Will Progressive Splits Lead to a Conservative Win in the Manhattan D.A.’s Race?

On June 22, voters in Manhattan will head to the polls to make several monumental decisions. At the top of the ballot, of course, will be the Democratic primary for mayor, where the winner could end up governing for the next eight years. Voters will also weigh in on who to choose for city comptroller, another post that often serves as a springboard for a mayoral run.

But arguably the most importance primary is occurring below them both, garnering relatively little media attention: the race for Manhattan District Attorney. Cy Vance Jr., the controversial incumbent, is not seeking re-election, and eight candidates are vying to replace him. 

There are many reasons the primary is of great consequence. In overwhelmingly Democratic Manhattan, the victor is assured the office. Since the 1970s, there have been only two other Manhattan DA’s: Vance and the late Robert Morgenthau, who retired after 2009. 

With a budget nearing $170 million, the office has a vast jurisdiction, prosecuting the wealthy and powerful on Wall Street, along with the poor and the vulnerable. Right now, Vance’s prosecutors have reportedly entered the final stages of a criminal tax investigation into Donald Trump’s long-serving chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, setting up the possibility he could face charges in the summer. 

All of the candidates have promised to continue the investigation, vowing to be tough on Trump and his associates. Yet while this is the reason many voters may care about the race — the next Democrat will be in position, perhaps, to drag the former president into a courtroom — it has far greater implications for the thousands of people, many of them Black and Latino, who are prosecuted for petty crimes every year. For defense attorneys and criminal justice reformers, Vance’s legacy is punitive. He has sought stiff sentences against poor defendants and pushed his attorneys, as often as possible, to go to trial to win convictions. 

Many of the candidates have criticized Vance and vowed to overhaul the office in the mode of progressive DA’s across America, like Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner and San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin. Some want to slash the office budget in half, abolish cash bail and pre-trial detention, and reduce the overall number of prosecutions. 

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The dynamics of the race, however, may not favor the progressive candidates — Tahanie Aboushie, Eliza Orlins, Dan Quart, and Alvin Bragg — because, unlike the mayoral race, there is no ranked-choice voting. A DA race is run under state rules, not municipal law, so voters will only pick one candidate. There is a very real threat, at this point, that candidates with varying left platforms could split the vote, allowing a more conservative contender to win.

And one of them looms over the field: Tali Farhadian Weinstein, a former Brooklyn and federal prosecutor. Married to Boaz Weinstein, a multimillionaire hedge fund manager, Farhadian Weinstein has far outspent the field, raising millions from Wall Street megadonors while pouring $8 million of her own cash into the campaign. 

Farhadian Weinstein, at the minimum, would be a prosecutor in the mold of Vance and progressives fear she may tug the office further to the right. Running with the endorsement of some establishment Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, Farhadian Weinstein has repeatedly warned about the rising number of shootings and murders. She is one of the only candidates who will not rule out entering into information-sharing agreements with federal agencies like ICE and Homeland Security Investigation. Reformers worry she will be too close to the financial sector to effectively prosecute white-collar crime. 

Polling in the race has been scant. One recent poll, from the left-leaning firm Data for Progress, showed a dead heat between Farhadian Weinstein and Bragg, a former prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office who was endorsed by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Congressman Jerry Nadler, and the New York Times. A Harlem native, Bragg speaks openly about being a victim of the criminal justice system as a Black man. He made a name for himself seeking full transparency into how the NYPD handled Eric Garner’s death.

Bragg is a former prosecutor, not a public defender or a civil rights attorney like two candidates running to the left of him, Orlins and Aboushi. But Zephyr Teachout, a law professor and prominent progressive activist who supports Bragg, has urged backers of other candidates to consolidate around him.

Some progressives, however, reacted with anger at the suggestion. “This is not your finest hour. Your point of view is myopic, privileged, and just plain wrong,” tweeted Cynthia Nixon, the actress and activist backing Aboushi. “Your song is ugly & out of tune. You should do yourself & everyone else a favor and stop singing it.” 

Teachout, though, may have a point with only days left in the race. In the 2020 presidential primary, Joe Biden crushed Bernie Sanders by winning the endorsements of his top Democratic rivals. No such consolidation appears to be in the works now, with the candidates to the left of Bragg arguing, publicly and privately, they still have a path to victory. Without RCV, it will be possible to know the outcome on Election Night — and whether Nixon or Teachout, in all their ardor, are proven right.   ❖

This story was updated on June 18:  Zephyr Teachout says she specifically asked no candidates to drop out, only that the supporters of other candidates back her candidate, Bragg.


NYC Is About To Have Its Biggest Election In A Decade. Will New Yorkers Show Up?

June 22 is a big day for New York City: In primary elections for the largest government turnover in a decade, roughly two-thirds of the City Council is up for grabs, along with the comptroller, four borough presidents, district attorneys, and, of course, the next mayor.

But if this year is anything like previous years, few New Yorkers will show up and vote. As data makes clear, the New Yawk brand of loud and opinionated hasn’t quite translated to high voter turnout. In fact, New York consistently ranks among states with the worst turnout rates in the country. Combined with debates over its new ranked-choice voting system — which may turn off some voters even more — this year could see the low turnout trend continue, meaning the next mayor and other elected positions could be selected by just a sliver of the city’s population.

City Hall and local organizations are combining efforts to educate, engage, and, hopefully, persuade New Yorkers to vote in greater numbers this year. In April, the mayor’s office announced a $15 million voter outreach initiative under DemocracyNYC, the city’s civic engagement arm, to encourage New Yorkers to head to the polls. A portion of that has gone to educating constituents, including launching an interactive app, available in 16 languages, that helps voters practice ranked-choice voting on pretend ballots to decide designations like “favorite NYC landmark” and view how votes are tallied.

“The reality is a lot of New Yorkers just have so much else on their minds that they haven’t really focused on [ranked-choice voting] and the fact that this important election is coming up,” said Laura Wood, New York City’s Chief Democracy Officer. “Our mission is to make sure … New Yorkers have that information going into the June primary.” 

New York City’s Poor Voter Turnout

In 2016, there were 4.9 million registered voters in New York City. In the following year’s general election, Mayor Bill de Blasio clinched his second term with just 726,361 votes. That means only 14 percent of people who could vote, voted for de Blasio (it’s maybe part of why he’s so unpopular despite having been made mayor twice).

Last year, with a highly consequential presidential election at stake, the city saw a slight bump in voter turnout compared to 2016. According to a voter analysis report by the Campaign Finance Board, nearly 62 percent of city voters turned out in November with the biggest overall increase among younger voters ages 18 to 29. 

But voting tends to nose-dive after national elections and that could happen in the upcoming primaries. There’s no single reason behind New York’s underwhelming turnout numbers, but one that everyone seems to agree on is the state’s outdated voting laws which, intentionally or not, affect voting accessibility. And the harder it is for people to vote, the less likely they will. 

“Up until a couple of years ago, it was kind of hard to vote,” said Jan Combopiano, senior policy director at the Brooklyn Voters Alliance, an independent organization that works on voting access. New York did not allow early voting until recently (it was passed into law in 2019) and technically still doesn’t allow no-excuse absentee ballots (which have been temporarily allowed during the pandemic). Rigid rules around designated poll sites and online voter registration are other issues that Combopiano says can make voters less likely to participate. “We’ve never had a municipal election under these circumstances before where we did have early voting, where we did have easier access to an absentee ballot,” she said. “So we’re hoping to see a change in this election.”

