The Bronx as One Man’s Land: Stanley Friedman’s Banana Republic
They are businessmen who demand that others call them “political leaders.” To them la Colonia of El Bronx is a business and allegiance to the business is more important than loyalty to any party. They are mostly Democrats but they do business with Republicans. A few of them are Republicans but do business with Democrats. They are lawyers; they own pieces of construction firms; they control cable television companies; they are consultants. These are the businessmen who control the colony of the Bronx.
The jefe of the colonialists, the man who makes most of the decisions affecting the Bronx from his Manhattan penthouse office, is Stanley Friedman, Democratic county leader. He makes these decisions, which affect thousands of Latins and Blacks, while making big profits for his own business ventures. This is possible because of Friedman’s control and influence over the Democratic County Committee, the office of borough president, local planning boards, and “economic development” community agencies. He exploits them all.
Friedman’s friends and fellow colonialists include his famous law partner, right-wing Republican Roy Cohn. His other associates, some of whom have been described by Norman Adler, political action director of District Council 37, as “the dobermans in Animal Farm,” include Paul Victor, law chairman for the Bronx Democratic County Committee, and two members of the Democratic County Committee of the Bronx, Murray Lewinter and Stanley Schlein.
Along with these individuals there are State Senator John Calandra representing the Republican Party, and last and perhaps least, the Bronx borough president, Stanley Simon. Excluding Calandra, these white males control the Bronx Democratic County Committee — its funds, appointments, nominations, and all its activities — despite the fact that the Bronx is over 70 per cent Black and Latino.
Unlike his predecessor Patrick Cunningham, who refused to understand that to maintain his power he had to “adjust” to changing times, Friedman does include some minority representation in his group. Friedman has found some natives who are most willing to support him in return for relatively small rewards.
Crazy Joe Gallo, famous underworld figure, who was known for his attempts to include Blacks and Latinos in “la Familia,” understood that to keep his operation strong in poor communitites, he had to change his strategy to fit new realities. Friedman has recognized the same changes in the Bronx and that they called for a similar strategy in his organization. He found individuals like South Bronx boss Ramon Velez and State Senator Joseph Galiber to legitimize his power in the Black and Latino communities of the Bronx. Velez and Galiber basically act as overseers to make sure that Blacks and Latins who challenge the power relationships in the “banana republic” do not obtain any power. For Friedman’s purposes, Velez and Galiber serve to create the illusion that power is shared in the Bronx.
Recently, Friedman has also supported minority candidates such as Larry Seabrook, who defeated incumbent Vincent Marchiselli this fall in the 82nd Assembly District. This kind of support is only given, however, when the incumbent is anti-Friedman and anti-machine, as Marchiselli has always been, and when the challenger indicates a willingness and commitment to work with “County” and cooperate with Friedman.
As in a colony, the Bronx’s leadership positions are all held by outsiders (who are also white males), including the office of Democratic county leader, the borough presidency, the office of the district attorney, the Surrogate, and the majority of seats on the Democratic County Executive Committee. El Jefe keeps it this way by running a well-organized, tight-knit group, exercising control over the office of borough president, controlling judgeships and maintaining an intimate relationship with Mayor Koch, who has provided the Democratic county leader with numerous city jobs. Through the use of patronage Friedman has developed a loyal group of followers and hundreds of others who are hoping to get something from the Democratic boss.
Friedman’s control over the office of Bronx borough president began with his early contributions to the first borough presidency campaign of Stanley Simon in 1979. Friedman, his law partners, and some of his clients made substantial loans to Bronx borough president Simon during this campaign. A 1979 Voice article detailed these loans and showed how Simon’s campaign was almost completely dependent for its initial financing on the Friedman/Cohn law firm, Saxe, Bacon and Bolan. In return, Friedman has been rewarded with patronage on the staff of the borough president, in the planning boards, and in agencies like the Bronx Development Corporation.
Friedman has used this patronage to find jobs for district leaders and other “community activists” who are key players in minority communities. It is because of this patronage that Friedman has been able to guarantee that the district leaders who elect the county leader continue to choose him. Although 11 out of 20 of the district leaders are minorities, Friedman was just recently reelected by 19 of the 20.
Friedman has also exercised his influence in the borough president’s office to gather friendly votes at the Board of Estimate. Friedman was influential in providing support for Koch in 1981 and has been able to sway most minority politicians in the Bronx to his side. This, in turn, has helped Friedman get favorable votes for his “projects” on the Board of Estimate.
