Heastie's Helpers: The Bronx Gang that Made Him a Top State Democrat
Heastie's Helpers: The Bronx Gang that Made Him a Top State Democrat
We are just getting to know Carl Heastie, the new speaker of the state Assembly, and there’s been no better introduction than the one that appeared in The New York Times recently.
The Times reporters, Russ Buettner and David Chen, had earlier taught us some dark lessons about Sheldon Silver, the now-indicted speaker that Heastie succeeded in February. This time, they wrote a very late obit about Heastie’s mother Helene, who died in 1999, three weeks after she was sentenced for stealing $197,000 from a Bronx nonprofit where she worked. The Times discovered that Carl Heastie then ignored a January 1999 court order that he sell the apartment his mother bought with some of the “moneys that were stolen,” as the sentencing judge put it. A co-owner of the property with his mother, Heastie had agreed to sell it as part of a plea bargain deal that would keep his mother out of jail. The Heasties were to transfer the proceeds of the sale, plus another $40,000 from a separate judgment, to the city and the looted nonprofit.
Instead, Carl Heastie kept the apartment plus $5,877 in furniture purchased with the fleeced proceeds, took $80,000 in mortgage and line of credit loans against it, lived there for another six years, ultimately sold it for $200,000 more than his mother paid for it, and kept the proceeds. Other than $10,000 Heastie came up with at the time of the sentencing, the $40,000 in restitution was similarly never paid. After the Times story appeared, a Heastie spokesman told New York magazine that Heastie had only netted $80,000 from the apartment, claiming that the mortgages he added to the purchase cost reduced his ultimate gain, without acknowledging that Heastie benefited for years from the money he borrowed against the house.
The Times said the apartment sale “appears to be the only financial windfall” of Heastie’s life.
How Heastie was able to sidestep the apartment and restitution court orders is described in the story—with Bronx District Attorney Rob Johnson, who was running for re-election in 1999, and Bronx County Clerk Héctor Díaz, playing the lead roles. The judge required Johnson’s office to “monitor and determine the good-faith sale of the house,” but the district attorney didn’t get Heastie to sign a forfeiture agreement and never pursued any action to force a sale.
The same was true of the $40,000 judgment. Though the judge ordered “that the Bronx District Attorney’s Office file a certified copy of this Order in the Bronx County Clerk’s office” and that the clerk “shall docket the entered Orders as a money judgment,” neither did, despite the year and a half they had to comply.
The failure of this duo to take actions that were explicitly ordered (and faithfully executed against two other defendants in the same case) was attributed by the Times to either “carelessness” or “something more unsettling.” Buettner and Chen speculate that the more unsettling explanation for the “unusual series of legal lapses” could have been the clandestine machinations of the Bronx Democratic Party, whose “influence on the court system” and “long history of back-room deal-making” may have prompted the repeated breakdowns that gave Heastie such a big break.
Actually, seen through the lens of Bronx politics in 1999 and subsequent events, there is every reason to believe that the Heastie bonanza was a conscious blessing from the party leaders who jumpstarted his political career around the same time, picking him to run for Assembly and sending him off on the road to the pinnacle of power he occupies today, where he is still in their grasp. It is far more likely that the second most powerful Democrat in Albany benefitted from crackerjack maneuvers than a fall through the cracks.
The chances that both Johnson and Díaz’s offices independently and accidentally failed to file routine court papers, mandated by a judge, seem slim. When City & State described this story and asked Heastie’s spokesman Michael Whyland for an interview with the speaker, Whyland emailed: “Not interested in discussing old insider politics or theories anyone might have.”
The saga starts with a man unnamed in the Times account—Roberto Ramírez, who was an assemblyman and the Bronx County Democratic leader when the court orders were issued in 1999. In early 2000, with the orders still hanging over Heastie’s head, Ramírez announced that Heastie was the party’s candidate for an open Assembly seat.
Part of a musical-chair package of party selections for several legislative and other positions, Heastie’s designation had been in the works going back to 1998.
Ramírez was so committed that when his ally, attorney Joey Jackson, indicated he would run against Heastie, Ramírez stuck with Heastie, promising to back Jackson in a future city council or other race. Jackson, meanwhile, was so close to Ramírez that Ramírez had given him a top countywide party office and offered to make him the state committeeman from the Assembly district Heastie would represent.
