It was a rare event. Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the stand in the trial of political consultant John Haggerty, who is accused by the Manhattan District Attorney of stealing $1.1 million from the Mayor. $600,000 of that was paid to Haggerty himself. The money was said to be used for poll watchers on Election Day when the Mayor was running for his third term.
Manhattan D.A. Cy Vance claimed that Bloomberg gave $1.2 million from his personal account to the New York State Independence Party, to Haggerty and his Special Elections Operations. But Haggerty used the funds to purchase his late father’s estate in Forest Hills, Queens. Haggerty’s lawyers questioned Bloomberg’s spending habits and tactics. Haggerty’s lawyers also questioned why the Mayor paid for ballot security in such an indirect fashion: donating $1.2 million to the state’s Independence Party, which then transferred most of it to Haggerty.
“From an election lawyer’s point of view, the interesting issue is the transfer of the funds from the Mayor,” said Henry T. Berger, an election lawyer who represents the Democratic Party. “It appears to most election lawyers that I’ve talked to that there’s at least one, and possibly two, violations in that transfer.”
Haggerty’s lawyers questioned the legality of Bloomberg’s personal contribution to the Independence Party for his campaign. Berger said campaign finance rules prohibit money in a party’s housekeeping account from being used on a campaign. Haggerty’s lawyers said they would argue that once Bloomberg gave the money to the Independence Party, he lost legal control of the funds.
As the Mayor took the stand for two and a half hours, his testimony was vague, as he often seemed unaware of details of his own political campaign.
A mayor who portrays himself as one who runs a tight ship, it was stunning how many times questions about his political operations were answered with, “I have no recollection” or “I don’t recall.”
Haggerty’s lawyers’ questioning was so tough, the lead prosecutor claimed the defense was conducting a “trial by ambush.”
Haggerty’s lawyers showed that Bloomberg paid no attention to how much money he spent, or how he spent it. The lawyers also claimed the Mayor had no interest in the Independence Party.
When Haggerty’s lawyers grilled the Mayor asking him if his donation to the Independence Party should have followed political contribution limits, Bloomberg said, “I’m just not familiar with the details. You have to call the state government.”
Bloomberg avoided details so many times that Haggerty’s lawyers had to constantly ask, “Can you answer my question?”
Haggerty was supposed to be in charge of “ballot security” on Election Day, monitoring polling places for problems that could interfere with voting. Yet two memos were read alleging Haggerty’s job was to make sure that there was strong white turnout for Bloomberg on the Republican line against Bill Thompson. It was hoped jurors will take a dim view of how the Mayor ran his campaign. Remember, Bloomberg won by less than 5% of the vote.
So who is guilty, Haggerty or Bloomberg? Stay tuned.
Still on Fire