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Cops Who Kill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shirley Chisholm: ‘They will remember a 100-pound woman’

The tiny glittering black woman stood utterly at attention. She wore a suit of stiff brocade that fitted her shoulders so snugly it gave her a faintly military air. There was, in fact, something about her that suggested the Salvation Army. Perhaps it was only her stiff shoulders, or perhaps also her frequent references to the Lord. Then, too, she had a way of drawing herself up even straighter and stiffer in her moments of intensity, looking then totally charged with inspiration, a small quivering ramrod of righteousness.

“I’m here to tell you tonight, yes, I dare to say I’m going to run for the Presidency of the United States of America!” she uttered at the climactic center of her speech. When she said the word “dare,” she fairly squinted with indignation, and, propelled along now by her own anger, she told her audience she was out to prove to the public “that other kinds of people can steer the ship of state besides the white men …”

“Regardless of the outcome,” she continued, more slowly now for emphasis, “they will have to remember that a little 100-pound woman, Shirley Chisholm, shook things up!”

The small and hyper-tense black Congresswoman from Brooklyn was speaking to some 1300 of her supporters in a ballroom of the Americana Hotel three weeks ago. The occasion was the first fund-raising dinner for her Presidential campaign, and she had drawn to it just about everyone of importance in Brooklyn and Manhattan politics, including John Lindsay. A night of glory for her, the dinner raised some $60,000 and demonstrated her considerable drawing power in this city.

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But before another week was out, her still unofficial candidacy would appear to be shaking up Shirley Chisholm every bit as much as it was shaking up the male politicians she so longed to unnerve. For she went at the end of the week to a conference of black elected officials at Washington’s Sheraton-Park Hotel, where she was made to feel only barely welcome. The few female politicians in attendance did react warmly to her, but the black male congressmen, who appeared to be calling all the shots, were almost openly contemptuous of her.

Thursday evening (November 18) a cocktail party for the visiting black politicians was held in a large room in the Rayburn building on Capitol Hill. It was a gathering of black celebrities, who, like their white counterparts at such affairs, basked in the smiles of pretty girls, looked around to see who else of importance was present, and generally gave off that ineffable air of people who have made it and know it. Success seems to break down all philosophical barriers at Washington cocktail parties, and on this evening, at least, success had gathered in the same room black men as disparately oriented as the Nixon and Kennedy officials who showed up at the first Kennedy Center party.

So Robert Lee Grant, the tall, handsome black Republican who was fired last summer from his HUD job for shooting his mouth off against Agnew, stood easily in the same room with General Chaffee James, the black Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense whose job it is to tell the Pentagon’s version of the news to the press. General James was the kind of man who could sound respectably militant on the color question (“I think there are two blacks we can do without, that first one and that only one”) and the next moment sound like General Turgeson on the subject of his son’s 400-plus bombing missions in Vietnam. If you circulated around the room and listened to the talk, you could become quickly disillusioned about the salvific powers of black skin in America­ — that is, if you were white and liberal and secretly convinced that the blacks just had to be better. They had suffered too much at our hands. But there wasn’t much of the halo effect of suffering floating around that room in the Rayburn building. And there was to be a notable absence of halos among conference members during the next two days, an atmospheric condition which you had to be able to sense in order to understand what was really going on between Shirley Chisholm and what has come to be known as the black political caucus.

Omens of Mrs. Chisholm’s problems were evident at the cocktail party. When cornered and asked about her, Congressman Lewis Stokes (the brother of Carl Stokes) shrugged his shoulders, laughed, and uttered mock groans. Congressman William Clay of Missouri said, “Who’s Shirley Chisholm? You don’t represent The Village Voice, you can’t represent The Village Voice!” And he, too, laughed. Mrs. Chisholm was to be dealt with by the cruelest of all insults — she was to be ignored.

She herself soon around at the party looking as if she was having a good time. She was wearing a more functional woolen suit this time, again with the square-shoulders of a Salvation Army uniform. Women approached her in an almost endless stream, some of them just shyly shaking her hand and walking away, the bolder of them saying things like “We have admired you from afar all the time.” A vice-president of the National Council of Negro Women told me Mrs. Chisholm was extremely popular with black women. And for the next two days she did have an extraordinary way of dividing every gathering of blacks quite neatly along strict sexual lines.

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Indeed if there had been a larger proportion of women among the 300-odd blacks who attended the conference that weekend. Mrs Chisholm might have gotten the the endorsement of the black political caucus. As matters stood, however, she was treated to chilly courtesies, being asked to sit on the dais at one luncheon to introduce a speaker, and being given the moderator’s seat on a panel discussion of childhood and early development.

The latter assignment royally peeved her, and she stood up in the first Friday morning session of the conference to let the assembled men know she couldn’t understand why she had been left off the important political panels when she was the only serious Presidential candidate among them.

“For over 21 years this has been a part of my life,” she said, quivering with rage. “They’re always plotting and planning for me, but Almighty God has burned me up… Shirley Chisholm is the highest elected black woman official and, for those of you who don’t know it, the Democratic National Committeewoman from the State of New York. You’d better wake up!”

Her outburst made the evening news and a New York Times headline the next day. It did little to change her status with the black male congressmen.

The conference itself produced little news, and though there were closed discussion sessions, nothing conclusive was decided beyond the vote to hold a black political convention sometime early next year. There were sessions on techniques for designing districts to preserve black Congressional seats, sessions which made the whole black caucus seem like a tardy and futile effort, for it was generally agreed that redistric­ting plans should be ready and presented to the courts by the end of the month, wherever legislatures were gerryman­dering blacks out of their seats. (But one reporter thought even court efforts would yield small gains for blacks, the courts themselves being frequently political provinces.)

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Thus the interesting drama of the conference was the unspoken game of tug-of-war between Shirley Chisholm and the center of the male congressmen’s group, which appeared to be somewhere close to wherever close to wherever the Stokes brothers hung out. Ever since the black Congressional caucus had been meeting with other black politicos and civil rights leaders (a series of meetings, regional and national, which began several weeks ago), reporters had been hearing rumors that the male congressmen had wanted to run Carl Stokes as the black Presidential candidate. But Julian Bond, who had attended some of the meetings, had told people he was for running locally popular blacks in each of their various states. And by Friday night of the Washington conference, Lewis Stokes was to say the same thing.

In any case, Shirley Chisholm had definitely out-maneuvered her male colleagues, spoiling any chances for multiple black candidacies, locally based, and embarrassing them by making the rift between her camp and theirs very public. The whole point of their effort was to bring a solid bloc of united black delegates to the Democratic Convention, to bargain on plat-form issues of importance to their constituents. Perhaps as a result of their efforts, the National Democratic Committee chair­man, Larry O’Brien, had met with Congressman Charles Diggs (the leader of the black Congressional Caucus) and promised him blacks would get 20 per cent of the action in 1972 — whatever that meant. (The 20 per cent was a figure derived from the percentage of blacks who voted for Humphrey in ’68)  O’Brien later made some grand gestures to a group of female leaders (Mrs. Chisholm included), which may mean that by the time he is through dealing with factions, he’ll have promised away a good 200 per cent of “the action” before the convention. (A ‘youth caucus’ is expected to go begging to O’Brien in a few weeks.)

Throughout the conference, Mrs. Chisholm told people she had decided to run in response to the urgings of various individuals and groups. One source, an aide to a powerful New York Democrat, told me he thought she’d decided to run largely because she resented the way the male black leaders had ignored her in their initial efforts to build a national black political caucus. But she had been invited to a large meeting they held in Chicago several weeks ago, and she’d declined the invitation, sending a representative who asked the group to support her candidacy. Imamu Baraka (LeRoi Jones) is reported to have said, in response to this appeal, “Don’t women have race, too?”

When I asked her in Washington who some of the individuals and groups urging her to run were, she got quite indignant.

“I don’t have to reveal my strategy to you!” she snapped. “They’re groups of women, groups of young people, Chicanos. That’s all I want to say.” (She rattled off the same list of groups to a soft-spoken black student reporter.)

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What may really have decided her is something her most trusted political adviser discovered in Brooklyn before she ran for Congress in 1968: there were approximately 3000 more registered females than registered males in the black assembly districts of her Congressional district. Her ad­viser, an old statistician and experienced pol named Wesley Holder, told me he didn’t know whether this kind of sexual demography was the same nationally in black districts — but it may be an educated guess that it is.

There is no question about her appeal to black women. At a reception she held Friday night the weekend of the conference, one man approached her with a warm offer of help for her North Carolina campaign. “My wife is so impressed with you,” he said. He was not alone.

And she can turn on young crowds with her blazing, intense oratory. At the September voter registration rally in Pittsburgh where Lindsay was less than triumphant, she was interrupted by wild cheers and got a hearty standing ovation when she’d finished her talk.

These powers failed to move her black male colleagues, however, and during a reception she held for conference participants Friday evening, she was challenged on her dealings with them. Some of the questions put to her appeared to be drawing blood. She stood, surrounded by the admiring and the curious, answering their question and ultimately taking off into an impromptu speech.

Someone asked her a question about her strained relationship with the black male Congressional leaders.

“This is very, very distressing to me,” she said. “As of this moment the black elected officials have not really come up with their strategy. Meanwhile, people are moving, and the essence is time. This is politics! … In good conscience, I can’t hold back.”

She put in a special word of praise for Ronald Dellums, the freshman congressman from California (he was to make an unsuccessful bid for a Chisholm endorsement in a closed con­ference session later that evening), then she got angry again. Her body quivering, her voice fiercely lowered, she said, “How many of them assembled here do not already have a commitment someplace and still talking about a black thing?” She apparently wanted that to sound like more than a rhetorical question, but she never named a specific conference member who might be committed to another candidate.

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A man asked her whether it wasn’t true that she had been “initially asked to write the black agenda?”

“I don’t care to get involved in those details,” she answered quickly. “I was invited to the big meeting they had out in Illinois, but they knew I couldn’t go because I was in Texas and New Mexico collecting delegate votes … Because I am a woman, because I am black I’ve always had to do that work.”

“Was the caucus involved in your decision?” asked the same man.

“Not involved,” Mrs. Chisholm curtly replied. “Further question,” she said impatiently, turning her head away from the man. Then she appeared to think she ought to expand her answer. “My candidacy first developed from many, many people,” she said, asserting once again that she’d been urged to run by several groups six months ago.

After several additional questions, she warmed to the group and made her impromptu speech. She held her audience spellbound, skillfully alternating the rhythms and tones of her words, at the end looking truly possessed, with her arms drawn in, her eyes shut tight, and her voice deadly serious. She was moving and appealing; her feminism compellingly drew upon the sympathies of her almost solidly black audience, people who knew only too well the cruel pinches of discrimination. But there was a high strain about her, and a constant hint of paranoia. She sounded as if she knew she’d never capture the black caucus and as if this had been a great hope she was having trouble relinquishing.

“I can withstand the abuses, the insults,” she said passionately, “but I’m not gonna let anybody cover me up in a dirt hole.” Then, growing gentler, she said, “My brothers, if you can’t come along with me, I ain’t mad at you. But please, for God’s sake, you know my record. Don’t becloud the picture. Don’t lie!

“When people go out and say, Shirley Chisholm, she may become a captive of the women … and when you hear brothers saying you can’t talk with her, that’s because I’m a different breed of politician. I don’t wheel and deal morning, noon, and night. I am truly unbought and unbossed.”

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“Unbought and Unbossed” is the title of her autobiography. It’s a phrase that does not totally fit her politics. For her trusted ad­viser, Wesley Holder, is on a small scale a very competent political boss. He was borrowed from Brooklyn in 1958 to help J. Raymond Jones and Adam Clayton Powell win a difficult Harlem race. And Holder himself says proudly that “Shirls” makes no major decision without consulting him. Holder handles her Brooklyn office, dealing with most constituent problems and maintaining a policy of non-involvement in local controversies.

There are some indications that Mrs. Chisholm is closely allied with the Lindsay camp, although one certainly couldn’t say that means she has been bought by Lindsay at this point. Lindsay was the chairman of her fund-raising affair at the Americana three weeks ago. And Mrs. Chisholm will, in turn, be a sponsor of a $25-a-head Barry Gottehrer testimonial dinner in mid-­December, which should raise money for Lindsay’s campaign. One Lindsay aide told me that the Mayor’s and Mrs. Chisholm’s organizations in Brooklyn were synonymous. (This aide also spoke highly of Holder, recalling the days during the 1969 mayoral race when Holder would get all the local Lindsay people holed up in his unventilated office, drinking straight bourbon. By the time such meetings were over, said the aide, “I’d agree to everything he said.”)

And Mrs. Chisholm is considered a pragmatist on Capitol Hill. She is reported to be quick­-witted and effective in committee meetings. Mrs. Chisholm made startling news, of course, when she first arrived at Congress and refused her appointment to the House Agriculture Committee. Since then, however, she repor­tedly made her peace with the House leadership. And though she now denies it, it is widely believed on Capitol Hill that she voted for Hale Boggs as majority leader in exchange for an appointment to the House Education and Labor Committee. That vote was done by secret ballot, so even Boggs’s people can’t prove she voted for him, but Washington reporters recall that she didn’t deny it at the time. (In Washington more recently, she angrily told me she had never voted for Boggs.)

Among reporters she is described as a politician who does not do her constituent homework. But she does so much public speaking that such criticism may just be clever speculation. She gets $1500 per speech, and her schedule during the week I followed her fortunes was so packed that her staff told me to interview her between sessions of the conference. (She was always too busy to stop for an interview with The Voice, although she found time for CBS.)

One reporter who is most critical of her — although reluctant to lash out at her in print — is Dick Oliver of the Daily News. In 1969, Oliver was assigned to look into the case of Lance Corporal Ronald V. Johnson, a black Marine who had been convicted for allegedly raping an Okinawan girl. Ultimately Oliver’s investigations got Johnson a new trial and he was acquitted, but along the way, Oliver and Johnson’s supporters found it difficult to get Shirley Chisholm interested in his case — ­though Johnson’s home was in her district.

