Sacking a Saint

Giuliani Team Blows a Chance to Protect a Real Catholic Legacy

David Goldfarb, a preservationist attorney who submitted a formal request for designation of the camp and the Day cottage in August 1997, says landmarks "dragged their feet for years," though he believes "they knew they were in danger." Asked by Raab's consultant to participate in the final months of direct negotiations with Discala, Goldfarb found no indication of cooperation from Discala. Even though the three Worker cottages were on an open-space portion of the site—and could not be built on—Discala "felt they would be an eyesore," says Goldfarb, and "didn't want a lot of visitors coming there." According to Goldfarb, Discala never "wanted them designated," and Raab "likes to work out a deal with the owner," so she "miscalculated."

"Previous commissioners tried to work something out, but if they saw that it wasn't going right, they'd just designate," Goldfarb said. He believes Raab should have designated the cottage between the time Discala went to contract on the parcel in early 1997 and the closing in January 2000 so "Discala would have known when he bought it that he was getting a historic site." An officer of a citywide preservation organization that monitors the commission, Goldfarb insists that the Day cottage could have been "designated in a matter of a month or two," precisely the time period described by the commission itself in public brochures.

Finally, a month or so after the Day cottage was gone, Raab put a still pending item on her agenda to salvage the ground underneath it and the last four bungalows on the camp site, even though Day had nothing to do with the ones that remain. Raab's dalliance was condemned in Staten Island Advance and Staten Island Register editorials, as well as by preservation leaders, including Hal Bromm of the Historic Districts Council, who sent Raab a searing letter he refused to release. Bromm told the Voice that Raab had given in to "wishful thinking" and said that the commission's inaction on the cottage suggests that it needs advocates "to remind them of what the landmark law says." Laura Hansen of Place Matters, a committee of the Municipal Art Society, deplored the commission delays and said, "Maybe they'll have a different attitude now that all this has happened."

Raab won't. Insisting that she "moved as fast as I could" on Day, Raab will not even be around to decide the pending designation. She will soon become the president of Hunter College, a City University sinecure secured for her by Giuliani, whose initial campaign for mayor she helped run in 1989.

Dorothy Day, who lived out many of her final days in this Staten Island cottage, ate the same soup she served the poor in her Catholic Worker houses, wore the same discarded clothes she gave them, and carried only a prayer book and coffee jar on her trips across the country.

Discala, his family, his partners, and their families have donated at least $41,000 to Republicans since 1997, including the mayor, the governor, Congressman Vito Fossella, Borough President Guy Molinari, and various party committees. They are as a group among the biggest GOP donors on the island, with some of them included in intimate settings with both Giuliani and Governor Pataki. Fossella's father, Vito Sr., is Discala's engineer and has represented the Central Park East Estates project—which contemplates the construction of 35 luxurious homes by a private beach—in meetings with Raab and other city officials.

Molinari, who used to be the lawyer for the Spanish Naturopath Society that sold the camp to Discala, has quietly supported the project. Molinari aide Al De Lillo was the law partner of Discala lawyer Pat Corbo in a two-member firm for years. Corbo represented the camp society after Molinari and handled the sale to Discala, who soon became his client.

Jim Molinaro, Molinari's deputy who is running for borough president this year with Giuliani's support, is so close to Discala partner Otto Savo that Savo says he recently switched his party registration from Republican to Conservative as a sign of his support for Conservative Party chair Molinaro. Savo acknowledges that his family has also given to the Molinaro campaign, but the committee will not have to disclose donations until July.

The Buildings Department official who got the Raab memo asking for a stop-order on demolition permits, Bill Hinckley, contributed $250 to Congressman Fossella's campaign in August 2000 and is listed as finance director of the Molinari Republican Club, which was founded by Guy Molinari and is supporting Molinaro's beep candidacy. Another buildings official, Rudy Hahn, who oversees the department's citywide demolition unit, has operated an inspection company on the side and was hired by Discala. His company was fined by the state for illegally putting rat poison in many occupied cottages on the Spanish Camp site.

While Discala acknowledges knowing Hinckley, there is no evidence that Hinckley or Hahn had anything to do with granting the particular permits for the Worker cottages. Indeed, the D.A.'s probe appears to be focused on whether the permit applications misled the department about which cottages would be demolished. Neither Molinari, Molinaro, nor Fossella—the GOP establishment on the island—have ever said a public word in defense of the Day cottage or in criticism of its demolition. On the other hand, independent Republicans like Councilman Steve Fiala wrote Raab to urge the cottage's designation and even helped find a home for Day's frail former secretary, Rosemary Morse, when Discala evicted her from the bungalow in 1998. And Jay O'Donovan, the city councilman who is the Democratic candidate for borough president, joined Mark Green in a post-demolition press conference denouncing Discala and calling for D.A. Murphy's criminal investigation.

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