But Jackson filed petitions to oppose Heastie anyway. He changed his mind, he told reporters, when he was “approached from behind on the street by two men who told him to drop out” and threatened to harm his wife and young child if he didn’t. Jackson said many of his friends and supporters thought the Bronx party “might be tied to the threats,” though he didn’t hold the organization responsible.
When Jackson decided to withdraw, Heastie and Ramírez’s attorney, Stanley Schlein, a fixture of the Bronx machine for four decades, brought a declination form to Jackson’s house, got his signature and rushed to the Board of Elections to file it. Two hours later, Jackson changed his mind again and dashed to the board, canceling his declination 15 minutes before a midnight deadline. Ramírez’s lawyers opposed Jackson’s attempt to rescind the declination and the board rejected it, paving the way for Heastie to win the Democratic primary without opposition.
Jackson went to District Attorney Johnson’s office about the threats to his family, but they did nothing. Jackson told City & State that he now believes “the people made an excellent choice” in 2000, apparently forgetting that the people actually had no choice but Heastie. He emailed that his “dispute back then was with the Party Leadership,” not Heastie.
Johnson and Díaz also benefitted from Ramírez’s actions around the same time. County leader since 1994, Ramírez shepherded Johnson through his 1995 re-election for district attorney, helping to deliver all party lines to him, and virtually repeated that performance in 1999, when Johnson ran with only token rivals. Schlein was representing Johnson at the same time that he was representing Heastie, rebuffing a 1999 court challenge to Johnson’s Bronx residency. A committee controlled by Ramírez donated $3,000 to Johnson’s 1999 campaign, all while the Heastie court orders were still a live issue.
There’s nothing surprising about the Bronx party’s embrace of Johnson in 1999. He was first elected in a hotly contested special election in 1988, handpicked by Ramírez’s predecessor as county leader, George Friedman. The Bronx was aflame with scandal at the time—party boss Stanley Friedman had just received a 12-year sentence in 1987, with the borough president and two congressmen also going to prison. Mayor Ed Koch said his administration would not deal with George Friedman because Stanley Friedman (no relation) had installed him. After backing and dropping two other candidates, George Friedman seemed to pull Johnson’s name out of a hat. Ramírez was not yet an assemblyman (he was elected in 1990), but Ramírez ally Fernando Ferrer, the new borough president and the county’s most powerful minority leader, was instrumental in Johnson’s sudden rise from obscurity.
Johnson’s machine ties, lambasted by his opponents in the 1988 race, only grew after taking office. In 1997, Ramírez, three years after he became the Bronx’s first minority county leader, made Johnson’s wife, Dianne Renwick, a civil court judge. In 2001, after the judgments against Heastie were submarined, Ramírez handpicked Renwick for the Supreme Court.
It was Ramírez who installed his Assembly colleague Héctor Díaz, a lifelong soldier in the Bronx machine, as county clerk in 1996. When Díaz left the Assembly for the lucrative new job, it was Ramírez himself who replaced him as chair of the Assembly’s Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force. DÍaz remained county clerk until 2008, when Ramírez’s chosen successor as county leader, José Rivera, got Council Speaker Christine Quinn to make Díaz city clerk, a primetime patronage plum.
These alliances continue to this day. In the fall of 2008, Heastie toppled Rivera and, recruiting a strong majority of the party’s district leaders, took control of the party. It was a bloody public battle, with Ramírez quietly backing Heastie’s rebel faction. In the middle of the war, Rívera, who gave Ramírez his first political job in the ’80s, went to dinner at the home of an assemblywoman who was supporting him in the battle with Heastie. He thought Ramírez and Ferrer were his allies. Instead, Ramírez urged him to surrender, according to a source with direct knowledge of the conversation. Asked if either he or Ramírez mentioned the need for an exit strategy with Rivera, Ferrer told City & State: “I didn’t say it. I don’t remember if Roberto did.” Ferrer said the conversation was about “how are you going to do this,” asking Rivera how he could prevail in an increasingly desperate situation.
