “Man of the Year” in Esposito’s Canarsie club and who (almost unnoticed by the media) pleaded guilty in 1984 to extorting more bribes — $2.5 million — than anyone ever previously in­dicted by a federal prosecutor anywhere in America. Memos filed by both sides in the Liberman case concluded that Liber­man “would have been unable to wield such tremendous arbitrary authority without the complicity of others in the Brooklyn Democratic machine.” Yet in his current book, Politics, Koch describes Esposito in loving terms as someone who “has always been helpful to me,” and his administration is still filled with other Esposito appointees. “After Koch was elected, he called us to City Hall,” Espo­sito once told reporters. “He gave us some doughnuts. The powder came off on my pants and he said he wanted to work with us. He catered to us, in patronage, whatever.”

The Koch administration has also giv­en Esposito contracts. The prime clients of his small insurance company are city contractors, and they’ve made Esposito a rich man. “I’ve been very successful in business,” Esposito told the News in 1980, “and I owe it all to politics.”

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No Goodies for Crooks

Throughout the Manes explosion, Koch repeatedly said that the public would forgive anything except criminal­ity. Since the mayor believes he is the embodiment of the public’s common sense, he meant that he was comfortable with anyone but a crook. That is now the moral standard for a mayor who spear­headed a crusade against DeSapio long before DeSapio became a felon.

The most disgraceful and self-serving indicator of Koch’s no-rap-sheet heroes was his embrace of Staten Island beep Ralph Lamberti, who he endorsed for re­election in 1985 even after his own Inves­tigations Commissioner Pat McGinley had publicly reported that Lamberti had committed five misdemeanor violations of the city charter, one of which provided for the forfeiture of his office. A Staten Island grand jury ultimately refused to indict Lamberti, but the record is clear that Lamberti greased the delivery of a 50-acre parcel of prime city-owned land to a developer who was his own private partner. The mayor described Lamberti as “an honest man,” a “partner,” and a “friend,” adding that he was “shocked” by McGinley’s charges. McGinley must’ve been shocked that Koch had be­come Lamberti’s leading media character witness.

Ed Koch is not personally corrupt. And he hasn’t turned his entire government over to hacks. Fritz Schwarz, Stanley Brezenoff, Torrence Moan, Henry Stern, Robert Wagner Jr., Gordon Davis, Jo­seph Hynes, Haskell Ward, James McNamara are just some of the honest public servants he’s empowered. He’s appointed many judges of distinction.

But at the same time, he’s given the clubhouses custody of agencies like the mammoth Department of Transportation and the Taxi and Limousine Commis­sion. He’s given them hidden little shops, where the leases and contracts that feed machines are processed, like PVB, Liber­man’s leasing office inside the Depart­ment of General Services, Mazzeo’s Ma­rine & Aviation, some Tax and Planning Commission appointments, the Civil Ser­vice Commission, and pieces of such key, obscure entities as Ports & Terminals, the Public Development Corp., and the Board of Standards & Appeals. And then he’s looked the other way.

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The other way has most often been somewhere in the direction of a mirror. Koch could always look at himself and see clean hands. He could stand in front of a Gracie Mansion mirror with his arms raised triumphantly above his head and know he had done no wrong. He could mistake himself for his government. And then he could turn on the tube. His ad­diction is power, not money. Lesser poli­ticians develop an appetite for gambling, drugs, women, and a lavish lifestyle. Koch lives on the narcissistic need to watch himself every night on the televi­sion news. To be on the news, he has to be in power. And he has long been pre­pared to allow others to do just about anything if they would permit him to keep power. That is the bargain that is only now beginning to haunt him, be­cause finally it, too, is playing on the television news.

He has manufactured his press confer­ence answers. I-am-not-responsible, he sometimes intimates, because I only ap­point commissioners. The commisioners hire everyone else. This is a myth. May­oral assistant John LoCicero has been publicly identified for eight years as the mayor’s patronage chief. What has he been doing all that time if the mayor’s claim is to be believed? And what has the best kept secret of the Koch years — Joe DeVincenzo — been doing?

DeVincenzo is identified in the Green­book as a special assistant to the mayor, but no one except people who hustle city jobs has ever heard of him. A leftover from the Beame administration, DeVin­cenzo occupies a basement office in City Hall. He sits on the dais of the Brooklyn Democratic organization dinner dance. City personnel officials say he is in charge of something called the mayor’s talent bank. One former Koch commis­sioner told the Voice: “I couldn’t hire anyone without the Joe D. letter.” He has been processing jobs for Koch — every­where in city government — since Koch became mayor. A half dozen sources have told the Voice about having to go to Joe D., even for raises.

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Remember Candidate Koch, running against Cuomo, in 1982? Remember how he decided to play hardball after Cuomo rapped him in the first debate? Remem­ber that Koch made a TV commercial about Cuomo’s aide Bill Cabin, who had hidden five no-shows on the lieutenant governor’s payroll, copped the checks himself, and gotten indicted? Remember Koch snarling that he ought to be im­peached if he ever carried five phantoms on his payroll? The same Koch is now saying he never met Geoff Lindenauer. He says he neither selected nor knew the PVB crew — an entire agency handling millions in city funds. He says he just looked at the revenue bottom line and saw it going up. He says he always thought Stanley Friedman was in the holy water business. He says it’s “news to me” that Anthony Ameruso, the trans­portation commissioner who oversees PVB and several other past and future scandals, is identified with the Brooklyn Democratic organization. He says it’s also news that Ameruso has stacked his agen­cy with hacks from every county party.

Our mayor, after 25 years of public life and two books about politics, is a babe in the woods, a shock absorber. He can only shake his head in surprised chagrin. He can only argue that the question is not whether his government caused this scandal, but what it is now doing to cor­rect it. He can actually say that the scan­dal “is not a major problem for me or my administration.” He can announce that he wouldn’t have visited Mane’s at the hospital if he’d known what Jimmy Bres­lin was about to write, suggesting that all those he calls friends may only be a head­line away from nowhere. Or worse still, a headline away from being called a crook.

The mere existence of the Michael Dowd contract, earning $2 million from the city in six years, is the best evidence of just how much the mayor will tolerate to satisfy powerful friends. Koch names Dowd in his own book as the man who managed Cuomo’s 1977 race and hired a private detective to probe Koch’s sex life. Yet the mayor who says he never forgets a slight has, indirectly, been making Dowd rich. Once Manes was given an agency, he was allowed to reward whom­ever he would reward. The legendary long memory gave way to Manes’s large pockets. Everything else dissolves when Koch’s power needs are at stake.

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The Koch Machine

Pol-businessmen like Stanley Fried­man are so arrogantly confident that the voters will never get in the way of their public profits that they put themselves up front in the collection business, seem­ingly the last place a politician would want to be. The letters we get dunning us to pay our parking tickets have become the unlikely prism through which we can all finally see, with sudden clarity, the nature of our leaders and our govern­ment. But PVB is only one of the ma­chine haunts in the Koch years. Here are a few others:

• Top Koch officials have been leaking stories that Transportation Commission­er Anthony Ameruso is on his way out for at least the last four years. They said it because they thought it was true. Then, magically, Ameruso would ride out the rumors. He was appointed commissioner when Koch became mayor. Koch ignored the advice of his own screening panel, which opposed the appointment of Amer­uso, who comes out of the Boro Park club of Brooklyn beep and county leader Howard Golden. His other rabbis are Esposito and Bronx congressman Mario Biaggi. Ameruso not only survived the Mazzeo scandal during the first couple of Koch years, he then went job hunting for the discredited Mazzeo in other city agencies.

Ameruso was the target of two 1981 probes by the State Investigation Com­mission. SIC reports obtained by the Voice (and written about in a 1983 NYC column) say that the investigations “fo­cused on the awarding by the NYC DOT of the midtown tow-away contracts to TRW Transportation Inc.” and on the granting of “no parking anytime signs” to the mob-owned SPQR Restaurant in Lit­tle Italy. In the SPQR investigation, wired agents were sent to interview Ameruso himself about the decision, in violation of city regulations, to treat mobster Matty the Horse Ianniello’s lat­est swank restaurant as if it were a church: John Culhane, an SIC commis­sioner who did parking lot business with Continued from preceding page Ameruso, helped kill these inquiries into his conduct.

At a press conference last week, Koch emphatically denied that he’d ever been urged to appoint or retain Ameruso by any Brooklyn political leader. But Espo­sito told the authors of I, Koch (a biogra­phy written by the Times, News and UPI bureau chiefs): “There were rumblings that Tony was going to be dumped. I saved him by telling Koch that he’s my guy, he’s a good man, don’t drop him.”

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• Taxi and Limo chairman Jay Turoff, a Brooklyn regular out of the Benson­hurst club led by Howie Golden aide Marcy Feigenbaum, was originally ap­pointed on the final day of the Beame administration in 1977. But Koch reap­pointed him in 1982, making him his own. The SIC is currently in the midst of a year-long probe of Turoff, investigating a possible hidden interest he may have in a car service and an allegation that he has several lines of credit in Atlantic City casinos. Other Koch appointees to the nine-member commission include party regulars Douglas McKeon from the Bronx and John Russell Sr. from Staten Island.

• Housing Preservation and Develop­ment commissioner Anthony Gliedman is an active member, coordinating election day activities, of Canarsie’s Thomas Jef­ferson Club in Brooklyn. He is close to both Esposito and district leader Tony Genovesi. “I recommended him for a job,” Esposito told the authors of I, Koch about Gliedman. “I spoke to LoCicero and told him to take care of this guy because he’s good.” When another club member, Mo Silver, lost his state job in 1983 and went to work for the nonprofit Wildcat Services Corporation, he imme­diately began negotiating new contracts for Wildcat with Gliedman, who employs his wife, Sheila Silver, another club-­member. Gliedman’s agency has also de­livered countless housing projects and community consultant contracts to neighborhood groups controlled by ma­chine loyalists, including multimillion dollar sponsorship deals to hacks like for­mer city councilman Luis Olmedo, who recently got out of jail on federal extor­tion charges, and Ramon Velez, the well­heeled prince of Bronx poverty who is Friedman’s prime minority property.

• The newly named Environmental Protection (DEP) commissioner, Harvey Schultz, is, like Gliedman, a competent machine bureaucrat. But Howie Golden, who is now to Brooklyn politics what Ma­nes is to Queens (wearing both the party and public hats of dual dominance), knows he has someone he can count on. Schultz has been Golden’s top assistant so long that many Brooklynites think he’s been the borough president. The agency he inherits already has its other party players, like deputy commisioner Fred Carfora, a Friedman regular. The PVB scandal has already hit a subsidiary of DEP, the Environmental Control Board, which uses many of the same col­lection companies as PVB. The Board’s collection chief, Joseph Scelzo, was con­victed of taking bribes to kill tickets last year.