Omar Suárez, director of partnerships and outreach for NYCVotes, says it’s all about messaging. “We don’t give local government the same sense of urgency that we do when it comes to national politics,” said Suárez, noting drop-off levels after presidential elections. “Something that is a constant focus of ours is, how can we retain those voters?” 

BVA volunteer Madeleine registering a voter in East Flatbush

As the Campaign Finance Board’s voter outreach initiative, NYCVotes is allocating $2 million to its get-out-the-vote efforts this year which includes town halls and voter training sessions. Additionally, a board spokesperson confirmed a portion of the $15 million from the mayor’s office will go towards amplifying NYCVotes’s ads and translating educational materials, but did not specify how much.

New York’s New System: Ranked-Choice Voting

With New York in pandemic recovery and with so many important city-level jobs on the line, this year’s local elections are a huge deal. The city’s primaries, in particular, are considered to hold more weight than the general elections given that 3,376,341 of active voters are registered Democrats (by contrast, just 501,848 are registered Republicans). 

But this year’s outreach campaigns have another challenge: educating New Yorkers about the new ranked-choice voting system, which was voted into law through a 2019 ballot referendum. Using this new system, voters can rank up to five candidates in a number of races, including for mayor, comptroller, borough presidents, city council, and public advocate. If no candidate achieves a majority of votes, the candidate with the lowest tally is eliminated. But those votes won’t go to waste; instead, in the next round of counting, citizens whose number one choice has been eliminated will have their votes counted towards their second-ranked candidate. The cycle continues until a clear majority winner is determined. 

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Ranked-choice voting was used for the first time in New York City in February, during a special election to fill seats for City Council Districts 24 and 31, the latter formerly occupied by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards (he is seeking reelection against four other Democratic candidates in June). To educate constituents on ranked-choice voting, his office created a Civic Engagement Committee made up of members from community organizations, civic associations, and individual volunteers. 

The committee, one of the lead partners with DemocracyNYC, is now using lessons from their previous ranked-choice outreach efforts ahead of June, focusing on in-person campaigns to push voter turnout in neighborhoods like Flushing, Jackson Heights, Jamaica, and Far Rockaway.

BVA volunteer Gilda registering a new voter at a pop-up event on Atlantic Ave

“We know it’s important that we have communities of color, other marginalized communities, who oftentimes are not coming out to vote at the rate we’d like to see,” said Franck D. Joseph III, Richards’s chief of staff who oversees the committee. “We want to make sure we’re going into those communities and actively ensuring that folks understand what ranked-choice voting is, and they know how to fill out their ballot.” 

Research shows clear benefits to ranked-choice voting: low-visibility candidates have more chances of staying in the race while voters don’t have their votes wasted. But the new system has faced opposition, with some lawmakers questioning the city’s readiness for it and an impending lawsuit to halt the use of ranked-choice voting altogether. 

Anecdotally, some voters have shown disinterest in ranked-choice voting and many still don’t get how ranked-choice voting works. “One of the things we hear is people trying to game the system,” Combopiano shared, citing her organization’s weekly public trainings. “‘Oh, I don’t want this candidate to win. Should I mark them fifth?’ And we’re like — No! If you don’t want them to win, don’t put them on the ballot.”

Despite challenges, a survey from the special elections shows a promising response from voters toward ranked-choice voting. Of 635 surveyed voters who participated in that election, over 95 percent found filling out the ranked-choice voting ballot to be either very or somewhat simple. About 61 percent chose to rank multiple candidates on their ballots with 31 percent ranking up to the maximum five candidates. Joseph III views arguments around ranked-choice voting as a normal response to a new tool. For him, it reflects a lack of understanding about ranked-choice voting more than voter apathy. 

“I think once they get past the confusion, it really opens up the scope,” he said, “because we all know there’s no one perfect candidate for any office.”    ❖

Note: Early voting runs from June 12 to June 20.


NYC Pride Bans Police Presence Until 2025

NYC Pride announced a ban on law enforcement at its annual celebration, saying it does not want to create an “atmosphere of fear or harm.”

The non-profit organization said the ban would be effective not only at this summer’s events, but at events until 2025, with any participation by law enforcement to be reviewed by the Community Relations and Diversity, Accessibility, and Inclusion committees.

“This announcement follows many months of conversation and discussion with key stakeholders in the community,” NYC Pride Co-Chair André Thomas said in a statement. 

In past years, NYPD officers in the LGBTQ-A community have joined in the parade, typically in full uniform, and Pride officials felt that it would not be appropriate as NYPD presence can feel “dangerous,” to community members who in the past may have had excessive force used against them.

“NYPD is not required to lead first response and security at NYC Pride events,” NYC Pride said in its statement. “All aspects of first response and security that can be reallocated to trained private security, community leaders, and volunteers will be reviewed. An increased budget for security and first response will allow NYC Pride to independently build a first response emergency plan using private security and provide safety volunteers with de-escalation training for first response when necessary. NYPD will provide first response and security only when absolutely necessary as mandated by city officials.”

NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller addressed the ban, saying it was “disappointing.”

“NYC Pride’s decision to exclude members of the NYPD from Pride events is hurtful and disappointing,” Miller said through Twitter. “… inclusion and dialogue are the oxygen of reform.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed NYPD’s sentiments Monday, calling the decision by NYC Pride, “a mistake.” 

“First of all, we have to keep people safe and it’s been an incredibly safe, positive event, and we have to be mindful of continuing that,” Mayor de Blasio said while speaking at City Hall. “Second of all, I believe in inclusion, and we’re talking about, one of the issues is, officers who are members of the LGBT community wanting to march and express their pride and their solidarity to the community, and their desire to keep changing the NYPD and changing the city. That’s something I think should be embraced.”

On the other side of the country, L.A. Pride had a similar dilemma with law enforcement at its 2020 festivities. A march of solidarity with the black community was planned last summer and later canceled after organizers “overlooked the direct police involvement that permitting involved,” when seeking city permits. Instead, an independent committee was formed for a march titled “All Black Lives Matter,” on the day the original Pride march was supposed to take place. 

L.A. Pride supported the decision of Black LGBTQ community members moving forward for a march without the organization.    ❖

For some historical perspective on police relations with the LGBTQ community, check out this link from the Voice archives:

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Crowded Field of Mayoral Candidates Zooming Toward Primary Day

“Zoom is not our friend. I just want to be very clear.” 

Andrew Yang was reflecting on the joy of campaigning, even during a pandemic. He was getting to know his city so well. People were thrilled to see him in the streets. 

The front-running mayoral candidate, speaking to reporters in Harlem on a frigid March day, seemed also to be growing aware of all he would probably miss: the teeming block parties, the raucous parades, the subway platforms thronged at rush hour. 

“Most New Yorkers are sick and tired of Zoom,” Yang added. “I think a lot of the country is sick and tired of Zoom.”

Though relatively few New Yorkers may be aware of this fact, they will probably be choosing their mayor for the next eight years three months from now, on June 22. In heavily Democratic New York City, the primary winner will steamroll over nominal GOP opposition. Incumbents usually get re-elected — Bill de Blasio, for all his challenges, easily did. 

But this mayoral race, for many reasons, is unlike any other. The vaccination pace is heating up, but COVID-19 still lingers as a threat, shrinking crowds and keeping commuters at home. Mass death rates, along with job losses, have taken a significant toll. 