In the fall of 1969 a Daily News political reporter approached Mrs. Chisholm at a news con­ference to ask her whether she’d seen the stories about Johnson. She told the reporter she was too busy to get involved.

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In early 1970, when Johnson was scheduled to have his second trial, his attorney began to fear he would be hit with a drug charge because the military authorities were so angry with him. The at­torney called Oliver who in turn called Mrs. Chisholm’s office. She was out of town, but her staff did give Oliver permission to say she was upset about Johnson’s predicament. And as Johnson’s case looked better and better, said Oliver, Mrs. Chisholm began to champion it more strongly. “When we needed her, we didn’t have her. But later on, when we didn’t need her, she was there,” Oliver said recently.

Now Mrs. Chisholm is thought of as a staunch defender of blacks in the military. She recently sent one of her aides to Germany to in­vestigate racial problems among American GIs there.

Shirley Chisholm is a mixed bag. She can be calculating and manipulative; she can sacrifice principle to expedience; she can be courageous and moving; she can be hysterical one moment, sharply, dazzling rational the next.

She has announced that she will enter the Florida, North Carolina, and California primaries, the last of which makes no sense for a black who wants to contribute delegates to a black caucus at the convention. Whoever wins the California primary takes all the delegates to the convention; thus California blacks would do better to ride on the slate of a strong black candidate.

At this point, Mrs. Chisholm’s candidacy is obviously troublesome to her black colleagues in Congress. And though reporters find her good copy, they can’t understand why she’s running. It may be sheer ego; it may be her tenacious feminism that has motivated her. But this is the reason I overheard her telling a cluster of black women at the conference: “After this is over, I’ve done my thing for America … This is my legacy for the folks. Somebody has to have the guts to show the others we can do it.” ❖

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CITY HALL ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Meade Esposito, Runnin’ Scared

State Supreme Court Judge Alvin Klein’s recent dismissal of a legal motion to unseat Brooklyn Democratic boss Meade Esposito was in part the result of a series of compromises and a lack of prosecutorial zeal by State Attorney General Robert Abrams.

Abrams, who inherited the complaint against Esposito from former Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz, cooperated with Esposito’s attorney in the selection of Judge Klein to hear the case, allowed Esposito to miss two default deadlines, failed to use important evidence he had gathered against Esposito, and did not even seek out other available and obvious evidence. Last week Abrams, who was supported by Esposito for attorney general in 1978, refused to answer specific questions about the case directly, despite repeated requests by the Voice. Instead, Abrams’s press aides selectively responded to some of the questions and issued a general denial, calling “any insinuation that the Esposito matter” wasn’t handled thoroughly and professionally “reckless and totally inaccurate.”

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The County Leader’s New Clothes
Klein’s decision itself represents a cynical attempt to isolate the law from the real world, surrounding Esposito with legal fantasies so bold as to nullify the last century of machine politics in this city. The essence of Klein’s ruling was that Esposito, who has become a caricature of the county party boss, is in fact no boss at all and thus cannot be penalized for breaking state laws that limit the commercial activity of a county leader.

The complaint alleged that Esposito violated a 25-year-old statute that requires public and party officials to forfeit their office if they do any business with a racetrack. Esposito was charged with sharing in the insurance and mortgage fees for the Parr Meadows racetrack in Suffolk County. (He was paid as a partner in two firms that represented the track.) Two weeks ago, Klein decided that Esposito couldn’t be required to give up the office of Brooklyn county leader on the novel ground that there is no such title in the Brooklyn party. A few hours after Klein’s decision was released, Abrams announced his intention to appeal. But indications are that Abrams contributed to the awkward result he is now challenging.

Klein based his decision on the fact that Esposito, like every other county leader in every borough for decades, holds the title of “chairman of the executive committee” of the Brooklyn organization. A strict reading of the rules of the organization, claimed Klein, reveals no reference to the term “county leader.” The language of the statute used against Esposito covers “county leaders” and a host of other titles, but does not specifically list the title “chairman of the executive committee.” So, concluded Klein, the law does not apply to Esposito. “He is not the county leader,” wrote Klein, “since no such position exists.”

Klein granted Esposito’s motion for summary dismissal of the case, meaning that the question of whether or not Esposito is a county leader is so beyond doubt that it is not a “triable fact.” Though Esposito’s attorney, James LaRossa, submitted an affidavit denying that Esposito was a county leader, Esposito himself was not even asked by Klein to do so. If Klein had asked, it would’ve blown the whole house of cards. Esposito wouldn’t have denied he was county leader in a sworn statement because that would’ve invited a perjury prosecution.

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Unless the appeal prevails and a trial before a jury is eventually ordered, Esposito may never have to admit in court that he is in fact the cigar-chomping, jowled, potbellied, gravel-voiced party boss he’s been playing these 10 years. If the facts stand as Klein left them, Brooklyn will have but a shadow leader, masquerading at Foffe’s Restaurant and on Court Street as a kind of historic replica of the old machine tradition. Klein has abolished the position in order to allow Meade to continue to hold it. But, after Klein’s decision, all Esposito will legally hold is an obscure and bureaucratic title having something to do with an executive committee. Brooklyn, the grand old county of organization politics, will have no official leader.

When I visited Klein and his law clerk, Steve Zarkin, I asked them why Esposito hired one of the most expensive criminal lawyers in town to defend a position he didn’t hold. Since the worst that could have happened to him under this statute was the forfeiture of the title “county leader” — not the loss of the executive committee chairmanship — why fight to keep a title that Klein insists doesn’t exist? Seemed to me, I said, that his willingness to pay to defend the title proved he had it. Klein looked bewildered. Zarkin laughed. “To tell you the truth,” said Zarkin, “we never thought of that.” Apparently neither did Bob Abrams. But then again, it might not be much of a legal argument. It makes too much sense. And Klein was bent on redefining the universe, turning his courtroom into an abstraction uncomplicated by the nuisance of real life.

There was a kind of “Free Meade” hysteria beneath the surface of both the decision and my interviews with Klein, Zarkin, and others about this case. The statute used against Esposito is viewed as ancient, and the violation as technical and ill­-matched to such a grand loss of power. As a result of this thinking, there were few limits on the willingness by Klein and others to invent frivolous dodges that sidestepped the obvious. But the statute is a sound and tested conflict-of-interest prohibition, and the clear intent of the 1954 legislature that adopted it was to bar political leaders able to influence racing legislation from acquiring an interest in those same racetracks.

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Picking the Judge
After years of watching election cases in Brooklyn courts, I learned that the critical moment in political cases is when the judge is assigned. I recall one case where countervailing political pressures twice succeeded in changing the judge assigned and, with each switch, the preordained winner also changed. Two powerful, regular Brooklyn organizations were battling over the assignment and, once the judge was finally in place, the leaders who lost the assignment battle never even appeared for the hearing. Everyone knew how the county had decided the case would go.

In his last month in office, prodded by insistent revelations in Newsday concerning Esposito’s interests in the racetrack, Lefkowitz brought the case against Esposito in Manhattan Supreme Court. The technical grounds he used to bypass Brooklyn courts was that the attorney general’s office is in Manhattan. Lefkowitz’s choice of venue was an implicit indictment of the Brooklyn judiciary. But the chances of finding an independent judge in Manhattan to handle so extraordinary a political case were only slightly better than in Brooklyn.

The Manhattan judicial district includes the Bronx, and Alvin Klein became a judge after a lifetime of politics in the Bronx regular Democratic organization. For 14 years he was personal secretary to the legendary Bronx county leader and congressman, Charles Buckley. In 1963 Buckley decided to reward Klein with a civil court judgeship. But Buckley’s antagonist, then mayor Robert Wagner Sr., balked momentarily, in part because the bar association had rejected Klein as unqualified. So county leader Buckley called a meeting of the Bronx executive committee, which he chaired, and they anointed Klein as the party candidate anyway. Wagner was subsequently forced to agree. So Klein knows something about executive committees and county leaders: that’s how he became a judge.

Esposito is the heir to a boss tradition symbolized by Buckley and his Manhattan ally, Carmine DeSapio. The best example of Buckley’s style of leadership was his boast once at a dinner honoring the Bronx district attorney that every assistant DA in the Bronx for the previous 50 years had been recommended by his district leader. “They were not Liberals or reformers,” he said, “they were honest-to­-God Americans.” It was a couple of decades of subservience to that kind of organizational mentality that prepared Klein for his decision in the Esposito case.

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I asked Klein if he regarded his former mentor Buckley as a county leader and whether Buckley held the same executive committee chairmanship as Esposito. Klein said yes to both questions, then conceded: “He was in the same position as Esposito.” Catching his own slip, he corrected himself: “I may have looked at Mr. Buckley as the county leader … But suppose 50 people call somebody a boss. Suppose the newspapers call somebody a boss. That doesn’t mean he’s a boss.” As one attorney familiar with both the case and the judge told me: “Klein couldn’t do anything but decide that way. His whole life has led him to certain feelings about these institutions — the party, the leadership. No one would have to buy a contract to persuade him. The instincts of a lifetime would only permit one result.”

If anyone should’ve known that about Alvin Klein, it was Bob Abrams. Abrams got his start as a Bronx reform assemblyman in the mid-‘6os, fighting against the Buckley machine. Klein says that he and Abrams met in Bronx politics and have known each other for years. Pat Cunningham, who came out of the same Bronx club as Buckley and Klein and eventually became Bronx county leader, used to call Abrams the “Hirohito of the Bronx reform movement” — meaning its kamikaze pilot, its cutting edge. It was Abrams’s archfoe Cunningham who elevated Klein to a Supreme Court judgeship at the 1972 judicial convention. Indeed, when I first talked with Abrams’s aides about the Esposito case, they were openly contemptuous of Klein’s machine roots and his shabby legal reasoning in this case. All of this made it only the more surprising when I later read the full court file on the case and discovered that Abrams had acquiesced in the selection of Klein.

Judge-shopping in Manhattan courts begins in something called Special Term Part I, where much civil litigation is processed. Judges are assigned to Special Term on a weekly, rotational basis by Administrative Judge Edward Dudley. As certain pretrial proceedings are filed in Special I, they are marked on the calendar of whatever judge happens to be sitting in Special Term when the papers are ready for what’s called “final submission” (that is to say when both sides are ready to have the matter heard). The judge who gets a case while in Special Term may often be the judge who eventually decides it.

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Alvin Klein was assigned to Special Term a total of five weeks in his first five years in the Supreme Court, far less than many of his colleagues. He has mostly worked the criminal courts, where he has never had any difficulty recognizing felons or understanding legislative intent. Klein was assigned to begin his first week of service as a Special Term judge this year on May 14. One of the first cases submitted to Klein the morning of his first day on the bench was Abrams v. Esposito.

What got the case before Klein was a stipulation signed on May 9 by Abrams and LaRossa, Esposito’s counsel, which specified that even though the case would not be ready for submission until June 6, both sides would accept May 14 as the submission date, putting the case squarely in Klein’s lap.

The scenario that preceded the stipulation makes it even more difficult to understand why Abrams agreed to it: Abrams filed the complaint on April 10, giving LaRossa the required 20 days to answer or default. The 20 days expired and LaRossa hadn’t answered. So Abrams gave LaRossa a five-day extension.

LaRossa filed his motion to dismiss the complaint on May 4 and, in his papers, set the return date as May 14. LaRossa could’ve picked any day for the next couple of months as a return date. He picked Klein’s first day. In leaving only 10 days between the filing of his motion and the date for final submission, LaRossa was giving Abrams the shortest amount of time to reply permissible under the rules of the court. Presented with this rushed deadline and having already granted LaRossa an extension, Abrams had a sound legal basis for requesting and getting an adjournment of the May 14 date, putting the case before a judge other than Klein. A check of the court calendar revealed there were several brighter prospects: Judge Oliver Sutton, whose leanings in a case like this are certainly less predictable than Klein’s, was scheduled for the next week; Judge Martin Stecher, one of the city’s most respected and independent jurists, was set for the second week in June, almost exactly to the day the final papers really were submitted.

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Instead of seeking another date, Abrams executed the stipulation, and on May 14 the stipulation was filed with Klein, giving him custody of the motion. Because the hearing date had been adjourned by agreement, no appearances were made by either side, and there were no submissions of any papers. Abrams met the deadlines set in the stipulation and submitted his final papers opposing the motion on May 31. LaRossa didn’t, and once again Abrams gave him an extension.

Abrams’s press aide told me they signed the stipulation because “the alternative was to throw ourselves at the mercy of the court” and go before Klein on May 14 “with the possibility that the judge would refuse the adjournment and not give us the time we needed.” This explanation, especially in view of LaRossa’s delays and the short response time, seemed implausible to the lawyers I asked about it. Abrams’s aide added that the attorney general didn’t want to ask for an adjournment because Newsday editorials had criticized Lefkowitz for his delay in bringing the case, and they didn’t want to open themselves to the same criticism. This argument doesn’t say much for Abrams’s willingness to take possible short-term flak to achieve long-term success. It is also a little silly since the stipulation was signed by Abrams and constituted a postponement anyway. Presumably Newsday might’ve been persuaded that some judge-shopping delays were justified.

Though Abrams’s press aides did their best to portray Abrams as having been forced to take Klein, the judge volunteered to me that he “understood that Abrams wanted this case before me.” Klein contended: “I wasn’t looking for this case. They signed a stipulation to put it before me. It is my understanding that Abrams’s office initiated the stipulation because Abrams knew I would decide this case solely under the law as I saw it.” After hearing this, I called Abrams’s office, informed them of the judge’s “understanding,” and asked if they’d “initiated” the stipulation. They never got back to me with an answer.

There are only two possible explanations why LaRossa and Abrams might’ve wanted the same judge: either Abrams miscalculated and, despite Klein’s background, thought him a worthy trier of this sensitive matter, or both sides were after the same result.