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• When Manuel Bustelo was named Employment Commissioner in 1985, Ra­mon Velez and his two business partners, Jorge Batista and Frank Lugovina, threw a party celebrating the appointment. Bustelo earned his appointment as pub­lisher of El Diario, which he turned into a Spanish version of the Post, swinging an endorsement of Koch even in 1982, when he lost every Latin assembly dis­trict to Mario Cuomo. But it didn’t hurt that the Velez crew loved him (including Lugovina, whose company, Mobicentrics, has multi-million dollar, for profit, train­ing contracts with Bustelo’s agency). Ve­lez also threw a party when Batista was named by Koch to head the South Bronx Development Organization, the city’s planning arm there. Batista, whose conflict of interest ties with Velez and Lugo­vina [“How Ramon Velez Bleeds the Bronx,” Voice, Dec. 31, 1985] are now under investigation by the city’s Depart­ment of Investigation, is also Koch’s Loft Board chairman. The combination of the two posts has given Batista a commis­sioner level status. Lugovina was recently named by Koch to the Water Finance Board.

• Two days before Manes was discov­ered on Grand Central Parkway, Koch named a new chairman of the screening panel that recommends city marshals to him for appointment. The chairman, Peter Rivera, who says he has a “friendly and cordial relationship” with Velez, is a contributor to Velez’s sidekick, Assem­blyman Hector Diaz, and represented Ve­lez’s wholly owned subsidiary, City Coun­cilman Rafael Castenaira Colon, in an election law matter last year. Rivera’s partner represented a Velez backer charged with assaulting the wife of a can­didate running against Colon. Rivera, who has a $7 million collection contract with the city’s Health and Hospitals Cor­poration, and has also been appointed to the Off-Track Betting board, says he is tied to Latin pols unconnected to Velez, like Bronx State Senator Israel Ruiz.

City marshals are among the juiciest organization plums — potentially six-fig­ure jobs that require nothing more than a high school diploma. New York is virtual­ly the only major city that relies on such bounty hunters to collect court judgements. Their annual income (as much as $300,000) is determined by how many people they evict, how many salaries they garnish.

A lifelong opponent of the marshal sys­tem, Koch introduced a bill to abolish it when he first became mayor, lost in the assembly, and then gave up. After Stan­ley Fink became speaker in 1979, Koch never even asked him to back an aboli­tion bill. Instead, Koch adopted the win­dow dressing of a screening panel. Voice stories over the years have listed the numerous new marshals who’ve climbed out of clubhouses, as well as the party ties of some of Koch’s panel members. The most prominent duo were Carlos Castellanos and Elba Roman, two Luis Olmedo-des­ignees, both of whom were suspended for pocketing collections and not reporting them to the city. Castellanos also wound up nabbed in the Olmedo extortion case and trooped off to the federal pen with the man Koch used to call his favorite councilman (another shock).

Of course, in recent days, Koch has made ex-Queens marshall Sheldon Chev­lowe even more notorious than Castel­lanos, calling him “a bag man.” It was at Chevlowe’s funeral that Manes allegedly approached Dowd and asked him to switch the payoffs from Chevlowe to Lin­denauer. As Post stories have estab­lished, Manes tried to penetrate the screening process Koch created for marshalls with a few phone calls to City Hall. Chevlowe’s wife was quickly appointed, rushed past hundreds of other applicants.

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• The transportation department (DOT) is loaded with high and low level patronage. The agency’s chief counsel, Robert Shaw, is a Friedman appointee, out of Stanley Simon’s Riverdale club. The job was handled in classic patronage fashion — Shaw replaced another Bronx jobholder, George Salerno, who won a more significant state post. The chief of Legal Affairs is Michael Mondshein, an active Jeff Club member from Brooklyn. Deputy Commissioner Julian Prager, who’s now overseeing PVB, has been ac­tive in the Village Reform Democratic Club, an invention of Koch and LoCi­cero’s designed to counter the anti-Koch Village Independent Democrats

Felice Saccone, an assistant commis­sioner who now handles all of DOT’s leas­ing and facilities management, is also ac­tive in VRDC, together with his wife Joanna. Both are close to LoCicero and, ironically, to Carmine DeSapio. Saccone and DeSapio repeatedly share tables at the dinner dances of the Brooklyn and Bronx Democratic parties, and stayed for a private dinner together after the Man­hattan organization’s recent Tavern on the Green affair. Sources indicate that Joanna Saccone babysits for DeSapio’s daughter’s child. Felice Saccone was orig­inally named to replace Mazzeo as real estate director in Marine & Aviation in 1980, but she has been promoted twice since and now handles the entire agency’s facility portfolio.

• DOT Assistant Commissioner Leon­ard Piekarsky, a Friedman friend and primary day worker who is also a member of the Rockaway club in Queens, became Saccone’s boss at Marine & Aviation in 1980, which was renamed the Bureau of Ferries and General Aviation in the after­math of the Mazzeo scandal. Piekarsky replaced Leon Tracy, another Jeff Club captain who was tainted by Mazzeo and burned in a series of city comptroller’s audits. Though Piekarsky made substan­tial improvements in the agency, he also delivered at least one notorious conces­sion to a Cohn/Friedman-represented newsstand firm, after negotiating the terms with a Cohn associate already under indictment in a videotaped bribe case   involving an Amtrak contract in Washington. Piekarsky says he didn’t know about the indictment at the time.

Piekarsky was recently dumped by Ameruso, and Staten Island beep Lamberti has reportedly laid claim to name his successor. Lamberti and party boss LaPorte already have dozens of patron­age employees in the bureau, including the beep’s brother James, who is part of the ferry police force, district leaders Diane DiAngelus and Carl Berkowitz, La­Porte gopher Al Smith, and Lamberti campaign aide and contributor Robert Massaroni. Two Lamberti cousins also worked there, but left in the last year or so.

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• The unit at DOT that inspects pot­holes caused by utility companies has long been a Brooklyn patronage preserve. East New York district leader Everett George is a pothole supervisor; so was former Brownsville leader Edith Broth­ers. Jeff Club officers Lucy Schwartz, Claudia Shapiro, and Gerdie Gerst have also worked in the unit in recent years. Another top Jeff Club official, Frank Seddio, who is Genovesi’s business part­ner in a travel agency, was hired last year as an administrator in the traffic depart­ment. A Golden club member, Sam Aza­dian, is the DOT’s ombudsman. Two oth­er longtime Brooklyn clubhouse activists, Rita Levinsky and John Nelson, also have agency jobs. Ameruso’s executive assistant, Joel Stahl, is reportedly tied to the Queens organization and was impli­cated in the Liberman scandal. The fed­eral indictment of Liberman details how he used two letters signed by Stahl pre­tending that DOT was doing a feasibility study about a municipal parking lot to extort a $5000 bribe.

• Koch’s appointments to the Civil Service Commission have been bipartisan clubhouse, including Bronx regulars Harry Amer and Stanley Schlein, former Brooklyn Republican district leader Frank Gargiulo, and Juanita Watkins, the chairperson of the Queens Democrat­ic County Committee. Similarly, he named Nick LaPorte Jr., son of the Stat­en Island county leader, who goes to par­ty dinners and was once active in the county party, as first deputy of the city’s personnel department. By law no person­nel department officials are supposed to be connected with political organizations.

• Ted Teah, a partner in Stanley Friedman and Roy Cohn’s law firm, is a Koch-appointed City Planning Commis­sioner from the Bronx. And planning commissioner John Gulino, whose ap­pointment in 1978 was vigorously op­posed by the American Institute of Ar­chitects, is the former law chairman of the Staten Island Democratic party. Gulino shares his three-story office building on the island with LaPorte’s county headquarters, and he is the lawyer for several developers doing business with the city.

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• Harold Fallick, another Brooklyn pol out of Marcy Feigenbaum’s clubhouse, is an assistant commissioner at Ports & Terminals and processes some contracts. Throughout much of the first Koch term, the agency was notoriously tolerant of lease abuses and rent arrears at a city-­owned pier facility by operators tied to Tony Scotto, the convicted Longshore­man Union leader and Gambino crime family member. The ILA and its leaders have given the once scornful Koch $69,000 since 1978.

• Steven Spinola, the president of the increasingly powerful Public Develop­ment Corporation (PDC), was selected after getting votes of approval from both Manes and Esposito. PDC’s vice presi­dent in charge of the sale of city-owned property is Margaret Guarino, a longtime Esposito ally whose husband is active in the Jefferson Club and is a regular con­tributor to Golden and the Brooklyn par­ty. Spinola was taken to a pre-appoint­ment interview with Esposito in his Brooklyn office by Guarino. “Meade said he would put in a good word for me,” Spinola told the Voice in 1983. Two sons of Guarino’s brother-in-law, who runs fu­neral homes with Guarino’s husband, were murdered in mob hits in 1982, one while acting as a pallbearer. Federal orga­nized crime strike force sources told the Voice that Anthony Guarino, Margaret’s brother-in-law, is an associate of Tom Lombardi, a capo in the Genovese crime family.

Staten Island beep Lamberti’s land­-grab for a business partner was quietly processed through PDC. And minutes of a clandestine 1985 meeting obtained by the Voice reveal that Ramon Velez and his partners Lugovina and Batista tried to steer a piece of city property out of the agency that controlled it and into PDC, because they believed they could get Spi­nola to turn it over to them.

Responding to press accounts, Koch asked DOI this week to investigate an­other PDC-negotiated deal: Manes’s de­livery of the air rights over the municipal parking garage behind Queens Borough Hall to developer Joshua Muss. Muss, who plans to build a 28-story tower there, gave Manes a $10,000 contribution at the time, exceeding the $5000 legal limit. A related Muss company and employees gave over $21,000 since 1981 to Brook­lyn’s Golden (one contribution of $7500 was also illegal), who’s spearheading a Muss-developed hotel for downtown Brooklyn through PDC.

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• Virtually every city tax commission­er has been tied to party organizations — ­none more so than Brooklyn’s Sandy Rozales, who is related by marriage to Shir­ley Weiner, Esposito’s longtime vice chair of the county party and former Canarsie district leader. Rozales got swept up in the flurry of investigations in Brooklyn in recent years, and Koch did not re-ap­point him when his term expired in 1984. But Koch did not replace him, either, so Rozales has remained a holdover commissioner, exercising a wide latitude of judgement over tax reductions granted in the borough. Rozales was the law partner of another Weiner relative, Spencer Lader, who was convicted of stealing $600,000 in an array of scams, and then became a federal and state witness. Wei­ner herself became a target of the Lader inquiry and wound up pleading guilty to a state charge that her deputy court clerk position in Brooklyn State Supreme Court was a no show.

Ed Rappaport, the president of Gol­den’s Boro Park club and the man Howie chose to replace him in the city council when he left it almost a decade ago, has been interviewed by top city officials and is awaiting appointment to one of the two Brooklyn tax posts, probably not Rozales’s.

• Sanitation Department clubhouse appointees include Roger Fortune, a dep­uty commissioner in charge of real estate and the son of Brooklyn district leader Tom Fortune, and Ralph Uzzi, a Jeff Club official who is the sanitation depart­ment’s director of administration for the Office of Resource Recovery. The Build­ings Department long featured Deputy Commissioner Blaise Parascandola, and Chief Engineer Leonard Dwoskin, both Brooklyn regulars who recently resigned. Former Manhattan city councilman (and Koch backer) Robert Rodriguez was named to a fire department deputy commissioner post when he lost his seat but gave it up when the Alvarado scandal forced many of the ex-chancellor’s East Harlem allies to run for cover. He was succeeded at the fire department by for­mer mayoral aide Rafael Esparra, who has his own Velez and Esposito ties.

