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City Hall still calls the shots

May 10, 1996

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced the appointment yesterday of Chief Tosano Simonetti as first deputy commissioner, a position believed by some to have been held by Howard Safir.

The announcement by Giuliani, who has been acting like the police commissioner as well as the mayor, came at a news conference held not at Police Plaza, as has traditionally been the case with first deps, but at City Hall, and is yet another indication that the shots regarding the department are being called from there.

Giuliani said that Simonetti had been "recommended" by Safir, appointed police commissioner by Giuliani a month ago, and called him "an excellent choice." Simonetti said later he had only been interviewed once by Safir before the commissioner called him yesterday to inform him of his appointment. Later, at a briefing at One Police Plaza, Safir barred a Daily News reporter because, informed sources say, the reporter, in his story on Simonetti's appointment, quoted an old remark by Simonetti's predecessor John Timoney which called the commissioner a "lightweight."

Simonetti - a tough old bird in the mode of former Chief of Department Robert Johnston, known as General Patton - later thanked the reporter for complimentary references to himself in the story, unaware of Safir's anger.

At the news briefing, Safir refused to say why the reporter, John Marzulli, was barred other than to say, "I have always been able to choose who can interview me from which newspaper. . . . There is no requirement that I invite everybody who is a reporter to join me in my conference room."

The Daily News later put out a statement decrying the exclusion. Simonetti's appointment, which was praised all through the department, appears to address three problems for the Giuliani administration. First, the PBA and other elements at Police Plaza are satisfied that, with an outsider like Safir as commissioner, the position of first dep went to a department veteran.

As a PBA spokesman put it, "Louie (PBA president Lou Matarazzo) felt it would not be wise' to go outside the department in these circumstances."

Simonetti's appointment also allows the department a face-saving way of solving the thorny problem of how to promote Chief Kevin Farrell out of Staten Island without dissing his patron, Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari, a key Giuliani ally.

Printable versionFarrell had run afoul of Staten Island District Attorney Bill Murphy for supporting Molinari in his unsuccessful race against Murphy for district attorney. Molinari had also lobbied the Giuliani administration to keep Farrell in Staten Island against Murphy's wishes. Molinari was also a key backer of Simonetti, who had served as Farrell's predecessor as Staten Island borough commander, for the job of first dep.

Molinari, who is currently brokering a rapprochement between the mayor and the PBA, refused to say whether he had been consulted by Giuliani on Simonetti's appointment.

And he sounded resigned to Farrell's impending departure from Staten Island. "It is a shame he has been put in the position he has been in but I am sure if he is transfered it will be to a position that will reflect favorably on his competency," Molinari said.

Lastly, Simonetti's appointment sends a message to Chief of Department Louis Anemone, the last mainstay of the administration of former commissioner William Bratton, who Giuliani forced from office. As a top official put it, "It's not good news for Louie."

At Simonetti's city hall announcment, Safir noted that Anemone was not present but said that this was due to a prior family obligation. He explained that he had made this observation publicly so that reporters would not draw the wrong conclusion.

In fact, department scuttlebutt has it that during a COMSTAT top staff meeting of Brooklyn South commanders, Anemone and former Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple flashed a picture of Pinocchio on the screen as Simonetti made his presentation. And says a top department officialm, "Simonetti still hasn't forgiven him."

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.