Ramírez didn’t publicly endorse Heastie. But a year after Heastie took over the party, his top aide and former college roommate Patrick Jenkins formed a lobbying firm with Marisol Rodríguez, Ramírez’s former sister-in-law and a close confidant. Seven years later, Rivera is an outcast in Bronx politics, and some of those who stuck with him too long are still paying for it.
Schlein, who declined to answer questions when reached by City & State, played a pivotal role in the Heastie coup and his law partner became a Heastie consultant on the Assembly and party payrolls despite a shady record as a court-appointed receiver. Heastie says he still talks every day to the scandal-scarred Schlein, whose neglect of aging clients prompted administrators to bar him from collecting any more lucrative, court-appointed receiverships in 2006. (He was also fined $15,000 and forced out of the chairmanship of the city’s Civil Service Commission for using its offices to run his legal practice.)
Despite these findings against him, Heastie named Schlein to chair the Bronx’s 2009 judicial nominating convention, where Supreme Court judges are selected. When Heastie backed Johnson for re-election in 2011, the unopposed district attorney paid Schlein a $7,500 consulting fee. Schlein has represented Johnson in virtually all of his elections.
An insider says Schlein urged Rivera in 2008—months before the coup—to support Johnson’s wife Renwick for an appointment to the First Judicial Department of the Appellate Division, the most prestigious appellate court in the state. Gov. David Paterson appointed her that April, though a spokesman for Paterson said she was part of a group of judges selected by his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in March as a result of a prostitution scandal. Sources involved in the Bronx process say that Ramírez, who shared an office with Spitzer and Paterson’s top political advisers at Global Strategy Group, pushed Renwick’s selection.
Díaz is the president of a booming, publicly funded, mostly nonprofit empire called Acacia and Ramírez’s firm, MirRam, is its lobbyist. Ramírez is so tied to Acacia that his MirRam partner, Luis Miranda, was chair of the Audubon Partnership, which merged with Acacia in 2013, and their firm represented Promesa, which was absorbed by Acacia a couple of years earlier.
Like Schlein, Ramírez remains so close to Heastie that the Daily News reported a few days after Heastie’s selection that he was playing an “active role” with Heastie, “assisting Carl in getting things running.” MirRam’s lobbying clients, including the teachers union, have major matters before the Assembly.
Completing the circle, Heastie, at the peak of his pre-speaker power in 2013, helped get Johnson’s wife Renwick on the list of finalists for a Court of Appeals appointment, though she was not selected. And Heastie delivered a 2013 civil court spot to Armando Montano Jr., the lawyer who represented the Heasties in the criminal case and, after Helene Heastie died, told Carl Heastie he wasn’t obligated to sell the house or pay the restitution, according to the Times report. Weeks earlier, he had reassured the sentencing judge that the Heasties would do both. “A deal is a deal,” he said, before it wasn’t.
Heastie also engineered the appointment of another Bronx judge, Darcel Clark, to the Appellate Division in 2012. The only Bronx judge elevated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo so far, Clark had worked for Johnson for more than a decade and was a deputy chief in 1999 when the Heastie court orders were issued. Johnson’s spokesperson said she “had nothing to do” with Helene Heastie’s case.
In 2006, when party leader Rivera picked Clark for Supreme Court, it was a Heastie “ask,” also pushed by Heastie’s mentor Larry Seabrook (who had moved from the state Senate to the City Council), according to a source involved in Bronx judicial selections. Heastie had by then become chair of the county committee, selected by Rivera for the second highest position in the party hierarchy.
In 2013, after Johnson was battered by a Times series that assailed his office’s mishandling of the much-delayed docket of ordinary criminal cases, the paper ran a story predicting that Johnson would resign that fall and be replaced by Heastie favorite Clark. Though Heastie wasn’t quoted in the piece, the Times said that it was Heastie’s “brainchild” that Johnson would be nominated for state Supreme Court at the September judicial convention Heastie controlled and step down as district attorney, and that the county Democratic committee would then have the power to anoint Johnson’s successor. Just like Heastie’s uncontested Assembly ascension, Clark would take over the District Attorney’s Office without a primary. In the machine mindset, lifetime sinecures like district attorney are best delivered without a whiff of democracy.