In 2013, the last time there was an open Democratic primary, candidates jostled for attention for many months, the race culminating in an election at the close of a turbulent summer. Hundreds of town halls, street festivals, parades, and rallies built to a satisfying crescendo. There were no fewer than three front-runners — City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the scandalous Anthony Weiner, and, finally, de Blasio — plus a city comptroller’s race that featured Eliot Spitzer, the governor who resigned after he was caught soliciting a prostitute. 

These days, the primary is in June, not September. After a federal judge ruled that congressional primaries be moved to June to allow sufficient time to get absentee ballots to military voters for the general election, the state legislature eventually decided to set all primaries in June, including the mayoral race. This year, such a condensed contest will probably benefit those who’ve already built up support bases around the city. 

Yang is well-known to most New Yorkers from his long-shot presidential bid, but the rest of the field is not. The parades and parties aren’t yet materializing. There will be relatively few opportunities to meet voters face-to-face. 

The race, many campaigns believe, may be decided wholly on screens — traditional cable television, digital advertising, and whatever online chatter can be generated. 

“In this race right now, it’s really hard to do any level of retail campaigning,” says Peter Ragone, a former senior adviser to de Blasio and a veteran Democratic operative. “It’s really going to be, number one, are you on television? And are you creating any content yourself that has huge levels of engagement?” 

A traditional Democratic primary in New York City is arrayed around huge parades, captivating stunts for television, and other mass events. All the candidates in 2013 pressed the flesh at the famous West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn, with Weiner blaring music and shouting through a bullhorn on his blue and orange float. The Democrats all staged a sleepover at a public housing development with the Rev. Al Sharpton. Bill Thompson, the runner-up in the race, dragged reporters on a 24-hour tour of New York City, bringing them to a frozen meat locker in the pre-dawn hours. 

Top candidates would routinely invite reporters along for trips to the subway and door-knocking expeditions. Every day promised another debate, a rally with supporters, or a visit to a community center, synagogue, or nursing home. Everywhere were the voters — it was an imperfect system, but ordinary people, on a given afternoon on Broadway or in the South Bronx, could run into the future mayor and strike up a conversation. 

For the campaigns themselves, there was a feedback loop that is clearly missing now. A campaign event, if well-attended or interesting enough, could draw journalists and end up on the nightly news. This footage could be used for paid television ads a month later. Journalists, meanwhile, could attempt to gauge how well a candidate might be connecting with New Yorkers. Were they becoming increasingly recognizable? Did they have notable interactions with voters? 

“In every other campaign I’ve worked on, the retail campaigning is front and center. Not only do you get to meet voters, reporters have something to cover, television news stories have rallies to get pictures of, and there’s this whole ecosystem of political communication that goes on apart from paid advertising,” says a top ad maker attached to one of the current mayoral campaigns. “This time around, because we have so little capacity to do old-fashioned handshakes and hugs and big rallies, there’s going to be a greater reliance on paid communication to reach voters — radio, digital, and direct mail.” 

This isn’t the first campaign to be run during the pandemic. Last year, numerous candidates for state office in New York had to suspend operations and recalibrate for a June primary that came right after the peak number of coronavirus deaths in the city. Door-knocking was ditched and campaigns turned to glossy mailers, digital ads, and phone calls to reach as many voters as they could. But these were all small-scale campaigns, operating in districts where fewer than 20,000 people could vote. The mayoral primary is expected to draw anywhere from 700,000 to a million voters, with many campaigns planning for a spike from the middling 2013 turnout. 

To make matters more challenging, voters have other pressing concerns. The pandemic is on the wane but remains a concrete, unsettling reality. Then there are the scandals surrounding Governor Andrew Cuomo, all-consuming online, in the newspapers, and on cable television. Granular, daily coverage of the mayoral race — the type seen in 2013 — has been far less evident. “All of our attention is drawn to stuff that isn’t the mayoral race,” said Micah Lasher, campaign manager for Scott Stringer, the city comptroller and one of the leading candidates. 

The top campaigns are gearing up for heavy cable TV expenditures in the months to come in the hope of breaking through. Most of the campaigns expect to dedicate a far larger share of their spending on television than they would have in a more ordinary year. Others, like the progressive Dianne Morales, who reported that she just qualified for public matching funds, are leaning heavily into digital campaigning, rapidly accruing online followings. 

One of the mayoral candidates, the financial executive Ray McGuire, is not participating in the public matching funds system at all, a move that will allow him to spend as much as he wants  — those abiding by the Campaign Finance Board’s regulations receive generous matching funds in return for adhering to a strict spending cap — but also permit his rivals to spend more as well. A spokesman for the CFB said a determination on whether to raise the cap in the race will be made after April 26, the final deadline for candidates to join the matching funds program. 

The system is designed to incentivize small-donor giving. While a mayoral campaign can receive a $2,000 check, only donations up to $250 are eligible to be matched, amplifying the power of a $25 or $50 donation. Based on the CFB’s criteria, all participating campaigns will be able to spend at least several million more. The current cap, at about $7.3 million, rises to $10,929,000 if a nonparticipating candidate spends at least $3,643,000. (Surpassing $21,858,000, which the billionaire Michael Bloomberg routinely did, would mean lifting the cap entirely.) 

McGuire is no billionaire, but he has already spent more than $3.7 million. Raising the cap would most benefit the candidates who have raised enough to take advantage of it: Yang, Stringer, Eric Adams, and former de Blasio counsel Maya Wiley, whose campaign has recently reached the matching threshhold. Stringer and Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, have already banked more than $6 and $7 million respectively. 

For campaigns, TV advertising is the least efficient but most effective way of reaching a broad swath of voters. Enough older Democrats are still watching CNN and MSNBC every day, as well as local stations like NY1. The ads cannot be perfectly tailored or targeted like digital solicitations on Facebook — a resident of New Jersey can end up seeing a 30-second spot for a mayoral candidate — but they can reach, on a given day, hundreds of thousands or millions of people. 

It is all exceedingly expensive: a strong ad buy can easily run $1 million a week. With multiple candidates spending millions to purchase ads, there’s a fear of being drowned out. At the same time, not being there carries great risk, with a rival hogging precious airtime. A Democrat attempting to break into the top tier, Shaun Donovan, a veteran of the Obama and Bloomberg administrations, has already been spending on weekly TV ads. (Outside Super PACs are also stepping up for Donovan and McGuire.)

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To complicate the picture in 2021, well-funded candidates will be targeting popular connected TV services such as Roku, Hulu, and Apple TV, which were barely part of the mix in 2013. De Blasio won that race eight years ago for many reasons, including Weiner’s implosion and de Blasio’s own disciplined, anti-Bloomberg messaging, but television played a decisive role. De Blasio was prescient, dedicating a larger share of his campaign spending to television advertising than his rivals and foregoing direct mail. Years later, the “Dante” ad is still discussed in mythic terms: how 30 seconds of de Blasio’s biracial son talking about his father’s promise to “really break from the Bloomberg years” captivated Democratic voters and entered the popular culture. 

Most ads don’t carry such emotional impact — at best, they may introduce a candidate, make an argument, or attack a rival. Yang is the public polling leader, and could be, in the weeks to come, the focus of negative advertising, particularly if a wealthy interest group or labor union aligned with a rival decides to spend against him. 

