Pataki's Favorite Conservatives

Mike Long's party is feasting at the state trough

Mike Long spends six days a week behind the counter of his family liquor store on 5th Avenue in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. The Conservative Party he's built into a statewide force is headquartered around the corner on 78th Street, a one-minute walk for this vigorous, 58-year-old ex-Marine who calls himself a pragmatic "revolutionary." Two blocks away is the modest rowhouse where Long has raised nine children.

As simple as his circle of life might be, the streetwise and unpretentious Long has quietly become the second most powerful political boss in New York, exceeded only by GOP giant Bill Powers.

Ever since George Pataki became the first governor elected on the 36-year-old Conservative line, Long has been pointing to the 328,605 votes his party delivered in 1994. He will remind anyone within earshot that his votes were the margin of victory over Mario Cuomo, a man Long once baited into a little-known, single-punch, losing fistfight. On October 27, Long will host a $250-a-head cocktail party at the Sheraton Centre, and the governor and Senator D'Amato--both of whom are posing as reelection moderates--will be there, luring thousands into the coffers of a party that is as pro-gun and pro-tobacco as it is anti-choice and anti-gay.

While Pataki woos the Times in search of its editorial embrace, his first term administration has been a hiring hall for Long's legions, with Conservatives prominently placed, at one time or another, at the Port Authority, City University, the School Construction Authority (SCA), the Housing Finance Agency (HFA), the Workers' Compensation Board, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), the State Mortgage Agency (SONYMA), and the Parole Board.

Scandal has often followed the party's patronage trail, the latest example occurring at the parole board. Two weeks ago, Sean McSherry, a longtime Conservative whose father Mike sat on the party's state advisory board until his death in 1997, was indicted as part of a federal probe of alleged parole trade-offs for Pataki campaign contributions. The McSherry family has made 50 contributions to the party since 1994, totaling $8258. In addition to maintaining a bungalow near Long's on Breezy Point, Mike McSherry owned the building at 523 Third Avenue in Manhattan, where Mike Long's two sons, James and Matthew, run a bar called Third and Long.

Sean McSherry was initially named to the 19-member board by Cuomo in 1989, as part of a deal with the Republican-controlled senate. Chris Mega, the state senator from Bay Ridge at the time who's close to Long, reportedly suggested McSherry. Another parole board member, Irene Platt from Manhattan, is a Republican, but so tied to the Conservatives that she and her husband have made 12 donations to the party in recent years, totaling $4000. Her husband probated the wills of both of McSherry's parents last year. Though Platt's term expired in 1995, she is still on the board.

Earlier this year, another scandal involving Conservatives hit the press when the negligence of a party-connected cabal at the SCA was linked to the accidental death of an Asian American teenager on a school job site. In addition, U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter is investigating the award of LIPA's $7.5 billion in bond underwriting, with Long allies at both ends of the deal--the largest in the nation's history.

A Voice review of the hundreds of thousands in contributions raised by Long since 1994, especially compared with the paltry sums that preceded Pataki's win, demonstrates the financial overlay between the party and the state government it helped put in place. Dollar after dollar comes from state vendors, especially those who do business with the agencies where Conservatives have landed:

  • At least a dozen Port Authority businesses, and one union, made their first party contributions after former Conservative mayoral candidate George Marlin took over the authority in February 1995, tallying over $201,000 in donations. One company, American Stevedoring, which runs a Brooklyn containerport owned by the authority and has enlisted Long in a campaign to build a harbor freight tunnel to track goods from its piers to New Jersey, has donated an astonishing $113,850. The elevator maintenance firm with the contract for 245 elevators at the World Trade Center, A.C.E., has also seen its generosity skyrocket.

    Others in line at the party trough include Duty Free International, which opened a 5000-foot expansion at JFK and controls the highly competitive duty-free market at two authority airports and New Connecticut Limo, which has a permit to provide limousine service to all three authority airports. Marine Shipping Line and Continental Terminals on piers 5 and 7 in Brooklyn, as well as the Newark-based Lansdell Protective and Staten Island's Howland Hook Containerport, leased facilities from the authority at the time of their contributions. Howland, like American Stevedoring, also gets millions in operating subsidies from a variety of public sources, including the authority.

