I remember when Carl Andrews was an innocent. The focus of scorching New York Post stories the last two days, Andrews is now a target of a probe that threatens the brief Democratic reign in the New York State Senate. It’s the culmination of a life of clownish crime, though the usually ebullient Andrews has never been convicted of one.
The Post reported this morning that Senator John Sampson, whose leadership of the narrow Democratic majority has restored at least some semblance of sanity to the chamber in recent months, actually gave Andrews an internal Senate document summarizing the details of the six bids received by the state for one of its most lucrative contracts ever, the operation of 4,500 electronic slot machines at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. Andrews, a former state senator with close political ties to Sampson, was the lobbyist for Aqueduct Entertainment Group, the eventual winning bidder whose contract is so engulfed in scandal it was subsequently cancelled.
The State Inspector General and the United States Attorney are probing the award to A.E.G., which revised its bid after seeing the Senate summary of their competitors’ offers. Senate Republicans, who lost the majority in 2008 for the first time in over four decades, are poised to pounce on the latest revelations. Austin Shafran, Sampson’s spokesman, told the Voice that the senator “did not believe, and we still do not believe, that the Senate’s analysis” of the bids “was confidential.” Sampson told reporters later today that it contained “public information that was constantly going back and forth,” though the Times noted that much of the detailed memo “was not generally available in September,” when Sampson gave it to Andrews. Sampson, Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver and Governor David Paterson were jointly picking a winner in a highly unusual bid process.
To me, it is all Brooklyn chickens coming home to roost in Albany.
Sampson and Andrews joined forces under onetime Brooklyn Democratic boss and ex-Assemblyman Clarence Norman, who wound up convicted in a series of corruption cases in recent years and doing up to nine years in state prison. When Norman was at the peak of his power in 2005, he was audacious enough to run Sampson against the district attorney who’d already indicted him twice, Joe Hynes, and Sampson openly said he’d “re-evaluate” the Norman cases if he was elected. Andrews, who was Norman’s best friend and treasurer of the Brooklyn Democratic organization, was in charge of Sampson’s field operation in that campaign. Andrews usually got paid for such election-day operations, but he doesn’t appear on Sampson’s filings for this campaign, suggesting that he was so tied to Sampson’s that he’d work for free.
I once tabulated that Norman had steered at least $1.2 million in campaign, state and courthouse patronage to Andrews over a few years. At Norman’s behest, Andrews ran the campaign for Brooklyn surrogate Michael Feinberg and, when Feinberg won, he immediately made Andrews an auctioneer in charge of selling off the assets of certain estates. Subsequently removed from the bench and disbarred, Feinberg was described by columnist Jimmy Breslin as a judge who “takes everything but the bones from the dead.” Chief Judge Judith Kaye released a report at the height of Norman’s powers that identified Andrews, who is not a lawyer, as one of the top recipients of judicial patronage in Brooklyn, with 46 separate court appointments from the very judges that Norman installed. Hynes once got evidence that Andrews had picked up $25,000 in cash and/or $3,000 spools of postage stamps as partial payments to Norman for one judicial appointment, a charge that Andrews denied and Hynes decided not to prosecute.
I came to these conclusions about Andrews reluctantly. When I met him in the late ’70s, he was a young, crusading activist working with then-Assemblyman Al Vann and the community empowerment movement that eventually took power in Brooklyn Democratic politics. But he soon attached himself to Norman, bought a Mercedes like Norman, was installed in a top job with Attorney General Eliot Spitzer by Norman, and subsequently even became a state senator with Norman’s blessing. He played a pivotal role in ousting a fellow Brooklyn senator, Marty Connor, as minority leader of the Senate Democrats in 2004, putting David Paterson in charge. His Spitzer and Paterson connections got him a big job in both of their administrations until another scandal, involving his intercession in a State Liquor Authority dispute over liquor licenses for restaurants like the Rainbow Room and others operated by the Cipriani family, forced him to resign.
You’d think a dossier like that might make him a hard sell as a lobbyist, but in Albany, he was flooded with paying customers the minute he hung a shingle, everything from builders like Forest City Ratner and the McKissack Group, which have giant Brooklyn projects, to eBay and Brooklyn Philharmonic. A.E.G. knew it was buying access, and they didn’t care whether it was the seediest kind.
Sampson says that he and Andrews argued over the strength of A.E.G.’s bid and that he produced the internal assessment “to prove my point” that A.E.G.’s bid was lower than its competitors. Sampson’s account reveals just how casual he was when talking to a lobbyist who doubled as a buddy. He apparently never noticed when A.E.G. then changed its bid, came out on top, and was picked by Sampson, et al, to get the contract. Legislators are used to brandishing internal Senate memos, which usually analyze bills, often freely circulating them. But in this case, Sampson had taken on an executive function. He was awarding a giant contract and there isn’t a procurement policy in America that would permit a decision maker on a state contract to show a bidder a breakdown of the competition.
I saw Carl Andrews at the state convention last month and, for the first time, he looked away when our eyes met. Even after I’d hit him many times in print, he would always greet me with that smile of his that once lit up Brooklyn. He has a warm, country air about him, and he is forever the optimist, looking for his next break just around the bend. But apparently, his decades in Brooklyn and Albany sewers have finally opened his eyes to his own tawdriness and he can’t fake the bluster anymore.
And now, his corrosive collegiality might just consume Albany’s perilous Democratic majority.
Research assistance: Gavin Aronsen and Jenny Tai