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After Stanley Friedman’s Fall

It’s Time For The Governor To Act

I once saw Stanley Friedman cry. It wasn’t last Tuesday morning in New Haven when the jury foreman said he was guilty of racketeering. It was a night long ago in the Hunter College gym, when Stanley Friedman’s mistake cost City College a basketball game. It was the only time I ever saw Friedman show any weakness or vulnerability. He was 20 years old then, and his wiseguy nickname was already Bugsy.

About three months ago, a partial ad­mirer of Friedman asked me why I never wrote anything kind about him. I replied that the only sincere compliment I could pay him was to say that “Friedman proves there is honor among thieves.”

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Stanley Friedman was probably the only honorable crook that Donald Manes and Geoffrey Lindenauer could trust to hold 50,000 shares of Citisoursce stock for an indefinite period of time. He was the person Datacom trusted to broker bribes. Witnesses against Friedman called him “a stand-up guy” who had “brass balls.” For this he deserves a cer­tain grudging respect — and about 10 years in prison.

As a defendant, Friedman behaved with a kind of arrogant cynicism that can easily be mistaken for dignity. He had the chutzpah to lie on the witness stand, and concoct a sentimental alibi that he was holding the bribery stock for his chil­dren — and then denounce prosecutor Ru­dolph Giuliani for bringing his 10-month­-old son, whom Giuliani hadn’t seen for weeks, to the courthouse during jury deliberations.

Friedman was the exact opposite of his co-conspirator Donald Manes. Manes re­membered right from wrong, and when he was about to be found out, felt such guilt and pain that he killed himself. To have killed himself, Manes had to have been mentally disturbed. But he was able to feel disgrace, because at some level he understood that taking bribes in the uri­nal of his public office was a shameful act. He felt he couldn’t survive it and grow a new skin.

Manes had started in politics as an idealist. He named the political club he founded after his hero, Adlai Stevenson; he probably was gradually corrupted over the course of his career by power, by envy, by feeling he owned the office he occupied for 15 years.

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I don’t think Friedman was ever an idealist. He was a cynic who thought he was a philosopher about where the line was drawn between cunning and crime. He was in politics and government to enrich himself and his bribery ring, and he didn’t care what happened to the citi­zens of Morrisania, Hunts Point, and the South Bronx. In one sense, this indiffer­ence to his community is among his worst felonies. There is no cable TV in the Bronx, and a scarcity of cabs, because Friedman represented the interests of his clients instead of his constituents.

And he was in politics to get even as well as rich. He grew up in the South Bronx, the only child of a poor family. His father was a taxi driver, and for the last several years, Friedman controlled the taxi industry as the lobbyist for the fleets and power broker at City Hall. He paid taxes on $914,000 in income for 1985, and he acted like that wasn’t mon­ey enough to heal the hurts of his childhood.

Friedman was defiant about his amo­rality. He couldn’t feel the shame Manes must have felt, because he didn’t think his kind of white-collar gangsterism was outside the law. He didn’t see the differ­ence between extortion and politics. He even tried to cultivate the look of a semi-­hood with his fat cigar, his eyeglasses with rhinestone initials on the rims, his flashy style of dress, and devilish goa­tee — before he tried to disguise himself as a dentist on the eve of his trial.

There was one moment in the trial when I became convinced Friedman was going to be convicted. Rudolph Giuliani asked him if he had made $10,000 for making two influence-peddling phone calls to Donald Manes. “No, just one call,” Friedman corrected — his warped sense of government hitting the Hartford jurors in the teeth.

During the trial two witnesses testified that Friedman, rather than speak and risk being taped, wrote incriminating things on pieces of paper, and then ripped and burned the paper like a pro­fessional mobster. These anecdotes reinforced a story a journalist told me several years ago about Friedman.

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During the last week of the Beame ad­ministration, Friedman, who was then deputy mayor, had promised the journal­ist some documents. But Friedman failed to deliver them and time was running out. So the journalist left a note for Friedman on his desk, reminding him of the promised papers. A few minutes later an irate Friedman rushed into the press room, waving the note, and screamed at the journalist: “Goddamn it, I told you, never put anything in writing. Never.”

The people never chose Stanley Fried­man to be Democratic county leader. He was not even a district leader. He only moved to the Bronx after he became county leader. He wasn’t elected. His im­mense power had nothing to do with de­mocracy or elections. His power came from Ed Koch’s persuading the elected district leaders to name him county lead­er, and from getting hundreds of patronage jobs from City Hall, and millions of dollars in contracts from City Hall for his clients. Most of Friedman’s power de­rived from Koch and the three tainted enforcers of Bronx politics — Ramon Velez, Joe Galiber, and Mario Biaggi­ — whose influence made him the county leader.

Perhaps because he hadn’t faced the voters, Friedman wanted his trial moved to New Haven, with a jury pool from Hartford. He didn’t trust the people of the city he’d looted from a backroom. He was convicted by a jury he selected. Friedman had no respect for ordinary New Yorkers, and that is one reason why he was able to steal and lie with no guilt.

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There is an element of tragedy to Friedman’s fall. He had authentic leader­ship qualities, particulary intelligence, and the capacity to be loyal and inspire loyalty from others. He reminds me of the cops who get medals for bravery and then turn crooked, and get a lot of youn­ger cops to follow them into corruption because they are so effective on the street.

There are also two other ways of look­ing at the city scandals that have tragic dimensions.

One involves Mayor Koch, who every few months declares the scandal finished and behind him, and then has to distance himself from each new “shock.” Koch continues to treat the historic and sys­temic corruption as an annoyance to be­ dealt with by wishful thinking and public relations.

I remember Koch’s early campaigns for district leader against Carmine DeSapio in the 1960s, when Koch ran on promises to eliminate all clubhouse patronage, and root out conflicts of interest, and award city contracts on merit.

If Koch hadn’t betrayed his own best principles, his city government wouldn’t have become the cesspool it now is. In fact, there is an almost Greek tragedy in Koch’s odyssey from the conqueror of DeSapio to the defender of Friedman’s Citisource contract at the City Club in 1984. The need to acquire power made him close his eyes. Ambition made him choose to act naive. He took power, not money. What is the difference?

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The roots of these scandals go back to the Sunday morning in September 1977 when Ed Koch received Meade Esposi­to’s commitment to throw the Brooklyn machine behind him instead of Mario Cuomo in the runoff for mayor. Cuomo wouldn’t even ask Esposito for support, because he knew the price would be too high — that when Esposito said “respect,” he meant patronage. Koch, who needed to win more than Cuomo did, promised to make Anthony Ameruso and Jay Thr­off — Esposito’s clubhouse stooges — city commissioners. Koch bargained his soul to get what he desired. If he had kept faith with the ideas and values in his 1963 speeches, he might have lost the election, but the city would be better off today. And even Koch might be more at peace with himself today, and less fright­ened of tomorrow’s newspapers.

The other tragic element in all this is the absence of visible public outrage. Perhaps the ordinary working people of this city have no way of expressing anger, and we are only seeing powerlessness rather than apathy, or fatalism, or indifference.

Since the scandal started to evolve in January, nothing fundamental has changed. Because of Warren Anderson’s obstructionism, the state legislature did not enact any of the more serious ethics reforms proposed by the governor and the attorney general. The city council has not acted to change the way no-bid, sole-­source contracts are given out to campaign contributors, or to ban county lead­ers from holding an interest in companies that receive city contracts. (Remember, with the convictions of Friedman, Pat Cunningham, Matthew Troy, Carmine DeSapio, and the ghost of Donald Manes at New Haven, the crime rate among Democratic Party bosses is higher than the crime rate of the Hell’s Angels.)

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None of the opportunities for corrup­tion have been abolished. Tom Manton (who left the country to avoid testifying in New Haven) became the party leader in Queens even though he also holds pub­lic office — the same mixing of govern­ment and patronage that Manes abused. Joe Galiber has been reelected to the state legislature while he is on trial in the Bronx for crimes involving the mob. The decision by The New York Times to en­dorse Al D’Amato for reelection showed that even the establishment doesn’t take ethical government all that seriously.