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• Jeff Club leader Marvin Markus chaired the Rent Guidelines Board for years and Board of Standards and Ap­peals vice-chair Vito Fossella is a long­time Staten Island regular with strong Friedman connections. Fossella, the brother of a recently defeated Staten Is­land councilman, put Mazzeo in place initially at Marine & Aviation but has survived this and at least one other em­barrassing DOI probe. Longtime Esposito ally Steven Aiello is now the chairman of the city’s Youth Board and ran the Edu­cation Construction Fund through much of the Koch era. Carpenters’ union boss and Koch backer Teddy Maritas was named to the PDC board where he served until he was indicted in a 1981 racketeer­ing probe. Tapes played at his trial re­vealed him boasting of his relationship with Koch, but he was murdered before he could be convicted.

• Koch is the third mayor to allow Esposito to turn the 261-acre, city-owned Brooklyn Navy Yard into an Esposito playground. Every pier and every naval vessel that docks there for repairs is in­sured by Esposito. Esposito’s firm, Serres, Visone, and Rice, is the prime broker for a minimum of $50 million worth of insurance covering the dry­docks, and shipyard building leased on a 40-year basis by his principal client, Coastal Drydock, headed by Charles Montanti. Esposito personally pressured David Lenefsky, the Koch-appointed chairman of the yard’s board, to deliver the no-bid, extraordinarily favorable lease to Montanti, who’s been the subject of two federal probes. Lenefsky told the Voice that Esposito did not disclose his insurance interest in Montanti’s contract when he called to complain about “why it was taking so long to get the negotiations finished.”

Both Coastal and the city corporation that runs the yard have been heavy pa­tronage employers as well, with Coastal carrying another Weiner in-law as per­sonnel director and a longtime Esposito district leader employed as the Lenefsky board’s secretary. Koch did not name Lenefsky to begin the clean-up of the corporation until a couple of weeks after he was re-elected in 1981 — leaving the management of the Navy Yard firmly in the hands of Esposito cronies until then. A Brooklyn Supreme Court judge, who was asked to rule on a pay claim submit­ted by the the yard’s executive director through most of the first Koch term said that conditions there, which led to sever­al indictments, made “the corruption of the Tweed Courthouse architects look amateurish.”

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One top executive at the yard during the early Koch years, Charles LoCicero (not related to John LoCicero), was an associate in the Columbo crime family; his father was a consiglieri in the same family and was machine-gunned to death. Hired ten days after he finished a six-year jail term, LoCicero got a series of rapid promotions until he held two of the five highest executive posts there. LoCi­cero was eventually indicted in 1980 on 190 counts of bribe receiving, grand lar­ceny, forgery, falsifying business records, and theft of services, but he is still a fugitive. One of his scams [“Pirates Plunder the Piers,” Voice, Dec. 20, 1983] in­volved the theft of hundreds of thou­sands of dollars in Navy Yard checks written to fictitious individuals and con­tractors that were endorsed by the hot dog vendor who parked his wagon at the yard. The vendor turned the payments over to LoCicero. The LoCicero scandal was a second or third wave at the yard (a previous executive director was convicted of conspiracy to sell $1.6 million in stolen cashiers’ checks); but nothing deterred the Koch administration from treating the port as Meade’s motherland. Even Lenefsky’s current board and adminis­tration has its Esposito players and favors.

Four More Years

For years Ed Koch has prospered by manipulating the press, baiting blacks, taking credit for things he didn’t do (like solving the fiscal crisis), and governing effectively from the point of view of the richest third of the city. But the scandal that started with a slashed wrist could change everything. It has, at least tempo­rarily, persuaded the public that its gov­ernment is in trouble. What will it mean for Koch in the end?

We put that question to one of the city’s most astute powerbrokers this week. His reply was: “No fourth term. And a very messy third term.” The PVB scandal has put things in perspective. It’s illuminated the recent past. It’s revealed a flaw in Ed Koch’s character that may become his fate. A year from now he will look at thlie government of this city and not see a lot of the present faces. He will look into a mirror and see a face that has aged, that has sagged, like Dorian Gray’s.

No fourth term is what this is all about. ❖

Research assistance by Janine Kerry Steel and Leslie Conner. 

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Manes’s Patronage and Plunder Zones

When Donald Manes announced his candidacy for governor in April 1974, he was flanked by Peter Smith, his cam­paign manager, and lawyers Sid Davi­doff and Donald Evans. Manes said he would spend $90,000 on radio and televi­sion commercials, a buy that would be paid for by loans co-signed by council­man Eugene Mastropieri and Ann Groh, the wife of deputy borough president and Sanitation Commissioner-designate Robert Groh. The candidate unveiled his campaign slogan (“Manes — He’s For Real”) and told 50 supporters at the Roosevelt Hotel, “I have looked after the needs of more people than the governors of 19 other states.”

The Manes campaign disintegrated quickly, but it signaled that the borough president was a pol in a hurry, content to do deals with the dreck of the Queens organization:

• Smith, Koch’s first Department of General Services (DGS) Commissioner, was bounced after it was revealed that he embezzled money from the law firm he worked for before joining the Koch administration. Smith, who helped orga­nize various Manes campaigns, was eventually convicted in the swindle and served time. He now runs the Partner­ship for the Homeless, a not-for-profit organization funded by Koch adminis­tration grants.

• Mastropieri was backed by Manes and the county organization until he was booted from the city council after being convicted in 1980 on federal corruption charges. Back in 1978, the Voice and the News detailed Mastropieri’s history as a  scofflaw, council truant and compromised hack. At the time, Jack Newfield wrote that Mastropieri “is a public servant seemingly imbued with the tastes of ­a drug lawyer — a Mercedes-Benz, a yacht — but without the guile necessary to support his greed.”

• Sid Davidoff is as close to Manes as any pol. Davidoff visited Manes’s hospital room the night he tried to kill himself — six hours before police were allowed in. Soon after the bedside visit, Davidoff began interviewing attorneys to represent the borough president; he eventually chose former Knapp Commission counsel Michael Armstrong. Davidoff was a special assistant to John Lindsay and later doled out patronage for Abe Beame. In 1976 Davidoff was indicted on charges of failing to pay the state taxes he withheld from employees of  a restaurant he owned. His company agreed to plead guilty to grand larceny, pay a $1000 fine and $33,000 in back taxes in exchange for criminal charges against him being dropped. Davidoff represented Warner Amex in its success­ful bid to get the lucrative Queens cable television franchise and has also served as counsel for the Jamaica Water Com­pany, which has, for years, successfully fought off city takeover attempts.

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• Robert Groh, a Manes protégé, was indicted in 1977 on charges that he ex­torted $7000 in political payoffs from a Queens businessman in exchange for a zoning variance. The money went for the purchase of tickets to Manes fundraisers in 1972 and 1973, when Groh was still an  aide to the borough president. Groh was acquitted of the extortion charges in 1979 and continues to serve as a civil court judge.

But while Manes’s discredited main backers in the short-lived 1974 gubernatorial race remained close to him for years thereafter, they are hardly the only close associates who could have given Ed Koch reason to temper his enthusiasm about the Queens boss:

• Herbert Ryan, another Manes pal, was convicted of taking a $1400 bribe from an undercover cop while serving on the Taxi and Limousine Commission. In 1982, New York magazine reported that federal law enforcement officials claimed that city officials “torpedoed a potential sting operation — called ‘Cabscam’ — that was inspired” by Ryan’s arrest. The magazine reported that federal authorities believed if they could “turn” Ryan it would be a “way to open a wide-ranging” probe of the Queens Democratic ma­chine. However, Koch and then-Depart­ment of Investigation commissioner Stanley Lupkin nixed the idea and pushed for Ryan’s prosecution. At the time of his indictment, Ryan held a $7400-a-year part-time patronage job with Queens councilman Morton Pov­man. Appointed to the commission in 1975, Ryan owed his spot to Manes and former county leader Matty Troy, an­other Queens convict. Ryan is still a member of Manes’s home club, Flush­ing’s Stevenson Regular Democratic Club.

• Richard Rubin, the county organi­zation’s lawyer, is the target of a federal probe into a kickback scheme involving court appointments and receiverships. Rubin, a longtime Manes adviser, him­self collected $20,050 in legal fees from Queens Surrogate Louis Laurino over the past 21 months. Laurino has en­riched numerous organization lawyers and pols, including State Senators Emanuel Gold ($7000) and Jeremy Weinstein ($3500) and district leaders Jay Bielat ($7450) and Charles Cipolla ($4250).

• A close friend of Rubin’s, lawyer Abbey Goldstein, landed a spot on the city Tax Commission in 1982, thanks to his organization ties. Commission mem­bers meet once a week and are paid $21,000-a-year to rule on tax exemptions and aaseeaments. Like most member of the commission, Goldstein is politically active: a former reformer, he ill now a regular in Manes’s Stevenson Club.

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• David Love is a Lindsay-Republi­can turned-Queens-clubhouse-regular. He attends most county dinners and made noise about running for Ben Ro­senthal’s seat after the congressman died in 1983. Love resigned as first deputy commissioner of the Department of Transportation in December 1981 as part of a department shakeup. At the time, Koch said he was “not happy with the bottom line on what the transporta­tion department” accomplished during his first term. Love has worked as a counsel for EDP Medical Computer Sys­tem, a collection agency which held a small contract with the PVB until it was cancelled in 1984, and still has larger contracts with the Environmental Con­trol Board (ECB) and other city agen­cies. A source familiar with the compa­ny’s contracts told the Voice that PVB officials recommended that another agency hire the company to collect out­standing fines.

• Former Taxi and Limousine Com­mission (TLC) chairman Michael Lazar traveled with Manes to the 1984 Demo­cratic National Convention in San Francisco and can often be seen at Manes’s shoulder during county political dinners. His real estate business is booming, thanks to his ability to land city and state development deals, one of which has resulted in a state investigation while others have spawned numerous lawsuits. One of the suits is aimed at “politically influential individuals” who scored big in the Times Square deal. An example of Lazar’s political sway was the 1980 purchase of the Candler Build­ing on 42nd Street. Lazar and partners paid $1.3 million for the building in 1980 and resold it for more than $14 million in 1984. The building, which houses the offices of the agency Lazar once headed, was one of only two buildings in the 13- acre project area not slated for demoli­tion. Lazar, one lawsuit claims, was “the only apparent reason for not condemn­ing the Candler Building.” Manes was an early supporter of the Times Square redevelopment project and voted for it at the Board of Estimate.

The state investigation arises from Lazar’s rental, to New York State, of office space in Jamaica’s Gertz Building. The head of the World Trade Center relocation task force, Joseph Siggia, rec­ommended that the state transfer offices from Manhattan into Lazar’s building. Siggia has now admitted receiving $23,625 in “commissions” from Lazar a few months after retiring in May 1983 from his post at the state Office of Gen­eral Services (OGS). A State Investiga­tions Committee report on Siggia and Lazar is due aoon.

