Monday, June 24, 1996
Real and "Victimless" Crime - Is There a Difference?
On the last day of May, feeling cheerful as a lark, my wife went to Lord and Taylor's to buy a dress to wear on our son's graduation in June. In her zippered Dooney and Bourke shoulderbag was a cherished wallet, which our son gave her on Mother's Day, filled with credit cards, cash and family memorabilia. Mission accomplished, she walked South on Fifth Avenue with her shopping bags, stopping at an Au Bon Pain for a cup of coffee. You're right, when she got to the cashier, there was no money - in the few blocks of crowded avenue her zipper had been opened and the wallet was gone. She rushed back to Lord and Taylor's to see whether she had left it in the counter; the saleslady recollected that she had zippered the beautiful wallet back in the purse. Then she called me at the office (a woman at the telephone, unasked, volunteered to give her a quarter. The good hearts of the people of New York!).
Remembering the routine from the times when her wallet was stolen on a 3rd Avenue bus, and when the predecessor purse was lifted at an athletic awards dinner at the Collegiate School five years earlier, I swung into the by now familiar reporting routine, and started calling department stores and credit agencies. By the time I came to reporting the Master Card, substantial damage had already been done; three purchases totalling over $500 had been made at Saks Fifth Avenue before the system automatically shut off her credit and stopped a major purchase, a fur. This was a card that we never use, and the system recognized an unusual pattern.
This is a far cry from the primitive 1985 days, when someone in a music store had picked up the discarded carbon paper from my Master Charge purchase slip, and made two mail order buys. I called them in as phony when the charge card statement arrived, only to be told by a service clerk at the Chemical Bank that they would wait for a third one before cancelling the card. Frustrated, I remember then calling the bank's security, and the woman there stopped the card immediately. I also wrote to the bank's president to complain that their high credit card rates were probably due to losses incurred by lax security. No answer then, but the system is now interactive. I wish I could say the same about American Express - when my son's card, also seldom used, was stolen from his wallet, kept in the desk of his easily accessed dorm room, the obviously non-professional perps (how that word has crept into our language!) had made fifty small purchases - cosmetics, men's clothing from Gap and Banana Republic, women's stockings from cheap stores, even breakfasts - before the bill alerted us to the theft. Professional thieves, such as those on 5th Avenue, make their score in the first hour, I'm told, before the alert victim calls in the theft to the card issuers. A hint to future victims: be quick, call credit card companies first. (By the way, the cops at Midtown Precinct South were busy and would not take my immediate telephone report, asking me to call later. Not that it would have helped.)
This family's history as victims of crime - two muggings/holdups and five pickpocket/card thefts - clearly shows that, despite some successes, such as those claimed by Mayor Giuliani in conquering lifestyle crimes, not enough has been done. And a lot is due to Big Business' willingness to absorb crime losses without going after the "alleged perpetrators," because the silly consumers are gonna absorb the losses anyway. That goes for banks, for credit card companies, for insurers, for stores... the list is endless. And it goes more so for lawyers who abet insurance thieves. The phrase "alleged perpetrators" is indicative of our fear of involvement and of the penalties that a volunteer witness to a crime will incur, the risks of stepping forward, the loss of time and the vilification. Nothing new there, look at apostle Peter.
Another story; a friend's car touched sides slightly with another because his vehicle slid while rolling into a red light during one of the last winter's slippery snowstorms. The drivers exchanged numbers, and soon friend Bill received notice from his insurer that a car damage claim was in process. He accepted the blame (an act of honesty that other insurance claim victims subsequently told him was foolish), in the expectation of a small loss (his car had an estimated $200 dent and scratch). Soon thereafter Bill received a letter from a Staten Island law firm, requesting insurance information because a personal injury claim would also be filed. The letter told Bill not to worry, that the claim would be handled between the lawyers and the insurer and that he would not be involved. That was enough for Bill, and he decided to follow up. It turned out that the other party had claimed a totalled car -because it had been rear-ended! - and had been paid the full value of the old vehicle, over $2000. Now, the personal injury claim was for a phony whiplash injury. Bill very quickly took some pictures of his unrepaired car, submitted the accident report that he had neglected (another mistake - one should be prepared within 10 days, it might have helped the insurer), with full details, to Albany, and copied the insurer. The claims approver was ecstatic - for once she had a good response to a shoddy claim and to the crooked lawyers specializing in crooked claims. No wonder the lawyer wanted Bill to keep out of the picture. But Bill's insurance premium went up anyway.
