With all sorts of speculation that the man who was almost mayor, Fernando Ferrer, is getting ready to run again, the news pages are still strangely haunted by the ghosts of the 2001 campaign. Until now, however, the stories have revolved around the suspicious maneuvering of Mark Green, the Democrat who narrowly beat Ferrer in a still hotly controversial runoff, only to lose to Republican Mike Bloomberg in November. A grand jury in Brooklyn is reportedly chasing every nickel the Green campaign spent, including $10,000 in supposedly steered payments to a politically wired printer, Branford Communications.
But any retrospective on Ferrer—who’s been sequestered since his loss at a Manhattan nonprofit called the Drum Major Institute—would uncover hundreds of thousands of questionable expenditures by his own 2001 committee, which was blessed by $2.8 million in matching funds from the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB). In fact, the issue that’s hounding Green, namely that his campaign dumped an inexplicable $245,000 down the drain of the ethically compromised Brooklyn Democratic organization, is compounded by Ferrer, whose committee paid a printer and a consulting firm indirectly tied to then Bronx party leader Roberto Ramirez $1.7 million.
Combined with $566,710 from Ferrer ally and successor Adolfo Carrion, the current Bronx borough president, as well as $227,642 in purchases by other Ramirez committees and candidates, the two companies raked in nearly $2.5 million in 2001 alone. Press accounts indicate that District Attorney Joe Hynes is mesmerized by Green payments a tenth that size to Brooklyn boss Clarence Norman, with the Ferrer camp reportedly champing at the bit about their supposed impropriety. The companies, Miranda Y Mas and Northeast Bronx Printing & Graphics, consumed 56 percent of Carrion’s $1 million in total expenditures and 19 percent of Ferrer’s.
Ferrer and Carrion’s campaigns have not supplied the CFB with any backup information about the payments to Northeast—though they are required to detail its use of subcontractors—making this huge expenditure of partially public funds even more mysterious. The CFB has yet to complete its audit of Ferrer’s campaign, but the failure to disclose any subcontractor payments of more than $5,000 is a violation of the regulations, which are designed to make sure that funds don’t disappear into a campaign ether. In addition, the New York City Board of Elections has no copies of the literature Northeast did for Ferrer, though the campaign was required to file it. That makes it impossible to determine how much printing was actually done.
Carrion’s committee also didn’t list any Northeast or Miranda Y Mas subcontractor payments, an omission not noted in the CFB audit, which leveled fines of $7,300 for other violations, including an illegal $75,000 loan from an in-law and the use of $772 to buy him suits at Moe Ginsburg. Another CFB audit found that one Ramirez-endorsed councilmember, Maria Baez, could not account for $33,168 in 2001 expenditures and unspent funds, also fining her for improper dealings with Northeast, which tried to turn an unpaid liability into an in-kind contribution.
Miranda Y Mas is a consulting firm owned by Luis Miranda, the onetime chair of the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, and Northeast Bronx is owned by John Collazi and David Keisman, publishers of the Bronx Times and Times-Reporter. Miranda is a partner of Ramirez’s in Mirram Group, another consulting firm that was initially incorporated on May 18, 1998, the same day as Miranda Y Mas. Miranda Y Mas was paid $977,943 by Ferrer and $246,619 by Carrion, spending $499,000 of its Ferrer funds on television and radio ads in the Latin media. Though the Ferrer ads were principally produced by another consultant, David Axelrod, Miranda received the commissions.
Northeast’s owners, Collazi and Keisman, are also partners with Ramirez and Miranda in the Manhattan Times, a Washington Heights-based weekly that Miranda calls a “sister publication” of the Bronx Times. The papers are so linked that they share the same business phone number, as well as advertising and production staffs, with the salaries paid by the Bronx Times, according to Keisman. Northeast, a non-union printer, does both papers.
Though the Manhattan Times began in 1999, Miranda says Ramirez did not become a partner until 2002, when he stepped down as Bronx leader. The paper lists the other three on its masthead, but not Ramirez, and routinely endorses the candidates that use Miranda Y Mas, Mirram Group, or Northeast, including 2001 city comptroller candidate Herb Berman, as well as statewide candidates Bill Mulrow and Dennis Mehiel. Miranda declined to say whether Ramirez made any investment to acquire his 25 percent interest, and Ramirez did not respond to Voice messages.
Northeast, which is headquartered in the offices of the Bronx Times at 1111 Calhoun Avenue, was paid $695,853 by Ferrer, $320,091 by Carrion, $124,288 by the Bronx Democratic organization, and $103,354 by three Ramirez-backed City Council candidates, including Baez. Keisman insists he supplied these campaigns with “complete documentation” as to any subcontracting payments he may have made—in compliance with CFB rules—though he refused to say if he used any subs or listed them.
Miranda freely conceded that he “was involved” in the selection of Northeast as the printer for Ferrer and Carrion, claiming that he “looked at other printers,” though he was unable to name any. Keisman says he talked to Miranda “many times” about the business with both campaigns. Neither Miranda nor Keisman could cite any prior citywide or boroughwide campaign that Northeast did as the primary printer, though Keisman is an experienced political consultant, managing, among others, Ramirez’s ill-fated 1993 campaign for public advocate. In fact, Miranda says Ferrer started out using Branford and switched to Northeast. Ramirez, a pivotal figure in the campaign, favored the switch, according to Ferrer sources.
In a Voice interview, Ferrer said he “didn’t see much of the printed stuff,” but that what he did see was “adequate.” However, other observers in and out of the Ferrer campaign harshly criticized its quality. Ferrer added that he knew nothing about the selection process or Ramirez’s ties to Northeast’s owners. Asked if it concerned him that Miranda helped pick a printer owned by his partners in another venture, Ferrer replied: “It would concern me if he was a partner in the printing company.”
Northeast was incorporated by Keisman in 1995—a few months after Ramirez was installed with Ferrer’s assistance as Bronx Democratic boss—and soon became the favorite printer of Bronx pols, even doing holiday mailings for the borough president’s office. Keisman says it’s coincidental that he became a partner in the newspaper just as his friend Ramirez was taking over the county party, attributing it instead to his working on a Bronx Chamber of Commerce study with Collazi, owner of the paper since it began in 1981.
Keisman concedes that after he joined the paper and Ramirez became leader, the Bronx Times-Reporter‘s share of legal notices from the Bronx courthouse soared, with the last issue, for example, containing 95 ads stretched over five pages, by far the biggest advertiser in the paper. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Riverdale Press, which, unlike the Bronx Times, has been a frequent critic of the Bronx machine, had 22 ads. Supreme and Surrogate Court clerks and judges tied to the organization place the ads, and law firms pay for them.
Since his election, Carrion named Miranda and Keisman to his transition committee, and retained Mirram as his campaign consultant. But he recently split with the Ramirez firm. Similarly, new Bronx boss Jose Rivera says he’s giving the county’s printing to printers other than Northeast, and Ferrer says he doesn’t know if he’ll use Northeast should he run again in 2005. The shocking price tag on Ramirez-tied services—even with legitimate costs like Northeast’s postage and Miranda Y Mas’s advertising airtime factored in—may well be one reason Ferrer lost. And surely, if Hynes has a basis to look at the Norman and Branford expenditures in Brooklyn, this incestuous nest in the Bronx should be of interest to D.A. Robert Johnson.
Research assistance: Zoe Alsop, Michael Anstendig, Ross Goldberg, Phineas Lambert, Naomi Lindt, Brittany Schaeffer, Jessica Silver-Greenberg