Obama Time

Before last week’s big Barack Obama rally brought life and light back to the place, the last political event of any size at the Marriott hotel in downtown Brooklyn was a dismal affair, a fundraiser for the Kings County Democratic organization. It was overseen by Clarence Norman, then the party’s chairman and an assemblyman from Bedford-Stuyvesant. That night in 2003, he wore a dark double-breasted suit, a bright red pocket hankie, and a dour look.

It grew more dour when he was asked about the scheming judges his party had put on the bench. One had just pled guilty, another had been booted from office. Several others were under investigation. This gave Brooklyn’s judiciary a higher crime rate than Norman’s district. Norman explained that the judges hadn’t yet committed their crimes when the party supported them. Then he walked into the ballroom filled with favor-seekers who had paid $500 each to gain his attention.

That gloomy evening was one more marker along the road toward the end of hope for politics. It was also the beginning of the end for Norman, who was soon convicted of corruption. He now wears number 07A3169 and resides in the Oneida Correctional Facility upstate.

Then last Wednesday, there was a purge of those old ghosts. Streaming in the doors of the same ballroom where Norman and his clique had gathered came a surge of excited people. They poured into the room, blacks and whites, a few Hispanics. Most of them were young, and all were there to get a look at this presidential candidate who has been in the U.S. Senate for only three years and, at 46, is the youngest one running. The rap against him is that he is too young, too dark, and too inexperienced to win. But he is still three years older than John F. Kennedy was upon his election in 1960. And like they did for Kennedy and his brother Robert, the crowds gather around Obama, who generates the kind of electricity political consultants pray for.

Those attending the Brooklyn event paid $25 a head; the student rate was $15. This kind of retail politics is not supposed to be terribly effective for raising the millions needed to run a big national campaign. Last quarter, however, Obama raised $31 million for the primary, $10 million more than Hillary Clinton, the New York senator who leads almost every poll. Obama’s average donor gave $202. The maximum allowed is $2,300. Although it is supposed to be Clinton country, Brooklyn represents potentially ripe pickings for the candidate. With 2.5 million people, a third of them black, the borough would be the nation’s fourth-largest city if it stood on its own.

Outside the hotel, the crowd waited for an hour in an unusually chilly August drizzle. They lined up along Adams Street, three and four abreast, past the shuttered Family Court building, almost to the Brooklyn Bridge. Eric Chichester, from Bay Ridge, brought his wife, Pshala, his sister Mandy, and his nephew Kaylub, who is six. Chichester, 31, an African-American, said he wanted his nephew to “see a role model for our community.” His wife interrupted him: “He’s here because he loves this man. He’s on the Internet every minute he’s home, reading about him.” Chichester grinned. “He has this passion,” he said. “Hillary is good, but she’s scripted.” The wife and sister nodded.

The line moved and people filed inside and up the escalator. The ballroom, capacity 1,200, filled up, and then an overflow room with 400 more. This left 300 outside in the rain. “I’m sorry,” the Obama coordinators apologized over and over.

Upstairs in the hotel, people swarmed a table where T-shirts were sold and volunteers recruited. Someone reached into a cardboard box and held up the biggest seller, a black shirt with white writing that read “Got Hope?” with “Obama for America” beneath.

“Hope” is a word that is used a lot by Obama. His latest book is titled
The Audacity of Hope
, a phrase he used in his riveting speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Many in the crowd came clutching copies, wishing for a chance at an autograph. When Obama emerged onstage at 6:40 p.m., the crowd whooped, stomped, and cheered. It was standing room only. To get a better view, middle-aged women climbed onto chairs lined against the walls and stood on them in bare feet, clapping their hands above their heads.

Obama is whippet-thin, with big ears that give him a boyish look and a wide, toothy grin that he constantly flashes and which folds his cheeks into deep wrinkles. Earlier in the day, at a smaller rally at a West Side union hall, he had plunged into the crowd like a natural, double-clutching many of the outstretched hands. If this is a tactic, it works, just as it worked for another natural-born politician, Bill Clinton. On the stage in Brooklyn, he showed a mix of the ex-president’s easygoing poise and Jesse Jackson’s fervor. He hugged the young son of a doorman who had sent him a $25 donation last spring, a gift that had “moved and touched” him, he said, because he knew the donor “was having a hard time.”

Then he got down to business. For a thin man, he has a deep, rich voice. Most of the time, he speaks in a resonant but relaxed tone, and then he shifts, pacing the stage and booming out his message in preacher-like cadences.

“The reason you are here,” he said, his voice rising, “is that Americans are starving for change. They want something new.” The crowd exploded, and he urged it along, building the roar in waves. He cited a laundry list of disappointments, things, he said, that people are “sick and tired of.” There were no surprises here: unaffordable health care, lost jobs, tax breaks for the rich, broken schools, and, finally, the current administration and its war in Iraq. “Lord knows, people are tired of this war,” he said, “a war that has made us less safe, that has cost too many American lives, that diminishes our standing in the world. It is time to bring the troops home. It’s not working.”

Then he shifted again, telling the crowd something that he knew people wanted to think about themselves: “You want not just to be against something; you want to be for something,” he shouted. “You want politics that can work in a way that is ennobling—not petty, not dishonest. The American people, all around the country, want to see a politics that says we are all connected.”

This is the heart of the stump speech he has been giving all year. He has tested it on audiences around the country, to 20,000 people in Atlanta, 10,000 in Houston. “You want to feel some hope,” he told the crowd. “Now the reporters are saying, ‘Oh, there he goes again. He’s so naïve. He’s talking about hope.’ I’ve been accused of being a hope-monger. And I plead guilty as charged. I am an optimist.”

He is right about the press. In the back of the room, there were two dozen TV cameras and a throng of reporters listening closely to see if he took a tough shot at Hillary Clinton, here on her own home turf. This is how the political scorecard is being tabulated right now. Shot by shot, tit for tat, and poll by poll. But there is no measurement of what he does to rooms like the one in Brooklyn, how one candidate comes to a city and electrifies those who hear him.

Outside the ballroom, sitting on a stuffed chair, wearing a rumpled suit with a worn satchel beside him sat an old Brooklyn political hand, a health-care consultant named Bob Healy. He is Irish Catholic from the days when his people made all the decisions about candidates in New York, and he has seen them come and go, Clarence Norman included. “Forget the others,” Healy said of the presidential field. “This one, he is excitement. Sure he can win. This is his time.”


The Sales of Justice

The haunting whisper in the courthouse corridors of Brooklyn was heard for so many decades it became an axiom, as unchallenged as it was unproven.

It wasn’t just that a case could be fixed. The darker secret was that the bench itself had been bought, that its polyester black robes were on a perpetual special-sale rack, that smarmy party bosses, ensconced at 16 Court Street across from the supreme court they ruled, demanded cash tribute to “make” a judge. The district attorney, Joe Hynes, who first heard the rumor 36 years ago when he was a young prosecutor running the office’s rackets bureau, said in 2003 that he’d have to be “naive to think it didn’t happen,” that it was “common street talk that this has been going on for eons.”

So for four years, ever since a judge who’d been caught on videotape taking gifts agreed to wear a wire for a meeting with one of the alleged judgeship marketers, Hynes has searched for the fire suggested by what he calls “the smoke” surrounding this legendary allegation. At last he is on the verge of making the case that will shame New York. The saga of this sewer shakedown has all the heightened drama of a trashy novel, with envelopes of cash handed off just days after 9-11 in the shadows of the collapsed towers. When the disturbing details become fully known, Hynes’s stunning prosecution may at last force the state legislature to junk the peculiar way New York State nominates the 14-year-term, $136,700-a-year judges who preside at all felony and major civil trials, as a federal court has already concluded we should.

If judgeships have been sold, as Hynes has apparently established, so, too, has the soul of the city.

Hynes is primed to prove that Clarence Norman, the chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic party for 15 years until he was convicted in the first of two unrelated cases in 2005, took at least $50,000 in cash and $6,000 in postage stamps to elevate Civil Court Judge Howard Ruditzky to the State Supreme Court in 2001. (While the price may have gone as high as $70,000, the Voice has only pinpointed $56,000 in payments.) Norman had the power to promote Ruditzky because Supreme Court nominees are selected by judicial conventions, an insider artifice that allows the Democratic boss in a Democratic county to handpick jurists, unrestrained by primaries that are the electoral path to most posts, including the Civil Court position Ruditzky then held.

Already facing two to six years in jail on the aforementioned unrelated charges and scheduled to go to trial on January 23 on other Hynes charges, Norman will now be indicted again for demanding payoffs in 2001 for the Ruditzky promotion, sources close to the investigation have told The Village Voice. One pivotal witness has also implicated Norman’s longtime associate Carl Andrews. The New York Post has reported that Governor Spitzer has named Andrews to a top community affairs post similar to the one that he held during Spitzer’s first term as attorney general, but a spokesman for the governor declined to confirm that. Andrews, who was on a five-month leave from Spitzer’s office to do campaign work at the time of the alleged payoffs, was elected to the state senate in 2002 and was defeated last September in a Brooklyn congressional race.

The Voice has learned that Hynes’s chief of investigations, Michael Vecchione, has built a case around four witnesses—Jeff Feldman, the executive director of the party; Norman Chesler, who’s admitted making the $56,000 in payments to Norman; ex–Supreme Court judge Michael Garson, who taped a conversation with Ruditzky; and Ruditzky himself. The judge reportedly was granted immunity and testified before Hynes’s grand jury for a few hours several weeks ago, acknowledging that he was forced to pay as much as $70,000 for the judgeship. In mid December, Hynes informed the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA) about Ruditzky’s immunized appearance. Ruditzky’s grand jury testimony has been forwarded to the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which is considering his removal from the bench.

OCA had already reassigned Ruditzky during the summer to “ministerial tasks” in a “preliminary conference part,” removing him from any possible trials, citing “health reasons.” Ruditzky did not go to work Tuesday morning, and a woman left his Midwood home and drove off in an SUV with Supreme Court license plates.

But the story behind Hynes’s historic case starts with the man who calls himself “PlusPlus,” in memory of the two $25,000 cash payoffs he has told the grand jury he made, one right after the other, to Norman, who was then both Brooklyn boss and assistant speaker of the state assembly.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Howard Ruditzky
Rick Kopstein

The year 2001 was Norman Chesler’s biggest in every way. By his own account, his weight reached 525 pounds and his income reached $1.2 million. He claimed that his Boro Medical and Psychological Treatment Services and associated firms had 13 trauma mills located all over the city, and were doing box-office business in personal injury cases, including auto and other accidents. He loved to dazzle business associates with his flashy ultra-large custom suits, brand-new Jeep Laredo, and expensive spreads at Lundy’s, the Brooklyn bayfront restaurant where he would slip quick-toed waiters twenties for shrimp cocktails and drinks. In a county still filled with Runyonesque characters, Chesler remained remarkable, a high-volume head-case chaser, plying legal and political connections for trauma referrals, as ubiquitous as he was ingratiating.

