Racism and Favoritism In Pataki Land

Lawsuit Exposes the Secret Albany World of a Disengaged Governor

In an attempt to show that DHCR has a better African American employment record than other state agencies, an attorney for DHCR filed an affidavit revealing that the percentage of black state workers had declined from 16.5 percent in 1991, while Mario Cuomo was governor, to 15.3 percent in 1997 and 14.8 percent in 1998, indicating dramatic reductions under Pataki. This previously unreported downturn in black state employment matches a similar drop in the city's black workforce during the Giuliani years. The dual declines reversed decades of increasing rates, yet they have drawn little media attention or Democratic criticism.

DHCR's 31 percent black workforce "increased marginally" under Pataki, according to the affidavit. No numbers were provided for high-ranking officials within the department, though the percentage has clearly declined dramatically since Holland's departure. A national study in 1997 ranked the Pataki administration 36th in the percentage of high state officials who were black, Asian, or Latino.

The state's brief in the case says Crockett was fired because she was "a controversial figure" at DHCR who "had received criticism for the way in which she handled several important and highly visible matters." One issue Pataki attorneys point to is the NOI delay, but Lynch testified that Crockett's handling of the matter was not "a valid basis for criticizing" her. Asked if "there was anything Crockett could have done to speed up the process" of removing the NOI guards, Lynch replied: "Not to my knowledge."

The Pol From Peekskill, George Pataki
photo: Fred W. Mcdarrah
The Pol From Peekskill, George Pataki

Instead it was Jerry Belson, the manager of the Coney Island project that employed the Louis Farrakhan­connected guard company, who was named by Lynch, Wiesenfeld, and others in court documents as the primary cause of the delay. Yet, according to Lynch, it was Belson, who heads the Associated Building Owners of NYC, who recommended the hiring of Otis Jones, the deputy who succeeded Crockett.

While it is clear that Crockett raised constitutional questions about terminating a contractor based on its religious affiliation, she quickly eased NOI out of two upstate projects, was fashioning a legal strategy to do the same at Coney Island, and participated in dumping the NOI guards when finally ordered to do so.

The other "controversy" cited by the state was Crockett's attempt in 1996 to remove the politically wired Gretchen Hazell from the chair of the Co-op City board for violations of state regulations. Hazell was then a Republican candidate for a Bronx state senate seat and tied to Guy Velella, the Bronx party boss and state senator who lobbied DHCR on Hazell's behalf. DHCR oversees the massive Bronx project, the largest in the state. Though the state brief describes Crockett as "the visible spokeswoman" who "took the heat" on the Hazell removal, it doesn't contend she did anything wrong other than become "the subject of negative local press stories."

While Lynch wiggled a bit during his testimony on the Co-op City matter, suggesting that Crockett may have allowed herself to become too identified with the anti-Hazell faction on the board, he ultimately acknowledged that everything Crockett did in seeking Hazell's ouster was "consistent with agency policy" and approved by Holland and himself.

In fact, Lynch relied entirely on Crockett's actions in a May 1997 letter written in response to a Co-op City audit by State Comptroller Carl McCall, who criticized DHCR for dawdling on the Hazell case. Saying DHCR took "strong and decisive steps" by dumping Hazell, Lynch condemned Hazell's "defiance" and "unauthorized unilateral actions," adopting precisely the Crockett conclusions that apparently got her in hot water with the governor's office.

The Hazell scenario is a striking indication of just how politicized policy is under Pataki. Lynch and Crockett agree that the governor's office initially approved bringing charges against Hazell. But after Velella and Farren, who had been offered a contract to represent Co-op City by Hazell, interceded on her behalf, Crockett claims, "there was perhaps a change in the governor's office."

Crockett says Holland was "told to hold the release of my report until after the Co-op City elections" in 1996, and, by the time it was released, Hazell had already lost her seat on the board. Lynch is quoted in McCall's audit as confirming Crockett's recollection, leading the comptroller to fault the three-month delay in releasing the report as harmful to project residents. A subsequent Hazell lawsuit challenging Crockett's findings lost in the courts.

The perverse outcome of the controversy is that even though the Pataki administration has used Crockett's actions to defend itself on the Hazell matter, Natoli testified about the executive chamber's "unhappiness" over Crockett's handling of the matter and the state still cites it as a basis for her dismissal. What she did was right, the state seems to be saying, but we can still fire her for not doing what we wanted her to do, which was wrong.

While all Crockett has to prove in her case is that race was a factor— not the only factor— in her firing, the Pataki administration's implicit contention that she was dumped because she resisted the pro-Hazell importuning of Farren and Velella is as much an indictment as the race charges themselves. In a similarly oblivious vein, the state papers make a point of how much Crockett now as a managing director of CBIC Oppenheimer World Markets— describing her $158,778 salary as "twice" what she made at DHCR. Her new prestigious position— like the ones she held as chair of the city's Industrial Development Agency and financial services commissioner before joining DHCR— just make her sudden dismissal look more and more transparent.

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