Sunday, January 29, 2012

Illuminating disgraced Senator Carl Kruger: was he a good guy gone bad, or amoral from the start?

Earlier this month, New York magazine published an illuminating, somewhat sympathetic profile of King Carl of Canarsie: The gothic saga of Brooklyn power broker Carl Kruger, a state senator who loved a gynecologist and his family so much he was willing to sell his influence for them.

It allowed Kruger to half-explain how he slipped into corruption, clawing his way up from neglect (he was put up for adoption but returned to his mom) and poverty--and it provoked several (mostly anonymous) commenters, as noted below, to observe that Kruger was dirty a lot longer.

And, though Atlantic Yards is unmentioned, the Kruger saga provides excruciating context for the (then)-Senator's over-the-top support for Atlantic Yards, support that, at least in retrospect, seems provoked not by Brooklyn pride, or jobs, but something more.

It's not clear whether (guilty) lobbyist Richard Lipsky's payments to Kruger were predicated on support for Atlantic Yards, but Kruger pleaded guilty to, among other things, directing funds in response to a request from Forest City Ratner executive Bruce Bender. Was it just because they were old Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club cronies?

First, a video

For a glimpse of Kruger, with hardscrabble Brownsville in his accent, confidence in his affect, and toadying from a fellow official, watch the below video.

The title: Senator Carl Kruger Preparing Rosh Hashanah Meals at MASBIA in Conjunction with Met Council. (MASBIA is an Orthodox Jewish soup kitchen headquartered in Boro Park; the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty is an umbrella funder.)




"Everyone waits for the Chairman of Finance," declares Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. Also appearing in the video are William Rapfogel, CEOr of the Met Council and Sheldon Silver buddy, and Senate leader John Sampson.

From NY Mag

Geoffrey Gray writes:
Kruger had been a king of South Brooklyn. From the humblest of beginnings, the senator had turned his district office into a kind of one-stop shop for free constituent services like mammograms and flu shots. He artfully leveraged his ability to provide for Main Street into enormous power in Albany. He was a master tactician who was feared, not loved, and was appointed in 2009 to serve as chairman of the Legislature’s Senate Finance Committee, one of that body’s most powerful posts—all this with little more than a high-school education.
His beginnings in politics:
By the early seventies, Kruger was a neighborhood activist. He’d legally changed his name from Tack to Kruger, and he and his mother and stepsister cobbled together their savings to purchase a house on ­Avenue L with a small yard out front. He and his mother were concerned about the neighborhood, and they co-formed a civic association that met in diners and bowling alleys. Taking on quality-of-life issues made Kruger feel worthy. It also got him out of the house.

...His energy caught the attention of City Councilman Herb Berman, who hired Kruger to be his chief of staff, and later Assemblyman Genovesi, who saw that Kruger could organize people and run ground operations in Assembly races.
He helped the Turanos, his surrogate family, including his (alleged eventual) lover, Michael:
He micromanaged their careers. He helped them get scholarships and into medical school. He encouraged them to specialize in gynecology. When Michael graduated from medical school, he threw a party so big it made the local paper, the Canarsie Courier. Once the Turanos opened offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Kruger treated the joint practice as if it were a Jefferson Club political campaign. He targeted potential clients as if they were undecided voters. He sent out direct mail to 150,000 women.
In his way, Kruger was the ultimate doting parent, just like his mother. When the Feds were watching him, they noticed that Kruger brought the Turanos breakfast nearly every morning. When they went on trips, he bought them travel-size snacks. When Michael was working late, Kruger picked him up at the hospital to give him rides home.
The flip side

Gray reports significant hostility to Kruger:
All the loving-kindness Kruger showed to the Turanos had an opposite. “There’s some Jekyll and Hyde there,” said Frank Seddio, a former assemblyman who has known Kruger for four decades and looked on as Kruger earned a reputation in Albany for ruthlessness. While elderly constituents came to depend on Kruger and his staff for services, it’s hard to find a colleague who has anything good to say about him. One lawmaker who has known Kruger for decades said he was surprised to learn Kruger was capable of displaying emotion. “The Carl Kruger I know does not cry,” the lawmaker said. “The Carl Kruger I know is stone cold.” Said another lawmaker: “One character flaw that most politicians have is that we go into office because we feel the need to be liked. Carl feels the need to be feared.”
Over the years, Kruger managed to isolate himself from those he was once close to. While members of the Jefferson Club still carried his petitions—after all, as Senate Finance chair, he had been the most powerful official in South Brooklyn—Kruger rarely went into the club anymore.
The cancer story