He was the brains behind his high-sounding professional outfits, which also included Ascension Therapeutic and Tower Biofeedback and Hypnotherapy. But his own specialty was as a sex therapist; the best evidence of his expertise was the beautiful woman on his rather hefty arm. He called himself a doctor, and said he had a Ph.D. from Greenwich University—which was in Australia, not Connecticut. Closed since 2003, Greenwich was once a correspondence school, but wasn’t accredited by Australian authorities. Chesler has been certified by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) for years, but no government entities certify sexologists except in Florida, and an official at AASECT says its certification of Chesler is based primarily on his Greenwich degree.

Everyone who got to know the gregarious Chesler in Brooklyn politics in the late ’90s, when he became a contributor and gadfly, assumed that his doctorate had something to do with the psychological services his company provided. As mistaken as they were about that, the elected party and public officials who met him at fundraisers and other events were right about the two other things they remembered about him. He “wasn’t kosher,” as they put it, and he was “the main man” behind Ruditzky’s 2001 campaign—first, for Civil Court re-election, and then for party designation to the State Supreme Court.

Chesler, who calls the judge “Rudy,” is Ruditzky’s cousin, and his mother was once very close to Ruditzky’s mother. He made re-electing Ruditzky to his civil court post a centerpiece of his life that year, donating to the judge’s committee, pigeonholing party leaders involved in judicial politics, and working actively in his campaign. Since there were two countywide civil court positions up for election in 2001, Ruditzky was running with Mark Partnow, a candidate out of the borough’s high-powered Jefferson Club.

So Chesler began visiting the club, buying pizza for the volunteers stuffing envelopes, and supplying stamps for the joint mailings. He sometimes went there with Ruditzky, and he even wound up spending primary day with the judge, on opposite corners of the same busy intersection, handing out literature. Chesler later blamed Ruditzky’s loss on his cousin being a “nebbish who wasn’t a real player,” and thought no one with real power did much to help the campaign.

Ruditzky wasn’t planning on serving if he’d been re-elected anyway. Norman had promised to include Ruditzky on the slate he would submit to the nominating convention for Supreme Court a week after the Civil Court election. If Ruditzky moved up, that would leave the Civil Court position vacant, creating an opportunity for Norman to handpick a replacement for that slot without the candidate having to run in a primary. Norman planned to fill Ruditzky’s vacancy with Richard Goldberg, the law partner of Steve Cohn, the secretary of the county party. But Ruditzky’s last-place finish in a field of four obliterated the vacancy he was supposed to deliver to Norman, leaving Norman with nothing to offer Goldberg other than the Supreme Court seat promised Ruditzky. It looked like the end of the road for Ruditzky.

But Chesler had already been assiduously pushing Norman on Ruditzky’s behalf. He’d donated $4,900 to two Norman committees and thousands more to Norman-tied candidates. More important, Chesler had arranged a few face-to-face meetings with Norman, including two at Gage & Tollner, the since-closed downtown restaurant that was then just a couple of blocks from Norman’s party offices. One had been with Norman and Ravi Batra, a Manhattan lawyer who employed Norman on a consulting basis and picked up the tab for Norman’s Mercedes. The other was with Norman and Jeff Feldman, who was Norman’s top party aide.

According to Chesler, the meetings served two purposes. First, he wanted Norman to use his influence with personal-injury lawyers to get business for Boro Medical. Second, he asked at both meetings about his cousin’s prospects for the court position. Norman made a meaningless referral for him to one attorney, who produced a single case, and Batra sent him no business. Chesler was so serious about securing liability referrals through Norman that he sublet office space from a Norman-connected firm on Court Street across from the courthouse. While Norman did little to boost Chesler’s business, he did tell Chesler that “if Ruditzky wins re-election, we’ll elevate him” to Supreme. Norman also indicated that Chesler “still had to give more help” to the party if Norman was “to help your cousin.” He said “we could use money for activities in my community,” and suggested that Chesler attend dinners, make contributions, and buy ads in journals.

Norman went well beyond the standard quid pro quo for campaign contributions. He began talking to Chesler about $3,000 wheels of stamps on sprockets that could be purchased at a General Post Office. Norman wanted two. Chesler’s driver took him to a Bronx post office and he picked up the rolls, which reminded him of the movie wheels in old theaters. He didn’t understand why Norman dealt in this mysterious new form of political currency, but he knew the stamps could be redeemed as easily as they could be bought. The party had its own Pitney Bowes machine and could buy postage easily. When Chesler called Norman from his Court Street office and said he had the wheels, “Clarence, boom, came right over,” entering Boro Medical’s office on the side and leaving with the rolls in a large bag.

About a week later, Norman called Chesler and complained that the stamps “weren’t peeling off one of the rolls.” Chesler returned the wheel and bought $3,000 worth of individual stamps. Norman came back to get them. If the stamps were actually used for political mailings, Norman would have been required by law to list them as sizable in-kind contributions from Chesler; a check of campaign records shows that he never has.

Shortly after the stamps were picked up and a couple of weeks before the scheduled September 11 primary, Chesler went to a Norman fundraiser at El Caribe, a large Brooklyn banquet hall. He remembers Feldman approaching him and telling him, “Clarence would like a word with you.” He and Feldman walked out of the restaurant and onto a small landing that faced the valet parking lot. Norman said: “We are in need of additional help.” Chesler asked again what “the chances” were of Ruditzky becoming a supreme court judge. Feldman said Ruditzky was “too dumb to go to supreme,” provoking a hostile exchange with Chesler. When Feldman went back inside, Norman “popped the question, saying he wanted $50,000.” He told Chesler the money was required in order for Norman to help him out “with his practice,” not because of Ruditzky.**

Norman told him he would “get back” to him “about the circumstances” of payment, and Chesler made it clear he could not make such a large payment at one time. Chesler says that Norman began simultaneously soliciting another $50,000 from Ruditzky himself, telling the judge at one meeting that he had to come up with $50,000 “to hire legal, advertising, and other people” suggested by the party. When Ruditzky told Chesler about Norman’s demand, Chesler told him: “You’re nuts. You’re not giving them a dime.” Chesler says he “thought Clarence would take care of my cousin because of everything I was giving,” even though it was ostensibly connected to his business.

Soon after the El Caribe conversation, Norman appeared again in Chesler’s office to get the first $25,000, which Chesler handed him “wrapped in a large brown envelope without any conversation.” Chesler says Norman sent Andrews to pick up the second $25,000, but his recollection of Andrews’s role is less certain because he says he doesn’t know Andrews well, recalling two prior occasions he thinks he saw him. He is certain it was a black man who said he was Carl and that he was “from Clarence.” Other sources have told the Voice that Andrews was allegedly involved in one of the stamp transactions, not a cash pickup. Andrews says he doesn’t know Chesler or his company, never heard of stamp wheels, and made no such pickup for Norman. Andrews insists that he has never been questioned by Hynes’s office about any of this and cites that as evidence of his innocence. Spitzer’s office says it knew nothing about the questions raised about Andrews’s possible conduct.

Chesler cannot put a date on any of the payoffs, but bank records reviewed by the Voice reveal a series of withdrawals that Chesler made from Boro Medical between July and November 2001, totaling $43,950. The withdrawals do not appear related to Chesler’s salary. The biggest withdrawals—one for $13,000 and one for $5,000—came two days after Ruditzky lost the primary on September 25, the rescheduled date after the postponement of the September 11 election. The second-largest withdrawals followed the judicial convention that nominated Ruditzky (even after his primary loss, to the surprise of most Court Street insiders). The New York Post has reported that prosecutors have found that Norman was making yearly unexplained $50,000 cash deposits in his personal account for five years, starting in the late ’90s.

Notations contained in the same small package of documents with the record of Chesler’s withdrawals, also reviewed by the Voice, indicate that he made “contributions for future considerations” and that “when Rudy and Partnow were not elected, I asked that the dollars be used for the judgeships.” The contributions “I gave Clarence Norman,” the notations said, “should be used to help Partnow and Rudy be considered.” Partnow, however, was never a Chesler priority and wasn’t elevated to the high court until 2002. Chesler’s notes also said that “CN”—a reference to Norman—”asked for Rudy to come up and give 50k for services,” adding that “since they weren’t getting it on their own, they asked for help.”

While the notes establish the connection between the payments and the judgeship, so does the timing, as imprecise as Chesler is about it. He says he is sure he didn’t make the second “25 large” payment to Norman until after Ruditzky was elected that November. Once Ruditzky won the Democratic nomination at the October convention, his November general election victory was a formality. But Chesler waited until it actually happened.

Chesler began cooperating with Hynes’s office after he was indicted in two no-fault car insurance scams by then state attorney general Eliot Spitzer’s office. He pled guilty to felonies in 2005 in both cases, appeared in Hynes’s grand jury last summer, and is scheduled for sentencing next month. While Chesler’s case file has been sealed, the charges against Dr. Naum Vaisman, a Russian neurologist and psychologist who acted as the director of Boro Medical, suggest the nature of Chesler’s scheme. Vaisman’s indictment said he was “the purported owner” of Boro, but added that the company “was, in reality, owned and controlled by a separately charged individual,” an apparent reference to Chesler.

Vaisman was accused of submitting “fraudulent no-fault claims to insurance carriers for psychological services which either were never provided to patients or were not medically necessary.” Many of the false claims occurred in the spring and summer of 2001, when Chesler was hustling for Ruditzky. Vaisman pled guilty in Brooklyn and Queens cases, and his felony conviction cost him his medical license. Vaisman told the Voice that Chesler convinced him to sign the incorporation papers for Boro and dragged him to fundraisers to meet politicians like Norman. “He would present me as the medical director of his whole business because I looked good and spoke in an intelligent way,” said Vaisman, “but actually I knew nothing that was going on.” He claims that Chesler ran the companies out of a basement apartment, sent a car service to take him to clinics to see patients, and sublet space in these clinics to snare referrals.

In the Queens indictment, Vaisman was named as a participant in a 36-member ring that defrauded millions from insurance companies by staging sham auto accidents. Prosecutors alleged that this “fraud factory” was run “under the protection of the Bonanno crime family” and was managed in part by Joe Fratta, a Bonanno associate whom Vaisman says he never met.

The Voice was the first to report on the oddity of Ruditzky’s elevation (“This Clarence Is No Clown,” March 27, 2002). “Court Street insiders could not think of another occasion,” we wrote then, “when a losing Civil Court nominee was rewarded with the top plum.”

