Daniel L. Feldman

The Democratic County Organization, Norman Rosen, and the Politics of the 1989 D.A. Race

In General on March 9, 2012 at 11:32 am

Notwithstanding all this, I might well have beaten Hynes but for the third candidate. Norman Rosen, who Liz had defeated in 1981, thought his candidacy was still viable in 1989. Howard Golden had not returned my favor of endorsing him, or my reluctant acquiescence to his request for me to take on the burden of the district leadership. Mario Cuomo had called him. Using the influence of the Governor’s office, Cuomo persuaded Golden to endorse Hynes. Years later, Hynes tried to claim that the Brooklyn Democratic organization had backed me, on the basis of the hair-splitting distinction that Golden had only endorsed Hynes in his capacity as Borough President, not as County Leader.  But the lawyers in Golden’s Democratic county organization either worked for Hynes, or, as it happened, worked for Norman Rosen. This became very significant.

Rosen had joint petitions with Council Member Louis Olmedo, who had previously served time for extortion. My campaign showed that so many of Rosen’s signatures were false or fraudulent that when we challenged them in court, Judge Joseph Slavin threw Rosen and Olmedo off the ballot. John Leventhal, a lawyer for the Brooklyn Democratic County organization, later a New York State Supreme Court judge, appealed to the Appellate Division, whose Second Department unanimously restored Rosen’s name, but not Olmedo’s, to the ballot – based on the same signatures, and with a brief opinion. This probably reflected the influence of the Democratic county organization as well.

If readers find this behavior by an appellate court shocking, they should be assured that it was not unprecedented. In a Democratic primary seven years earlier in Brooklyn’s 12th congressional district to succeed Shirley Chisholm, regular organization candidate State Senator Vander Beatty lost to reformer State Senator Major Owens by almost 3000 votes out of about 34,000 cast. It was credibly alleged that Beatty then sent functionaries to the Board of Elections purportedly to review the records, but actually to change them right then and there. Beatty then brought suit for a re-run based on the irregularities which he claimed had been committed earlier. The trial court granted him his re-run, and the Appellate Division affirmed. In that matter, the State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, finally put a stop to the affair, on the basis of evidence that the New York Times had earlier described as being as clear as a bright yellow line painted down the middle of the road, leaving Owens to enjoy the victory he had so clearly already won. But the New York Times had no editorial interest in exposing any irregularities that worked to my disadvantage in 1989, and the Court of Appeals did not review the matter.

The significance of Rosen’s restoration to the ballot went beyond the sheer numbers. Rosen shared with me the same ethnicity, as well as a pro-death penalty reputation, thus splitting off some of the votes I would have won on either basis. Phil Caruso, head of the Police Benevolent Association, told me that I would have the PBA’s endorsement if I succeeded in knocking Rosen off the ballot. A shrewd politician himself, he knew that I would have a much better chance in a two-way race. In a two-way race, with the PBA endorsement, my campaign would have stood in much clearer contrast to Hynes’s.

Ultimately, Hynes would get 51% of the vote, to my 35% and Rosen’s 14%. So my vote and Rosen’s, together, still added up to less than half. But in a two-person race, with the PBA and likely other endorsements that would have come my way as well, chances are I would have beaten Hynes.


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