One Police Plaza

First deputy is anybody’s guess

April 29, 1996

Two weeks after his appointment as police commissioner, Howard Safir has yet to appoint a first deputy. While some say this is because Safir is himself first deputy under Police Commissioner Rudolph Giuliani, the lack of a formal first-dep appointment has led to speculation at Police Plaza that Safir may bypass the rumored choice, the mayor's criminal justice coordinator, Katie Lapp.

Lapp, said to have expertly maneuvered the department's transition from ex-Commissioner William Bratton to Safir, was publicly cited at Safir's swearing-in ceremony at City Hall by mayoral counsel Dennison Young, who served as master of ceremonies. More than one police official felt Young's praise signaled Lapp's impending appointment as Safir's first deputy.

So far, it hasn't happened. An old police hand says the delay suggests Safir may be exploring other possibilities as he comes to know the department's top officials, such as Commmisioner of Management and Budget Joseph Wuensch, who's serving as acting first deputy and who meets with Safir regularly.

Says a top chief: "Safir's friendship with the mayor allows him the freedom to take his time."

The job of first deputy is more symbolism than power, and it is defined differently by each commissioner. John Pritchard did little as first deputy under Ray Kelly, while John Timoney shaped all decisions as first deputy under Bratton.

Still, despite its lack of formal definition, whether Safir chooses from within or from outside the department is considered significant. This is because his first key appointments, Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Marilyn Mode and Chief of Staff Richard Sheirer, are, like Safir, outsiders to the NYPD. And should Safir also go outside the department for his first deputy, more power accrues to the department's current top uniformed cop, the rough-and-tough Chief of Department Louis Anemone.

Safir plays it close to the vest. "We don't have a clue" says a top police official. Says another: "We've heard nothing. Absolutely nothing."

Mode and the Mob. Marilyn Mode recently took a few minutes from her otherwise hectic schedule to share something of her life before becoming deputy commissioner for public information.

Mode, who has short blond hair and eyes that she says change color from blue to green, grew up in Washington, D.C., and graduated from Connecticut College in 1972. "Yes," she says, "that makes me 45, and no, it doesn't bother me."

After college, she thought of becoming a lawyer and began working for the Justice Department's organized-crime section, then moved to the Witness Protection Service of the Marshal's Service as a "kind of social worker for the mob."

"I would find doctors, housing and new identities for mobsters and their families who entered the program," she said. One was the California-based Jimmy (The Weasel) Fratiano, who wrote a supposedly tell-all mob book. "I arranged his book tour, helped with his disguises and learned his recipes," Mode said. "He's a terrific cook, like many mobsters. He has some secrets about meatballs, how to make them stick together without losing their taste. And he makes a great tomato sauce. He calls it gravy."

She and Safir, who became her boss at the Marshal's Service, remained there together until he left in 1990. She quit the following year, then hooked back up with him in 1994 when he became fire commissioner and became his spokeswoman.

Just Politics. The Latino Officers Association's stated reason forsplitting with the Hispanic Society, the long-established fraternal organziation for Hispanic officers, was that the society had become infected by mayoral politics; specifically, that its former president, Walter Alicea, tricked the membership into endorsing Giuliani for mayor in 1993, then after his election, secured plum jobs and details for himself and society board members.

Well, guess who showed up at the LOA's monthly meeting last week at Lehman College in the Bronx? Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, who wants Mayor Giuliani's job.

"He supports this group. He wants to help them," says Ferrer's spokesman Clint Roswell. Says LOA Vice President Rafael Collazo, "Freddy stated publicly that if there is anything he can do, he will be in our corner. He drew a standing ovation."

The Hispanic Society's current president, Police Officer Wanda Burgos (mistakenly described as a detective in this column last week) says none of this comes as a shock. "The agenda of the LOA has always been political. I've said this from the beginning. Politics is all there is to it."

©1996 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.