The story also pointed out that Ruditzky’s record was “so spotty” that he was one of the few Brooklyn Civil Court judges temporarily assigned to sit in Supreme and yanked out after spending as little as six months there. Because of the heavy Supreme Court case-load, it’s common that Civil Court judges are moved up to acting Supreme Court positions by state judicial officials. But it’s very uncommon that they are quickly rotated out of Supreme, as Ruditzky was in 1999, reportedly due to his perceived shortcomings.

But neither Ruditzky’s electoral loss nor his unusually sudden reassignment diminished Norman’s enthusiasm for him in 2001, upsetting even party stalwarts like Steve Cohn. The party’s executive committee—which consists of the leaders elected in each assembly district—met before the judicial convention, as it always does, to vote on the slate selected by Norman. Cohn, who was the leader in Williamsburg and had just unsuccessfully run for a City Council seat, raised questions at the committee meeting, which is rarely done. Others were miffed as well.

What made Norman’s determination to go ahead with Ruditzky doubly strange was that no district leaders were actually championing him. All five of the other nominees on the approved slate were put on the table by district leaders, as was the party’s custom. The Carroll Gardens leaders pushed for Joe Bruno, Al Vann and the black leaders for Bert Bunyan, Joe Bova and the Italian leaders for Patricia DiMango, Angel Rodriguez for Allen Hurkin-Torres, and Staten Island county leader John Lavelle for Tom Aliotta. But the leaders who put Ruditzky in play for Civil Court in 1991 were no longer leaders. All he had going for him 10 years later were a couple of Orthodox rabbis.

The controversy quickly evaporated, only to return three years later. On November 15, 2004, Jack Newfield, a former Voice senior editor who had gone to work at The New York Sun, learned that Hynes had startling new information about the Ruditzky elevation. A source in the Brooklyn courts well known to Newfield told him, according to notes Newfield took that day, that Hynes had “broken the code on how judgeships are sold in Brooklyn.” Newfield died a month later, but his notes indicated that Judge Michael Garson “flipped after he was indicted” but before his indictment was actually filed and told Hynes’s office about thousands in payments that Norman had taken on behalf of Ruditzky. The source, who is named in the notes, said that after Garson “was told to surrender at 6 a.m.” on charges involving his alleged theft from the trust fund of an ailing aunt, he told Hynes’s assistants “what he really knew.”

The source was so upbeat about Garson’s cooperation he told Newfield that the D.A. “was sitting” there with “four aces.” Since Feldman, Chesler, and Ruditzky had yet to come forward, the source’s “four aces” comment, referring then only to the case-making value of Garson’s information, would prove to be a prophetic count.

News reports in 2005 revealed that Hynes decided not to file the indictment against Garson for six months and that the judge wore a wire for prosecutors and engaged Ruditzky, and possibly others, in taped conversations about the payments. In early 2003, Hynes had arrested Garson’s cousin Gerald, who was also a Norman-anointed Supreme Court judge, on charges that he’d taken boxes of expensive cigars, airline tickets, high-priced meals, and cash from attorneys practicing before him, some of it documented on videotape shot in his robing room. Gerald Garson was the first to blow the whistle on judgeship-buying in talks with Hynes’s office, and he also agreed to wire up. But his arrest had attracted so much publicity, he got nothing out of taped conversations with a Norman associate. Unable to cut a deal with prosecutors, he is scheduled to go on trial in March, having lost a hotly contested appeal.

By not filing the Mike Garson indictment for months, Hynes was apparently able to get much more from his taped exchanges with Ruditzky than he got from Gerry Garson’s undercover efforts. In sharp contrast with Hynes’s continuing pursuit of Gerry Garson, Mike Garson was allowed to draw his full salary for more than two years after the grand jury voted to indict him, with Hynes agreeing to postpone his trial again and again. Hynes’s willingness to delay the case allowed OCA to continue paying Garson, though state officials did suspend him from sitting on the bench. His term expired in 2006 and he did not seek re-election.

The terms of Hynes’s final deal with Garson are still unclear, but his office’s overall handling of the judge indicates that they still regard him as an “ace,” suggesting that Garson’s 2004 taped seduction of Ruditzky worked and led, in part, to Ruditzky’s current cooperating posture. Chesler believes that Garson also first tipped Hynes about the pivotal role Chesler played for Ruditzky, prompting them to reach out to him. He says he ran into Garson at a diner when Garson was wearing the wire and that Garson “pointed at his chest,” convincing Chesler to stick to small talk and move on.

In addition to his deal with Hynes, Garson has also managed to narrow his financial exposure in the civil case involving the fund. A 2006 report of the court guardian indicates that Garson only had to repay the fund $90,000 “out of estimated debt of twice that sum.” With Garson cooperating, Hynes did not oppose the dramatic reduction of the 2004 judgment. Indeed, the report indicates that Garson’s criminal case may have actually helped him slice the restitution payment, noting that he “lacks the resources” to pay more, in part because “he is under indictment and his counsel fees are undoubtedly large.”

Garson’s aunt Sarah Gershenoff, who was 93 when she died nearly destitute in 2005, gave her two nephews power of attorney a decade ago to oversee her nearly million-dollar trust. But as the Daily News reported, she was writing them $50 birthday checks at the same time that, unbeknownst to her, they were making as much as $50,000 withdrawals from her account.

Not only did Norman put the Garsons on the bench, he also helped install Gerry Garson’s wife, Robin, on the Civil Court, a mark of the clannish excess of the Norman reign. Gerry Garson was the treasurer of the Brooklyn party and Mike Garson was a district leader before Norman made them judges. Mike Garson’s wife, Laurie, is still a leader. Robin Garson was granted immunity from prosecution to testify before the grand jury investigating Mike Garson, and remains a sitting judge. Ironically, she was an attorney who helped Ruditzky in a petition battle in 2001, as was Alan Rocoff, who was Mike Garson’s law partner and close associate. Norman’s party was just that kind of closed circle of insiders and relatives, with cash fueling some decisions, and no pretense of merit.

In addition to Mike Garson, another apparent “ace” in Hynes’s deck is Feldman, the nuts-and-bolts operative who seems to literally live inside the party’s small offices at 16 Court, having held the same top staff position under Norman’s predecessor Howard Golden as he did under Norman. Predictably, his wife is a Supreme Court judge. Feldman long occupied a position on the New York State Senate payroll and has already been a cooperating witness in one grand jury probe—the one that led to the indictment of his then boss, Democratic Senate leader Manfred Ohrenstein.

Feldman was indicted on 22 counts in the case against Norman, set for trial later this month. Hynes agreed a couple of months ago to drop all of the charges against Feldman, without getting him to plead even to a misdemeanor. This extraordinary break is a measure of the value Hynes initially assigned to Feldman’s cooperation.

Not only can Feldman confirm portions of the Chesler conversations with Norman, he can also add testimony about his own call to Norman the night Ruditzky lost the primary. Feldman has told prosecutors about the rules of what he calls the “backfill.” He says he told Norman that since Ruditzky “no longer had a vacancy to give back to the system,” he should not be promoted to Supreme. Feldman was already “imagining alternatives,” including the selection of Goldberg. But he was “shocked,” he has told Hynes’s office, when Norman immediately announced that he “had a deal in place with Ruditzky and was going to keep the deal,” a position he maintained when Feldman raised the issue again in subsequent conversations.

Feldman has insisted in his meetings with Hynes’s office that he knows nothing about payoffs, just the Ruditzky-tinged solicitation of Chesler contributions. It’s not clear if Hynes is fully satisfied with Feldman’s cooperation, and if not, Feldman could face new charges.

Chesler, whose gastric bypass surgery and convictions have left him a shadow of his former self, has clearly become the third “ace” in Hynes’s deck. While Chesler’s
criminal past is an invitation to cross- examination, much of his story, including the stamp wheel purchases, is supported by records. And he insists he is a changed man. But he also maintains that he never told Ruditzky about the payments he made to Norman, so it’s unclear what the ultimate ace, Ruditzky himself, has said about Chesler’s payments or any other payments that could bring the total to as much as $70,000. The judge could confirm what he told Chesler about Norman’s separate shakedown of him for $50,000 in advertising, legal, and other costs.

Ruditzky’s campaign did pay Norman’s party attorney, Israel Goldberg, $18,000, and another lawyer tied to the organization, Gerald Dunbar, $5,000, and two of the lawyers who actually handled the extensive litigation involving Ruditzky’s petitions can’t recall any real work either did. The party’s attorney usually provides petition advice to incumbents without charge.

Ruditzky is the fourth judge snared by Hynes, a record for any New York district attorney. Hynes is showing the prosecutorial flexibility to make a case that makes history, cutting deals with his eye squarely on the goal of cleaning out not just a corrupt courthouse, but a corrupt courthouse system. The special prosecutor in the notorious racial murder case in Howard Beach, Queens, in 1986, Hynes authored a book that caught him reminiscing about his early days as a rackets prosecutor in Brooklyn. Hynes described the borough as “a squalid world of crooked cops and sleazy politicians, a world with no heroes.” Two decades later, he is closer now than anyone with the power of a subpoena has ever been to disinfecting that squalid world.

**Editor’s note: This paragraph was inadvertently left out of the original Web version. It was added on January 14.
Return to the article.

Research assistants: Alex Altman, Brian Colgan, Adam Fleming, Keach Hagey, Luke Jerod Kummer, and Damien Weaver


Brooklyn’s Nasty Race Race

It’s a year ago this month that Clarence Norman Jr. stepped down as Brooklyn’s Democratic Party boss following the first of his two felony convictions for abusing his office. But the shadow of the dapper former assemblyman still looms over all things political in his borough, especially—and most ominously—over the county’s most contentious primary battle, the four-way race to represent the 11th Congressional District, which ranges from Park Slope’s affluent brownstoners to Brownsville’s struggling public housing residents.

Not that Norman’s name has been brought up a whole lot—and for good reason. The candidates who opposed him don’t want to offend his powerful allies; those who supported him would rather voters weren’t reminded of the fact. But at a televised debate in late August, NY1 News host Dominic Carter did a good job of smoking out their views on the issue.

The question itself was pretty clear: Was Clarence Norman, on balance, a good county leader?

The query was put first to Carl Andrews, a state senator with a hearty grin and a fistful of major endorsements, ranging from Eliot Spitzer to the teachers’ union. Andrews is viewed as the man to beat even though he was long one of Norman’s closest associates, receiving the lion’s share of court patronage appointments during much of the ex-boss’s party rule.

“I’m glad you asked that question,” Andrews said, although he clearly was not. “That’s a question that only people in the media are really concerned about.” None of his potential constituents are even interested in the topic, the senator added. “They talk about health care, housing, education.”

The debate host pushed him again. “The question was specifically about Clarence Norman.”

“OK, Clarence Norman,” said Andrews, taking another tack. “What about Clarence Norman? My name is Carl Andrews and I have a record that I defend. A record of 27 years of service.” He then began ticking off his endorsements: Spitzer, David Dinkins, Alan Hevesi. Carter pressed once more, emphasizing his words, “But on balance , was Norman a good county leader?

