Brooklyn Politics by Erik Engquist

LIT CHECK: The first piece of campaign literature from the Brooklyn district attorney race to reach our desk came from State Senator John Sampson.

It was the usual mish-mash of political mumbo jumbo, with headings like “A Record of Effective Crime Fighting” followed by bullet points such as “Sponsored bills of zero-tolerance against drunk driving.”

As if anything meaningful could be garnered from that.

Any legislator not on life support can sponsor a bill, and in fact they do—hundreds, even thousands of them, virtually none of which ever pass. And what does “zero tolerance against drunk driving” mean anyway? Drunk drivers are to be pulled over and decapitated?

But rather than attempt to provide meaningful analysis of a palm card, we’ll take the easy way out and just examine its grammar.

First paragraph: “Brooklyn has always prided itself as one of our nations great communities, and the time has come to elect a district attorney with the experience & vision to match. In 2005, Brooklynites will have an opportunity to elect a District Attorney who will restore our faith in the fairness of the criminal justice system.”

No doubt you cringed when you noticed no apostrophe in “nations” in the first sentence, and again when you saw a lowercase “district attorney” followed inexplicably by an uppercase one.

What’s that? You didn’t cringe?

Maybe it’s just us. Heck, we didn’t even like Sampson’s use of an ampersand rather than the actual word “and.”

We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention candidate Sandra Roper’s comma-deprived “Justice Not Politics” palm card, which touts her as “A Tough Civil Rights Attorney With Scientific Expertise.” Scientific expertise? You mean, that she’s a pharmacist? Are we to believe Roper will remake the D.A.’s office into C.S.I. Brooklyn?

At least Roper’s piece makes one substantive point, saying she’s the only candidate against the death penalty.

The incumbent, Joe Hynes, is also against the death penalty, but that didn’t stop him from seeking it against 11 defendants after capital punishment was reinstated in New York.

The other candidates seem to have a similar position.

A spokesman for candidate Arnie Kriss e-mailed us this statement:

“I think Roper’s position is that she will never seek the death penalty under any circumstances. Our position is that in the unlikely event the death penalty is reenacted, as D.A., in the appropriate case, Arnie would follow the law.

“However, for death penalty purposes, Arnie would have to be satisfied beyond all doubt that the defendant committed the crime. Reliance on one witness identification, an informant, or a confession not being videotaped would be significant factors that would cause Arnie as D.A. not to seek the death penalty.

“It is Arnie’s belief that the legislature is aware of these factors, as well as others, and before new legislation is enacted these issues will have to resolved.”

Another candidate, Mark Peters, submitted a similar answer:

“In recent years, critics of the death penalty around the country have raised concerns about the problems with the administration of the death penalty, including the chance of innocent people wrongly being put to death. I share those concerns, and am not advocating for the return of the death penalty in New York State.

“But should the state enact a constitutional death penalty statute that adequately addressed those concerns, I will, as the chief law enforcement officer of the borough who is sworn to uphold the law, evaluate each case on its own facts and enforce the law appropriately.”

Candidate Paul Wooten explained that when the Bronx D.A. announced he would never seek the death penalty, he was sued by the governor. “It was a hugely costly litigation and tied up the office for months—almost for a year and a half, I believe,” Wooten said.

As D.A., would Wooten seek the death penalty against anyone? “There have been over 100 instances where people were convicted of the death penalty and were later found to be innocent,” he noted. “However, if the state legislature enacted the death penalty and that was the law of the state, I would follow the law.”

We didn’t hear from Sampson’s or Fenner’s campaigns by press time.

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DINO’S DWELLING: Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes’s nemesis, John O’Hara, doesn’t buy Hynes’s explanation that his chief aide Dino Amoroso is voting legally from his parents’ house in Queens while living in Long Island.

“You can only vote from your principal and permanent residence,” said O’Hara, quoting the state law under which he was infamously prosecuted by Hynes and convicted. “Dino’s principal and permanent address is his mommy’s house? Come on. It’s where his wife and kids live.”