Referring to this control Friedman has over Simon, former Bronx borough president Herman Badillo stated, “Bronx borough president Stanley Simon has allowed his office to be used, controlled, and dominated by the county leader. Simon has turned his powers over to Friedman.” When asked to respond to this accusation and other charges in the article, Bronx borough president Simon as well as Democratic county leader Friedman refused to comment.
Israel Ruiz, state senator and district leader in the South Bronx and often the sole dissenting voice in county meetings, has described Friedman as “a county leader who uses his position solely to further his business interests. Friedman forces anyone doing business in the Bronx, whether it be building highways, housing construction or developing markets, to do business with his law firm or one of his ‘favored’ law firms.”
Describing the loyal support that minority district leaders have lavished on Friedman, Norman Adler stated, “Stanley Friedman is like a corpse being carried around by vampires. He is like a dead man who is being propped up.”
Saxe, Bacon and Bolan’s Bronx clients include: the New York Bus Express Service Company, that allows the white middle class of the Bronx to avoid mingling with the poorer nonwhite residents of the South Bronx; the New York Yankees; and the Metropolitan Taxi Board. According to State Senator Ruiz, the firm recently acquired as a client the architectural design company of Daniel Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall, a group contracted to do a feasibility study for the new Bronx prison.
Ruiz has documented a whole history of shady dealings involving Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall. According to this documentation, the firm was convicted and fined by a Massachusetts state court for paying bribes for contracts. The firm has also had construction and design problems in Baltimore, New Orleans, and Niagara. Despite this track record the State Office of General Services awarded this firm a design contract for the proposed Metro North Prison.
Talking Turkey, a new progressive newspaper in the city, recently revealed that Friedman is the largest stockholder in a company which was awarded the contract to produce and maintain a new system called Summons Issuance Device of New York, hand-held computers to be used by parking enforcement agents to find out if a ticketed car belongs to a scofflaw. This contract, unanimously granted by the Board of Estimate to a brand new company with no significant resources, netted Stanley Friedman, as largest stockholder, a capital gain of $1.3 million dollars. Among those companies rejected by the Board of Estimate were Motorola Corporation and a subsidiary of McDonnell Douglass Corporation.
In the most recent edition of Talking Turkey Friedman denies that his company received any special treatment from the Board of Estimate.
Friedman’s law firm itself is an excellent example of how colonialistas of the major political parties unite around profit. Saxe, Bacon and Bolan includes, in addition to Roy Cohn, Tom Bolan, a leading force in the Conservative Party. Both Cohn and Bolan have done legal work for the Catholic Archdiocese and have ties to conservative Archbishop John J. O’Connor. This same type of collusion between Democrats and Republicans is reflected in la colonia’s politics.
South Bronx powerbroker Ramon Velez supported Ronald Reagan in his reelection bid. Not only did Velez’s community programs like Bronx Venture receive federal money before this endorsement, but so did an economic development agency called Bronx Development Corporation, an organization directly controlled by Bronx boss Stanley Friedman and Borough President Stanley Simon.
Last month State Senator Galiber, a strong Friedman ally who at all times makes himself available to help divide Blacks and Latinos and reelect whites, was indicted with Secretary of Labor Ray Donovan, a Reagan appointee. Joseph Galiber, until last week the ranking minority member of the State Senate’s Ethics Committee, was indicted for grand larceny in the second degree and falsifying business records in the first degree. He has also been linked to William Masselli, a well-known mobster; they were co-owners of JoPel Contracting and Trucking, a firm which frequently did business with Donovan’s company, Schiavone Construction Company.
Politicians like Congressman Robert Garcia who cooperate with Friedman and local Bronx Republicans are often given the Republican line while leading conservative Republicans like John Calandra go unchallenged by Friedman’s County Committee. Calandra remains unchallenged by the Bronx Democrats although Democratic members in the state senate have identified him as one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the state senate. It was Calandra who helped give Koch the GOP line in the 1981 mayoralty race, and who is already lobbying for the Republicans to give Koch the line in 1985. In return for his support, Calandra, the leading Republican in the Bronx, wins such rewards as the $1 million he received in the April 1984 supplementary budget for programs in his area. While Calandra obtained his million, in comparison, areas like the South Bronx got crumbs.
The Bronx colonialistas not only do business with “opposing” political parties, but have provided legal representation to underworld figures who feed from the same field.