• But it is the role of Manes’s former executive assistant, Daniel Koren, in the attempt to organize Grand Prix races at Flushing Meadows Park that might be the most disturbing Manes-wired, and Koch approved, city deal of recent mem­ory. As the Voice reported in May, 1983, Koren started organizing the race while he was still on the Manes payroll. Then he left to become the company’s chief executive officer. With Manes running interference, Koren’s company whipped through the city approval process, brushing past widespread editorial and community opposition. Manes was so committed to Koren’s project that he personally presided over a raucous, six-­hour borough board meeting at which he rammed the project through. In addition to Koren, two other Manes cronies — Sid Davidoff and Michael Nussbaum, the borough president’s political strategist — also had a piece of the Prix action. Only the subtle roadblocks, invisibly built by Koch subordinates who dared not open­ly oppu,e the project, slowed the race down. With Manes’s demise, the scam may also disappear. ■

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Friedman: The Bronx “Scofflaw”

Bronx county leader Stanley Fried­man’s reputation, and the attention it has brought him, are well-earned. His list of political operatives includes Ra­mon Velez, Joe Galiber, and Stanley Si­mon. Friedman is a law partner of Roy Cohn (who Ed Koch once called “the most vile person in New York”), and until John Calandra’s death last week, Friedman divvied up the borough with the ultra-conservative Republican state senator as if he were a brother Democrat.

The first of many blights on Fried­man’s record came in 1972, when the city Department of Investigations (DOI) found that Friedman — then an assistant to council leader Tom Cuite — ­sent a few parking tickets to his father Moses, an administrative assistant at the Parking Violations Bureau’s (PVB) Bronx office. DOI investigators deter­mined that Friedman’s father, instead of forwarding them to a hearing officer, marked “dismissed” on the summonses. Friedman told DOI that he did not know how his father was disposing of the tickets.

In an internal report obtained by the Voice, then-DOI Commissioner Robert Ruskin wrote that Friedman’s explana­tion “strains credulity.” Ruskin con­cluded that if Friedman’s father had not died during the investigation, the case would have “certainly been re­ferred to the district attorney’s office.”

The following year, Friedman left Cuite’s office to become Abe Beame’s Albany lobbyist, and a year later he was appointed deputy mayor for intergov­ernmental relations — Beame’s patron­age czar. During the final 10 days of the Beame administration, the city awarded a mammoth tax abatement to Donald Ttump. The $160 million abatement — ­which Friedman shepherded through the city bureaucracy and which typified his blatant self-dealing — went to Trump for the construction of the Hy­att Hotel, although the developer had not even arranged financing and did not yet have legal title to the property. Friedman had already agreed to join Cohn’s firm, Saxe, Bacon and Bolan, while he was securing the Hyatt abate­ment. Trump, as Friedman surely knew at the time, was already a Cohn client. The Hyatt package, Barron’s conclud­ed, was “the most generous package of tax abatements in state history.”

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Since becoming county leader in May 1978, Friedman, whose wife Jacqueline holds a $47,000 post in Koch’s office, has lorded over a massive political cesspool The low points have included:

• The political partnership Friedman has entered into with Ramon Velez and State Senator Joe Galiber. This pact has delivered patronage and contracts to these minority fronts, while Fried­man gets their support and the assur­ance that empowerment is an ideal left for the other boroughs. Galiber is cur­rently under indictment — for grand lar­ceny and falsifying business records — ­along with former Labor Secretary Ray­mond Donovan in connection with a scheme to defraud the Transit Author­ity of $8 million. The current charge stems from Galiber’s business dealings with mafia hoodlum William Masselli, the twice-convicted felon who was Galiber’s partner in the Jopel Contracting and Trucking Corporation. Despite the fact that, according to a DOI report, “the City of New York probably had information sufficient to disqualify Jo­pel as a subcontractor based on William Masselli’s criminal record, plus the on­going investigation against him … ” the city awarded Jopel two excavation and hauling contracts worth $1.6 million. FBI tapes caught Masselli saying that, “I don’t think that this Koch you could do business with him on this level.” However, Masselli did not rule out the possibility of cutting deals without Koch: “Maybe the people around him I say yes.”

Galiber-controlled community groups are also favorites of Friedman and Koch — one, the Mid-Bronx Council, re­ceives more than $6 million in antipov­erty funds. Despite Galiber and Velez’s sleazy records, both Friedman and Koch have refused to break with the pols.

• Friedman has delivered patronage plums to friends of borough president Stanley Simon, including Stanley Wolf’s $58,000 commissioner post on the Board of Standards and Appeals, and Robert Moll’s spots on the Tax Commission ($21,000 a year for attend­ing weekly meetings) and the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Moll and Wolf are members of Simon’s political club.

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• In 1981, Koch proposed an 8 per cent tax on the sale of taxi medallions. A group of taxi owners paid Friedman $15,000 to work his magic with the may­or and administration officials. After some lobbying, Friedman had the tax cut to 5 per cent, thus saving his clients $3 million annually. At the time, Fried­man said that people like the taxi own­ers “want to feel like they’re getting an edge. That’s what life is all about.”

• Friedman’s wired Citisource deal has prompted a city investigation into how he was awarded the contract and a federal probe into possible insider trading by Friedman of the company’s stock. Friedman reportedly owned 25 per cent of the company’s stock at one point. He then quietly dumped much of his stock last month at the midway point in the stock’s fall from $14 a share to $2 a share. Friedman also has repre­sented another PVB contract holder, Datacom, which had its contracts stripped by the city last week. A No­vember 1982 DOI report ripped Data­com’s contract performance and at­tacked PVB’s contract monitoring. On December 13, 1984, Ed Koch received contributions of $5000 from Datacom, $5000 from Citisource’s parent compa­nies and $5000 from Friedman’s Bronx county committee. Both Citisource and Datacom had lucrative contracts ap­proved months earlier.

Friedman, like Manes, has always re­alized that in return for political sup­port, Ed Koch would provide plums. In October 1983, both leaders refused to endorse Koch in the 1985 mayoral race despite pleas from the incumbent. At the same time Friedman was rejecting an early Koch endorsement, he was lob­bying city officials to approve a multi­million dollar contract for hand-held, ticket-writing computers from his new company, Citisource. Friedman ex­plained that he did not want to come out for Koch two years before the may­oral primary, because if he did, “pots of money” available in the following two years “would not go to the borough that’s already in somebody’s pocket.” ■

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Mayor Meese

The mayor of New York City is a lawyer. Indeed, in his selfless years, his knowledge of civil rights and civil liberties law made him persistently effective in those areas in Congress.

Now, after eight years of intoxicating sovereignty, Koch has jettisoned his history as an advocate for and defender of the Constitution. In publicly declaring Donald Manes guilty of having “engaged in being a crook” — and then insisting he be imprisoned — Koch has allied himself with the nation’s preeminent enemy of civil rights and civil liberties: the Attorney General of the United States. Edwin Meese, too, has proclaimed publicly that if someone, anyone, is a suspect, he or she must be guilty.

Koch says, “In the case of Donald Manes, we clearly know he was corrupt … in the court of public opinion.”

We have a Bill of Rights to prevent people from being lynched — before indictment and trial — “in the court of public opinion.”

Nothing Ed Koch has done in his time as mayor has so dismayed those who remember him as a courageous defender of the presumption of innocence than this self-­transmogrification into Joseph McCarthy.

And, in view of the Mayor’s widely publicized prejudicial pre-trial judgment of Manes, if there is a trial, where can fair-minded jurors be found? Not in the city of New York.

— Nat Hentoff

 

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From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Deep Threat: Roy Cohn

Roy Cohn, Encounter, and ‘L’Image’

In his long career, Roy Cohn has done battle with a host of enemies, both real and ephemeral. Now in his new role as a community leader, he has galvanized his neighbors into opposing a small, drug-free program to rehabilitate youthful drug-abusers. He is charging that the Encounter program “sneaked” into its new home on his block, 68th Street between Madison and Park.

Last week, more than 200 residents from that vicinity crowded together at Automation House to vent their feelings before the local Community Planning Board. They were, for the most part, stylishly dressed but quite obviously very angry, their faces lined with the familiar hostility of people convinced that everything they have worked for is under siege.

Though the situation was commonplace, the particulars were not. The turf is one of the most elegant blocks in New York, the attacker a well-respected, nine-year-old program that will house a maximum of 50 kids in a ramshackle building previously used as a rooming house.

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Cohn, whose firm is representing the opponents, maintained a low profile, speaking twice, but only briefly, his face impassive most of the time as he sat cross-legged on the floor, as a series of well-groomed and a highly articulate women paraded up to the podium to explain why Encounter would be a menace to the neighborhood. A young mother said her daughter was afraid to go out alone, a flaxen-haired “senior citizen” worried about the effect of declining property values on people with fixed incomes, and the owner of a nearby posh children’s store feared for her clientele.

As polished as it appeared, the performance was, in a sense, a useless exercise. Had the funding source for Encounter’s move been the City’s Addiction Services Agency, Community Planning Board approval would have been required. But the monies in this case came from the National Institute of Health channeled through the state’s Drug Abuse Control Commission, and neither Board nor ASA ratification was necessary.

After the opposition had made its presentation, the meeting was interrupted by a man who shouted, “Maybe the community is divided. I want to hear from us people who believe in something besides property values.” If the residents are divided, it wasn’t apparent that night. Nearly everyone who spoke in favor of Encounter was either connected to the program, to other social agencies, or to the Family Court, a primary source of referrals. The most eloquent of these was Justine Polier, a lifetime Upper East Sider and Family Court judge for 37 years. “I was concerned tonight,” she said, “as I listened to a great number of people who I think are far better than they sounded … This fear has been spread and has caused you to blind yourselves to the needs of other human beings while you yourselves are privileged.”

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Some of the questioners charged that Encounter teenagers use obscene language, but if obscenities truly bother Encounter’s new neighbors, one wonders how they will react to the news that last summer Audubon Films shot part of an erotic movie at 39 East 68th Street, the building in which Cohn lives and works. Audubon publicist Sheldon Roskin of Solter, Sabinson, and Roskin at first confirmed this information and told The Voice that the as yet unreleased film is based on a French never entitled “L’Image.” After conferring with director Radley Metzger, Roskin denied his previous statements, but further corroboration was provided by three crew members — lightning man Joe Rivers described the film as a “hoopy-scoop,” or very low-budget operation, and he and production manager Don Newman said that a small room at the rear of the ground floor was transformed into a dressing cubicle of a lingerie shop as a setting for a lesbian sex scene. Both maintained that more shooting, which  they did not witness, was going on elsewhere in the house. Although Cohn and his law partners occupy most of the building, he says they are merely tenants — and not even stockholders — of the building, which is owned by the 39 East 68th Street Corporation. He insisted he knew nothing about the filming.