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Proving the Obvious
In an extensive reply-brief and affidavit, Abrams’s staff managed to devote no more than a handful of paragraphs to the issue of Esposito’s role as county leader. The document went on for pages on the intricacies of the Parr Meadows transactions and submitted an inch-thick stack of documents and exhibits supporting their analysis of these aspects of the case. But their only evidence establishing that Esposito is a county leader was a collection of half a dozen news clips. You don’t have to be a lawyer to know the probative value of a Daily News story calling him a county leader. Abrams also resubmitted the evidence Lefkowitz originally offered: a 1975 state Red Book listing Esposito as a “county chairman.” That was all Abrams could marshal to prove the pivotal fact in the case.

I thought he could have done better. I went to the archives of the Kings County Democratic organization at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. Archivist Arthur Konop said that no one from the attorney general’s office had ever reviewed any of his records, including the minutes of every meeting of the executive committee from the 1880s to 1969. I started with 1969 and worked my way back to 1920. The record made it unmistakably clear that the titles of county leader and chairman of the executive committee are historically indistinguishable. In these records, every chairman of the executive committee in this century has been described — or has even described himself — as county leader.

The archives’ records end when Esposito became county leader. But since then, there haven’t been any rule changes that would alter the equation of titles that is already a century old. Nonetheless, I decided to try to see the recent records and called Bill Gary, secretary of the county organization (once listed by Jack Newfield among the 25 worst hacks in city government; Voice, December 8, 1975). When Gary did not return my calls, I went to see him at the party’s Court Street headquarters. He would not let me in his office, but I did make it into the reception area, where I could see him and he could see me. We shouted back and forth at each other. Gary, who is Brooklyn borough president Howard Golden’s former law partner and was editor of the City Record under Abe Beame, told me that the minutes of the largest county political party in the state are “not public record.” He sneered, laughed, and snapped: ”You’re not gettin’ anything outta here.” (The Voice has asked the New York Public Interest Group and the ACLU to examine the possibility of bringing suit to unlock the apparently private records of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.)

When I questioned Abrams’s office about why they hadn’t pursued these records, they called back with an answer that raised new questions. An aide said that Abrams had “substantial, additional evidence” to prove Esposito’s county leader role, but refused to say what the evidence was. He just described it several times as substantial and then said they didn’t submit the evidence to Klein because “it was not necessary at the initial stages of the case.” We all have to wonder what they are saving it for.

Of course, the evidence they chose not to use, as well as the archive records they never reviewed, cannot now be added to their appeal. The Appellate Division will only have whatever evidence Klein had. That makes it at least conceivable that the appeals judges will reach the same conclusion. Of course, they may be more willing than Klein to open the case to a common-sense nose test about Esposito’s county leadership. In that case, the paucity of the evidence won’t matter that much. But even if the Klein decision is reversed on appeal, Esposito has, at the very least, bought time.

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A Background of Relationships
Joe Conason (Voice, June 26, 1978) covered the state Democratic convention that nominated Abrams for attorney general. Conason described how reformer Abrams entered the convention with 76 percent of the delegate vote, including the support of almost all the regular party leaders, and then barely held on to the majority he needed. When Governor Carey, Queens county leader Donald Manes, and upstate party leaders subtly moved away from Abrams, and some of them lined up behind Abrams’s opponent, Delores Denman, Abrams was able to keep two county leaders behind him: Esposito and the Bronx’s Stanley Friedman. When Conason asked Esposito about Abrams becoming a regular, Esposito laughed and said: “He’s just come out of the closet, that’s all.” Esposito explained his persistent support of Abrams as “following his conscience.”

Conason also described the increasingly close political relationship between Abrams and Bronx leader Friedman. Friedman, who has spent his career working for Brooklyn regulars like city council majority leader Tom Cuite and Mayor Beame, is the county leader closest to Meade. Their recent two­-county partnership is the talk in regular party circles.

Judge Klein has a long-standing friendship with Friedman and Friedman’s law partner, the omnipresent, sometimes Esposito counsel Roy Cohn. Klein described Cohn to me as “a close personal friend for many years” and said he’d attended several of Cohn’s parties.

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Klein said, however, that he never discussed the case with either Cohn or Friedman. Cohn said he’d had nothing to do with the case, but the minute I asked him about Klein, Cohn went directly to the question of Abrams: “I never had a case with the attorney general’s office,” claimed Cohn, “where the AG didn’t have a strong say in picking the judge. He usually controls when it comes up.” These shifting relationships — Klein, Cohn, Friedman, Abrams, Esposito — form the important backdrop to this case.

The other leading Bronx reformers of the Abrams period — Jay Goldin and Herman Badillo — have become, respectively, an embodiment of the bus­-shelter scandal and a silenced, outcast deputy mayor. Their Manhattan and Queens reform colleagues, Manfred Ohrenstein and Jack Bronston, are now collecting legal clients such as shelter-scandal magnate Saul Steinberg. Brooklyn’s reform linguist Shirley Chisholm has become a fund-raiser and political bulwark for convicted felon and former councilman Sam Wright, as well as Esposito’s brightest black star. Ed Koch, the reformer who beat Carmine DeSapio 16 years ago, has a special relationship with Canarsie district leader Tony Genovesi, who comes from Esposito’s home club and has been chosen by Esposito to succeed him as county leader.

And now Bob Abrams has prosecuted Esposito on a dual track. For public consumption, he refiled the Lefkowitz complaint and is now doggedly appealing his loss. But on another level, he has left a trail of subtle omissions and gentlemanly concessions which allowed Esposito to win.

Reform in this town is but a phase in the political maturation process. When those who successfully use it grow up and reach an appropriately lofty height, they allow themselves to become the compromised, but still temporarily respectable, veneer for the same power relationships they previously campaigned to “reform.” ❖

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Meade, the Mob, & the Machine

Meade Esposito, the powerful Democratic Party leader of Brooklyn, is currently under active investigation by four separate law enforcement agencies — special anti-corruption prosecutor Maurice Nadjari, the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Strike Force, the IRS, and the SEC.

The SEC probe involves fraud and manipulation of a stock called Frigitemp. Two of Esposito’s closest friends — Bernard Deutsch and Joe Marando — have already been indicted in the case and an SEC complaint mentions Esposito’s personal lawyer, George Meisner. Meisner is also a Brooklyn district leader. And Deutsch was honorary chairman or a dinner that honored Esposito on January 7, 1970.

In addition to these four active investigations. Esposito was questioned by two grand juries last year, and an earlier IRS audit was terminated under suspicious cir­cumstances. At that time, several IRS agents complained of a cover­up.

The earlier IRS audit of Esposito’s finances was so inadequate and incomplete that the late U.S. Attorney Robert Morse, and Dennis Dillon, chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force, refused to sign the final report, ac­cording to documents on file in Washington.

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The original IRS audit of Esposito’s finances was closed out late in 1972.

Esposito had several secret meetings with former Attorney General John Mitchell during the autumn of 1972. These meetings were never listed on any of Mit­chell’s official office logs, and were at first denied by Esposito. However, after Nelson Rockefeller disclosed he arranged the first of the meetings, Esposito then admit­ted he did in fact meet secretly at least twice with the Republican Attorney General. Esposito says the subject of those meetings with the now indicted Mitchell is “private.”

The meetings with Mitchell not only coincided with the IRS audit, but also with the inexplicable vote of Brooklyn congressman and Esposito protege Frank Brasco against investigating the Watergate scandal while the 1972 Presidential campaign was still in progress.

On October 3, 1972, the House Banking and Currency committee voted in executive session against giving its chairman, Wright Pat­man, subpoena power to launch a full-scale Watergate inquiry.

Brasco was the only Northern urban Democrat to vote with the Republicans successfully and block the investigation. Brasco is the politician personally closest to Esposito in the whole city. Esposito got Brasco his nomination for Congress in 1966. Esposito had a no-show $500-a-month job on Brasco’s congressional payroll during 1967 and 1968. And Brasco’s cousin, also named Frank, is Esposito’s personal chauffeur. Brasco would do anything Esposito asked him to do.

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Moreover, John Dean has told the staff of the Select Senate Watergate committee that there were several long and anxious White House meetings on how to prevent the banking committee inquiry. According to Dean, at one of those meetings, Mitchell said he could “take care of one of the Democrats from New York” on the committee. Brasco was the only New York Democrat to vote against the Watergate inquiry.

About a month after Brasco’s vote, the IRS audit of Esposito was halted over the objections of Morse and Allan.

According to a source in IRS, before the Esposito audit was terminated, three agents went secretly to U.S. Attorney Morse to say there was a cover-up in progress, and that they were not being permitted to conduct a thorough professional investigation of Esposito.

The IRS agents said they were ordered by their supervisors not to interview and investigate judges, or to explore the financial records or the Brooklyn Democratic county organization, or to analyze the books of Grand Brokerage, the in­surance agency Esposito owns with Stanley Steingut.

Sources in IRS say that the area of judicial investigation was crucial because there had been allegations that Esposito had accep­ted undeclared cash in the sale of judgeships.

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The current IRS investigation of Esposito’s finances began six weeks ago, and is expected to take at least nine months to complete. It is being conducted by a special team of agents and accountants that had nothing to do with the suspicious 1972 audit.

If Mitchell did, in fact, stop the inquiry into Esposito, it was probably not the first time the for­mer Attorney General manipulated justice. There is also considerable evidence that Mitchell improperly interfered with the ITT, Dairy Cooperative, Robert Vesco, and Robert Abplanalp investigations, and played politics with the par­dons granted Jimmy Hoffa and Mafia boss Angelo “Gyp” De Carlo.

Congressman Brasco, meanwhile, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to accept $27,500 in il­legal cash pay-offs from a truck leasing company owned by Mafia capo John Masiello.

One of Esposito’s 1972 grand jury appearances also involved a Mafia capo — Paul Vario.

It turns out that Esposito’s name was “all over” the famous tapes made in the bugged junkyard trailer the Mafia used in Canarsie during 1972. The junkyard tapes led to the conviction of 40 Mafia mem­bers and 21 policemen.

Esposito’s name was used frequently in the trailer by Vario, who has since been indicted six times by Brooklyn D. A. Gene Gold as a result of the trailer bug. Vario was recorded saying things like “Ask Meade a bout that,” and “Meade’s a good guy.”

Esposito’s appearance before the Brooklyn grand jury was carefully arranged so that the press never found out about it. The county leader admitted under oath that he knew Vario “very well” for more than 15 years, and that he had first met Vario (who has a record of 27 arrests and a conviction for rape) while he was “in the bail bonds business.”

Esposito, however, said he could­n’t possibly imagine why Vario would so freely drop his name in private conversations with other mobsters.

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***

Meade Esposito is by far the single most powerful Democratic county leader in the state. The Brooklyn Democratic organization has produced, and can claim loyalty and patronage from Mayor Abe Beame, City Council Majority Leader Tom Cuite, State Comptrol­ler Arthur Levitt, Assembly Minority Leader Stanley Steingut, more than 40 Supreme Court Justices, Surrogate Nathan Sobel and Borough President Sam Leone.

Esposito controls more than 1000 jobs. He’s made more than 25 Brooklyn judges, and approves the appointment of every law secretary in Brooklyn Supreme Court. Through Tom Cuite, Esposito in­fluences the committee assignments and chairmanships or the City Council. Through his close friendship with Nelson Rockefeller, Esposito was able to secure a favorable re-appor­tionment of the state legislature in 1972. Dozens of appointments to the Beame administration have to be “cleared with” Esposito. People think he can influence tax asses­sments, liquor licenses, zoning decisions, government contract and judicial decisions.

Every candidate for state-wide of­fice next year will seek Esposito’s private, if not public, support. Ted Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, and George McGovern have all publicly praised Esposito as a great party leader. The New York Times, in a nattering magazine cover story in December 1972, described Esposito as “a new breed of party leader,” and compared his power to that of Mayor Daley or Chicago.

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***

Esposito was born in Ocean Hill 64 years ago. He quit Manual Trades High School at the age of 14 to become an office boy in an in­surance company owned by old­-time Brooklyn Democratic boss James Powers.

In 1947 Esposito went into the bail bonds business with Ronnie Carr. (Carr is now a law assistant to Brooklyn Surrogate Nathan Sobel even though he is not a lawyer.)

Esposito admits that many of his bail bond clients were mobsters, in­cluding Joe Colombo, Jimmy Napoli, and Apples McIntosh.

In 1958 Esposito ran as an in­surgent for district leader in Canarsie and lost by 200 votes. In 1960, he was elected with the public endorsement of Eleanor Roosevelt and Herbert Lehman. Esposito named his home club after Thomas Jefferson. And he quickly arranged for his campaign manager — Mike Kern — to become a judge.

In 1960 Esposito suddenly became assistant vice-president of the Kings Lafayette Bank, despite no apparent experience as a banker. His friends say Esposito knew he could never become county leader while a bondsman: the bank title gave him the respec­tability needed to acquire party power.

At the time Esposito was hired by the bank as an executive, the single biggest depositor in the bank ($2 million) was the ILA, which many law enforcement agencies believe is Mafia-dominated. It is suspected that the ILA used its in­fluence to get Esposito the job.

In 1970. U. S. Attorney Robert Morgenthau said that while Esposito was vice-president of the bank, he arranged for ILA leader Anthony Scotto’s family to obtain a $250,000 unsecured loan. Morgenthau further stated, “This loan went to buy a country club in New Jersey that became a prime meeting place for members of organized crime.”

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Esposito claims he severed all his ties to the Kings Lafayette Bank in 1970. But an investigator for Special Prosecutor Nadjari told me this week: “Esposito’s relation­ship to the bank still exists. Only now it is more disguised, more cir­cumspect, and more sinister.”

Over the last year, five Mafiosi have been convicted of receiving il­legal loans from the Kings Lafayette Bank.

Esposito is also a vice-president and part owner with Stanley Steingut of Grand Brokerage, an insurance company now located at 70 Broadway. Law enforcement agencies are now trying to discover if Grand Brokerage has sold in­surance policies to politicians who became judges, or received other favors from Esposito.