The problem with this plan, however, was that, under state law, the governor has the power to fill district attorney vacancies temporarily, and he wasn’t even mentioned in the Times’ account of Heastie’s plan.
It obviously never happened, so Heastie and his Bronx cohorts are now faced with the decision of what to do with Johnson, since his seventh phantom term is about to end and his spokesperson told City & State that he is “definitely seeking re-election.” Heastie backed him four years ago despite an abysmal record beyond his best-known disaster, the failure to convict the four cops that killed Amadou Diallo. He only wins 46 percent of Bronx jury trials, down from the 67 percent rate when he took office and far below the lowest in the other four counties, 71 percent. More Bronx cases drag on for years than in the four other boroughs combined.
The Times did conclude in that 2013 story, however, that Heastie was “one of the few who other Democratic officials” thought had a read on “Johnson’s intentions.” That’s a far cry from Johnson’s recent statement, issued to Buettner and Chen, that “other than seeing Mrs. Heastie’s name on an indictment,” he knew nothing about the Heasties until years after the 1999 case. Johnson’s office repeated that contention to City & State, but declined a request for an interview about the issues raised in this story.
Johnson’s know-nothing defense is dubious. Joey Jackson, then the chair of the Democratic county committee, went to Johnson’s office in 2000, before the statute of limitations on the Heastie restitution orders had run, and told investigators about the threat to his family, tying it to his race against Heastie. The Times reported that he went to Johnson that July.
In 1999, Heastie was a leader in Seabrook’s club, the most powerful black club in the county, and Johnson was running for re-election. Heastie’s run was one of several joined races that were the hottest elections in the city in 2000, drawing extensive citywide coverage. The Bronx party ticket had been in the works since 1998, when Ramírez convinced Seabrook not to run for Congress. But Seabrook did run against longtime incumbent Eliot Engel in 2000 with Ramírez’s vigorous support, creating a black-on-white contest widely acknowledged to have been all about race.
Seabrook was then a state senator, abandoning his seat to make the congressional run. That led the incumbent assemblyman, Sam Bea, also from Seabrook’s club, to run for Seabrook’s seat, creating the opening for Heastie. Seabrook and Bea lost badly; Heastie was the only one to get a free ride, thanks to Jackson’s political demise. Since Johnson was the highest-ranking black elected official in the Bronx, it’s hard to imagine that the politically astute Johnson, whose wife would run for Supreme Court the next year, was unaware of all these dominos.
The Tale of the Tape: The D.A. Bronx Pols Thought They Owned
In 1998, a few months before Helene Heastie pleaded guilty to grand larceny charges, Ramírez was surreptitiously taped boasting about his ability to fix Johnson. The taper was Pedro Espada, a former state senator planning to run for his old seat in the September primary, but threatened by a wide-ranging criminal investigation orchestrated by Johnson. Ramírez had cost Espada the seat in 1996, when he supported David Rosado against him. Espada was knocked off the ballot, the favored party method for aborting unwanted candidacies.
But now, the flamboyant Espada, fueled by a vast health care patronage empire, was a threat to win. Ramírez publicly claimed that he’d opposed Espada in 1996 because Espada had reneged on unspecified promises. This time any promises made by either would be verifiable, thanks to Espada’s audio and videotapes.
Ramírez was hardly the only one recorded by Espada. In fact, a half-dozen pols chimed in, a mantra of taped tributes to the flexible district attorney. Rosado, caught by a miniature camera planted in a painting, told Espada’s son that if the senior Espada would simply not file nominating petitions by the July deadline, the Johnson probe would “chill out.”
“It’s all politics,” said Rosado. “It goes away July 15 at midnight.” Espada released the tape in June, a couple of weeks after it was recorded, announcing he was defying the threats and running. Rosado had no choice but to admit he’d connected the proposed withdrawal and the probe, but said he was merely “lying to a liar.”
Espada also revealed a taped talk he had with Heastie patron Seabrook. Seabrook spoke of Johnson’s investigations of him that he said were driven by party leaders. He was preparing to run for Congress that year, but decided to pull out after a meeting with Ramírez. Unlike Seabrook, who was never indicted by Johnson and acquiesced to Ramírez’s demand that he postpone his congressional race against Engel for two years, Espada was charged a few days after he announced he was running.
