Bloomberg's Golden Republican
If you wanted a sense of what a third term for Michael Bloomberg might be like, it would pay to take a good long look at Brooklyn State Senator Marty Golden.
One of the things that made life so tough for Ed Koch—our last three-term mayor—in his final years in office was the damage done by Democratic political bosses and their cronies who helped him win the election. In Bloomberg's case, the threat is on the right.
Golden, a conservative Republican from Bay Ridge, represents the flip side of many of the issues that the mayor has cared most about in office—things like the dangers of smoking, gun safety, pork-barrel spending, pension giveaways, and the perils of political patronage. But none of that has stopped the former cop and catering hall owner from bonding with the mayor and serving as his biggest friend in the Grand Old Party. Make that his only Republican friend, at least in these parts.
As last week's meeting with the five Republican county leaders showed, things remain frosty between Bloomberg and party officials. It's not hard to see why. Two years ago, when the mayor publicly renounced his Republican registration, he went out of his way to trash the GOP as just another party that doesn't "stand for anything." That rubbed a few people the wrong way. Say what you will about Republican orthodoxy, most members like to think that the party of Lincoln has a creed worth defending. The even bigger insult was that these slams were coming from a guy who was twice handed the party's nomination, even though everyone knew the media mogul was a Democrat who was switching affiliation solely to get the GOP line.
Part of the tab for the mayor's hump 'em and dump 'em attitude came due last month when Team Bloomberg began shopping for a ballot line for this fall's election. Self-respecting Republican leaders issued statements insisting that this time around, they won't be pushovers. That is, all except for Marty Golden, arguably the city's most powerful elected Republican official at the moment.
"At the end of the day, there is no one who can do more for the Republican party and the city than Mike Bloomberg," Golden told the Times. He was even blunter when asked about it by the Observer's Azi Paybarah: "I think it's a no-brainer," said Golden.
Even to the likes of Staten Island Republican chairman John Friscia—viewed as the most amenable of the party's chieftains to hosting Bloomberg Part Three on the GOP line—that kind of talk is infuriating. "I think that's great for Marty telling everybody how brilliant he is, and how stupid we are," Friscia snapped last week just before Bloomberg's meeting with party leaders in Manhattan. "I think he is out of line for making these comments. They have been wholly and totally inappropriate."
Queens Republican chairman Phil Ragusa was slightly more politic, but similarly dismissive. "Marty doesn't speak for us," he said. "He may be speaking for the state Senate."
In fact, the Senate's newly minority GOP caucus is the closest thing Bloomberg has to a Republican fan club. But for most members, it's a strictly monetary relationship. Even as he was dissing the party in general, Bloomberg remained the single largest contributor to Senate Republicans—donating $500,000 last year to their losing effort to hold onto majority status. Last month, according to a well-wired GOP source, Senate minority leader Dean Skelos got word that the Bloomberg spigot will shut down if the city's Republicans don't come across with a ballot line for the mayor. That edict appears to be one of the motivations behind Golden's hard-nosed push to get the mayor the Republican nod.
And despite their many reservations, now that city GOP leaders have had a chance to air the bad blood at last week's sit-down, the smart money says the mayor gets the line. As one veteran city political hand put it: "Where else are they going?"
The difference is that, this time around—assuming his poll numbers don't collapse between now and election day—the billionaire businessman who twice sold himself to voters as someone whose wealth and independence keeps him free of grubby politics is going to carry some heavy political debt into a third term. And as things stand now, no one has a better chance of collecting on those Bloomberg IOU's than Marty Golden.
Here's a checklist—call it a Golden Alert—of how Bloomberg's most stalwart ally might try to collect.
This is the traditional form of political barter, and here Golden has shown an old-fashioned, Tammany Hall–style, help-your-friends-in-need approach—regardless of their talents. It's the same favor-trading style that then-Democratic leaders Donald Manes,
Meade Esposito, and Stanley Friedman used to get their pals top jobs under Koch—the same aides whose corruption later crashed his administration.
Right now, Golden's Senate payroll includes Jerry Kassar—chairman of Brooklyn's Conservative Party—as a $98,000-a-year aide. Golden has had Conservative Party backing ever since his days in the City Council. Before Bloomberg reversed course and opted to seek a third term, Kassar was widely touting Golden as a likely Republican mayoral nominee.