Friedman’s law partner, Roy Cohn, has represented reputed mobsters like Vincent DiNapoli, one of the most powerful builders in the Bronx. DiNapoli was convicted in 1982 for extortion and labor racketeering. Before sentencing DiNapoli received letters of support both from Assemblyman Jose Rivera and from State Senator Calandra, who described DiNapoli as “an individual who has always responded to community needs.”
Friedman’s ally State Senator Joseph Galiber not only was joint owner of JoPel Trucking with underworld figure William Masselli, who is now serving seven years in prison on federal hijacking charges, but has also politically supported Louis Moscatiello, widely reputed to be the “son” of Vincent DiNapoli. It was DiNapoli who began Plasterers Local 530, the union of which Moscatiello became president.
Moscatiello, whose mob ties have been detailed in previous Voice articles, is now on the payroll of State Senator John Calandra. It was Moscatiello who inspired the recent civil court judge candidacy of Richard Gugliotta, the candidate Stanley Friedman tried to ram down the throats of Bronx voters. Gugliotta’s background includes once having been a serious scofflaw, a tax dodger, and a man whose closest allies have been people like Louis Moscatiello.
Friedman pulled out all the stops to try to get Gugliotta elected. Although Gugliotta lost the primary, Friedman attempted to get him placed on the ballot through the nomination of the Democratic County Committee. Most of the district leaders went along with Friedman, and if Vincent Marchiselli hadn’t filed a successsful lawsuit, Gugliotta would have been on the Democratic line.
Other members of the Democratic County Executive Committee have done business with reputed mobsters. In 1982 the Voice revealed that Paul Victor, law chairman of the Bronx Democratic County Committee and parliamentarian of the Executive Committee, represented Sonny Guippone on major narcotics selling charges. Guippone was known to federal authorities as a drug dealer responsible for moving millions of dollars of heroin throughout the Bronx, especially the South Bronx. He was convicted for narcotics trafficking and sentenced to 30 years.
Friedman and his friends have been very successful in creating a total monopoly of political power in the Bronx. Unlike Brooklyn and Manhattan where there are real battles between regulars, reformers, and Black and Brown political movements, the Bronx, even now, has no organized antimachine group. Reformers in the Bronx are few, unorganized, and in recent years most willing to make deals with Boss Friedman.
The big loser is the Bronx Democratic Party. “Since Friedman and his cohorts are only interested in doing business, we have a weak party with little connection to the concerns and problems of the Bronx,” explained State Senator Ruiz in a recent interview.
The Democratic Party in the Bronx is not concerned with registering new voters who could create a challenge to the status quo. As long as there are few voters and low voter turnouts, the candidates the Bronx Party supports — who offer the voters so little — can continue to be re-elected, thus perpetuating the power held by Friedman and his associates.
Generally, politicians who have been opponents of the machine, like Al Vann, Major Owens, Basil Patterson, and Herman Badillo, have tended to be more progressive and more responsive to their communities.
Politicians like Joseph Galiber, Rafael Castaneira Colon, Hector Diaz, or Enoch Williams, all sponsored by the machine, have tended to be weaklings with very little interest in empowering their communities. It is therefore very important how a minority politician comes to power — whether through the efforts of organized community people or simply as the machine’s choice.
The one-party rule in El Bronx will be doing business as usual in the 1985 election for Bronx borough president and for City Council. In return for the machine supporting Latino incumbents, it is expected that councilmen Rafael Castaneira Colon and Freddy Ferrer, along with Ramon Velez and Joseph Galiber, will support the reelection of Stanley Simon for borough president and Ed Koch for mayor. The 1985 election in the Bronx may in fact be a referendum on one-party rule in the Bronx.
Most recently in the Bronx there have been some independent stirrings in the Black and Latino community. Surely the campaign of Jesse Jackson, pitted against the machine and Latino politicians who supported Mondale, began to produce the elements needed for an emergency rescue mission.
The 1985 opposition to Friedman will come from the activists of the Jackson campaign, from the reformers who were successful in electing Alexander Delle Cese to civil court judge and from unexpected sources like Assemblyman Jose Serrano, who recently broke away from Koch, Friedman, and Simon, and announced his support for Herman Badillo along with his own candidacy for Bronx borough president.
