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The DA’s Race: Voters Beware When City Newspapers Agree

September 14, 2009

Whenever the Times, the News and the Post gang up to endorse the same policy or political candidate, something is amiss.

That’s what happened when Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided he wanted to revoke the two-term limits law. He first visited the Times, the News and the Post, whose owners agreed that only Mayor Mike could save the city from financial calamity. [You can get a sense of Mayor Mike’s effectiveness by staring at that great hole in the ground — Ground Zero — eight years after 9/11.

Still, with the support of all three papers, he was able to buy off the City Council so he could change the law and run for a third term. In this power grab, he out-performed the most ambitious leaders who tried similar stunts: Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the equally formidable Rudy Giuliani.

Now we have the Times, the News and the Post all supporting Cy Vance, Jr. for Manhattan District Attorney.

Vance’s most salient qualifications are that he is the son of a former Secretary of State and is endorsed by the sainted incumbent Robert Morgenthau, who is finally retiring at age 90 after 35 years in office.

This is not to suggest that Vance may not prove himself a capable, even an exemplary, district attorney. No one disputes his intelligence or his decency.

But as a candidate he seems like a deer in the headlights, unable to generate enthusiasm.

Moreover, he has the taint of a carpet-bagger, having spent most of his professional life in Seattle, Washington.

Perhaps this explains why two of his top aides come straight from our hapless Governor Paterson. One of them, spokeswoman Erin Duggan, didn’t return a phone call to this reporter last week about the most basic of matters.

Morgenthau’s pitch to the newspapers has been that, without Vance, the office could fall into the hands of the dragon-like Leslie Crocker Snyder.

She is a candidate of remarkable fortitude who as an Acting State Supreme Court judge single-handedly took on some of the borough’s most vicious drug gangs.

After threats on her and her family’s life, she was granted round-the-clock police protection that continued for years.

In the political arena, she did something equally brave four years ago. She challenged Morgenthau, then a mere 86.

This time around, she had the temerity to call him too old and out of touch. You cross Morgenthau at your peril. [So let’s interject right here that his problem is not loss of marbles; it’s loss of hearing.]

As a judge, Snyder was considered such a hard-ass that the canny Morgenthau steered his most heinous criminals to her courtroom, prompting cries from defense attorneys that he was stacking the judicial deck against their clients.

And, like all of us, she has flaws. In accepting guilty pleas from white-collar criminals, she sometimes required them to contribute to her favorite charity.

After that story appeared in Newsday, she went the personally vindictive route, questioning Your Humble Servant’s “integrity” to other reporters.

We come now to clearly the most interesting candidate, Richard Aborn, a former head of the Citizens Crime Commission. Like Vance, Aborn has something of a celebrity factor. His wife is the twin sister of actress Isabella Rosselini. Their mother is the late, great Ingrid Bergman.

Aborn also received the endorsement of police commissioner in waiting, Bill Bratton, in between his retirement from the LAPD and his announcement that he is ready again to head the NYPD.

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In addition, Aborn has obtained a swath of endorsements from local officials and appears to be running a true grass roots campaign, targeting Manhattan Democrats with mailings and phone calls for what is expected to be a low voter turnout on primary day. Still, he lacks name recognition and there is the likely possibility that if he does not squeak in himself, he may draw enough votes away from Vance to throw the election to Snyder.

The case for term limits applies less to the mayor than to the city’s five district attorneys. This is a true lifetime job. While no one can approach Morgenthau’s 35 years in office through age 90, Robert Johnson, who is 61, has been Bronx DA since 1988. Brooklyn DA Joe Hynes, who is 74, was first elected in 1989. Queens DA Richard Brown has served since 1991 and is 77. The baby is Staten Island’s Dan Donovan. He was first elected in 2003 and is only 52.

. Bratton isn’t the only former top NYPD official who’s ready to return to work in New York City in a law enforcement capacity. Former Chief of Department Louis Anemone is also ready. He says he’s willing to help the next Manhattan District Attorney.

As much as Bratton or his sidekick Jack Maple, Anemone was responsible for reducing the city’s staggering crime rate two decades ago. As Louie modestly told Rocco Parascandola, then Newsday’s police bureau chief, in July, “I put my expertise up against anybody in the country.”

Unfortunately, Anemone never received the praise accorded Bratton and Maple. As the NYPD’s unofficial official historian Tom Reppetto put it, “Chief Anemone never received the proper credit for all he accomplished in the NYPD. It’s a shame that a man of his capacity is not in an important public service job today.”

What hurt Anemone was his brashness and his candor. He made his boss, police commissioner Howard Safir, so uncomfortable that Safir forced the far more qualified Anemone into early retirement.

Now after a decade in the wilderness [caused by some missteps at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where, with his sidekick Nick Casale, he was accused of conjuring up an informant], Louie sounds like he’s again ready for prime time.

He offered this advice to the next DA: “I’d concentrate on anti-gang strategies, especially involving narcotics. I’d do something about the witness intimidation factor. I’d let the DA’s squad [of NYPD detectives] do a lot more than they have ever done in terms of relocating witnesses and I’d tackle the’ no-snitch’ culture.”

Yet his brashness and candor may again cost him an opportunity.

Writing in Sunday’s Daily News of the DA’s race, Anemone implied that all three candidates were soft on crime. “All three have put forward pandering platforms so heavy on newfangled ideas about criminal rehabilitation — and so light on nuts and bolts crime-fighting — that it seems they have forgotten about the blood, sweat and friction it took for us to tame the streets in the 1990s.”

Anemone concludes with this: "It is still not too late for one of the candidates to publicly display the courage that the public deserves, and that the job of Manhattan DA demands."

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