The Morgenthau Brand Name Gets a Test


So what’s the value of the official seal of approval that outgoing D.A. Robert Morgenthau bestowed on his designated successor, Cyrus Vance Jr. yesterday as he made a formal endorsement on the courthouse steps in Foley Square?

A lot – that is, if the findings of a poll commissioned back in January when Morgenthau seemed poised to back someone else — former top assistant Dan Castleman — can be transferred to Vance.

The poll of 500 Manhattan Democratic primary voters was assembled by Josh Isay of Knickerbocker SKD, the consultant who handled the legendary Morgenthau’s 2005 reelection campaign. Isay recently signed up to represent his former client’s top foe, ex-judge Leslie Crocker Snyder, who lost a bitter primary to Morgy that year.

At the time, most voters didn’t even recognize the names of four potential candidates — Castleman, Snyder, Vance, and gun control expert Richard Aborn. Of those who said they knew the candidates, Snyder got the most backing with 15 percent. Vance – whose famous father was Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of State – was next up at 7 percent.

But almost everyone said they knew Morgenthau, and he pulled a whopping 70 percent approval rating as D.A. Almost half – 47 percent – wanted to see his successor continue Morgy’s policies. One-third of voters said they’d be “more inclined” to back a candidate endorsed by Morgenthau.

And when pollsters told respondents that Morgenthau considered Castleman – then the chief assistant D.A. and veteran prosecutor of high-profile mob and corruption cases – his “right hand man” and “by far the most experienced and able candidate to succeed him,” those positive feelings quickly transferred over.
Castleman pulled a 71 percent positive rating, against 62 for Aborn, 59 for Snyder, and 53 percent for Vance.

The poll’s final tally – reached after voters were given a detailed walk-through of Castleman’s law enforcement achievements and reminded of Morgenthau’s likely backing – was 43 percent leaning for the former assistant, 16 percent for Snyder, 7 for Aborn, and 6 for Vance.

All that work went for naught a couple of months later when Morgenthau reversed gears, opting to back Vance instead. Castleman angrily quit and has not chosen sides in the D.A. dogfight.

Morgenthau yesterday did his best to lend his star power to his chosen candidate. He praised Vance as the “best qualified by his experiences and his views” and repeatedly underscored the value of “fairness” and “integrity” – watchwords that are intended as counters to the voluble Snyder.

But one major variable from the earlier Castleman poll that could diminish the importance of Morgy’s blessings is the experience ratio. Pollsters in January were able to detail Castleman’s many achievements as a top Morgenthau prosecutor for 30 years; Vance has his own strong resume, but he worked in the “Law
and Order” office for just six years in the 1980s before moving to Seattle
in 1988 to establish a private law practice.

The only other poll numbers that have surfaced so far come from a survey conducted for Snyder that was reported this month by the Daily News‘ Michael Saul. That poll showed Snyder ahead with 24 percent, with 11 for Vance, and just 5 percent for Aborn.

The other noteworthy numbers, however, are political endorsements, where Aborn, who was considered the dark horse of the race, has been the hands-down winner. So far, he’s nabbed 17 currently elected officials, along with former police commissioner Bill Bratton; Vance has three, including Morgenthau, as well as ex mayor David Dinkins who was at Thursday’s endorsement. Snyder has just one, although another ex-mayor, Ed Koch, is also backing her.

Asked at his press conference why he thought so many officials have endorsed Aborn, Morgenthau, 89, didn’t miss a beat. “You mean those folks in Albany?”
he said.