    A supplier that services authority containerports, Phoenix Marine, also became a donor. While an executive for several related upstate railroad firms that gave to the party denied they did business with the authority, but The Virginian Pilot reported last year that the firms were part of a Canadian-led coalition of lines seeking "rail access to the Port of New York and New Jersey."

  • One mob-tied company, Quadrozzi Concrete, gave $3000, starting with $1500 in November 1996, at the very moment that Marlin approved the no-bid, discounted sale of a 43-acre, authority-owned grain terminal to the firm. John Quadrozzi, who was awaiting sentencing for making payoffs to the Luchese crime family when the deal closed, was allowed to buy the site even though he was barred from doing business by another state agency, as well as the federal government. The law firm that represented Quadrozzi on the transaction, which was approved by Marlin, donated another $500.

    A onetime banker with U.S. Trust, Marlin went from being a low-level giver to the party, donating $60 in March 1994, to giving $1250 before and $2000 after his appointment was announced. When he left the $2.7 billion Port Authority in 1997, his donations dropped again. The Times denounced his appointment as "a particularly offensive act of patronage" and initially urged Pataki to "withdraw" Marlin's name, describing him as "a Conservative Party leader with no significant managerial experience."

  • The governor's only trustee at the School Construction Authority, Paul Atanasio, was the party's congressional candidate in a district that included Bay Ridge in 1980 and has known Long for decades, going back to their Marine days. Though Atanasio switched his registration to Republican years ago, he and other members of his family have long given to the party, and he remains a prominent guest at the party's annual dinner.

    Atanasio is so close to Long, he hired him. When Pataki took office, Atanasio was working in the public finance department at Chemical Securities, seeking city and state underwriting business. He immediately put the liquor salesman on Chemical's payroll as a $5000-a-month consultant. Now with Bear Stearns, Atanasio is winning more state business than any other underwriter, but with the media hoopla over Long's earlier hiring, he didn't bring Long to Bear.

    Atanasio's top aide at the SCA, Fran Vella Marrone, who holds several posts with the party, brought her husband Gary into the agency as a project officer assigned to oversee renovations at several city schools. Both quit the agency in May when the Voice raised questions about Gary Marrone's failure to require sidewalk-shed protection at a Brooklyn school where 15-year-old Yan Zhen Zhao was killed by a brick that fell from the ongoing roofing job. Fran Marrone had prevailed on SCA officials to hire her husband, despite an agency nepotism ban.

    Since Atanasio's arrival at the SCA, at least one authority contractor, CEMA Construction, has become a Conservative donor, giving $4000 starting in October 1995. The firm did low-level work with the agency beginning in 1993 with a $200,000 contract. It has had 13 contracts since 1995, including three current jobs valued at over a million each.

    Another contractor that was seeking to overturn its debarment by the authority and do business with it again, Hercules Construction, gave $10,400 to the party in 1995. The company had a long relationship with Atanasio, giving the maximum allowable to his congressional campaign. It also employed Gary Marrone immediately prior to his joining the SCA. Hercules's president, Gregory Rigas, was under federal investigation at the time of the company's Conservative contributions, so the agency's inspector general was able to resist efforts to restore it to the SCA eligibility list. Rigas eventually pled guilty to defrauding the agency.

  • Though Atanasio went unmentioned, the SCA­Conservative Party connection emerged in a Post series in July on John Gotti Jr. Vincent Zollo, an SCA contractor who had Gotti on his payroll, was picked up on tape talking to Ed Bergassi, a Westchester businessman who's given $7375 to the Conservatives since 1994. Bergassi frequents the party's events and is a personal friend of Atanasio and Long.

    Advising Zollo in 1996 on how to deal with the SCA, which was investigating his company's alleged underpayment of workers on two agency jobs, Bergassi suggested that he quickly buy two $500 tickets to an upcoming Conservative event. "I want you to be on that team there," Bergassi said, "because we're having something, the annual dinner. I just want you to be involved in that." While party records do not list a Zollo ticket purchase that October, Bergassi made two contributions--one his usual $500 and the other for $1000.

