For the worthy, it's dinner time
March 10, 2003
For three days last week, the front doors to One Police Plaza were shuttered. The lobby was waxed; the chrome on the elevators scrubbed. A white awning was put up and a red carpet put down.
Such extravagance signified the annual dinner of the New York City Police Foundation, the mother of all NYPD foundations.
Just three months before, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had banned cops from attending the annual Chief's Night Dinner of a small group of buffs known as the Finest Foundation at the St. Regis hotel.
Kelly cited "the appearance of impropriety" because the group had been so gauche in their invitations as to offer a "commissioner's package" - a table of 12 for $50,000.
Included in the package was the following printed faux pas: "The opportunity to have a high-ranking law enforcement official seated at your table."
Finest emeritus Richard Winter of Palm Beach, Fla., said Kelly "communicated to me it looked like he was soliciting funds, and that put him in an embarrassing position."
Last month, First Deputy Commissioner George Grasso warned the presidents of the Finest and the Centurions, another buff group, that they would lose their most prized possessions - their fake police badges and parking placards.
The swells from the Police Foundation - which in 2001, according to their latest filing with the attorney general's office, raised $2,516,679 - were more circumspect. Their invitations offered a "Gold Circle" table of 10 for $50,000. A single ticket cost $1,000.
A score of chiefs and deputy commissioners attended, some with their wives. Did each pony up 1,000 smackers per head? Or were they comped? If so, did they report this gift of more than $50, as city rules require? What about the appearance of impropriety here? We asked one deputy commissioner whether he paid.
"Why should I tell you?" he asked.
Despite its good-government origins three decades ago, the foundation sometimes seems like a glorified slush fund for police commissioners.
Bill Bratton used it to pay for "consultants" who touted him in their reports. Bernard Kerik wheedled a few thousand dollars from the foundation to pay for 30 busts of himself.
The foundation did draw the line over one request: When Howard Safir sought money for a newspaper advertisement to counter the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's call for his resignation, its executive director, Pam Delaney, refused.
The foundation has donated $200,000 for Kelly's most audacious project: the NYPD's incipient international intelligence service to combat terrorism, which places cops in Lyons, France; Hamburg, Germany; Toronto and Tel Aviv.
Think about that. If terrorism is the department's top priority, why doesn't the department's operational budget pay for it? Why not the federal government? Why the Wall Street fat cats who fund the foundation?
Fact 1: No black chief plays a prominent role in the Police Department.
Fact 2: Kelly also promoted Monty Long to assistant chief, and Kevin Clark and Gerald Nelson to deputy chief. Long and Clark have left the department. So has former chief of personnel Jimmy Lawrence.
Fact 3: Black chiefs seem marginalized through special tracks, such as Housing or School Safety. Lawrence headed School Safety before becoming chief of personnel. Long was assigned there when he was promoted. Ditto Nelson, who replaced him.
Fact 4: The team of Douglas and Neldra Zeigler give new meaning to the term "tokenism." He is the chief of Housing and the department's highest-ranking black. His wife, Neldra, succeeded Sandra Marsh, another black female, as deputy commissioner for equal employment opportunity after Safir fired Marsh for refusing his order to rewrite a report critical of a top chief.
The city paid Marsh $1 million to settle a federal lawsuit over Safir's action.
Fact 5: Stephen's new assignment is commanding officer of community affairs, a position last held by Insp. James Hall. The post is apparently so inconsequential the department did not include it in Hall's resume when he was promoted with Stephen to deputy chief.
"Why they think that is responsible journalism, I don't know," he said. "It may very well have hurt the investigation. There is a balance between ... making sure the public has the right to know, protecting the public and still being able to keep the bad guys off the streets, and this is no different than a terrorism thing."
Your Humble Servant to Mayor Mike: Stick to running the city.
© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.