Andrews grimaced. “He did some good things and he did some bad things,” he said with a shrug, letting the matter rest there.

Yvette Clarke, an attractive and well-spoken councilwoman who represents a district based in Crown Heights and Flatbush, immediately echoed Andrews’s disdain for the question. “This is guilt by association,” she blurted. “I don’t believe we need to be addressing that here. We need to be dealing with issues. And I think the community is prepared to hear those issues.”

Host Carter then turned to the other councilmember in the race, David Yassky. “Do all of you, beginning with you, Mr. Yassky, think that Mr. Norman was a good county leader?”

Yassky offered a simple, declarative sentence: “No, I think he was a poor county leader.” He went on to spell out why. “I don’t think that the Democratic Party under his leadership in Brooklyn was about ideas, or an agenda and a set of policies. And that’s what a party should be.” Norman’s criminal convictions, the councilman said, “obviously speak to a tremendous ethical lapse when we are trying to go down to Washington to clean up this terribly unethical Republican Congress. No,” he concluded, “he was not a good county leader.”

Chris Owens, a community activist and former school board member who is seeking to capture the seat long held by his father, Major Owens, said his own long association with reform groups in the borough’s politics “speaks to the answer to that question.” But Norman had been helpful to his father on several important past occasions, a fact that may have tempered the son’s response as he offered only the mildest critique, saying that Norman “left a lot to be desired and his political end was a tragic one.”

Those are some pretty sharp differences in response to a crucial issue in Brooklyn’s politics, and they help underscore the quandary many voters feel as they ponder who to vote for in next week’s primary.

If the key yardsticks for candidates were pushing good-government goals, fighting corrupt machine politics, and showing a knack for successful legislative action, Yassky would undoubtedly be doing a lot better than he is, despite several legitimate gripes with his record. But even the most liberal voters in the district aren’t about to vote for him for one main reason: He’s white.

The 11th C.D. is a federal voting rights district, designed to empower its minority residents. Its most famous officeholder was Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman member of Congress. She was succeeded by Major Owens, who emerged as a leading progressive on the floor of Congress (if somewhat less successful in responding to constituent pleas at home).


As a result, Yassky’s presence in the contest has made race the thorniest issue in this campaign, and it has been talked about the same way it’s always discussed in American politics—with code words. “Colonizer” and “interloper” have been the politest terms used.

Part of the charge against Yassky is well-founded: As the lone white candidate up against four blacks, he has clearly banked on a strategy of trying to win the roughly 30 percent share of likely voters who are white, many of whom he currently represents in the City Council. A protégé and former aide to U.S. senator Chuck Schumer, Yassky was elected to the council in 2001, representing a district that includes Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights, and Williamsburg. To do so, he beat one of the machine’s most stalwart members, Steve Cohen, a white lawyer who had a 2-1 advantage in funding and the support of Norman’s troops. On the council, Yassky immediately showed much of the energy of his mentor, Schumer, and promptly developed a string of initiatives, including pushing for corruption prevention mechanisms, winning affordable housing in the rezoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, and fighting to save blue-collar waterfront jobs in Red Hook.

But despite those accomplishments, his challengers have accused him of being tone-deaf to minority issues, and opportunistically seeking a way to get another job since, under term limits, he has to yield his council seat at the end of 2009.

“He chose this district where at the time there were four black candidates running, and he had to have looked at that,” said Yvette Clarke—who faces the same council term limits as Yassky—during the NY1 debate.

Yassky has another advantage: money. He has raised more than $1.2 million— much of it from big developers and lawyers—more than double that of his next-highest opponent.

“I think this is a function of money, and that’s what Washington is about. And we’re trying to get away from that,” said Chris Owens at the debate. “We’re trying to get away from ‘might makes right’ when it comes to dollars.”

Yassky, in turn, has sought to present himself as a reformer who worked on gun control legislation as a congressional aide under Schumer and who helped win new jobs as a councilman. He has also won the support of a handful of black Democratic district leaders, including the head of a public housing tenants association who praised his gun control activism. Yassky has also mentioned, although fairly quietly, the battles he waged against Norman’s control of the Brooklyn Democratic organization.

Andrews may well be right that the ethical failings of a past political boss don’t top the list of voter concerns. The district suffers from poor schools and some of the city’s worst rates of poverty and infant mortality. But it’s also true that those urban ailments didn’t improve much in the two decades that Norman, a former state assemblyman and the borough’s first black Democratic Party leader, ran things. Instead, corruption investigations of Norman’s regime, ranging from probes of his handpicked judges to his political benefactors, indicated that there was more focus on patronage than on rebuilding Brookyn’s battered neighborhoods.

Considered the campaign front-runner, given his longtime organizational ties and his backing, Andrews has been an industrious and collegial legislator, say his colleagues. But as two recent Voice articles by Wayne Barrett show (“Fees and Thank You,” July 19; “Andrews Amnesia,” August 2), he enjoyed the fruits of his ties to Norman. In the late 1990s, Andrews managed to land an astonishing one-third of the receivership fees paid out in Brooklyn’s courts while he was serving as a Norman lieutenant—even though he is not an attorney.

Clarke’s relationship to Norman is more complicated. As county leader, Norman supported and aided Major Owens when he was challenged in 2000 by Clarke’s mother, Una (who later managed to steer her daughter into her council seat when term limits forced her out in 2001), and again in 2004, when Yvette Clarke made her own initial bid for the office. But Norman quickly made peace with Yvette Clarke after she was elected to the council, and last year his candidates carried her name on their petitions and Election Day palm cards, election records show.

Shortly after she joined the council in 2002, Clarke also allied herself with Norman in a bizarre decision to reject an $11 million plan to renovate a large Crown Heights apartment building as permanently affordable housing for its residents. The building at 320 Sterling Street was infamous as the site where a housing court judge ordered a notorious slumlord named Morris Gross to live for several weeks as punishment for ignoring its poor living conditions, a move that later became the basis for the Joe Pesci movie The Super.


After the city took it over for back taxes, however, the building fell under the control of a tenant leader named Joyce Stewart, who set herself up as a one-person ruler over the 113 apartments, according to other residents. Stewart was later charged by the city’s housing department with abusing rent monies, but she had important political allies, including Norman, whom she had campaigned for among the area’s Caribbean community. Since the city’s rehabilitation plan would have meant the end of her control over the building, Stewart adamantly opposed it. Norman agreed with her, and dispatched a representative to the City Council to speak against it.

Even though the local community board and a majority of the building’s residents wrote in favor of the rehab, Clarke went along with Stewart and Norman, insisting that the rest of the council support her in killing the grant. As the Daily News reported, Clarke made her opposition explicit. “I’m seeking your ‘no’ vote today,” she told her council colleagues who responded with a unanimous vote against it.

Stewart was later sued by the city for failure to pay her own rent and was evicted from one of the several apartments she controls. According to tenants, Stewart has been living in Trinidad for the past year. In her absence a new renovation plan has been developed by the city, and this time they are hopeful of Clarke’s support.

Last week, Marjorie McCarthy, a tenant leader who opposed Stewart, sighed when asked about Clarke’s role there. “This building was in shambles,” said McCarthy. “People who opposed [Stewart] were even beaten up by her goons. And the one person who turned against us on the rehab plan was Yvette Clarke. Now she says she is all in favor of it. I told her I was glad she was finally with us, but I wish we would have had her support back then.”

Clarke still has no regrets over her past opposition. “The new deal is far superior,” said her spokesman, Rance Huff.


Andrews Amnesia

“Shame on them all,” an outraged New York Times declared last October, naming, among others, City Comptroller Bill Thompson and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. The editorial, written in response to the conviction of Brooklyn Democratic boss Clarence Norman, condemned the “business-as-usual” silence of top Democratic leaders to “the major blot on New York’s civic life” that Norman’s rule symbolized.

Strangely, however, when Norman’s self-described “best friend” and closest political associate, Carl Andrews, a state senator who’s received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Norman-inspired patronage, boldly decided a few months later that he would run for Congress, the Times itself became shamefully silent. Even when Thompson and Spitzer did finally speak out—endorsing Andrews with great fanfare—no one in the New York media, which have spent years tracking the Norman gang, denounced them.

Placed on the state senate payroll at Norman’s request in 1994 (“Fees and Thank You,” July 19–25), Andrews wound up collecting $138,000 in campaign payments from candidates Norman endorsed, including Thompson and Spitzer, only climbing off the gravy train when Norman handed him a suddenly vacant senate seat in 2002. Andrews also collected $137,242 in receivership commissions from Brooklyn judges beholden to Norman and thousands more in auctioneer fees from a surrogate court judge whose campaign Andrews managed and who was ultimately forced from office in disgrace. Andrews’s state salary since Norman became his employment agent—including four years as Spitzer’s director of intergovernmental operations—totals another $969,855.59.

As wide-open an invitation as that résumé is for reporters and opponents, Andrews has managed to march through most of the primary season virtually unchallenged, almost as if he were a new, ebulliently engaging face on the scene. During a two-hour debate at the Duryea Presbyterian Church in Prospect Heights last week, the polite hosts and two of Andrews’s low-key opponents, City Councilman David Yassky and former school board member Chris Owens, never uttered a word about the sewer Andrews wallowed in for a decade. The fourth candidate, City Councilwoman Yvette Clarke, didn’t bother to show.

While any editor with access to clips could write a profile of Andrews that would give even his Crown Heights neighbors reason to pause, the Voice prefers to add new spice to the all-too-familiar saga. Here are the highlights:

Andrews delivered $55,000 in precious senate grants in 2004 and 2005 to the Local Development Corporation of Crown Heights, which has retained Clarence Norman as a consultant. Started by Norman’s father in the 1980s, the LDC had also collected $371,500 since 2003 in assembly funding from Norman, who, as a leading member of the Democratic assembly majority at the time, had much more pork power than Andrews. The GOP senate majority greatly limits the so-called “member items” that Democrats control, so Andrews tried, in a Voice interview, to lowball what he’d given, insisting “it was just $5,000 or $10,000.”

The LDC got $1.4 million in city and state grants in 2004, the last year it filed its annually required reports with Spitzer’s office. It spent almost half of that on “consulting and school education services.” The nonprofit is so intertwined with Norman and Andrews that William Boone III, a defense witness for Norman who has worked as a consultant in Andrews campaigns, is a member of its board. Boone succeeded Andrews as the treasurer of the Brooklyn Democratic organization in 1998, when Andrews resigned to assume his Spitzer post.

