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Watchdog kept on short leash

December 22, 1997

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's attempts to muscle — and muzzle — an obscure watchdog agency known as the Citizens Budget Commission is another indication of what a bully — and a coward — our mayor is.

As usual, nobody paid much attention to the CBC's latest report on the police department, which it issued Dec. 10 and mailed (at least to this reporter) a week late. Filled with esoteric charts and 99 footnotes, the 39-page report was soporifically titled "The State of Municipal Services in the 1990s: The New York Police Department."

No newspaper reported it. The city's law enforcement community, which doesn't take the CBC's reporting on the NYPD very seriously to begin with, ignored it. Nor did City Hall mention it.

Then last week, The New York Times published an editorial about secrecy in government. The editorial cited the CBC's police report, which said NYPD had been "completely uncooperative" and had "ignored repeated requests for information over the last 12 months."

Said the Times' editorial: "Since Mr. Giuliani has become mayor, it the CBC has had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act to pry out data that it used to obtain routinely."

It was then that Giuliani's budget director, Joseph Lhota, retaliated. Like bullies everywhere, he went after the little guy, warning firms that underwrite the city's bonds and whose officials sit on the CBC's board of trustees not to buy tickets for the CBC's impending fund raiser. Giuliani pronounced himself "proud" of Lhota.

And what threats or criticism did City Hall offer the Times, whose coverage will be crucial to Giuliani's bid for national office?

Said Howell Raines, the editor of the Times' editorial pages, last Friday: "I hadn't heard from them."

Hit or Dog? Former Police Commissioner William Bratton read a few lines from his autobiography's first pre-publication review last week and pronounced the book a potential hit.

Giuliani's "ousted police chief returns to haunt him," the review begins, "a la Banquo's ghost in a self-serving but powerful memoir in which Bratton skewers his callous and paranoid former boss, whose efforts to take credit for Bratton's . . . innovations caused the popular commissioner to step down after only 27 months on the job."

Those who've seen the galleys say the sharpest such anecdote involves John Timoney, summoned to Gracie Mansion the night of his inauguration as Bratton's first deputy because Timoney hadn't praised the mayor. Bratton interceded and the two went up to the mansion together for a tense standoff with mayoral aides Peter Powers and Denny Young.

Printable versionAlas, insiders say there's not enough of these Bratton versus Rudy stories, or of the specifics of the NYPD's turnaround, to make the book sing. Vanity Fair passed on an excerpt after shelling out $10,000, which Bratton says the magazine won't retrieve.

Katie Moves On. Katie Lapp, who's departing the Giuliani administration as the city's criminal justice coordinator for a similar job with Gov. George Pataki — albeit for a $10,000 pay cut — is regarded as the consummate professional: expert in her field, totally loyal, willing to work the long haul and disdainful of the limelight.

It was Lapp who handled the seamless transition from Bratton to Police Commissioner Howard Safir. Mayoral aide Young, who served as master of ceremonies at Safir's inauguration, praised Lapp so glowingly, he forgot to introduce Safir.

Passed over four years ago by ex-Mayor David Dinkins for what a friend calls "her lifelong dream of a judgeship," Lapp says she never sought a judgeship from Giuliani. Nor, she says, has she discussed one with the Pataki boys. "It would be inappropriate," she says.

Howard and Jay. At Safir's first news briefing for reporters based at One Police Plaza Dec. 5, the commissioner says it wasn't he but his former First Deputy Tosano Simonetti who reinstated police officer Jay Creditor, dismissed March 7 by Trials Commissioner Rae Koshetz for missing 200 hours of work. Creditor, a Patrolmen's Benevolent Association delegate, paid an unprecedented $50,000 fine, then was permitted to retire with a tax-free, line-of-duty disability worth $1.4 million.

At Safir's second briefing with the reporters Dec. 11, he is presented with a March 10 memo to Simonetti from Assistant Department Advocate Commissioner Kevin Lubin saying Safir "reviewed this case and determined it be negotiated." Safir says he needs "to study the case."

At Safir's third briefing Dec. 19, Safir says, "I had no role" in Creditor's reinstatement. He then says he had "a recollection" he told Koshetz to negotiate the case.

Stay tuned.

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1997 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.