Hampered by an indictment that accused him of diverting $221,000 in Medicaid funding to covering the costs of his 1996 campaign, Espada lost the 1998 race, but came back to beat Rosado in 2000. He was acquitted a few weeks after he regained his Senate seat that November, on the same day Heastie won his first Assembly race.
Shortly before the trial ended, Tom Robbins published the tape transcripts in the Village Voice. The tapes are not about Heastie, but they describe the political landscape at the time that Johnson’s office repeatedly failed to follow court orders, a boon to Heastie. Reached by City & State, Ferrer said the references to him in the tapes, with Seabrook, Ramírez and state Sen. Guy Velella signaling that he was a conduit to Johnson, were “completely untrue.”
Before the tapes of Ramírez’s meetings with Espada surfaced, the Times asked Ramírez if the organization offered any deal to persuade Espada to stay out of the race. “Absolutely not,” insisted Ramírez, a denial refuted by the tapes. Ramírez denounced Espada at that time, demanding that he release the tapes he publicly declared he possessed and pronouncing Espada guilty of the charges leveled against him. But when Espada did make the transcripts public, just as the judge at his trial rejected a defense motion to make the tapes part of the court record, Ramírez was muted. He issued a statement calling the release he’d earlier demanded a “cynical” move. Johnson’s spokesman called the tapes “nonsense.”
Actually, the tapes paint a vivid portrait of what many in Bronx politics believed at the time of the unfiled Heastie judgments: namely, that party leaders could influence an ineffective and colorless district attorney that they put in place and protected for years, re-electing him almost automatically. Johnson’s effortless reign was in sharp simultaneous contrast with the political situation in Brooklyn, where a district attorney who prosecuted the party boss got one primary after another.
In one tape transcript, of an April 23, 1998, meeting at the East Tremont diner, Espada got straight to the point: Is it still important that I retire from politics?” he asked Ramírez, picking up where prior conversations between the two had clearly ended.
“That would alleviate some tensions,” Ramírez replied. “If you sit it out, there’s peace in the valley.”
When Espada said he’d decided to retire, Ramírez did a Clint Eastwood: “You’ve made my day. This is the best news. All the meetings have paid off.”
“How’s our friend Johnson?” Espada asked.
“The powers that be and they have spoken,” Ramírez replied. “What you’ve shared with this decision is very important.”
“Important? You said it would bring peace. The harassment would stop.”
“Yes, and it will. Issue the press release, OK? Because I’m sure this whole Johnson thing is just a waste of a lot of time and money.”
“You’ve spoken to Johnson about our talks?”
“Yes, but I’ve just got my lawyer’s license. He will get spoken to and I expect that, unless people get stupid, everything’s going to be OK. It’s going to work out for everybody. When will you release the statement?” Ramírez closed the conversation by saying how much he “looked forward” to reading news stories about Espada’s pullout.
Espada had already met with Ramírez’s ostensible counterpart, Velella, a senator and the Bronx County Republican leader. Velella was so aligned with Ramírez that in 1996 Ramírez ran him on the Democratic Senate line as well. Espada’s February exchange with Velella was another testimonial to Johnson’s malleability.
“How you holding up?” Velella greeted his former Senate colleague. “I thought you would’ve been indicted by now.”
“Why do you say that?” Espada asked.
“Roberto and I talk about you a lot. He says either the feds or Johnson … maybe both.”
When Espada asked "how come they don’t mess with you?” Velella acknowledged that “Johnson had complaints” against him, citing “the school board stuff,” but said the district attorney “never got on my case.”
“With Johnson,” said Velella, who was later convicted on charges brought by the Manhattan district attorney, “you’ve got to go through Ramírez.”
“Ramírez has juice?”
“He doesn’t want trouble with you. With me, I’m friends with Dick Gidron (a Cadillac dealer who was then chair of the county committee, the same post Heastie assumed in 2008) and even Freddy (Ferrer). I’m a county leader. It helps with Johnson.” Velella had delivered the Republican ballot line to Johnson in the initial 1988 race and in subsequent ones.
Velella closed with this advice: “Listen, with the Bronx stuff, meet with Ramírez. He and Freddy can deal with Johnson … especially Freddy, he can.”
