Tough Watchdog

Lefþer the Latest to Feel Campaign Board’s Bite

Giuliani wasn't done. After his re-election, he tried to cut the board's budget and move its offices to Brooklyn. Leading the attack was Giuliani's budget director, Robert Harding, whose father, Raymond, is the Liberal Party leader and Giuliani ally who grew wealthy lobbying City Hall after Rudy's election and whose brother, Russell, also won cushy jobs in the administration. At a June 1999 campaign board meeting, Robert Harding delivered a stunningly harsh tirade, calling the board's budget proposal "gluttonous and abusive" and accusing it of hoarding money in a reserve fund. O'Hare politely reminded Harding that the reserve fund was required by city law. Giuliani later backed down.

The biggest contretemps in the 2001 mayoral election was the board's ruling that the freebie services provided by political guru Hank Morris to then candidate Alan Hevesi had to be counted as actual expenditures. A furious Morris showed up at the board meeting to denounce the decision, insisting that he would go to court to have it overturned. An unruffled O'Hare merely shrugged. "So sue me," the priest said.

Last week, at a meeting where Leffler's violations were due to be discussed, O'Hare, 71, quietly announced that he had informed Mayor Bloomberg that he would be stepping down when his term ends on March 31. A search for his replacement has begun, but those involved in shaping the original program agree that its unþappable chairman will be hard to replace.

"You wanted someone who was not only highly intelligent and had great integrity but also someone of great courage," Koch said last week of O'Hare. "He was all of that. He was unþinching. It was wonderful. He fined every mayor, including me. And he was right. We paid it. Dinkins fired him because he fined him, and Giuliani hated him for it."

"It is the best program in the country," said good-government advocate Gene Russianoff, who helped champion the original law. "A lot of it is because of Father O'Hare's stature. He called them as he saw them, and he stuck to his guns."

O'Hare himself said the job had been a learning experience. "I really didn't know what I was getting in for," he said from his office at Fordham, where he is also retiring this spring. "I learned that municipal politics is not a non-contact sport. Things did get tough."

Being a priest, he acknowledged, "probably insulated me from some of the criticism." Another edge, he said, came from hiring Gordon, a move he called "the best decision I ever made."

Under the law, the board is designed to be bipartisan, controlled by no major party. "We haven't been perfect, but we have established a nonpartisan culture," he said. "I hope that can continue."

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