WPCNR White Plains Variety. Book Review By John F. Bailey. October 20, 2002. Updated. The Jeanine Machine was delivered in plain white box from Hudson House, (ViviSphere Publishing, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 158 hot steaming pages), to WPCNR Friday, within one day after WPCNR purchased it by phone. It was left by an unidentified courier who somehow eluded the countywide dragnet to intercept shipments of this book.
Photo by WPCNR News
This lift-you-right-out-of-your chair book rivets the reader by naming sources and telling all about how, in S. Richard Blassberg’s opinion, Tony Castro lost the 2001 election for District Attorney to Jeanine Pirro.
The Jeanine Machine
is a white heat of indignant resentment written in the searing humiliation of defeat. It bristles, bleeds, festers with personal invective and character judgments of county officials, politicians and his primary target. Blassberg is in a fine rage. There is no
attempt at genteel, literary style. He slices, dices and filets reputations. He fires in a staccato style like a Sergeant Joe Friday, relentless in his prosecution of Westchester’s top prosecutor.
He has Jeanine Pirro and the Westchester power brokers, whom he calls “The Cabal” for lunch here. It’s a book of an individual who feels he and his man Castro were wronged by a rigged system. It’s made sobering by a marshaling of incidents, coincidences and accounts of Ms. Pirro’s alleged actions during the campaign which are not comfortable to read, and raise questions about her motives and her use of District Attorney powers.
Upton Sinclair returns.
If you remember the relentless cadence of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, you will recognize the uncompromising attack style affected by S. Richard Blassberg, former Campaign Manager for Tony Castro.
S. Richard Blassberg
Photo from Book Jacket by WPCNR
Ms. Pirro defeated Mr. Castro by 52% to 48%, a closer-than-expected race, that Blasberg says cost her nomination for Lieutenant Governor with George Pataki on this year’s ticket.
Blasberg tells, in a fascinating countdown of the ill-fated campaign, how he feels his man, Tony Castro, was defeated by Ms. Pirro’s alleged behind-the-scenes maneuvers. He charges she perceived favored treatment of her candidacy by The Journal News which calls her “public relations arm.” Rarely have I ever read such a direct attack on major media outlet news judgment.
If you admire Jeanine Pirro, don’t open this book.
From the former attorney’s first sentence in the preface, (“I come to the task of producing this manuscript with several objectives, the most compelling of which is to expose finally to the full light of public scrutiny the oppressive, malicious, and criminal regime that is the Jeanine Machine,” ) to the last, (“Thus, the removal of Jeanine Pirro from the District Attorney’s Office, by whatever lawful means, at whatever moment, will bring a new and brighter day to the people of Westchester County.”) Blassberg pulls together in one place a documentation of Ms. Pirro’s perceived transgressions since emerging in the public eye in 1994.
Reminiscent of Hell to Pay, the “inside” story of Hillary Clinton, this book is shorter, punchier, and reads with the reckless abandon of a Walter Winchell broadcast, without the “Commentary” key slide disclaimer.
The scholarly thoroughness of these events and his observations of them, we have to take his word, and the word of the persons he quotes by name and attributes to, with 32 footnotes. At any rate, if he is ever sued for libel by Ms. Pirro it should be a dandy trial requiring 24-hour coverage, with a parade of witnesses everybody knows. He quotes and names and describes who did what to whom, and how he thinks they did it. Ronnie Brokaw, spokesman for ViviSphere Publishing said the manuscript and its documentation had been screened by the firm’s lawyers. WPCNR hopes they are good ones.
The Pirro Affair and a Cast of 95
There are 95 real people appearing in this book: all familiar personalities you read and hear about daily in the media: every Spano you can think of, Larry Schwartz, Reginald Lafayette, Dennis Wedra, Jay Hashmall, Robbie Schlaff, John Spencer, Al Pirro, Anthony Mangone, Mike Edelman, Dr. Giullio Cavallo, Kieran and Sarah Gaffney Mahoney, Gary Sherlock, and some of your favorite attorneys, too.