Grand Brokerage, mysteriously, refuses to provide any information about its finances to Dun and Brad­street. A normal insurance com­pany would depend on a good rating from Dun and Bradstreet for customers and credit. Grand is run on politics, not merit or business acumen. Esposito has of­ten told friends: “I don’t need graft. I got premiums.”

Esposito also was quoted by Tim Lee of the New York Post as saying: “There’s no sense kidding myself — the people wouldn’t be bringing their insurance business to me if I wasn’t county leader.”

Investigators are also looking into the finances of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Brooklyn regulars estimate that the organization raised more than $400,000 last year — $140,000 of it at one dinner at the Waldorf — and there has been no public accounting of those funds. As the result of a loophole in the state’s election law, party organizations do not have to report these receipts and expen­ditures even to the IRS, or to city and state tax authorities.

The county organization does provide expenses, a limousine, and a chauffeur for Esposito.

Also, Esposito admits that Brooklyn Supreme Court candidates are asked to contribute at least $10,000 to the party campaign fund although with multi-party endor­sement no significant campaign is conducted. Frank Vaccaro, who received a Supreme Court judgeship from Esposito last year, says his district leader was told by Esposito that a $10,000 contribution “would be an appropriate amount.”

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***

Esposito’s immense power even awes some of the men who are now diligently investigating him. This is how one federal investigator talked this week:

“I think we will eventually make a case against Esposito, but I’m afraid of what happens after that. I know he was able to protect himself all these years. He’s more than lucky. I can’t prove it, but I’m convinced that John Mitchell protected him. That’s got to be the reason the original IRS audit was covered up. I know how many friends Esposito has, from the lowest hood up to the Rockefellers.

“It worries me. After we get the evidence, then we need a prosecutor to impanel a grand jury and actually sign an indictment. Then we need an honest jury, and honest judge to try the case and give him a sentence. Then we need five appellate judges who can’t be fixed to affirm the conviction.

“I know how much the judges and appellate judges hate Nadjari, for example. I know how many judges, and appellate judges, are friends of Esposito.

“Back during the 1960s, when Joe Hoey was the U. S. Attorney and when Aaron Koota was the D. A., no politicians were ever in­vestigated in Brooklyn. The borough was wide open

“But now, after Watergate, and Agnew and the Knapp Commis­sion, things are changing. At least now we can get permission to go after an important politician, at least now we have a chance.

“But I’m still scared. We’ll work our ass off for the next six months to make a case. We’ll  work 18 hours a day. But I admit it. I’m afraid of what happens after that. This guy Meade has more power than the Pope.”

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***

The current law enforcement probes into the Brooklyn Democracy should be viewed, and understood in the larger context of the recent wave of indictments for political corruption in Brooklyn, and in the historic connection bet­ween the Brooklyn Democratic Party and organized crime.

During the last six months, cor­ruption indictments have been voted by grand juries against seven prominent Brooklyn Democratic political figures.

Brooklyn Congressman Ben Podell was indicted on charges or conspiracy, bribery, and perjury after a two-year investigation by the Department of Justice and the PRI. The 10-count indictment alleged that Congressman Podell had accepted $41,350 in bribes in exchange for using his influence to obtain a route to the Bahamas for Florida Atlantic Airlines.

Brooklyn Congressman Frank Brasco was indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring to receive a $27,500 bribe for helping a Mafia truck leasing company win government contracts. This investigation was carried by Mike Shaw, chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Dominic Rinaldi was indicted on three counts of perjury by Special State Prosecutor Maurice Nadjari.

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Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Ross Di Lorenzo was indicted for per­jury in a case involving organized crime.

William Steinman, a long-time Brooklyn political figure, who is administrative assistant to State Comptroller Arthur Levitt, was in­dicted for attempted bribery, con­spiracy, and grand larceny. The in­dictment alleges that Steinman tried to fix a criminal case in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

Brooklyn Assemblyman Calvin Williams was indicted for bribery by Brooklyn D. A. Eugene Gold.

Brooklyn City Marshal Irving Sable was indicted for grand lar­ceny by extortion, also by Gold’s office.

Also, Norman Levy, former president of the City Tax Commis­sion and chairman of the John V. Lindsay Association of Brooklyn, was convicted two weeks ago, of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and tampering with public records. Levy Faces a sentence of up to nine years in prison for his role in a system of fixing about 2000 parking tickets for Brooklyn politicians.

In addition, four Brooklyn judges are now under investigation by Special Prosecutor Nadjari’s of­fice.

Nadjari’s staff of 65 investigators and 24 lawyers currently has more investigations active in Brooklyn than in any other borough.

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***

Municipal corruption seems historically endemic to specific places — Chicago, Miami, New Jer­sey, and Brooklyn.

In his wonderful book. “The Great Bridge,” David McCullough describes the graft of the “Brooklyn Ring” while the Brooklyn Bridge was under con­struction after the Civil War. Millions were stolen by Boss Hugh McLaughlin, “a former waterfront gang leader”; William Kingsley, “Brooklyn’s most prosperous con­tractor”; and Henry Murphy, founder of the “Brooklyn Eagle and Kings County Democrat.”

Almost a century later, the Kefauver Committee’s televised crime hearings exposed the sophisticated connection between the Brooklyn Democratic Party and organized crime. The Third In­terim Report of the Kefauver com­mittee, released in May 1951 said:

“Mobster Joe Adonis’s influence upon the Kings County Democratic organization may go far to explain why neither he, nor a major subordinate like Anthony Anastasia, was ever subjected to prosecution or punishment …

“William O’Dwyer (D. A. of Brooklyn from 1941 to 1945) failed to take effective action against the top echelons of the gambling, nar­cotics, waterfront, murder, or bookmaking rackets. His defense of public officials who were derelict in their duties, and his failure to follow-up concrete evidence of organized crime, particularly in the case of Murder, Inc., and the waterfront, have contributed to the growth of organized crime, racketeering, and gangsterism in New York City.”

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In recent years, the publicly available cumulative evidence of the influence of organized crime on Brooklyn politics should trouble any thoughtful citizen.

Two Brooklyn Democrats have been indicted in connection with attempts to use their public trust in behalf of the Mafia — Congressman Frank Brasco, and Civil Court Judge Ross Di Lorenzo.

A careful analysis of judicial decisions in Brooklyn suggests at least a pattern of favoritism toward organized crime.

The staff of the Joint Legislative Committee on Crime has studied the disposition of 147 felony cases in Brooklyn Supreme Court involving Mafia defendants between 1960 and 1970. Sixty-three per cent of all the organized crime defen­dants won dismissals in Brooklyn. This compares with a 15 per cent dismissal rate for all other types of defendants. Only five per cent of the mobsters indicted actually went to prison. The 63 per cent dismissal rate in Brooklyn com­pares with less than 40 per cent in the four other boroughs for mob­sters.

In the last two years, one Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice — Joseph Corso — threw out indictments against five different Mafia defendants, and all five of his dismissals were later reversed on appeal by the Appellate Division.

Last year, the State Commission of Investigation twice called in Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice John Monteleone to explain, under oath, why he dismissed an indict­ment against an alleged Mafioso named Frank Cangiano. Mon­teleone’s dismissal was later unanimously reversed by a higher court.

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Judge Monteleone is now under intensive scrutiny by the staff of Special Prosecutor Nadjari. Monteleone was elevated to the State Supreme Court by Meade Esposito in 1970.

Aaron Koota was District Attor­ney of Brooklyn from 1964 to 1968, and is now a Supreme Court Justice.

In July of this year Gerald Mar­tin Zalmanowitz testified in public before Senator Henry Jackson’s Permanent Sub-committee on In­vestigations. Zalmanowitz, who grew up in Brooklyn, is a federal informer whose testimony helped convict Mafia boss Angelo De Carlo in New Jersey in 1970.

Zalmanowitz testified that two cases — one involving Joe Colom­bo — were “fixed” in the D. A.’s office while Koota was D. A. of Brooklyn. One case was fixed for $5,000 and the other with a free Buick from a dealership Colombo covertly owned.

Local 1814 of the ILA, and its president Anthony Scotto, are im­portant pillars of the Brooklyn Democracy. The union provides money, printing presses, and man­-power in every election. The ILA ‘s support was clearly the difference in John Rooney’s narrow primary victory over Allard Lowenstein in 1972.

The Justice Department, as a result of information from two informants, officially lists Anthony Scotto as a captain in the Carlo Gambino family.

Scotto seems an especially am­biguous figure. He is married to the daughter of Anthony Anastasia, and no one gets to be the leader of Local 1814 at age 26 if he is not somehow connected to wise guys. But Scotto has no criminal record and is a college graduate.

But some Mafia experts are not fully convinced of Scotto’s real role. One respected journalist, who has covered the mob for 15 years, put it this way:

“Anthony is half a wise guy. He’s wired to them, but he would never shoot anybody, or do anything violent. The waterfront is control­led by the mob. He exists in that environment. I think he wants to get out of the mob world before he gets hurt. The really bad mob guys think he’s gone legit with Lindsay. They don’t trust Scotto. Anthony just exists in some twilight zone between two worlds.”

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Scotto was first named as a Gambino captain in 1966 during testimony in executive session before Congressman John Rooney’s subcommittee. Rooney, who has been supported by Scotto’s union in every election since 1946, refused to make the FBI listing public.

But in 1969, the Senate committee of John McClellan released Scotto’s name. Scotto was listed as a Gambino captain on the basis of information provided by two infor­mants, one of whom was Joe Valachi. There is no wiretap cor­roboration.

The Brooklyn waterfront mean­while, without ambiguity, remains a center for smuggling, loan­sharking, extortion, union racketeering, pilferage, contraband cigarettes, and bookmaking.

On Monday night, December 10, Michael Cosme was in the Shorefront Democratic Club, 320 Brighton Beach Avenue. Cosme was a bookmaker and a member of the Joe Colombo family. Two men wearing ski masks walked into the clubhouse, stood Cosme against the wall, and killed him with automatic pistols. Police found $4700 in cash and sports betting slips in Cosme’s coat pocket.

The Shorefront Democratic Club has a charter from the Kings County Democratic Party, and Cosme apparently used the clubhouse as his bookmaking office.

The introduction of private immigration bills for aliens is one way politicians can do favors for organized crime. In 1972, the Immigration and Naturalization Service prepared an analysis of these private bills.

The INS study named Brooklyn Congressman Frank Brasco as one of three Representatives who in­troduced private bills for aliens “close to organized crime.”

A further analysis disclosed that Brasco introduced a dozen bills for clients of one Brooklyn lawyer — Thomas Lentini — who was convicted of immigration fraud. Lentini was also chairman of a Brasco fund-raising dinner at Vic­toria House in Brooklyn in 1967.

The Kings Lafayette Bank (17 branches and $23 million in total capital funds) seems an important institution to both the Kings County Democrats and organized crime.

Meade Esposito was an officer of the bank for 10 years, and is believed by law enforcement to still have a covert connection to the bank.

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John Lynch for years has been chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic county committee. For more than 30 years the Brooklyn Democratic organization has banked its own funds at Kings Lafayette. John Lynch is also honorary board chairman of the bank.

State Comptroller Arthur Levitt, a member of the Brooklyn organization’s Madison Club, has deposited large sums of interest-­free state deposits in the Kings Lafayette Bank. During 1973, an average balance of $1.6 million in interest-free public money was placed in the bank by Levitt, which is more than was deposited in banks of equivalent size and capital. The bank also received more than $5 million in time deposits from Levitt.

Last year, directors of the Kings Lafayette Bank purchased two tables for $2000 to the annual dinner of the Kings County Democrats.

At the same time, the bank has had significant contact with organized crime.

Over the last year, five alleged mob members and associates have been convicted of receiving false and illegal loans from Kings Lafayette: Natale Marcone, Caesar Vitale, Ilarie Pisani, Joseph De Cicco, and Barry Mancher. Five others have been indicted and are awaiting trial. A bank branch manager, Louis Mellini, was indic­ted for bribery and loan-sharking, but he later agreed to cooperate with law enforcement agencies.

In 1970, after lengthy hearings, the bi-state Waterfront Commission denied a stevedoring license to the CC Lumber Company because Anthony Scotto had used improper in­fluence to get an unsecured $250,000 loan for the company from the King’s Lafayette Bank.

Scotto’s union had $2 million in pension fund deposits in Kings Lafayette at the time. The CC Lumber Company is owned by relatives of Scotto.

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The State Court of Appeals, in upholding the Waterfront Commis­sion decision in December 1972, concluded in a majority opinion:

“There was sufficient evidence for the Waterfront Commission to find that Anthony Scotto breached his fiduciary obligation as a union officer under Section 723 of the State Labor Law.”

The Kings Lafayette Bank is cur­rently under investigation by the staff of Senator Jackson’s Per­manent Investigations Subcommit­tee as a possible money wash for securities stolen by organized crime.

An investigator for the Jackson committee told me this week: “Kings Lafayette is what you might call a family bank.”

There are at least four reasons for the disproportionate amount of political venality and cynicism in Brooklyn.

One is that Brooklyn is a one-party borough, and the organization Democrats have been uninterrupted in power since Boss McLaughlin started getting rich from the Brooklyn Bridge project in 1867.

Second is the historic roots the Mafia has in Brooklyn, especially on the docks, and in neighborhoods like Canarsie and Red Hook. Three organized crime families — Gambino, Colombo, and Gallo — are based in Brooklyn, and five more derive some income from various rackets in the borough. Joe Hynes of the Brooklyn D. A.’s office estimates that 2500 members of organized crime families now work and live in Brooklyn.

Third the dubious quality of the Brooklyn judiciary is a direct consequence of the control the political structure maintains over the courts and the Brooklyn Bar Association. Until law and justice become separated from patronage and politics, the Brooklyn judiciary will remain a fertile ground for Special Prosecutors and muckrakers.

