By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Carl McCall's stealth opponent for state comptroller, Bruce Blakeman, is quietly getting a lot of network airtime upstate in commercials paid for by the state Republican Party. The frequent ads picture and praise the golden-boy candidate with the start-up résumé in between 10-second promos of Governor Pataki and Senator D'Amato, just as 30-second spots fully devoted to him are finally beginning to appear on selected downstate cable stations.
It's hard to make much of Blakeman's brief stint as majority leader of Nassau County's two-and-half-year-old legislature, or of his so far scant campaign financial-disclosure filings. But if McCall's flaw is collecting contributions from beneficiaries of his public discretion--such as the pension fund managers named in Clifford Levy's recent Timesexposé--Blakeman has the same, predictable problem.
Of the $848,141 in reported Blakeman contributions, $17,700 came from a half dozen Nassau police and security unions, including $5000 from the PBA itself. Nick Baudo, head of the Superior Officers Association, is a vice chair of Blakeman's finance committee, and was one of the hosts of Blakeman's biggest fundraiser, a recent cocktail party and dinner held, appropriately enough, at the Louis XVI Library on the second floor of the St. Regis Hotel.
Blakeman pushed through an astronomical 24 percent pay hike for Nassau cops in 1997, mandating a $73,859 salary for officers with seven years experience, an award that was blasted by the Nassau County comptroller.
When Blakeman is not dunning those who do business with the county government for donations, he's turning to his family, especially father-in-law Mike Shevell, the CEO of New England Motor Freight (NEMF), a mob-tied trucking firm based in New Jersey. Blakeman's filing lists an extraordinary 18 trucking-related companies in eight states that made ''in-kind'' contributions to the campaign totaling $32,258.
One company, Eastern Freight Ways, has long been owned by Shevell, while another is listed at Shevell's Elizabeth corporate address. The companies provided T-shirts, signs, equipment, photos, and phones to the campaign, also covering $15,131 in costs associated with fundraisers and $1400 in ''office expenses.''
In addition to these donations--which suggest the pivotal role the trucking business is playing in the campaign--Jon Shevell, Blakeman's brother-in-law who's also an NEMF officer, kicked in $2300, and Stern & Greenberg, the company's law firm, gave $2500. New Jersey businesses and individuals donated $117,050.
When Mike Shevell gave $1000 to Richard Zimmer, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in New Jersey in 1996, Democrat Bob Torricelli, who eventually defeated Zimmer, made a major issue of it, noting that Shevell was accused of making mob payoffs in a civil racketeering suit filed by the U.S. Attorney in 1988. The suit charged that Shevell ''cultivated'' an 11-year ''corrupt relationship'' with Tony Provenzano, then president of a notorious Teamster local, and that Shevell bought a sweetheart contract and ultimately deunionization. Provenzano was a convicted racketeer and murderer associated with Genovese crime family boss Matty ''the Horse'' Ianiello.
In a wiretapped conversation, Ianiello suggested that NEMF's sister company, Eastern Freight Ways, which employed Provenzano's brother Angelo, was a mob front. Referring to the Shevell firm, Ianiello said, ''Yeah, we formed a truck company.'' The government brief charged that Shevell's ''aberrant labor practices served as a conspicuously negative example of union corruption within the trucking industry,'' and that his company's racketeering activity with the union ''tended to exacerbate the extortionate climate of intimidation'' that permeated the Provenzano reign.
Pressed by the Voice about this lawsuit at the state GOP convention in June, Shevell, who was seated in the front row near his son-in-law, insisted that the suit was settled without any concession of wrongdoing, adding, ''There was nothing there.'' The Voice has obtained an 11-page consent decree signed in September 1989 by Stern & Greenberg, acting as Shevell's attorney. In addition to spelling out a detailed set of restrictions governing NEMF's labor relations, the decree barred Shevell from ''personally engaging in labor negotiations with representatives of any labor organization'' for as long as five years.
While the decree cannot be ''deemed an admission of any violations of law,'' its preamble noted that the U.S. Attorney and Shevell ''have maintained different positions'' on the charges. Indeed, the government, in its amended complaint, listed as its central demand precisely what Shevell ultimately conceded--namely, that he would be removed from any union negotiations. In addition to the decree, a top Teamster official, Michael Sciarra, who was apparently installed by Ianiello, was barred from the union for life, based principally on the evidence of his role in dealings with NEMF.
Blakeman has acted as NEMF's attorney, and his wife Nancy is the company's vice president.
Chuck Schumer's attempt last week to make Al D'Amato's abortion position a key issue in the Senate campaign got lost in all the coverage of their commercial air war. Schumer made no mention at his Tuesday press conference, however, of the freshest evidence of D'Amato's prolife commitments:D'Amato paid for six statewide mailings to 49,112 Right to Life Party members in an effort to win its hotly contested September 15 primary, including a letter from Bob Dole, who said that ''as the Senate Majority Leader,'' he knew he ''could always count on Al D'Amato to stick with us on every pro-life vote, and so can you.'' Other mailings came from Lena Harknett, the party's state chair as well as the National Right to Life organization. A fourth letter came from a Long Island priest, Monsignor James Lisante, who served for 11 years as a diocesan prolife director and hosts a nationally syndicated cable show primarily devoted to the abortion issue. Lisante wrote that D'Amato--who's appeared several times on the show--once vowed that he ''would never change'' on the issue, leading the monsignor to conclude D'Amato had taken the ''politically incorrect stance of owning the title pro-life.''
Lisante once helped organize a 2000-person march against a women's center that was performing menstrual extractions, a suction procedure for women with menstrual problems that also terminates a pregnancy. Lisante equated the procedure with abortion, which the center explicitly said it did not perform. The center bowed to the protest, suspending the procedure.Helen Westover, a Right to Life leader and director of the mid-Hudson STOPP (Stop Planned Parenthood), told the Voice that she questioned Lisante about his support for D'Amato and that Lisante defended it by citing a conversation he and the senator recently had. ''If I win the line this time,'' D'Amato promised Lisante, ''I will give your party anything it wants in the future.'' Lisante did not directly confirm the conversation, but told the Voice that D'Amato said he'd been ''hurt'' by his first-ever challenge within the party and that, if he were reelected, he ''would be more sensitive to the party's point of view on any international funding that supports abortion and on the naming of proabortion judges.''
Tom Drolesky, the Right to Life candidate who ran against D'Amato and got 37 percent of the primary vote, focused his attack on D'Amato's support for prochoice appointees to the Supreme Court and prochoice candidates on the statewide GOP ticket.Ray Diem, the Suffolk County Right to Life leader who backed Drolesky, told the Voice that D'Amato called him September 16 and asked: ''Now that the primary is over, could we work together towards the general election in the fall?'' Diem claimed the senator said that if Diem supported him, D'Amato would ''live up to any and all commitments he made at the May convention and we could hold him to it.'' D'Amato pledged at the convention ''to pay a lot more attention to Right to Life issues,'' according to Diem.