Billy's Boondoggle

The Comptroller's Payroll Becomes a Political Playground

Ever since a second Brooklyn judge was nabbed back in April for taking bribes, the news pages have been awash again in the predictably salacious saga of Court Street collusion, with judgeship-and-endorsement-for-sale headlines so déjà vu they seem recycled. Happily unnoticed so far in this media furor is the citywide embodiment of the Brooklyn Democratic organization, Comptroller Bill Thompson, the 50-year-old son of the county's onetime most powerful judge, whose every step up the political ladder has been guided by the machine.

Moving from the staff of a jailed Brooklyn congressman to the top deputy job under borough president and party boss Howie Golden to Golden's designee on the Board of Education, the savvy and understated Thompson catapulted in 2001 from the board presidency to comptroller. Even though Thompson's only opponent in the post-9-11 primary was another creature of the organization, ex-city councilman Herb Berman, Thompson won the backing of Democratic leader Clarence Norman, whose name today is on the tip of every grand juror's tongue. Together with Queens boss Tom Manton and the technically neutral Bronx leader Roberto Ramirez, Norman helped put Thompson in his pivotal position.

The payback has been an avalanche of political appointees, with 29 of Thompson's 72 new hires connected to either a campaign or a clubhouse, and another eight of the office's previously hired political activists protected or promoted. With 20 of these discretionary employees tied to the Brooklyn organization, Thompson has well rewarded Norman, whose top operative, Carl Andrews, took a 13-week leave of absence from Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office to run Thompson's field campaign in 2001. Now a state senator, Andrews, who was paid $46,148 by Thompson, has also taken briefer leaves to work for Hillary Clinton and Mark Green.

One of Thompson's new hires was Jackie Ward, whose $153,610 in total campaign payments in 2001 has made her a focus of Brooklyn DA Joe Hynes's ongoing probe. While Ward, who has been close to Thompson for years, was not on his campaign payroll, sources say she did help him, and he gave her an $80,000-a-year job on the day he took office in January 2002. In addition to Andrews, the Thompson campaign paid $102,799 to Branford Communications, the Norman-tied printing company that Brooklyn judicial candidates have claimed they were required to use, and donated another $7,000 to three Norman political committees. Hank Sheinkopf, the consultant who spearheaded Thompson's campaign, is so intertwined with Norman that he has been handling public relations for Ravi Batra, the controversial lawyer who employs Norman and is, like Ward, a subject of the current Hynes probe.

The list of Brooklyn's politically wired on Thompson's payroll includes Paul Bader ($90,000), husband of Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez; Nickolas Perry ($30,000), son of Assemblyman Nick Perry; Pinchus Hikind ($91,855), brother of Assemblyman Dov Hikind; Chirlane McCray ($75,000), wife of Councilman Bill de Blasio; Carmen Martinez ($91,307), treasurer or financial secretary of two Norman committees; Charles Dyer ($50,363), treasurer of another Norman committee; Arelis Echevarria ($80,000), ex-aide to Congressman Ed Towns; Ed Castell ($154,000), ex-aide to Velázquez and council candidate; and Judith Rodriguez ($42,000), former chief of staff to Assemblyman Darryl Towns.

Also on Thompson's payroll are Greg Brooks ($154,000), Marilyn Mosley ($85,000), Karla Schickele ($80,000), and Martha Kiamos ($100,000), all of whom worked for Golden. Other Brooklyn-tied political activists employed by Thompson are Shawn Woodby ($105,000), Denise Pease ($105,000), Robert "Josh" Mazess ($88,000), Linwood Smith ($73,200), Yedida Kaploun ($52,000), and Alan Fleishman ($83,995). A Park Slope district leader, Fleishman, ironically, is a leading Brooklyn reformer on sick leave from the office.

Staffers like Martinez and Mosley are paid more than twice their civil service titles. Several of the new hires got salaries higher than their prior city salaries—e.g., Castell (a $56,000 hike), Mazess ($20,000), Brooks ($23,000), Mosley ($7,000), and Kiamos ($4,000). Some of those already in the office got raises, such as Perry ($5,000) and Pease ($22,000).