While Andrews and Boone were two of the Norman
associates routinely placed on the payroll of Norman- endorsed candidates, the new star in that boutique business is Moses “Musa” Moore, who’s collected over $370,000 from at least 18 candidates, most of it since 2005. At 34, Moore, who was also paid a total of $110,000 as a senate aide to Andrews until this January, is now coordinating the congressional campaign out of his Visibility Consulting storefront headquarters at 1622 Bedford Avenue. Moore is an Andrews protégé put on the senate payroll in November 2001, four months before Andrews formally assumed the senate seat vacated by Marty Markowitz, who was elected borough president in 2001. Marty Connor, the senate Democratic leader then, said Andrews asked that Moore be hired.

Andrews’s congressional committee has paid Moore $11,000 so far this year, and other candidates tied to Andrews—including Eric Adams, who’s running for the senate seat Andrews is leaving; Karim Camara, who succeeded Norman in the assembly; and Dena Douglas, a Brooklyn civil court candidate —have also retained him. Moore is running himself as well, trying to get elected Democratic district leader in Norman’s old assembly district. When Norman was forced to resign that position as well last fall, Norman’s co-leader Shirley Patterson nominated Moore to replace him, and the executive committee of Norman’s countywide party instantly installed him. Moore, who was still on Andrews’s senate payroll when he became district leader, says he told Andrews that “I thought I should be leader, and Carl said, ‘You’ve earned it.’ ”


Cynthia Boyce, a black Harvard grad who, aided by her mother, loaned her own civil court campaign $110,000 last year, paid Moore $81,105 of the $155,755 she spent. She lost anyway, and told the Voice that it was Andrews who first recommended Moore. She met with Andrews early in the campaign and, right after he agreed to endorse her, he urged her to hire Moore. “Let me make it clear,” Boyce remembers Andrews telling her, “you make your own decision,” never connecting his own endorsement to Moore’s hiring. Moore acknowledges that “Carl introduced me to Boyce,” adding that he did the same with civil court candidate Bernard Graham in 2004, the first campaign Moore coordinated. Boyce says Moore “sincerely worked hard and was very visible,” though she conceded that she did not know how Moore spent what she paid him, most of which was supposed to pay for a field operation. “It would be nice to have a better breakdown of the finances,” she said.

In 2005, Moore was also paid $20,000 by Diana Johnson, a Supreme Court judge running for surrogate; $56,142 by another civil court candidate, Norma Jennings; $3,000 by district attorney candidate John Sampson; $30,000 by mayoral candidate Gifford Miller; and $74,450 by City Council candidate Letitia James. All but James lost, and most of them had hired Moore before he even incorporated his fledgling firm in June. Moore was also paid $11,150 by Norman’s assembly committee, and even got $3,375 from Mark Green’s 2001 mayoral campaign. Another $245,000 payment that Green simultaneously made to Norman’s club is still the subject of a Hynes grand jury probe, though Green has personally been cleared of any charges.

“I consider Carl a friend, I consider Clarence a friend,” Moore says. “I’m thankful for what Clarence did for the community.” Moore cited his work for Jennings, however, as an example of his independence, claiming that Andrews and Norman supported Sylvia Ash, who defeated Jennings last year. Actually, Norman and the Brooklyn party remained neutral in the race, while Andrews’s support of Ash was nominal. Pressed by the Voice about whether he discussed his Jennings work with Andrews before signing on, Moore said he did. “He told me, ‘God bless you. Good luck.’ ”

Moore produced a book of one-page sign-in sheets verifying that he paid nearly a hundred campaign workers small sums in 2005, but the records did not indicate what candidate they were working for or contain an overall tally. There was also no record deducting the wages paid from the total Moore received, so it was impossible to determine what his profit was. He estimated it at a meager $10,000 to $15,000, insisting that he hired too many workers. He’s doubled the size of his storefront recently and says he expects to do much better in 2006.

The Moore largesse is part of a pattern of massive payments by many campaigns over the years to Norman and Andrews affiliates—including $93,000 in payments to Tahaka Robinson by a judicial candidate in 2005 who had no opponent, $153,610 in 2001 to longtime aide Jackie Ward from Mark Green and other campaigns, and $70,530 to Boone, who was the district leader before Norman and Moore. Hynes’s office has investigated this payment history, which started with Andrews himself, but not charged anyone. Jack Newfield reported in the Sun in 2003 that three judges told Hynes’s office they “felt coerced” into making payments to Norman associates, including Boone. One judge who paid Boone $9,000 did so after she received a proposal faxed from Andrews’s senate office. Boone reportedly did nothing for the get-out-the-vote fee. The Post reported that prosecutors have determined that Norman’s personal bank account recorded up to $50,000 a year in unexplained cash deposits for five years—which the paper called “possible kickback money from judges or party operatives who got lucrative campaign business.”

Andrews, who acknowledged that he’d recommended Moore to Letitia James and others, suggested that the media and prosecutorial questions about this hiring history were racist. “When blacks do it, it seems like it’s something illegal, something wrong,” he said, pointing to a white political operative active in Brooklyn reform politics, Gary Tilzer, and saying, “No one says anything when he does it.” Tilzer, who managed the successful campaign of surrogate candidate Margarita Lopez-Torres last year, earned a total of $28,000 from her campaign and three others. He is so underpaid he is known by the shirt he always wears. Lopez-Torres, who was blacklisted by Norman because she refused to hire an unqualified law secretary he sent her, was the plaintiff in a federal suit that recently overturned the way judges are selected statewide.


When the Voice dropped in at Moore’s office one recent evening, Norman and Jackie Ward were among the four people there, with Norman actually sitting next to a desk marked “State Senator Carl Andrews.” Norman stood up, declared he had just “stopped by” and “was no longer involved in politics,” and left, standing in front of the headquarters long enough to send two young women inside looking for jobs. Ward left her $80,000-a-year job with Comptroller Thompson when her name kept popping up in news stories during Hynes’s 2003 probe of Norman.

Asked about the $70,000 he’s loaned his congressional campaign this year, Andrews denied that he had that much in savings or that he’d mortgaged the Crown Street home he bought in 2004 for $400,000. “There’s a lot of other loans you can get,” he said, specifying equity loans. In fact, his senate financial disclosure statements indicate he took out a loan of an undisclosed amount in 2005, and he took out a $75,000 line of credit through a Pennsylvania fast-loan shop on his home this January. The problem is that if he financed the loans he made to his campaign by borrowing it himself, he violated federal election law by not disclosing the terms of his personal loans in filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Andrews has never had the lavish lifestyle of Norman, who owns both a gold Lincoln Continental and a Mercedes, but Andrews, too, once had a Mercedes, and his home has nearly doubled in assessed value in two years. He also owns six other properties, four in South Carolina and two in Brooklyn. He claimed in a Voice interview that he’d never “hit a home run” in the 46 receiverships he received from Norman-connected judges, saying his largest commission was $25,000. Actually, he was paid $87,750 on a receivership involving two Fulton Street commercial properties and tried to evict a half-dozen stores, employing many people, but was blocked in court.

Research assistance: Alex Altman, Brian Colgan, Matt Foglino, Alicia Lozano, Mordy Shinefield, and Gina Vasselli


Fees and Thank You

State Senator Carl Andrews, who’s running in the city’s hottest congressional race, was the unidentified “individual” described in a 2001 report released by New York State Chief Judge Judith Kaye as a top recipient of patronage court appointments in Brooklyn in the ’90s. Andrews confirmed in a Voice interview that he was questioned by investigators about the $137,242 in fees that he was paid between 1995 and 1999, when his mentor, Clarence Norman, was the county’s Democratic party boss and Andrews collected 34 percent of all receiver fees paid in mortgage foreclosures.

The report, prepared by the Office of Court Administration’s inspector general, Sherill Spatz, did not name Andrews but said “an official of the Brooklyn Democratic organization”—Andrews was its treasurer during these years—was awarded 46 of these appointments, more than anyone else listed. Spatz found that the party official “resigned his appointments” in early 1999 and “recommended an attorney with close ties to a top party official as his replacement in those cases that were still outstanding.” Andrews explained that he resigned both his receiverships and his party post in January 1999, when he became the director of intergovernmental relations for newly elected attorney general Eliot Spitzer. A spokesman for Spitzer, Rich Baum, said the AG asked Andrews “to drop the receiverships” because of the office’s “many interactions with the judiciary.”

Andrews conceded that he recommended Ravi Batra, who was then associated with Norman in a three-person law firm, to succeed him as a receiver in several of the cases. The IG concluded that Andrews “asserted in motion papers”— which were reportedly sworn statements—that Batra “was already familiar with the cases” as a rationale for the referral. But in fact, according to the report, “the attorney was not familiar” with the cases. Batra e-mailed a statement to the Voice in response to phone inquiries, saying he became “aware of the improper motions” made by Andrews’s attorneys when the IG questioned him in September 2000, confirming that Andrews made the referrals.

Whenever Andrews’s long association with Norman has come up in the congressional campaign, he has said, “My name is Carl Andrews,” in an attempt to distance himself from the deposed boss, who was convicted last year in two felony cases and forced to resign his party and state assembly posts. But Andrews’s extraordinary percentage of receiver appointments, as well as his Batra referrals, are prime examples of just how intertwined they were. Andrews, who is not an attorney, acknowledged that he “assumes” that most receiverships are awarded to lawyers. Marty Connor, the former Democratic leader of the state senate, said Norman called him within days of Mario Cuomo’s loss in the 1994 gubernatorial race and said that his “best friend Carl Andrews” would soon be out of his Cuomo-tied job and asked that Connor hire him. Connor did hire Andrews in 1995, at precisely the same time as Andrews began to receive the court appointments.

Andrews acknowledged that Norman had gotten him the senate job, but insisted it was “not necessarily true” that his connections to Norman, who handpicked many judges during his 13-year term as Democratic leader, brought him the court appointments. “I put my name in,” Andrews said, and “a lot of people know me in the Democratic party. I’ve worked in a lot of judicial campaigns.” He insisted that “people assume you make a lot of money” on receiverships but that taking over foreclosed properties is “like Russian roulette.”

Admitting that he got “a lot of at bats as receiver,” he said he’d never “hit a home run,” claiming that the most he ever got from one appointment was $25,000. “Are you saying that in the years of Meade Esposito,” asked Andrews, referring to another twice-convicted and legendary boss of the Brooklyn party, “no one got a large percent of receiver appointments?” He raised Esposito’s name to dispute any notion that he’d garnered “an abnormal number” of assignments, adding that “the real issue” with court appointments was “racism” and that “the majority of people who make money on receiverships are white, not black.”

Andrews’s federal and state senate campaign committee filings reflect in-kind contributions and disbursements tallying almost $20,000 for office space and other expenses donated by affiliates of BPC Management, the company that Andrews says he frequently used while he was a receiver to manage the properties awarded him by the courts. He is currently renting BPC’s Downtown Brooklyn office for the congressional race, which pits Andrews against City Council members David Yassky and Yvette Clarke, as well as Chris Owens, a former school board member who’s the son of the retiring incumbent, Major Owens.