By the end of last week, Encounter and its opponents were locked in a legal skirmish resulting from the serving of a temporary restraining order. The plaintiffs are seeking to bar the program permanently and are asking the court to hold Encounter in contempt for violating the order Encounter is contesting the validity of the order. In its most recent ruling, the court permitted Encounter’s present 19 residents to stay in the building as long as they don’t interfere with the “quiet enjoyment” of the remaining tenants.

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Meanwhile, two of the original plaintiffs, Laura Margolies and Lynne Clendenin, have withdrawn their names from the case. “I’m getting close to these kids,” explains Clendenin, “and I can’t have them in my room, play records, and watch tv with them while my name’s on an injunction. That’s very hypocritical. We just want to remain neutral.” ❖

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CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Death of John/Diane

Talking Heads

Resting their minds from the Palestin­ian slaughter and the killing of the economy, some New Yorkers turned their at­tention last week to a diverting little crime, the murder of Diane Delia.

A dark pouting model, Diane Delia was the apex of a love triangle at whose base were her accused killers Robert Ferrara and Robyn Arnold. The murder itself, which took place in a Yonkers wood last October, was accomplished with four straightforward shots to the head, two, the prosecutor alleges, fired by each of the accused. The cause of death is one of the few details of the Delia case that is a certainty, that and the obsession the ac­cused killers had for the victim. Both Rob­ert Ferrara and Robyn Arnold were emotionally entangled with Diane Delia — Ferrara married her, Arnold was in love with her — and both date their involvement to the days before her operation, when Diane Delia was still John Delia, a man.

The Transsexual Love Triangle, as the tabloids call it, was being played out in high colors against the grim backdrop of the criminal court building on Centre Street. In a ninth-floor courtroom the dev­otees gathered, toothless trial junkies, a woman who follows the trials in police costume, the Super-8 filmmaker Eric Mitchell, reporters, parents of the accused, and friends of the deceased. Pastel chalk squeaked as the television news artist sketched the witnesses, while they, in turn, painted a picture for the jury of John/Diane, as the victim, for convenience, was called.

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A medium-height man from a middle-­class family, John Delia was dark-skinned and slight. His body and face were so smooth that, when at 16 he first began dressing in women’s clothes, there was never any stubble to betray him. His drag impersonations, lip synching to Diana Ross records, were so convincing he made an act of them, performing first at local clubs, later in Manhattan, billed as an impersonator of women even after this was no longer the case. Miss D., as his friends called him, had small hands, a naturally feminine voice, beautiful legs, and a reck­less humor. He was compulsive, rude, and funny. He was casually immoral, and loyal. He had big feet and a taste for cheap clothes. The boaty pumps that are pivotal evidence in the prosecutor’s case rested on the courtroom table — weird icons. Like ev­erything else in the John/Diane story, they’re purple.

Robyn Arnold, the surgeon’s daughter and accused murderess, met John Delia at the Playroom bar in the late ’70s. They became lovers. She offered him money and her complete attention. Friends say that as many as 40 framed snapshots of John De­lia litter Robyn Arnold’s bookshelves. Sev­eral large blowups of Diane Delia decorate her wall. It was Arnold who paid for Delia’s sex change, when, several years into their relationship, he met and fell in love with Robert Ferrara, a bartender from New Hope, Pennsylvania. It was Arnold who paid for surgery to prettify Delia’s nose and heighten his cheekbones. Hard but not unpretty, Robyn Arnold hid behind a fringe of hair in court, as witnesses de­scribed for Judge Rothwax, the press, and the jury, her aggressive, manipulative sex­uality and her emotional enslavement to Delia. Sitting beside her, Robert Ferrara listened as the prosecutor mounted his case.

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When Delia became enamored of Fer­rara they began to live together. Arnold continued to pay the bills. Claiming that Ferrara could not accept himself living in a homosexual relationship, Delia planned and Arnold engineered the sex change: the two were married. Delia was as proud of his new anatomy as a child with a toy and made a party trick of showing the altered parts. Neither Diane Delia nor Robert Ferrara saw marriage as a binding proposition, though, and both had affairs. In 1980 Delia left Yonkers for Montreal, where she was hired by a modeling agency for her “Latin look” and shot an Avon ad for a Foxfire robe (“Wrap yourself in luxury.”). She took a lover there. In her absence Robyn Arnold and Robert Ferrara cemented their friendship. Piqued by this, Delia returned to New York and the three were reunited, after a fashion. Delia’s nature was com­pulsive, sexually and emotionally. Her extramarital affairs with men were expected, but when she started to sleep with women, the climate changed — this betrayal was the final straw.

In the prosecutor’s scenario, Delia’s husband and friend arranged on the night of Wednesday, October 7, to pick her up in Arnold’s Cadillac Seville to go dancing. They drove her instead to a wood and shot her, leaving the body for some days before returning to dispose of it in the Hudson River. It washed up three weeks later. The prosecutor’s case is circumstantial and tri­angular: it hangs on the motives of the accused, on Diane Delia’s shoes, which were later found by a friend in Robyn Arnold’s possession, and on the yellow acrylic blanket in which the body was un­luxuriously wrapped. Witnesses claim the blanket came from Miss Arnold’s bed. At presstime, none of this had been proven.

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The courtroom has been tickled when suited men take the stand to identify evidence: “Of course, I know those pumps,” said one. “I used to wear them.” It has been shocked by the excessive violence of the shooting. The first bullet killed Delia; the others blew out her eyes. It has been chilled by the sight of Delia’s death outfit, once lavender, now mottled river-green. It has been amused by the courtroom antics of Arnold’s lawyer, a silver-haired ham given to improvised outbursts. And it has been bemused by the image of the two accused killers. Silent, drab, impassive at their table, they are diminished even after her death by the late John/Diane, whose flamboyance was seductive and whose seductions proved fatal. The received wis­dom about transsexuals suggest they are born imprisoned in bodies of the wrong sex. For John/Diane Delia this seems inac­curate. In her desire to please and be ac­cepted, she treated all sex as the right sex. As a man and as a woman she accom­modated both men and women lustily, equally. It may be that her democratic nature was the end of her. ❖

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From The Archives From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Michael Sorkin, 1948–2020

Architect, urban planner, and author Michael Sorkin, passed away in New York City on March 26, from complications related to COVID-19. Village Voice readers from the 80s will remember Sorkin as a progressive and imaginative architecture critic who always kept sight of the human element amid the stone, steel, and glass of civilization. In one of his typically far-ranging columns, such as the one below, Sorkin explored the connections between spacesuits, bachelor-pod hotels in Japan, Brazil’s favelas, and Marcel Duchamp.

 

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From The Archives From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES The Economy THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Black Monday, 1987: Didn’t We Almost Have It All?

Wall Street Sings Along

There’s nothing wrong with the economy.
—Ronald Reagan, with some irritation

There’s a worldwide Las Vegas going on.
—anonymous financial consultant

MONDAY NIGHT was a beautiful night, cool and calm, a refreshing breeze to keep one alert. A perfect night for heavy drinking, and by coinci­dence many financial pro­fessionals seemed deter­mined to do just that. South Street Seaport’s North Star bar, which specializes in ob­scure British beverages, was doing excellent business. The Dow Jones stock index had just dropped 508 points, or 22.6 per cent; the compa­rable drop on Black Tuesday in 1929 was only 12.8 per cent. The stock market, which had broken record af­ter record since the ’82 depression, had just experi­enced the financial equi­valent of nuclear war. It was a good excuse to drink.

A well-dressed young man from a prominent Wall Street firm felt part of the blame lay with computeriza­tion. All the brokers have sell programs on their com­puters, and, when the Dow or some other index hits a certain level, the programs take over. “It keeps feeding on itself. They have it set up for certain levels. What to sell, how much, and when it hits that level: Boom, press the button, sell! It just keeps feeding on itself.” The young man didn’t really seem that upset, or maybe he was just stunned. He laughed a lot. “We had peo­ple losing tens of thousands of dollars in 20 minutes. We knew last week the market was down at record levels, we knew it was going to go down. But nothing like this.”

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Behind the technical fac­tors, he felt, was an attitude problem. “Investors’ confi­dence was really shaky,” he said. It was merely idle to guess about causes; “They’ll give ya a hundred reasons. If it’s oil yesterday, today it’s the dollar, tomorrow it’s what they did in Japan last night. There’s a million rea­sons: it all boils down to what the investor thinks. So long as investors believe in the stock market, the fuck­in’ dollar could be worth a penny.”

As for what makes inves­tors lack confidence, no one at the North Star seemed to have any idea. They did know that the smart money would go into gold or silver. And debt would be more popular than equity (stock); anyone could tell that stock wasn’t going to be popular. The young professional and his four peers, all drinking beer from big mugs, felt proud that the market’s mechanisms had been able to withstand the day’s shocks. “The system is still intact,” he said triumphant­ly, and there were congrats all around.

I wasn’t convinced; “You don’t think this is the crisis of capitalism?” I asked naively.

“Obviously it indicates that there was a correction in the economy,” the profes­sional said.

“A necessary downside correction in the economy,” another added. “But if you look at the top 10 technical quantifiable indicators of the broader United States economy, it’s lookin’ strong.”

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The first man emphasized that what mustn’t happen is for people to “take their money out of the banks and put it in their fuckin’ mat­tresses. That’s when we’ll all be sellin’ pencils!” That would represent a crisis of confidence. And confidence is key. Two “freelance construc­tion workers” had come to the North Star to celebrate the crash. They described themselves as “joyously pes­simistic.” “We’re fucked anyway!” one said.

I went over to Harry’s at Hanover Square, the ulti­mate bankers’ bar, hoping to find older people. The yup­pies at North Star had rec­ognized that their perspec­tive was limited. “We’ve never seen a fuckin’ bear market.”

A mature man with expe­rience in the bond markets said of the crash, “There’s no reason for it. It’s basic psychology.” Fred Pisculli, a vice-president at Shearson Lehman Brothers, ex­plained that once “the fit hit the shan — that’s an Iranian joke — the lemming instinct took over.” Both men thought the U.S. economy is basically very strong, that people just got carried away, like lemmings. Pisculli em­phasized that the crash presents opportunities: “This is a bonanza. This is the time that people will make for­tunes.” He also, however, said that now is a good time to buy gold, and that Leh­man is very heavy into gold.

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Pisculli said “a calming influence is what’s needed.” He said I could be that calming influence. He said that if I reported that things are basically fine, then every broker would send my clip out. My byline would be “all over the world.” The stock market crash, twice as se­vere as in 1929, was essen­tially a question of attitude rather than information (as I had suggested to him). “No. Not information,” he said. “Perception. Percep­tion is the main word here.”

