Here come the machine's judges

If there's one thing a judge should have, it's a good memory. How else do you keep straight not only the facts of the case in front of you but also the past cases that could be precedents for your rulings? But Bill Hodges, a longtime Nassau GOP operative and current candidate for District Court judge in next Tuesday's election, has shown that his memory is faulty. And, when it's convenient, so are the memories of his buddies in the Nassau Republican machine.

And so are the memories of the voters, victims of their own apathy and the machine's propaganda. They are likely to keep in place one-party rule by what the New York Times recently called the last and largest surviving example, anywhere in the United States, of a Tammany Hall-type political machine.

The best way to understand a machine is to take it apart and study it, piece by piece. The Nassau GOP machine is notable for its staggering array of interchangeable parts and its politicizing of the judicial system. So here's an examination, based on campaign records and other public documents, of just one part of the sick shuffle of money, jobs, appointments and work among judges, lawyers and politicians in Nassau County.

You have to admire the chutzpah of machine boss Joe Mondello. You may want to feel sorry for the many other good people in Nassau who think they have no choice but to maintain the machine with regular doses of money and sweat if they want to make a living. But one outside observer nails it best by calling this frenetic buying and selling of people, power and money "a fucking cesspool."

The more things change...

Last June, when County Executive Tom Gulotta appointed Baldwin lawyer Bill Hodges to fill a vacancy on the Second Judicial District bench, not a whimper was heard from the Republican county legislators, who are part of the same machine. Gulotta also appointed Lisa Siano and Diane M. Dwyer to the district bench. Hodges replaced Anthony Marano, who had been appointed to a Supreme Court judgeship six months earlier.

Siano and Dwyer replaced Carnell Foskey and Joel Gewanter, who were appointed a couple of weeks earlier to Family Court.

This round of musical chairs in the year before an election is typical of the machine. It enables the Nassau GOP to, for instance, flood the county with bumper stickers urging that voters "return" Hodges and the other appointees to the judgeships the machine handed them.

How did Bill Hodges get so lucky?

Flash back to the late 1980s. While a zoning board member in the Town of Hempstead, Hodges allegedly represented clients in property sales in which the town granted variances. So did fellow board member Ray Mineo and board counsel Arthur Levine. Newsday, at the time in a dirt-digging mode, reported the situation, but all three denied that politics had anything to do with it.

"The people I sit with on the board are of the highest integrity," Mineo told Newsday back then. Levine added, "You have clean government here. This is minor, innocent stuff. We try to do everything right, open and above board."

Which must explain why, back in 1984, according to a 1989 Newsday story, Hempstead officials supposedly altered a consultant's rankings to grant a $4.6 million HUD contract to the company of a politically connected developer, Alvin Benjamin. A company official, Kurt Mohr, was a former town official during the reign of Alfonse D'Amato as town supervisor. Everyone denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of the action.

Bill Hodges, who presided over the town's housing authority in '84, told Newsday in 1989, "I have no recollection of that."

Tom Gulotta, who was the town's presiding supervisor in '84, told Newsday that he knew nothing about either the rankings or an extra $225,000 that the newspaper said was given to the company in connection with its work in the town. He blamed his executive assistant at the time, Ed Ward, saying, "I assume that people are going to act properly unless I learn otherwise." The newspaper's 1989 story reported that Ward told the town's planning commissioner to give the company the extra $225,000.

Ward told Newsday that Mohr "produced something" to justify his claims. But Newsday reported that neither Ward nor any other official who approved Mohr's request could produce any documentation supporting it.

Ward had worked for Mohr during D'Amato's reign in Hempstead. At the time of the Newsday story in 1989, Ward was special assistant to Joe Mondello, who at that time was Hempstead's presiding supervisor.

Where are they now? Ed Ward is a Nassau County legislator from District 19. Gulotta, of course, is the county executive. Mondello is still the party boss.

And Bill Hodges, carrying his poor memory with him, is about to become a judge.

But Hodges always remembers to keep up his contributions to the party. He gave $200 to the Nassau County Republican Committee on Aug. 11, 1998. Fifteen days later, he sent in $500. On Oct. 22, 1998, he gave $400 more. On Feb. 12, 1999, he chipped in $500 more.

What about fellow lawyers Ray Mineo and Arthur Levine? They're also regular contributors. For instance, Mineo gave $100 under his own name on Aug. 17, 1998, followed by $1,100 more in February and March of 1999.

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