In addition to the receiverships awarded by State Supreme Court judges, Andrews also incorporated an auctioneer company in 1997, shortly after Michael Feinberg was elected Brooklyn surrogate. Feinberg, who was Norman’s candidate for the powerful judicial post that oversees the probate of wills, immediately began selecting Andrews to handle the property auctions. Andrews had managed Feinberg’s campaign. Within a year, however, after Andrews’s auctioneer business drew press attention, he transferred the company to an associate. “I was the first black auctioneer in Kings County history,” he explained. “I’m proud of that. I broke the color barrier.” Feinberg was forced to step down in 2005 after court investigators found that he’d approved the payment of millions of dollars in excessive fees to an attorney who was his lifelong friend, draining the estates of many Brooklyn residents.

The same Brooklyn D.A. who convicted Norman, Joe Hynes, is investigating Feinberg now, and a source close to the office said Andrews’s auctioneer business has been mentioned in that probe. But Andrews insisted that he hasn’t been questioned in either the Feinberg investigation or any of the far-reaching Hynes inquiries about Norman. “They asked me one question through my attorney,” said Andrews, adding that “when you look at what Clarence was convicted of, I had nothing to do with that.”

Andrews said Feinberg was merely involved in “indiscretions”—though Jimmy Breslin more accurately wrote that Feinberg’s office “takes everything but the bones from the dead.” Andrews added that “Clarence’s conviction was a disappointment to me personally” and “has stained the history of his Kings County leadership.” But he said Norman had done a lot of “good things and bad things,” then corrected himself and said “questionable things,” adding that he would “leave it to historians” to weigh the record. While he said that Norman would “not wind up on my payroll” if he was elected to Congress, he would not answer questions about whether he would use his congressional office to benefit Norman less directly.

Spitzer endorsed Andrews at a press conference last month, citing his “effusive smile, his charm, his wit” and has raised an estimated $20,000 to $40,000 for him. Andrews ran Spitzer’s field operation in his 1998 race and worked for him in the AG’s office until a county committee controlled by Norman installed him as a state senator in 2002. A Daily News story in 1998 noted that Andrews was hired by the Spitzer campaign within a couple of days of Norman’s endorsement. Norman recently married Vernice Williams, who was hired by Spitzer’s office to work under Andrews while he headed the intergovernmental unit. Neither Spitzer’s spokesman nor Andrews could spell out what Andrews’s role might have been in hiring her, but Andrews said that she and Norman “had just met when she was hired by the AG” in 1999.

Though it has been repeatedly reported that Andrews wound up on the campaign payroll of candidates Norman endorsed, earning $138,000 over a few years, he has taken surprisingly little heat so far in the congressional campaign due to these connections. That’s partly because of his recognized ability as a campaign operative—which may have justified some of these payments. But he has no prior experience as a court-appointed overseer of troubled properties, and the singling out of him by the IG focuses attention on the public booty that his primary political relationship brought him.


Prosecution complex

Three challengers are running against Brooklyn’s longtime district attorney, Charles “Joe” Hynes, in next week’s Democratic primary. All voice a shared argument: He is old, tired, and ineffective, and needs to be shown the door. But even those who agree that Hynes’s office has long been adrift worry that the candidate with the best shot at winning may bring new and bigger problems of his own should he capture the office.

The campaign has already produced a long-overdue public critique of Hynes’s performance from two energetic ex-prosecutors. One is former assistant D.A. and deputy police commissioner Arnie Kriss, who has emphasized Hynes’s slack felony conviction rate and his troubling habit of soliciting campaign donations from his assistants. The genial Kriss, a former Ed Koch adviser who is still close to his old boss, becomes flushed and outraged when relating the tales of office mismanagement he says current and former Hynes aides told him, stories that he says spurred his decision to enter the race.

Mark Peters, a former anti-corruption prosecutor for Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, has hammered Hynes for his lax attitude about corruption, as well as his penchant for cronyism in doling out high-paid staff jobs to pals. Peters, who headed the school board in his Park Slope–Sunset Park neighborhood, has deluged Brooklyn mailboxes with sharp attacks on Hynes’s high-threshold tolerance for local sleaze.

And then there is State Senator John Sampson, a soft-spoken former Legal Aid lawyer representing Canarsie and East New York. Last week, the city bar association found Sampson not qualified for the D.A. job, based on his lack of experience. (It approved the three other candidates.) Sampson shrugged off the finding, pointing out that a Brooklyn legal panel had approved him. In contrast to Kriss and Peters, Sampson’s criticism of Hynes has been muted. At a NY1 debate last month, he said that Hynes allowed corruption to “fester” but offered no specifics. His only original criticism was that the D.A. has not been responsive to the borough’s communities.

Sampson’s harshest campaign words have been aimed, bizarrely, not at Hynes, but at Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Sampson traveled to Israel in June with Borough Park politician Dov Hikind, where he visited the Gaza settlements and condemned the removal of settlers there as a human rights violation. “This in certain ways is like slavery in America,” said Sampson.

With a record bereft of any causes or important legislation that he’s championed, Sampson’s main rationale for running appears to be premised on the fact that he could actually win. He is the only minority candidate in the race, and his face and name bedeck glossy color posters from downtown Fulton Street to Starrett City. His handlers, who include political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, appear to be banking on a straight-out ethnic appeal to the borough’s black voters, who make up 44 percent of the voting rolls. Last year, an African American named Johnny Lee Baynes, who had failed in two earlier local district campaigns, won a countywide race against a pair of competitors named Cohen and Newbauer.

That’s the ethnic calculus at work in the current D.A. race, and it is why Sampson supporters were so delighted to see two other African American candidates, Sandra Roper and Paul Wooten, drop out this spring. While Joe Hynes can hope for the residual goodwill of those who remember him as the prosecutor who won convictions in the vicious 1986 Howard Beach racial attack, as well as for steady declines in crime, he must also cope with the blowback from his multiple indictments of the borough’s black Democratic county leader, Assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr., charges that Hynes only sought after the
Daily News editorial board repeatedly slammed him for failing to address corruption in the borough’s courts.

Norman never formally endorsed Sampson, but he’s made no pretense about his preference. Elegantly attired in his usual double-breasted dark suit, the Democratic boss paused last week outside State Supreme Court on Jay Street, as jury selection was under way for the first of his trials, to say that his sole electoral objective in the September 13 primary is to defeat Hynes.

“I will be doing everything in my power to get rid of Joe Hynes by telling all of the people I can to vote for John Sampson,” Norman told the Voice. The county leader is so fixated on removing the D.A., a former close ally, that he has all but ignored what would otherwise be the real patronage prize in the election, that of the open seat of Surrogate’s Court judge, where one of his severest critics, Margarita Lopez-Torres, has a good shot at winning the post. “I’m not involved in any of that,” Norman said of the judicial race. “I’m thinking about one thing.”

That’s the conundrum of the 2005 Brooklyn D.A. race: an incumbent prosecutor presiding over an ailing office, a pair of energetic but long-shot reform candidates, and a little-known but well-bankrolled and machine-blessed potential replacement making the most of racial voting patterns.

While it’s hard to get a handle on John Sampson, given the sparseness of his own résumé, the record is replete with the antics of the man who says he has been a mentor in Sampson’s professional and political life. Bernard Mitchell Alter, a controversial and blunt-talking Court Street lawyer, said he recruited Sampson to join his law firm, Alter & Barbaro, back in 1993 because he heard that the young Legal Aid attorney was smart and able. Alter’s firm is one of the most active in Brooklyn landlord-tenant cases, mainly on the landlords’ side. Alter has represented some of the borough’s most infamous property owners, including a convicted arsonist who twice made the Voice’s Worst Landlords list.

Almost immediately after signing up Sampson, Alter, who used to head an east Brooklyn political club, began steering him into politics. “Yeah, I encouraged him to think about politics,” Alter told the
Voice last week. “I said, ‘You are a good-looking guy, you talk well. Politics might be a good thing for you.’ I suggested he seriously consider running.”

Although nominally a Democrat, Alter rented himself out to the Giuliani campaign in 1993, recruiting black poll watchers to challenge voters at polling places where David Dinkins was expected to draw the lion’s share of votes. Dinkins supporters complained that Alter’s recruits, many of whom were apparently homeless, tried to intimidate voters. “Intimidation? Shit. Far from it,” said Alter. “Once the smoke cleared, nothing came of it.”

Three years later, Alter again went to work for the GOP, obtaining petition signatures for presidential candidate Bob Dole. “How do I square it? Hey, look, I’m a lawyer, my services are for hire,” he said.

His Republican dalliances never hurt his standing with the Brooklyn Democratic organization. After Alter’s friend Michael Feinberg was elected Surrogate’s Court judge in 1996, Alter became one of the judge’s most frequent appointees to handle estates. Records show that from the time of Feinberg’s election until this year, when the scandal-wracked Surrogate’s judge was forced from office for steering business to friends, Alter received 148 separate appointments from Feinberg, collecting more than $190,000 in fees. “Oh, you get these appointments, you mostly work for nothing,” he scoffed when asked about his Surrogate’s Court practice. What did he think about his friend’s removal from office? “I really don’t have an opinion about it,” said Alter. “The court has spoken. My opinion is irrelevant.”

Hynes’s investigation of Norman began when an allegedly corrupt judge told the D.A. that the county leader regularly demanded that judicial candidates hire party-tied vendors and consultants. But in 2000, when the Voice‘s Peter Noel reported how Alter had demanded $140,000 to run the campaign for a sitting Civil Court judge in a small district race (“$140,000 for a Judgeship?” August 23–29, 2000), neither Hynes nor Norman complained. Friends of ex-judge Maxine Archer told Noel she viewed Alter’s demand as extortion. When Archer refused to pay, Alter promptly went to work for a challenger and, with the aid of his ally Congressman Ed Towns, beat Archer at the polls. Today, Alter makes no apologies for the incident. “I guess Maxine made a mistake, didn’t she?” he said.


I’ll Be the Judge

As Brooklyn Democratic Party leader Clarence Norman was starting trial last week on corruption charges, his peculiar approach to judicial politics continued to loom over local elections. In a case that has even veteran pols shaking their heads, a Civil Court judicial candidate has spent more than any other contender—even though she faces no primary.

Genine Edwards, a personal-injury lawyer whose mother belonged to Norman’s father’s church, had spent $103,000 as of last week, $93,000 of it for the services of William “Tahaka” Robinson, a personable and energetic young campaigner whose own mom, Assembly Member Annette Robinson, is a close Norman ally and who learned his political chops in Norman’s club.

Guided by the younger Robinson, Edwards pulled off a minor miracle this spring: While five other candidates sought a Civil Court judgeship, none of them filed for the same seat as Edwards, allowing her to escape a costly and risky primary, and guaranteeing her election.

Norman said he had nothing to do with it. “That’s one lucky candidate,” he chuckled.

