Racism and Favoritism In Pataki Land

Lawsuit Exposes the Secret Albany World of a Disengaged Governor

Meeting federal standards in a race discrimination case is a tall order. If Crockett succeeds, her case will stain the Pataki record, even though the governor is never mentioned as involved in any of the related personnel or policy decisions. At a minimum, the case has already exposed the administration's ugly innards.

Research: David Altschuler, Chisun Lee, Bryan Mealer, Kandea Mosley

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

The Unelected Elite
Who Really Makes The Capitol Decisions

Leressa Crockett's lawsuit provides a remarkable window into the hiring and firing practices of the Pataki administration, revealing a disengaged governor, a politicized process, and a powerful inner circle of aides.

Joseph Lynch, the current commissioner of the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, testified in January that "appointments of deputy commissioners or higher" could be made by Brad Race, the governor's secretary; Jim Natoli, the director of state operations; or others "without the governor being personally involved in the decision." He also stated that Natoli made termination decisions.

Natoli testified this March that a group of five— Race, general counsel James McGuire, executive assistant Monica Bell, communications chief Zenia Mucha, and himself— review résumés and "approve or disapprove." The governor, Natoli said, gets involved "at the commissioner level," only "rarely" participating in anything below commissioner. The commissioners are "instructed to hire" the candidates selected by the Natoli group for other positions. Discharges, Natoli said, are "normally not done without my approval."

The hires are so political that Lynch said "candidates would be proposed by political leaders of counties or people who were active in the administration, legislators, etc., that would produce some candidates." In fact, Lynch indicated that when he was hired in 1995 as a deputy commissioner, it was because "strong supporters of the governor in western New York" approved him, including an unnamed assemblyman. Natoli testified that the governor, Race, Mucha, and he "collaboratively" decided to make Lynch commissioner after his predecessor, Joe Holland, resigned. That was the only time the governor personally participated in any of the matters discussed in Crockett's case.

When Crockett was fired, Natoli said he asked Lynch to prepare an organization chart and "to put together a list of the people who he wanted to replace and who their political parents were, in terms of their responsible sources." Executives with clout— one of whom was identified as championed by Westchester GOP senator Nick Spano and another by Staten Island beep Guy Molinari— were spared. Those without clout were then dumped, without so much as a nod from the ultimate man in charge. — W.B.

Contract For A Crony
Gov's Lawyer Chases State-Tied Business

¤ Richard Farren is as close to George Pataki as it gets. The two went to Yale together in the '60s, then were young associates at Dewey, Ballantine in the '70s, playing on the same championship basketball team in a law-firm league. Farren has been the lawyer on virtually every real-estate transaction of Pataki's life— from his homes to his more speculative ventures. Early this year, the 62-year-old commercial attorney did the governor's tax returns, just as he has for decades. He chaired the governor's transition committee for environmental appointments. Farren's brother David is a top executive at the State University of New York, and his sister-in-law, Dr. Barbara DeBuono, was, until recently, the state health commissioner.

While neither he nor his law firm, McLaughlin and Stern, has received any direct state business since Pataki took office in 1995, the Leressa Crockett lawsuit has, for the first time, shed some light on Farren's maneuverings to get indirect state work. Indeed, Crockett contended in her initial complaint that her refusal to approve a 1995 Co-op City contract for Farren, as well as her rejection of Farren's advice about the project, was a factor in her firing. A judge struck the Farren issue from the case for legal, not evidentiary, reasons and Farren has, since Crockett's departure, obtained a $175,000-a-year retainer from the board of the 15,500-unit Bronx development.

Farren acknowledged his Co-op City role in a Voice interview, but insisted that he got the business despite what he characterized as "the paranoia, the not-to-be-believed bunker-down mentality" of the governor's staff, which he says "works against" him getting any state-related business. The state's Division of Housing and Community Renewal, where Crockett was deputy commissioner, oversees Co-op City and has to approve contracts authorized by the project's board of directors. Farren insists that the governor's office, which he also contacted repeatedly about the Co-op City conflict, told him to "stay away" from it, expressly barring him from taking the 1995 retainer.

As part of her lawsuit, Crockett testified in federal court that Farren called her twice that year, introducing himself as the governor's personal attorney, and saying that he'd met with Gretchen Hazell, the Co-op City board president whom Crockett was then investigating for misconduct, and Iris Baez, the former board president. He said they'd "offered him" $150,000 to represent the board, but he "didn't think he should get involved" on retainer because of his relationship with the governor. Nonetheless, he'd "decided to advocate their point of view" and try "to keep Gretchen in office." Crockett, with the approval of the governor's office, had already begun hearings on Hazell's removal for violations of state rules.

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