Safir’s truth is all his own
August 24, 1998
Like Bill Clinton, Howard Safir appears to have his own version of the truth.
Take Safir's disparaging remarks earlier this month about Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson and former Police Commissioner William Bratton.
In an interview in The New York Times on Aug. 16, Safir was quoted as saying he had no respect for Johnson, and that Bratton was like "P.T. Barnum."
He described Bratton as "some airport cop in Boston," and added, "Bratton didn't know what the hell was going on in this building."
Then, referring to his own apparently halcyon days as a federal drug agent after leaving law school without graduating, Safir added, "I did things Bill Bratton couldn't even dream of . . . I went after Khun Sa," a Burmese drug lord.
Bratton, who appeared on the cover of Time magazine not long before Mayor Rudolph Giuliani forced his resignation in 1996, is often credited with initiating the crime-fighting policies for which Safir and Giuliani seek credit.
Asked at a news conference Wednesday whether the Times had quoted him accurately, Safir said his remarks about Bratton were accurate but his remarks about Johnson were not. (Asked in the article by Jeffrey Goldberg whether he respected Johnson, Safir was quoted as answering, "No. Not at all.")
Safir added he had not contacted Johnson to explain this to him because he had spent the past three days trying to locate Goldberg, whom he said he had reached shortly before the news conference. "He Goldberg said he may have misunderstood me," Safir said.
Contacted Friday, Johnson said Safir had called him Wednesday afternoon. "He said he got in touch with the reporter and the reporter said he Safir was quoted inaccurately," said Johnson. He added: "That's only Safir's version. It's not an important issue to me at all."
Reached by phone Friday, Goldberg said Safir had not called him and that his quote about Johnson was "completely accurate."
Safir's spokeswoman, Marilyn Mode, said the commissioner did speak to Goldberg. "I know he did," she said.
As for Bratton, Safir refused to elaborate on his comments. He also declined to discuss his Khun Sa drug exploits.
Dan Moldea, who in 1992 wrote Safir's 96-page proposal for an autobiography that was never accepted by a publisher, said Safir made no mention in it of Khun Sa.
"You'd think he'd put in his best stuff," said Moldea, who had filed suit charging Safir with breach of contract, saying Safir had unsuccessfully shopped his own proposal around before engaging him. He said Safir had neglected to tell him. In 1995, a jury awarded Moldea $17,500. Moldea said Safir settled on paying him $16,000 in 1996, days before becoming police commissioner.
"I think he's confusing the airport with the subways," Bratton said.
Bratton, who headed the Transit Police before becoming NYPD chief, added, "I think my background as a city and subway cop contributed significantly to my understanding of what needed to be done to turn around New York City. I wasn't dealing on the international scene, flying around the world, chasing Khun Sa, who, I believe, was never caught.
"What is sad," Bratton continued, "is that there has always been a certain collegiality among commissioners. We might disagree with a policy, but we don't speak negatively in public about each other. There is no need to. Most of Howard's senior staff are people I moved up. There is no one in Howard's inner circle who wasn't basically part of mine.
"But," said Bratton, "I can understand Commissioner Safir's frustration. Like Rodney Dangerfield, he doesn't get any respect."
Welcome, Fifi and Chichi. Safir can take credit for at least one new policy: the one governing dogs at police headquarters.
Mode, his spokeswoman, brings her dog Lil to work each day. Lil runs around her office, barking. Occasionally, Lil steals cops' lunches. Once, she accompanied police on a raid on the Latin Kings in Brooklyn. She remained inside a police van, yipping.
Recently, an anonymous letter arrived at the Deptartment of Health, complaining about Lil. Safir responded, saying, "We don't have a policy on bringing dogs. There is no prohibition in the city health code."
Last Wednesday, Daily News reporter Mike Claffey brought his dog to headquarters. When cops stopped him, Claffey produced last week's One Police Plaza column, which quoted Safir. Cops then called the Legal Bureau. Claffey was permitted to bring in his dog.
A police official says future visiting dogs will be treated on a "case-by-case basis."
"We won't allow pit bulls or Dobermans," he said. "We will allow small dogs like poodles or chihuahuas."
Email Leonard Levitt at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.