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PBA not what it used to be

September 1, 2003

There was a time when the letters PBA, which stand for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, commanded appearances from such politicians as Govs. Mario Cuomo and George Pataki, Mayor Ed Koch and Sen. Alfonse D'Amato at the union's annual convention.

Last week, the best the PBA could do at its 109th convention was Randy Daniels, New York's secretary of state. His appearance as keynote speaker reflects the police union's loss of status.

Its recently re-elected president, Patrick Lynch, may indeed be "vibrant, vital, competent, committed, seasoned and charismatic," as Rabbi Alvin Kass, a Police Department chaplain, described him.

But the union is a shadow of its former self.

When PBA Recording Secretary Robert Zink described the current leadership as "all hard-working young guys," he might have added who look like they work in an insurance office.

This is not necessarily a bad thing - certainly for the public.

Gone are the days when PBA conventions were benders. At Kutsher's in the Catskills some years ago, cops placed live swans inside the elevator. In 1994, an unpopular sergeant could not find his car in the parking lot because officers had built a cinder block wall around it overnight. At the 1984 convention, the height of the PBA's influence and boorishness, police commissioner Benjamin Ward, returning to headquarters, urinated out of his police helicopter.

Gone, too, are the days of a single PBA attorney representing myriad police defendants. Gone too are the secret meetings - in the basement of the 70th Precinct after Abner Loumia's sodomization and in the parking lot of the 46th Precinct following the choke-hold death of Anthony Baez at the hands of PBA delegate Frank Livoti - where cops got their stories straight. So are attorneys Richie Hartman, Jim Lysaght and Peter Kramer, all of whom went to prison for extortion involving another police union, the Transit PBA.

Also gone are the days of the "open door" policy, as described by former PBA trustee Richie O'Neil at his 1998 retirement dinner, which was attended by virtually all the department's top brass and where O'Neil claimed he'd made deals with first deputy commissioners, seeking leniency for officers accused of infractions.

O'Neil, referring to then-first deputy Pat Kelleher, said: "I've gone to him a million times. His door is always open."

In return, chiefs and union trustees like O'Neil were able to retire with tax-free, line-of-duty disabilities, aided and abetted by the PBA-sponsored scam legislation known as the Heart Bill.

No culture dies easily, though. A few old union salts returned last week for the convention as they always have. Perhaps the best known is former cop, mayoral candidate, congressman and convicted felon Mario Biaggi.

Biaggi, now in a wheelchair, is said to have never missed a convention, except for the year he spent in federal prison. Also attending was former president Lou Matarazzo, the link between the old and new PBA. In 1996, Matarazzo attended Livoti's trial in a show of union support. "To this day, I feel the kid is innocent," he said.

Matarazzo also appointed the PBA's first black board member Warren Binford, though Binford was subsequently defeated in an election. Now the union has black, Hispanic and women delegates.

Last year, Mubarak Abdul-Jabbar became the first black member of the union's Top Five upper board. A second black member, Keenan Scott, replaced him on the lower board. And if that doesn't represent change, note the following: Although the bar opened at 11 a.m., no one was seen drinking anything stronger than Coke or club soda.

In contrast to Hartman, Lysaght and Kramer, the PBA's current lead attorney, Stu London is presentable enough that you would not mind introducing him to your family.

And the "open door" seems shut tight as current First Deputy George Grasso is a man with whom it is hard to make a deal. Sources say he was the only member of the department's top brass not invited.

Jeers and cheers. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly attended the convention with Paul Browne, his deputy commissioner of image. PBA sources say Kelly and Lynch have not been speaking but the two spent about 20 minutes together in a VIP lounge.

Kelly received a smattering of boos when he addressed the group. He appeared surprised, continued speaking and received a louder round of applause.

Some boob! One Police Plaza Confidential would like to congratulate New York Stock Exchange chairman and former Police Foundation honoree Richard Grasso on his contract package worth $140 million that has been universally criticized as excessive and obscene. Three years ago Grasso was awarded this column's "Boob of the Month" when during the trial of the four cops accused of killing Amadou Diallo, he called the NYPD "the greatest police force in the history of civilization."

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.