Why was the insurer so quick to accept the phony claim and pay? Because it was cheaper and easier, and the money paid would come back in Bill's raised premiums. Why was the lawyer willing to submit palpably lying claims? Because he was working on commission, and the lies raised his fee, and there is no real mechanism to punish him when discovered in a lie. The law permits him, nay, invites him, to break the rules, we have left the door open to a roomful of money. The bar association will perhaps slap him on the wrist if Bill should take the time, incur the expenses and the witness risks associated with a complaint. Time and again, lawyers claim the right to use any tactics in the defense of "alleged perpetrators," and consequently have been empowered to commit what Bill views as legally condoned crimes in the pursuit of claims. A witness can be convicted and put in jail for lying under oath, but a lawyer can make a career by lying systematically, and even advertizing his specialty.
The other day while walking on 18th Street, I heard two young men talking of graduate school. One was discouraging the other from a law career, expounding that lawyers were slime, lower than car salesmen (probably a slur on the auto industry). He himself was dropping pre-med and going into accounting, a more reliable profession, since medicine was doomed. It is really sickening that an honorable profession has sunk so low in popular esteem, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of attorneys practice honestly.Perhaps the most damning aspect is the profession's inability and even refusal to police itself, as recently evidenced by the defeat of tort reform legislation, orchestrated by the trial attorney associations in the sacred name of consumerism.
All this leads to what the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud describes as a national fake claims bill of $79.9 Billion in 1994, up 17.4 percent in a year and costing the average family $966.14 in premiums , taxes and higher costs of goods and services. The people who tolerate "victim-less crimes" need to understand that they are the real victims.
In view of society's inability to punish non-capital crimes, pickpockets and muggers, it is no wonder that a vigilante will surface now and then. Even this writer, a person who takes a somewhat more philosophical attitude toward injustices suffered, was tempted, in anger and frustration over what has happened to his wife time and again, to go to Fifth Avenue and somehow lash out, irrationally. Further, in view of society's institutionalized response and condoning of systematic depredations (banks and insurers do not prosecute crooks, lawyers lie), it is no wonder that organized vigilantes, law and order people, militia, freemen and NRA ride through the land . This is what we have brought upon ourselves by adopting the flexible morality of "I'm OK, Jack," and "don't worry, insurance companies have lots of money" (and "taxes are unjust, there's nothing wrong with cheating on them," but that's another country). A friend just came from Israel, where half of the young people on Dizengoff Street in Tel-Aviv carry little Gallils with banana clips across the shoulder, automatics that would sweep the block, and where never a shot is heard. Is that the direction we are heading for?
Wally Dobelis claims that some of his best friends are lawyers and that his lunch companions are all honorable men and women, and that William Shakespeare was overreacting (King Henry VI Part II, Act IV, Scene 2, Line 86).
Further to the history of the Democratic Reform Movement: former City Councilmember Carol Greitzer sends greetings and a correction. She became President of the Village Independent Democrats in 1960, District Leader in 1961, but she never held the office of Secretary in the club.
"To begin with, let's kill all the lawyers," is the line, in case you have mislaid your Bard.
