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Jewish group attacks Safir

May 20, 1996

The city's first Jewish police commissioner - as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani portrays Howard Safir - didn't make many Jewish friends when he served for two years as fire commissioner.

Members of Ner Tamid, the Fire Department's Jewish fraternal organzation say he refused to attend its annual dinner dances and its memorial service.

They say he pressured the organization's president into resigning after articles Safir objected to appeared in Ner Tamid's newsletter.

And, displaying the same sensitivity to the nuances of public relations that he recently did in barring a Daily News reporter from a news briefing at One Police Plaza, Safir had an aide telephone Deputy Fire Commissioner and Ner Tamid member Harry Ryttenberg in the hospital the day after Ryttenberg suffered a heart attack to inform him he was fired.

Ner Tamid (in Hebrew, Keeper of the Flame) is a small fraternal organization comprising 150 firefighters, chiefs and civilians.

"I don't know what his problem was, but at the least we expected the commissioner to acknowledge his Judaism," said Ner Tamid member Davey Rosenzweig, a supervising fire alarm dispatcher and president of the dispatchers association.

"He attended Emerald and Columbian Society functions for Irish and Italian firefighters but for the Jewish Society, he never showed," Rosenzweig said.

Safir says he attended one Ner Tamid meeting and says scheduling conflicts prevented him from attending other functions.

During the controversy over removing fire alarm boxes, which Safir supported, Ner Tamid's newsletter, the Shofar, published articles urging their retention.

"One of the dispatchers - a group that favored retaining the alarm boxes - was the editor of the Shofar and he used it to further the dispatchers' cause," says former Ner Tamid President Paul Tauber.

"After the articles appeared I went to headquarters so that the commissioner would understand that the people in our Society were out of bounds and I wanted to explain to him my position. I quit the same day," Tauber said.

Others in Ner Tamid tell the story differently. "Tauber had a meeting with a top asssistant to Safir," says a Ner Tamid member. "He comes out of the meeting and he resigns. Safir was offended by the articles and Tauber was afraid he'd be sent to Staten Island."

Tauber and Safir deny Safir pressured Tauber to resign.

Safir says that it is "totally untrue" that he fired Ryttenberg. Rather, he says he extended Ryttenberg's Printable versionmedical benefits until he found another job and says Ryttenberg's wife wrote him a note saying, "God bless you."

Others point out Safir opened his heart to Ryttenberg only after Mayor Giuliani visited the hospital following Ryttenberg's firing to assure him he'd retain his job.

All, however, has changed since Safir became police commissioner as he and the mayor parade Safir's Jewishness. Next month he'll speak at the NYPD's Jewish fraternal organization, the Shomrim Society.

Seen: at last week's swearing-in ceremonies at One Police Plaza:

  • Marilyn Mode, deputy commissioner for public information, a symphony in a pink checkered suit and pink carnation in her lapel.
  • Richard Sheirer, deputy commissioner for administration, without his Fire Department baseball cap, fire tie or fire jacket, a source of sartorial annoyance to some top police brass.
  • Former Chief of Department Robert Johnston, the recipient of a tax-free line-of-duty disability pension stemming from hearing loss he supposedly suffered while supervising a Rolling Stone concert, wearing a hearing aid.

Unseen: at the swearing-in ceremonies:

  • Ex-First Deputy Commissioner John Timoney, who after upstaging Commissioner Safir the week before at the naming of a street to honor a deceased cop says he played golf rather than risk upstaging his successor and former precinct boss Tosano Simonetti.
  • Ex-Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple, believed to be somewhere between his Central Park South digs and his boat in Montauk, although still without a job or a paycheck.

Wisdom. If Mayor Giuliani is as happy as he says with Safir's public relations gaffe in barring Daily News reporter John Marzulli from a news briefing, why did he dispatch mayoral flack Lenny Alcivar to the NYPD's public information office?

Deputy Police Commissioner Mode, who physically prevented Marzulli from entering the briefing, said Alcivar was selected "because of his extensive background in police matters . . . " Alcivar is 24 years old.

William Murphy and Joseph W. Queen contributed to this column.

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.