Frank Serpico, the Brooklyn cop who exposed ridiculous, jaw-dropping levels of corruption in the NYPD in the 1970s, has lost his bid for a seat on a rural town council in upstate New York.
The 79-year-old had occasioned a spate of press coverage earlier this fall upon announcing his plans to clean up Stuyvesant, a town of about 2,000 in Columbia County. He settled there, about two hours north of the city, not long after testifying before the Knapp Commission, an investigation — one he had helped to spur — into NYPD payoffs and racketeering. Serpico became the most famous whistleblower associated with the period after being portrayed by Al Pacino in 1973.
He had been mostly out of the public eye for the past forty years. But in September, claiming the small-town government had gone crooked, Serpico told the local Times Union, “In this town, if the ticks don’t get you, the politics will” and said he was running to drive out the Republican “old boys’ club” that he said dominated local politics. Some of his disillusionment stemmed from a dispute with a neighbor in 2013: The new neighbor had purchased a parcel of land abutting Serpico’s idyllic, wooded property and put in a luxury home, cutting down some of Serpico’s trees in the process, according to the ex-cop. When the neighbor wasn’t fined sufficiently for his actions, Serpico came to believe there was something rotten in the town council.
Just as likely is that Serpico was drafted by local Democrats for his name recognition in a race the party had little chance of winning. The New York Times quoted him sounding ambivalent at best. “I said, ‘Why not just go with the flow?’ ” he told a Times reporter in September, about being recruited by party officials. “I figure, ‘Hey, I can always resign.’ ”
He came within about a hundred votes of the win.
Here’s a Times video of Serpico on his property in 2013.