“I asked them not to run against us,” explained Robinson, 36, who insisted he is “totally independent” of Norman. Robinson said he earned his pay through savvy maneuvering and hard work delivering literature and putting up posters. “I market candidates like rap stars,” he said. Clearly his talents are in demand. Robinson has also hauled in thousands more from other Norman-backed candidates, including $16,000 from mayoral wannabe Gifford Miller, $10,000 from Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, $34,000 from district attorney candidate John Sampson, and $7,000 from Surrogate’s Court candidate Diana Johnson.

“That doesn’t all go in my pocket. I have expenses,” said Robinson, who is no longer working for Miller or Sampson because of unspecified “differences” with the campaigns.


The Backroom Crowd

Only translucent panels and sliding doors of clear glass divide the backroom at the Park Plaza diner in downtown Brooklyn from the rest of the restaurant. And throughout the 90-minute meeting there last Wednesday night of the executive committee of the Kings County Democratic organization, members threw frequent, anxious glances over their shoulders at those watching intently from outside the room.

They had good reason to worry about who was out there.

The business of the evening was to select the party’s choices for five open seats on the State Supreme Court. At $136,700 a year, and with 14-year terms, the seats are the highest and most sought-after prizes the party can award. Those names are then placed before a much larger body of judicial delegates later this month when, with all the unanimity of a politburo-style election, they are declared as the official nominees of the Democratic Party.

Exactly how those seats are doled out has become the subject of a much publicized grand jury investigation by Charles Hynes, the borough’s district attorney. Hynes was long a loyal ally of the Democratic organization, employing its expert election lawyers and its savvy consultants in each of his campaigns for D.A. as well as in races for governor and attorney general. But, prompted by two embarrassing judicial bribery cases involving handpicked products of the organization, Hynes outraged his former allies this spring by saying he suspected corruption in the political process. Since then, his probers have questioned everyone from candidates for judicial office to those who received condolence flowers from party officials.

Over Labor Day weekend, rumors were rife along Court Street that indictments were imminent, that Hynes was poised to charge party chairman Clarence Norman Jr. with campaign fraud, expense account cheating, and squeezing would-be judges for payments to favored consultants. The timing of the charges, the rumors held, was to prevent Norman and his cohorts from proceeding with their latest judicial picks.

By primary day, however, the rumors had receded, and most of the party’s 40 district leaders gathered at the diner on Cadman Plaza, ready to proceed in the manner to which they have grown accustomed, by giving overwhelming endorsement to the slate put forward by the organization.

Despite the closed doors, there was little mystery about the goings-on inside. Norman, resplendent in a black pinstriped suit, could be seen addressing the group, a fistful of papers in his hand and his aide-de-camp, party executive director Jeff Feldman, at his side.

Thanks to agitation by a group of reformers within the party and persistent press criticism of the usual lockstep method of judicial selection, Norman had already allowed several changes that made the process at least less opaque than usual. The names of those serving on Norman’s handpicked judicial review panel, which passes on would-be candidates, were revealed for the first time. So too were those of the names of judicial candidates themselves found “qualified” by the panel. In mid July, Norman announced that 27 contenders had been so approved.

Armed with this information, reform leaders invited all 27 to a forum—the first ever—which was held a week before the executive committee meeting at the YWCA in Downtown Brooklyn. Seventeen of the candidates showed up to present their credentials and openly address issues facing the courts. Norman also attended, saying he was pleased with the new “openness.”

In the days after the forum, Norman got down to the business of calling individual district leaders, asking each for their choices among the contenders. The specific votes in that “straw poll,” as the organization refers to it, are a closely held secret, however, and after the glass doors were pulled closed on the diner’s backroom, Norman announced the results to the members.

There was an overwhelming “consensus” among them for three candidates, he told them. Each of these were current Civil Court judges (as were the majority of the contenders). Each of the three also happened to be a white, Jewish male. They were Bruce Balter, a former Surrogate’s Court assistant known for his vociferous conservative views; Arthur Shack, a former Major League Baseball Players Association attorney whose wife is a district leader; and Martin Solomon, a former state senator and another conservative who once angered many Brooklynites by distributing an anti-gay flyer during an election.

“They are a study in mediocrity,” summed up one party official who has observed each of the three in action over the years.

The two remaining vacant slots, Norman told the group, would be split between a Latino candidate and an African American one, and there were two close contenders for each position. Brooklyn has a 65 percent African American and Latino majority, but Norman didn’t bother to explain the ethnic arithmetic that allotted them just two seats, while three appointments went to whites. He didn’t have to. The clear understanding in the backroom was that, in spite of their declining numbers, whites in southern Brooklyn still command a strong hold on the borough’s politics, and Norman’s political future, however bleak it may be, is tied to their continuing support.

Vying for the “black” seat was Norman’s own candidate, Bernadette Bayne, a Civil Court judge who once put a Legal Aid lawyer in handcuffs for “making faces” in court. Opposing Bayne was Katherine Smith, a candidate of Norman’s frequent foe in black east Brooklyn, Congressman Ed Towns, who was so convinced he would lose the contest that he had an aide hand deliver a letter of resignation as district leader to Norman moments before the meeting began. The aide told reporters that Towns “didn’t want to be associated with a process that is tainted.” A Norman loyalist noted, however, that Towns asked in the letter that his son, Assemblyman Darryl Towns, be appointed to take his place. “Towns knew he was going to lose,” said the insider. He was right. The vote went overwhelmingly to Bayne. There was a different kind of showdown for the “Latino” judgeship. One candidate was Civil Court judge Raymond Guzman, whose initial backer was ex-councilman Angel Rodriguez, who pleaded guilty in June to shaking down a developer for bribes but is now backed by assemblyman and power broker Vito Lopez of Bushwick. The other candidate was Margarita Lopez-Torres, a Civil Court judge backed by the party’s reform wing, who had angered Norman and Lopez by spurning their demands that she hire their allies as judicial assistants.

Last year, Lopez-Torres was forced to wage her own campaign for re-election after Norman, for the first time in party history, refused to back a sitting Civil Court judge. Lopez-Torres won anyway and quickly began campaigning for a Supreme Court post. Alone of the candidates, she showed up early outside the diner to greet leaders as they arrived. Assemblyman Lopez (no relation to the judge) arrived with his protégé, Councilmember Diana Reyna, who had beaten back a strong primary challenge the day before. “I’d like your support,” the judge told him. “Likewise,” snarled the assemblyman, walking past her into the diner.

During the meeting, it was proposed by reform leaders Alan Fleishman of Park Slope and Joanne Seminara of Bay Ridge that it would make sense to verify Norman’s straw poll with a paper ballot by the assembled leaders. Other leaders quickly shouted down the idea.

“I was democratically elected and I don’t see any reason why that body can’t act in a democratic way by putting their will to a vote,” Seminara explained later, adding that she had even brought ballots along with her to use if the idea passed. If Norman was going to present a slate that purportedly represented the group’s will, Seminara told the group, then they owed their constituencies a real ballot. “The judiciary is an indispensable part of our democracy,” Seminara said. “We have a responsibility to prove the process is fair and democratic.”

The reformers’ proposal was resoundingly defeated. Lopez-Torres also lost, by a two to one margin.

“I think it was a good night for democracy,” said Norman after the meeting was over.


Billy’s Boondoggle

Ever since a second Brooklyn judge was nabbed back in April for taking bribes, the news pages have been awash again in the predictably salacious saga of Court Street collusion, with judgeship-and-endorsement-for-sale headlines so déjà vu they seem recycled. Happily unnoticed so far in this media furor is the citywide embodiment of the Brooklyn Democratic organization, Comptroller Bill Thompson, the 50-year-old son of the county’s onetime most powerful judge, whose every step up the political ladder has been guided by the machine.

Moving from the staff of a jailed Brooklyn congressman to the top deputy job under borough president and party boss Howie Golden to Golden’s designee on the Board of Education, the savvy and understated Thompson catapulted in 2001 from the board presidency to comptroller. Even though Thompson’s only opponent in the post-9-11 primary was another creature of the organization, ex-city councilman Herb Berman, Thompson won the backing of Democratic leader Clarence Norman, whose name today is on the tip of every grand juror’s tongue. Together with Queens boss Tom Manton and the technically neutral Bronx leader Roberto Ramirez, Norman helped put Thompson in his pivotal position.

The payback has been an avalanche of political appointees, with 29 of Thompson’s 72 new hires connected to either a campaign or a clubhouse, and another eight of the office’s previously hired political activists protected or promoted. With 20 of these discretionary employees tied to the Brooklyn organization, Thompson has well rewarded Norman, whose top operative, Carl Andrews, took a 13-week leave of absence from Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office to run Thompson’s field campaign in 2001. Now a state senator, Andrews, who was paid $46,148 by Thompson, has also taken briefer leaves to work for Hillary Clinton and Mark Green.

One of Thompson’s new hires was Jackie Ward, whose $153,610 in total campaign payments in 2001 has made her a focus of Brooklyn DA Joe Hynes’s ongoing probe. While Ward, who has been close to Thompson for years, was not on his campaign payroll, sources say she did help him, and he gave her an $80,000-a-year job on the day he took office in January 2002. In addition to Andrews, the Thompson campaign paid $102,799 to Branford Communications, the Norman-tied printing company that Brooklyn judicial candidates have claimed they were required to use, and donated another $7,000 to three Norman political committees. Hank Sheinkopf, the consultant who spearheaded Thompson’s campaign, is so intertwined with Norman that he has been handling public relations for Ravi Batra, the controversial lawyer who employs Norman and is, like Ward, a subject of the current Hynes probe.

The list of Brooklyn’s politically wired on Thompson’s payroll includes Paul Bader ($90,000), husband of Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez; Nickolas Perry ($30,000), son of Assemblyman Nick Perry; Pinchus Hikind ($91,855), brother of Assemblyman Dov Hikind; Chirlane McCray ($75,000), wife of Councilman Bill de Blasio; Carmen Martinez ($91,307), treasurer or financial secretary of two Norman committees; Charles Dyer ($50,363), treasurer of another Norman committee; Arelis Echevarria ($80,000), ex-aide to Congressman Ed Towns; Ed Castell ($154,000), ex-aide to Velázquez and council candidate; and Judith Rodriguez ($42,000), former chief of staff to Assemblyman Darryl Towns.

Also on Thompson’s payroll are Greg Brooks ($154,000), Marilyn Mosley ($85,000), Karla Schickele ($80,000), and Martha Kiamos ($100,000), all of whom worked for Golden. Other Brooklyn-tied political activists employed by Thompson are Shawn Woodby ($105,000), Denise Pease ($105,000), Robert “Josh” Mazess ($88,000), Linwood Smith ($73,200), Yedida Kaploun ($52,000), and Alan Fleishman ($83,995). A Park Slope district leader, Fleishman, ironically, is a leading Brooklyn reformer on sick leave from the office.