The drastic reforms that need to be adopted are not secret. They are all listed in the excellent reports issued by the So­vern Commission; in press releases from Robert Abrams, Franz Leichter, and Ruth Messinger; in speeches by Rudolph Giuliani. They are in Ed Koch’s 1963 campaign leaflets. What’s missing is pres­sure from the people, and anger pointed directly at Koch, Warren Anderson, Howard Golden, Tom Manton, Stanley Simon, Denny Farrell, Peter Vallone, and others who still practice business-as-usu­al. An hour after Friedman was convict­ed, Vallone put out an oddly irrelevant statement about the appeals process. He did not mention public financing of cam­paigns. Or Carolyn Maloney’s bill lan­guishing in his city council to prohibit politicians from simultaneously holding public and party office. Vallone is the Rosemary’s baby of New York politics — ­the offspring of the final deal between Manes and Friedman.

One of the lessons we learned from the Watergate hearings and the Knapp Com­mission hearings and Andrew Stein’s nursing home hearings is that the best way to educate the public to feel con­structive anger is through the drama of televised testimony. These instructive hearings did not prejudice the trials that occurred subsequently. The truth may make us free — if enough people see it in their living rooms. That’s what we need now in New York. The time has come for Governor Cuomo to appoint a Seabury-­type commission, with broad subpoena powers, to hold public hearings and com­pel those responsible for the shame of our city to testify under oath about exactly how they did it.

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A commission modeled on Seabury could be chaired by politically sophisti­cated but independent statesmen like federal judge Eugene Nickerson, federal judge Jack Weinstein, former U.S. attor­ney Paul Windels, or presiding appellate judge Milton Mollen.

I want to hear Geoffrey Lindenauer ex­plain how he — a pathological liar with a fraudulent degree, who had sex with his patients at a phony clinic that went bankrupt — got himself appointed by Mayor Koch to be deputy director of the Parking Violations Bureau in July 1980, a job for which he had no qualifications or experience.

I want to see Stanley Simon, in front of the cameras, asked why he wouldn’t waive immunity and testify before a Bronx grand jury after he promised that he would. I want to hear Simon explain why he successfully pushed Cablevision to get the Bronx franchise after the com­pany had promised to pay $3 million in “fees” to Friedman, Mario Biaggi’s for­mer law firm, Ramon Velez, and other clubhouse sponges.

I want Meade Esposito to explain how he became a millionaire in the insurance and printing business through his abuse of political influence. I want Esposito to explain to the people of this city why he was such intimate friends with a hood named Fritzie Giovenelli, who walked around with a loaded gun and murdered a New York City police officer last January.

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Let’s hear Anthony Ameruso explain to the people who pay rent and mortgages and day-care fees where he got the money to secretly invest $20,000 in a parking lot while he was transportation commission­er, and what he did with the $140,000 profit he took out of the lot while he was still a city official. (Ameruso was indicted yesterday for lying about how he invested the money he took out of the parking lot.)

Put Ramon Velez under oath and on television and ask him to tell us how he has come to control $16 million in anti­poverty funds, placed in his custody by the Koch administration.

And put Stanley Friedman and Mike Lazar in the hot glare of the TV lights. Warn them that unless they tell us everything they know about cable television, midtown development, the taxi industry, the water-tunnel cost overruns, towing contracts, and the making of judges, they will both receive substantial prison terms.

We need to know what has happened. Our history also has been stolen from us. Only a commission whose mission is edu­cation, not prosecution — appointed by the governor — can disclose the facts that will bring about the outrage that is the necessary prologue to reform.

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Televised hearings would help reveal to the voters the nature and values of the men who rule the city, in the way that Friedman’s testimony at the trial re­vealed his mentality to the jurors. Let the whole city see Velez, Simon, Esposito, and Ameruso the way they really are.

In late 1930, Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Judge Sam Seabury to investigate corruption in the courts. Three years later, after dramatic public hearings at which Mayor Jimmy Walker testified under oath, the mayor was forced to resign, just as the governor was about to remove him from office.

Walker was followed into City Hall by Fiorello La Guardia because the Seabury hearings had informed and outraged the people. Unless some forum is created to convert fatalism into fury, nothing, in the long run, will change.

The ultimate remedy for corrupt gov­ernment is participatory democracy. Peo­ple who are now apathetic have to become politicized. We need to change the methods of government, not just the faces at the top. The problems are the alliance between the clubhouse and the contractors that can turn city agencies into racketeering enterprises; the domi­nance of campaign money over public policy; and the capacity of outside power brokers like Friedman, Lazar, Esposito, and Velez to manipulate the contract and franchise decisions of elected government by delivering votes and contributions.

The real tragedy would be if two years from now, Friedman and Lazar are in prison, the Sovern Commission reforms are forgotten, and Ed Koch, Howard Golden, Peter Vallone, and Denny Far­rell are the leading candidates for mayor. ❖

Categories
Housing THE FRONT ARCHIVES

If Your Rent Is Too Damn High, Blame Anthony Weiner

Twenty-five years ago, it was unthinkable that New Yorkers would routinely pay $3,000 a month for an apartment, except maybe for a penthouse on the Upper East Side. At the time, the city still had more than 200,000 rent-stabilized apartments that rented for less than $400 a month. But on March 21, 1994, the City Council cast a vote that would begin to bring that era to an end: By a 28-18 margin, it approved a bill that let landlords take vacant apartments out of rent stabilization if their monthly rents were at least $2,000.

The council debate, which lasted less than ninety minutes, was contentious. The bill’s supporters claimed it would affect only a few wealthy people in Manhattan who didn’t deserve such a “subsidy.” Opponents argued it would fatally erode rent regulations and the tenant protections that come with them.

“The real death knell of rent stabilization is going to be the decontrol of any rent that reaches $2,000 at any time, which is what this bill does,” said Lower Manhattan councilmember Kathryn Freed. Upper West Side councilmember Ronnie Eldridge said that while $2,000 might seem like a lot at the time, soon enough middle-class apartments renting in the $1,200 to $1,400 range — where “two working professional people live with children” — would reach that threshold as well. Upper Manhattan councilmember Stanley Michels warned that it would create “a great incentive for owners to encourage vacancy” and that the unscrupulous ones would do that “by engaging in harassment.”

But Antonio Pagán, a Democrat who memorably fought on behalf of developers in his East Village district, responded that regulation of high-rent apartments was “a subsidy for people making a quarter of a million dollars a year.” John Fusco of Staten Island, one of the six Republicans then on the council, said complaints that “this is the beginning of the destruction of rent control” were “an insult to this council.” Housing Committee chair Archie Spigner of Queens noted that the average apartment in the city was under $600, and “the likelihood that it will be raised to $2,000, I think, is rather remote.”

The result was, as the bill’s critics feared, a hemorrhaging of rent-regulated apartments. The city’s Rent Guidelines Board estimated last year that New York lost more than 152,000 rent-stabilized apartments to high-rent deregulation between 1994 and 2016, peaking in 2009. Adding in co-op conversions and other means of getting apartments off the rolls, more than 284,000 apartments were legally deregulated during those years, more than double the number of units that were added via new affordable housing programs.

Those numbers don’t include apartments that were illegally deregulated. As landlords are not required to report destabilizations, “the true rate of deregulation is certainly much higher,” the Community Service Society wrote in a 2011 report. It estimated that by 2008, the city had lost more than 450,000 affordable apartments primarily because of “vacancy destabilization and excessive rent increases.”

“People assume it was the Republicans in Albany who did it, but it was Peter Vallone and the Democrats in the City Council,” says Michael McKee, one of the tenant-organization leaders who lobbied against the 1994 bill.

***

The 1994 high-rent vacancy decontrol law was the first major crack in the rent-stabilization system set up in 1974. Rent stabilization had been superimposed on the city’s older rent-control system after another vacancy-decontrol law, passed by the state in 1971, led to almost 400,000 rent-controlled apartments being deregulated within three years, with their rents increasing by more than 50 percent on average. And those rent increases failed to stop owners from abandoning thousands of buildings.

The real estate lobby and the city’s political establishment began pressing to again weaken rent stabilization in the early Nineties. In 1993, the state had deregulated vacant apartments renting for $2,000 or more, but only if they were vacant during a window of less than three months that summer. The bill the council passed would apply at any point in the future.

In today’s political climate, it would be unimaginable for an overwhelmingly Democratic City Council to vote to drastically weaken rent regulations. In 1994, however, the speaker was Vallone, a machine Democrat from Astoria who had close ties to the real estate industry. Joseph Strasburg, Vallone’s former chief of staff, had just become head of the Rent Stabilization Association landlord-advocacy group. Spigner, who during the debate on the bill claimed that fifty years of rent control had caused “vacant lots, abandoned buildings, and foreclosures,” and that rent regulations were a disincentive for people to invest in or maintain buildings, represented a mostly black homeowner area in southeast Queens. In 2000, City Limits would call him one of the councilmembers who were “sure friends of landlords.”

