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Safir briefing, he said, he said

March 16, 1998

Police Commissioner Howard Safir is growing testy when questions are raised about his stewardship of the NYPD.

Last month, it was revealed here that Safir agreed to open a police substation near Wall Street, paid for by a downtown business group, in return for the group's also funding a police museum chaired by Safir's wife. Safir responded by calling this reporter a "liar." Here now is a verbatim exchange from Safir's Friday news conference.

1PP: "We Newsday had a story today about a libel lawsuit you filed against WCBS-TV."

Safir: "Excellent story, Lenny."

1PP: "Thank you."

Safir: "It was the first story I have ever seen Lenny write that was factual and accurate." (Laughter)

Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Marilyn Mode: "It must have been the influence of his having been on the Sleeza show." (Mode referred to this reporter's appearance on the television show "Leeza" to discuss the unsolved murder of a Greenwich, Conn., teenager, Martha Moxley.)

Safir (referring to his libel suit): "Public officals. . .should have thick skins and should be held accountable. . . .Most public officials don't have the courage to take on large organizations like CBS. . ."

1PP: "I see Mr. Felder. . .filed this lawsuit." (Raoul Felder represented Safir and his wife pro bono in an unrelated civil suit. After 1PP reported that accepting freebies violates the NYPD's patrol guide, Safir's wife paid Felder a discounted fee.)

1PP: "Are you paying him?"

Safir: "He is not doing it pro bono."

1PP: "Is he doing it at a discounted rate . . ."

Safir: "He is doing it in a standard fee arrangement that these kind of lawsuits are handled through."

Mode: "How about some other topics?"

1PP: "I want to ask you about the Inner Circle dinner (a charity group comprising political reporters) you attended. How did you enjoy the show?"

Safir: "I thought it was much better than last one I was at."

1PP: ". . . A couple of weeks ago you said you wouldn't go out of principle because you didn't like the way they handled their funds."

Safir: "I said I wouldn't pay $400 a ticket out of principle. I went as part of the mayor's show and was a participant but I did not pay $400 . . ."

Safir was then asked about ex-cop Jay Creditor. Creditor was dismissed by Trials Commissioner Rae Koshetz for missing 200 hours of work but was reinstated under mysterious circumstances after he paid an unprecedented $50,000 fine. The next day he received a $1.4 million tax-free disability pension and retired.

1PP: "We Newsday had a story last week where Creditor's lawyer. . ."

Safir: "Where was it?"

1PP: "Where was it?"

Safir: "Who wrote it?"

1PP: "Commissioner, you know you are 1PP's favorite reader. You know it's the first thing you read Mondays. The question is, if you haven't seen it. . ."

Safir: "Help me out here."

1PP: "Creditor's lawyer says he was stunned to get a call from Assistant Deputy Commissioner Kevin Lubin saying he wanted to negotiate this, that it was too good to be true. He thought he was going to be dismissed. I wonder if you. . ."

Safir: "He thought the case would be dismissed? He would be dismissed? Which one was going to be dismissed?"

1PP: "Commissioner . . . all these weeks and we have heard different explanations from you that are contradictory. . ."

Safir: "No, no, no, you just don't hear right, Lenny, but go ahead."

1PP: "First you said you played no role in Creditor's reinstatement . Then you said you had a recollection' of telling Kosehtz to negotiate. Which is it?"

Long pause.

Safir: "I think the last thing I told you about this case was that it was in litigation and . . . that is the last thing I am going to say to you."

1PP: "How can one conclude from your different explanations and Creditor's lawyer's statement that he was stunned. . .How can one have confidence in the integrity of the system in light of your contradictory statements?"

Safir: "That's your characterization . . . Write whatever you want and have a good time."

1PP: "I. . .don't want it to be inaccurate, commissioner."

Safir: "Why should you change now?"

1PP: ". . . You call me a liar and I say to you, What did I lie about?' But you don't give me any specifics, you don't answer."

Safir: "I did answer but we can have this private discussion if you want."

1PP: "I don't mind doing it publicly. You talk about having a thick skin. . . . I am not going to sue you."

Safir: "You can sue me if you want. You can try to."

1PP: "I don't want to. . . . But I am trying to get specifics from you. Instead I get these blanket accusations and mischaracterizations and you don't answer the questions."

Safir (turning to other reporters): "Next . . ."

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© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.