Castell, Brooks, Mazess, Echevarria, and Kiamos played key roles in Thompson's campaign, with Kiamos, for example, filing as the intermediary for 176 contributions, making her one of Thompson's most prolific fundraisers. Others active in Thompson's campaign who wound up on the comptroller's tab include Teisha Hills, Thompson's school board secretary, who got a $47,000 raise, and Gayle Horwitz, another former school aide rewarded with a $52,000 salary hike. Michael Egbert, who handled Web design for the campaign, is now a $35,000 trainee in the office, and campaign consultant Basil Duncan is a $93,000 project manager.

Manton also has a number of new hires working for Thompson: John Dorsa ($60,000), the son of a Queens judge and president of Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin's club; Martha Taylor ($90,000), a district leader; Edgar Moya ($85,000), a state committeeman; and Basil Dean Angelakos ($145,000), a former construction executive involved in the borough's Greek politics. The Ramirez tie is far murkier, with a onetime assembly aide, Heriberto Barbot Jr. ($154,000), who lives in Brooklyn and chaired the Park Slope school board, now running Thompson's claims department, and Arnie Segarra, who was David Dinkins and Fernando Ferrer's top advance man, drawing an $80,000 manager salary. Alvin Bridgewater, a minister and Bronx political activist, is paid $58,000.

Manhattan players include Joyce Miller ($123,000), wife of Congressman Jerry Nadler; ex-Harlem district leader Joe Haslip ($80,000); Lonny Paris ($80,000), who worked in Liz Krueger's senate campaign; Alisa Schierman ($65,000), a frequent donor to Assemblyman Scott Stringer; and Rafael Escano ($55,000), who is associated with Washington Heights assemblyman Adriano Espaillat. Paris and Moya, both of whom played key roles in Thompson's campaign, took leaves shortly after they were hired to work in 2002 campaigns. Janet Mandelkern, a $36,000 secretary who was hired by Thompson predecessor Alan Hevesi, is a niece of Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver.

Many on this list, like Castell and Brooks, are widely known for their governmental competence, while the hiring of others, such as Mosley, Echevarria, and Bader, appears crassly political. Incredibly, Mosley's financial disclosure forms list personal loans she made to Chris Jackson, a former Brooklyn district leader who has been the subject of an explosive Manhattan and Albany criminal probe, and to Tish James, Norman's candidate against City Councilman James Davis in 2001. Echevarria was closely associated with the unsuccessful council candidacy of Richie Perez, who was recently ordered to pay the Campaign Finance Board $72,132 for 2001 violations. As respected as Brooks is, his wife was law secretary to Gerald Garson, the judge now under indictment for taking videotaped bribes in his chambers, and the financing of her own judicial campaign has raised eyebrows.

When Thompson's office obtained a copy of the list of employees who might be included in this story, it notified everyone that they were not to answer Voice questions about their own political pedigrees. When the Voicewrote a letter seeking specifics about the listed individuals, a spokesman replied that we had "incorrectly identified" some employees as politically connected but named no one, insisting that staff is hired solely "on the basis of experience and qualifications."

While there is certainly nothing wrong or unusual about elected officials hiring campaign or clubhouse operatives, the abundance of them on Thompson's payroll is unmistakably newsworthy, especially at a time of fiscal austerity and in a professional office whose top duty is protecting the city's financial integrity. Thompson and his staff treat any press pursuit—whether the issue is patronage or the budget-balancing role of city unions—as if it is a breach of civility, so accustomed is he to patty-cake coverage. Yet he wants to be taken seriously, not only as a comptroller who runs an on-the-merits shop but as a potential mayoral candidate, either in 2005 or beyond. To merit that treatment, he'll have to shed the Brooklyn baggage or step forward to explain it.


Research assistance: Zoe Alsop, Michael Anstendig, Ross Goldberg, Phineas Lambert, Brittany Schaffer, and Jessica Silver-Greenberg

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