“It’s not a paper endorsement,” says Kyle Bragg, the president of the influential building workers’ union, 32BJ SEIU. “Our members are super engaged voters.” 32BJ, like several other large unions in the city, is backing Adams, who is shaping up to be Yang’s top rival. Yang has shunned negative campaigning thus far, while Adams has criticized Yang for leaving the city in the early stages of the pandemic. Some of the Adams-supporting unions could train their fire at Yang if they view him as a durable threat. 

To drive media coverage, Yang has relied on his Twitter feed, with 2 million followers, and, unlike most of his rivals, frequent in-person campaign stops. Recently, he has started appearing with opponents at events, like the press conference in Harlem to promote an app for small businesses envisioned by Kathryn Garcia, a Democratic contender and the former Department of Sanitation Commissioner. These sorts of team-ups have grown more common as candidates vie to be second choices for voters who can now rank up to five candidates. According to Yang’s campaign, media turnout was much higher than a typical press conference, thanks to the unusual nature of a multi-candidate appearance. 

In 2013, one of de Blasio’s fiercest rivals in the early months was John Liu, the city comptroller at the time. Liu was renowned for his vigorous campaign schedule, appearing at as many as a dozen rallies, block parties, and subway stops a day. Now a state senator, and happily watching the race from the sidelines, Liu says the candidates must learn to adapt to the new normal: lots of Zoom, lots of TV, and a lot of time online. 

And get used to not being the center of attention. 

“It’s New York City. At what given moment is there not a whole lot of shit going down?” Liu asks. “In 2013, we had months of the Weiner circus. I think candidates can be thankful they don’t have to deal with that.” 

CITY HALL ARCHIVES From The Archives News 2021 NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Can Our Stages be Saved?

A year has passed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown and, despite the tantalizing promise of mass vaccinations, there still doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. It’s been much-publicized, the lockdown has been absolutely necessary, but let’s be honest – this has been brutal. 

At the time of writing, the number of Americans that have died of COVID has crossed 513,000. We still don’t know how to keep our most vulnerable safe, and we have no idea when schools will fully open. So in some respects, discussing music, concerts, and venues seems frivolous. 

That’s a little short-sighted though. Thousands of people are employed by independent venues in the United States, businesses that have had their stream of income ripped away from them. Unlike restaurants and stores, there is no “delivery” option for venues, no giant umbrella corporations – they’ve just been left out there on their own.

With that clear, individuals did their best to grasp their own fate and do something, and the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) was born. The first we heard of NIVA was in April 2020, when they sent a letter to Washington.

“The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), whose members, employees, artists and local communities are facing an existential crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are in urgent need of targeted legislative and regulatory assistance,” read a press release. And by god, they got it.

The Save Our Stages Act, now officially renamed the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant, was passed with bipartisan support in December. Audrey Fix Schaefer is a NIVA board member and communications director. She explains that getting the legislation passed felt bittersweet.

“All of this work that everybody had put in succeeded,” Schaefer says. “But in another fashion, it felt kind of sad because there are so many venues that went under as we were struggling to get this emergency relief. That part of it was sad. But also, I should let you know that nobody has seen a penny of it yet. The Small Business Administration is going to be administering the grant fund, and they’re still working on the rules and regulations, and the application form. I suppose, because they haven’t done anything quite like this, it takes time for it to get formulated and come to fruition. We’re working in good faith that it’s going to, but in the meantime, there’s still a lot of pain with venues and promoters that are just not able to hold on.”

Audrey Fix Schaefer of NIVA

When we push Schaefer for an estimate of how many venues have gone under since last March, she concedes that we can’t be sure just how bad it is.

“Probably 300-ish since the beginning,” she says. “The reason why I have to give an estimation is, it’s not like there’s a registry for this. This is what we’re gathering from reading articles, seeing Facebook posts or tweets about places that have gone under. It’s not like somebody needs to tap out and put their name on a list as they go. That’s the best that we have.”

Clearly, the situation is agonizing for all involved. Yes, the passing of the bill in December was a great victory. But hope can be utterly frustrating and, while venue owners and staff are waiting for funds to become available, bills are still due.

“We’ve gotten timelines from different offices within the SBA, because the Small Business Administration has got, I guess you’d call it the National and the Federal office, but they also have offices in each state,” Schaefer says. “So we’ve heard February, we’ve heard March, we’ve heard April. April would be absolutely devastating. The shutdown doesn’t mean that the bills stop. Rent is due, utilities are due, mortgage, taxes, insurance, licenses, all of that stuff. You know when it’ll feel good? It’ll feel good when I know that money is starting to flow into the accounts that will help keep these venues alive.”

In the meantime, NIVA has done all it can to raise funds, with companies such as Jägermeister donating large amounts. 

“The donations through Jägermeister [$1 million] mean so much, and we’re continuing to raise money with the NIVA emergency relief fund in order to help the venues that are at the most risk while we await federal funding to come, to help them,” Schaefer says. “We have so far distributed $3 million in grants to more than 150 recipients that are independent venues or promoters. While that sounds fantastic, and it is, the need is so great that we’re still trying to raise money because, when we opened up the application process, we got requests for a total of $14 million and we only had $3 million. So we’re continuing on that path. We’re also waiting with great anticipation as the Small Business Administration starts to ready itself to be able to accept applications.”

As Schaefer says though, for many venues it’s just not happening fast enough, and the threat of going out of business is ever-present. Blue Gonzales is the general manager of Arlene’s Grocery and she says that independent venues are all banking on this grant to help pay the mountains of debt that has accrued during our closures.

“We hope that there will be enough funds to help us stand on two feet over the next year, and have live shows again,” Gonzales says. “A lot of cost (and work) go into producing live music so profit margins in our industry are minimal even in a booming economy. Even after we open, it will take time to be back to what we were in 2019. A long time! The Save Our Stages was a much-needed breath of air for us while most of the year we have felt like we were drowning. We are thankful for NIVA and the Senators who pushed so hard to get SOS included. But now we are waiting… and waiting.”

Gonzales says that survival has been a rollercoaster over the past 12 months.

“At first it was denial, that this could go on for too long,” she says. “Then scary to see how hard NY was hit by the virus. When spring came we opened a to-go window and pushed hot dogs just to put a little money in our staff’s hands. Due to all of the regulations and inspections that came with it, the establishments don’t even break even. It was just to keep the name alive. With fall came the acceptance that the money was drying up. Everything we had was gone and we could see the end to the funds. Then (again) the outpouring of love and support from our community. Like a million helping hands picking you up off the floor after getting the wind knocked out of you. Celebrating a huge victory with SOS and now the waiting game.”

A quarter-century before Covid: No Cover Charge and you could pick up Michael Kroll’s album at Tower, HMV, Virgin, or J&R

Working closely with NIVA is the National Independent Talent Organization (NITO), composed of over 100 independent booking agencies and over 140 independent management companies. CFO Tom Chauncey says that NITO came together as members were trying to figure things out.

“At the time nobody knew the length of what the pandemic would look like,” Chauncey says. “We thought it would be over fairly quickly. So we came together to assess where our business was at, what the immediate next steps would be because of the pandemic. But I think we then realized that when we understood the length of it better as it was getting longer and longer, then we started to shift into a more politically active organization. That’s where the majority of our efforts have been, trying to come together as a political voice, and here we are.”

The members of NITO, as with NIVA, see the passing of the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant as a huge victory, but they’re not waiting around for the money to be dispersed.