After these exchanges, Espada met in May with the black leaders he apparently thought could best get to Johnson, including Gidron, Seabrook and none other than Al Sharpton, at Gidron’s auto dealership. Congressman José Serrano was also there. Sharpton reported on a lunch he just had with Ramírez: “He said Espada has problems, legal problems. If he runs, he has more problems.”
When Espada complained about the recurrent “harassment” he was getting from Johnson, Gidron offered to step in: “This is bullshit. I can resolve this shit easily. Bob is my friend. He helped me with Velella. He helped me with my son (who was busted on federal tax charges). He helped me with you, Seabrook. I’ll call right now.”
“That’s true,” added Seabrook, “they had Velella with the school board mess and they haven’t touched him. But it’s Freddy. Freddy calls the shots. He’s the one that did me,” suggesting that it was Ferrer who got to Johnson on his behalf.
Sharpton said he’d just told Ramírez at lunch that Seabrook “should be a congressman,” adding that Ramírez agreed but said “not this time,” presaging the 2000 run that would lead to Heastie’s Assembly candidacy. Gidron actually did dial Johnson, Ramírez and Ferrer during the meeting, but said none were there.
Serrano and Sharpton sat through an extended discussion of how the district attorney was being used to keep a candidate out of a race and never questioned it or objected. Sharpton threw fuel on the fire, saying that Ramírez told him “if Espada runs, Serrano gets a primary.” It’s “war,” Sharpton claimed Ramírez warned, adding to the pressure on Espada to drop his candidacy. Serrano echoed Sharpton, declaring that he just wanted “to be left alone.”
Building on that unanimity, Gidron closed the discussion promising to set up a meeting with Johnson, Ferrer and Ramírez, declaring: “Espada will not run and the bullshit will stop and they have to keep their word with Seabrook.”
Espada issued a press release after this May get-together, noting that a series of consultations with “high level, local and national Democratic Party leaders” convinced him not to run for the Senate. A Ramírez confidant told the Daily News that the two shook hands on a deal but Ramírez was “still reported wary.”
On June 4, 1998, Espada had a final meeting with Ramírez at the Villa Barone Restaurant. Espada said he was “very pissed,” complaining that Johnson was “harassing my goddaughter,” calling him “worse than Ken Starr.”
“I was told everything was OK,” Ramírez replied. “The only condition was your withdrawal. Freddy knew it. Johnson was told. The powers that be are on board.”
Espada accused Ramírez of “fucking with me.”
“No, no. I’ve spoke to the powers that be. Maybe they’re fucking me too. If I can’t get support, I’ll retire too.”
“I’m running,” Espada suddenly announced.
“With an indictment?” Ramírez questioned.
“With 10 indictments. We’re running.”
Ramírez’s closing comment was: “This is bad for business.”
The Party Progeny Inherits An Albany Kingdom
Of course, Ramírez’s business ultimately became lobbying and a 2004 memo from his two-man company, MirRam, to a prospective client echoed his 1998 claims about his ability to reach public officials. “Elected officials have entrusted their careers to us and we have delivered,” wrote Ramírez and Miranda. “In turn, we are now able to provide our clients with access and opportunity to an often impenetrable world.”
Many of the participants in the Espada conversations were subsequently convicted, none by Johnson. Seabrook, Gidron, Velella and eventually Espada himself went to jail for crimes that could have been prosecuted by Johnson. After 26 years in office, Johnson has not convicted a Bronx elected official, other than a 1991 case against a school board member.
Johnson did indict a candidate for Assembly in 2008, Nelson Castro, who later became an assemblyman. Castro’s eventual conviction was highlighted in a response City & State got from Johnson’s spokesperson about his public corruption record. Castro, however, was aligned with Rivera in the then-ongoing war with Heastie. He was accused of lying to the Board of Elections. His transgression, lying about residence-related issues in a county where machine candidates flaunted their real Westchester lives, might have attracted Johnson’s attention because the attorney who filed the suit against Castro was none other than Stanley Schlein.
The perjury charges against Castro, who won the Assembly seat, were sealed and he wound up wearing a wire for the feds for his four years in the Assembly. Wisely ostracized by Heastie and party insiders, the only fish Castro caught was another assemblyman as obscure and unconnected as Castro was, Eric Stevenson. Castro pleaded guilty in federal and state court in 2014, but did not get a day in jail.
