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Pension bid gets big backer

April 16, 2004

In the latest twist in his four-year quest for a line-of-duty disability pension, retired Chief of Personnel Michael Markman has found an unlikely ally - Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

For reasons City Hall refuses to explain, Bloomberg has reversed the position of his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, and is now backing the man who is notorious for preventing cops from obtaining similar pensions.

Here's the background:

As chief of personnel from 1996 to 2000, Markman was zealous in fighting cops' attempts to obtain the tax-free, line-of-duty pensions.

Then shortly before his retirement on Aug. 3, 2000, Markman filed his own line-of-duty pension application.

He cited a back injury from a March 25, 1993, car accident.

As attorney Jeffrey Goldberg, who represents police officers seeking disability pensions, put it, "When was the last time a cop received a line-of-duty disability pension for a 7-year-old injury?"

Further questions surfaced when it was revealed that Markman never called in sick at the time of the car accident, and that earlier in 2000 he was seen running on the treadmill in the Police Department gym, leaving younger officers huffing and puffing in his wake.

Then four days after he filed his application, Markman was examined by the police medical board in the office of the department's chief surgeon, Dr. Robert Thomas, who reported to Markman.

Guess what? The medical board's doctors approved Markman's injury for a vote by the pension board.

Giuliani was apparently concerned enough about the situation that the city used its 4 1/2 votes to oppose Markman's pension, which given his nearly 40 years of service would have given him an annual, tax-free income of about $140,000.

Rather than voting to approve, as they do in literally all cases, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, as well as the sergeants' and detectives' unions, abstained. Only the captains' and lieutenants' unions were prepared to approve Markman's bid.

Now four years later, with Bloomberg's support, Markman has gathered 5 1/2 votes - still short of the seven needed.

Meanwhile, Markman has filed suit. Earlier this year, State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan of Manhattan ordered the case to be heard by a special referee.

Efforts to reach Markman, who is said to be battling cancer, were unsuccessful.

Attempts to understand why Bloomberg changed the city's position to support Markman's pension bid proved equally unsuccessful.

Paul Browne's portrait. For a brief moment last week, a portrait of Paul Browne, the deputy commissioner for public information, hung on the wall of the DCPI office next to that of Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Browne is closer to Kelly than anyone else at One Police Plaza. He also exerts more influence on the department than anyone in the building except Kelly. At Kelly's direction, public information under Browne is so tightly wrapped that chiefs fear talking to reporters more than during the dark Giuliani years.

Not even Alice McGillion, the most influential deputy commissioner for public information in the past two decades, had her picture on the wall.

Nor did Browne's shy and retiring predecessor Michael O'Looney. Ditto for predecessors Tom Antenen, Marilyn Mode and Tom Kelly. Only John Miller, whose relationship with his boss, Bill Bratton, was as close as Browne's with Kelly, had a picture.

Browne's portrait lasted less than a week. After a reporter asked him about it, it vanished.

Asked who'd put it up, Deputy Chief Mike Collins said, "No comment." Asked why it was taken down, Collins said, "No comment."

Keeping track. Forty-eight weeks. That's how long it has been since Ousmane Zongo, an unarmed African immigrant, was fatally shot by a police officer during a raid on a Chelsea warehouse. Still no indication from Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau on when or whether he will impanel a grand jury. Response from spokeswoman Barbara Thompson: "The investigation continues."

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© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.