Gray writes:
In 1980, Kruger was indicted with another civic booster for allegedly extorting money from a local builder, a Holocaust survivor, and his partner. Before the trial, Kruger claimed he’d been diagnosed with cancer. Seddio remembers driving Kruger to the hospital with operatives from the Jefferson Club and waiting in the car for Kruger to come out after meeting with his doctor. At trial, the charges against Kruger were dropped, as, apparently, were Kruger’s cancer treatments. Some thought he invented the sickness, perhaps to drum up sympathy from friends and colleagues at the Club.
The comments

The comments in response to the article are pretty rich, though most are anonymous.

Former Courier-Life "Brooklyn Politics" columnist Erik Engquist (now at Crain's New York Business) wrote:
It's not just the cancer story but the indictment that prompted Kruger to come up with it that tells you this is not a case of a good man gone bad, but of a guy who throughout his long career manipulated the system to his benefit and ultimately got busted. The case involved the Georgetowne Civic Association and the price of Carl's support for houses a developer wanted to build. I started dealing with Kruger 20 years ago as a cub reporter, when he was CB 18 chairman and Dottie was his district manager, and there were already plenty of stories floating around about his nefarious activities over the years. Morality? Never came up with Carl.
The rest were mostly anonymous, with a few positive. "brooklynbookworm" wrote:
The 18 years that Carl Kruger spent fighting relentlessly for the underdog and speaking out for the community's best interests should be his enduring legacy. As an elected official he was a rare breed -- always available to listen to a constituent's concern, intuitive, empathetic and quick to get a problem fixed. 
A former staffer, "Brooklynbornandbred," suggested Kruger had changed:
I know Carl well and was on his staff from 1995-2000. He ran a great office, had a wonderful consumer advocate, an assistant with an amazing knack for cutting through bureaucratic red tape...

Clearly he lost his way. The tragedy is that in becoming a state Senator he had fulfilled his dream. He had what he always wanted. He was respected, feared. I wish he could have left it at that. But he didn't and he's going away for it. I hope he has the strength to take what is coming and survive it. I hope Dottie will make it through although my guess is that she is in rough shape right now, as her boys meant the universe to her and Michael is also going away.

...Carl's crimes are relatively minor compared to his out-sized contributions. I hope the judge understands that when he sends him to prison.
Others were less generous. One, "TruthSojourn," wrote:
Since I know people who actually sat in a car waiting for Carl to come back from his alleged "chemo" treatments for his miraculously cured cancer, his denial of the cancer story calls into question anything else that he has said in this story. I know at least THREE people, TWO still living, who would attest to it. SO, a cautionary note to the guy/gal who works up the Probation Report, be skeptical, be VERY skeptical.
Another, "boredatwork" wrote:
I have known Carl Kruger for almost 40 years, and he was a nasty, vindictive, despicable p.o.s. from day one. And I hope no one believes Brafman that this is a "good man" who became a corrupt politician. This is a bad, bad man, who finally got caught. May he rot in jail. 
"Melvin_Green" wrote:
I told Kruger in 2000 when he tried to steal the city and state funds set aside for the youth of Canarsie that one day God would get him for all his evil and ten years later God finally got you, You Demon!!!
A reader adds:
I think it is necessary to read between the lines here, with regard to where these comments are coming from. Obviously, different people wish to convey different things, but it seems that most simply have a bone to pick with Kruger and, instead of being empathetic or compassionate, choose to gloat and wish ill upon him. It's one thing to expect (and subsequently receive) justice, and to be -- as so many of us are -- frustrated with the widespread corruption, but it is quite reprehensible, in turn, to revel in disparaging a human being whose world has come crashing down on him. Carl Kruger -- a man who tirelessly fought for his constituents, on seemingly every issue conceivable, and proposed legislation in the NYS Senate accordingly -- is not bin Laden, or Saddam Hussein. He is a person who erred, and is it not enough that he is going to prison? He must rot there too? The lack of humanity evidenced in so many of these comments is bone-chilling.


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