News & Politics

Katrina vanden Heuvel’s Lame Defense of David Paterson, Using Voice Reporting


The Nation will let you go on a fundraising cruise with Katrina vanden Heuvel for the price of “a modest used car.” I’ve loved her for so long I’m thinking about selling my son’s 1996 Honda.

Her defense of David Paterson in yesterday’s Washington Post, however, was the Edsel of op-eds. And, even worse, she used me as the show salesman.

Katrina quoted from my old stories about Rudy Giuliani, who glommed tickets, World Series rings, DiMaggio jackets and maybe even ballgirls, from the Yankees. She contrasted eight years of Rudy excess with “a father’s desire to take his son to the ballgame,” as poor David did last October.

The pesky little problem of Paterson’s perjury about the tickets — which a 13-member commission chaired by a Paterson appointee found the governor had committed — is still, in Katrina’s view, “not worth all the ink.”

There are a few big reasons why the Rudy comparison doesn’t work.

First of all, The New York State Public Integrity Commission, which referred Paterson for criminal prosecution, has no jurisdiction over mayors. The appropriate venue, the New York City Conflict of Interest Board, all of whose members are appointed by the mayor, would not have investigated the Yankee memorabilia stuffed in the trunk of Rudy’s city car if they had it on videotape. In fact, as intrepid as I am, I did not get all the facts together exposing Reckless Rudy until six years after he left City Hall.

Second, the Yankees changed the rules. Three Yankees executives testified during the commission probe that the Yankees instituted new rules requiring that public officials either pay for their tickets or submit a letter from their counsel verifying that they are attending on “official business.” The only state official who opted for the letter was Paterson, according to all three executives, though an acting Bronx borough president apparently wandered into the stadium without a ticket “to say hello to a few people and left” without seeing the game, according to Yankees’ president Randy Levine. Paterson actually tried to go free twice — on opening day and to the World Series. Every other pol paid.

Levine testified that the team changed the policies long after his buddy Rudy was out of office — namely in 2004, when the Yankees paid a $75,000 fine and settled with a precursor to the integrity commission, the State Lobbying Commission, for handing out complimentary tickets to public officials. The value of the tickets certainly far exceeds the state’s nominal gift limit, reaching as much as $6,000 for Paterson’s two freebie dates.

That’s precisely why Blair Horner, a Katrina groupie like me and Albany’s #1 good government cheerleader from NYPIRG, filed the complaint with the commission about the tickets.

Third, the Yankees themselves changed. Lonn Trost, the club’s counsel and chief operating officer, testified that in the old days, George Steinbrenner decided who would get tickets and the other goodies Rudy collected. Asked if he consulted Steinbrenner about free tickets then, Trost replied: “He tells you.” George might not even recognize pal Rudy today.

Katrina tries to pin the calls for Paterson’s hide on right-wing tabloids. She says the Times correctly focuses its Paterson scorn on the cover-up issues surrounding a domestic violence case, but its resignation call was published before the Yankee report was released.

The Voice‘s Tom Robbins has done the best job in town tallying the Paterson perjury counts, and he’s not exactly a right-winger. Actually, anyone who can read testimony and recognize a fabricated check knows the governor had every “opportunity to respond,” as Katrina urges he be given, and he did a Rafael Palmeiro nosedive without the steroids.

Paterson even testified that he didn’t know if the state had anything to do with the Yankees’ new stadium (“tangentially,” he thought) when it’s pumped hundreds of millions into it, built a new train station and even turned over state parkland to the club, much of it on his and Eliot Spitzer’s watch. Of course, that’s precisely why a governor should not be grabbing free tickets from them.

Paterson’s lawyer has finally given us a taste of the governor’s answer to these charges, revealing e-mails from Trost which supposedly constitute an invitation to come to a different Yankees game, before the series. While Paterson tries to present this as a new evidence, Trost was actually asked under oath if he thought his communications with Paterson’s office constituted “an invitation for the governor to attend,” and he said: “Absolutely not.”

He said the conversations were “an inquiry” designed to see if the governor intended to come. The e-mails described in yesterday’s Daily News do nothing to contradict that, with the word “invite” only appearing in a heading written by a Paterson aide. In any event, Walter Ayers, the commission’s spokesman, says that “it’s still a violation” of state law, regardless of whether Paterson “solicited” or “merely accepted” the tickets.

Research assistance by Sara Gates and Simon McCormack

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