“One of the things that we’ve started is an initiative to attempt to help get out the vaccines quicker,” says secretary Wayne Forte. “The vaccines at the moment really aren’t available everywhere. We thought we had a 20 million vaccine surplus, but it turns out we haven’t. So they say they’ll be getting out 10 million a week for the next several weeks or longer. One of the things we did within the live entertainment industry is a few of us got together, and a letter went to the president offering the venues and sites. It’s snowballed. They got back and said they need a couple of weeks to get themselves together, the vaccination taskforce. We’ve gotten a positive response.”

In addition, there’s the real concern that when things do start to open up, they’ll initially be very different. Capacities are likely to be reduced to aid necessary social distancing, masks should be compulsory, hand sanitizer stations everywhere – all vital stuff but difficult to manage.

“We all represent successful and vibrant businesses,” says NITO president Frank Riley. “This money coming from the government is a bridge to get us to a place where we can resume our jobs, employ our people and get back to work. That’s what the vaccine represents to us. It’s generally assumed that, if there’s limited capacities in venues, that full touring will not be possible. We all live on margins.”

Schaefer says that the members of NIVA are looking to the CDC for guidelines on how to eventually open safely.

“It has to obviously be science-based because that’s the only thing a germ pays attention to, the science,” she says. “Our members are going to want to do it right, because they want people to want to come for fun and be safe. Everybody is I’m sure in different states of looking at what they might be able to do differently, but it’s still so premature. It sounds odd to say that almost ten months in, but it is. So much of it will be dependent on vaccinations, as well. But we’ve got a reopening committee that is looking at everything you could possibly look at, knowing that you can’t make any recommendations yet.”

What we do know is that music venues are critical to local business. One study found that, for every dollar spent on a concert ticket, $12 are spent in local businesses such as bars and restaurants. So sure, live entertainment isn’t a priority right now but, long term, the venues’ survival benefits everyone.  ❖

Hitting the clubs 10 years ago, from the March 15, 2011 issue:

Running for New York City Mayor — How Much Chaos Can We Expect Between Now and June?

Before the plague came to the city, you could walk up to Gracie Mansion and touch your fingers to the cool brick of the walls surrounding the grounds.

Those days, like so much before the coronavirus, are long gone. The Upper East Side mansion, erected in 1799, sits behind NYPD barricades. The metallic gates are everywhere, cutting off the walking paths that used to invite visitors to the home of the mayor of New York City. Gracie resembles, a year into the pandemic, a fortress under siege.

On June 22, when the virus may well be less pervasive, Democrats in New York will choose their nominee for mayor. In our heavily Democratic city, this primary victory will be tantamount to election. And given the ease with which incumbents glide to a second term — the oft-maligned Bill de Blasio won his 2017 primary with nearly 75 percent of the vote and easily swatted away a Republican by 38 points — this election will effectively determine who gets to govern the largest city in America for the next eight years. (The last one-term mayor, David Dinkins, left office in 1993.)

There may be no more important election — in this city, at least — in modern history. Not since the city nearly went bankrupt in 1975 has it been so close to the brink. COVID-19 has killed more than 27,000 of our fellow citizens. The restaurant, tourism, and hospitality industries are decimated. The true unemployment rate, some experts estimate, could exceed 20 percent. The murder rate is up all over America, and here in New York it has soared 41 percent over 2019. This past summer, protests against police brutality shook the city during some of the tensest days and nights in memory, drawing savage crackdowns from an NYPD that de Blasio — a left-leaning Democrat — has repeatedly failed to reform and discipline.

The Gracie Mansion barricades went up around the time of those hot, violent nights, as de Blasio, known for his stubborn workouts at the Park Slope Y and his refusal to show up anywhere on time, seemed to retreat from his city. While the gangly mayor has real, lasting accomplishments — he created a universal prekindergarten program and helped pass laws increasing the minimum wage and guaranteeing paid sick leave — he has been mocked and derided for his quixotic national ambitions and for failing, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo, to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The city, laid so low, may be even more immediately beleaguered than it was in the 1970s, when a fiscal crisis triggered mass layoffs and enormous cuts to social services. “Here the challenge is much greater,” says City Comptroller Scott Stringer, one of the front-running candidates. “We have no tourists, no arts and culture, no restaurant or dining to speak of. This is unprecedented territory.”

A New York City mayoral race is like none other. Candidates crisscross neighborhoods as large as small cities, courting varied racial, ethnic, and interest groups that can diverge wildly in their needs and wants. There is a Hasidic vote, a Chinese vote, an Afro-Caribbean vote, and an MSNBC liberal vote. There are dozens of labor unions, civic organizations, churches, block associations, and Democratic clubs that all want to feel that the mayor will represent them, and often, them alone, even though the primary has drawn close to 1 million voters in the past.

“Running for mayor involves having an understanding of these different communities, having some people who have some ties in these communities and understanding issues that matter to them—and that does create some whiplash for candidates,” says Lis Smith, a prominent Democratic operative who worked on de Blasio’s 2013 campaign. “One day you’re talking to a group that’s very progressive, very liberal, and the next day you’re talking to a group of voters that are more fiscally conservative, socially conservative. There are a fair amount of anti-abortion Democrats.”

The pandemic, of course, has upended all of this. The last time there was an open mayoral race, candidates had months to glad-hand at parades, block parties, and Sunday services, slowly building name recognition as voters spotted them on street corners and subway platforms. Once an unknown, de Blasio himself had to cajole commuters at the subway, hunching his six-six frame to give his elevator pitch to the people rushing by.

These days, the candidates are locked into Zoom forums. Andrew Yang, one of the top contenders, hustled across the city in January, staging walking tours and riding the subway with reporters in tow.

On February 2, he announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19. His diagnosis may well convince the other contenders to avoid crowd contact, at least for now. “The last time I had a flu no one gave a shit,” Yang joked.

Pandemic campaigning, generally, has meant increased phone banks, more glossy campaign mailers, and additional digital and TV ads to replace door-to-door canvassing. For candidates without built-in followings, this is cutting down on opportunities to meet voters and demonstrate momentum, either with a big rally, a strong showing at a parade, or even a staged arrest, cameras flashing.

“I’m still a believer, as far as citywide races, that regular cable TV is important,” says Jerry Skurnik, a longtime Democratic consultant. “That’s why de Blasio won eight years ago. It seems to me that TV is even more important this year. I’m sitting home right now — the TV is on.”

More than 30 candidates, remarkably, have registered to run with the city’s Campaign Finance Board, though there are only five or six Democrats who have a viable chance of seizing the nomination and breezing to victory in the fall. Much of this has to do with money: A competitive mayoral race costs millions of dollars, and only a handful of Democrats will be able to raise and spend that kind of cash.

Two of the candidates, Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, have been enmeshed in the city’s political machinery for decades, taking the most traditional route to power.

Stringer, who has been the city’s comptroller since 2014, is a Manhattanite with a base on the white, liberal Upper West Side. He is the undisputed endorsement king — three members of Congress, including the newly elected Bronx firebrand Jamaal Bowman, are backing Stringer’s candidacy, along with a deep roster of state lawmakers. Stringer has been courting the city’s resurgent left, criticizing power elites like the real estate industry and proposing an ambitious plan to phase out all fossil fuel infrastructure citywide. Once a more risk-averse, clubhouse politician, Stringer is hoping he can woo progressives in the primary, recreating a version of the playbook that got de Blasio to Gracie Mansion in the first place.

