Almost immediately after signing up Sampson, Alter, who used to head an east Brooklyn political club, began steering him into politics. "Yeah, I encouraged him to think about politics," Alter told the Voicelast week. "I said, 'You are a good-looking guy, you talk well. Politics might be a good thing for you.' I suggested he seriously consider running."
Although nominally a Democrat, Alter rented himself out to the Giuliani campaign in 1993, recruiting black poll watchers to challenge voters at polling places where David Dinkins was expected to draw the lion's share of votes. Dinkins supporters complained that Alter's recruits, many of whom were apparently homeless, tried to intimidate voters. "Intimidation? Shit. Far from it," said Alter. "Once the smoke cleared, nothing came of it."
Three years later, Alter again went to work for the GOP, obtaining petition signatures for presidential candidate Bob Dole. "How do I square it? Hey, look, I'm a lawyer, my services are for hire," he said.
His Republican dalliances never hurt his standing with the Brooklyn Democratic organization. After Alter's friend Michael Feinberg was elected Surrogate's Court judge in 1996, Alter became one of the judge's most frequent appointees to handle estates. Records show that from the time of Feinberg's election until this year, when the scandal-wracked Surrogate's judge was forced from office for steering business to friends, Alter received 148 separate appointments from Feinberg, collecting more than $190,000 in fees. "Oh, you get these appointments, you mostly work for nothing," he scoffed when asked about his Surrogate's Court practice. What did he think about his friend's removal from office? "I really don't have an opinion about it," said Alter. "The court has spoken. My opinion is irrelevant."
Hynes's investigation of Norman began when an allegedly corrupt judge told the D.A. that the county leader regularly demanded that judicial candidates hire party-tied vendors and consultants. But in 2000, when the Voice's Peter Noel reported how Alter had demanded $140,000 to run the campaign for a sitting Civil Court judge in a small district race ("$140,000 for a Judgeship?" August 2329, 2000), neither Hynes nor Norman complained. Friends of ex-judge Maxine Archer told Noel she viewed Alter's demand as extortion. When Archer refused to pay, Alter promptly went to work for a challenger and, with the aid of his ally Congressman Ed Towns, beat Archer at the polls. Today, Alter makes no apologies for the incident. "I guess Maxine made a mistake, didn't she?" he said.