Antonio Pagán, the only Manhattan member to vote for deregulation, had been elected on a backlash against homeless people in the East Village, and was backed by landlords and developers in the fast-gentrifying neighborhood. The Republicans who argued for the bill were ideologically opposed to rent regulations.

Outer-borough councilmembers provided the margin of victory. Of the twenty-four Democrats who voted for the bill, eleven came from Brooklyn, seven from Queens, and five from the Bronx. The four Republicans from Queens and Staten Island voted “yes,” while the two from Manhattan voted “no.”

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“My interpretation was that it was not going to impact my district,” Martin Malavé Dilan, now a state senator, tells the Voice. Malavé Dilan at the time was a councilmember representing Bushwick and Cypress Hills, where rents averaged $400 to $500 a month; he says he saw the measure as solely affecting Manhattanites who were “taking advantage of rent-control laws that were intended to protect lower-income people.”

“I thought it would provide greater access,” adds former Brooklyn councilmember Una Clarke, who also voted for the bill. She did not elaborate.

Democratic councilmember Lucy Cruz of the Bronx said just before she voted “aye” in 1994 that she had “been assured, as my colleagues have been, that there are extensive protections.”

“Rent regulation is a complicated issue, and a lot of councilmembers didn’t bother to educate themselves about it,” says Jenny Laurie, former executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, who lobbied against the bill. “They were easy votes for the leadership.”

One of the few who “totally got it,” says McKee, was Anthony Weiner of southern Brooklyn. “Unlike most councilmembers, who had no clue, he understood that this would erode tenant protections.” The future sext maniac, he adds, voted for the bill after twice promising tenant groups that he would vote “no.”

The landlord lobby was very effective at framing the issue as about rich people living in rent-stabilized apartments, says Laurie. The Wall Street Journal in 1994 singled out actress Mia Farrow, who was paying about $2,900 a month to rent the ten-room rent-controlled apartment on Central Park West she had grown up in; the paper also cited an investor paying $350 for a two-bedroom apartment with a solarium on Park Avenue.

The law contained a separate provision called “luxury decontrol,” which more directly affected affluent renters, by allowing landlords to deregulate occupied apartments if the tenant was paying more than $2,000 a month and earned more than $250,000 a year. Although the state lowered that income threshold to $175,000 in 1997, only about 6,200 apartments have been taken out of rent regulation since 1994 under it, according to the Rent Guidelines Board.

“It was a fake issue, but it was effective rhetoric,” says Laurie. In reality, according to the 1993 federal Housing and Vacancy Survey, half of the 212,000 rent-stabilized tenants who were paying less than $400 had incomes below $10,000 a year, and less than 0.1 percent made over $100,000.

***

The key to the passage of the 1994 law, some councilmembers at the time argue, was Strasburg, the council insider turned landlord lobbyist. “The guy who really made it happen was Joe Strasburg,” says former Bay Ridge councilmember Sal Albanese, who voted against the bill. “Strasburg was a visionary. He knew the city was beginning to gentrify, and apartments were going to reach that threshold.”

“Politics is about relationships,” says Tom Duane, who then represented the Chelsea–Greenwich Village district, and Strasburg had good relationships with councilmembers. Albanese adds that Strasburg was very good at finding people in black and Latino communities friendly to big real estate.

A few days before the vote, McKee recalls, the bill lacked the 26 “yes” votes it needed to pass. Speaker Vallone had a reputation for twisting arms. “If you voted against a bill that was considered a ‘leadership vote,’ you’d lose your committees,” says Albanese.

Others disagree with that assessment. There was no “iron-thumb leadership,” says former Brooklyn councilmember Stephen DiBrienza, who voted “no.” You could go against the leadership, he explains, as long as you gave a good reason and didn’t surprise them.

In any event, the council’s 1994 vote would have been less momentous if not for what it inspired 150 miles to the north and three years later. In 1997, the state decontrolled vacant apartments renting for $2,000 or more, after a three-way wrestle among Albany’s “three men in a room.” With the state’s rent-stabilization laws expiring that June, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno threatened to use his control of the chamber’s Republican majority to completely block renewing them. Governor George Pataki took the more “moderate” path of wanting to weaken them, such as through complete vacancy decontrol. A few days after the deadline, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver agreed to major concessions, including vacancy decontrol, allowing a 20 percent rent increase on vacant apartments, and creating what was effectively a four-year statute of limitations on tenants’ claims that their rents had been illegally increased.

“If the council had not passed this, it may not have passed in Albany,” says Albanese. Worse yet, the 1997 state law made it impossible for the city ever to repeal its own 1994 law: A provision in the 1971 vacancy-decontrol law, commonly called the “Urstadt law,” prohibits cities with over 1 million people from enacting rent regulations stronger than the state’s. “But they can pass weaker laws,” notes Duane.

All attempts to strengthen rent regulations since then have had to go through Albany. Tenant groups gradually moved toward a strategy of trying to defeat all senate Republicans, on the grounds that even the few moderates who supported rent regulations would still vote to put the GOP leadership in control of what bills got to the floor.

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In 2008, on Barack Obama’s coattails, Democrats won a majority in the state senate for the first time since 1964. The next year, the assembly passed a bill to repeal vacancy decontrol. But the day before the Senate Housing Committee was scheduled to send it to the floor, Democratic state senator Pedro Espada, from the Bronx, switched to the Republicans, ending the Democrats’ one-seat majority. Since then, whether at the ballot box (in 2010) or via the splitting off of the Independent Democratic Conference to caucus with Republicans (starting in 2012), the senate has remained in GOP control. In the years since, the assembly has regularly passed bills to repeal vacancy decontrol and otherwise strengthen rent regulations, but none have ever made it out of committee in the senate.

The renewal of rent stabilization in 2015 raised the decontrol threshold to $2,700, adjustable for inflation; it also clarified that for apartments to be decontrolled, the previous tenant had to be paying that much before they moved out, so landlords could no longer legally deregulate them solely via hikes in legal rents following renovations and vacancy increases. (On April 26, the state’s Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that that principle didn’t apply to apartments deregulated before 2015, reversing a lower-court decision that could have re-regulated up to 100,000 apartments.)

***

Today, the threshold for vacancy decontrol is $2,733.75 a month, and there are deregulated apartments far beyond Manhattan and the brownstones of Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope. One real estate site advertises more than eighty two-bedroom apartments that cost more than $2,740 in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Deregulated apartments can also be found in five-story walkups in Harlem and Washington Heights and 1950s-vintage buildings on Queens Boulevard. And as Duane points out, renters in deregulated apartments not only face higher rents, but they have no right to renew their leases — unlike rent-stabilized tenants, who can only be evicted for cause. That means they risk losing their homes if they complain to landlords about poor conditions.

Meanwhile, the 1994 law’s selling point that New Yorkers would never pay more than $2,000 a month to live in the outer boroughs has become ancient history. In Mott Haven — the city’s third-poorest neighborhood in 2016, with a median household income of $2,276 a month apartments in a new luxury building are now being offered for around $2,900 to $3,500. 

“Boy, were we right,” says Kathryn Freed, now a Civil Court judge.

“Looking back, it’s definitely had a negative effect on affordable rents,” says Malavé Dilan, who has co-sponsored unsuccessful attempts to repeal the state vacancy-decontrol law. “If I were clairvoyant, I would have perhaps voted ‘no.’ ”

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NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

New York City Parks Are Hot Spots for Rapists. Bill de Blasio Credits NYPD “Blind Spots”

New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio says NYPD “blind spots” are partially to blame for a recent spike in sexual assaults in city parks. To fix the problem, de Blasio says the cops need to start tallying park-crime data.

De Blasio’s suggestion comes just days after a 31-year-old woman was nearly raped by a homeless man after she fell asleep on a bench in Tompkins Square Park in the East Village. She managed to get away from her attacker and call police.

“This fifth alleged sexual assault has us all questioning whether
we have the right resources and the right strategy to prevent these
crimes in our parks. Ending this latest wave of attacks begins with
getting real data on crime in our parks system–information we still
don’t have on most parks, Tompkins Square Park included,” de Blasio says. “The NYPD and
Parks Department need to fix these blind spots immediately as a first
step to preventing another attack.”

]
Friday’s near-rape in Tompkins Square Park is just the latest in a series of high-profile cases of park crime.

On
September 22, police say Jonathan Stewart beat and choked a 21-year-old
woman before dragging her into some bushes at Hudson River Park and
raping her.

