By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Wednesday was a homecoming.
No, not for me Ive been here doing this in Queens for 22
years. It was the first time I hung out with Alan Hevesi since he was elected Comptroller
of NYC eight years ago.
Alan Hevesi and
Alan was a Queens boy I guess he still is. He and I grew
up on the same streets, went to the same schools, only he was much older. He and I
would disagree as to the meaning of "much." I was just a freshman when he and my
sister Carole were seniors at Queens College Alan was president of the class. But
thats not what he was known for. Alan was a star basketball player. Now, Im
not sure that a "star" on Queens College is a "star" very many other
places. But to us locals, he was a star.
Queens Trib Associate Publisher Mike Nussbaum took an NBA team
to China in the early 80s. A young Assemblyman named Hevesi was the only non-pro
player. Alan stills like to spin the yarn that he was "one for one" the
only 100% shooter on the tour. I guess he didnt get a lot of playing time.
I followed his career in politics. He was bright, energetic and gifted.
He was one of a very small group of upcoming politicians from the "hood"
our neighborhood to stand out. At 64" Alan stood out.
He stood out as an analytical thinker. He stood out as a champion of
civil rights and he stood out as someone who cared.
Although he and I didnt spend a lot of time together, we had
mutual friends. Mike Nussbaum and he had bonded as only a basketball tour can achieve. And
Trib founder Gary Ackerman and Hevesi navigated parallel paths through Queens
Democratic politics for three plus decades. If that doesnt produce friendship, it
certainly has a unique odor to it.
The point of all of this is that Alan was my guy our guy: the
fair-haired kid from Queens who excelled in the Assembly and rose to a position of
significant leadership; the bright scholar who took his political theories to the
classroom and inspired many Queens College students to participate in the process; the
Queens kid who turned his focus to the City and surprised the pundits when "Alan
Who?" became our Comptroller. I was proud of Alan.
I didnt always agree with him. But, I always respected him. He
invited me to breakfast I think it was at the Blue Bay Diner days after
being elected Comptroller. I hadnt supported him in the election. But, he was a
gracious winner who extended a hand of friendship. You remember those things . . . at
least I do.
I was proud to have Alan Hevesi of Queens as the chief financial
officer of our city.
Then he went off and did his job. As far as I can judge, he did it
well. The Citys financial health improved on his watch. Audits increased; scandals
decreased. Alan used his office to promote humanitarian causes believing it appropriate
for public finance officers and public pension fund trustees to monitor efforts to return
Holocaust-era funds to rightful owners and heirs and to fight discrimination and
mistreatment of Christians in the Sudan. For eight years his office held ceremonies
saluting the rainbow of ethnic groups that make our city great.
Alan was a quiet and effective leader of our City.
But had Alan changed? Had the kid from Queens become just another
hard-working Manhattan-centric politician forgetting his Queens roots?
Alan explained, "Who has time for anything else? The job of
Comptroller is 15 hours behind a desk. Its a very challenging job."
But the two hours we sat and chatted in my office convinced me Alan had
not changed. Hes a bit older, a lot grayer and has given up basketball. He was still
the idealistic kid from Forest Hills "Weve moved five times, all within
a mile," he said of his affection for the neighborhood.
Alan was still committed to civil rights, but also committed to truth.
In response to his perceived alienation from African American voters,
Alan spoke of his message in the Diallo tragedy. "We are here to commemorate the
tragedy . . . and I want the family to know how much we admire the dignity with which they
have handled this. Its time to heal," he explained. While he insisted that an
overwhelming majority of the City police officers are heroes, there are some who are
racists whose misconduct cannot be tolerated. He cited the $28.3 million the City had to
pay to settle claims of police misconduct. "We have to have zero tolerance for thos
behavior," he pledged.
He spoke honestly of a strained relationship with Al Sharpton
who he thought was "more responsible" today indicating clearly that he
challenged many of his actions in the past.
He advocated for increased ballot access and suggested that the Queens
Democratic organization take a more inclusive view in the use of petition challenges.