Hynes’s spokesman said Amoroso is in compliance because he intends to eventually return to his childhood home. That’s the argument Howard Lasher successfully used to stay on the City Council ballot in 1993, when he lived in a Manhattan Beach house outside the district but owned a small Brighton Beach apartment within it.

O’Hara doubts an investigation by Queens D.A. Richard Brown into Amoroso’s voting will amount to anything. “When a prosecutor gets bagged like this,” O’Hara said, “they say they’re investigating and then two weeks before the election they come out with a press release saying he did nothing wrong.”

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WEINER GETS NOTICED: The last month has produced a steady stream of good press for Rep. Anthony Weiner as he tries to campaign his way up the polls in the race for mayor.

Twice in a week he landed positive stories on the front page of the Metro section of The New York Times, thanks largely to a strong performance at a candidates’ breakfast forum hosted by Crain’s New York Business. Weiner earlier scored mostly laudatory articles in the New York Observer and the Times.

The Park Slope native, who also lived in Sheepshead Bay before moving to Forest Hills, has struck a chord with both left- and right-wing publications.

Wrote Tim Robbins in the April 26 Village Voice, “As the four candidates speak at forums and political clubs, it is Weiner who is attracting attention. While most stories have focused on his relentless bent for nifty economic development ideas and comedy-club shtick, his candidacy has sounded the toughest notes on the Bloomberg administration's shortcomings, while laying out his own ideas for reforms.”

In the conservative New York Sun, on the opposite side of the political spectrum, Andrew Wolf wrote that Weiner “is young, energetic and he is impressing audiences. The next round of polling may show Mr. Weiner pulling into a serious, solid third-place position. Unless lightning strikes the campaign of Gifford Miller, the council speaker seems destined to fall into last place among the four Democratic contenders.”

It remains to be seen whether Weiner’s success on the campaign trail will translate into poll numbers on par with Freddy Ferrer and Virginia Fields, however. How can both be far ahead of Weiner despite not having distinguished themselves on the campaign trail? One possibility is a strong correlation between the ethnicities of the people polled and the candidates they’re supporting.

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D.A. RACE UPDATE: One observer of the Brooklyn district attorney race said none of the current challengers to incumbent Joe Hynes has the right package to beat him, but “if you could composite Mark Peters and John Sampson, you’d really have something.” Peters has a strong résumé but lacks the political connections and savvy of Sampson, the source noted.

What about attorney Paul Wooten? His competition doesn’t take his candidacy seriously because the vast majority of the money in his campaign fund came from a $65,000 loan from himself a day before the last reporting deadline.

The loan made it appear Wooten had raised over $70,000, but in fact his two fundraisers were sparsely attended, another source noted.

Wooten’s camp has boasted of substantial support among elected officials. “Wooten has a relationship with these elected officials because he was their attorney,” said the observer, who is backing another candidate. “But they understand that a man with $10,000 is not winning.”

Which may be why only Councilman Al Vann and Assemblywoman Annette Robinson have committed to actually endorsing Wooten.

A boroughwide race can cost upwards of $1 million. As of late March, Hynes had raised over $500,000, Mark Peters had pulled in about $450,000, State Senator John Sampson over $400,000, and Arnie Kriss over $300,000.

Sandra Roper had raised nothing, jeopardizing her ability to collect enough signatures to make the ballot.

In 2001, Roper was on omnibus petitions with other insurgent candidates, but she might not be able to piggyback on such petitioning operations this time because there won’t be as many.

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PETITION FRAUD IS NO JOKE: The New York Post penned an amusing story about Germania Taveras pleading guilty to felony charges for faking signatures on petitions to run for City Council in 2001 in the race eventually won by Erik Dilan.

