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Media miss VP’s stealth visit

April 21, 1998

The vice president of the United States was made to sneak in and out of One Police Plaza yesterday.

No, it wasn't a fear for Al Gore's safety. Rather, Rudolph Giuliani, who doubles as the city's mayor and police commissioner, apparently didn't want anyone to know he was there.

The purpose of Gore's stealth visit was to praise the department for its much-ballyhooed COMPSTAT conferences, at which police commanders are grilled by top brass on their crime stategies. Although invented by former police commissioner William Bratton, Howard Safir (Bratton's nominal successor) rushed down to Washington a year or so ago to appear on national television, taking credit for receiving COMPSTAT's "Innovations in Government" award by the Ford Foundation.

Gore was to have attended a COMPSTAT session of Bronx commanders yesterday, with reporters in attendance. At least, that's what the police department's Office of Public Information announced Saturday.

However, when Gore and his party arrived, the Bronx commanders were there but there were no reporters or photographers - including no photographers from the police department - to commemorate the event.

Instead, the room was filled with such civilian crime fighters as Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rae Koshetz, Deputy Commissioner for Management and Budget Joe Wuensch, Deputy Commissioner for Equal Employment Opportunity Sandra Marsh and Department Deputy Surgeon Gregory Fried.

Safir, who sat next to Giuliani, conducted most of the session. Gore, who sat between the mayor and First Deputy Patrick Kelleher, asked questions about the process and what the federal government could do to help.

Sunday, reporters had been told by the department there was no space for them. One reporter who didn't get the message was prevented from exiting the elevator on the eighth floor where the COMPSTAT session was held.

"I went to get off and was almost mugged by two cops," he joked. "They wouldn't even let me get off the elevator. Instead, they escorted me to the basement."

So why was the media forbidden to record the vice president's visit and his praise of the NYPD?

"I'd like to tell you," said an officer from the department's Office of Public Information, "but I'd better not."

Police sources said it was the mayor's doing, relayed to the department press office from City Hall. The consensus around Police Plaza: Giuliani feared he'd be upstaged by the vice president.

City Hall spokeswoman Colleen Roche gamely maintained that space considerations prevented the media's attendance, although a person who attended the COMPSTAT session counted eight empty chairs.

Marilyn Mode, the department's Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, described the decision to forbid the media as "a mutual one by both parties."

A Gore spokeswoman put it a little differently. "This was not our decision. We were guests of the mayor's office and the New York City Police Department and deferred to their wishes."

Patricia Ewing, who identified herself as Gore's deputy chief of staff, later telephoned to say that the spokeswoman had made a mistake and that the meeting was closed because of "sensitive material" that was discussed.

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© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.