He spoke with compassion about the disparity of opportunity in the
City: with 508,000 new jobs on the high end, we still have the second highest rate of
unemployment. He will develop employment opportunities for immigrants and entry level
applicants, he promised.
"The schools have to be open longer and they have to be
wired," he insisted. "Every school has to be adopted by a corporation or a
business. It costs $40,000 a seat to build a new school," he explained. "It
costs $800 a seat to put in air conditioning."
Although he cited and condemned inequality of opportunity that exists,
Alan smiled when he defended New York, "It is one of the most tolerant cities in
With the exception of his politics of confrontation and failures in
education and housing, Rudy has done a good job for our City, explained the Comptroller.
And now, 40 years since I first saw Alan Hevesi the Queens College
basketball star, I continue to follow his career in politics. Our Wednesday chat
reconfirmed that he is still bright, energetic and gifted.
Alan is the fourth and last of the Democratic Mayoral hopefuls to stop
by the Trib and chat with me. Ive said all along that New York City deserves
a star. Well, Alan Hevesi shined pretty brightly.
We sat together and he analyzed the City and responded to my questions.
Then I watched an animated Hevesi become more animated as he reverted back to the
political junkie of old. Hes run the numbers, done the figuring and drawn the
conclusion, "Ill finish first or second everywhere every borough,"
he insisted, as he explained that I was sitting and talking with the next Mayor of New
Well, perhaps so. But to me, I was talking to an old friend.
Good luck, Alan.
This column was originally finished Sunday night.
This space was filled by some upbeat words about the Queens College
Then, I awoke Monday morning to be bombarded by an endless stream of
the executioners circus.
Tim McVeigh was being put to death by the United States government.
And if you listen to or watch the news in the morning or in the
car on the way to work you couldnt help but react.
I had consciously decided to avoid the spectacle.
I personally dont believe in capital punishment and I dont
approve in making death into a public spectacle. Both concern me as to the message we give
"You see, little ones, it is wrong to kill. But its okay
for the government to kill McVeigh."
But I had hoped to be able to look the other way and not involve myself
in the age-old capital punishment debate. It had sort of gone away. When theyre not
executing anyone, no one is debating. Only George W. Bushs Texas seemed committed to
the sport. Me, I was hoping to just duck the whole thing.
But now, try as I did, I couldnt avoid it.
Well, Im not looking to enter the debate.
You see, we each have the right to our opinions. Capital punishment is
a very personal thing. I choose to reject it. Some choose bizarrely to embrace it. And
rather than preach or react with my usual passion, I believe this is a moment for
Youre Out Of Time
To Queens Council Candidates:
If you have failed to respond to our repeated requests for the info below,
your time is running out!
Please e-mail the following to us:
1) Your bio -- under 200 words
2) Your photo -- jpg or tif
3) The three most important issues facing your district and how you
plan to resolve them - under 200 words total.
4) Are you enrolled in the CFBs matching fund program. How much
have you raised to date? How much have you spent? How much, in total, including matching
funds, do you plan to spend between now and Primary Day?
5) E-mail, web & phone contact to: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com.
My editor wants me to yell:
"If its a deterrent, why not
televise it? Even mandate that people watch?
Or, if it is punishment, why do it
humanely? Put him to sleep first, then kill him? Hell, no! Fry him," she
Ms. Editor was angry and wanted to get me
Im not angry, Im sad.
Why are we killing him?
Is it really a deterrent? Statistics
dont support that theory.
So the families will have closure?
Will little Claudias family, who
suffered a most devastating loss, really feel any better?
Are we killing him because of anger,
hate and vengeance?
Is that what a civilized people do?
Are we killing him because we dont
want to support him for the rest of his life?
Cmon, thats not reason enough.
Why are we killing him?
To make us feel better? To prove a point?
Is the government resorting to the very
same approach to life and death that McVeigh did?
Justice or vengeance?
Or doesnt it matter?
I hope the families who suffered losses in
the tragic Oklahoma City bombing find peace.
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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