Wednesday, June 19, 1996
The Democratic Reform Movement on the East Side I:
County Leadership - The Power of Tammany Hall is Broken
While browsing through the Encyclopedia of New York City, it came to mind that important portions of New York City's history need documenting - the system of political clubs, District Leaders, and the reform movement that broke the hold of Tammany Hall over Democratic politics. This is a largely anecdotal eyewitness history in six parts, some remembered from my own younger days as a member of the late maverick Murray Hill Reform Democratic Club, but by far the most assembled from the recollections of such important participants as Charles Kinsolving, Lou Sepersky, Ken Mills, Bea Dolan, Maureen Lynch, Irene Shea, Louise Dankberg and others (more being added as we go on), along with snatches from published memoirs and histories. Be sure to write to T&V, or call me with additions and corrections, before memories fade.
* * *
The early bloom of reform in New York politics may be dated to 1946, the beginning of the Mayoralty of William O'Dwyer (1890-1964). More concretely, it ties to 1949, when Lexington, the first Reform Democratic club, was organized. As Charles Kinsolving describes it, that was the year when Courtlandt Nicoll ran for the Assembly in the Silk Stocking 9th District, with the aid of various mainstream Penn and Columbia Law graduates, and when Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. was elected to Congress from the Upper West Side district of the late Sol Bloom, against the opposition of the regular old line Democratic organization. Nicoll had no help from the Grover Cleveland Club regulars, and his supporters, the reformers, started their own organization. Of the Lex club more later.
Reform grew stronger in 1951, when Vincent M. Impellitteri (1900-1987) was Mayor and Carmine DeSapio (1908-) chaired the New York County Democratic organization, still known as Tammany Hall, even though the 17th Street wigwam had been sold to the ILGWU in 1943, to pay off debts. Impellitteri became acting Mayor upon the resignation of William O'Dwyer, who had been tainted by evidence during the prosecution of Brooklyn bookmaker Harry Gross, and opted out, in favor of an Ambassadorship to Mexico. The Democratic organization was slowly recovering from the lean Laguardia mayorality years (1933-45), and DeSapio became friendly with the reformers, a loose group of war veterans interested in participatory politics and Fair Deal Democrats. [Fair Deal was President Harry S. Truman's social program that included aid to education, slum clearance, low-cost public housing and an unsuccessful attempt to repeal the Taft-Hartley Labor Act.] DeSapio himself was a sort of reformer, having been elected County Leader in 1949, after years of battling the Irish establishment. He took over the city-wide leadership when Edward J. Flynn, the respected Bronx County Leader, died in 1953.
In 1951, the reform groundswell managed to elect several of their district leaders. With DeSapio's help, in 1953 the reformers also managed to change the election rules, from indirect election of Distict Leaders (who were until then elected by county committeemen), to direct, through the ballot box. DeSapio gained Reform credentials when in 1953 he, the first Italian county leader, tried eliminating Tammany stalwart Bert Stand, an important member of the largely Irish leadership group, long-time Treasurer of the Democratic County Executive Committee. The story is that DeSapio was material in the founding of the reformers' Tilden (now Tilden Midtown Democratic) Club. In 1954 he actually selected several Liberal progressives - Robert F. Wagner Jr. (1910-91) for Mayor, who beat Impellitteri, and W.Averell Harriman (1891-1986) for Governor, who beat Republican Kenneth B. Keating from Rochester (but lost in 1958 to Nelson A. Rockefeller, because Harriman would not return calls from Dorothy Schiff, the then most powerful Reform Democrat and New York Post owner/publisher. In anger, she endorsed his opponent).