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And last, there is so much corruption in Brooklyn because there is almost no scrutiny of that borough by the media. Brooklyn has 2.6 million residents dispersed over 80 miles. It is the fourth largest city in the nation. But since the demise of the Eagle, Brooklyn has been without a daily newspaper. The Times, the Post, and the local television news shows continue to report on Manhattan with much more curiosity than on bigger, badder Brooklyn. The Times covers Bangladesh better than it covers Brooklyn.

The future, as always, is inscrutable.

The appropriate remedies, as usual, appear obvious.

Investigation, exposure, analysis, endurance, idealism, and leader­ship will, hopefully, inspire citizen participation in the democratic process.

Meade Esposito, Stanley Steingut, John Rooney, Frank Brasco, Bert Podell, Dominic Rinaldi, Tom Culte, and James Mangano will all be up for re-election in 1974.

If the prosecutors don’t catch them, perhaps the people will. ♦

1974 Village Voice article by Jack Newfield about Democratic machine politician Meade Esposito's ties to the mob

1974 Village Voice article by Jack Newfield about Democratic machine politician Meade Esposito's ties to the mob

 

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James Brown: Knocking ‘em Dead in Bed-Stuy

An hour and a half before show time they queue up in front of the Brevoort. The posters are stuck up everywhere, in the bars, the luncheonettes, even in the Shabazz Restaurant. Two weeks ago the Apollo, then a weekend in Akron, Ohio, and now four-a-day for two days in Brooklyn. This is the show, this is the kid, the man of the hour, Mr. Dynamite, Mr. “Poppa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” Mr. “Night Train”… James Brown and the James Brown Show. Now, tonight, in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

The lines are long because the kids don’t leave. They come for the first show at 2 p.m. and sit on through, fortified by popcorn and pop, waiting to love James Brown again, waiting for him to love them, waiting for him to do it again, do it to the mike, do it to them.

The cops are out, with their beat-up wooden horses, black and white cops coralling the black folk behind the barricades while the white manager, all business, counts the line and counts his house and says, “Twenty-five more, I can let in 25 more.” This is high finance, man. The white manager at the Apollo wrote James Brown a letter saying thank you for breaking all previous records, and this manager is counting the receipts, at $3 a head, thinking maybe he’ll be writing James Brown a letter, too. Ben Bart, the old pro, white manager of James Brown, is watching those receipts, too. Forty-five people on the show payroll, his cut, and a liveried chauffeur divided into a guaranteed $15,000 for two days comes to what?

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Last Show

Saturday night, midnight, the last show. The crowd is good-natured, waiting to get in. Young men and women, all spiffed up, on dates. The married couples, sedate and satisfied, this evening at least. The boys without dates in shades and caps. The girls in big hair-dos and pants. And all those ladies still with the juice in them and without husbands … in pairs, in threes.

Inside, there’s a lot of show. The Apollo formula. Give ’em a bad old movie, a couple of old cartoons, it doesn’t matter what. The movie screen is half-obscured by the big band anyway. The movie heroine smiles, and her mouth is filled by the raised kettle drum on stage. The crowd moves around, greeting friends, getting more buttered popcorn.

At last, the screen goes dark. Red and blue spotlights slowly circle and cross. The drums roll, the audience hushes. Five brownskin gals, the tall, light one in the center Chinese maybe, come wriggling and writhing on stage, in cute little bare, two-piece, sequined, tasseled outfits, weaving, undulating, backs to the audience, twitching their asses, slithery sliding, pulling at their bikini bottoms, pulsating their long-stockinged stems. The girls carry orange-painted suitcases, marked J.B. This is the James Brown traveling show, doing the New York black subway circuit.

An emcee on a makeshift stand announces the acts. The amplification is bad, the lights dim. Everything is red-blue-brown and cozy. A male singer comes on, belts a little, does a desultory pelvic grind, and for his finale, grabs the mike and pitches headlong into the pit. A moment of oooos, and he is lifted, limp, back on stage for his danceaway exit. “Dear, is that James Brown?” asks a woman. “Naaaaw,” comes the anguished answer.

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Scampers Away

The brownskin gals do some more slithering, in between acts and during the acts. The audio gets worse. The spotlight operator in the balcony, white — cigar in his mouth, charges the gals and manages to miss most of the exits and entrances. There is Miss Ella Mae, 275 pounds of shaking momma, in furbelows and frills, singing “All of me, why not take all of me,” and the tall, lanky comic in coveralls doing the cornpone a bit, scampering away from Ella Mae’s outstretched arms. There is the straight girl singer with the powerhouse voice, the Imitation Supremes, the hoary black vaude dialogue done on countless stages countless times (“Judge yer Honor, how come you let that gal go free when she was walkin’ stark naked through town?” — “Madam D.A., she tole me she been married 10 years and had 10 children so I figured she ain’t never had time to git dressed.”)

And then it is time. The music swells. The girls, now in white bikinis, move to new positions, high, high above the stage on shaky platforms. The emcee’s voice comes through clouded, a throwaway … “Needs no introduction … ‘Hullabaloo,’ ‘Shindig’ … you’ve all heard his records … JAMES BROWN.”

And there he is. The Star. Moving down stage, fast, grabbing the mike, singing, all in one gesture. Moving his feet in neat, cocoa-butter suede boots. Slim, dark, diminutive … mop of curly black hair … smart gray suit. That’s James Brown? He’s — little. The voice is ordinary, the lyrics indistinguishable, the beat uninspired. Three young men, part of his act, in lighter gray suits, not as sharp, are moving, too. Everyone on stage is moving, James Brown faster than anyone, but stationary, in front of the mike. This is the kid the whole show is built around? A slight … short … boy … with a big head of hair and a slim-line gray suit wit a custom-tailored jacket that he flips ever so coolly now and then to reveal — a flash of salmon-flowered lining. That’s all there is to James Brown?

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Body Releases

Suddenly he dips. His body, like a puppet on a string, releases. The legs slide out — incredible. James Brown can dance! The body gyrates. The arms gyrate. The arms churn. The hips swivel. The feet in the cocoa-butter boots slide together, as if on ice. (From Augusta, Georgia, he was going to be a bantam-weight boxer.) The crowd cheers. James Brown is warming up. Without a stop he goes into a routine with the boys. Fancy dancing, high strut, puttin’ on the ritz, brushing off the slim gray suit, a little brush, a little whisk (James Brown’s daddy used to be a hoofer). A breakaway into the new song, “Poppa’s Got a Brand New Bag” — the one they’re pushing, the one they hope will make the top of the charts. (When James Brown toured the South this summer, he sang this song in Mississippi, and the Poor People’s Corporation of Natchez made him up a special white leather tote bag, with his initials, J.B., in gold, and they say he carries it with him wherever he goes.)

James Brown singing a love song. Yeah. The audience is with him now. He’s going to do it soon, “Love you, I wanna love you,” he pleads. Ooohyeah, you can love me, baby. “Love you,” he pleads, and then with a shiver — with one tremulous movement — he lifts up the microphone — and throws himself down on top of it … The audience gasps. The women. The kids. The undulating white bikini brownskin babies. James Brown is pleading to let him love. Talking to the head of the microphone. Kneeling. Wailing. “I want to love you.” Sobbing. Pushing the unresponsive microphone. Begging. Shaking. — He can’t go on. One of the male dancers goes over and talks to him gently. Then lifts him up. He continues his song. — But it’s too much for him! He shivers, throws the microphone down again! “Love you.” They’re getting worried. They raise him up. They prop him up on both sides. They dance a little. More incredible sliding. Then James Brown wants to — “Shake. I want to shake your hand.” The audience surges forward. “Let me shake your hand,” he chants, and the hands are already there, outstretched. Teenage hands, middle-aged women’s hands, men’s hands, reaching up toward the stage. The ushers form a human chain, trying to hold the crowd back. On stage, his boys try to hold James Brown. He breaks loose! They grab him! They take a hold of his arms! He reaches toward the hands! With a dancer holding onto him from each side. James Brown’s arms are thrust toward the clasping hands. From one end of the stage to the other, his men push his arms toward the crowd and pull them back.

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James Brown back at the microphone, still in one piece, singing about making love again, “All night long, two o’clock, three o’clock, seven o’clock, eight o’clock,” getting worked up again. The dancers calm him, hold him by the jacket. But — he’s — got — to — do — it. He wrenches out of the jacket — flash of salmon flowers — and does it to the mike again! Down on the floor, kneeling, pushing, berating the head of the mike. The crowd is hysterical, pressing forward. From the rear of the orchestra, from the balcony. A revival! A holy, holy, orgiastic Gospel finish. They bring a black cape and cover him gently. They pick him up and guide him into the wings — but no, they can’t hold him! He stamps his feet — and shivers — and throws off the black cape — and runs back to the prostrate mike. “Love me.” Another cape. A white one, is passed up and put around him. They almost have him off now, folks — but he trembles, breaks free — kneeling, murmurs inaudibly to the microphone. They straighten him up and put on a red cape. He is exhausted. They guide his faltering steps. But James Brown still doesn’t want to go. Not yet. The crowd, the people, the love. He must give something more … his clothing! He rips off his tie and throws it into the pit. He starts to rip — bodily they carry him from the stage. What a finish! Nothing like it since Jackie Wilson used to lie down stage front and kiss all the ladies, one at a time. The mantle has fallen on James Brown. The apotheosis of the ethnic thing. Four-a-day on the black subway circuit. The short, skinny kid with the big head. Dynamite. James Brown. ■

Categories
From The Archives Neighborhoods NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized Violence

The Boys of Bensonhurst

A Neighborhood’s Rage — and an Eyewitness Account

I didn’t see nothing, and even if I did see something I didn’t see nothing.
— A Bensonhurst teenager

ON THURSDAY, when I arrived in Bensonhurst, neighborhood people, cops, and reporters were milling on the cor­ner where, the previous evening, Yusef Hawkins had been shot and killed by a crowd of neighborhood boys. In the apartments above the candy store and beauty salon, men, women and children hung out of the win­dows, watching. Gina Feliciano — the 18-year-old girl who had enraged the neigh­borhood boys by, presumably, dating a black guy — lives in one of those apartments and I wondered which one was hers, but I knew the window would be darkened, the blinds drawn. Around the corner, a wavering line of chalk marked the place where Hawkins, who was 16, had died — because he was black and be­cause he had tripped the wire of some­one’s “manhood.” Gina was in hiding — as if she had pulled the trigger — and a neighborhood was defensive and angry.

“My old man told me don’t say any­thing to reporters if I want to see my children. He’s 40 and he could still break my legs.” The speaker, a young man, works at a bakery; he’s wearing a white apron, white pants and a white tank top.

“I don’t trust nobody anymore,” a kid tells a reporter. “Why should I tell you anything? You just say what you want to say anyway.”

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“Well, then why do you come out here every day?” the reporter asks.

“‘Cause you’re here,” says one kid.

“Because we have to defend ourselves,” say another.

Neighborhood residents insist the Hawkins incident wasn’t racial. They blame the girl. “She provoked them,” they tell reporters, because, apparently, Gina had said her boyfriend and his friends were coming into the neighbor­hood and they were going to show the white boys something. “If she said I’m gonna bring my Irish boyfriend in to fight you, the same thing would’ve happened,” one man says.

Many of the kids don’t even think Keith Mondello — one of the five who had been arrested for the attack — was seeing Gina. “She’s a skag,” they say. “Let’s put it this way,” a recent high school gradu­ate told me. “A lot of boys have memories of her.” It seems she has been an outsider for some time. “She went bad,” says a mother who has known Gina since she was a little girl.

When Gina dropped out of high school and began to attend secretarial school, she made a lot of black and Hispanic friends. People on her block — including adults — had been telling her for awhile not bring those kind of people into the neighborhood anymore. Wednesday — the night of the killing — was Gina’s birthday.

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BY HIS OWN ADMISSION, Michael’s an anomaly. He stays out of trouble, does well in school and plans on going to college. He loves his neighborhood, and when I talk with him two nights after the murder, he’s struggling with that love. “I used to hang out there with these guys three or four years ago. I didn’t think they were capable of doing this. I really didn’t.” He’s sitting in the kitchen with his sister, Sheila and his mother, Rose.

Michael and Rose don’t believe the incident was racial, but they don’t defend the kids either. When a 24-year-old suspect was arrested, Rose said, “A twenty-four-year-old hanging out in the schoolyard!”

“Their set of morals are different,” Rose says. “They don’t think of death as a terrible thing.” Michael cuts in, “It’s another notch on their belts.” Rose says there are lots of young men who believe in a “distorted” picture of the mob and play at being gangsters. Rose asks if I’m Italian. No, I say. “How can I explain?” she sighs. Her parents came from “the other side.” They met in night school studying English, educated themselves, wanted to get ahead. “The ones coming over today don’t bother to learn the language, they don’t care about education.” She says they don’t know what their kids are doing in school because they can’t talk to the teachers. They lose track of their kids in the world.

“Different things are important to me,” says Rose. “School is important to me. Respect is important to me.”

“That’s what the kids wanted,” Mi­chael says to her. “Respect from the street.”

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“That’s not respect,” she retorts.

“Ma, open your mind!” Michael counters. “For them, that’s respect.”

Rose taps her cigarette impatiently. “You shoot somebody point blank with a gun and you didn’t think you were gonna end up in jail?”

“They didn’t think anybody would talk,” Michael says.

“They have to sleep with themselves anyway.”

The guy the cops are looking for — Joey Fama, the alleged murderer — is, Michael says, “a typical Guido.”

“A coward Guido,” Rose says.

“A brown-noser,” Michael says.

“Now who would he be brown-nosing?” Rose asks.

“I don’t know, Ma,” Michael says.