Also working out of Golden's Bay Ridge Senate office is Owen Johnson Jr., a $65,000-a-year "research assistant," whose father happens to be another prominent Senate Republican, Owen Johnson Sr., of Suffolk County. Golden—a law-and-order zealot—didn't even blink, as the Voice reported last summer, when Johnson Jr. was busted for assault on his Bay Ridge roommate. Golden left him undisturbed at his desk.
Then there's the embarrassing indictment last November of Golden's former general counsel, a Brooklyn lawyer named John D'Emic, in a real estate fraud scheme. D'Emic was charged by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown in one of those scams that prospered in the easy-money days when banks were pushing loans out the door. D'Emic is alleged to have been part of a ring using stolen identities to steal properties worth $1.4 million from three unsuspecting homeowners, including an elderly Queens widow.
D'Emic was one of Golden's first hires after he joined the Senate in early 2003. Golden kept him on the payroll until 2007, when D'Emic was bumped up to a choicer patronage slot as chief deputy clerk of the Brooklyn courts, with a $96,000 salary. Court officials insist that D'Emic, whose brother is a state Supreme Court judge, was selected as deputy after a rigorous and independent interview process.
If so, having the backing of Brooklyn's most powerful Republican probably didn't hurt his chances. Candidates for such jobs have been plucked out of political ranks for decades. D'Emic's predecessor was a veteran Democratic Party district leader, who held the job for almost 40 years. That's one of the position's key attractions: It's basically a lifetime appointment. It also oversees more than 70 courthouse employees who are "discretionary" hires—i.e., non–civil service slots that translate into more patronage.
"It's a very nice job," said a veteran Brooklyn political player, "one that controls a pretty impressive payroll."
D'Emic has pleaded not guilty in the criminal case, and his attorney insists that his client was himself a dupe of other schemers. "He is a lawyer who does a lot of closings," said Steve Brounstein. "That's all he did here. He is not charged with larceny or the other substantive counts. He is so on the periphery of this case."
D'Emic is a Conservative Party member who has loyally carried his party's banner as past candidate for judge and city comptroller. As such, he gets a big character plug from Conservative Party leader Mike Long, who has also been instrumental in advancing Golden's career. "Jack D'Emic is a victim of circumstances," said Long. "He is one of the most honorable, decent, and outstanding people I know."
Others disagree. In addition to the criminal case, D'Emic was sued three times by angry clients while serving as Golden's legal counsel. In one case, D'Emic and a law partner agreed to pay $280,000 to settle a claim brought by an elderly woman who said they'd caused her to lose a valuable property. In another, members of a Baptist church in Bedford-Stuyvesant accused him of swindling them by not disclosing that he represented both sides of a real estate deal they hired him to handle. "He had a flat-out conflict of interest that he never made known," said Roger Archibald, who represented the church members.
"That's not what happened," countered Brounstein. "He made all proper disclosures and the case against him is dormant."
Either way, D'Emic's murky legal history doesn't exactly burnish Golden's reputation as a manager or a judge of talent, particularly one who may well be recommending appointments to the mayor.
This is the other great local political tradition—one that Bloomberg also vowed to conquer as mayor. Here, too, Golden has shown himself a pro. Since 2005, state records show, the senator has routed some $490,000 to a charity run by the family of a former top aide. The giving has been a two-way street: Officials of the nonprofit have been among the biggest donors to Golden's own political campaign committee, as well as to his Conservative Party allies.
No one suggests that HeartShare Human Services of New York doesn't do good work: It helps the mentally disabled and their families, offers HIV and AIDS assistance, and runs foster-care programs. But as the Times's Danny Hakim reported in 2007, the group has also benefited from its close ties to Golden. HeartShare executive director William Guarinello, whose salary is $464,000 a year, is married to Golden's former longtime community liaison, Donna Guarinello, who worked for Golden in both his City Council and Senate offices.
The charity has served as a virtual family employment agency: William Guarinello's brother, daughter, son-in-law, and brother-in-law have all been employed there at top positions. Meanwhile, since 2002, the Guarinellos have contributed $20,000 to Golden's campaign committee. They've donated another $28,800 to the Conservative Party.