I wanted to create good perceptions and help the country; but it was hard not to remember the story a young banker had told me earlier in the evening. The story was about what would happen if banks start losing their ability to guarantee de­posits. (As the following day’s New York Times said, “Among the key differences between the economy of the 1920s and 1930s and today’s is the advent of Federal de­posit insurance…”)

“Someone at the office was kidding around, saying there wouldn’t be any problem be­cause FDIC or Federal Home Loan Bank Board will be able to bail out the different banks.” The young banker smiled at me in a dazed sort of way. “And someone just leaned over and goes, ‘Yeah, two trillion in deficit, yeah, like they have another six or seven laying around to give to ev­eryone when they want their money.’ ” ❖

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The New Anti-Semitism: A Geshrei

The New Anti-Semitism: A Geshrei
October 1, 1991

MY GRANDMOTHER HID IN a bureau drawer for three days while color­ful Christians ram­paged through the shtetl. But that stuff happened in the Old World — we lived in America, the greatest country in the world. I knew about the Holocaust, of course, but all my rela­tives had the luxury of dying from natural causes. We lived in New York, the greatest Jewish city in the world. We didn’t need the promised land — we were Yankees, safe at last.

When I was eight, we took a vacation in Pennsylva­nia, my first trip out of New York. While we stopped for gas on a country road, I went to get a Coke. I noticed a group of men in overalls staring at me, whispering. A boy my age stepped forward and politely asked if I was Jewish. I realized the star of David was dangling out of my T-shirt, and grabbed it instinctively. When I nodded yes, he asked, in a strangely animated voice: “Can we please see your horns?” I shuddered and backed up toward the car. When I told my mother what had happened, she yanked me into the seat beside her and held me tight, while my father paid. Then we sped away.

I stopped wearing the star of David that summer. I had learned an important lesson about the terms of my liberation in America: the less I look Jewish, the safer I will be. Even as an adult, when I tell jokes in dialect I’m always aware of who I am addressing and what their response will be. And I always feel uncomfortable dur­ing the High Holy Days watching people in yarmulkes rushing through the streets, knowing they’ll be swaying and moaning something ancient and indecipherable, even to me.

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I always wear jeans on Yom Kippur. Not just because I’m a secular humanist, but because, on some level, I want to hide. My mother’s terror in Pennsylvania stays with me, along with her unspoken message that history is not over for us. Even in America, we are vulnerable to superstitions and slanders so grotesque there can be no defense against them. And these fairy tales for fanatics linger just be­low the surface of ordinary life, until they’re unleashed by the powers that be. As they were in Crown Heights.

What happened there was the worst out­break of anti-Semitism in New York during my lifetime. Things went down I thought I would never see: people shouting “Heil Hitler.” Windows smashed in dozens of Hasidic homes. A jewelry store torched while other shops were left standing. A Hasid from Aus­tralia stabbed to death — the suspect, a 17- year-old, dubbed JEW-SLAY TEEN by the inde­fatigable New York Post. It seems the boy’s father had bawled him out because the landlord — a fellow named Klein — complained about the noise he was making. In protest, the boy reportedly scrawled a star of David in front of the building, with his nickname inside. “The Jew got me in trou­ble,” he was heard to say.

On the night of the riot, did this boy hear the crowd cry, “Let’s go down to Kingston Avenue and kill the Jews”? And when he saw Yankel Rosenbaum fleeing toward him, baffled and babbling, did the boy see his landlord in that Hasidic face? “I didn’t like his accent,” he told police when they arrested him, his clothes still wet with blood.

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Several days later and miles away, on a train roaring up the West Side of Manhat­tan, an Orthodox Jew was punched by a black man shouting, “That’s for killing chil­dren.” Perhaps this Jew looked just like the teacher who dissed him back in high school, or the Jews who called his mother “the schvartzer” when she came to clean their house. Bad Jews, good Jews; all Jews are the same. And we all risk punishment for daring to assert our Jewishness.

As a child, I was intensely aware of the old men, stooped and scarred, wandering through the neighborhood with long beards and strange fringes hanging out of their pants. They frightened me — and I still re­coil from Hasidim. Their image as kosher Mennonites notwithstanding, to me they are no different from Christian fundamen­talists — just as nasty, narrow-minded, and contemptuous. I remember a group of Hasi­dim picketing in the Village during the ear­ly days of the AIDS epidemic. “A gay syna­gogue is like a whorehouse on Yom Kippur,” their handout read. That night, I had a nightmare in which a Hasid wearing a long black coat strode into the hospital room where I lay in a stark white bed. He reached across me and turned the resuscita­tor off.

These days, when Hasidim cruising the Village in their Mitzvah mobile ask me, “Are you Jewish?” I reply, “Not if you are.” Yet I know my uneasiness in their presence is not just a matter of belief. Sit­ting across from a Hasid in the subway, I feel that old chill in my shoulders. It’s not so different from a closet case eyeing a drag queen. These people are flaming, and they remind me of my vulnerability. To the anti­-Semite all Jews have horns.

I know there is racism in Hasidic hearts­ — and fists. And I’m sure there have been deals struck with politicians and privileges traded for votes. But the riots that followed the death of Gavin Cato cannot be ex­plained solely in terms of class privilege or racial injustice. During that unholy week, the entire mythography of anti-Semitism was unfurled.

Hovering over the rage at a child’s acci­dental death were centuries of belief that Jews prey on Christian children. You can read in Chaucer, that titan of the Western canon, about a schoolboy abducted and ritually murdered by Jews, though his body miraculously emits a hymn of praise. Jews call this the Blood Libel because it stems from the myth that matzoh must be made with the blood of Christian infants. You can give guided tours of matzoh factories till kingdom come, but this idea persists in the subconscious. It allowed a mob to trans­form a reckless driver into the emblem of their oppression. As the false rumor spread that a Jewish-run ambulance had refused to treat the child, you could sense the ancient belief that Jews promote only their own interests, not with the solidarity every com­munity exhibits toward its own, but from some deeper tribal drive.

In Crown Heights, there’s a black Episco­palian priest named Reverend Heron A. Sam who preaches that Jews have appropri­ated the term Semite, which rightfully be­longs to Africans and Arabs as well as “the Hebrew race.” (Although the reverend thinks “the hooked nose popularly associat­ed with Semitic types is actually Hittite.”) From this racialist obsession, it’s easy to assert that “the Jew has managed by consanguinity [interbreeding with Europeans] to affect a skin complexion change that has put him outside the realm of blackness, and so he can appeal to his acquired white brothers and sisters…” This tactic “can only lead such a race of people to become manipulators and anarchists.”

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Imagine the impact of such a sermon on a 17-year-old who is furious at his Jewish landlord. Imagine how easy it would be for that boy to conclude: “The Jew got me in trouble.” And once the belief has been implanted that Jews are an ersatz people who abandoned their natural skin-tone to gain racial advantage, imagine how logical it is to think of the Hasidim as part of an inter­national conspiracy.

“Diamond merchants,” Reverend Al Sharpton called them at Gavin Cato’s fu­neral. “Don’t just talk about the jeweler [whose store was burned] on Utica. Talk about how Oppenheimer in South Africa sends diamonds straight to Tel Aviv and deals with the diamond merchants here in Crown Heights.” There’s a social reality here, but the mob in Crown Heights was invited by its leaders to jack it up with the iconography of anti-Semitism. They were encouraged to see the Hasidim, not as a tight-knit voting bloc with significant polit­ical clout, but as an incarnation of the El­ders of Zion — that invention of the Czarist secret police. Black rage at white power was transformed into anti-Semitism by the myth of the omnipotent Jew.

How could this happen? How could people who have never lived in Europe believe in legends from the mists of Valhalla and the fields of Bessarabia? The answer doesn’t lie in the souls of black folks — they are no more anti-Semitic than whites. It lies in the nature of the prejudice. Fear and loathing of Jews is a pervasive force in Western consciousness, ready to be shaped and di­rected whenever the time is right. Permis­sion to act on it comes from the top down — and typically the ruling strata stand silently by while demagogues whip up the masses. These periodic outbursts are a safe­ty valve for those unable to overcome their oppression, or even comprehend its source. That was the scenario for the pogroms my grandmother dreaded, the Holocaust my parents escaped, and the violence in Crown Heights. The conditions of life for African-Americans — the growing indifference, the worsening poverty, the impending demise of affirmative action and the genteel racism of the governing elites — are a classic matrix for anti-Semitism. Jews have always been a handy target in tough times.

But it’s been clear for some time that among some segments of the black intelligentsia, anti-Semitism is more openly ex­pressed than anywhere else in American life, apart from the far right. Within this milieu, the most primitive ideas have been given an overlay of reason and righteous­ness that harks back to the dregs of Western civ. Talk about the return of the repressed: When Leonard Jeffries asserts that Jewish faculty at City College are organized into a secret cabal that actually calls itself the Ka­ballah, he is piecing together a cosmology the Czar’s henchmen, not to mention Goebbels, would be proud to call their own. Talk about Eurocentrism!

Racialist scholarship might seem arcane, if not loony, to most black folks if it weren’t tethered to the power and glory of hiphop. And this exhuming of ancient stereotypes in music and movies has done much more than the ravings of Louis Farrakhan to make anti-Semitism respectable again. When Public Enemy rap about the “so-called chosen” who “got me like Jesus”; when Professor Griff says “Jews are responsible for the majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe”; when Spike Lee creates Joe and Josh Flatbush, card­board club owners who reduce every hu­man emotion to profiteering — they make the most archaic myths about Jews seem modern and heroic again.

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Why do these artists get away with Jew­-baiting? The answer lies in the racially mixed market for their work. Black culture often performs a surrogate role in Ameri­can society, defining rebellion and delineating the forbidden for a funk-hungry nation. Just as rappers play the sex-outlaw many whiteboys wish they could be, slamming women and gays with all the bile that must be swallowed in bourgeois society, black anti-Semites act out the bigotry other Americans aren’t quite willing to express. And their emergence signals something about American culture as a whole.

For the first time since the Great Depres­sion, Jewish stereotypes are being used to provide a gritty frisson to works of art. The Death of Klinghoffer has a libretto that equates Jews with bourgeois banality and Palestinians with proletarian dignity. Bar­ton Fink has movie moguls who behave like figments of T.S. Eliot’s imagination. (“The rats are underneath the pile/The Jew is un­derneath the lot.”) The Jews in these works are more complex than Spike Lee would allow, mostly because the audience is more genteel. They prefer their anti-Semitism with an edge of irony — but the negativity remains unprecedented in my lifetime. And the fact that Jews played a role in creating these works is itself a sign of profound anxiety. One way for Jews to deal with the horror of anti-Semitism is to deflect it onto an evil Jewish other. But this strategy only fuels the fire.

Last week, the Family Entertainment Network announced it was pulling a series of Bible videos to change the features of certain Jewish characters. The Anti-Defa­mation League had objected to the fact that the moneychangers were hook-nosed and epicene. Network officials were embar­rassed; and they stressed that making the Jews look like normal people would cost a pretty penny (everything is money with these evangelicals). But the question re­mains how anyone in modern America could render Bible characters that so closely resemble the cartoons that once graced Der Stürmer. The only answer is that the image of conniving Jews is so entrenched that it doesn’t seem remarkable, except to Jews.