The book provides a one-sided view and critique of Ms. Pirro’s public position during the course of her husband Albert Pirro’s tax case, and his Peekskill Hospital conflict of interest affair. After documenting the findings of the tax case, Blassberg goes on to the far more juicy Jeanine Pirro-Tony Castro contest. He details the events leading up to Castro’s nomination, and the six months of the Castro campaign, where it went wrong. If you are looking for a balanced view of Ms. Pirro, this is not it.
In Chapter One, Blassberg tells how he became acquainted with “Westchester Law,” Jeanine Pirro style, in 2000. He picks apart as “demoralizing” the way in which the Pirro D.A.’s office drags out court proceedings, calling for multiple postponements, and filling up court calendars, he alleges, abusing the rights of defendants. The effect, he charges is to demoralize defendents into copping pleas to lesser charges to up the D.A.’s conviction rate.
He first learns of the Pirro prosecutorial style in a case he describes about an indigent, mildly retarded man he defended in 2000. He found that Ms. Pirro’s office withheld exculpatory (exonerating) evidence extending the criminal proceding to attempt to obtain a conviction.
Just warming up, Blassberg refreshes the federal income tax fraud case against Ms. Pirro’s busband, Albert Pirro, pointing out federal evidence which he feels shows Ms. Pirro knew the tax frauds Mr. Pirro was orchestrating.
He is at his best in making his case for Ms. Pirro’s using her power as District Attorney to first punish, in his opinion, Andy Spano for allowing a strong candidate (Mr. Castro) to run against her in 2001, in violation of the Spano style of pursuing apparent non-aggression pact with the Republicans.
Blassberg charges that Pirro was irritated that Jay Hashmall , the Deputy County Executive and Robi Schlaff, his assistant, both Democrats were working hard for Mr. Castro, a Democrat. The way Blassberg tells it, Pirro used the power of her office to punish Hashmall for his work on behalf of Castro, by leaking to The Journal News a story, alleging improprieties in Hashmall’s awarding four no-bid contracts while Spano was unavailable to sign off on the contracts. Hashmall was not prosecuted. Blassberg charges that the threats of a Grand Jury involving Hashmall were trumped up and could not have taken place in the time interval from when Pirro announced them and The Journal News reported them.
Pirro Media Pressure?
Blassberg charges that Pirro’s influence squashed a Castro policy statement scheduled to appear in the New York Law Journal involving the reporter, Lori Tripoli, that was to carry Castro’s “perspective” of what happened to Hashmell. The Law Journal even plugged the fact that Castro, “promising Tony’s (Castro) response.” And, it did not. Blassberg says, “within 24 hours, Tony was called and was told that once Jeanine got wind of the fact that there would be a forthcoming article, she contacted someone very high in management, and quashed the piece.”
After the Law Journal “stuff,” Blassberg adds to that coincidence, with a report of a New York Times reporter, Dorothy Samuels, who was instrumental in interviewing Mr. Castro which lead to the Times endorsement of him over Pirro, strange behavior:
“Immediately, upon learning of the New York Law Journal’s knuckling-under to Jeanine’s pressure I attempted to contact Dorothy Samuels of the New York Times, the editor who had interviewed Tony prior to his receiving their endorsement. She couldn’t get off the phone fast enough. I was left with a sick feeling.”
Blassberg shares his feeling that “Jeanine had reached them, too. My fears were fueled by the fact that, although Tony had received the prized Times endorsement following a 90 minute interview, which I had attended, that endorsement was eight days in coming. Further, it appeared just three days before election, leaving us little time or opportunity to capitalize on it.”
The Independence Party Endorsement that Never Happened.
Another intriguing matter is Blassberg’s story of how he feels Ms. Pirro used her power to prosecute to scare Dr. Giullio Cavallo of the Independence Party to switch that party’s endorsement to herself.
Blassberg charges Pirro threatened Cavallo with prosecution over doctored absentee ballots in the Dennis Wedra case. Blassberg says this is the story Cavallo told him to explain why he switched the Independence Party’s endorsement to Pirro. Cavallo has later denied making this statement, according to the book.