    Appointed by Pataki as a commissioner at the State Insurance Fund, Bergassi flashed his ties to the governor during the conversation with Zollo and resigned when the tapes became public. Zollo was subsequently indicted on an array of charges, including drug trafficking.

  • Federal prosecutors are now probing Bear Stearns's selection as the lead underwriter for the massive LIPA bond issue. The critical decision-maker was Pat Foye, LIPA's deputy chair and a member of the Conservative's executive committee. Bear acknowledged when they hired Atanasio in 1995 that his job was to seek state underwriting work, and the first major deal he brought in was a no-bid, $100 million job from the Port Authority personally approved by George Marlin. Even before that award, Marlin steered a $500,000 consulting contract to Chemical Securities, where Atanasio worked at the time and had placed Long on the payroll.

    Several LIPA underwriters and consultants have become Conservative donors, including Artemis Capital Group ($6000), Roosevelt & Cross ($10,300), Paine Webber ($1000), and Hawkins, Delafield (the firm and one member have contributed $5000). Brooklyn Union Gas, which merged with Long Island Lighting as part of the LIPA deal, has added $4100.

  • The Rent Stabilization Association, its Neighborhood Preservation PAC, RSA leader Leonard Litwin and the American Property Rights Association, an organization of owners of small residential buildings, have combined to give the party $170,670 since 1994. Almost all of it came in after Pataki's election, and the Conservatives lobbied the governor and the senate strongly during last year's bitter battle over the stabilization laws.

    Similarly, Philip Morris has given to the party nine times, totaling $36,325, starting in October 1995. Long is a member of the National Smokers Alliance, and his party vigorously opposes smoking restrictions and hikes in cigarette taxes. In addition, dozens of tobacco distributors have donated tens of thousands to the party.

  • The largest party benefactor has long been cosmetics king Ron Lauder, who's given $201,980 since 1994. Lauder is so close to the governor he's got First Lady Libby on the company tab for $80,000 a year. The governor's also made over $70,000 as a paid speaker appearing before groups tied to Lauder. Pataki appointed Lauder to chair his council on privatization, and Lauder installed Conservative Party national chair Allen Roth as the council's executive director.

    A registered Republican, Lauder ran for mayor in 1989 on the Conservative line. Lauder also bankrolled the 1989 and 1993 efforts to get a term limits referendum on the city ballot, a campaign that was led by Conservative Party honchos Atanasio, Marrone, and Roth. John Buttarazzi, whose family has long been associated with the party, also worked on Lauder's term limits campaign. He is now the senior vice president for privatization at the Empire State Development Corporation.

  • The party has just about taken over the Workers' Compensation Board, with the former Manhattan county leader Mike Berns as a commissioner and three party operatives in top staff positions.

    Jerome Becker, who changed his registration to Conservative in November 1995, was an appointee on the HFA, SONYMA and other state development boards under Cuomo. He's been elevated to chair under Pataki and has become a frequent donor to the party, as well as friendly with Long. Atanasio's firm, Bear, has repeatedly acted as senior manager on bond offerings issued by these agencies.

    Rob Ryan, who was Pataki's campaign manager in 1994 and is now an executive at Empire State, became active in the party during the Barry Farber mayoral campaign in 1977 and was brought into the Pataki inner circle by Long. Like Ryan and Atanasio, Tony Casale, who served until recently as the head of the State Liquor Authority, is a Republican with even stronger ties to the Conservatives. A periodic donor to Long's party, Casale's SLA selection in 1995 was seen in part as another Conservative appointment.

    Research: Nicole White

    Pay to play?