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By locating anti-Semitism exclusively in the black community, the Post/Commen­tary axis hopes to convince Jews that their interests lie in an alliance with other white ethnics, under the neocon umbrella. But this ambition blinds the Jewish right to the extent of anti-Semitism in American life. Even Jews who agree with George Bush’s position on Israeli loan guarantees must feel a familiar shudder when they hear him complain about being “one little guy” held hostage by 1000 lobbyists. The president apologized for that remark and promptly positioned himself as a defender of Israeli interests in the U.N. By invoking the myth of Jewish omnipotence and then extending the olive branch, Bush demonstrated how easily anti-Semitism can be used in a car­rot-and-stick routine. This is a far more subtle and threatening strategy than any­thing in Al Sharpton’s bag of tricks — and it suits the style of a president who won the White House by invoking Willie Horton. The omnipotent Jew and the rapacious black male are twin spectres in the Western psyche, always available to be played as an instrument of public policy.

It is Bush and the elite he epitomizes that are ultimately empowered by Crown Heights. Now, blacks may be held up to Jews as the real anti-Semites, even as Jews are held up to blacks as the real racists. This spectacle shatters an alliance that has been the fulcrum of progressivism for gen­erations. How fortunate for the enemies of blacks and Jews alike.

What’s a liberal to do in the face of such a crisis? Pretend it’s something else.

For the most part, the media have taken note of Jew-baiting asides in rap music, or crypto-Nazi imagery in a colorful jazz mu­sical, as if it were a sour belch to be quickly swallowed. Some critics spoke up loud and clear, but the mainstream was reluctant to risk it. As a result, the anti-Semitism of Public Enemy and Spike Lee was less than resolutely condemned, sending a signal to the audience that it’s permissible to act on such ideas. Those who overlooked the obvi­ous, for whatever reasons, helped lay the groundwork for Crown Heights. By the time someone fired a bullet through a syna­gogue, it was too late to speak out about the ideology of Mo’ Better Blues.

By now, there’s a consensus that the riot was an act of anti-Semitism. But this judg­ment wasn’t generated by the left. At first, many white progressives focused on the ad­vantages the Hasidim enjoy, as if that enti­tled the crowd to shout, “kill the Jews.” Only gradually did the left confront the truth. It’s painful, indeed, to face the fact that victims of bigotry can be guilty of bigotry — it threatens your image of the oppressed. How much easier to buy the claim that blacks cannot be anti-Se­mitic, or even to convince yourself that what happened in Crown Heights is part of some larger geopolitical struggle — a hiphop intifada.

I’m convinced that some white leftists were silent because, consciously or not, they share the assumptions of the rioters. It’s hip, in certain progressive circles, to speak of Jews as if they’ve lost their le­gitimacy. You could glimpse this reflex in the antiwar protesters who cheered when Scud missles fell on Israel; and you can see it in the lubricious alliance between the New Alliance Party and Farrakhan. There’s nothing contradictory about this pact. Anti­-Semitism of the left has firm roots in popu­lism as well as Marxist ideology. (The term itself was coined in the 19th century by a liberal mayor of Vienna, who used anti-­Semitism — as Ed Koch would later use rac­ism — to secure a populist base.)

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David Dinkins called the murder of Yan­kel Rosenbaum what it was: a lynching. But other black leaders were as prone to euphe­mism as white progressives. Many reiterated the underlying conditions in Crown Heights and demanded a redress of grievances as the price for peace. None spoke of the deadly myths about Jews that had animated this violence, just as few black leaders con­demned the anti-Semitism of Leonard Jef­fries. (Reverend Calvin Butts, the city’s most influential black minister, said he wanted to hear more from Jeffries himself before ad­dressing the question; and he never did.) Solidarity makes truth-telling difficult, and the reality of oppression makes it hard for any black leader to condemn an eruption of black rage. But there are other, less savory, possibilities. The conflation of Jew-baiting with black empowerment is now so evolved that it seems like Tomming, if not treason, to call anti-Semitism what it is. The sight of a phalanx of black men marching through a white neighborhood has achieved the sanctity of a ritual, and hardly anyone on the left questions the context, or the content, of what is being shouted at whom. The likelihood of black — or white — progressives speaking out against icons of resistance is slim indeed.

The silence of humanists had a sickening­ly familiar quality to Jews who remember the world’s response to the Nazis: the reluc­tance to act on, or even acknowledge, the possibility of genocide until it was too late. This sense of abandonment remains an in­delible part of Jewish consciousness. It fos­ters that larger mentality the world so often reads as Jewish paranoia. It animates the comedy of Jewish assimilation, and the Noh drama of Jewish self-hate — both are strategies to hide the dirty secret that can lead to disgrace and even death. And it creates the illusion that the only safety for a Jew is within the tribe. This last tenden­cy — call it psychic Zionism — is the leading beneficiary of what occurred in Crown Heights. In terms of Jewish history, this was another victory for the spirit of Jabo­tinsky over Einstein — another triumph of nationalism over humanism.

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During the height of the violence, the Post ran a front-page photo of a 12-year-old Ha­sidic boy sobbing by the fallen frame of his injured father. It raised goose bumps when I saw it, resonating with the image of chil­dren in the Warsaw Ghetto, surrendering to armed Nazis against a background of flames. The Post was milking my memory of Jewish helplessness, just as Sharpton had milked his constituency by envisioning Gavin Cato sharing “heaven’s playroom” with the three girls killed in the 1962 firebomb­ing of a black church in Birmingham. While readers of The City Sun were invited to regard Aaron Lopez, an 18th century slave­-trader, as the emblem of the Jews, I was invited to regard Sonny Carson and his storm troopers as the vanguard of the black community. “Who speaks for New York’s blacks if not the… riot inciters?” asked Eric Breindel from his perch facing the Post’s editorial page. He compared the events in Crown Heights to Kristallnacht, when thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed and hundreds lost their lives­ — with the cooperation of the German state. “The pretext in Crown Heights,” Breindel blithely asserted, “was far thinner [than in Nazi Germany].”

Long before Kristallnacht, the German socialist leader August Bebel warned his compatriots against the illusion that bigotry is a source of power. “Anti-Semitism is the Socialism of fools,” Bebel proclaimed. His words have yet to be heeded, as we saw in Crown Heights. The polarization process that followed in the wake of the rioting is now a fact of urban life. The failure of moderate black ministers to articulate an alternative to demagoguery left the door wide open for Sharpton, just as the inability of white progressives to confront anti-Semi­tism gave right-wingers an excuse to come out swinging. As the Post asked disingenu­ously: “Who else speaks for the black com­munity?” It’s a cry that will surely be ech­oed in Commentary and all the house organs of retrenchment. The new excuse for polite white racism will be Crown Heights.

Already Ed Koch brays that he would have unleashed the police much sooner. An editorial writer at The Wall Street Journal blames the minimum wage laws for black rage. And Al D’Amato, desperate to draw attention from the diversion of antipoverty funds to his cousin, tells a crowd — at a synagogue, no less — that Dinkins should go to South Africa “and stay there.” D’Amato crossed party lines to endorse one of the most rabid candidates for City Council, Rabbi Yehuda Levin. “He stands for values you and I share,” the senator said, echoing Levin’s pledge to “seek enactment of a new anti-gang bias law,” which would severely curtail the rights of black militants to march and organize. D’Amato, too, de­manded that the Justice Department “put these racial racketeers out of business.”

So striking is the damage done to black empowerment by Crown Heights that it’s fair to say the men who drove on the mob were either fools or government agents. Those who hope to split the still substantial white liberal vote from the black communi­ty have been handed a powerful weapon. Now, it will be easier than ever for the Kochs and D’Amatos to conflate affirma­tive action, multicultural education, and even the aspirations of black politicians with savagery. David Dinkins now faces the all-but-impossible task of overcoming two equally abhorrent images. The Jewish right paints him as a schlemiel who placates black bigots, while black enragés call him “Dinkinstein.”

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The only way to take back righteousness from the right is for progressives to call this riot what it was: a wannabe pogrom. The O.E.D. defines that word as “an organized massacre… chiefly applied to those directed against Jews.” No one planned this riot, nor did the city of New York tolerate it. You can argue that the police response was too little too late, but their restraint was standard procedure during a racial distur­bance, and nothing directed at Jews. In the end, the system worked to contain the vio­lence, something my grandmother, who lived through a real pogrom, would have found miraculous. But what if the mob had been left to its own devices? Were these people so different from the Jew-haters of other eras? Were the demagogues that spurred them on?

The real lesson of Crown Heights is that Jews must learn to live in a more dangerous world, where hate goes unanswered and primitive passions are stoked as a safety valve for helpless rage. Jewish children in years to come may live much like my par­ents, with a subtle but consuming sense of dread. America could yet turn out to be not so different from the Old World my grand­parents fled. But there’s another possibility: that by confronting anti-Semitism and rac­ism, people of good will can transcend both — or at least keep them dormant.

In Crown Heights last week, the cops were busy keeping blacks and Jews apart. Hundreds of Hasidim coming out of a Yom Kippur service scuffled with police, and menaced a black woman trapped in her car. The next night, a group of blacks showed up at Lubavitcher headquarters, shouting slurs through a megaphone and throwing rocks. In public, the hate persists. In pri­vate, I’m convinced, many blacks and Jews are horrified by what’s occurred. That may explain why, in the recent City Council primary, the worst hatemongers — C. Ver­non Mason, Colin Moore, and Yehuda Lev­in — all went down to defeat. It may be too much to hope for some grand gesture of reconciliation; in the current climate, you take your hope where you can find it — in small courtesies that signal what still can’t be proclaimed.

Last week in Brooklyn, I forgot where my car was parked. Walking down a dark nar­row street, I saw a group of black teenagers hanging out. I felt my body tighten against the desire to draw back. I’ve spent much of my life struggling against that reflex, so I approached the kids and asked directions. They answered politely and we fell into an oddly formal banter — broad smiles and cordial “good nights.” I realized we were acting out an elaborate etiquette of commu­nication in tough times. I wouldn’t call it trust, but at least I didn’t yell for the police, and they didn’t ask to see my horns.

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Taxi Driver — A Trip To 1970

“Taxi Driving Man: Hail and Farewell”

Ninth Avenue at 6 a. m. is a surrealistic study in flaming trash cans and steaming manhole covers. In the pre-dawn gloom, the streets are dimly lit by fruit and vegetable merchants preparing to display their wares on the sidewalk. From inside the cab, all is still, but unnaturally still, and since it is New York, the stillness only heightens your anticipation of an approaching cataclysm. It is an exceedingly ugly street, even for New York. But in its monumental ugliness it commands that special morbid fascination that all New Yorkers feel toward their city, despise it as they may. 

Driving down toward Port Authority, the feeling is more that of crossing the River Styx than one of Manhattan’s commercial arteries. You have the road practically to yourself, yet there is a restraining force which causes you to drive along slowly, at a steady pace. You are in a phantasmagorical place, and you better not disturb the unholy balance of things, lest you be spotted as an outsider. 

It was in that frame of mind that I decided my career as a cabby was to come to an end. It was a decision I turned over in my mind throughout the day, and although the circumstances hardly warranted it, toward turning-in time, I began feeling a little cheerful, mostly because I couldn’t see any footing beneath me to which to sink from here. There was, I thought, cause for optimism. Leave the job, I assured myself, something worthier is bound to come through. (It seems that one side effect of a middle-class adolescence is that in the pinch, you are taught to rely on everything and everybody but yourself. Just when you are at the peak of your desperation — if you have been weaned on Hollywood westerns — is when you most expect your salvation to come galloping across the plain and smash that redskin to smithereens before he detaches your scalp. What entirely eludes the realm of possibilities is his one day making off with it — consequently, you grow up totally unfit to face reality.)

