2011-12-29 / A Hometown View From Albany

A Hometown View From Albany

Our Long Community Nightmare Is Over
By Marc Gronich,
Capital Bureau Chief

When Carl Kruger announced his guilty plea on Tuesday, December 20, before Jed Rakoff, a United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York, the 62-year old lawmaker broke down and cried – wept like a little boy. He was emotional reading the words that put an end to a 17-year career as a state Senator and prior to that more than a decade as an active member and president of Community Board 18.

Kruger ascended to his position in February 1994, succeeding Donald Halperin who served in the Senate for 23 years.

I began to wonder about the evolution of how Kruger appeared to have changed from doing good deeds for his community to entering into a life that led to what might be called white-collar crime, so I began to ask several people familiar with Carl Kruger then and now.

In 2005, he was Secretary of the Minority Conference when David Paterson was the Democratic Leader. There seemed to be a falling out with Paterson the following year and I began to notice a change in Kruger’s attitude towards the members of the Democratic Conference. In 2006 he became distant, and instead of attending the private strategy sessions about how certain legislation would be handled on the floor, Kruger would sit outside the Senate chamber waiting until the session began.

In February 2007, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican, appointed Kruger to be chairman of the Social Services, Children and Families Committee, which I found a bit strange, considering his well-to-do Mill Basin constituency, but that was my narrow point of view. It was the first time in New York history a Republican leader appointed a minority party senator to chair a committee.

Since that year, Kruger fell out of favor with his Democratic colleagues. From October 2007 until January 2009, I worked for the Senate Democrats in their press operation and personally noticed how Kruger was ostracized by his fellow Democrats. In 2009, when the party took control of the Senate, he, along with three other Senators (two of whom resigned from office) formed a recalcitrant group called “the four amigos.”

For several months the quartet caused havoc in the Senate, bringing to a halt any hope for legislative progress for most of the days they were in session. As a settlement in this standoff, Kruger was named chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, which controlled the flow of money and budgetary matters for the state Senate. It was during this time that the federal government began its probe into the Senator’s questionable business dealings.

AWord From Supporters

Kruger’s supporters want people in the district to know that he was a fierce advocate for animal rights, curbing sulfur emissions, Rockefeller Drug Law reforms and no-fault divorce. He was a pro-death penalty advocate and last year cast his vote in favor of same-sex marriage.

A former staff member who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “Carl was a fair but tough employer. He was a great boss who would give out raises without having to ask for one. That’s the ultimate compliment. To say, you’re doing a great job, here’s a pay raise.”

Representing New York’s single largest Russian- American community, Kruger published what is purportedly the only Russian-language newsletter printed by elected officials within New York City. He was also the host of a weekly program on the Brooklyn Community Access Television (BCAT) channel called Brooklyn Beat, which discusses topical issues related to the borough.

Many Words From Many OpponentsSenator KrugerSenator Kruger

Kruger had many detractors. However, one of the nicest things his foes could muster up enough courage to say about him was that “his office was a medical center. You could get free flu shots, mammograms, prostate exams. If Carl was on your side you knew that he was going to fight for you to the end,” recalled one source.

Some who know Kruger did not want to go on record fearing retribution in some fashion, but the sentiments were all the same: he was a “vindictive bastard,” some would say. People were afraid of him and the public didn’t know what a horrible human being he was. There was nothing warm and fuzzy about Carl Kruger.

On a personal note, for the 17 years that I knew Kruger, I never thought of him in that way.

Most of the stories I heard portrayed him as a man who was feared, as he allegedly intimidated many people in the southeast Brooklyn neighborhoods.

One person told me Kruger exposed a vicious side more than 20 years ago when he was in the position of being a political operative with the Thomas Jefferson Club.

“He seemed to derive a lot of pleasure out of telling one story in particular,” Assemblyman Nick Perry told me.

“The story had to do with a petition they were challenging of a candidate who was running against a TJ Club-endorsed candidate,” Perry recalled. “A priest either collected signatures for the candidate or had to do something with the petitions. It was necessary to subpoena the priest as a part of the court action and it was Kruger’s job to serve the priest. Kruger, who is Jewish and was affiliated with an Orthodox synagogue at the time, talked about joining the line at church as if he was a supplicant to be served communion. When he got up to the priest who was serving the communion he served the priest with the subpoena papers.

“He tells that story with the tone: ‘you see how smart I was’,”said Perry. “For me, being a Christian, an Episcopalian who goes to a Catholic church, it seemed quite repugnant to me. If there was any sacrilegious action, that was really it. To do that and brag about it, I always thought said a lot to me about Carl. Whenever I had to deal with Carl, I always remember that story,” he added.

Kruger was also considered great with constituent services as he was known for missing floor votes to go back to the district to attend events.

“I think for Carl, that was politics,” Perry said. “He was a politician and I’m sure he was caught up with being a real winning politician. So it was the winning and the power and whatever he would have to do he would do. He was very conscious of the power and how powerful he could make his office.”

The Guilty Plea

At the recent court proceedings, Kruger pleaded guilty to four of the five counts in the indictment against him. The charges included two counts of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, for which he could face up to 20 years in prison, and two counts of bribery conspiracy.

Following his guilty plea, Kruger said:

“My actions were in violation of the law and I knew that they were wrong. I accept responsibility for my actions and am truly sorry for my conduct.”

The former senator will be sentenced on Thursday, April 26, 2012.

Reaction To The Guilty Plea

But once Kruger read the statement, the ‘kickhim when-he’s-down’ syndrome set in among top officials in Albany as well as his Senate colleagues.

“I think it’s unfortunate and we’ll have to move on but we’ll have to be cognizant that this is the people’s government and there has to be 100 percent trust and you’re not going to have the trust until you earn it,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat.

Former Governor David Paterson, now a New York City talk show host, said he always saw Kruger as a slippery character, always wheeling and dealing with Republicans and Democrats but he never saw Kruger as not wanting to go beyond the limits of the law.

Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson, who is in a neighboring district to Kruger’s, issued a cold and terse statement saying, “This closes a sad chapter for the people of Mr. Kruger’s district and proves that no one is above the law. Restoring faith, trust and confidence in government must be our first priority.”

Senator Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republican, stated, “I am relieved to hear that Carl Kruger has saved his constituency, and the taxpayers, from a long, expensive, drawn-out process. Justice has been served.”

Next week, I will look into the war being waged between Democrats and conservative Republicans for the next person to hold this crucial seat, which could sway the balance of power in the upper house in Albany.

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