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BOBBY IS PUERTO RICAN and moved into the neighborhood when he was 16. About a month later, he was sitting with his little sister outside the house when four guys cruised by, calling him Puerto Rican this and Puerto Rican that. Bobby just turned and went inside. But the next day he got four carloads of his friends from the old neighborhood. They had weapons, but they didn’t fight. They just predicted the future — not too promis­ing — of the white kids if they touched a hair on Bobby’s head. Bobby was left alone after that. “My stepfather’s Sicil­ian,” he says. “And he always told me, ‘Stick with your own people. You can trust them a little more than others.’ ”

Bobby’s 28 now, married, with a kid, and works as a maintenance man for the local church, St. Dominic’s. He doesn’t have to fight anymore — not with his fists, at any rate. Bobby’s looking for a larger apartment because he and his wife want another child. “I went to all the realtors on 18th Avenue. Every place they sent me to was out of the neighborhood. They keep trying to move me to Coney Island. And they do it with a straight face!”

We’re sitting outside the church. The sun’s slanting low and the women are arriving for Bingo. Bobby calls the old ones baby, and they love it. He says the neighborhood kids hang out in front of the church at night. He imitates them, slouched, arms folded, their faces immo­bile — “like old men.” Bobby doesn’t get it. When he was their age he was seeing girls, going out dancing, playing pool.

Bobby say Father Arthur of St. Domi­nic’s, organized a basketball league and opened the gym at night for the neigh­borhood kids but they kept pulling shit like shutting out all the lights in the mid­dle of the game. So Father Arthur said, “Everything to you guys is a joke. Well I’ll how you what a joke is …” And he barred hem from the gym for the rest of the season. “He only lets the really young ones in now,” Bobby says.

Later that night, I meet a kid who says he can’t talk to me because one time, his friends thought he “ratted” on them and three of them jumped him. He’s husky, built strong, but he didn’t fight back just, ducked and blocked the punches as best he could because he thought they might run to their car and get their bats or maybe even a gun. He tells me about an 18-year-old neighborhood kid who was found handcuffed, both legs and arms broken, six shots in the back of his head. “The kids around here don’t do anything their fathers wouldn’t do,” he says.

ON SATURDAY, up until almost the mo­ment Reverend Al Sharpton and the pro­testers arrive, the crowds on 20th Avenue are calm. Nothing is going to happen, I’m told, “not with all the cops here.” I sit with a group of boys who joke about Gina. But when we get around to discuss­ing racism, the talk turns angry. One guy pulls down his shirt, revealing some heavy gold, and asks angrily, “Do you think I could walk through Bed-Stuy like this without getting shot?” “What about all the times a white person gets killed by a black person — why isn’t that racial?” “What about Central Park?” Then they discuss affirmative action — the white man’s on the bottom of the totem pole, they complain. “If I go to get a job at the Transit Authority, do you think I’ll get one?” An older man walks with me away from the crowd, sadly shaking his head. “They don’t think before they open their mouths,” he says. “They mix things up. They don’t understand that they could get a job at the TA. They could get out of here if they tried.”

Then the cops’ walkie-talkies are buzz­ing with news of the marchers’ location. Some neighborhood people have brought signs and hold them up for the TV cam­eras — WE ARE NOT RACISTS, and NO MORE TAWANA BRAWLEYS — and the crowd cheers. Then the sound of sirens, the sight of cars and a bus being whisked to the back entrance of the schoolyard. Everyone rushes over there, and as the protesters start pouring into the school­yard, the white kids push up against the chain link fence, girls getting hoisted onto their boyfriends’ shoulders. “Sharp­ton’s using you!” a blond girl starts yell­ing. A teenage boy says to his friend, “You know they got fear in their hearts.” And then, “Smell that stench in there.”

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One man is holding up a huge card­ board sign: WE ARE ALL GOD’S CHILDREN — DEATH HURTS US ALL. “Put that sign away,” a kid yells. “Yusef, Yusef,” the protesters begin to chant. “Fuck you, fuck you,” one white kid howls back. “Watch your mouth dude. We don’t want no trouble,” says another. “Jon Lester for  president!” from another part of the crowd. There’s a frantic “shush” from some quarters, laughter from others. The crowd twists against itself. “Don’t let them show us up,” one of the whites yells. “This is our neighborhood. What the fuck is this! Once again they’re kicking us out of our neighborhood.” A boy yells, “Fucking niggers!” and applause and cheers sweep the crowd, making it one.

Then the cops are standing in two rows at the schoolyard gate, channeling the protesters through. The marchers move out onto 20th Avenue, 10 to 12 people to a row, and the whites, mostly kids, teen­agers, and men in their early twenties, run along the sidewalk next to them. “We want the killer!” the protesters chant. “Go home monkey face!” the crowd re­sponds. “Break out the coconuts!” A black woman occasionally flips the finger at the howling boys, but does not look at them. A few blocks away from the school­yard and the calls of “nigger” propel one black man out of the lines. Whites and blacks rush in and cops push and hop into the middle of the scuffle, nightclubs raised. When the groups are separated again, a photographer says, “That was the best yet. No blows, but …” “Did you see that?” a white man says breathlessly. “They attacked us. Police brutality!”

“Our streets!” goes the new chant of the marchers. The white kids go crazy. “You’re losers!” “Go home to your crack-­infested projects!” A block later a white kid charges through the line of cops, straight to Sharpton, whose guards sur­round him immediately. The attacker is chased by cops. “They showed their true colors today,” Sharpton says. A young black woman, her face wet and eyes dazed, heads out of the ranks as if she’s sleepwalking, but before she enters the white sea, two protesters pull her back. “They want that house for free!” yells a neighborhood man. “They think freedom is a free house!” One marcher remarks to another, “They fought three wars with that shit in their blood.”

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After another scuffle, a neighborhood man calls, “Look, look!” He points to the ground. I look down and there’s his card­board sign — WE ARE NOT RACISTS — cov­ered with scuff marks, two cops planted firmly on top of it. “They won’t give me my property.” He’s frantic, weeping. “Re­verse racism!”

The return march from the police sta­tion seems calmer somehow. The march­ers begin to chant, “Poor white trash!” and black and white boys grab at their cocks, challenging each other to step over the line. “It takes two of yours to make one of mine,” croons a black man. “I got balls, I got balls, come on over here,” a white kid yells. “White pussy boy,” calls a marcher.

Once, there’s almost a conversation. “Malcolm X is a racist!” a white boy screams and the black protesters groan.

“Who’s more racist than you?” a black man answers.

“Sharpton’s using you!” the white man yells back.

“It’s not about Sharpton. He’s not im­portant. It’s about Yusef.”

“I didn’t kill Yusef. None of these peo­ple here killed Yusef.”

But then both crowds are shouting and the two men are drowned out and swept by their respective groups down the street.

When we finally return to the school­yard, the Bensonhurst kids are fenced out, and they start spitting through the fence at the protesters. One guy is sud­denly darting for something on the ground in front of me. Just then, the cops push everyone across the street. A black reporter reaches down for the same ob­ject the white kid was trying to get — a soda bottle — and with anger and disgust etched deeply into his face, he throws it hard to the sidewalk and it splinters into a thousand useless pieces.

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On the other side of the street we’re kept behind cars, crowded close together. When the kids see me writing, they start yelling things for me to jot down. A boy shoves a watermelon in front of me. “I went to Africa and brought a tropical watermelon,” he announces. “We’re not racist!” another boy says gleefully. “Write that down.” They’re tired of being good and sorry. They’re having fun. Then the kids start singing, “We Are the World.”

There will be a memorial service for Yusef Hawkins at the site of the killing the next day, and when the protesters have driven away, a tall man holding a baby announces a “baseball game” sched­uled for tomorrow morning. “Bring your bats,” he says. “This is our neighborhood, not theirs.” On the corner, another man is yelling at a police officer that he has his name and badge number. He’s furious because during the march the officer hadn’t let him go into a store to buy a soda. He screams, “You weren’t a cop today, you were black!” The kids are de­ciding what to do with the watermelon. You can tell they’d like to eat it but they can’t now. “Throw it on the ground,” one kid advises.

Roy Innis holds court outside a bakery, and neighborhood people are talking to him eagerly and more articulately than they do to the reporters. “Why does the media only talk to the kids?” an older man asks. “They’ll say anything, do any­thing because of the TV cameras — why do you think they had a watermelon? Looking like fools!” Innis tells them not to let the media back them into a corner. “Where are the reporters now?” someone says. “They start this whole thing up and then they leave.”

Three women talk on the corner. “I didn’t even know there was going to be a march today,” one says. “This is a shame,” says another. “Now my kid is using the word ‘nigger.’ ” Another says, “The problem is, we have no leaders.”

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AFTER THE MARCH, Tony is hanging around like someone with no place to go. He’s slight, brown-eyed, with a soft, expressionless face. That morning his mother had warned him to stay in the neighborhood today, to “stay where peo­ple know your face.” “I didn’t even know they were going to march,” Tony says. “Then I saw my friend and he said there’s gonna be a fight.” So he came right over.

Tony and I walk a few blocks away and sit on a stoop. “Do you know what a ‘baseball game’ is?” he asks me. “I figured it out,” I say, and ask if he’s going to be there. He says, “I’ll be there. I’ll park my car in the schoolyard.” Says it without any passion, like an obedient child.

Our conversation happens upon the murder by mistake. “They didn’t shoot the right one,” Tony says. “I was there. I saw him fall.” He stares out at the street. He doesn’t pour out the story, just an­swers my questions as if he would’ve an­swered anybody that had bothered to ask him. He calls Joey Fama “my friend” throughout the conversation. Says they had gone drinking at the Bay Lounge the night of the shooting. Drank vodka and rum. When they came to the corner, they bought some beer. “Then my friend was really zooted.” There were about five of them hanging out. He remembers Joey saying, “Wait. I’m going to the house and get my gun.” He says there were still only five guys hanging together on the corner when they spotted the four black kids heading down the avenue, but other neighborhood kids started following them. Kids started going to their cars — maybe there were baseball bats, Tony says, but no one got a chance to use them.

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Tony says Joey pointed the gun at one of the kids. “The black kid started getting really scared. He says, ‘Wait, wait, please wait.’ My friend says, ‘No, you fucker, you was fucking with my girl­friend.’ Then he pulled the trigger. Pop, pop. I didn’t know it was going to hap­pen, it just happened. When I got home I told my mother, and she said, ‘These are the kind of friends you want to pick? You’re gonna end up in jail.’ ” He waits for me to finish writing, patient as a dog.

“The black kid said, ‘I’m not the one. I don’t even know who your girlfriend is. I just came here to buy a car.’ My friend said ‘That’s bullshit.’ ” He started cursing at him. The black kid kept backing up. My friend said ‘Don’t back up anymore.’ He said ‘Okay, Okay. I’ll beg on my knees. Please, please …’ and he just shot him. That was it. He just fell. The way he shot him — blood came out in four differ­ent directions. I never saw nothing like this before. My heart dropped, my feet started running.”

Speaking of Yusef, Tony looks at me. “His parents were freaking out probably, huh? I saw his father on the news.” When a man who lives in the house comes out, Tony scoots quickly to the side of the step. “Hi. How you doin’?” he says polite­ly. The man looks at him once without any friendliness and nods his head. I of­fer Tony a cigarette. “I saw a kid get beat up by two men for letting out some infor­mation,” he says. It happened on the same candy store corner. “I’ll never forget that as long as I live.” He’ll never forget the black kid being shot either, he adds. “Were you surprised Joey did it?” “I knew he had it in him. I knew he had the heart to do it,” Tony says. “But I thought he was just going to point the gun and scare the guy. But everything turned out different.” ■

Next: “Do the White Thing” by Lisa Kennedy

1989 Village Voice article by Kathy Dobie about murder of Yusef Hawkins in Bensonhurst

1989 Village Voice article by Kathy Dobie about murder of Yusef Hawkins in Bensonhurst

1989 Village Voice article by Kathy Dobie about murder of Yusef Hawkins in Bensonhurst

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Bernie Sanders, Red Star of Vermont

Red Star of Vermont: Bernie Sanders Mixes Marx and Norman Rockwell
January 8, 1991

BURLINGTON, VERMONT — His ac­ceptance speech sounded like The Communist Manifesto, but it came from rock-ribbed Vermont. “Our small state might go down in history,” Bernie Sanders told jubilant supporters on election night, “as leading a political revo­lution which takes power away from the multinational corpora­tions and the wealthy and gives it back to the people.” If that seems ambitious, consid­er that Sanders — the first socialist elected to Congress in 40 years­ — has always thought big. Shortly af­ter Sanders’s first election as may­or of Burlington in 1981, François Mitterand became the first Social­ist president of France in 40 years, prompting Bernie’s sup­porters to distribute buttons that read: “As goes Burlington, so goes France.”

In an otherwise colorless elec­tion, Sanders became a media darling, his Brooklyn basso broad­cast on everything from Nightline to National Public Radio. Now, as Congress reconvenes, people are waiting to see what, if anything, this son of a Flatbush paint sales­man can do about war, recession, and poverty. And whether, as University of Vermont political analyst Garrison Nelson predicted earlier this year, “there are going to be 100 Bernie Sanders running for Congress in 1992.”

That prospect makes organiza­tion-minded Democrats bristle. But it gives hope to some femi­nists, labor leaders, and civil rights activists who are now, in a series of meetings across the coun­try, testing the waters for an inde­pendent third party.

“Bernie Sanders’s vision is to open up the process,” the Rever­end Jesse Jackson says. “After all, the reason we had such a low turnout in the last election is that, in many cases, the two parties have become indistinguishable­ — one party with two names, wres­tling over marginal differences.”

Independent candidates like Sanders, he says, “can only help make democracy better.”

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The People’s Republic of Vermont

Is Sanders’s election a mandate for strident class politics and third-party candidates? Or could it happen only in a state whose tiny population commands just one congressional seat, and where diversity is largely limited to the flavors of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream?

Sanders, 49, a prickly civil­-rights activist, carpenter, and vid­eomaker who migrated here in the hippie invasion of 1968, insists the miracle isn’t that he carried Vermont. It is that the left is not sweeping elections across the United States.

Seated behind a stack of dog­eared campaign posters at his Burlington office — a white clap­board storefront with a red “Ber­nie” sign overhead — Sanders paints an America at the brink.

