FIDLER NOT COZYING UP TO COUNTY Our first hint that Councilman Lew Fidler was upset with a column we published in this paper's southern Brooklyn editions came at 8:14 a.m. on a Thursday morning, moments after it hit the newsstands, when he called and bellowed, "I hope I'm waking you up!" Ah, the life of a political columnist. We'll say this much: it ain't boring. Fidler said we misunderstood his statements in the wake of a Crain's Insider report that the victory of the Sunset Park council candidate he supported, Sara Gonzalez, would boost Fidler's chance to become council speaker in 2005.
Two weeks ago, Fidler had alerted us to the Crain's story, said he was very happy about it, and explained that he had endorsed Gonzalez after meeting with her and satisfying himself that she would "be part of this Brooklyn thing we're trying to put together." In that context, we understood "this Brooklyn thing" to be an effort by Fidler to unite the council delegation behind his bid for speaker in 2005, when Gifford Miller will be forced out by term limits, and that he'd secured Gonzalez's vote. That was not the case. Upon rousing us from bed on Thursday, Fidler explained that "this Brooklyn thing" was simply his effort to unify the delegation to advocate for the borough during council budget negotiations and the like.
It hadn't occurred to us that any Brooklyn councilmembers were putting other boroughs first, but Fidler's point was that the Brooklyn delegation has in the past been "all over the place" while Queens members, for example, has stuck together in advancing its interests. Whatever the case, there was no quid pro quo with Gonzalez whereby she would back Fidler for speaker if he backed her in the November 5 special election, Fidler said. He said the speaker's race was never mentioned, nor did the subject of his impending bid for reelection as delegation chairman come up.
In fact, it's much too early to talk about the race for speaker, what with the entire council up for election in 2003, he added. "The fact that Crain's looked at this the way they did, the way many people did, doesn't mean that this was an agenda," Fidler said. "I don't allow myself the fantasy that anything I do today is geared toward some race in 2005. I was tickled that Crain's thought of it that way, because I thought it said incredibly flattering things about how people perceive my role in the next council."
We won't suggest that it was a hidden agenda, lest Fidler call us even earlier this Thursday morning. But it is rather obvious that Fidler simply picked the candidate most likely to defeat Eddie Rodriguez, who was strongly backed by Councilman Bill deBlasio, Fidler's friendly rival. Fidler's second, even more vociferous complaint was about our suggestion that the late Assemblyman Tony Genovesi would object to Fidler's recent associations with Clarence Norman's Brooklyn Democratic organization, which Genovesi fought so assiduously until his untimely death in 1998.
Our assertion that Fidler has been "cozying up" to Norman was based on several recent events, including Fidler's support for Gonzalez, whose campaign was cheered on, and to some extent helped, by Norman's right-hand man, Jeff Feldman, the executive director of County. Also, Fidler had just helped shepherd a Supreme Court judicial candidate through Norman's informal selection process, whereas Genovesi used to run slates of candidates against Norman's. Furthermore, Fidler recently called upon Norman to guarantee an agreement protecting Fidler's interests in his Flatlands/Sheepshead Bay political tussle with Laurie Garson and Renee Hauser. Fidler also voted in September to give Norman another two years as county leader. From Fidler's point of view, there were rational reasons for all of the above and they do not amount to "cozying up" to Norman.
Specifically, Fidler said, Gonzalez was not Norman's candidate, was not officially endorsed by County, did not receive free legal help from County-affiliated lawyers, and was supported by Councilman James Davis, an enemy of County. (While that is true, Feldman did help with Gonzalez's petitions and was at least marginally involved with her campaign, which we don't think would have happened without Norman's approval.) Running a judicial candidate (Mark Partnow) through Norman could also be defended as a practical approach, since there weren't enough anti-Norman votes at the Brooklyn judicial convention to award insurgent candidates a Democratic nomination. (One attempt was made, but failed.)
On the Renee Hauser matter, Norman didn't make an alliance with Fidler but simply enforced a peace agreement between Fidler and Hauser that the latter violated, in the opinion of Fidler, Norman, and others. Voting to reelect Norman as county leader was an appropriate gesture, given that Norman had kept his word as guarantor in the Hauser-Garson matter-and besides, Norman had no opponent, Fidler noted. So there are the facts. Does that amount to "cozying up" to County? Fidler said it doesn't. "I work with them when they're right and work against them when they're wrong," Fidler said. He noted that in 2001 he backed Marty Markowitz for borough president over County's candidate, Jeannette Gadson, and supported Peter Vallone and then Freddy Ferrer in the mayor's race, while County sided with Alan Hevesi and Mark Green. This year he was behind Bill Mulrow for state comptroller, not County's choice, Hevesi.
Fidler, at the last meeting of district leaders, also backed an effort to reform the way Norman selects Supreme Court judges. "When it came to a push-comes-to-shove vote…my hand went up. I'm sure that would not be considered a cozying-up-with-county vote." Regardless, we didn't intend to imply that Fidler had lost his independence, and perhaps we went too far to suggest Genovesi might be fidgeting in his grave. We do think it's clear that Fidler is not the antagonist to County that Genovesi was. Nor is he obliged to be.
Maybe we're just longing for the kind of viable and savvy opposition to County that Genovesi was able to mount, so we're not resigned to writing about shoestring efforts by the likes of Sandra Roper and Wellington Sharpe, whose anti-Norman slate disintegrated pathetically in courtrooms and voting booths last summer.
Courier Life 1/16/2002