Authorities were tipped off by a college student who volunteered for her campaign. Among the names the student handed Taveras to forge were Adam West and Cesar Romero, who played Batman and the Joker, respectively, on TV in the 1960s.

Taveras was indicted by Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes in October 2003 but skipped a May 2004 court date. She remained at large until being busted for turnstile-jumping April 11.

Taveras spent 10 days at Rikers and will be sentenced to 280 hours of community service.

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TIDBITS: An anonymous reader called to inform us that the Brooklyn district attorney is Charles Hynes, not Joe Hynes, “unless there’s an inside joke I don’t know about.” It’s not really a joke—Hynes has just always been called Joe by his friends, so that’s how we refer to him. His middle name is Joseph.

The style of this column is to use colloquial first names, such as Lew for Lewis Fidler, Vinny for Vincent Gentile, and Chuck for Charles Schumer. But we draw the line at Rep. Anthony Weiner. We just never thought of him as Tony…

Crain’s Insider reported that Councilman Michael McMahon of Staten Island is being recruited by national Democrats to run against Rep. Vito Fossella in 2006. McMahon could run without giving up his Council seat…

…Only one member of the City Council joined Councilman Allan Jennings in voting against punishing Jennings for abusing his female staffers: Councilman Charles Barron, who said he wasn’t allowed to see all the evidence against Jennings.

That was in stark contrast to Councilman Domenic Recchia, who said, “It’s a shame he isn’t being expelled.” Councilmen Kendall Stewart and Erik Dilan abstained from the vote. (They are strong believers in abstinence.)

Jennings was censured, hit with a $5,000 fine, stripped of his committee positions, and ordered to undergo sensitivity training and anger management and to write “I will be a good boy” 500 times…

…The Appellate Division upheld a ruling that Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Michael Garson must repay $163,000 he took from his elderly aunt without properly accounting for it. Garson, who couldn’t prove he spent the money on his aunt’s care, will have to pay interest on it as well. But his larger challenge may be showing that her signature on crucial legal documents wasn’t forged. Look for that case to land in open court sometime before the September 13 primary election for district attorney…

…City Councilman David Yassky had an editorial published in the New York Post April 25 saying the state should approve a Jets/Olympic stadium conditional upon New York City being awarded the 2012 Olympics. If the games are awarded elsewhere, the state could decide whether a huge public investment in a football stadium is still worth it, Yassky wrote…

…An astute reader and observer of judicial politics wrote in about our April 18 edition, “This week’s column does a good job in explaining the complicated way Brooklyn leaders can pick a Civil Court judge while avoiding primaries. You might want to mention in a future column that reformers might be surprised that one judge ‘elected’ this way was Margarita Lopez Torres, who was hand picked by Assemblyman Vito Lopez” in 1992. We should note that Lopez Torres was offered the nomination; she did not campaign for it…

…Brooklynite John J. Clair lost his $107,000 job as the Fire Department’s assistant commissioner for medical affairs because he accepted free vacations from a company doing business with the city, The New York Times reported…

…Borough President Marty Markowitz told The New York Times he’d gladly trade in his city-issued gas-guzzling Ford Explorer for a Toyota Highlander Hybrid if he could get approval from City Hall, which is slowly changing to a more fuel-efficient fleet.

Markowitz’s sentiment is appreciated, but we see no reason he can’t spare a little coin from his seven-figure campaign fund to replace his Explorer right now…

…State Senator Carl Kruger has never hesitated to criticize the Department of Education, but there’s one thing they agree on: it should be a crime for a teacher to have sex with a student, even if the student has reached 16, the legal age of consent. Kruger introduced a bill to that effect, but he will need a Republican sponsor to shepherd it through the State Senate……The Rev. Clint Miller, the new pastor of Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Fort Greene, said he would endorse City Council Speaker Gifford Miller (no relation) for mayor but then got “cold feet,” the speaker’s campaign told The New York Times. However, that didn’t stop the campaign from listing the pastor as an endorser.

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