Velella’s Bush Push


Guy Velella and his dad, Vincent, were long the powers in the Bronx Republican Party, and in the wake of the bribery scandal, the county’s GOP has had to juggle its appointments. But the party’s new pick for the obscure but influential city Board of Elections is nothing if not loyal.

This month, the party tapped longtime Velella ally Vic Tosi as its new boss. Tosi, in turn, picked Joseph J. Savino, legal counsel in Guy Velella’s state senate office, to replace 90-year-old Vincent Velella on the elections board. The elder Velella stepped down from the board on June 3 after his own bribery charges were dismissed in exchange for a guilty plea from his son.

Savino’s nomination has to be confirmed by the City Council, usually an automatic procedure. But wiretap affidavits compiled in the Velella investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau caught one instance in which Savino made a judgment call that seemed to have more to do with the boss’s orders than election law.

The incident occurred on the eve of New York’s Republican presidential primary in February 2000. Velella was championing George W. Bush, and his troops had gathered petition signatures necessary to get their man on the ballot. Unfortunately, the rival campaigns of U.S. Senator John McCain and billionaire Steve Forbes had scrutinized those petitions and found page after page in the same handwriting, many written with last names followed by first names, kind of like in a phone book. U.S. District Judge Edward Korman had scheduled a hearing for the next morning and was demanding that Bush’s delegates in Velella territory appear before him.

Team Velella wasn’t anxious to have that happen.

An aide at Bronx Republican headquarters was heard worriedly telling Savino that she had just had a cryptic conversation with the senator in Albany. Velella, she said, seemed to be saying they shouldn’t try too hard to reach the delegates. “He said, ‘Don’t go crazy, you try them once and that’s it.'”

Savino did not reach for his law books.

“I would do what the Boss said,” responded the legal counsel. “I would, I would call them, and if you reach them, you reach them; if you don’t, you don’t. You know, you might not reach them because your phone clicks off.”

The delegates probably weren’t around anyway, Savino suggested.

“I, I, I guess do what he says,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. That’s what I would do, I would just forget about it maybe. Understand, just make the phone calls and you’re probably not going to reach any of those six people anyway, you never do.”

The next morning, Bush’s lawyers threw in the towel and admitted their petitions were faulty.

Reached last week at Velella’s old senate office where Savino is still doing cleanup work, the counsel said yes, he was hopeful of joining the election board, but no, he didn’t recall that particular incident. “You’ve caught me kind of off-guard here,” he said. “I don’t remember anything about it.”