Hopefully, the new mayor will have a better view in 2022

Adams, unlike Stringer, does not chest-thump over progressive credentials. A former state senator, police captain, and Republican, Adams proudly fundraises from the real estate developers loathed on the left. A power broker in Brooklyn’s Black neighborhoods, Adams has been a muscular voice on police reform, pitching an idea to let community groups select police commanders. He said he would publicize the names of police officers being monitored for bad behavior. (Adams did not return multiple requests for comment.)

Stringer, who has promised to “manage the hell” out of the city, has banked close to $6 million for the race so far; Adams has about $6.6 million. Both of them are expected to be prolific fundraisers in the months to come.

But every mayoral race, it seems, has a disruptor. In 2001, a little-known, charisma-challenged billionaire named Michael Bloomberg defied the Democratic establishment, winning the mayoralty in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Bloomberg triumphed on the Republican line, all but impossible in today’s city, unless you can spend $100 million, which is out of reach for all of the current candidates.

In 2013, horrifying entrenched Democrats while delighting every newspaper in town, Anthony Weiner plunged into the Democratic primary, fresh off the first of many sexting scandals. Before his implosion, he was a polling leader, drawing huge crowds in the streets. At the same time, Eliot Spitzer, the former governor felled in a prostitution scandal, was running for city comptroller, whipping up a singular frenzy around a municipal contest.

In 2021, there are no black swan candidates like Weiner and Spitzer, but there is a famous outsider: Yang, the entrepreneur who gained widespread recognition running for president on a platform to give $1,000 to every American every month, forever. Mayoral candidate Yang cannot propose anything so ambitious — his current cash-transfer proposal is micro-targeted to very poor households, and would cost $1 billion annually out of an $88 billion budget — and he has mixed worthy progressive goals, such as a public bank for New York City, with the more curious, including a casino on Governors Island that would be forbidden under a federal deed restriction.

“I’m running for mayor for one reason and one reason only: I believe I can help New York City recover from this crisis faster than others,” Yang says. He is chasing the progressive vote, like Stringer, but he is also hoping to cross over everywhere, knitting together moderates and exciting the city’s burgeoning Asian communities. Before testing positive, he took to street-level campaigning with particular gusto, and is easily recognized when he ventures out.

“There’s like a real need in New York to have someone who people have a sense of pulling for them,” Yang continues, pitching his candidacy, “and one of the things happening in New York City right now — the nature of the race is a lot of noise — to me, as long as New Yorkers are happy to see me, I’m pumped to fight for them.”

The bubbly Yang is, more than any other candidate, resented by the rival campaigns, who treat him with a mixture of derision and fear. His top consultant, Bradley Tusk, advised Bloomberg’s failed presidential campaign and grew rich advising Uber, drawing ire from the left.

There are other formidable contenders: Maya Wiley, a former counsel for the de Blasio administration and a civil rights lawyer who rose to greater fame as an MSNBC analyst, is seeking to become New York’s first female mayor. (Wiley declined an interview request.)

And the city’s Wall Street titans specifically recruited Ray McGuire, a Citigroup executive, to run for mayor; he has raised nearly $5 million from business heavyweights in a short amount of time, vaulting himself into the top tier.

“I don’t owe anybody anything,” McGuire says, boasting of his status as a first-time candidate. “Zero. I’m unbought.” Celebrities such as Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson are in McGuire’s corner. As a Black business executive, he has spoken openly about racial justice and coalition building between the city’s millionaire class and leftists who seek to check their power.

Some on the left are hoping Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, can catch fire. Though the Democratic Socialists of America, an emerging power center in New York politics, are not formally backing any candidate, members of the organization have been drawn to Morales, who has called for slashing the NYPD budget in half and redirecting the funds to social services.

“I kind of reject the idea that we can’t talk about decreasing this sort of system that criminalizes poverty for Black and brown people because people are going to be unsafe. Black and brown folks are already unsafe,” Morales says. “We need to be morally committed to people’s needs to live in dignity.”

And there is no shortage of technocrats: de Blasio’s former Sanitation commissioner and interim NYCHA chair, Kathryn Garcia, and ex-HUD secretary and federal OMB commissioner Shaun Donovan are hoping to vault into the first tier. Each boasts of governmental experience that outstrips the rest of the field. “I am absolutely the most qualified,” Garcia argues. “I think I am the only person in the race who really understands what this job is. This is a day-to-day, deliver for the people job.”

Donovan, who was also a housing commissioner under Michael Bloomberg, drew attention when he proposed giving every city child a $1,000 “equity” bond that could grow to $50,000 by the time of their high school graduation. “With all due respect to the other candidates, no one else has ever run a four trillion dollar budget,” he says, referring to his tenure at the federal level. “No one else has sat side by side with Dr. Fauci in the Oval Office or Situation Room.”

For the first time, a mayoral election will be held with ranked-choice voting. In the old days, candidates clawed for slivers of the electorate. If no one won 40 percent of the vote, there was a citywide runoff between the top two candidates. These were vicious, if low turnout, affairs.

Ranked-choice allows voters to rank their top five candidates. Getting second- and third-place votes matter. The runoff is no more. No one quite knows how this will impact one candidate or another, although everyone has a theory about why they are the most well suited for the new era. It’s already produced coalitions: Stringer and Morales shared a co-endorser, a state senator from the Bronx, and some Democrats are speculating that Stringer wants to elevate Morales to undercut other progressive rivals, including Wiley. Adams, meanwhile, has aggressively opposed the system entirely, on the premise that the voter education hasn’t been there to make it happen effectively.

The race, like the city, is in flux. There is no candidate with a clear claim to the nomination. There is no single woman or man with the best argument, either — not with multiple technocrats, a citywide elected official, an unorthodox figure of national renown, a well-regarded civil rights attorney, and many others seeking the prize of governing one of the world’s great cities.

Come 2022, inordinately challenging decisions will have to be made. New York will be emerging, slowly, from pandemic hell. At some point, the new mayor will have to lower the barricades — metaphorically and literally — and enter the streets where the city, ravaged by plague, longs for compelling leadership.

“We have to get it right this time,” says Stringer. “We have to have a reset.” ❖


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

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

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

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


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


“I’m going to be the next mayor.”


“I’m going to be the next mayor.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


David Dinkins for Mayor

NEXT TUESDAY’S ELECTION will end an ugly but momentous race. It is a paradox that the contest’s very emptiness, and its persistent distortion by vicious and irrele­vant attacks, have rendered the outcome on November 7 all the more significant. New Yorkers now no longer face an ordinary choice between candidates and parties, but rather a profound decision­ — even more so than in the primary  —about what kind of people we are, what kind of city we want, and what kind of politics we endorse. That decision will also affect the political climate of the nation, because national issues such as abortion have been debated in this campaign, because national politicians, including the presi­dent, have intervened — and most of all because New York City is the nation’s urban bellwether.

For all these reasons, as well as for his own personal qualities, his experience, and his progressive stance on such issues as housing, health care, crime, and educa­tion, we strongly urge our readers to vote for David Dinkins.

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AT THE AGE OF 62, Dinkins has been underestimated during much of his long political life, and has lived to see the skeptics humbled more than once. When, after three attempts, he finally won the Manhattan borough presidency in 1985, there were many who doubted he would serve with much distinction, as­suming that he would be a timeserver satisfied with the perquisites and courte­sies of office. They were wrong. He as­sembled a capable, motivated, multiracial staff whose members could truly be called public servants, and thus became the only reliable voice for progressive policies at the highest level of local government.