“At a time when the country is $4 trillion in debt, when the peo­ple have experienced one enor­mous scandal after another… when you have a president who’s itching to go to war, an enormous­ly growing gap between the rich and the poor, 3 million people sleeping out on the street, and a health-care situation in absolute chaos — how is it conceivable that the left is not making enormous gains from one end of this country to the other?” he asks.

“It is” — he pauses for breath and resumes with force — “beyond comprehension.”

America is ready, he says, for “radical solutions” that the Dem­ocratic and Republican parties are unwilling to provide, and that the left is too timid to trumpet.

“The day the left wakes up and understands that virtually every working person understands in­stinctively the class issues, and be­gins talking those class issues, we’ll have a revitalization of pro­gressive politics.”

Sanders has been “talking those class issues” to Vermonters for nearly 20 years. Since 1971, he has run for senator twice, gover­nor three times, mayor four times, and Congress twice. Along the way he became such a familiar fixture of Vermont politics that even farmers in the remote North­east Kingdom know him as “Ber­nie.”

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The rough, sometimes abrasive style that alienates even support­ers did not seem to bother rural Vermonters. In fact, Sanders has been able to count on their sup­port in several elections when he lost more urban parts of the state.

Sanders’s style is pure Brooklyn street-fighter: confrontational, unyielding, and convinced of victory even as he lies bleeding on the ground. Defeat, Sanders says, is not failure. Not when you get peo­ple to listen to your ideas.

After one year at Brooklyn Col­lege, Sanders transferred to the University of Chicago in 1961. He led sit-down demonstrations against the school’s segregated housing, joined the Young Peo­ple’s Socialist League and the Congress on Racial Equality, and applied for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War.

Resettling in Vermont with his first wife in 1968, he built a small business making educational vid­eos (his favorite is one on the life of Eugene Debs) and joined the Liberty Union Party, an out­growth of the antiwar movement. Four times, he was the party’s standard bearer in state races. Four times he lost. Then in 1981, running on his own, he stunned even his supporters and tumbled onto the national scene as Burlington’s socialist mayor.

His trademark mop of unruly hair is white now, trimmed neat as a monk’s. He even traded his crew-neck sweater and jeans for a suit and tie in a televised cam­paign debate. But his message has stayed remarkably consistent: The wealthy and powerful 1 per cent of the population will not surren­der their half of the American pie without a battle, and he is ready to wage it.

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The people of Vermont either love Sanders or hate him. But in an age of political torpor, he has succeeded in making his brand of “Swedish-style” socialism the hot­test topic around.

“In the face of catastrophic fail­ures of socialist governments worldwide… are there really enough left-wing wackos in Ver­mont to elect him?” one man wrote to The Burlington Free Press shortly before the election.

“What nonsense!” countered another reader. “Bernie Sanders hasn’t made a Bulgaria out of Bur­lington.”

In fact, Burlington prospered under Sanders, who won the 1981 mayoral race there by 10 votes. An able administrator, he won comfortable majorities over his eight years in office.

Working with other members of his Progressive Coalition on the city council — known here as San­deristas — the mayor opened the state’s first municipally funded day-care center, expanded moder­ate-income housing, and built a pollution-control facility on neighboring Lake Champlain. He switched the city away from prop­erty taxes — which he viewed as unfair to the middle class and the elderly — to hotel and restaurant fees and higher taxes on utility companies.

His efforts won him recognition as one of the nation’s top 20 may­ors by U.S. News and World Report and a following among other­wise traditional voters. A 1985 poll showed that one-third of Ronald Reagan’s Burlington sup­porters also voted for Sanders.

Conservatives were less enam­ored with the sister-city relation­ships Sanders established with towns in the USSR and Nicara­gua. But his fiercest critics came from Burlington’s Green Party, who said he was insensitive to en­vironmental concerns.

After leaving office in 1989, Sanders launched his second run for Vermont’s congressional seat. He had lost by only 3 per cent in 1988; this time he had the econo­my, momentum, and 1000 volun­teers on his side.

Sanders’s 16 per cent margin of victory in November reflected in part the desperation of dairy farmers, loggers, granite cutters, and graying hippies in this eco­nomically ravaged state.

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For all its postcard-perfect beauty, Vermont is in crisis, hard hit by a recession that has devas­tated family farms and made “For Sale” signs as familiar a part of the landscape as Jersey cows. Hid­den behind the verdant hills are single mothers living in uninsulat­ed trailers and an increasing num­ber of homeless camped at high­way rest areas.

In these hard times, even conservative Vermonters warmed to Sanders’s message. “I listened to the man,” my neighbor Harold, a lifelong Republican, said a few days before the election. “And what he said makes sense. I just can’t bring myself to pull the lever for a socialist.”

Sensing that hesitation, Repub­lican congressman Peter Smith re­leased two attack ads late in the campaign: Both questioned San­ders’s patriotism and painted him as a communist sympathizer. But the ads misfired badly, as would­-be supporters told Smith that they didn’t need a lesson in Vermont values. Negative ads only work when the target is an unknown, analysts say — and Bernie was bet­ter known than his opponent.

According to Ellen David­ Friedman, a union organizer and former Sanders campaign staffer, Sanders has effectively “eliminat­ed red-baiting as a valuable tool by taking the punch out. You talk to the farmer or little old lady on the street, and he or she will say: ‘Well I don’t like socialists, but if Bernie Sanders is a socialist then it’s OK.’ ”

Even the state’s unions depart­ed from tradition: drawn to San­ders’s call for national health care, the state AFL-CIO and National Education Association backed an independent candidate for the first time in Vermont history.

Can Sanders’s success be dupli­cated in other parts of the coun­try? Many political observers say no, citing the weakness of Ver­mont’s Democratic Party and the independence and homogeneity of the state’s electorate.

But Sanders is hopeful that his victory will encourage other pro­gressives to launch independent campaigns for local, state, and federal office. Success may take years, Sanders says, but even in defeat, progressive candidates broaden the terms of American political debate.

“I suspect if somebody in Colo­rado was talking about the things I talk about, and ran for Congress, they might not win the first time… but they’ll get people think­ing,” Sanders says.

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Who Started the Class War, Anyway?

Sanders’s victory has been hailed by left-leaning Democrats as a sig­nal that class warfare is good poli­tics.

“President Bush is a very race­-conscious, sex-conscious, and class-conscious president,” Jack­son said in a recent telephone in­terview. The president’s veto of the 1990 Civil Rights bill cut off all opportunities for the poor and minorities save one, he said: join­ing the military.

“The price you pay for survival is the high risk of dying,” he said. “And that’s a class crisis.”

Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, an ally of Sanders, agrees that Americans are hungry for progressive leadership, but says it should come from within Democratic ranks. A third party, says Frank, is a Republican’s wet dream.

“It’s daft, D-A-F-T, which rhymes with Taft, whose memory would undoubtedly be smiling at it,” he says. “The best thing for Republi­cans would be for liberals to split.” (Republican president Wil­liam H. Taft was crushed in his 1912 bid for reelection when for­mer president Theodore Roose­velt ran on a third-party ticket; the split allowed Democrat Wood­row Wilson to sail to victory.)

“What disabling compromises do you think Pat Schroeder [Dem­ocrat, Colorado], Ron Dellums [Democrat, California], or Teddy Weiss [Democrat, New York] have made?” he asks. “They are very outstanding, independent­-minded people. People who have been effective from a left position have done it from the Democratic party.”

But Eleanor Smeal, former pres­ident of the National Organization for Women and now director of Feminist Majority, says that only a third party holds answers for wom­en. She and NOW president Molly Yard have established the Com­mission for Responsive Democra­cy to bring together feminists, unionists, civil rights leaders, and environmentalists to voice frustra­tion with the two-party system and explore alternatives.

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The commission, which has held hearings in Washington, D.C., and New York, is planning sessions in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and other major cities in coming months.

“Some folks want to scare both the Democrats and the Republi­cans,” Smeal says, “because they’re fed up with a one-party system with two names. They’re fed up with women and minor­ities being locked out of the deci­sion-making of the nation. At the present rate of growth it will take women 400 years to get parity in Congress. That is just not accept­able. ”

But Smeal is wary of too much emphasis on class distinctions. “You don’t hear a total class ana­lysis from me,” she says, “because women from all classes have been locked out.”

There are signs that party loyal­ties are weakening: In November, independents were elected to gov­ernorships in Connecticut and Alaska, and Massachusetts voters passed a referendum easing ballot access for third-party candidates. Add to that Sanders’s victory and independents have had their most successful year since 1936, ac­cording to Ballot Access News in San Francisco.

But independents do not a third party make. Connecticut’s Lowell Weicker and Alaska’s Wally Hick­el ran as independents only after losing their Republican primaries. And Sanders, although aligned with the Progressive Coalition in Burlington, has shown little inter­est in building a party structure around him.

If the time is ripe for a third party, Bernie Sanders says he is not going to lead it. “A third party will be created, not when a dozen people get together and decide to form one,” he says. “That’s prob­ably happened a hundred times in the last 100 years.… It starts on a grassroots level.”

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The Road Ahead

Two weeks spent with the Demo­cratic caucus last month proved the political equivalent of a cold shower for Sanders.

“I would not be telling you the truth if I told you I thought the U.S. Congress will support my agenda,” he says.

Still, he won his first tug-of-war, gaining a committee assignment from House Speaker Thomas Fo­ley without joining the Democrat­ic caucus. (He will most likely serve on the Banking and Finance or Education and Labor commit­tee.) And he draws distinctions between elements of his program that he is unlikely to win in the near future, such as military bud­get cuts and higher taxes for the wealthy, and those goals he be­lieves are realistic: national health care and federal relief for small dairy farmers.

“The laws in this country favor chemically intensive, large-scale farming,” said Ben Cohen, co­founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. And that leaves Ver­mont’s struggling family farms out in the cold. Sanders says he’ll make their cause a national priority.

National health care, too, is “absolutely winnable,” Sanders says. “It is not a poor people’s issue.… Most of the people who have no health insurance whatso­ever are working people.”

The effort would coalesce unions, farmers, and the elderly “all on one side against the multi­national insurance companies, the drug companies, the AMA, all the people who have been making bil­lions of dollars in profit off human illness and misery,” he said.

Even Lee Iacocca, chairman of Chrysler Corp., is talking about the idea, Congressman Frank said. “He says he has to put the cost of health insurance on his cars, while his competition — the Japanese and the Germans ­— don’t.” Sanders says the program could be funded by recouping the fraud and waste in the current sys­tem; Frank says the money could come from trimming NATO out­lays in Eastern Europe.

And if national health coverage is won, Sanders believes, the co­alition behind it would be well armed to tackle other policy goals, like affordable housing, adequate funding for education, and a more equitable tax structure.

Utopian? Sanders doesn’t think so. Raised in a cramped apart­ment on Kings Highway, where money worries caused bitter fam­ily rifts, Sanders says it is “not utopian” to work toward an America where people’s basic needs are cared for.

Pointing to the Swedish model of democratic socialism, Sanders believes his role in Congress is to debunk what he calls the “big lie “: that there is no middle ground between Reaganism and Stalinism.

“The president of the U.S. will not tell you that it’s good that 3 million people sleep out on the streets,” Sanders says. “But what he’s been able to posture is: ‘Do you want the Soviet Union? That’s your alternative.’ ”

“The role that people like me have to play is to say: We do not want authoritarian communism, but we can do a hell of a lot better than laissez-faire capitalism.”

Categories
From The Archives JOCKBEAT ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Those Bicoastal Dodgers: Losing to the Yanks, Winning Hearts — And Breaking Them, Too

[We have to cop to a bit of Yankees bias here at Archives Central, and so admit that the Fall Classic starting tonight is a case of poxes on both houses. That said, we find ourselves hating the Dodgers a shade less than the Sox and have taken a look into the green volumes of bound newsprint to see how Voice writers of yore approached the bicoastal Boys of Summer. We found a few gems, including a piece from the “only Dodger fan in Yonkers” and another about a novel seeking to redress the perfidy of the Brooklyn team’s move to Los Angeles in 1957.

But let’s start with a great year for the Yanks — because why not? It’s the October 30, 1978, issue of the Voice, and writer Clayton Riley zooms in on L.A. Dodgers captain Davey Lopes stepping up to the plate: “Maybe this exceptional sorrow is always in his eyes. Tonight, however, he’s made it clear he wants to live higher and stronger for the friend and mentor he affectionately called the Devil… Jim Gilliam, who replaced immortal Jackie Robinson at second base in old Ebbets Field.”

Much baseball history crosses in those two sentences. Gilliam had replaced Robinson at second base in 1953, when the All-Star veteran moved to playing third and the outfield. Robinson had famously broken through baseball’s color line in 1947, when the Dodgers were still Brooklyn’s beloved bums. Gilliam, also black, was a teammate who, unlike Robinson, made the move from Flatbush to the City of Angels, leaving behind a trail of broken Brooklyn hearts. After his playing days, Gilliam was the Los Angeles Dodgers first-base coach, and he had passed away two days before the 1978 Series opened. Riley’s chronicle of that championship battle reminds the few who might have forgotten just how stellar Yankee third basemen Graig Nettles’s was during the Series: “Nettles clearly established that he had taken away a vital portion of the field for the right-handed pull hitter, which was to say most of the Los Angeles team.” In Yankee centerfielder Mickey Rivers, Riley found “a man who certifies the premise: There are answers in the universe we simply shouldn’t question.”

This was the second straight Series between the Dodgers and Yanks, and L.A., anxious to avenge their ’77 loss, went up 2-0. But the Yanks took three in the Bronx and finished the deal back at Chavez Ravine. Riley writes, “Pitcher Don Sutton of the Dodgers, who would lose the final, devastating ballgame at Los Angeles, brought a measure of reflection to the work when he told a reporter that he felt no exceptional pressure on him as he went out to face the Yankees.

