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Aborn For Manhattan DA or Morgenthau Forever?

December 1, 2008

Bernie Kerik isn’t the only New York law enforcement figure hosting a fundraiser Monday night.

Richard Aborn, a respected, though lesser, law enforcement light who may run for Manhattan District Attorney, is also having one.

Aborn is a former Manhattan ADA and advisor to former police commissioner William Bratton. Currently the head of the Citizens Crime Commission, he says he will take a leave of absence from that job while campaigning.

Certainly the dark horse, he becomes the third possible candidate to succeed 89-year-old Robert Morgenthau.

We say “possible” because Aborn, like rival Cyrus Vance Jr., says he will not run if Morgenthau decides to seek yet another term.

That leaves only ex-Supreme Court Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder as Morgenthau’s declared opponent. Three years ago, in the 2005 race, he defeated her at the age of 86.

Lest anyone think we’re singling out the Morg for old-age benefits, we should point out that being elected a district attorney in New York City is tantamount to having a job for life.

Pretty soon, a DA may be commuting to his office from an assistant living facility.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown — who has been DA since 1991 — is pushing 80. Brooklyn District Joe Hynes — in office since 1990 — is deep into his 70s.

The baby, Staten Island D.A. Daniel Donovan, is in his fifties.

Still, by any standard, Morgenthau is unique.

He comes from a family that can claim three generations of distinguished public service and is the closest thing New York City has to royalty.

His grandfather, Henry Morgenthau Sr., served as U.S. Ambassador to Turkey and his father, Henry Morgenthau Jr., was Secretary of the Treasury under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

During World War II, Robert Morgenthau served in the navy on a destroyer, becoming one of a few crew members to survive the Nazi bombing of his ship in the Mediterranean.

According to the NYPD’s unofficial official historian Tom Reppetto, every year on the anniversary of the ship’s sinking, Morgenthau and another surviving member drink a toast at Forlini’s restaurant to the crew’s memory.

You might think that, as the Treasury Secretary’s son, Morgenthau might have ended his military service after his ship was sunk.

Instead, the navy sent him to the Pacific, where a Japanese kamikaze sunk his second ship. Again, his luck held. He survived.

His law enforcement career has been equally stellar. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him Manhattan U.S. Attorney. By fearlessly prosecuting mobsters, he overcame then attorney general Robert Kennedy’s misgivings that he wasn’t tough enough.

By 1963, said Reppetto, he had become enough of a Kennedy favorite that he was having lunch with Robert Kennedy on Nov. 22, the day his brother was assassinated.

Except for an unsuccessful run for governor against Nelson Rockefeller in 1962, Morgenthau served as U.S. Attorney for the next eight years until Richard Nixon became president. In 1974, Morgenthau became Manhattan District Attorney. He has been there ever since.

Recently, though, he has faced pressures that would test any district attorney, much less one who is 89 years old.

He has been swept up in the ethical mess surrounding Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel, the head of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Significant among his various troubles, Rangel solicited a million-dollar pledge from Eugene Eisenberg for the Rangel School of Public Policy at City College while at the same time supporting a controversial tax loophole for Eisenberg’s off-shore oil drilling company that reportedly saved his company millions of dollars.

And who made the marriage between Rangel and Eisenberg? Morgenthau, who introduced them in 2007.

A person close to Morgenthau said the DA was just trying to help City College, where his family has ties dating to his grandfather, the ambassador, who attended classes but did not graduate.

And, just this weekend, his office was faced with New York Giants troubled star receiver Plaxico Burress, who accidentally shot himself with his unlicensed gun at the Latin Quarter.

On Sunday, Burress’ lawyers said Morgenthau’s office would charge Burress with criminal possession of a weapon. Firing an unlicensed gun in a public place merits serious jail time.

Jetting To Mumbai
. Ray Kelly was again front and center at a televised news conference at Brooklyn’s Lubavitcher headquarters, where members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect suffered the murders of one of their rabbis and his wife in the Mumbai massacre.

Unseen by the cameras were FBI agents, also at Lubavitcher headquarters, who were doing real investigative work in the case.

You might think that when it comes to fighting terrorists, the FBI works closely with the NYPD and the two agencies share the spotlight. Instead, these days, Kelly appears on TV while the FBI remains in the background.

During the Madrid train bombing in 2005, the NYPD and the FBI wasted resources by competing with each other to interview the Spanish National Police.

In 2006, after the London train bombing, Kelly publicly identified its London-based detective, Ira Greenberg, praising him for rushing to the scene and quickly briefing officials in New York on what he saw. The FBI remained silent.

After the Mumbai massacre, the FBI dispatched three agents from the Los Angeles office to Mumbai to assist the Indian authorities.

So far we have heard nothing from Kelly on when or whether any of the NYPD’s overseas detectives will be jetting to Mumbai. Maybe they’ll even cooperate with the FBI agents already there.

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Copyright © 2008 Leonard Levitt