A ‘spoof’ that spurred probe
May 17, 1999
A leading candidate for president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association is fending off a charge that 13 years ago he dressed up Ku Klux Klansman-like at a PBA convention.
Candidate Jim Higgins's behavior then so offended Ben Ward, the city's first black police commissioner, that Higgins became the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation.
Top police officials at the time contacted by Newsday last week could not recall the investigation.
The allegations against Higgins - now the PBA's recording secretary, who has been endorsed by Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari and praised by former mayoral first pal Peter Powers - were aired last week on talk radio by a black cop who accused Higgins and some of his PBA buddies of parading through the Concord Hotel's dining room with pillow cases covering their heads and white sheets wrapped around them.
The officer, Noel Leader, a member of a group called 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, charged on WEVD's Alan Colmes show, on which Higgins also appeared, that Higgins and buddies behavior upset guests and caused the all-black Erskine Hawkins band to leave the bandstand.
Leader was seconded in his charge by a caller, "Mark from Queens," who turns out to have been Det. Marquez Claxton, also a member of 100 Blacks. According to a tape of the broadcast provided to Newsday, Higgins initially denied the incident had occurred. The following colloquy ensued:
Higgins: "That's not true."
Claxton: "That's not true?"
Higgins: "Absolutely not."
Colmes: "What is Mark referring to?"
Higgins: "I don't know what he is referring to."
Leader: "I heard it was a convention upstate."
Higgins: "Really? It's news to me."
Higgins later admitted on the air he was wearing an "outfit," but described it as a "cone head" outfit that he said was imitative of the cast of "Saturday Night Live." "We had different outfits on, yeah," he said.
"It took him 10 minutes to admit it," retorted Leader on the air.
In an interview with Newsday, Higgins described his behavior as a "spoof."
"Thirteen years ago at a convention we dressed up and acted like the cast on 'Saturday Night Live. What people perceived it to be it was not. I am a Roman Catholic and despise the Ku Klux Klan, which discriminated against Catholics as it did against blacks and Jews."
Higgins did not explain how the "cone head" pillow case costumes transmogrified into white sheets.
Higgins - formally nominated for the presidency last week by one of the PBA's few black delegatesand endorsed by the Guardians, the department's official black fraternal organization - acknowledged he'd been questioned by Internal Affairs about the incident 13 years before.
"I made a statement to them, the same thing I made to you, that we were spoofing the cast of 'Saturday Night Live. I told them it was a spoof, and that was the end of it."
Equally unprecedented is that the story idea came from City Hall - as did the approval of the reporter, Doug Feiden, the News former City Hall bureau chief, now writing features, sources say.
Said police spokeswoman Marilyn Mode: "I never discuss other reporters' stories."
Feiden, News managing editor Art Browne and mayoral spokeswoman Sunny Mindel didn't return calls asking about this unique journalistic arrangement.
According to last week's New York Observer, Safir says he was misquoted by The New York Times in August when, in disparaging his predecessor, Bill Bratton, he said, "I did things Bill Bratton couldn't even dream of . . . I went after Khun Sa."
Now, according to The Observer, Safir says: "That's not what I said. I said I had worked on Khun Sa up in the Golden Triangle with the DEA Drug Enforcement Administration . . . I personally have never gone after the Khun Sa."