A week before that, David Mitchell allegedly beat and raped a 73-year-old bird-watcher in Central Park.

In
addition to tallying the crime data, de Blasio wants a city
crime-in-parks reporting bill — introduced recently at the City Council by Councilman
Peter Vallone — to be implemented sooner rather than later.

Vallone’s
bill also is in response to the recent spike in park crime, and would
require the NYPD to report crimes in any park larger than one acre.

City
pols also are urging Mayor Mike Bloomberg to ditch his plans to cut the
NYPD’s budget. They say the money getting cut could be used to
station officers near city parks.

Categories
ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Listings Living Museums & Galleries NYC ARCHIVES

After Big Success in L.A., Will “Art in the Streets” Make It Back to New York?

On June 21, the Brooklyn Museum announced its cancellation of next year’s “Art in the Streets,” a graffiti exhibition that debuted recently at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in Los Angeles. The show had been scheduled at the Brooklyn Museum for March 30 through July 8, 2012, but was struck “due to the current financial climate,” museum director Arnold Lehman wrote in an official press release. Jeffrey Deitch, director of MoCA and long-time NYC art dealer, conceived “Art in the Streets” as more than just graffiti-style canvas paintings and examples of poster-art tagging—he also transported actual walls and panels that some of the better graffiti was originally painted on, reassembling them inside MoCA’s space.

As the exhibit closed in Los Angeles on August 8, Deitch declared that attendance ran between 5,000 and 6,000 per day, numbers comparable to the Met’s recent Alexander McQueen exhibition. It made “Art in the Streets” the highest-grossing exhibition in MoCA’s history. When asked whether returns such as these would change the mind of the Brooklyn Museum, its public information officer, Sally Williams, noted that it wasn’t an issue of whether the museum could recoup, but whether the up-front costs to bring it here could be met. “The show is extremely expensive to transfer,” notes Williams. “We’d love to host it, but we couldn’t raise the needed financial support.”

Despite the show’s cancellation in NYC, Deitch seems optimistic about finding a home for it in the museum world. “The Brooklyn Museum just expressed interest first,” explains Deitch. “But there’s so much interest in bringing this to New York.” Neither the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, nor the Whitney Museum would confirm any conversation with Deitch.

The show is not without its share of local New York detractors. Peter Vallone, city councilman for District 22 in Astoria, has vowed to continue his fight to stop “Art in the Streets” from ever being displayed here.

“Ever since I was little,” says Vallone, “graffiti has bothered me. That someone had the right to deface someone else’s property rubbed me the wrong way.”

“I’m against the promotion of vandalism in any way, shape or form,” continues Vallone, who feels that graffiti is a gateway to bigger criminal activity.

“[Vallone] should come and see our show,” counters Deitch, who claims that the demographic of MOCA visitors spanned from teenagers to elderly adults. “We haven’t had one reported instance of vandalism or violence from anyone who’s been to the exhibit.”

Yet if “Art in the Streets” attempts to legitimate modern graffiti with sweeping examples like Keith Haring’s early subway drawings, paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf’s black-lit Cosmic Cavern, as well as works by less widely known artists such as Neckface, Teen Witch, and Ed Templeton, its greater effect might be to encourage a generation of graffiti artists to favor fine-art aspiration and commercialism over the streets.

According to a South Bronx graffitiartist who calls himself Dasic, the art form doesn’t need institutional validation. For him, the relationship between artist and authority requires more than simple legitimization.

“When we are painting in the streets, we are not thinking of crime,” says Dasic, a twentysomething who moved from Chile less than a year ago with no formal art school training. “That is a label from the system, as is the whole concept of privatization. For us, every space is a part of our art. It’s a hard concept for people who think in terms of ownership.”

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The NYPD Releases Detailed Data on Dogs They’ve Shot, But Not on The People

Last week, the NYPD gave the City Council nine years’ worth of previously confidential detailed reports on the department’s shooting incidents.

But members of the council’s Public Safety Committee, which ostensibly oversees the NYPD, were barking up the wrong tree if they thought these long-sought-after Firearms Discharge Reports were going to reveal anything about the racial makeup of the people shot by New York’s cops.

On the other hand, among all the statistics and analyses were detailed breakdowns of the breeds of dogs shot by cops.

In 1998, the same year the NYPD began reporting in earnest about its canine shooting victims, it stopped providing the racial breakdown of its human victims—and of the cops who shot them.

“We know more about the breed of dogs that have been shot than we know about the people who have been shot,” said committee chairman Peter Vallone.

The lack of detail on the race of human shooting victims should be a particularly touchy topic, given that it’s widely believed that a disproportionately high number of blacks and Latinos are shot by police. In addition, a lawsuit claiming that police searches for missing persons are racially biased has gotten the go-ahead from a judge to proceed to trial, as the Voice reported last week (“Missing in Action,” May 7–13).

NYPD statistics might shed light on the difference in justice—and injustice— received by New Yorkers on the basis of the color of their skin. Stats that have been pried out of the NYPD do show that blacks and Latinos also bear the brunt of an astonishingly high number of minor pot busts (“Weeding Out Blacks and Latinos,” April 30–May 6).

But when it comes to the more deadly stats—like those of police-shooting victims—dogs are a breed apart in the department’s eyes. We can now say, for example, that between 1998 and 2006, pit bulls were overwhelmingly the target of choice for New York City’s cops. According to the NYPD’s meticulous records, there were 78 dogs shot by cops in 1998. Some 234 shots were fired at those dogs—145 of which hit them, for a 63 percent hit rate. In 2006, there were 30 incidents of cops shooting dogs, during which cops fired 113 shots (without return fire, apparently), and 55 bullets found their targets.

Overall, the most popular targets during those years, after pit bulls, were Rottweilers, with German shepherds being third, according to the reports.

Vallone’s mild complaint—he followed it up with a compliment to the NYPD—was aired at a May 5 Public Safety Committee hearing to discuss several bills that would require the police by law to be more forthcoming with statistics on shootings, gun trafficking, and housing-project crimes.

Deputy Chief John Gerrish politely made the seemingly contradictory statement that “we’d gladly provide” any information the committee needs, but that the NYPD would fight any attempt to make providing such information mandatory because, he said, it would unnecessarily tax police resources. Gerrish cited the “confidential” Firearms Discharge Reports he’d just handed over as an example of why such laws are not needed.

What Gerrish didn’t tell the council members was that Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the NYCLU, had obtained those reports through a freedom-of-information request and had planned to hand them out to committee members at that same hearing.

“He stole my thunder,” Dunn told the committee.

When asked about the racial breakdown of NYPD shootings involving humans, Gerrish insisted that the department doesn’t collect that data.

But such breakdowns were routinely part of the NYPD’s pre-1998 Firearms Discharge Reports. After Gerrish testified, Dunn told the committee members that the NYCLU had also obtained the reports—then called Firearms Discharge Assault Reports—for 1996 and 1997, in which that information was included. In 1996, for example, under the listing “Ethnicity of Perps,” it shows that, of the 413 people shot whose ethnicity was listed on police reports, 239 were black. That’s about 58 percent, or more than double the percentage of the city’s black population. Of the remaining shooting victims, 134 (or 32 percent) were Latino, and 32 (or 7.7 percent) were white. The human shooting stats for 1997 were similar: 181 blacks, or 57 percent; 99 Latinos, or 31 percent; and 26 whites, or 8.2 percent. As Dunn pointed out, close to 90 percent of the NYPD’s shooting victims were black or Latino.

In 1996, 62 percent of the cops who fired their guns were white, 17 percent black, and 19 percent Latino. In 1997, about 59 percent of the cops who fired their guns were white, compared to about 20 percent for both black and Latino officers. (The report didn’t include the racial breakdown of the force in those years.)

Gerrish said that providing statistics on the age, race, and gender of each officer involved in a shooting as well as for the people who were shot is a waste of the NYPD’s time and resources, because “no meaningful conclusions may be drawn from such information, since every firearms discharge must be judged in light of the unique circumstances in which it occurs, and any conclusion drawn from the purely demographic data involved is fatally flawed.”

But it’s not just shooting statistics that the NYPD has been holding back. When asked why the department doesn’t provide to the Public Safety Committee a breakdown of crime by housing project, Gerrish replied that the NYPD has that information, but prefers to release it only as part of the overall precinct-crime stats. He also balked at providing reports by precinct on the number and type of weapons seized.

“We need to spend our resources on getting the guns off the street rather than compiling reports about our activity in doing so,” said Gerrish, who is the commanding officer of the Office of Management Analysis and Planning, the large unit solely responsible for compiling such reports.

