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Safir’s religion at center stage

May 13, 1996

Here are some of the events Police Commissioner Howard Safir attended with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani over the past eight days:

bulletA Sunday morning breakfast at Gracie Mansion honoring the mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Oelmert.

bulletA Monday afternoon news conference at City Hall honoring the mayor of Tel Aviv, Roni Milo.

bulletA Tuesday evening celebration in Battery Park City for the 3,000th anniversary of the city of Jerusalem.

bulletA Wednesday night meeting at Gracie Mansion about the Israeli Day parade.

It is not clear what police function Safir's presence served at these events. But at the two this reporter attended, a reference about him was made to the largely Orthodox Jewish audience, a mainstay of Giuliani's political support. As talk-show host Larry King put it at the Battery during the Jerusalem celebration: "The mayor in his wisdom has appointed New York City's first Jewish police commissioner."

Before his appointment last month, Safir served for a year as the city's fire commissioner. So far as is known, no mention was ever made of Safir as the first Jewish fire commissioner.

In fact, Safir's Jewish-ness has only become visible since he became Police Commissioner. Unlike Jews in such professions as law, teaching or medicine, Jews in law enforcement are a distinct minority. In the NYPD, says Alan Goodman, a retired inspector and a past president of the Shomrim Society of Jewish officers, Jews are "the most proportionately underrepresented ethnic group."

Like many Jews in law enforcement, Safir, a former federal drug agent, has never - until now - worn his Jewishness on his sleeve. His wife is not Jewish. Neither, he has told people, are his children.

On May 5, Safir also attended a $500-a-ticket political fund raiser on the aircraft carrier Intrepid for Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind. Hikind, a Democrat who supported Giuliani for mayor, represents an Orthodox (including a Hasidic) Jewish constituency in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn. Top commanders from Brooklyn Patrol Borough South, which encompasses Hikind's district, also attended.

Safir said he did not pay to attend the event and did so only to honor fireman Louis Valentino, who died in the line of duty.

It was a remembrance folded into the fund raiser that produced a $100,000 contribution in his memory to a trauma ward at Maimonides Hospital. Safir added he had "no problem" with the Brooklyn South commanders who attended and who also, Hikind said, did not pay.

Printable versionIn Brooklyn South, with its large Orthodox Jewish and Hasidic communities, a special relationship has existed between them and the department. Cops perceive Jewish leaders there, both rabbis and politicians, as being able to exert inordinate influence at City Hall and obtain inordinate resources for their community.

Commanders perceive that those same leaders can affect their careers. Such top cops as former Chief of Department Robert Johnston, Chief of Personnel Mike Markman, and most recently First Deputy Tosano Simonetti have all come out of Brooklyn South and are perceived to have furthered their promotions with the backing of these leaders.

Two weeks ago, Safir and Brooklyn South commanders visited the home of city councilman Noach Dear, whose constituency, like Hikind's, includes the Orthodox Jews and Hasidim of Borough Park. The purpose, says Dear, was to introduce Safir to community leaders.

Last Friday, Dear and Safir were observed huddling in a City Hall hallway just before Safir began a news conference with the mayor on the latest Crown Heights disturbance. A passersby overheard Safir saying two words to Dear: "Trust me."

No Regrets. The hit on Daily News reporter John Marzulli that barred him from a news briefing in Commissioner Safir's office last week was apparently a freelance job, concocted by Safir's feisty spokeswoman Marilyn Mode. Despite creating the impression that Safir was thin-skinned for objecting to Marzulli's reference to him as a "lightweight," Mode offered neither regrets nor apologies. And she was backed by both Safir and Mayor Giuliani. The mayor pronounced "nobody has a constitutional right" to be invited into Safir's office. Safir ventured he didn't believe anything written in the newspapers.

There may also be another reason for Safir's ire at Marzulli. Two days before, Marzulli had written that Safir's predecessor, Giuliani's nemesis William Bratton, was about to hit the lecture circuit for $20,000 a pop by expounding on how he'd turned around the NYPD.

At any rate, Safir's public display has created a newly whispered moniker for him around Police Plaza: "PC Lite."

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.