Ramírez has never been prosecuted by Johnson or anyone else, but Andrew Cuomo investigated him when he was attorney general as part of the far-reaching pension scandal. Ramírez’s onetime partners at Global Strategies paid a $2 million fine for acting as unlicensed brokers in securing pension funds for two equity firms, one of which was owned by Leo Hindery, a Ramírez ally who’d served as the finance chair of Ferrer’s 2005 mayoral campaign. Separately, Ramírez himself set up a meeting with state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli that resulted in a $15 million pension fund investment with Hindery, but that was after the key officials involved in the scandal were gone.
MirRam Global, the onetime lobbying partnership of the two firms, was retained by the Yankees and the YES Network, which used to be chaired by Hindery. The three companies had to pay a $275,000 fine levied by the state lobbying commission for giving free Yankees tickets to dozens of state officials. As one more sign of the continuing intertwine between Heastie and Ramírez, Hindery gave $8,250 to Heastie since 2003, maxing out twice, almost exactly what MirRam gave to the Bronx party under Heastie’s rule, more than they gave in the Rivera era. While the Yankees contributed to the party under Rivera, they quadrupled that, kicking in $125,000, after Heastie took over.
The ubiquitous Schlein wound up representing most of the participants in the Espada meetings, including Espada himself. He negotiated deals that allowed Espada to take a top Senate leadership position in 2008 and 2009, when Espada made the biggest headlines of his life swinging from one side of the aisle to the other and changing the majority. Like Ramírez, Schlein represented the Yankees, as well as Sharpton’s presidential campaign. He testified at Seabrook’s trial about Seabrook’s successful efforts to get a Yankee Stadium boiler contract for a black-owned Bronx company that alleged to have paid a $50,000 bribe to Seabrook. Schlein facilitated the deal even though the contractor, who was so tied to Seabrook he was one of Heastie’s biggest 2000 donors, hadn’t submitted the low bid.
Everyone involved in the Espada exchanges, occurring concurrently with the burying of the Heastie forfeiture papers, accepted the premise that Bob Johnson could be reached on political cases. That was virtually an axiom in 1999, when Heastie, a product of the most powerful black club in the Bronx and closely tied to both Ramírez and Seabrook, was allowed by Johnson’s office to keep his mother’s criminal profit.
This is a case of inference atop inference. It hard to imagine that the only thing the inferences add up to is coincidence. Everyone involved in Albany politics knew for years that Shelly Silver was making millions at an asbestos law firm without actually practicing law. Nonetheless, the most progressive and thoughtful collection of Democrats in the state looked the other way, without ever questioning the appearance or the reality of it. It’s as if blinders are handed out when Assembly Democrats conference.
This same caucus, finally confronted with the criminality of Silver’s all-too-familiar facade, rushed to reach into the cesspool of Bronx politics to make its leader their speaker. They had to understand that Heastie might well be one witness away from potential trouble, with his former mentor Seabrook, who’s doing five years in prison, just a phone call away from Preet Bharara. They had to be troubled by Heastie’s response to the Times piece, with his spokesman saying the core question was not whether Heastie should have honored the pledge he made to a judge to make the city and a struggling nonprofit whole, but whether it was “the child’s responsibility to pay the debt of the parent.” The spokesman also evidenced a bumper-sticker sense of irony, saying that Heastie had “conducted himself with the integrity we expect from anyone in his position.”
Heastie is actually a son of the machine, having surfaced in 1999-2000 when, after seven years in a patronage job in the city Comptroller’s Office, he secured his Assembly district without having to actually run to win it. He earned his Assembly seat by doing Seabrook’s books for years, a nightmare of numbers that prepared him for Albany. Similarly, he became speaker 15 years later, when his fellow county leaders came together to force possible opponents out of the race. He ran against a cleared field. He is the first county leader to be named speaker since Brooklyn’s Stanley Steingut in the ’60s, a retreat to the days when the club was more important than any cause.
Wayne Barrett covered New York politics for 35 years and co-authored “City for Sale,” a chronicle of the great municipal scandal of the ’80s.