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As city comptroller, Hevesi has had a fairly low profile. "The culture of the comptroller's office was to be laid-back, not to be in the normal political combat," Hevesi says. "We almost never did Sunday afternoon press conferences because it was a slow news day. We never opted to fight with the mayor or anyone else when we could negotiate an agreement."
For an example, Hevesi likes to talk about his 1997 audit of the city's domestic-violence hotline. After receiving complaints about the hotline, staffers in the comptroller's office made 500 calls posing as victims or batterers. They uncovered myriad problems: Three-quarters of callers were not given proper health care referrals; male batterers received no advice on where to get help; Spanish- and Creole-speaking callers found no one who spoke their language.
"So I have this dramatic, front-page tabloid story," Hevesi says. "I have battered women and the telephone tapes, and [can] attack the administration. [But] I know what Rudy's like. This is not going to accomplish anything except a big fight. So . . . I go to the mayor and tell him what we have. The end result is he . . . implements 312 new beds in the [shelter] system. Fourteen new staff people [are] hired. [And there are] new protocols for how you communicate with battered women. . . . Ultimately, the 312 beds became 340 beds. And I think we saved some lives."
Hevesi and the mayor announced the improvements together at a press conference, which few people likely remember. "I don't know if it was [page] B6 of the Times [or] page 35 of Newsday," Hevesi says. But "that's the culture of journalism. If I had attacked him and called him names, I would've been on the front page."
On the mayoral campaign trail, Hevesi has been battling not only low name recognition, but also the perception that he is too bland and wonkish to excite voters. Such comments rile State Senator Dan Hevesi, the comptroller's 31-year-old son, who has been campaigning on his father's behalf. "They may be confusing the substantive nature of his job with his actual personality," Dan says. "He's the ultimate charmer and kibitzer. But it's hard to elicit hilarious laughter when you're discussing deep-discount bonds and municipal financing." Nonetheless, Dan insists, "We absolutely do not have an Al Gore problem."
There have been several other problems, however. In this year's Democratic primary, when the four candidates hold similar views on many subjects, each candidate's relationship with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has become a campaign issue. While Green has always cast himself as the anti-Giuliani, Hevesi's relationship has been less easily defined.
Critics have charged that the comptroller has been, at times, too cozy with the Republican mayor. They fault him for staying silent during the months when police brutality was front-page news and Giuliani displayed little sympathy for its victims. As a candidate, Hevesi seemed to hear his critics; he captured the endorsement of Abner Louima, who joined him on the campaign trail.
In recent days, Giuliani himself has joined Hevesi's critics. A front-page New York Post story on August 17 quoted the ex-employee of a Hevesi friend accusing the comptroller of accepting a $6000 bribe. While Hevesi denies this charge, he has acknowledged that he did do his friend a favor. He asked a staff member to call Bell Atlantic on behalf of the friend, who hoped to do business with the phone company.
At a hastily arranged press conference the day the Post story broke, Hevesi angrily denounced the bribe accusation. "This stinks to high heaven," he said. For a few days, the news story seemed to die, until last week when Giuliani publicly denounced Hevesi for helping a friend, who was also a campaign contributor. This incident, the mayor said, "cries out for an investigation."
Even before the bribe allegation surfaced, Hevesi had already been having a rough month. On August 6, the Campaign Finance Board voted to withhold $2.6 million in matching funds from Hevesi's campaign. Hevesi had struck an unusual arrangement with Hank Morris, his campaign consultant and longtime friend. Morris was volunteering his services as a consultant, which the CFB said appeared to be an attempt to skirt spending rules. Eventually, the CFB released the matching funds after Hevesi's campaign agreed to pay the consultant $250,000.
To gauge how his campaign is going, Hevesi tunes into NY1 every morning. He wakes at 6 a.m. and spends nearly an hour exercisingon a stationary bike and doing stretcheswhile watching television. In the evening, he returns to his house in Forest Hills, Queens, around 10 p.m. Hevesi spends the next two hours reading newspapers, catching up with his wife, and perhaps watching Law & Order. To ensure he gets six hours of sleep, the candidate goes to bed at midnight.
On this Monday evening, Hevesi arrived at the candidate forum at Medgar Evers College around 7:30 p.m. Ten percent of the auditorium's purple seats were full. Ferrer was speaking behind a podium on the stage as Hevesi walked in. When Hevesi's turn came, he decided to deliver his speech Oprah-style. He walked onto the stage, picked up the microphone, and returned to the floor, staking out a spot in front.