Afterward, even the relentlessly pro-police Vallone had to admit that “when it comes to the last few years, [the NYPD has] clearly drawn a line in the sand when it comes to giving out information.” He added that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s philosophy when it comes to disseminating information has evolved into: “We can do it—we just don’t feel like it.”

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Garbage Fight

Back on December 19, just as New Yorkers were about to confront a 72-hour pre-Christmas nightmare called the Transit Strike of 2005, another major city employer was prodding its workers with a sharp stick and daring them to walk off the job. Waste Management Inc., the Houston-based mega-corporation that last year did $12 billion worth of business earning some $900 million in profits, told 123 of its employees who drive the city’s streets all night collecting trash from private businesses that it couldn’t afford their health coverage any longer. The company also announced that it didn’t like paying extra to those who work on Saturdays. For that matter, it added, its pension contributions were too high as well.

After several meetings with leaders of Local 813 of the Teamsters, which represents the workers, the company went ahead and imposed its plan on the workforce. Normally, unions view that kind of action as sufficient provocation for a strike. There was little question the company expected one. Union members watched as Waste Management imported some 80 to 100 potential replacement workers, apparently ready to take over their jobs at a moment’s notice. No effort was made to hide them. “They drove behind the [garbage] trucks all night in pickups, watching the men do their collections,” said Local 813 president Sylvester Needham. “They had them in motels in Queens, just waiting for us to walk out so they could bring them in.”

Faced with that scenario, as well as with a city already in the grip of a mass transit strike, the Teamsters opted to hold their fire and keep working. To keep his members covered in the meantime, Needham had his union benefit fund pay the $305 per month in contributions needed to keep the Waste Management employees covered, while continuing to try to negotiate a new contract. A federal mediator was brought in to try and work things out. No dice.

Three months later, with no progress in the talks, the Teamsters say New York is headed for a garbage strike, its first in more than 15 years. Barring a last-minute reprieve, the Local 813 members expect to hit the bricks on April 1. “That is D-day for us,” said Needham, “We have got to the point of do-or-die.”

Back in the bad old days of the city’s private waste-hauling industry, that kind of expression could easily be taken all too literally. Until a decade ago, contract negotiations were settled at the highest levels—of the Mafia, that is. Gangsters associated with John Gotti’s old Gambino crime family controlled the union, while a coalition of different mob families ruled the roost on the employers’ side of the table. Even with such a commonality of interest, things didn’t always go smoothly. In 1990, a five-day strike brought waist-high piles of trash, a rash of assaults, and gunshots pegged at both strikers and managers.

That was the last walkout by the workers who pick up waste for offices, manufacturers, hotels, and restaurants. (City sanitation workers, who are public employees, handle residential trash.) In the intervening years, Local 813 went through a seven-year-long government-supervised trusteeship during which scores of wiseguys were purged. Among those booted were the local’s longtime mob-allied president (an aging one-legged hellion named Bernard Adelstein who once tried to throttle Robert F. Kennedy), and numerous members who enjoyed a pension and other benefits without the required heavy lifting (one former member filed for benefits from prison, where he was doing a life stretch for murder; his victims had been disposed of via the rear-end loaders of his rubbish removal trucks).

Changes were even more dramatic among the employers. Faced with a massive racketeering prosecution brought by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, and new tough licensing requirements by then mayor Rudy Giuliani, many sold their interests to big national waste companies, which entered the city’s garbage business for the first time.

For a while, things appeared to go smoothly. Collection prices initially plummeted as businesses celebrated the end of the “mob tax” on private waste. Customers could choose a carter based on the best price, not because their stop had been allocated by stogie-puffing wiseguys enforcing the mob’s semi-feudal system of “property rights.”

But because this is New York, and there is a lot of money made in garbage (why else would the mob be involved?), things soon got more complicated. First, the big national firms, with Waste Management in the lead, started dropping customers, complaining that the city’s cap on garbage collection prices was too low. The city responded by allowing some prices to rise, with the predictable result that many small businesses complained that their costs soared by 500 percent.

But if profits in the private collection business were sagging, they were soaring in the rest of the city’s waste industry. Following the Giuliani administration’s decision to shut down the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, the city entered into a series of mammoth contracts to have its residential trash hauled out of town. Waste Management of New York, the corporation’s local subsidiary, was a major winner. City records show that for the three-year period ending in 2007 the firm is due to receive a whopping $355 million from the city for exporting New York’s biggest homegrown crop, municipal solid waste.

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Those huge numbers underscore the difference between the city’s old garbage headaches and its current ones. Under the Giuliani-era cleanup, some smaller waste companies were denied license approvals simply for failing to adequately explain why they had associated with known wiseguys. But Waste Management qualified for the immense solid waste transfer contracts even though, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, its former chief executive along with other top officials were allegedly “cooking the books,” overstating profits by more than $1.7 billion in what regulators termed a greedy scheme to dupe shareholders. A three-year federal investigation of what was considered one of the worst of the pre-Enron corporate scandals led to a decision last August in which Waste Management agreed to pay $26.8 million to cover the settlement of federal charges against the former executives who admitted no wrongdoing.

That was all ancient history, the company said. “That involved a totally different management, and a totally different company,” said public relations aide George McGrath. “It’s been resolved, and it’s got nothing to do with Waste Management as it operates today, or a local labor negotiation in New York.”

Maybe so, but it’s hard to keep the lines from blurring when one giant company is engaged in a nasty labor dispute. Last week, Needham, the president of Local 813, and representatives of another union, Local 108 of the Laborers, which fears that its own members who sort recyclables at the firm’s yards in Brooklyn and the Bronx are facing a similar confrontation, brought some 50 workers to the steps of City Hall to join with several councilmembers to condemn Waste Management’s conduct. The legislators suggested that the firm’s private problems could spill over onto the far larger municipal waste-hauling awards.

“We are the ones who review and approve these contracts, and we are going to make sure that these workers receive fair compensation and treatment,” said Queens councilman Hiram Monserrate. “This isn’t how you behave here. Not in this city.”

Actually, Waste Management has a friendly local face representing it here in talks with government officials, that of Peter Vallone Sr., the former City Council leader. As the firm’s chief lobbyist, Vallone’s Constantinople Consulting receives a $15,000-per-month retainer. “It’s always been my dream to resolve the city’s garbage problems,” said Vallone who, along with Giuliani, extended the original invitation to the big national firms to enter the city’s waste markets. “I don’t have anything to do with the labor part, but I think there are national issues at stake here,” he said.

Corporate spokesman McGrath said his client remains “ready, willing, and able” to continue labor talks. “Waste Management is trying to get a fair contract that will keep the employees among the highest paid in the industry and provide a competitive level of benefits. . . . Did they tell you that their members earn $23 to $25 an hour?”

They did. The union also pointed out that it had reached agreement on new contracts with other carting companies representing hundreds of other members, without a similar fight. Still, when Waste Management refused to budge, the union broke with precedent by offering, in the presence of the federal mediator, to start making contributions for health coverage. “That was a significant move for us,” said Needham. “We opened the door, but they didn’t want to do anything.”

Needham, along with his parent national union, believe that Waste Management’s strategy is to pick and win a fight in labor-strong New York and then impose similar conditions elsewhere. To that end, the union has conducted informational picketing at Waste Management sites in California, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., where fights with the company are also brewing over the benefits issues. In an inspired bit of propaganda, Teamsters president Jim Hoffa had his union rent a plane to fly over last month’s Daytona 500, where Waste Management is a major sponsor, pulling a sign that read: “WMI and NASCAR Want Some Drivers to Lose.”

Another labor leader, Mike Hellstrom, business manager of Laborers Local 108, characterized the fight with Waste Management as similar to another battle that organized labor has been waging on the political level. “This city has had this big fight over whether or not Wal-Mart and its poor benefits should be allowed here,” he said. “Well, we already have a Wal-Mart here— it is Waste Management.”

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Influence Peddlers

Talk about a bad news day. On February 8, a major city bank learned that it was going to be slammed that very afternoon at a City Hall press conference for lending money to slumlords. A group called Housing Here and Now was accusing New York Community Bank of hiking the misery index in poor neighborhoods by funneling mortgages to bad landlords. Worse, the new City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, was due to participate as well.

What to do? The bankers picked up the phone and dialed the lobbying equivalent of 9-1-1.

