Mother Dearest & the Courthouse Cabal
Scott Stringer, the 41-year-old Manhattan assemblyman who's running for Public Advocate, featured his 67-year-old mother, Arlene Stringer-Cuevas, in his recent radio ad. The former city councilwoman and Democratic district leader was heard lecturing her son on how to run his campaign. While one commercially viable mother helped in recent years to elect and reelect her son,
Al D'Amato, there's a lot more to Arlene Stringer than pasta recipes.
Arlene has received 95 appointments since 1993 as a court-appointed evaluator and conservator from Manhattan judges, just as her former husband and Scott's father, Ronald Stringer, collected 148 appointments as a guardian or receiver, mostly in the '80s. Scott, who's been a district leader and player in Manhattan judicial politics since 1983, is a leader of Community Free Democrats, which is arguably the most powerful club at the annual Manhattan judicial conventions, where Supreme Court judges are selected. Some of the judges who are picking his mother for court appointments are also seeking his support for judicial nominations.
While Ronald Stringer is a lawyer who was blasted by court overseers for his patronage abuses and stopped getting appointments in 1993, Arlene Stringer held city intergovernmental and teaching posts until she retired in the early '90s and has no particular background for the court work she gets. Former assemblyman Oliver Koppell, who authored the bill that created the evaluator position, says its purpose was "to involve nurses, social workers and people with a background in counseling." Arlene has no such experience.
As an evaluator, she does the sensitive work of making a recommendation to a judge about the mental competence of people she visits, often very briefly. Evaluators can make up to $5000 a case. Her recommendations can lead to a judge appointing attorneysoften also from the insider ranks of the Manhattan Democratic leadershipto take over the management of an elderly person's assets, raking in exorbitant fees.
Even though the only qualification to get on the list of evaluators maintained by the Office of Court Administration is a two-day course, David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the courts, says that "our records do not indicate any evaluator training for Arlene Stringer." The City Bar Association, which runs most of the evaluator courses, also said she did not appear on their certified list. Scott Stringer maintained his mother "is on the list," but sent a copy of a 1993 certificate from the County Lawyers Association stating that she'd taken their six-hour course for guardians, not evaluators. The statute does permit judges to select evaluators who are not on the list, and there is no list for guardians or conservators who aren't lawyers.
Scott also acknowledged that his mother was "one of the first people" to receive evaluator/conservator appointments in Manhattan after the positions were created by the legislature in 1992, just months before Stringer became an assemblyman. Party organizations around the city began quietly offering the posts to loyal workers in late 1992 and early 1993, when the public was largely unaware of these new jobs.
"It's very good work. She visits people in need," Scott told the Voice, explaining that his mother was too ill to answer questions herself. "She evaluates people who are sick, talks to people. She retired and wanted to do something. There were never any complaints about her work; in fact the judges who appointed her praised her. She makes about $11,000 a year at it."
Judge Louis York, for example, has appointed Stringer in nine cases. York comes out of CFD and frequently attends the club's political dinners. His wife Judith has been both an officer and judicial delegate for the club. A civil court judge elected with Scott Stringer's active support in 1986 and 1996, York has been an acting Supreme Court judge for years. He's repeatedly sought nomination for a full, 14-year term on the Supreme Court in recent years, but has not been able to win the approval of the merit panel that reviews candidates. Scott told the Voice that he has "made no commitment to support Lou" and that he cannot help York win the nomination at the judicial convention "until he comes out of the panel."
York practically went into a seizure when contacted by the Voice. Conceding that he'd "spoken to CFD" about elevation to the Supreme Court and contending that Arlene "is a good evaluator," he suddenly caught himself: "I see where this is going. Look, this is not a good time for me to get involved in political matters. You're trying to smear Stringer and I will not get involved in this. You're trying to show that CFD asks for favors for appointments and I . . . " Do they? asked the Voice. "No. I don't know. Goodbye, this is just a bad time for me," he sputtered, and hung up.
Another acting Supreme Court judge, Robert Lippmann, an eastsider with no particular ties to CFD, made six Stringer appointments but said he did not even know of her connection to CFD and Scott Stringer "until you mentioned it right now." Lippmann, who was blasted in a recent Daily News series called "Milking the Elderly" for awarding eyebrow-raising fees to politically connected guardians, has been doing the club circuit, including CFD, for years seeking support but, like York, he has yet to make it out of the panel. Scott insisted that many of the Lippmann appointments were for cases involving the indigent, which pay a maximum $600 fee.