When the Times story ran, Golden's chief of staff, John Quaglione, brushed the relationship aside, telling Hakim that HeartShare "existed before Marty Golden was elected, and it will exist after his retirement." The story didn't appear to bother Golden in the least: The senator sent HeartShare another $170,000 in state member item funds in the current budget. Likewise, the Guarinellos donated another $2,000 to Golden after the piece appeared.
Quaglione—who is likely to run for city council this year—declined to respond to Voice inquiries for this story, as did his boss.
Golden also managed to be on the opposite side of one of Mike Bloomberg's proudest moments: the tough no-smoking bill that the mayor bulldozed through the City Council in 2002. Bloomberg had less than a year in office, and was pioneering new territory. The stringent new anti-tobacco legislation he sought was, at that time, considered the toughest anywhere. Still, Bloomberg spent his limited political capital to win it. He did so, it was clear, because he understood the devastating effects that smoking has on the public's health and purse in a way no mayor ever had.
The "Smoke-Free Act of 2002" basically banned all indoor smoking in restaurants, bars, and places of employment. It passed the council 42-7. Jimmy Oddo, the Staten Island leader of the council's tiny Republican minority caucus, voted for the bill. But one of the most outspoken "no" votes came from the mayor's fellow Republican, Marty Golden, who railed against the legislation at such length at the December hearing that then–Health Committee chairwoman Christine Quinn had to repeatedly tell him that he'd exceeded his time limit.
Golden had already been elected to the state Senate at that point, and that was his last session as a member of the City Council. But he said he took the bill personally because he was then the owner of a major restaurant and Brooklyn catering hall, the Bay Ridge Manor. The new law, he insisted, would kill his business.
He didn't change his mind, either. Almost as soon as he got to the Senate, Golden introduced a bill to roll back the state's own no-smoking legislation, arguing again that the ban was hurting business.
This is the other issue that Bloomberg has successfully made his own more than any prior mayor. Golden boasts of having helped the mayor win new legislation in 2006 that imposed mandatory prison terms for those caught with a loaded illegal firearm. But that was the easy lift. The pro-gun lobby made no effort to block that one.
Last year, Golden simply walked away from a much more controversial bill that's opposed by the state's version of the NRA—the New York Rifle and Pistol Association. That bill would require guns sold in New York to carry new micro-stamping technology that would leave an imprint on bullet casings in order to help police identify weapons used in crimes.
Jackie Hilly, a former prosecutor who heads New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, says micro-stamping will do to traditional ballistics tests what DNA did to fingerprinting, making an art into a science. "We can get it done for just $3 a weapon or less," she said.
Bloomberg singled out the effort in his State of the City speech this year and called on the legislature to pass the bill. "It's just common sense," said the mayor. Golden was for the bill too. Until he wasn't.
"He backed out under pressure, we believe," said Hilly. "First he appeared at a press conference with us and said he would sign on as a sponsor. He said it was a natural for him as a former police officer. Then he backed out."
Instead of calling for the new technology, Golden pulled a politician's time-honored dodge: He introduced a new bill calling for state officials to "study" micro-stamping. "It's pure delay," said Hilly.
Hilly's group gave Golden a "D" grade for his performance on gun-related legislation last year. Even then, they cut him some slack. "He never even returned our questionnaire," she said.
For a mayor hammering away at what he insists are the legislature's outrageous pension giveaways to city workers, Golden here too makes a somewhat embarrassing ally. Bloomberg has been arguing long and hard that hefty pension benefits, if left unchecked, could bankrupt the city. Legislative approval for the hikes, Bloomberg argues, has essentially been bought and paid for by big union contributions. But this is another policy discussion that Bloomberg and his top GOP ally don't seem to have had.
Golden has served as chief Senate sponsor for numerous pension-enhancement bills, including one that quickly became notorious after it was revealed that the bill's financial calculations had been done by a union consultant who later admitted to the Times that his estimates were akin to "voodoo." The consultant's calculation, cited in Golden's legislative submission, was that the bill to give city workers a new opportunity to buy into an enhanced pension system would cost the city nothing. It turned out he was off—by some $200 million.
This time, Golden was clearly chagrined, quickly introducing new legislation to mandate that such bills state who exactly is doing the estimating. "He called it voodoo, and that's wrong," said Golden.
He can only hope the topic doesn't come up on the campaign trail with Bloomberg this fall.
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