Staffers like Martinez and Mosley are paid more than twice their civil service titles. Several of the new hires got salaries higher than their prior city salaries—e.g., Castell (a $56,000 hike), Mazess ($20,000), Brooks ($23,000), Mosley ($7,000), and Kiamos ($4,000). Some of those already in the office got raises, such as Perry ($5,000) and Pease ($22,000).

Castell, Brooks, Mazess, Echevarria, and Kiamos played key roles in Thompson’s campaign, with Kiamos, for example, filing as the intermediary for 176 contributions, making her one of Thompson’s most prolific fundraisers. Others active in Thompson’s campaign who wound up on the comptroller’s tab include Teisha Hills, Thompson’s school board secretary, who got a $47,000 raise, and Gayle Horwitz, another former school aide rewarded with a $52,000 salary hike. Michael Egbert, who handled Web design for the campaign, is now a $35,000 trainee in the office, and campaign consultant Basil Duncan is a $93,000 project manager.

Manton also has a number of new hires working for Thompson: John Dorsa ($60,000), the son of a Queens judge and president of Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin’s club; Martha Taylor ($90,000), a district leader; Edgar Moya ($85,000), a state committeeman; and Basil Dean Angelakos ($145,000), a former construction executive involved in the borough’s Greek politics. The Ramirez tie is far murkier, with a onetime assembly aide, Heriberto Barbot Jr. ($154,000), who lives in Brooklyn and chaired the Park Slope school board, now running Thompson’s claims department, and Arnie Segarra, who was David Dinkins and Fernando Ferrer’s top advance man, drawing an $80,000 manager salary. Alvin Bridgewater, a minister and Bronx political activist, is paid $58,000.

Manhattan players include Joyce Miller ($123,000), wife of Congressman Jerry Nadler; ex-Harlem district leader Joe Haslip ($80,000); Lonny Paris ($80,000), who worked in Liz Krueger’s senate campaign; Alisa Schierman ($65,000), a frequent donor to Assemblyman Scott Stringer; and Rafael Escano ($55,000), who is associated with Washington Heights assemblyman Adriano Espaillat. Paris and Moya, both of whom played key roles in Thompson’s campaign, took leaves shortly after they were hired to work in 2002 campaigns. Janet Mandelkern, a $36,000 secretary who was hired by Thompson predecessor Alan Hevesi, is a niece of Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver.

Many on this list, like Castell and Brooks, are widely known for their governmental competence, while the hiring of others, such as Mosley, Echevarria, and Bader, appears crassly political. Incredibly, Mosley’s financial disclosure forms list personal loans she made to Chris Jackson, a former Brooklyn district leader who has been the subject of an explosive Manhattan and Albany criminal probe, and to Tish James, Norman’s candidate against City Councilman James Davis in 2001. Echevarria was closely associated with the unsuccessful council candidacy of Richie Perez, who was recently ordered to pay the Campaign Finance Board $72,132 for 2001 violations. As respected as Brooks is, his wife was law secretary to Gerald Garson, the judge now under indictment for taking videotaped bribes in his chambers, and the financing of her own judicial campaign has raised eyebrows.

When Thompson’s office obtained a copy of the list of employees who might be included in this story, it notified everyone that they were not to answer Voice questions about their own political pedigrees. When the Voice wrote a letter seeking specifics about the listed individuals, a spokesman replied that we had “incorrectly identified” some employees as politically connected but named no one, insisting that staff is hired solely “on the basis of experience and qualifications.”

While there is certainly nothing wrong or unusual about elected officials hiring campaign or clubhouse operatives, the abundance of them on Thompson’s payroll is unmistakably newsworthy, especially at a time of fiscal austerity and in a professional office whose top duty is protecting the city’s financial integrity. Thompson and his staff treat any press pursuit—whether the issue is patronage or the budget-balancing role of city unions—as if it is a breach of civility, so accustomed is he to patty-cake coverage. Yet he wants to be taken seriously, not only as a comptroller who runs an on-the-merits shop but as a potential mayoral candidate, either in 2005 or beyond. To merit that treatment, he’ll have to shed the Brooklyn baggage or step forward to explain it.

Research assistance: Zoe Alsop, Michael Anstendig, Ross Goldberg, Phineas Lambert, Brittany Schaffer, and Jessica Silver-Greenberg


The Judge in the Purple Plastic Gloves

Brooklyn’s Democratic Party leaders—already besieged by the worst scandal in a generation over their judicial selection process—are poised to promote to the State Supreme Court a judge who has been sued for fraud and whose on-the-bench demeanor has been a frequent subject of courthouse derision. Civil Court Judge Lila Gold currently has an inside track for nomination to a much prized $136,700-a-year seat on the borough’s Supreme Court bench this fall, party insiders say.

Gold, 64, is finishing up a 10-year term on the lower court to which she was elected in 1993, when a rival Democratic Party faction backed her. The same faction supported her in 1996, when she mounted a hugely expensive but unsuccessful bid to become judge of the borough’s patronage-rich Surrogate’s Court, losing to the county organization’s chosen candidate. During the race, however, she proved herself an adept political fundraiser, collecting more than $500,000, most of it from businesses owned by figures in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community.

That fundraising prowess attracted the attention of top party officials; relations with the party were further smoothed over when she became a regular attendee at its political events.

“She has reached out to everybody and tried to impress on them that she is a loyal member,” said a party official allied with Democratic county leader Clarence Norman. Gold now has Norman’s support in her re-election bid, and she is currently unopposed in the party’s September primary election, making her victory a virtual certainty. Once she is re-elected, officials say, Norman’s organization is set to nominate her to the Supreme Court at the party’s judicial convention. Her vacated slot on the ticket for Civil Court will then be handed to another party loyalist.

That kind of brazen insider maneuvering has been the hallmark of Democratic politics in the borough for decades. But its performance this year, amid nonstop press reports of judicial chicanery and an ongoing grand jury probe, has even those long accustomed to the practice shaking their heads.

“These people are shameless,” said one party activist. “There is just an amazing arrogance to the whole thing.”

Even more surprising to many is that Gold, whose judicial temperament has generated courthouse buzz for years, is the organization’s designated beneficiary. Even in Brooklyn’s courtrooms, where judicial courtesy is often at a minimum, Gold’s conduct stands out.

“She is my nightmare of a judge,” said a fellow jurist who has observed her in action and listened to complaints from both defense lawyers and prosecutors. “To say she is harsh doesn’t even begin to describe it. She will put defendants in jail for failing to pay as little as $15 of the mandatory surcharges imposed on those convicted.”

Gold also has disconcerted both defendants and attorneys with her predilection for wearing colored plastic, dishwashing-style gloves while administering justice on the bench. She has explained to colleagues that she has a skin condition. But the condition only affects her in the courtroom; when she attends political dinners and functions, she doesn’t wear them.

In 1998, Jack Newfield and Maggie Haberman, writing in the New York Post, included Gold on a list of the city’s worst judges, citing her “irritability, nastiness, and irrational outbursts” in court.

The Post article asserted that Gold had been dropped from her previous position as a hearing officer in Family Court after complaints were lodged against her. Gold has denied it, saying she left the post voluntarily.

In the midst of the 1996 Surrogate’s race, Gold was hit with two civil lawsuits alleging fraud against her and a close friend who operated a for-profit educational company. In one case, the former owner of the Staten Island Register accused Gold of reneging on a deal to post $50,000 in municipal securities in an escrow account as collateral for a loan to Gold’s friend Howard Parkus.

In his lawsuit, Joseph Sclafani, ex-owner of the Register, claimed that Gold talked him into making the loan to Parkus. The money was to be used to help launch a business called High School Home Study Careers, Inc., which sold at-home study kits designed to help students pass high school equivalency tests. But Parkus stopped making payments on the loan in 1993, and when Sclafani tried to recover the debt from Gold, he found that the securities had been signed over to a woman named Jocelyn Feuerstein, who later served as treasurer of Gold’s Surrogate’s Court campaign.

“The transfers of the bonds were at the express direction of Gold without notice to, or the consent of, Sclafani,” the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit was later settled with Gold admitting no wrongdoing, but, in a deal negotiated by her campaign attorney, Jeff Buss, the money was repaid to Sclafani.

A second lawsuit was filed by a Staten Island woman named June Podolec who said she paid $40,000 to Gold and Parkus for the rights to sell the study kits. Podolec claimed Gold and Parkus never lived up to their promise to market the kits.

At the time, Gold denied any role in the deal, and the lawsuit was later dropped. Parkus, who has since died, told the Daily News‘ Tara George that the lawsuit was just part of “a political smear” by Gold’s opponents.

The race that year for surrogate was a particularly bitter battle between forces loyal to former assemblyman Tony Genovesi, the late leader of the Thomas Jefferson Club, who backed Gold, and those allied with Norman, whose candidate was Michael Feinberg, the eventual winner.

Gold, then a little-known Civil Court judge, stunned Brooklyn pols, first by jumping into the race and later with her massive fundraising. Gold’s campaign was initially funded by a $475,000 loan made by a man named Marcus Kohn who lived in Montreal. Gold’s campaign filings listed only a bank address for Kohn. The immense loan was the talk of Court Street, and repeated attempts by reporters at the time to reach the mysterious Kohn were unsuccessful.

Contributions, however, quickly began to roll in, many of them from businesses owned by or associated with operators of nursing homes and construction and building-material companies based in the heavily Orthodox neighborhoods of Borough Park and Williamsburg. A key fundraiser for Gold was businessman Leon Perlmutter, also a top money man for Governor Pataki.

Throughout the campaign, Gold ducked press inquiries about her funding, refusing to respond to messages left at home and with her office.

This campaign, Gold also isn’t talking—much.

Last Friday, the judge was seated in Part AP-4, a near-empty room on the sixth floor of Brooklyn’s criminal courthouse on Schermerhorn Street. She wore a deep scowl on her face and a pair of bright-purple latex gloves on her hands. Without looking up from her desk, she quickly remanded two shackled defendants brought before her.

When a reporter sat down in the courtroom, she sent an officer to ask what he wanted. Told he was seeking an interview, she had the reporter brought before her. She then peeled off the plastic gloves and pleasantly said that she wasn’t permitted to talk about anything. “OCA [the Office of Court Administration] has a mask of silence over me,” she said, passing her hand over her face. She was asked if she intended to seek a Supreme Court nomination. “I am running for Civil Court and that’s it,” she said. Then she smiled and added, “According to the rules, I can only run for one office at a time.”

As for the gloves, she said that she uses them on a doctor’s advice due to “contact dermatitis.” It isn’t necessary to wear them outside, she said. “Only in here, you see it’s very dirty around here,” said the judge. “You’ll notice that the officers wear them too, when they’re handling prisoners,” she added.