Signs of what is coming were seen in this past election year; independent forces began opposing the incumbents who are loyal to Friedman. In the North Bronx, young Black activist David Brush initiated a campaign to capture the 82nd Assembly District. Although knocked off the ballot (with a little help from Friedman) he certainly intends to run again. In this same area, Black activist Alice Torriente will be running against Friedman ally Councilman Jerry Crispino.
In the Fordham Road/Kingsbridge area of the Bronx, a number of progressive Blacks and Latinos supported the candidacy of Reuben Franco against Assemblyman George Friedman. Although Franco was defeated with room to spare, these Blacks and Latinos are now developing their own independent political club. It is expected that this club will identify a serious challenger to run against Councilman Freddie Ferrer.
In the South Bronx, Soundview, and Parchester areas of the Bronx, a group of Black and Latino community organizers have developed the Bronx Rainbow Club. This group is emphasizing the importance of Black and Latino unity in defeating Friedman’s machine and is planning to run progressive candidates this year. It appears that Roberto Marrero, longtime tenant activist, will be their candidate against Councilman Rafael Castaneira-Colon.
There are many other independent efforts now being planned in the Bronx. Some of these emerging movements are guided by new progressive ideas while others simply seek to replace Friedman or one of his friends in order to seize power and use it in the Friedman/South Bronx tradition.
It is important to note that Black and Latino independents, reformers, and progressives have yet to develop a long-range strategy for the seizure of power in the Bronx. Too many have been co-opted by the immediate crumbs. Both short and long-range strategies are needed. As long as these kinds of plans are neglected, Friedman’s power will indeed be secure.
Herman Badillo has suggested that the prime strategy of all reformers, independents and progressives in 1985 should be to replace Bronx borough president Stanley Simon. “We cannot have a borough president who allows his position, his staff, and his vote on the Board of Estimate to be used by party powerbrokers that are only interested in enriching their legal practices,” says Badillo. Simon refused to comment.
“We must get rid of Stanley Simon,” said Badillo, “and instead elect a borough president who will be independent.” Others have agreed with Badillo that if Friedman loses control of the office of Bronx borough president he will lose control of significant patronage, of the vote at the Board of Estimate, and access to information for business dealings.
If Serrano can unite with a Black/ Puerto Rican/Labor/Liberal citywide effort to support Herman Badillo, and then link up with serious challengers like Torriente and Marrero, the Friedman machine may indeed face its first serious challenge.
Friedman’s colonial machine is clearly prepared for such challenges. If a Puerto Rican runs for Bronx borough president the machine will find a Black like Joe Galiber, in hopes that he will divide the vote. If a Black runs, South Bronx caudillo Ramon Velez will certainly help them find a Puerto Rican to divide the vote. They will use all the power they have with the Board of Elections to make sure that any challenger is knocked off the ballot. They will call in Paul Victor, Stanley Schlein, and Murray Lewinter to represent incumbents and to pose legal challenges to the independent candidates. Friedman appoints the commissioner on the Board of Elections from the Bronx, so you can expect the board will cooperate with the machine.
If a reformer is able to survive the challenges from the Friedman forces, he or she will then face an election day in which all the poll watchers and personnel at the polling sites are part of the Friedman machine. Irregularities will flourish. In a very recent race for district leader where a young Puerto Rican named Jose Rivera (unrelated to the assemblyman) ran against the incumbent in the 78th A.D., numerous illegal practices were cited in a lawsuit challenging the results.
Attorneys for Rivera, provided by State Senator Israel Ruiz, found that many inspectors were not members of either party, in clear violation of the law; in many of the election districts there were no inspectors at all; Republicans were allowed to vote in a Democratic primary, and unregistered voters were allowed to vote.
The Friedman colonialistas will do everything and anything to remain in power. They are businessmen first, second, and always, but they prefer to be called “political leaders.” Every day they obtain new Bronx clients and begin new construction companies, housing management corporations, consultant groups, and other types of enterprises. They do business with Republicans, reputed mobsters, and “cooperative” Blacks and Latinos. They successfully run a one-party state, ready to take on those who seek the independence of the Bronx.
But natives are beginning to stir. One small group after another is forming and the word is being spread: “Stanley Simon must go, and then, Stanley Friedman.” As the independent movement begins to develop, as they begin to unite, as reformers begin to realize they must work with independent Blacks and Latinos, Stanley Friedman will go the way of all colonialistas, and independencia will soon arrive in the Bronx … ■
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 14, 2020