The call went to William Driscoll, a grizzled veteran of Queens politics and partner in a government-relations practice called the Parkside Group. The appropriately named Parkside Group can see City Hall Park from the windows of its spacious Nassau Street offices, and it immediately dispatched troops across the street to see what was up. When the aides arrived and began taking notes, a puzzled member of Quinn’s staff asked what they were doing. “We just got hired,” came the response.

Chalk up one more client for New York’s fastest-growing lobbying firm. Launched in late 2000 by a trio of Queens political figures, Parkside has prospered mightily, thanks in no small part to its ties to the Queens Democratic organization and the council’s leaders. City and state disclosure forms show that Parkside took in a whopping $2.2 million last year in fees from 52 clients, a figure that could make it the city’s top earner in the lobbying business once those totals are officially compiled by the city clerk. Whatever its ranking, Parkside’s revenues have risen faster than the price of oil, up from the $490,000 it earned in 2002.

And that’s just the lobbying end of things. The firm has also helped elect many of the same political officials it lobbies. Fifteen members of the current council have used Parkside as a campaign consultant. In last year’s elections, city candidates spent more than $550,000 for campaign assistance from the firm. Among them was former Council Speaker Gifford Miller, who became so close to Parkside after it helped him win his post that he asked one of its partners to help him hire a chief of staff. In 2004, Miller launched his ill-fated drive to become mayor right from Parkside’s offices.

But for all of the firm’s vaunted influence and access, the bank called at a lousy time. That’s because there’s been a growing buzz about how lobbyists have become the new permanent government for a council that, thanks to term limits, faces constant turnover in members and staff. And Quinn, while owing her own position to many of the same political patrons allied with Parkside, was already looking for a way to place some distance between herself and the influence peddlers.

One council insider said that Parkside’s abrupt appearance at the press conference helped galvanize Quinn’s decision to unveil a set of reforms right away. “What pissed her off was the assumption that this was the way to reach her,” said the source.

On February 16, Quinn stood with Mayor Bloomberg to announce new proposals that would limit lobbyists’ access, compel greater disclosure, and double fines for violations. The city’s two top officials said they didn’t want to wait for scandals like those in Washington and Albany to happen here. What was needed, said Quinn, was a drive to “reduce the influence of special interests in city government.”

It’s unclear just how these new measures will be enforced, as the legislation has not been submitted. But major issues remain unaddressed. One is the convenient distinction drawn by some firms that visits to city officials are legal work”—which doesn’t require disclosure—not lobbying. Also unresolved is how to cope with firms like Parkside that lobby the people they help to elect (a city hearing last month heard strong testimony that to bar such representation would violate First Amendment protections).

Still, the reforms are a good beginning, said ethics watchdog Megan Quattlebaum of Common Cause/NY, though she added, “The devil will be in the details.”

Sitting in their new offices recently, two of Parkside’s partners said they could live with any new rules. “From a public policy viewpoint, we think stating who is lobbying whom, and for what duration, is fine. It’s a great thing,” said Harry Giannoulis, a jovial former Democratic gubernatorial aide who serves as a member of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. “As someone smarter than me said, ‘Sunshine is the best disinfectant,’ ” added partner Evan Stavisky, the wonkish son of a pair of state legislators.

Parkside gets high marks from those clients willing to talk about it. “They are terrifically skilled lobbyists,” said a representative of the city’s Central Labor Council, which pays $5,000 a month for the firm’s advice.

But the city’s laissez-faire attitude about lobbying rules is highlighted by Parkside’s disclosure reports to the city clerk, which shroud its work in mystery. Question 6(A) asks for the “Individual and Entity lobbied.” For all of its clients, the firm affixes the same adhesive sticker on its filings: “NYC Legislative & Executive; NYS Legislative & Executive.” Another question asks the specific subject matter. Parkside slaps on another all-embracing sticker: “Public Policy and Legislation.”

That’s its response for Entergy, a giant utility that paid Parkside $78,000 last year to help make sure a pesky council resolution calling for the shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear plant wasn’t resurrected. And that’s also the response for each of the 30 not-for-profit organizations (most of them Queens-based) that pay Parkside $4,000 to $6,000 per month for very different assistance—to help win council funding grants (the firm has a near perfect batting average).

“You want to have as broad a category as possible so that you are not leaving anyone out. It is consciously broad,” explained Giannoulis. “You don’t want to be uninclusive,” added Stavisky.

Pressed as to whether the stickers complied with even the clerk’s minimal rules, Giannoulis later acknowledged he had somehow missed the instructions calling for specific answers that are posted on the city’s website. “We may have some refiling to do,” he said.

But the lobbyists still remain the soul of discretion when asked exactly what they do for their customers. What about Fresh Direct, the fast-growing (and non-union) home grocery delivery company whose trucks now crowd city streets, and which paid Parkside $48,000 last year? “I don’t think for the purposes of this interview we are going to discuss what we do for individual clients,” said Stavisky.

On the other hand, they’re happy to describe the method behind their fast rise to the top: “We are very good and we work really hard,” said Giannoulis. “It is a lot of work. It is hard work. You start from morning and you go to night, and you work weekends.”

Connections also help. Driscoll, the eldest of the trio, declined to be interviewed about his own work habits, but he has labored for decades for various Queens pols, including serving as chief of staff to former congressman Tom Manton, who has ruled the Queens Democratic Party organization since shortly after its 1980s scandals.

The job brought its perks. Between 1995 and 2001, Driscoll, an attorney, pulled in more than $320,000 in fees from guardianship appointments he received from judges installed by Manton. Even after 1998, when he became part-time counsel to the Queens County clerk, he kept getting the appointments—though he should have been banned from further guardianships, as a 2000 Newsday article noted. How had that issue been resolved?

“As our business was growing he stopped doing the things in question, so it became kind of moot,” said Stavisky.

Yet Manton’s shadow looms over much of the firm’s success. Parkside has run winning campaigns for many candidates backed by the Queens Democratic machine. “We have been proud to be on the right side of some of Tom Manton’s right choices,” said Giannoulis, citing the firm’s campaign work for the city’s first Asian American elected official (Councilman John Liu), as well as the borough’s first Latino (Assemblyman José Peralta).

But the firm isn’t about to buck Manton’s choices.

Parkside initially backed a Democratic organization candidate against Queens councilman James Gennaro in the 2001 election. It was Gennaro, chair of the council’s environmental committee, who introduced the anti-nuke resolution that Parkside has vigorously opposed on behalf of its utility client. The resolution died, opposed by an overwhelming majority, and has not been reintroduced. When Gennaro ran for re-election last year, this time with Democratic organization support, Parkside ran his campaign. A Gennaro spokesman said the two events were unrelated, as did Giannoulis.

“This is the complete opposite of a problem,” said the lobbyist. “This shows that a political client of ours can have a different position than our lobbying client.”

Giannoulis himself has enjoyed his own patronage perks. In 1998, he was appointed by former council leader Peter Vallone to the city’s taxi commission. The following year, Giannoulis was listed as the intermediary for some $10,000 worth of contributions from taxi industry figures to Vallone’s failed mayoral campaign. Giannoulis acknowledged that such solicitations would be improper but insisted the filings were a mistake, one he had tried to correct: “I was there, but I never raised money. They were supposed to have clarified that a long time ago.” Vallone’s campaign treasurer, however, said the filings were accurate and that he had no recollection of Giannoulis complaining about it.

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The Outsider Comes In

The buzz on the election of Christine Quinn as the new Speaker of the City Council—repeated in a droning chorus every time her name was mentioned last week—focused on her two firsts: first woman to hold the post; first openly gay person to head the chamber. But the more revealing political surprise in the 39- year-old Chelsea councilmember’s election isn’t so much who she is, but where she comes from.

Prior council leaders served their apprenticeships as party loyalists or longtime staffers. But the first time Chris Quinn climbed the City Hall steps she was a rank outsider. It was 1989 and she was representing a group that had earnestly dubbed itself the Housing Justice Campaign, a community coalition committed to ensuring that government funds be used to create and preserve housing affordable to the city’s neediest.

To that end, Quinn, fresh from Trinity College in Hartford, was part of a pack of organizers who haunted the City Hall rotunda, buttonholing every councilmember they could, and keeping score every time a well-heeled real estate lobbyist walked in and out of the inner sanctum of then majority leader Peter Vallone.

When the Dinkins administration threatened in 1991 to wipe out community-organizing grants and slash its building inspection budget, Quinn helped spearhead a day-long “strike” in which organizers besieged city officials and politicians. They started the day at 6 a.m. outside the Brooklyn home of Norman Steisel, Dinkins’s top deputy. Steisel angrily told them they were hurting their cause—the standard response to bothersome activist types right before bureaucrats agree to a meeting.