In 1957 the Reform candidates campaigned in 20 of Manhattan's 33 districts, and elected several leaders. The reformers broke with DeSapio in 1958, when former Gov., then Sen. Herbert H. Lehman (1878-1963) became too sick to continue running for Senate, and DeSapio at the Buffalo Democratic Convention selected New York City's District Attorney Frank Hogan, over both Thomas E. Murray, of the Atomic Energy Commission, and Thomas K. Finletter, former Secretary of the Air Force and the Reformers' choice. Julius C.C.Edelstein, Lehman's team leader, saw it as treason (Edelstein had been staff director of the Liberal caucus in the US Senate). Hogan was a bad campaigner and lost the 1958 Sematorial race to the Republican Keating, who subsequently lost to Robert F. Kennedy, in 1964. DeSapio further angered Lehman and Mrs. Roosevelt (a staunch Stevenson supporter) by backing Lyndon B. Johnson for President in the 1960 Democratic convention in L.A. Mayor Wagner, who needed the support of the Lehman group in the upcoming 1961 Democratic primaries, also turned against DeSapio, and the combined strength of this group helped the new Reform club in DeSapio's territory, the Village Independent Democrats, gain its first victory against Tammany, in 1960. That year, on his home grounds, Greenwich Village, DeSapio tried to counter the VIDs revolt against his Tamawa Club, by running two genuine Reformers, Charles Kinsolving and Eleanor Clark French, as his candidates for the Democratic State Committe, but they lost against the Greenwich Village Independents James Lanigan and Sarah Schoenkopf (later m. Kovner). Predictably, DeSapio backed Arthur Levitt against Wagner for Mayor in the 1961 primary, but lost to the Reform wave. The VIDs' revenge was to destroy DeSapio's political base, by electing James Lanigan and Carol Greitzer as District Leaders over the Tammany headman in 1961. The New York Times ran an 8-column banner headline proclaiming the Wagner and Lanigan victories.
Lanigan, a Stevenson worker who was imposed on the VIDs by Lehman, lost favor by immediately declaring himself a candidate for county leadership, so says Edward I. Koch (1924-), then VID president. When Lanigan broke away from the club, Koch, (a tireless worker who had become club president despite having joined Tamawa around 1957 when he lost factional fights in VID) won the District Leader elections, by beating off De Sapio's challenges, in 1963, a rerun in 1964, and 1965. The courtly head of Tammany (nicknamed the Bishop), having lost his county office along with his District Leader position in 1961, finally had to retire. A book by Edmonde Charles-Roux, correspondent of the French Vogue in New York, To Forget Palermo, is thought to be a roman-a-clef about DeSapio. It was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1956.
Temporary county leadership went to the former Fire Commissioner Edward Cavanaugh, related to Wagner by marriage. He was replaced by Reform leader Edward Costikyan in 1962 (against the wishes of some Reformers). In 1964, J. Raymond Jones, Adam Clayton Powell's Congressional campaign manager and head of Harlem Democrats, took over. The county leadership eventually went to Frank Rossetti, who continued until 1977, when Mayor Koch replaced him with the VID District Leader Miriam Bachman (who replaced Carol Greitzer when Carol was elected to the City Council). Herman (Denny) Farrell has beeen the County Leader since 1981.
If you have more anecdotes, stories, additions and corrections, please write a Letter to the Editor, or call Wally. There is little published on the subject; we are writing history. More about individual clubs (Dem and Rep) in the next weeks.
For information in Part I Wally Dobelis acknowledges further indebtedness to Oliver E. Allen's The Tiger; the Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall, 1993, and several books by and about ex-Mayor Edward I. Koch.
Kinsol : Cvanaugh was W's brother in law?
1960 Roo backed Stev. Leh unknown? Q whether DeS backed Johns? Roo obj to Jons for VP.
Lanigan was 50
Wednesday, June 12, 1996
Carol Greitzer notes
Got invol spekr bur, stev camp 1952in dc 1956 ny ad agcy Stev camp
Ellen Karnoff hus dentist start VID
Ed Gold head CDV pres club vchai CB2
Carol pres VID kock lost 3way the Kins/french vs Schoelkopf/lan 1960
Dl61 Wag campaign ran ahead beat Des
Stev came to elect
Good funds Steve, Jack Kaplan Harvard clb cospons lunch
clubhse Barrow &7av above dry cleaners few weeks, then 224 W4
carol stev camp captain
61 Des laost decisively
63 by 41 to ed rerun
65 redistricted, incl part of little it and chels
Won couns 2/3 after Koch 68 to Cong, until 1991.