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My last passenger of the day was a decrepit old woman with bony, heavily rouged cheeks, whose accent might have originated anywhere from the east bank of the Danube to the Urals. I mentally took a bet on Hungarian refugee and, as it turned out, I wasn’t far off the mark. We headed down Seventh Avenue. 

“You not have rrahdio?” she asked, rolling about four extra Rs onto each syllable. 

“No.” 

“Too bad. It must be lonely, young man like you, no rrahdio.” 

“It’s not too lonely.” To settle my mental bet, I asked her where she hailed from. 

“Oh, I have been born Rrussia, but now here 45 yearrs.” 

I supposed that if it had been 145 years her syntax would never have improved. After a spell, she tapped on the plastic divider the company throws into their cars as a bone to the driver’s peace of mind. 

“Tell me, this glass bullet-proof?” she asked. 

“No, I don’t think so.” 

“Ah, too bad. You better have bullet-proof, no?” 

“Yes.”

Another silence. Then, as we passed through Times Square: 

“You like pretty girls?” 

“Yes, they ‘re okay.” 

“Yes? You like young pretty girls?”

“Sure, young ones.” We waved our way between the hand trucks in the garment center. 

“Maybe you like meet young pretty girls? Yes?” 

We turned east on 15th Street to Sixth Avenue and got held up behind some trucks. I cursed at the trucks so as to avoid following the bait. She came at me again, this time in a more determined tone.

“No, I don’t think I want to meet any just now,” I answered. 

She feigned shock. 

“No? You not want meet pretty girls?” There was a brief pause. “You like meet young boys, maybe?” 

Her voice didn’t betray any sign of facetiousness; it was very routine. I pulled over at 16th Street and threw up the flag, trying to avoid her glance and remain aloof. She took the hint, I guess, and paid and got out. 

There was no reason to take her seriously, but when you drive a cab, you run such a daily gamut of these two-bit desperadoes that it soon ceases to be a laughing matter. I started back to the garage very pissed off. 

At 17th Street, I turned west and saw a car pulling in on my left. He had the right of way, so I went to slam on my brake to let him pass. I slammed on the accelerator instead. 

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It was over in about two seconds: I scraped the car, veered right to get loose, ran straight for a pedestrian sitting on a fire hydrant, he jumped up, I knocked him back down, jerked the car left to avoid the hydrant — not far enough — and came to rest half on the hydrant and half on the back of a parked truck. At last, just before pushing all of 17th Street in to the Hudson River, I remembered the brake pedal. 

“Shit!” I said aloud, disgustedly, and threw the car into Park. That was all. My victim knelt on the ground, nursing a battered leg. He moaned some, and coincidentally enough, also said “shit!” Good. At least there would be no manslaughter charge, I thought to myself. 

The only damage, aside from the leg, was a touch of shock, so with the help of a few bystanders, we stretched him out on the front seat of the cab. Suddenly, my thoughts turned to my brand new 60-cent cigar which I carried in my shirt pocket. As I looked down at my victim’s leg, I vaguely remember hoping that the cigar didn’t get smashed in the impact. All in all, my indifference to everything except the cigar should have appalled me, but it didn’t. 

There was one regrettable moment, when I realized that I had left the cab’s motor running and that in the collision I had inadvertently knocked down the flag. The meter was ticking away, and I dashed into the cab practically having to climb over my victim’s prostrate body, to turn off the ignition. This, just to save myself a few pennies. I admit it was a disgusting thing to haw done, but at the time it seemed quite logical and proper. 

The truth is, there was really nothing else to do. The driver of the other car got out and we chatted a bit and whiled away the time explaining to the bloodthirsty spectators that the fellow on the seat wasn’t dead. 

One woman shouted from the opposite corner to her friend. “Tell me if he’s dead. I can’t go over, I just can’t look.” 

“It’s all right,” she shouted back, “he’s alive,” and her friend crept over to join the crowd. 

The police came by too and had a look. They took everybody’s papers and went back to the patrol car to sort them out. By now, I began to feel like a fool. Every now and then I’d lean into the car to ask my victim how he was getting along. He mumbled that he didn’t know, he was very cold, and when would the ambulance arrive, please? The police called three times for the ambulance, meanwhile jotting down more important data. The spectators bunched up around the cab, three or four deep, to have a look. 

The ambulance eventually arrived, and after several attempts to jerk my victim off the seat, they decided to go through the bother of rolling out the stretcher. 

I quietly backed away from the crowd and called the garage. The police departed, then the ambulance. The driver of the other car stayed around for a while, hoping for a quick settlement with the company’s inspector. Finally, he too moved off with the rest of the crowd, and I waited alone with the cab, in the darkness, for the tow truck. 

After making out a preliminary report at the garage, I walked up West 46th Street toward the subway, counting my day’s take. It was a Friday, supposedly the best day for hacking. Forty-five dollars and 90 cents in bookings, half, or more correctly 51 per cent, of which belongs to the garage, and about $10 in tips. Thirty-two dollars for 10 hours’ work, and on the best day. 

Halfway up the block, I stopped to look at some new pushcarts standing outside a sort or garage-warehouse arrangement. They were the type you see in front of the Museum of Modern Art or up near Central Park, loaded down with pretzels and chestnuts. I stood for a minute, dumbly examining the crude workmanship, when an enormous hulk approached me from behind and dribbled out in old-time Newyorkese: “So, tell me sumpin’.”

I looked back, not sure of what the come-on required for an answer.

“You buying or selling?” he asked.

“Selling,” I said instinctively, since my situation wouldn’t have allowed me to take the other alternative much further. Then he wanted to know what I was doing now. I said nothing, but he insisted and playfully ran down a list of down-and-outer possibilities. We settled on part-time actor.

“Here you make 50 bucks a day. Fifty, 60, 70 — whatever you want. You lose nothing. I give you the pretzels at four cents apiece and the chestnuts for 20 cents a pound. You sell them for whatever you can get. You interested?”

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I was just desperate enough to get suckered in, so I let him hustle me into this dark cavernous hole on the West Side, and when my eyes became accustomed to the shadows and I had a look around all I could think of was Dickens. Off to one side was a group of old people (women, I believe) crouched over a mountain of chestnuts. Some were splitting the shells, others passed them on to still others who were doing the roasting. I say “women” hesitantly, because at about 10 yards and in the darkness , it was difficult to make out what those grubby specimens really were, wrapped in about six layers of tattered cloth. Some amateur carpenters were putting together new carts or patching up old ones. And some more of those ogres were off in a corner doing something to the pretzels I won’t describe (I will never eat another).

My friendly giant took me closer to them and said in a loud, obviously theatrical tone; “Here our motto is ‘Fuck the People!’ ” There were a few assenting grunts from the old men-women of “Yeah, fuck the people!” It warmed my heart to see that there are thieves left in New York who are still only after your money.

He went on to enumerate a few more highlights of the profession and wound up with a cheery “and remember, here you don’t pay taxes to no one.”

Again, the grizzly chorus: “Yeah, no taxes!” accompanied by a few chuckles. 

He told me to come in the following day, Saturday, which, along with Sunday is the most lucrative in this business, provided it’s good and cold. I left feeling like I had stepped out of a primitive picaresque novel, complete with beggars, harlots, and assorted outlaws and outcasts.

So I was to sell pretzels. That was something worth considering very carefully.

The train was delayed at the Times Square station. After that day’s experience, I had little desire to get on a subway, so I loafed around a hot dog counter, sipping an orangeade and looking at the hordes of commuters running every which way like animals trapped in a forest fire.

Above the tumult and the screeching of the trains, I slowly became aware of a sharp tapping on the pavement outside the lunch counter. It was as audible as tapping on a glass with a fork in a crowded restaurant and I don’t think I would have caught it had my nerves not been so keyed up. The tapping, I soon saw, came from the canes of two blind people — a man and a woman — slowly moving toward each other along the platform. Maybe you’ve seen them. They usually ride the Brighton line, though not together. They are beggars who play the accordion and, if I’m not mistaken, she sings. He is undistinguished, much like any other shabby, middle-aged beggar. She, on the other hand, has an enormous shock of frizzy red hair and resembles a relic from the worst days of the 1940s. Anyhow, I was impressed by their calm, steady manner, how they seemed to head for each other like homing pigeons, following the tapping of their canes, apparently oblivious to the shrieking and shoving of the other million or so blind beggars around them.

The tapping of the canes was enough for them to find each other, and when they finally did — my God — I have never seen such an embrace in my entire quarter century in this god-awful place. They flung their accordions over their shoulders and held on to one another — brilliantly smiling, mind you — with a passion that could only be observed with a trembling lip.

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For a moment, I was taken back to my senior year in college. I remembered standing in the hall one morning between classes, trying to recruit a friend for the NYU Fascist Club which I had formed out of sheer maliciousness or boredom or both. He said he hadn’t the time to hear about it, he was expecting his girl from Philadelphia whom he hadn’t seen in months. After a while she showed up, freshly scrubbed and in madras, and when he spotted her, my friend dropped his books on the ground next to him and they ran for each other. He gave her a big kiss and hug and threw her into the air and then, just for a second, out of the corner of his eye, I saw him look back at the books he had so heroically thrown to the ground. There was something in the look he gave those books, while holding his girl, that explained everything. At once, all the disgusting repressions, fears, anxieties, and miseries that have turned this country into the grandest shithouse on the face of the earth gushed in torrents out of my poor friend’s eyes. 

Back at the BMT station, I stood watching these two blind beggars. The longer I watched, the more I felt a strange sensation coming on: one of being totally washed out, limp from physical and nervous exhaustion, yet somehow cleansed, like after a day at the gym and steam room. And as I watched, gradually all the sentiments and pointless words made into mush and emptied of meaning by the hippie-flower-beautiful people crowd — sentiments like compassion for a pathetic humanity, words like happiness, charity, and love — began to come to life and, to my own amazement, acquire a freshness and meaning l had long given up for lost within myself. 

This, I thought, would be a good time to take the next train downtown. So I went home, thinking about pretzels and chestnuts and two blind lovers, and not feeling bad at all. 

[Editor’s note, January 1, 2020: This essay originally appeared in the Voice’s Personal Testament section, “a department open to contributions from our readers. They may write on any subject and in any style they choose, with the editors selecting manuscripts for publication on the basis of literacy and interest.”]

 

“THE SIXTIES: Remembrance of things past — and present”

January 1, 1970

IT BEGAN with the beats: Tuli Kupferberg, in front of the Gaslight on MacDougal Street (top left); at the end of the ’60s there were the militants: Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and David Dellinger; in between, and throughout there was Allen Ginsberg and a school strike that ripped New York apart (left); and finally — nudity: its first intimation was brought to the big stage, at Hunter College, by the Anne Halprin dancers. (Photographs by Fred W. McDarrah)