Amid speculation that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani would dump his top campaign aide, who faces questions in a state and federal investigation, the mayor did the opposite this week. He named Bruce Teitelbaum as manager of his Senate campaign, if and when he decides to run.
Teitelbaum, a former City Hall chief of staff, is currently director of Giuliani’s Senate exploratory committee. While the change means little on a practical level (Teitelbaum has been virtually a one-man campaign for more than a year) some observers saw Giuliani’s move as creating the risk that a deepening scandal could haunt his campaign.
But others saw Giuliani’s statement Monday as an affirmation of faith that the investigation (which is looking into the Giuliani administrationís ties with chasidic builders and the forced resignation of a building inspector who reportedly tried to halt some of the projects on safety grounds) would fizzle.
"I think it gives [Teitelbaum] a vote of confidence," says Abraham Biederman, a close confidante and supporter of Giuliani.
Teitelbaum has yet to appear for voluntary questioning at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, as requested by prosecutors. His lawyer released a statement this week that he is "presently neither a target nor a subject" of a criminal investigation, but much was being read this week into the word "presently." A law enforcement source said there was no expectation the case would be closed, and one administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, conceded that the case was likely to continue well into this year’s Senate race. "This is not going away," said the official.
But Giuliani’s reluctance to even hedge his bets on Teitelbaum is a sign of the uncommon bond between the two men at a time when politicians frequently change aides over the course of successive administrations. A fixture at Giuliani’s side since early in his 1993 campaign, Teitelbaum survived an early attempt to oust him from Giuliani’s inner circle (by Assemblyman Dov Hikind, then a key Giuliani ally) and he seems to be insulated from the fate of other fallen-from-grace administration figures on whom the mayor has suddenly soured. They include communications director Cristyne Lategano, former top cop William Bratton and ousted schools chancellor Rudy Crew. (Giuliani pointed to Crew in a 1997 Jewish Week interview as an example of one of his best working relationships. "We go to ballgames together," said the mayor then.)
"The mayor appears to be very loyal to people who are loyal to him," said political consultant and City Hall lobbyist Norman Adler. "Bruce has been a standup guy for the mayor and the mayor is now being a standup guy for Bruce." Adler says the two share similar energetic, take-charge personalities. "Whatever the chemistry is, it’s there and it works. Bruce has done a lot for the mayor in terms of his relationship with the observant Jewish community, and I think that he’s also been a reliable communicator of information from the street."
Giuliani has charged that the probe initiated by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes is a political hit intended to help fellow Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton’s bid for the Senate. But Adler deemed such a motivation unlikely. "It would be very embarrassing for the DA to come up with nothing after this whole thing," said Adler.
But he speculates that, if Teitelbaum was implicated in wrongdoing, the aide will throw himself on his sword rather than hurt the mayor’s campaign. "I don’t think anybody cares [about the investigation] at the moment," said Adler. "Should things change, I think Bruce would respond in kind. But there is no reason for somebody to step back from a campaign role when he hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing."
Jonathan Pollard’s federal prison cell seems to be attracting almost as many politicians as the Western Wall and Brooklyn’s rebbes. Last week, two prominent Democrats (Comptroller Alan Hevesi and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver) made the journey to Butner, N.C., where the former naval analyst is serving a life sentence for giving U.S. secrets to Israel. This prompted an aide to a third Democrat, Public Advocate Mark Green to call and remind us that he visited Pollard in August.
Hevesi said he made the trip at the request of the National Council of Young Israel, whose director, Rabbi Pesach Lerner, accompanied him. Silver was accompanied by Assembly members Helene Weinstein of Brooklyn, Jeff Klein of the Bronx and Thomas DiNapoli of Nassau.
The legislators are up for re-election this year. Green and Hevesi are likely to face off in next year’s race for the Democratic nomination for mayor.
Hevesi said Pollard appeared "proud of what he did to help Israel because information was being held back to punish Israel for bombing the Osirak reactor [in Iraq]. But he is remorseful that he is being portrayed as an enemy of America, and with the hindsight of 15 years he wishes he could have done something without having to commit a crime." According to the comptroller, Pollard should be freed because the U.S. broke a plea agreement and treated him as though he spied for a hostile government rather than an ally. "It smells of some level of impropriety," he said.
Silver said he was unconcerned that classified data withheld by intelligence sources could reveal Pollard as a greater danger to U.S. security than previously known. "Even if that’s true, 14 years is enough," said Silver. "He has not been able to confront his accusers who say that he endangered American lives. It’s unfair to continue to point to secret evidence to keep somebody in jail."
Silver and Hevesi each said they would discuss their visits with Hillary Clinton, who has avoided a position on Pollard.
A major political donor who has contributed to the campaigns of Sen. Charles Schumer, Giuliani, Hevesi and former Sen. Al D’Amato held a press conference last week to refute reports that he has laundered cash for the Russian mob.
Semyon Kislin produced a former FBI agent who said that a bureau report on Kislin was baseless and that his company had been confused with a similarly named entity. But the agent admitted under press questioning that he was now employed as a security consultant to Kislin.
The commodities trader, who lives in Westchester and is well regarded in Jewish philanthropic circles, has not been charged with any crime.
"I hope his explanations are the truth," said Hevesi, whose 1993 and 1997 comptroller campaigns received more than $11,000 from Kislin. "If they are, he has been treated badly."