    Conservative Party Donors Who Do Business With the Port Authority

    Company

    Total

    Number of contributions 1995­98:

    1. American Stevedoring & four affiliates

    $113,850

    19

    2. A.C.E. Elevator

    $44,900

    17

    3. Duty Free International

    $6250

    6

    4. Howland Hook Container Terminal

    $5000

    5

    5. Quadrozzi Concrete (and Davidoff & Malito)*

    $3500

    4

    6. New Connecticut Limo

    $2750

    2

    7. Marine Shipping Line

    $9000

    3

    8. Continental Terminals

    $2000

    1

    9. Port Authority PBA

    $3500

    8

    10. Lansdell Protection

    $2000

    1

    11. Genesee & Wyoming Railroad & affiliates

    $5500

    4

    12. Phoenix Marine

    $3000

    2

    Friends in high places

    Pataki Appointees With Links to Conservative Party

    Family Contributions 1994­98

    Name

    State Position

    Party Ties

    Total/no. of contributions

    1. George Marlin

    Executive Director, Port Authority (1995­97)

    Enrollee, 1993 mayoral candidate

    $11,460/3

    2. Ann Paolucci

    Chair, City University Board of Trustees

    Enrollee, wife of a state vice chair

    $4600/18

    3. Paul Atanasio

    Trustee, School Construction Authority

    Former enrollee and congressional candidate

    $3650/5

    4. Patrick Foye

    Deputy Chair, Long Island Power Authority

    Enrollee, deputy counsel & executive committee

    $11,032/22

    5. Michael Berns

    Commissioner, Workers Compensation Board

    Enrollee, ex-Manhattan county chair

    $1180/8

    6. Anthony Rudmann

    Executive Director, Workers Compensation Board

    Enrollee, former Conservative Party executive director

    $4856/16

    7. Jerome Becker

    Chair, Housing Finance Agency & two affiliates; Vice Chair, SONYMA

    Enrollee

    $3205/13

    8. Candace deRussy

    Trustee, State University

    Republican, eight-year Conservative Party donor

    $500/4

    9. Gerard Kassar

    Member, Interstate Sanitation Commission

    Enrollee, Chair, Brooklyn C.P. and executive committee

    $990/7

    10. Joan Cusack

    Chair, Crime Victims Board

    Enrollee

    $300/4

    11. Sean McSherry

    Member, Parole Board

    Enrollee, son of former comptroller candidate

    $8258/50

    12. Irene Platt

    Member, Parole Board

    Republican, longtime family donor

    $4000/12

    13. Allen Roth

    Executive Director, Research Council on Privatization

    Enrollee, National Affairs chair

    $500/3

    14. David Donohue

    Chief of Staff, Workers Compensation

    Enrollee

    $2392/11

    15. Joseph McHugh

    NYC Director, Workers Compensation

    Enrollee

    $625/3

    16. Fran Vella Marrone

    Special Assistant to Trustee, School Construction Authority*

    Enrollee, Executive Committee & Brooklyn vice chair

    $258/4

    17. Gary Marrone

    Project Officer, School Construction Authority*

    Enrollee

    $190/2

    18. Rob Ryan

    Senior VP for Communications, Empire State Development Corp.

    Republican, closely associated with C.P. since 1977

    $2075/10**

    19. John Buttarazzi

    Senior VP for Privatization, Empire State

    Republican, three family members associated with C.P.

    $630/7

    20. Maria Padilla-Orasel

    Director, Minority and Women's Business Division, Empire State

    Republican, longtime family Conservative Party donor

    $5327/16

    21. Michael Buttino

    Director of Information Services, Higher Education Assistance Corp.

    Enrollee, ex-Greene County chair

    $1758/13

    22. Rosemary Braatz

    Citizen services representative, governor's office

    Enrollee, ex-Putnam County chair

    $1400/13

    23. Viola Hunter

    Assistant director, State Fair, Department of Agriculture

    Enrollee, executive committee

    $550/4

    24. Robert G. Smith

    Member, NYC Financial Control Board

    Enrollee, a Conservative Party founder

    $12,090/16

    25. Ed Bergassi

    Commissioner, State Insurance Fund

    Republican, fundraiser and donor to CP

    $7375/14

    26. James Gay

    Senior Community Relations Representative, Power Authority

    Enrollee, Treasurer

    $870/7

    27. John Stump Jr.

    Building Superintendent, General Services

    Enrollee, Regional vice chair & Delaware County chair

    $60/1

    28. Keith Zobel

    Project Assistant, Commission on Corrections

    Enrollee, son of Conservative Party executive director

    $250/1

    *The Marrones resigned from the SCA this year.

    **This total includes donations from Caroline Quartararo, who shares the same address.

    With special reporting by David Shaftel and David Kihara

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