A third acting judge who's seeking a Supreme Court appointment, Diane Lebedeff, has awarded four evaluator appointments. Supreme Court Judge Ed Lehner, who was elevated from civil to Supreme Court in 1995 with CFD and Stringer support, has awarded six. A dozen Bronx judges have also appointed Stringer, who is married to Carlos Cuevas, the City Clerk and longtime pillar of the Bronx party.
But Arlene Stringer is hardly the only indicator of Scott's ties to the insider track at Manhattan Supreme, a court dominated by Denny Farrell, another Manhattan assemblyman, who's also been Democratic county leader for 20 years and is a big Stringer backer now. The judge Scott has had the most to do with putting on the Supreme Court, Eileen Bransten, hasn't appointed Arlene to a single case. But she has named Frank Hoare, Farrell's assembly counsel and onetime attorney for the county party, an evaluator or conservator in six cases, far more than any other judge.
Hoare, who has 53 court appointments in total, has contributed $2000 to Stringer's campaign. Another Farrell attorney, Arthur Greig, has 130 appointments, two of which are from Bransten. Greig has given $850 to Stringer. Marc Landis, who is CFD's treasurer and has given $2800 to Stringer's campaign (including donations from his wife), has 31 appointments.
Scott's father Ronald was reprimanded in 1990 by an appellate division panel that stripped him of $150,000 in court fees he'd taken, saying that he and a colleague who'd claimed the same fees had "never drafted a single page of legal documents" except their fee application. Another administrative report assailed him for preparing no reports in 49 cases while taking more than a half million in fees.
Green to Redo Diallo Discipline
When Fernando Ferrer got a single shot at questioning Mark Green in last week's NY1/Times debate, he returned to the theme of the Diallo cops, flailing away at Green's refusal to say that he favors their dismissal. Green put on his only grim face of the debate, declaring that it was "just as wrong" for Ferrer to find the four cops who killed African street merchant Amadou Diallo guilty without an administrative hearing, as it was for Rudy Giuliani to pronounce them innocent without one.
Ferrer, who was arrested in the 1999 Diallo protests, sees it as the difference between him and Green that could move black voters into his column. Had Ferrer changed the wording of his debate question, however, he might have forced Green into an unwelcome quandary.
The Voice asked Green spokesman Joe DePlasco if, as mayor, the current Public Advocate would ask his own top cop to review Giuliani commissioner Bernard Kerik's decision not to fire or punish the officers. After three days of not responding to the question, DePlasco said Green would.
DePlasco pointed out that Kerik took away the guns and badges of the four cops for a year and that in 2002, "the issue of whether to continue the cops in a non-enforcement status" would come up again. "At that point, Mark would ask the commissioner and the first deputy commissioner to consider all the facts before making a decision on the status of the officers," said DePlasco. "There is an issue of double jeopardy here. But it's already established that their status has to be reassessed. Mark believes all the issues should be considered." DePlasco emphasized that under the law, only the two top police officials, not the mayor, can make a decision about disciplining the cops.
The report Green issued in June, after forcing Kerik under threat of a lawsuit to turn over to Green's office the confidential Internal Affairs files on the Diallo incident, leaves little doubt about what Green thinks of the conduct of these cops. Green said that Kerik, who decided not to hold a disciplinary hearing for the cops, "failed to consider specific findings that the officers had made tactical errors along with credible testimony suggesting that the officers may have violated Department firearm guidelines."
"It's impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Mayor improperly put his thumb on the scale of justice," Green charged in June. Green's willingness now to try to balance that scale with his own front finger is inconsistent with the report's conclusion. "Unfortunately, the actions of the Mayor and Commissioner appear to be irrevocable," he wrote. "Any effort to undo the Commissioner's decision would be unlikely to survive legal attack."
Of course, if Green's commissioner is Giuliani's ex, Bill Bratton, his unnoticed comments in the August 2000 issue of Tikkun magazine might be relevant to Diallo and many of the other crucial policing issues facing a new administration. The Green guru was asked by Jack Newfield and Marc Jacobson: "What about racial profilingstop and friskwas that ever a legitimate law enforcement tool?"
"It is still a legitimate and essential law enforcement tool," Bratton said. "Absolutely essential. Now that the city has become much safer, people are examining all these issues, they're saying, 'Well, let's do away with it.' If you do away with it, in five years the city will look like it did in 1970."