The Independence Party line gave Ms. Pirro the election, delivering 7,821 votes, which would if they were votes for Mr. Castro, have given him the election by some 3,000 votes.
Ridicule, Invective Weaken Narrative.
Mr. Blassberg’s anger at the all-too-real events he describes, leads him astray from his compelling story of the campaign. He makes value judgments about Ms. Pirro’s public appearances, fashion sense, motives, and lapses too frequently into insult: (“She suffers from the malady known as being a legend in your own mind.”)
Questioning Ms. Pirro’s appearance in court, for example, is a petty recurrence, referring to her penchant for wearing miniskirts, patterned stockings and 4-inch stiletto heels.
His interpretations of Ms. Pirro’s actions in public are unflattering, based on his observations and those of others at the events he describes. He names persons who saw the behavior to corroborate. Can we really believe Ms. Pirro, “with veins in her neck popping, she screamed into the camera, “I’ll debate Mr. Castro, anytime, anywhere!” This was supposedly on televison, so you could probably check it.
Tricks. Acting. Alleged Media Manipulation.
Political buffs will feast on the inside story of Castro’s fundraising, and Mr. Blassberg’s uncompromising charge that the Journal News was not printing his candidate’s press releases because they favored Pirro. Now, on this matter I, as one who receives press releases from candidates, do not print them verbatim, unless I think they are news worthy or have a news angle, so I don’t buy that. Every campaign writer thinks their releases are works of art and very compelling. But, I have to tell you, most are not. Blassberg gives you numerous examples on how he feels The Journal News slanted campaign reporting in Pirro’s favor.
The charge of Ms. Pirro leaking stories to the Journal News regularly during the campaign seems plausible based on his documentation in the book of how the stories appeared, and what stories were covered and which were not. But, it is circumstantial. You be the judge.
Serious allegations about Pirro being soft on organized crime.
Perhaps the most disturbing indictment Blassberg makes is what he calls Pirro’s failure to prosecute cases against organized crime, and makes an intriguing case for it, which should raise eyebrows.
His principle evidence for her “softness” is the string of prosecutions initiated against alleged mob-influenced construction deals in Westchester by the U.S. Attorney, Mary Jo White.
He feels she manipulates the District Attorney’s Office to promote her own career, of which he notes a number of examples. He charges that her internet sting operation was created to get the public’s mind off her husband’s tax conviction and the public’s perception of her knowing of the frauds being committed. And, there’s more.
D.A.’s Office a little empire?
Blassberg reserves serious criticism for the way Ms. Pirro operates the District Attorney’s office. He writes, “One need only speak with respected members of the Defense Bar to grasp the functional burden Jeanine’s persona has imposed upon the criminal justice system in Westchester. She refuses to entrust ultimate decision making authority to anyone other than herself, irrespective of how serious or mundane a case may be. Her objective is always the same, to obtain a conviction, and thus enhance her record and public image.”
He draws a series of circumstantial examples to illustrate this: the internet sting operation, her pursuits of high profile murder cases, the Hashmill case, and issuing supeonas as a weapon to get her way and create an impression. However, there is no identification of any individuals or attributions documenting this opinion of D.A. office operations. His criticism of her conduct of the D.A. office operations is weak, because of this troubling lack of documentation and attribution. He offers his opinion only, and the results he perceives. Of course, getting a person to speak out against the person he or she works for, or represents clients to, in litigation is next to impossible, as a reporter, no one wants to go on record as being critical of anybody in power.
The Janine Machine draws a disturbing picture. He closes by suggesting several ways Ms. Pirro can be removed from her stronghold of power: 1.) Defeat in 2005. 2.) Appointment to higher office (by Governor Pataki), or 3.) a Federal Investigation.
This is no cute, tasteful, palatable, scholarly, cleared-by-a-battery-of-$500-Dollar-an-Hour-Libel-Attorneys- weekly news magazine expose that puts you to sleep.
Blassberg shakes you up. The Janine Machine is a tough in-your-face muckrake. It is not boring. What it means for residents of Westchester County raises more questions than it answers. You will be scared reading this one and you will read it in one night. It takes your breath away.