Robes for a Rogue

Ex-councilman Noach Dear prepares to mount the bench

As much as anyone in his political generation, Noach Dear has embraced the true spirit of his Tammany Hall forefathers, seizing the advantage wherever he sees it.

Dear, a Democrat from Brooklyn's Borough Park neighborhood, served on the City Council for 18 years until the tyranny of term limits put an end to his livelihood. When this spurious reform dumped him from office in 2001, Dear was just 47, still in his political prime. Even though his council fan club could have met in a broom closet, there was no one disputing that Dear, a short man with a goatee and a brash manner, had proven himself a tremendous political fundraiser, a tenacious favor-seeker, and one of the council's classic connivers. These are perfect attributes for a career in politics, and Dear was determined to find a way back into the business for which he had shown such a remarkable aptitude.

He tried and failed in runs for Congress (twice) and the state senate (two more times). Then, this year, he lowered his sights and declared himself a candidate for a Civil Court judgeship representing Brooklyn's Fifth Municipal Court District, chiefly his old Borough Park base.

This time, political handicappers agree, he is a lock. A stroll down Borough Park's main thoroughfare, 13th Avenue, shows no sign of his lone primary opponent, a former judge named Karen Yellen. Dear's name, however, is everywhere, his campaign stickers adorning every lamp post, mailbox, and bus stop.

There are Dear posters as well, proclaiming: "Brooklyn needs a judge who stands for integrity, honesty and hard work." The posters have a photo of a judge's gavel sitting on a big gleaming wooden desk next to an American flag. There is a nice plush, black leather chair waiting for somebody to sit in it. You look at the picture and know that, by the new year, Noach Dear will be walking right into that room, donning a judge's robes, and planting his tush in the big chair behind the big desk where he will begin dispensing justice to the troubled citizens who appear before him. For this disturbing reason, a review of his record is worthwhile.

Dear started out as manager of his neighborhood's community board. When a wave of landlord arson and harassment drove hundreds of elderly and minority tenants from their homes on Borough Park's fringes in the early 1980s, Dear said he never noticed a thing. This shrewd perspective made him ideal for the council job, which he won in 1983.

Eager to take on more challenges, he launched a nonprofit group called the Save Soviet Jewry Foundation and based it in his district council office. He paid himself a $50,000 salary and had the group pick up the tab for telephones in his home and his car. He also had it pay for first-class air fare to Israel and Moscow for his family. Asked to justify the trips, Dear explained that his family was key to his mission. He said he had been able to smuggle out books and documents given to him by political prisoners by training his six-year-old daughter to burst into tears to distract Soviet customs inspectors as they sifted through the family luggage.

"My daughter did a great job, and the documents got out," he said after the state attorney general ordered him to repay $37,000 of the funds.

As chairman of the council's human-rights committee in 1990, Dear organized a trip to South Africa for what he said was an apartheid fact-finding mission. Several black colleagues recruited for the trip bailed out, however, when Dear acknowledged that the junket was funded by the whites-only Johannesburg city council.

As a consumer aid, Dear issued annual warnings to his Orthodox constituents about phony kosher products surfacing during religious holidays. Then it came to light that he had stiffed suppliers to a kosher restaurant of which he was an owner. The vendors filed suit, saying Dear had used his council status to sweet-talk them into advancing him goods on credit. The restaurant filed for bankruptcy.

Prior to that, Dear had expanded the council's foreign-policy horizons by persuading a group of New York–based Sri Lankan Tamils, who were seeking publicity for their cause, that he would be their champion. In short order, the Tamils were paying for Dear to fly to Europe and investing $170,000 in his dairy restaurant. The loan soon went down the tubes along with the blintzes. The Tamils sued, claiming it was a personal loan. Dear countered that it was just an unlucky investment.

"If I was permitted to hit him, I would break his head," the leader of the Tamil group told The New York Times' Marty Gottlieb.

When he wants to be, Dear is a talkative man, and, admittedly, he can be abrasive as well. Council veterans recall the day in 1991 during a debate in the council chambers that he so irritated the late Mary Pinkett, a heavyset woman who represented Fort Greene, that she charged across the aisle with clear intent to clobber him. Officials held her back as Dear scampered away. The next day, Donald Trump, an occasional boxing promoter at his casinos, met with the council's black caucus to seek their support for a development project. "Mary, 8-to-5 odds you would have decked him," Trump told Pinkett. "Shit," Pinkett replied, "5-to-1 I would've kicked his ass."

None of these antics diminished Dear's expertise at raising funds for politics. While most of his efforts, appropriately, went to his own campaign coffers, Dear achieved national attention when he raised several million dollars for the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1996. Gore even visited Dear's spacious home in Midwood. Since his conservative constituents had little in common politically with the Clinton administration, the perception was that Dear was offering White House access, a notion he did not dispel.

To finance his own council races, Dear won large checks from friendly business executives. When he ran for Congress, however, contributions were limited by law to $2,000 apiece. Dear's campaign staff solved this problem by forging 47 sequentially numbered money orders in other people's names to cover a secret donation of $40,000.

Federal Election Commission records show that investigators spent three years painstakingly tracking down the culprits. Ultimately, no criminal charges were referred, but Dear's treasurer had to pay $45,000 in fines. Dear, who insisted it was all a mystery to him, had to pay any remaining funds in his congressional campaign accounts. This wasn't a problem, because he had already spent the money.

For his Civil Court race this year, Dear has relied mainly on the connections he has made as a member of the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Dear was appointed to one of the panel's nine seats in 2001, right after he had to yield his council post. So far, of the $147,000 he has raised for the judgeship contest, roughly half has come from taxi corporations, which rely on his good graces for their regulatory needs. If Dear were running for city office, he would be forbidden to seek these gifts. Because Civil Court is a state post, he's free to take whatever he can get. If this appears unseemly, that's someone else's problem. Taxi commission chairman Matthew Daus, who hails from a Democratic Party clubhouse adjacent to Dear's Borough Park district, declined to talk about it.

The usually loquacious Dear went mum as well. Caught on his cell phone, he apologized. "I am crazy, crazy these days. Meetings and meetings. I will call you, I promise. Promise," he said. The judge-to-be was not heard from again.

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