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Wired in Newark

March 17, 2008

Fans of the fictional, Baltimore-based television series “The Wire” can catch a real-life version now playing out in Newark, New Jersey.

The cast: Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker, his Chief of Staff Pablo Fonseca, Police Chief Anthony Campos, and Police Director Garry McCarthy.

On the TV. version of “The Wire,” Baltimore’s reform mayor wins election by promising to attack crime and reform the police department as the key to rejuvenating the city.

In real-life Newark, Mayor Booker won election in 2006 by promising to attack crime and reform the police department as the key to rejuvenating Newark.

Eighteen months ago, he hired former NYPD Deputy Commissioner McCarthy as Newark’s civilian Police Director. Say what you will about Garry — and this column has said plenty, specifically about his dust up with the Palisades Parkway police over a parking ticket for his daughter — when it comes to policing, he’s the real deal.

Booker also hired McCarthy’s former boss, ex-NYPD Commissioner Howard Safir, to study the Newark P.D. Safir cited potential for conflict between the civilian Police Director [McCarthy] and the department’s top uniformed chief [Campos] beneath him. In perhaps the only intelligent recommendation Safir ever made, he noted that the city charter — or whatever it is that sanctions the arrangement — might need change.

O.K., so McCarthy takes over in Newark. He works round the clock. [No one ever accused Garry of laziness.] Crime plummets. Earlier this year, Newark experiences a stretch of 43 consecutive days without a murder. So far this year, there have been only five, compared to 18 in 2007.

But there’s that conflict at the top. Ostensibly it’s between McCarthy and Campos, a Newark police department veteran, who is known as Elvis for his wavy hair and sideburns. Two weeks ago, McCarthy transferred two dozen officers. Campos overturned the transfers.

What? The Number Two counters an order from Number One? That takes guts, or a death wish.

Well, it turns out Campos was ordered to block the transfer by Booker’s Chief of Staff Fonseca. He’s another longtime Booker political supporter. According to the Newark Star-Ledger, he wants to be consulted on all department personnel moves. And Campos is said to be his guy.

By ordering Campos to block McCarthy’s transfer Fonseca is taking a giant step. He’s placing Booker in an embarrassing situation and Campos in a vulnerable one.

Last week, McCarthy, who is not known for his delicacy — recall his failure to follow the advice of NYPD Chief of Department Joe Esposito and accept the Palisades Parkway police’s summons and get out of there as quickly as he could — upped the ante. He suspended Campos for five days.

Booker was forced to publicly back McCarthy, though, apparently as a sop to Fonseca, he said Campos would draw his pay while suspended. He also called the dispute between McCarthy and Fonseca “healthy tension.” The hell it is. Sooner or later, and probably sooner rather than later, Booker is going to have to choose between his Police Director and his Chief of Staff. Campos could become the scapegoat.

On “The Wire,” Baltimore’s mayor abandons the department and sabotages the police chief he selected for his own political ambitions — the governorship.

What Booker will do remains to be seen.

Abandoning Police Plaza. It was symbolic that the Police Foundation held its annual fundraiser, not at One Police Plaza, as it has virtually every year, but at the Waldorf Astoria. The Foundation bears little resemblance to what it once was.

Founded more than 30 years ago as an anti-corruption measure following the Knapp Commission scandal, it is now upscale and into glitz. At last week’s $1,500-a-head affair at the Waldorf, honored guests included the actress Ellen Barkin, singer-songwriter Marc Anthony, retired footballer Tiki Barber, and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly [on the bongo drums, no less.]

So upscale is the Police Foundation that it now provides “buy money” for NYPD high-end anti-counterfeiting operations, a pet project of the foundation’s chairwoman, Valeria Salembier, the publisher of Harper’s Bazaar magazine. Perhaps it’s coincidence that the counterfeiting Salembier is so concerned with involves the very luxury goods that happen to grace the pages of her magazine. Her concern, she has said, is that counterfeiting exploits child labor. Right, Valerie.

Now let’s see, which is more pertinent to New Yorkers: fighting rip-offs of Gucci shoes and Prada handbags, or fighting low-, mid- and high-end drug dealers? If the latter, maybe the Police Foundation might rethink its priorities and provide the police department with real buy money to fight drugs.

Or is the NYPD’s high-end, anti-counterfeiting Bongo Kelly’s quid pro quo for the Police Foundation’s funding his pet project, the NYPD’s anti-terrorism Overseas Spy Service under Deputy Commissioner David [Confidential] Cohen? Think about it. If Kelly’s Overseas Spy Service is so germane to New Yorkers’ security, why isn’t the city changing its charter to pay for it? Or the federal government? Why is the safety of New Yorkers in the hands of a group of fat cats with their own agenda?

There is going to come a day of accounting for all this. Some day a new mayor will hire the same McKinsey consultants Kelly hired to assess the leadership of the NYPD on 9/11, to determine, among other things, why detectives are assigned to that terror hot spot, Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic.

Meanwhile, the Police Foundation, which is putting up the dough, asks no questions and gives no answers. Salembier’s secretary said Salembier was on a telephone call to Paris. She didn’t deign to call Your Humble Servant back.

Let's Hear It for Willie. Congratulations to the Times’ William Rashbaum, whose tip and reporting led to the resignation of Gov Eliot Spitzer. Too modest to own up to his role, he’s probably embarrassed at being singled out for praise. Carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, he’s probably also suffering from the effect his story had on Spitzer and his family. Still, he can take solace in something positive: he has launched the singing career of a young girl.

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Copyright © 2008 Leonard Levitt