But as much as she wanted to disparage the pols she encountered, Quinn found herself occasionally inspired. “When I was 20 years old I was adamant that I would never want elective office,” she said last week. ” ‘Why in the world would you ever do that?’ I wondered. ‘You’re only one vote. If you’re an organizer you affect so many more people.’ ”

She said she remembered watching Steve DeBrienza, the fiery ex–Brooklyn councilmember, on the City Hall steps vowing to help the advocates. “And he did help. I was so impressed with how he used what he had.” Eventually, she changed her mind about the futility of politics. “The more I saw of government, the more I became convinced one person really can make a difference.”

Quinn later worked to elect gay rights advocate Tom Duane to the City Council, becoming head troubleshooter and chief of staff. When Duane moved up to the state senate she tromped three opponents seeking his council seat, including a top aide to then mayor Rudy Giuliani.

With her own nameplate adorning the polished wooden desk in the council, she started hammering away—this time as an insider—at mayoral aides for failing to rally to the city’s housing crisis.

New York’s council has long had its share of members who emerged from the ranks of community activism, but most have been relegated to the sidelines. Pushy advocates-turned-legislators who dared to oppose the all-powerful majority leader, people like Ruth Messinger and Sal Albanese, spent more time in the political woodshed than in important assignments.

Quinn, who took office after term limits were introduced, and as part of a huge new class of members in an expanded council, said that wasn’t her experience. She got along well with former Speaker Gifford Miller, who rewarded her with a post as chair of the health committee.

“I’m not even sure the spin on Vallone is so accurate,” she said. Similarly, when two of the council’s most progressive members, Gail Brewer and David Yassky, urged her in a Daily News op-ed last week to make the body more open and independent, she said she wanted to wait and see. “I’m interested in having that discussion with my colleagues,” she said, sounding very much like the politician who cagily outmaneuvered six other candidates to win the Speaker’s post after the term-limited Miller stepped down.

A key part of that strategy was the courting of the city’s Democratic county leaders, and on Wednesday, at the council hug-fest that marked her election to the speakership, she parked the three bosses who backed her right up front where everyone could see them. Seated as guests of honor next to one another were Jose Rivera of the Bronx, Tom Manton of Queens, and Brooklyn’s new leader, Vito Lopez, who wore a bright red sweater vest to mark the occasion.

“I thought it was subtle,” quipped Quinn. But she offered no apologies for the public nod to her benefactors. “At the end of the day, 51 members voted. Some seek advice from people they trust and know. That’s human nature. For some people, that’s Tom Manton, and there is nothing wrong with that.”

But critics suggested it came at a cost. As a legislator, Quinn has fought fiercely to expand abortion rights, including an effort to win “morning after” contraceptives for rape victims. But last month she co-hosted a fundraiser for Queens and Bronx congressman Joe Crowley, a Manton favorite whose ambivalent abortion views have earned him a meager 30 percent rating by advocates.

“He’s anti-choice. She did it solely to win Manton’s support and the Queens delegation,” said Bill Dobbs, a radical gay organizer. Dobbs said Quinn’s public status as a lesbian counted for little compared to the issues she will wrestle with. “Let’s not confuse a seat at the table or a fancy title with progress,” he said. “Think Clarence Thomas, or Madeleine Albright. There is a lot more to change than diversifying representatives.”

Quinn’s evolution has been hard to miss. A tousled brunette when she first joined the council, she accepted her nomination last week as a carefully coiffed redhead in a black skirt-suit bedecked with white pearls. But neither the makeover nor the political accommodations bother her longtime fans. “I saw her star quality when she first started as an organizer,” said Michael McKee, a veteran tenant advocate who is also active in gay causes. “It may sound parochial, but I think the fact that a mere 19 years after the City Council passed a gay rights bill a lesbian is being elected Speaker says a lot.”

The Crowley fundraiser only demonstrated her astuteness, said McKee. “When I heard about it, I said, ‘That’s a smart move on her part. That is Manton’s favorite congressman and he is worried about holding onto his seat.’ Does it bother me? No.”

Quinn arrived at City Hall shortly before noon on Wednesday, sweeping across the plaza with her family as a crowd of photographers snapped away. Inside the rotunda there were more hugs and kisses than a mob wedding as a swarm of lobbyists, now dependent on Quinn’s goodwill, descended on her.

Among those embracing her was Joe Strasburg, the former Vallone chief of staff Quinn haunted in her lobbying days, a formidable opponent to many of her old causes who went on to become the city’s leading landlord lobbyist, head of the Rent Stabilization Association. The whispers among pro-tenant councilmembers last week was that Strasburg’s RSA would get from Quinn what it has gotten from every Speaker or majority leader before her: the right to approve the appointment of the next chair of the council’s housing and buildings committee, which considers all landlord-tenant legislation.

Asked about Strasburg’s clout, Quinn demurred with finesse. “I am sure there will be lots of advocacy groups and trade associations who will give their input to this office over the next two weeks over who should chair many of the committees. We will take everybody’s thoughts.”

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A Question of Candor

New City Council speaker Gifford Miller, an East Side liberal with reform credentials, declined to participate in the city’s voluntary but celebrated campaign finance system last year and made misleading submissions to the Campaign Finance Board, the Voice has learned.

With Michael Bloomberg also opting out of the CFB system in 2001, the city’s two most powerful new public officials, unlike their predecessors Rudy Giuliani and Peter Vallone, sidestepped what is widely regarded as the nation’s top regulatory program. Ironically, many of the councilmembers who helped make Miller speaker last week—especially the 38 new ones—benefited from the CFB’s public matching funds and are champions of the system. Miller registered with it himself for his first two campaigns, in 1996 and 1997, receiving $117,000 in matching funds.

Though Miller maintains he didn’t register this time because he thought he was running unopposed when the CFB deadline occurred on June 1, he concedes that the board’s possible oversight of Council 2001, a political action committee (PAC) tied to him, was also “something I was thinking about.” Had Miller joined the finance system as a participating candidate, CFB advisory opinions indicate that Council 2001 might well also have been compelled to abide by its strict contribution limits.

Instead, the PAC raised and spent almost $200,000 between July 2000 and December 2001, distributing most of it to 27 council candidates across the city, ostensibly to gain support for Miller’s bid to become speaker. It did not abide by CFB rules—collecting $15,000 in what would have been banned corporate contributions and $30,000 in individual donations that exceeded the CFB’s $2500 cap. By not filing with the CFB, Council 2001 also avoided disclosing which lobbyists and other interests might have played a role as intermediaries in raising its war chest. The other major speaker candidates had no similar PACs, though Vallone did. The CFB forced Vallone’s to comply with its limits.

In an attempt to obtain CFB approval for Miller to participate in the system without Council 2001 having to join it, Miller and Lawrence Laufer, a Council 2001 consultant, wrote letters to the CFB in April 2001. They claimed that the councilman, who described himself as a PAC member but not on its eight-member executive committee, did not “exercise authority” over the “activities” of what they insisted was an “independent” group.


Miller now freely concedes that he “helped create” the PAC, that its executive board consists almost exclusively of his “friends,” that its sole full-time employee was his former and current council aide Jessica Lappin, and that he was “extremely influential” in the endorsement decisions it made.


Laufer, the former CFB counsel, went so far as to contend that Miller’s participation in the PAC’s decision-making was “exactly the same as any other member without authority or position—an effort of advocacy, not an exercise of authority.” Arguing that it would be an “astounding leap” to conclude that Miller ran the organization, Laufer said Miller “may or may not choose to play an active role in helping it meet its objectives.”

Miller now freely concedes that he “helped create” the PAC, that its executive board consists almost exclusively of his “friends,” that its sole full-time employee was his former and current council aide Jessica Lappin, and that he was “extremely influential” in the endorsement decisions it made. “It supported all the same candidates I supported,” Miller told the Voice. “I raised all the money.” Robert Hammond, the group’s treasurer, is a college friend of Miller’s who says he’s known him for 12 or 13 years and, like others on the executive board, has no other involvement in politics.

Prompted by the Miller/Laufer letters, the CFB issued an opinion last May that took no definitive position about Council 2001, but suggested that if Miller decided to participate, that might “trigger an inquiry” into “whether activities of the political committee should properly be attributed” to Miller. In a footnote, the CFB revealed that it had learned independently that some of the PAC’s executive committee members “are or appear to have been staff members of various elected officials, including Mr. Miller.”

