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Haper's, February, 2005: Ketcham's reply to the responses of HYnes, Brennan, and Keefe

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Posted by GET NY on 19:13:57 02/20/05

Original article:
Meet The New Boss
Man vs. Machine Politics in Brooklyn

Christopher Ketcham responds:
Contrary to Assemblyman James Brennan and John Keefe's assertions, I did read the trial transcripts relating to John O'Hara's alleged "frauds." However, I found no evidence substantiating the fraud allegations, though O'Hara's sloppy petitioning did result in his being thrown off the ballot twice after long and painful taxpayer-funded challenges by Assemblyman Brennan. Such ballot-access challenges, of course, are part and parcel of the mendacity of New York State election law, where insurgents are made to feel like criminals by being hauled into court and cross-examined on their candidacies for silly reasons. What is especially obnoxious is that smooth operators such as Assemblyman Brennan exploit from this whirlwind of legal cheap shots what amounts to lifelong incumbency.

Keefe and Brennan insist that the Primary Day "attack" on O'Hara's girlfriend never happened, but the record is clear: Hospital reports confirm that the girlfriend was admitted with bruises on her breasts and arms, and police reports reiterate the allegations, as does eyewitness testimony in the court record (among the testifying witnesses was the son of an O'Hara opponent -- not exactly a biased witness for O'Hara). Furthermore, on November 6, 1997, Keefe himself pled guilty in criminal court to a charge of harassment in the second degree. When I asked Keefe about the attack, he denied it ever happened and then said he would not speak for the record. Brennan also declined to be interviewed on the record and refused repeated requests to speak with a Harper's Magazine factchecker.

What Brennan and Keefe do not deny is that O'Hara's prosecution was politically manufactured in their office. John O'Mara, the prosecutor in O'Hara's three trials, even contacted Brennan following O'Hara's conviction for "residency fraud." Brennan and Keefe insist that O'Hara was not prosecuted by Hynes "as a favor," but does the D.A.'s office telephone Assemblyman Brennan following each of the hundreds of trials it handles yearly?

Among my article's chief points is that a man stands convicted as a felon because he registered to vote, setting a dangerous precedent in the case law. The real reason for the persistent prosecution of O'Hara, however, is not that he voted but that he fought, repeatedly, for political office in a system essentially fixed against challengers, a system that Assemblyman Brennan, in tandem with his hundreds of peers in the New York State legislature, perpetuates in a shameful affront to our democracy.

As for D.A. Hynes, his change of address in 1996 was to a location where no one lives -- the Brooklyn Municipal Building. After six months of "residency" on his office couch, he filed a second change of address to a newly purchased Brooklyn apartment. Under the strictest interpretation of the law -- the same stringency he applied to O'Hara -- Hynes was not registered to vote from a "principal and permanent residence" for those six months. In fact, Brooklyn's district attorney now tells Harper's Magazine that he was not even residing in Brooklyn during that time; he was living in his summer home in Breezy Point, Queens.

Hynes now claims that when he submitted his change-of-address form he simply had no idea that the National Change of Address law would also trigger a change in his voter registration. This is either (a) implausible, given that Hynes is, after all, the county's top lawman and should know the law or (b) extremely distressing, for the same reasons.

The trial transcripts show that O'Hara was never convicted of living in a "sham" residence, because the jury was not asked if his residence was a "sham." The jury was asked whether O'Hara was living in a "principal and permanent residence." O'Hara's residence-which, pace Hynes, seven witnesses testified was indeed a bona fide apartment -- failed to fit the profile, and so he was found guilty, as well he should have been, under the strictest application of the election statute. Hynes, like Assemblyman Brennan, does not appear to comprehend that it is the absurdity of the election law itself that is the problem, not John O'Hara.

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