And when Dinkins finally declared his candidacy for mayor, after a period of indecision earlier this year, there were many who predicted that he would be unable to field a competent campaign or attract support outside his own African-­American constituency. Again his critics were mistaken. Dinkins unswervingly pursued a strategy of coalition politics, founded upon a message of hope, and won the Democratic nomination with substantial support from Jews and white Catholics in addition to Latinos, Asians, blacks, and gays.

This was a remarkable achievement for New York City as well as for Dinkins and his supporters. Almost overnight, the city moved perceptibly away from the rancor and division of the past decade, and to­ward unity against the problems that confront us. The most important promise offered so far this year is Dinkins’s com­mitment to racial and ethnic peace, with­out which no other progress can occur; the most troubling possibility is that the city will move abruptly backward by re­jecting his candidacy.

Such a rejection would be tragic, be­cause it would mean that even an unas­sailable record on human rights for all people is not sufficient to bring us together. It would be most hurtful to race rela­tions, and especially to the strained com­munications between African-Americans and Jews. The reflexive reaction by some Jewish voters to Dinkins’s friendship with Jesse Jackson is both unfair and foolish: unfair in ignoring the many occa­sions when Dinkins has supported Jewish causes, even at great peril to himself; foolish in discarding a proven ally. In­deed, all New Yorkers will benefit when a principled, honorable mayor occupies the black leadership role that has recently been usurped by frauds and demagogues like Al Sharpton.

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UNFORTUNATELY those searching for excuses to vote against the hope that Dinkins represents have not had far to look. We dismiss the attacks against individuals in and around his campaign as ridiculous diversions: For every peripheral figure like Sonny Carson, there are literally a hundred, perhaps a thou­sand, community and political leaders standing with Dinkins who are Carson’s opposites. And if we are to measure a candidate by his choice of hired political thugs, then who has made a choice that’s worse than Roger Ailes?

Yet there are also substantive ques­tions about David Dinkins’s judgment. Although Dinkins has plausibly answered the issue of his tax liability for the cable television stock transferred to his son, he has acknowledged that he responded to questions about Inner City Broadcasting too slowly and grudgingly. And while the Manhattan borough president — in con­trast to some of his white colleagues who receive far less scrutiny — has generally been prudent and ethical in his conduct, his Board of Estimate votes in favor of Inner City were ethical lapses of a kind that should never have occurred.

We believe that Dinkins, his son, or his friend Percy Sutton, Inner City’s chair­man, ought to provide documentation of the stock sale so that any lingering doubts about its authenticity can be erased. Under the circumstances this is scarcely an onerous demand, and we hope that Dinkins will be forthcoming.

But a certain hypocrisy has also been apparent in the public’s reaction to the Inner City affair. It is important to remember that this matter was only a sin­gle episode in a long career of public service, and that the normally scrupulous Dinkins deserves to be contrasted with other clubhouse politicians who have sold their Board of Estimate votes to corpo­rate and development interests with sick­ening regularity. These same officials­who happen to belong to other ethnic groups-rarely suffer the loss of either newspaper endorsements or white votes.

Concern over personal ethics, however legitimate, should not eclipse the broader political and social significance of this election. New York has known David Dinkins for many years, and his role as a defender of the poor, civil rights, the en­vironment, and individual liberties is firmly established. He knows who he is, and so do we. We are certain, for in­stance, that David Dinkins will not read an opinion survey one day and change his mind the next about every woman’s right to choose an abortion. We are confident, too, that if budgetary constraints require sacrifice, a Dinkins administration will not punish the poor while the wealthy prosper.

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THERE CAN BE NO SUCH CERTAINTY about Rudolph Giuliani, the Republi­can candidate, whose political life has been a rudderless journey from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican. The former prosecutor seems quite comfortable praising unions one day and bashing them on another. He is perfectly capable of excoriating Ed Koch’s polariz­ing, pandering tactics and then, when convenient, adopting them. Giuliani cur­rently identifies himself rather vaguely as a “moderate fusion candidate,” and at­tempts to wrap himself in the mantle of Fiorello La Guardia without realizing that it is several sizes too large. Far from dividing one community from another, as the Republican candidate now seems so eager to do, the Little Flower was a leg­endary unifier.

Giuliani’s behavior since the primary has been deeply disappointing to the many New Yorkers who admired his crusades against corruption and organized crime as U.S. attorney. When he first declared that he would run for mayor, it was reasonable to hope that Giuliani would raise real issues of moral decay in government and set forth a program with broad appeal to Democrats and indepen­dents. And Giuliani, like Dinkins, has tried to discuss at least an outline of what he would do as mayor.

But Giuliani’s positive message has been drowned in the sewage of one of the dirtiest campaigns in New York’s modern history. With its emphasis on the old police records or supposed radicalism of Dinkins activists, and its racial scare tac­tics, the Republican negative barrage emits the odor of the old Nixon plumbers operation. The smell will almost certainly grow worse before Election Day, because Ailes and the other Giuliani strategists evidently consider any attack appropri­ate, no matter how vile.

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When Giuliani is questioned about the tenor of his campaign, he invariably ac­cuses Dinkins of attacking him first — by calling him a “reactionary Reagan Re­publican.” Though this epithet is not nearly as nasty as the accusations he has hurled at Dinkins, it does invoke a sub­ject Giuliani would prefer not to discuss. He likes to say that his administration would include “Republicans, Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives,” and to gloss over his own identification with the GOP (except when he is raising money).

But the hard truth is that in American politics there is no such thing as a “fu­sion” victory. To vote for Rudolph Giu­liani is to enhance the prestige of the Bush administration, the Republican Na­tional Committee, and Lee Atwater. It is to endorse the degradation of democracy by the likes of Roger Ailes. And it is to promote the ideology of a party that has been telling New York City to drop dead for two decades.

We hope New Yorkers seize the oppor­tunity to repudiate the politics of the Republican campaign and to prove that this city is still the stronghold of toler­ance, decency, and hope. There will be conflicts ahead over bias and budgets. But we can begin to resolve them by electing David Dinkins. ❖


Mario Cuomo: The Governor Looks the Other Way

It’s time we started taking Mario Cuomo seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Al Levine’s Thruway Dowry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Betasoft Bombshells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Second Time Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Loyalty for a Bagman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bersani Hangs On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Highway to Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Goldstein’s Land Grab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Andrew’s Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lease Lust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Sudden Reversal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Blast from the Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Arch Conspirators

The Night They Declared the Free and Independent Republic of Greenwich Village 

A shapeless figure crouched in the midnight shadows at the base of Washington Square Arch, the silent, somber guardian of the Brahman slumber on the north side of Washing­ton Square Park.

When the last strolling couple had passed beyond the pools of lamplight, when the last lone policeman had rounded the corner, the figure slid from the shadows, looked cautiously in all di­rections, silently opened the door at the base of the arch, put her finger to her lips, and motioned to her fellow revolutionar­ies gathered on lower Fifth Avenue. One by one, five people emerged from the darkness, quickly crossed the street, and stealthily slipped through the doorway.

And so, on a frigid, lightly snowing night in late January 1917 — exactly 80 years ago this week — Marcel Duchamp, John Sloan, and four other tipsy Villagers climbed to the top of Washington Square Arch and declared Greenwich Village a free and independent republic.

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The story has been jubilantly told in many memoirs of the period and inaccu­rately portrayed in nearly every Village guidebook since. The details vary in every retelling, but all accounts agree that this mock secession symbolized the Golden Age of the Village rebellion against middle-class, puritan, capitalist America.