The CFB noted that neither Miller’s nor Laufer’s letter “alluded to this set of circumstances,” though an “employer-employee relationship would likely lead to a conclusion that those staff members do operate on behalf of the candidate and that therefore the activities of the committee should properly be attributed” to Miller. The opinion was referring to Lappin, who left Miller’s council payroll to go on the PAC’s. Less than two weeks after the issuance of this opinion, which was consistent with 1999 and 2000 CFB rulings about Vallone’s PAC, Miller opted out of the system.

Miller prefers to attribute his decision not to participate to his belief that he had no opponent—a claim his press aide says he made in a New York Times editorial board interview last year. But the Republican-Liberal nominee in his district, James Lesczynski, filed registrations to run with the Board of Elections on February 9 and with the CFB on March 28. Miller insists he was still unaware of both filings by the June deadline. Asked why he wouldn’t register with the CFB anyway—just in case an opponent emerged—Miller said it “seemed like a stupid idea to opt in when it was unnecessary.”

In fact, however, Council 2001 had already raised thousands of dollars outside the CFB limits prior to Miller’s request for the agency’s advisory opinion, and prior to the opt-in deadline. It would have had to return those donations had Miller joined the program and had the CFB ruled that Council 2001 was also a covered organization. Asked why Council 2001 didn’t just voluntarily abide by CFB limits even though he and the PAC weren’t participating in the system, Miller said that it instead set a $5000 ceiling on donations. While far less than any PAC maximum permissible under state law, this self-imposed cap is still twice the CFB limit. Miller correctly pointed out that his own individual re-election committee did abide by CFB limits, taking no corporate or over-the-limit donations. But 72 of the 123 donors to Miller’s personal committee also gave to Council 2001, suggesting that contributors willing to give more than the max were simply told to give it to the PAC.

Not surprisingly, several council candidates backed by the PAC (13 of whom lost) confirmed Miller’s technical separation from it, but conceded in a variety of ways that they thought he was strongly connected to the committee. Gale Brewer, the new West Side councilwoman who got $2000 from Council 2001, said that “it was always my impression that its purpose was to elect Miller speaker,” adding that “there was a fuzzy line” drawn between it and Miller to keep it separate.

James Van Bramer, a Queens candidate who lost, described a PAC interview that did not include Miller, but said that he knew the councilman “was an active and influential member.” Acknowledging that in addition to the PAC interview he also had a private conversation with Miller, he said he could not remember whether the $2000 he received preceded or followed the Miller talk. PAC treasurer Hammond said he and “everybody” on the executive committee frequently “talked to Gifford” about endorsements, but that he “didn’t play an official role.”

As speaker, Miller will exercise great influence over the CFB, with two appointees on its five-member board and his consent required on the appointment of the chair. In his last days in office, Giuliani vetoed a council bill that the CFB opposed. The bill, which would allow candidates with outstanding debts to circumvent contribution limits, may come up again in the council. Due to Bloomberg’s record-shattering campaign expenditures outside the system, efforts to reform it may also come before Miller’s council. His record raises doubts about whether Miller will be as supportive of the system as Vallone, who was presented with the same choice as Miller and decided to bring both his individual re-election committee and his PAC under compliance with CFB rules.

Research assistance by: Peter Bailey, Sam Dolnick, Martine Guerrier, and Jeffrey Herman

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Race Counts

Peel away the rhetoric about rebuilding lower Manhattan, saving the city’s economy, circumventing term limits in order to keep self-proclaimed indispensable mayor-for-life Rudy Giuliani in office for a few more months, and what’s at the heart of Mark Green’s victory in the mayoral runoff October 11 is that white folks played the race card. Again.

Green beat Fernando Ferrer by a small margin, one that got smaller with the news that the Board of Election counted some votes twice, and shrank again with the last tallies. The primary figures from the runoff show a number of interesting facts about the role of race in the election, and who composes the real racial monolith when it comes to voting.

The numbers from the September 25 primary, which Ferrer and Green entered as frontrunners, showed that among African American voters, who were 24 percent of the electorate, 52 percent chose Ferrer, 34 percent opted for Green, and a combined 13 percent went for Hevesi and Vallone. Latinos—23 percent of voters—voted 72 percent for Ferrer, 12 percent for Green, and a combined 17 percent for Hevesi and Vallone. White voters, who were 48 percent of the electorate, voted 40 percent for Green, 31 percent for Vallone, 20 percent for Hevesi, and 7 percent for Ferrer. While nearly half of all black voters and 29 percent of Latino voters presumably looked at the issues and supported either Green, Vallone, or Hevesi, only 7 percent of white voters could bring themselves to vote for Ferrer. Are we really to believe this vote is the result of a meritocracy, that in a field of four Democratic candidates only the three white candidates took positions palatable to 93 percent of white Democrats?

Racism has long been the studiously ignored elephant in the middle of New York’s political landscape; with this election it doesn’t seem possible for white voters to deny that they see it. The numbers tell the story, and the tired argument that whites voted their principles, not their prejudices, simply does not hold water. With the unholy trinity of The New York Times, Daily News, and New York Post marshaled against him, it’s amazing that Ferrer built a diverse coalition that included blacks, Latinos, and the handful of truly progressive white people left in New York. He also won the support of Peter Vallone, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ed Koch, Geraldine Ferraro, and the powerful unions 1199, the United Federation of Teachers, and District Council 37.

In the days before the election, it looked as if Ferrer actually had a good chance of becoming the Democratic nominee. And then white folks played the race card. In their frenzy to avoid the possibility of a Puerto Rican mayor, white voters in New York were willing to forgo principles on October 11. Take term limits, for instance: No matter that Mark Green caved when Rudy strong-armed him into agreeing to illegally extend his term; democracy and the rule of law were apparently small prices to pay. Or take the possibility of conflicts of interest: Public worries that pushed Hevesi out of the race no longer mattered by the time of the runoff. Despite the shadow of Green’s brother, a major developer looming with the potential to reap much more than Al Sharpton would from City Hall, and even though the federal government has committed at least $40 billion to rebuilding New York and hundreds of millions more have come in through donations, voters seemed to think that the devastated financial district couldn’t be resurrected without a white man at the helm.

Then there was the borderline laughable spectacle of the mainstream media revising, even twisting, their own politics into pretzels in order to continue supporting Green after his immediate acquiescence to Rudy’s three-months-more demand. Post run-off, having garnered white votes, Green was trying to distance himself from his eleventh hour concession by insisting the decision to change the law was up to the Democratic state legislature, a fact he knew when he opportunistically gave in to Giuliani.

Finally, there was New York white folks’ favorite living justification for playing the race card, the Reverend Al Sharpton, whose endorsement Green courted assiduously. No matter how much weight he loses, Sharpton will never be slim enough to avoid being cast as the Big Black Bogeyman in times of racial desperation. Although the Green campaign denies any knowledge or participation, voters report having received telephone calls on election day in which Ferrer was portrayed as a tool of the evil Reverend Al, to whom he was about to “hand over” the city. Leaflets distributed election night in Brooklyn began, “Al Sharpton has waited a long time to get his hands on our city. Freddy Ferrer will give it to him” and concluded, “This is Sharpton’s chance. Will you keep it from him?”

And they did. By election day Mark Green’s campaign, after pledging not to go negative, flooded the airwaves with an attack ad, labeling Ferrer “borderline irresponsible,” “racially divisive,” and ending, “Can we afford to take a chance?”

Well yeah, we could afford to and we ought to, but only “the other New York” did. When it came down to the wire, white New Yorkers weren’t interested in giving even a sliver of the pie. It didn’t matter that black, brown, and poor New Yorkers have profited least from the city’s recent economic boom and are the most hard-hit economically by the events of September 11. Witness the nearly 10,000 people who jammed into the first post-disaster job fair on October 17, many of whom had been out of work for months.

After a tense week of telephone calls and meetings, last Friday, at a unity rally crowded with loyal but disgruntled and uncomfortable looking democrats, Freddy Ferrer endorsed Mark Green. Breaking ranks, Bronx Democratic leader Roberto Ramirez has yet to endorse Green, nor has the Reverend Al Sharpton. Making the most of a bad situation, the Bloomberg campaign has released ads directed at disaffected Latino and Black voters, urging them to jump ship. On the streets, Latin and black voters were pissed off, disgusted, and talking about either ignoring the election or defecting. The only thing that’s clear is that while Green voters couldn’t vote with the other New York, neither candidate can win without us.


Read Jill Nelson’s “The Race Factor,” an interview with former deputy mayor Bill Lynch Jr.