"During two hard-fought primary campaigns, Assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr., the Brooklyn Democratic chairman, told a political consultant to just send over badly needed supplies like posters and leaflets, saying he would "get someone else to pay for it," the consultant testified yesterday in Mr. Norman's political corruption trial. The consultant, Ernie Lendler, said that in a series of telephone calls, Mr. Norman instructed him to prepare blank invoices for the campaign materials, totaling several thousand dollars, and to fax the invoices to his office. Soon after, Mr. Lendler said, he received checks in the mail from an Albany lobbying group, the New York State Association of Service Stations and Repair Shops. Although he had never heard of the group, Mr. Lendler said, he matched the amounts of the checks with the invoices and credited Mr. Norman's account." New York Times 9/5/2005
"The indictments stem from complaints made by two unsuccessful Democratic candidates for Civil Court, who told investigators last spring that Mr. Norman and Mr. Feldman had threatened to withdraw the party's support during the 2002 race unless they hired the party's choices to print brochures and work to get out the vote.
One candidate, Karen Yellen, a former Civil Court judge, told investigators she paid a total of $16,600 to the two vendors, against her better judgment. The other candidate, Marcia Sikowitz, hired the printer, Branford Communications, for $7,600, but did not hire the other consultant, William H. Boone III, who is treasurer of the party's fund-raising wing." New York Times, 11/18/203
Of late, hardly a day has gone by without daily newspapers telling of political shenanigans in the world of judicial selections. As overdue as some of these stories are, not all of them have been fair. An undeserving victim emerged in the person of Ernie Lendler, a Brooklyn Heights resident who runs Branford Communications, which handles publicity and campaign literature for candidates. Lendler's portrayal as a cog in a corrupt political machine sprang from a complaint by former Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Karen Yellen, who told Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes's investigators that she hired Lendler as a condition of her endorsement by Assemblyman Clarence Norman, the Democratic county leader.
From this, the Daily News concluded that Lendler was an arm of the county organization. Stories in the other dailies implied as much, but the News's editorial board was particularly harsh. Unfortunately, no one bothered to look first at Lendler's clientele over the years, which includes plenty of candidates who were not endorsed by the machine and some who were openly at war with it. The News assumed the opposite would be true, and set out to do a follow-up story. But it quickly came across a snag: a judicial race last year which didn't fit the supposed pattern because Wavny Toussaint was endorsed by Norman but did not hire Lendler, while one of her opponents, Desmond Green, did. A News editorial even asked rhetorically why Brooklyn Civil Court candidate Robin Garson hired Lendler and spent $50,000 on her campaign when she lacked an opponent in the Democratic primary, and thus was assured of winning.
The answer is simple: she spent the money before her opponent Jim McCall was knocked off the ballot several weeks before the election because of a petition cover-sheet error. Had she known all along that a free ride was in store, Garson would have saved her cash for a future campaign for Supreme Court (a dream since derailed by the indictment of her husband, Supreme Court Judge Gerald Garson). The News has also taken to saying Norman "made sure" Garson would have no primary opponent, which implies that he pegged her for a free slot. If that were true, Judge Maggie Cammer would have run rather than retire and leave the slot for Garson and McCall to fight over.
Perhaps the News was blaming Norman for McCall's removal from the ballot, as if (A) there's something wrong with challenging someone's ballot petition, when in fact any candidate who noticed a fatal error on an opponent's petition would file an objection, and (B) Norman owns the judiciary and can have anyone knocked off the ballot, when in reality he's failed on numerous such attempts (in part because he doesn't own the appellate court).
Councilman Lew Fidler, who with Lendler's help staved off an all-out effort by Norman to oust him as district leader a few years ago, said, "The stuff about Ernie Lendler has been blood-boiling outrageous. Joe McCarthy wouldn't have had that much nerve. The Daily News should apologize." Lendler's not holding his breath, we bet. Fidler, incidentally, believes what Yellen told investigators was leaked not by Hynes but by supporters of Housing Court Judge Dawn Jimenez, eager to portray Jimenez's Democratic primary opponent for Civil Court, Shawndya Simpson, as Norman's pawn. Simpson, you see, is endorsed by Norman (though she doesn't use Lendler, according to her campaign manager Gary Tilzer).
Fidler worries that the News will therefore blast Simpson as a judgeship-buyer and endorse Jimenez a week before the primary, and that Jimenez will mail the newspaper clippings to tens of thousands of likely voters. That might well be unfair to Simpson, who has convinced even Norman's enemies that she's independent of the county leader, evidenced in part by her choice of campaign manager, Gary Tilzer, who guided Civil Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres to reelection last year despite a furious effort by Norman to unseat her. Fidler is correct that Jimenez's campaign is trying to use the Norman connection to undermine Simpson, but the rest of his theory is dubious: that Jimenez's people heard second-hand what Yellen told the D.A. and converted that into a flood of media coverage.
The systematic appearance of the Yellen story, first in the New York Sun and the next day in the other dailies, and the specific, anonymous quotes corroborating it, point to Hynes's office as the likely source. A Jimenez campaigner could not have placed half a dozen articles by calling newspapers with a hearsay account of a private, secret interrogation. Newspapers generally demand sources with first-hand knowledge of the story, and in this case that means either Yellen (who's uneasy with the press) or Hynes.
Our money's on Hynes, in part because the Yellen story fit the pattern of numerous other leaks about Hynes's investigation. It would seem to be the work of the same source. Not that we're criticizing Hynes for the leaks. Investigators commonly leak stories about ongoing probes because it elevates their own profiles and because the news coverage generates leads. Unfortunately, in this case Hynes might not have anticipated Ernie Lendler becoming a collateral casualty of a careless media onslaught.
As for Jimenez, if her people are spinning tales, it's certainly not her idea. She is a political novice (unlike her handlers) and has built her career more on talent and work than back-room maneuvering. This "shortcoming" has cost her some political support, like when she was pitching herself to State Senator Marty Connor and naively offered that Assemblyman Dov Hikind supported her-a comment akin to pointing out a pimple on your date's forehead. But given the recent revelations of politicians' influence on the judiciary, Jimenez's lack of political savvy could well be a positive in voters' eyes. Perhaps that should be the premise of her campaign.