Spoils System

How a Hefty Fee for an Ex-Governor Went Unnoticed

The Post's articles were in many ways a precursor to the current crop of scandal stories. Feinberg was a key focus, as was his supporter, Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Clarence Norman. They pointed to the network of Norman favorites who regularly received big consulting fees from judicial candidates, a pattern now under close scrutiny by the D.A. The stories also pointed out that of Feinberg's first 63 appointments, more than half went to lawyers who donated money to his campaign or the Democratic Party. The Post named more than two dozen of these, singling out far less known figures than Cuomo, many of whom donated less and received smaller receiverships, including a lawyer on the staff of the city council who got what the stories tabbed as "one of [Feinberg's] most lucrative appointments—worth $3,500."

"They are part of the web of patronage and cronyism Feinberg wove during his 1996 election," the article stated.

The Post stayed on the courthouse perks story over the following months, running occasional pieces. In January 2000, the paper tackled the subject again in earnest, this time branching out to other boroughs as well and naming a "patronage dirty dozen" including former mayor Ed Koch, ex-congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, and then-Council Speaker Peter Vallone, all of whom received court appointments worth far less than Cuomo's.

Some people concluded, not unreasonably, that Cuomo's name never made the Post articles because the coverage was headed by veteran journalist Jack Newfield, who has reported on courthouse patronage practices for decades and is also a close and longtime friend of Cuomo's. From having worked closely with Newfield at the Voice and at the Daily News, I know he has never hidden his ties to Cuomo. His position at the time was that he was too close to the politician to write fairly about him.

Asked why Cuomo's well-paid receivership was never raised in the series, Newfield said he thought it had been. "I know we talked about it. We discussed it. I think it did appear." But a check of clips shows no such story. Other reporters who worked on the series also recalled discussion of the governor's Surrogate's Court dealings but said they didn't recall what had happened when it came to reporting it.

Cuomo said his omission was proper.

"If it was a list of patronage people and people who got awarded because of their contacts, then I didn't belong on it," Cuomo said.

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