“Try feeding six kids in America on a small paycheck,” said Sutton. “That’s pressure.” —R.C. Baker]

 

Next we turn to the January 28, 1980 issue where contributor Joel Oppenheimer opines on the superiority of the Dodgers’ Duke Snider over the Yankees’ Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays of the Giants when all three played center field here in New York in the 1950s. The article takes a more personal turn when Oppenheimer reminisces about pitcher Rex Barney’s odyssey in a Dodgers uniform—including the last time the right-hander wore one.

Finally, we take a look at a “lovely idea for a book, and I’m furious that David Ritz had it instead of me.” It’s the June 16, 1981 issue and Dodger fan Oppenheimer is lamenting that he did not conceive of The Man Who Brought the Dodgers Back to Brooklyn, a novel with a title that tells it’s tale. Oppenheimer worries, however, that “the rest of the world may not let it stay just a novel,” because a New York State Senator is agitating to rebuild Ebbets Field—but with Astroturf instead of grass. “The whole notion leads me to propose a corollary to my thesis that all things new are bad: all new versions of old things are even worse.”

 

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Categories
FOOD ARCHIVES Neighborhoods NYC ARCHIVES The Trencherman

Finding a Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name

The silver lining of being slightly deflated is that you don’t roll all that far. Recently, I moved from Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, to Kensington. It’s been a slow move, carried out with a Radio Flyer wagon and those blue bags you get at Ikea, and it’s left me beat.

But I’m finished now and, boy, what a difference a few blocks make. I’ve long known it true for bagel shops that inertia and human nature dictate the one closest at hand is yours, even if it’s crummy. As Stephen Stills sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey/Love the one you’re with.” I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by the best bagels (Absolute Bagels), pretty good bagels (The Bagel Hole), and a glint-above-average bagels (Terrace Bagels). Now, the piss-poor bready bagels of Bagels R Bakin on Church Avenue are mine. All I can do is order my egg and cheese on an egg bagel with equanimity.

Der Pioneer

A few weeks ago, however, instead of walking toward the city and a future of mediocre breakfasts, I turned toward Ocean Parkway. After just two blocks, I espied a circular sign jutting out of a glass storefront. On it was a logo, a vector illustration of a canelé. The word der was written above it and the word pioneer below. A chalkboard out front bore in wobbly chalk a pithy Mark Twain quote about life’s sensual pleasures. In the window, I saw people sitting on stools, laptops open, and a La Marzocco espresso machine gleaming. I had found home.

Der Pioneer opened in March 2017. The men behind it are Björn Böttcher, 44, and Greg Barbiero, 39. The blond one is Böttcher, obviously. The hirsute one is Barbiero. Both have impressive CVs: Böttcher, a native of Hamburg, Germany, worked for many years in the kitchens of David Bouley at Bouley, Kurt Gutenbrunner at Blaue Gans, and with Shea Gallante at Cru and Ciano. Barbiero, on the other hand, had embarked on career as a biochemist before falling in love with Italian cuisine, a pursuit he perfected first under Gallante, and then under Saul Bolton at the Brooklyn mainstay Saul. They met in the kitchen of Gallante’s now-shuttered Ciano. Both can be seen, accompanied by only two sous chefs, hard at work in the tiny glass-walled kitchen behind the front counter.

Der Pioneer’s Greg Barbiero and Björn Böttcher

The logo drew me in, but what made Der Pioneer home was the plate of franzbrötchen, swirls of buttery cinnamon dough that look like a croissant gone wild. The sight of them there in crazy glazed array was deliverance. It was Moses gazing over the Promised Land. It was Plato’s prisoner emerging from his cave. It was Offred getting the fuck outta Gilead. See, for the last three years, I’d been a Brunswick Café guy. Brunswick is a coffee shop on Prospect Park West. It was my coffee shop, and I knew everything about it. Among the known things was that the pastries were…fine. Every morning at 8 a.m., they arrived in a cardboard box from Balthazar, the same as any other coffee shop in the tristate area. And every morning there we were, me and my kids, waiting for two pains aux chocolat, one pain aux raisins, a macchiato, and two glasses of water. But you can only go so far with store-bought. After I dropped the kids at school, I’d return for a few hours, hole up by the window (outlets), and order from a desultory menu of disappointing sandwiches. Eventually the routine, as routines do, grew tedious.

At Der Pioneer, on the other hand, the pastries on the laden plates of the counter are still fresh. They will ever be so. Made just a few feet away, lemon blueberry muffins burst with lemon zest and lemon peel. The generous allotment of blueberries in the blueberry danishes nestle in a dough so flaky and light it disintegrates like an ancient text roughly treated. Since the canelés are in the logo they better be signal and, no surprise, when freed from their heavy copper molds, the Bordelais pastries are caramelized like oak on the outside but as gooey and sweet as a Sandra Bullock rom-com inside.

How Der Pioneer’s world-class pastries get made

The pastries are Böttcher’s métier and deeply personal. The franzbrötchen — essentially a combination of a croissant, a cinnamon roll, and a heart attack — are rarely seen outside his hometown, Hamburg. The savory menu, which is surprisingly extensive, comes from Barbiero and his tiny four-burner stove. Despite the name “Der Pioneer,” his isn’t the genius of the trailblazer. It’s the talent of the restorer. He takes the known and polishes it until it shines anew. Barbiero is precise in his measurements and assiduous in his execution. A short-rib hash, a diner staple, is ennobled by port wine jus and topped with a pair of definitionally flawless poached eggs. When broken, they bind the bits of potatoes and cut-up celery and carrots into breakfast manna. The breakfast burrito, which, like many of the menu items, was born from a customer request, is the size of a rolled-up Sunday New York Times. The sheer exuberance of the cheese-bound, bean-befriended, avocado-coated scrambled eggs threatens to escape the tortilla before entering one’s mouth, which would be a Shakespearean tragedy. 

Patrons at Der Pioneer’s communal table, “made from golden acacia that fell in a Thai forest.”

There is no reason the cheeseburger at a coffee shop should be as good as this cheeseburger is. The natural juices of the patty, which sits wondrous high in its sesame bun, are bolstered by oozy cheddar and the ministrations of sautéed onions and homemade pickles. In the mouth, rendered fat and char! In the hands, a slobby party! It comes with a pile of garlicky roasted potatoes that glisten as if on a rocky beach in Maine and a small side salad of enormous freshness. I guess. I just ate the burger and saved room for the hot dog, unusually long with more snap than a beatnik café and more juice than a fully charged laptop. But if you don’t feel like emerging into the swelter of Church Avenue in a food coma, go with the seasons. Summer is expressed as sweet corn and poached eggs. The corn, generously apportioned but nonetheless light, is spiced with a hint of jalapeño. A spicy aioli is artfully swooshed, fine dining style, along one side of the bowl. The eggs, again, poached as perfectly as a highly qualified candidate. A summer salad of grilled apricots and peaches, with roasted beets and pickled radishes cut into translucent coins and walnuts, is classic anti–heat wave fare. I should know. It’s 100 degrees and I’m staring at this plate thinking, “Man, I love it that they give a shit enough to form the components into an elegant crescent!”

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Since July 15, our move-in date, I’ve spent tens of hours and hundreds of dollars at Der Pioneer. I know every inch of this space. There are four outlets along the perimeter. There are five stools that line the front counter, the one facing the window onto Church Avenue. The second one from the door squeaks when you spin the wooden seat to raise (or lower) it. If you sit in the corner, you get better access to the outlets but the sun blinds you from about 9:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. There are six stools on the side counter; the fourth one in from the door is wobbly. I know because I’m sitting on it now. For a few days last week, when Böttcher was on vacation, the nozzle on the watercooler broke and we had to make do with measly carafes. Now it’s back, thank God. There’s a long beautiful wooden table that seats eight in the front but I didn’t know it was made from golden acacia that fell in a Thai forest until I asked.

Watch out for the fourth stool from the door. It’s a little wobbly

Already enough moments have passed here that I feel part of the fabric, the slow osmosis of making a new neighborhood yours. Most of the moments are small, the ands, buts, and thes that make up most of one’s life sentence. Deadlines hit; deadlines missed; coffees drunk; lunch eaten by the glow of Google Drive. But already the five-dollar words are beginning to appear as well. A few weeks ago, we celebrated my youngest son’s fifth birthday here with a single-serving raspberry gâteaux. (Well, two actually — one for his older brother because who wants to spend a birthday fighting.) Along with the delicate hazelnut dacquoise and the sacher cake, the gâteaux lurked in the display case like an escapee from a fancy Upper East Side patisserie slumming it in Kensington. So pink it could be a millennial toy, so sweet it could be a dream, a single raspberry was perched upon the raspberry yogurt mousse. A speck of gold leaf sat fluttering like a flag staked atop a summit, as if to claim that this was the land of the small triumph, the quiet victory, the vanguard of home.

Categories
Bars FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Nicaraguan Noshing and Nightcaps at Chicha in Bushwick

“RUM,” promises the blazing-red neon sign announcing Chicha Cafetín and Cocktail, a splashy new Nicaraguan-inclined party hangar that opened in May near the Jefferson L stop. The letters cast a glow onto this quiet stretch of Randolph Street that recalls pre-revolution Havana or the best of Art Deco Miami. Thankfully, it’s no mere ornament. The bustling Bushwick warehouse restaurant offers around a hundred different expressions of sugarcane-based spirits doled out in tasting-friendly one- or two-ounce pours, from grassy Brazilian cachaças to El Dorado’s smooth, earthy Guyanese Demerara rums to cult bottles like Gosling’s Family Reserve Old Rum, an extra-aged black rum from Bermuda that’s nearly as syrupy and darkly sweet as the molasses it’s fermented from.

Blufields Swizzle cocktail; Chicha’s interior

One you might not have tried before is clairin, Haiti’s minimally processed, typically unaged rhum agricole made from sugarcane syrup or freshly pressed sugarcane juice. Only recently arrived stateside, it is to Big Rum what artisanal mescal is to mass-market tequila: a small-batch kindred spirit steeped in centuries of tradition and terroir marked by distinct characteristics that vary from producer to producer, and sometimes from batch to batch. Of the three available, I was bowled over by the full-bodied Clairin Vaval, which is fermented with wild yeasts and distilled in a custom rig built from, among other things, car parts. The intensely sharp clear liquor, so pungent it tickles your nose with an herbal astringency and peppery snap after each sip, is indeed a wild ride.

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Another, the barely milder Clairin Sajous, makes its way into one of partner and bar director Marshall Altier’s overtly Instagrammable $14 craft cocktails called the Blufields Swizzle. Stained a purplish ombre thanks to the addition of butterfly pea flowers, the tropical, fruity sipper mixes in banana liqueur and coconut cream, plus three other strong white rums (from Nicaragua, Jamaica, and Oaxaca), for a drink that looks and tastes like a trippy piña colada. Altier rounds out his beverage list with $13 cocktails on tap (the Nitro Cafecito, which mingles rum, cacao, cherry liqueur, and cold brew coffee, is particularly invigorating), Nicaraguan craft beer, zippy pitaya limeade, and sodas infused with both fruit and spice and made in-house. Whether it’s while posted up at the stunning, soaring bar with locals wearing vibe-appropriate florals and pastels that match the colorful design, sitting beneath a Nicaraguan wood backsplash next to a dozen rowdy off-duty high school teachers, or perched at the front countertop that looks out onto a nondescript beige brick building across the street, imbibing here is blissfully rewarding.

Chicha interior

So is much of the cooking from co-owner Vanessa Palazio, the Brooklyn-born daughter of Nicaraguan immigrants, whose familial ties and travels through the country inform a modern Nica menu full of rarely seen dishes that embraces the vibrancy of the restaurant’s decor and drinks program. In her hands, the Latin-American staple of chicken cooked with rice becomes arroz con pollo arancini ($12), a trio of Arborio rice croquettes laced with olives, peppers, and shreds of tender slow-cooked bird that speaks to the virtues of frying everything. Salpicon, a meat hash, takes a provocative turn as jarred short rib rillettes ($18) under layers of pepper jelly and smoked coconut. Somehow both refreshing and deeply beefy, it is spread onto giant, craggy chips made from puffed rice and beans, a nod to gallo pinto, the country’s version of the iconic Latin combo. Elotitos ($11) riff on the cheesy, peppery fondue of baby corn called guiso de chilotes. Repackaged as a handheld snack, the stack of tiny grilled cobs showered with grated queso seco are delightful when dipped into auburn-hued smoked guajillo chile sauce.

Quesillos angosta and baho-style pork, chicha belly

Then there are her quesillos ($4.50–$7.50), the open-faced, corn tortilla-bound street food loaded with melty hand-pulled cheese that’s somewhere between a taco and a sope in thickness. Before opening Chicha together, Palazio and her husband, Adam Schneider, ran a DUMBO pop-up specializing in the dish. Here, the rounds have been shrunk down to “bar bite” size. Made from masa milled in-house, all are worth investigating. The simplest highlights the cheese with a ladle of crema and plantain vinegar–pickled onions; the fanciest plunks sweet, well-cooked lobster claw meat onto a dark squid-ink tortilla. Best are the ones with shredded roast chicken and sour orange–cooked baho-style pork shoulder, which pack an al pastor–like wallop of flavor.

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Palazio also compellingly cradles pork shoulder with plantains and crispy rice in banana leaves for a large-format entrée of baho ($24) served with more tortillas, and sears skirt steak ($27) to an admirable medium-rare that’s perfect with jalapeño salsa and a nest of crispy taro root shoestring fries. Also ideal for sharing is whole roasted sea bream ($28), the flaky fish perked up by tomatillo-corn relish and a bright, acerbic vinaigrette tinted orange with achiote.

End your evening modestly with seasonal ice creams and sorbets ($9) — on a recent evening, watermelon was a juicy treat — or in a blaze of glory with maduras infiernos ($13), ice cream scooped into a bowl of crisp, fluffy plantain churros and set next to a puddle of booze-fueled fire. Or do as Chicha’s sign commands and send yourself off with a nip of rum.

Chicha
198 Randolph Street, Brooklyn
718-366-2114
chichanyc.com