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Party's over for cop buffs

December 2, 2002

How the Police Department is viewed may be as important as the thousands of dollars that a private foundation raises for the department.

Ray Kelly apparently thinks so.

The Finest Foundation is one of the half-dozen nonprofit groups of buffs and hustlers that raise money for the department in return for honorary badges, police parking placards and identification cards that allow them to roam the corridors of One Police Plaza.

In a shot heard all through Buff-land last week, Kelly killed the organization's 27th annual dinner, known as Chief's Night. The dinner was scheduled for Thursday at the Pierre hotel.

Because the cancellation came 10 days before the dinner, its chairman, Hank Seiden, said the foundation will have to eat its $10,000 deposit with the hotel, as well as another $39,000 in non-refundable expenses.

Seiden said the group had announced the dinner's three honorees, one of whom was the NYPD's highest uniformed officer, Chief of Department Joe Esposito. He said its newly reconstituted board of 30 directors had raised $250,000 for the dinner in cash and "good" pledges. A professional party planner had sent out invitations, offering tables of 10 at $5,000 for the Lieutenant's Package, $25,000 for the Chief's Package and $50,000 for the Commissioner's Package.

Relations between Kelly and the foundation seemed solid enough that at a news conference at One Police Plaza just two weeks before, Kelly accepted a $1,250 check from Seiden, honoring six cops for their restraint in arresting a man who'd shot at them.

Last week, however, Kelly announced that no members of the NYPD, himself and Esposito included, would attend the foundation dinner.

So what happened?

According to the letter Kelly sent the foundation Wednesday, it was the wording of the invitations that stoked him. Here, for example, is what the invitations promised for the $50,000 Commissioner's Package:

Table of 12 including 12 invitations to VIP Reception.

  • Opportunity to present one of the honorees.
  • Photo acknowledgment in the dinner journal.
  • Opportunity to have high-ranking law enforcement official seated at your table.

According to buff emeritus Richard Winter of Palm Beach, Fla., who for years was Chief's Night master of ceremonies, this is what happened next.

"I got a call from Kelly," Winter told One Police Plaza Confidential. "I'm his doctor, and he stays with me at the house when he comes down here.

"He was quite irate. I don't know why he was so angry. He communicated to me it looked like he was soliciting funds and that put him in an embarrassing position."

Seiden, Winter said, was "very upset. He thought Kelly was his friend."

In his letter to the foundation bailing out of the dinner, Kelly wrote: "The invitation to the event raises a number of concerns, including the appearance that access to ranking law enforcement officials, would be guaranteed based on the level of contribution. In addition, the elevation of 'Chief's Night' to what appears to be a major fund-raising effort was done without consulting the police department ...

"I realize that our actions may inconvenience you but the tenor and timing of the 'Chief's Night' invitations left us with few alternatives."

Seiden said: "We will wait until the dust settles before we decide what to do next. All the money will be refunded. If the commissioner doesn't back you, it is difficult to survive, but somehow, we will stay in business. Ninety percent of the proceeds after the cost of the dinner was to go to the department at Kelly's discretion. ... I think, in this case, he put his personal image, which he thought was being hurt, before the needs of the department."

Three Schnorrers and an Enabler. The disclosure in this newspaper that correction officer Eddie Aswad worked the first three months of this year for former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik in the private sector reveals in even more pathetic depth what a bunch of freeloaders Rudolph Giuliani and company are. And how Mayor Michael Bloomberg is enabling them to bleed the city amid budget cuts.

It turns out that Aswad's assignment was approved by none other than former Corrections Commissioner William Fraser, whom Bloomberg has been defending.

Add to that the police department's continuing to allow Giuliani to keep his police detail to accompany him and his fiancee, Judi Nathan, as they gallivant across Europe.

Finally, there is Bloomberg's $900,000 funding for former Police Commissioner Howard Safir's police museum - the only money the museum is able to raise for its operating budget - and you begin to see what this is about.

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.