Hevesi Still Ducking Campaign Laws
It's not at all clear that Alan Hevesi's problems at the Campaign Finance Board are over. The board's decision that his campaign had to pay consultant Hank Morris at least $250,000 more than it planned to wasn't a fine, as Hevesi endlessly tells us, but it sure was a comeuppance.
The Times may still endorse the comptroller, despite the clear finding that he attempted an end-run around the reform system it cherishes, and despite the mounting evidence that Morris's point-of-light volunteerism wasn't the only CFB evasion. A Voice look at the exempt expenses claimed by the four camps puts Hevesi in solid first place with $611,421, making him the most ingenious of the candidates in figuring out how to spend money without it counting against the expenditure cap. Though it hasn't been announced yet, the CFB has already quietly nixed about $70,000 of that totalknocking out Hevesi's attempt to claim taxes the campaign paid on interest earnings.
Peter Vallone is the next highest at $426,658 in exempt expenses, Mark Green at $299,966 and Freddy Ferrer at $218,980. Incredibly, Hevesi, in part by pretending to run on a third line in addition to the Democratic and Liberal lines, has claimed $334,978 in petitioning costs versus a paltry $9099 for Ferrer, $38,672 for Vallone, and $95,105 for Green. The CFB may not be able to do anything about itobviously Hevesi is disguising street and door-to-door leafleting as petitioningbut no one who cares about the level playing field that the CFB is designed to create can be deceived by this transparent game.
Most curious is that Hevesi has submitted $46,500 in payments to Laurelton Car Service as exempt expenditures, ostensibly related to driving petitioners around, a bizarre and unparalleled claim. David Early, who gathered petitions at $10 an hour for Hevesi for six days and collected more signatures than anyone on his team, says he traveled exclusively by train all over the city and knew of no one who was driven. Since Hevesi has a history of concealing election-day transport expenses (and was forced to report it after his 1993 election), the Laurelton expenses may well be pre-payment for the planned pickup of elderly and other voters on primary day.
The other apparent Hevesi maneuver is the low-balling of a cost that does count against the cappolling. Hevesi has reported paying for only one pollproduced by Washington pollsters Garin, Hart & Yang at a measly cost of $25,500 (he reportedly did another this weekend). Green has paid $144,508 for polls, Ferrer $139,398, and Vallone, $96,026. Is it a coincidence that the Hevesi backers at the United Federation of Teachers use the same pollsters, and that spokesman Dick Reilly won't answer detailed questions about what the firm has done for them this year?
Nader Nukes Profligate Protégé
Ralph Nader is bringing out the paternal paddle for protégé Mark Green. He told the Voice that he talked with Green last week about the mayoral candidate's support of the Giuliani plan for a city-subsidized new Stock Exchange building, slated to cost nearly a billion dollars in public funds.
Saying he'd talked to Green about the boondoggle a few months ago and again last week, Nader charged that "Mark's position flies in the face" of his history of opposition to corporate giveaways. "I asked him, What's going on here? And he said, It's a done deal. When he was with me, he would have been the first to say we should do an article or a book on this. He doesn't even try to justify it."
Nader, who hired Green fresh out of Harvard Law School in 1970 and worked with him over the next 20 years in Washington and New York, said he was "very proud of Mark," but only "until he makes the wrong decisions." He said the establishment is "in the process of processing Mark and we're going to hold him to his beliefs."
"I don't expect him to be a kamikaze mayor. He can't be the same as he was as Public Advocate or consumer commissioner. He's got to juggle a lot of considerations, but there's a limit to how much he can juggle. It's never going to be a question of a lack of knowledge or insight with Mark. It's going to be the sheer question of whether he can stand up to corporate power, abuse, and immunity."
Nader also raised an intriguing question about the "coasting" nature of Green's campaign. "The only way to have a mandate that challenges the power structure is to run on it, but that's clearly not their strategy," he said. If Green is mayor, he will not be able "to say to the corporations, 'I made these promises; I have this mandate.' We're going to see the real Mark after the election."
Green endorsed Al Gore for president in 2000, when Nader ran, but the two were getting along well enough at the end of that campaign that Green was able to broker a pre-election meeting between Nader and another man who's taking his shots at Green this week: Reverend Al Sharpton.
Research assistance: Douglas Gillison, Gregory Bensinger, Brian Bernbaum, Joey Fishkin, Lisa Schneider