In 1917, the Village had only thought of itself as “the Village” for a few years. Just a few blocks north of the arch, at 23 Fifth Avenue, Mabel Dodge had presided over her celebrated salon, introducing American in­tellectuals to the Wobblies and Freud, Cubism and free love, anarchism and birth control. Just a few blocks west, at 91 Greenwich Avenue, Max Eastman and Floyd Dell edited The Masses, arguably the most influential magazine in the history of American journalism. Just a few blocks south, at 239 Mac­Dougal Street, the lunatic genius Jig Cook and the blackly brooding Eugene O’Neill were transforming the American theater at the Provincetown Playhouse.

The years from 1912 to 1917 were “a joyous season” indeed, or, as another histori­an has called the period, “the lyric years.” Yet as with so many symbolic moments, the escapade of the Arch-Conspir­ators — as Sloan titled his fa­mous sketch of the event — signaled not only the beginning but the end of the era it celebrated.

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Actually, the leading conspirator wasn’t Duchamp or Sloan but a golden-haired, vivacious young Villager named Gertrude Drick. Born in Texas, Gertrude had vague artis­tic ambitions and a flamboyant personality. Quickly realizing that the only thing greater than her fervent ambition to become a violinist was her unconquerable ineptitude, she became a painting student of Sloan’s instead. And though she was “a wild little creature” fond of pranks, she also fell into frequent fits of dejec­tion, for, like many apparently lighthearted people, a deep melancholy underlay her efferves­cence. Gertrude’s solution to her mood swings was simple — she printed up hundreds of black­-bordered calling cards embossed with the single word “Woe” so she could hand them out and gaily declare, “Woe is me.”

Gertrude had heard of another Greenwich Village secession movement the preceding sum­mer. Ellis Jones, one of the editors of the monthly humor magazine Life, had called upon his fellow Villagers to join him in a second American Revolution declaring their commu­nity independent of the United States. Feeling that Washington Square Park would be too small for the expected throngs, Ellis decided to lead his cohorts into the heart of enemy territo­ry, Central Park. And fearing that it was faced with an anarchist riot, the New York City police department dispatched several ambulances and dozens of machine-gun-bearing policemen to the site. A heavy downpour on the appointed day spoiled Ellis’s revolution, however, for only a dozen or so umbrella-carrying insurgents showed up. One evening half a year after Ellis’s premature revolution, Gertrude happened to notice, on one of her strolls through Washing­ton Square Park, that the door at the bottom of the arch’s western plinth wasn’t locked and that the policeman on duty often wandered away for an hour or two at a time. (The police presence was deemed necessary because several months earlier a vagrant had made his home in a cham­ber inside the arch, his crime discovered only when, with a soaring sense of security, he hung out his laundry to dry on the parapet.)

Gertrude immediately informed John Sloan of her plan, and the two of them rounded up sev­eral of their friends to join in the insurrection‚ the laconically dapper Marcel Duchamp, the actors Forrest Mann and Betty Turner, and the Provincetown Players’ leading man Charles Ellis.

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So on the night of January 23, the six rev­olutionaries, having purchased sandwiches, wine, thermoses, hot-water bottles, Chinese lanterns, cap pistols, and red, white, and blue balloons, quietly slipped through the arch’s unlocked door, mounted the 110 steps of the spiral iron staircase, lifted the trapdoor, and emerged at the top of the arch.

After lighting their lanterns and building a small bonfire in a beanpot, the group spread out steamer rugs, unpacked their sandwiches, and uncorked their bottles for a midnight picnic. Passing the bottles back and forth to the ac­companiment of ever more raucous toasts, they began their insurrection by reciting verses. Gertrude, as it happened, was also a poet of sorts, her most memo­rable lyric — the text of which, alas, has not sur­vived — entitled “The Soul That Took Off Its Stockings and Threw Its Shoes Away.”

Soon soused, the six Arch-Conspirators decided the moment had arrived. They loaded their cap pis­tols, blew up their balloons and tied them to the parapet, and, in John Sloan’s words, “with suitable rite and cere­mony … did sign and affix our names to a parchment, having the same duly sealed with the Great Seal of the Village.” And as the other five cheered, waved their arms, and fired their cap pistols, Gertrude read their declaration of independence — which consisted of nothing but the word “whereas” repeated over and over (surely Duchamp’s inspiration) until the final words proclaiming that hence­forth Greenwich Village would be a free and independent republic and calling upon Woodrow Wilson to protect the new country as one of the small, strife-free nations of the world.

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The band of revolutionaries then gathered up their steamer rugs and hot-water bottles, made their inebriated way down the spiral stair­case, and disappeared laughing into the night, “to ply our various callings” — Sloan once more — “till such time as the demand of state again might become imperative.”

At dawn, Villagers were pleasantly surprised to see balloons festooned to the ramparts of their arch — all but the aristocratic residents of The Row, of course, the 10 Greek Revival townhouses on the north side of the Square, who were dis­mayed by yet another example of bohemian tom­foolery. Within 24 hours nearly everyone south of 14th Street knew of their new status as a liberated community, and for a week the balloons fluttered in the midwinter breeze as a symbol of a symbol.

What could the authorities do? No one was rounded up. No one, in fact, was even investigated. And the only result of the Revolu­tion of Washington Square — “the demands of state” as interpreted by the unimaginative guardians of the law — was that the door at the base of the arch was permanently locked.

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For a few years, Greenwich, Village had already been, in fact, something close to a free and independent republic — of mind and spirit, if nothing else. But by 1916, a year before the Arch-­Conspirators, Floyd Dell had already declared that the Village wasn’t what it used to be — the first recorded use of that perennial phrase. The spirit of joyful rebellion had disappeared, Floyd lamented after having been accosted by an up­town type at a local tearoom and eagerly asked, “Are you a merry Villager?” — the rents were ris­ing, the real artists and intellectuals were moving out, the poseurs and tourists were moving in.

As if to confirm, Floyd’s claim, by the time Gertrude and her cohorts climbed the stairs of the arch, Mabel Dodge had already brought her salon to an end and was about to depart for Taos, the editors of The Masses were soon to be indicted by the federal government for conspir­ing against the war effort, Jig Cook and Eugene O’Neill were beginning the quarrels that would eventually send Jig into exile in Greece and Gene to fame on Broadway, and the era of what Village troubador Bobby Edwards called “Greenwich Thrillage” was well under way — the era of Guido Bruno’s Garret, Tiny Tim and his “soul candy,” Sonia “the cigarette girl,” Romany Marie’s tearoom, and all the quaint novelty shops and garish basement restaurants that con­stituted the commercialization of bohemia. But of course there were those who looked back at that Village a decade later and said “the Village isn’t what it used to be” — and the phrase has been used every decade since to nostalgical­ly describe the previous decade.

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As for the Arch-Conspirators, further coun­tering Floyd’s claim, many of John Sloan’s “lyric years” still lay ahead, Marcel Duchamp had yet to discover “R. Mutt,” and Charles Ellis would later star in the original production of Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms. Gertrude Drick? She married James Oppenheim, the founder and editor of Seven Arts, the short-lived but seminal Village magazine of the late teens. And even Floyd’s “merry” Village days were hardly over, for when he issued his premature obituary he had yet to meet Edna St. Vincent Millay, with whom he had the quintessential Village love affair.

So as long as Villagers keep saying “the Vil­lage isn’t what it used to be,” they’re keeping its oldest tradition alive. ❖