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Livoti case: the mayor’s downfall?

October 21, 1996

Seven years ago, in an attack many feel doomed the re-election of Edward I. Koch to a fourth term as mayor, Yusef Hawkins, a black Brooklyn teenager, was shot to death by a white mob. When Koch tried to contact Hawkins' family, the victim's father refused to meet with him.

Many attributed Koch's defeat by David Dinkins in the 1989 Democratic primary to the perception that Koch had helped create the racial climate that led to Hawkins' death. As Dinkins put it then, "The tone and climate of this city is set at City Hall."

Ten days ago, after Bronx Police Officer Francis X. Livoti of the 46th Precinct was acquitted of choking to death 29-year-old Anthony Baez, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani tried to contact Baez' family.

Over the past year, Giuliani has been merciless in attacking Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson for failing to seek the death penalty - instead of life in prison - for the killer of Police Officer Kevin Gillespie. After Johnson indicted Anthony Rivers on charges of criminally negligent homicide in the death of Police Officer Vincent Guidice, Giuliani railed that Johnson should have indicted him for second-degree murder.

But until this weekened, following the shooting of Capt. Steven Plaznick of the 46th Precinct, which many feel may be retaliation for Livoti's acquittal, Giuliani had remained virtually silent about the Baez case. About his only statement followed Livoti's acquittal, in which the mayor praised the judge's decision, calling it well-reasoned and thought-out.

According to the Baez family's attorney, Sue Karton, the mayor telephoned Baez' mother, Iris, three days after the acquittal. When his secretary told her the mayor wished to speak to her, Iris Baez answered, "I have nothing to say to him," and hung up the phone.

PBA Power. It was Livoti's status as a PBA delegate - not his well-known friendship with Chief of Department Louis Anemone - that led to Anemone's backstage intercession mitigating his punishment, after Livoti pushed a lieutenant in a Bronx precinct.

So says a retired Bronx boss involved in disciplining Livoti over the incident, which occurred two years ago but is increasingly discussed at Police Plaza because of Livoti's role in Baez' death.

"Louie saw this as essentially a union problem, a double union problem," said the ex-Bronx boss. "First, the Lieutentant's Benevolent Association was incensed a member had been assaulted. And because Livoti was a PBA delegate, we knew the PBA wouldn't lay back.

Printable version"Louie told me he wanted to avoid suspending him, as many of us wanted. He is a PBA guy' Louie said. And Louie wasn't out of line. The department always wants to avoid the appearance of attacking the union."

And Livoti, who received only a loss of three vacation days and was forced to apologize to the lieutenant in front of each of the precinct's three platoons, was no ordinary PBA guy. He was especially close to former president Phil Caruso, who appeared in court during the Baez trial, hugging and kissing Livoti on the cheek.

But things appear to be changing. Caruso's successor, Lou Matarazzo, called Livoti "an adopted son" as the trial began, but ducked out a side door as the verdict was announced and hasn't spoken of him since.

The Dream Lives On. Just before Giuliani kicked William Bratton out of Police Plaza, Bratton had a dream. He dreamed the NYPD was the foremost department in computer technology. He dreamed he hired the renowned police technologist Gordon Wasserman and even prevailed upon his favorite charity, the Police Foundation, to pick up the tab.

Alas, Bratton's successor, Howard Safir, appeared to kill Bratton's dream as he set about computerizing the department in his own fashion. He named Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Marilyn ("I have nothing for you.") Mode to handle the department's fledgling Internet technology.

Mode, the department's first public information deputy commissioner in at least two decades to refuse to give out her home phone or beeper number to reporters, wasn't so hot at technology either. The staff's first priority when setting up the NYPD's Web site in July was to expunge all references to Bratton. Last month the New York Times described the Web site, known as Finestnet, as "a pothole on the Information Superhighway."

So guess what? Taking a Web page from the ex-commissioner, Safir has just hired Wasserman. His mandate: to develop a departmental technology plan. His $75,000 fee will be picked up by - you guessed it - the Police Foundation.

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.