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Harper's, February, 2005: Brennan and Keefe's response to Christopher Ketcham's article

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Posted by GET NY on 19:17:46 02/20/05

Christopher Ketcham's "Meet the New Boss" [Report, December 2004] is a catalogue of malicious falsehoods and omissions spun by John O'Hara, who was unanimously convicted by two separate juries of felony-level election fraud in the late 1990s. Your writer, taken by O'Hara's barroom bravado, accepts O'Hara's claims of victimization at face value rather than relying on the transcripts of the criminal and civil trials at which his persistent frauds were proven. Tellingly, juries and judges at those trials listened to O'Hara's testimony and proceeded to convict him or rule against him.

Omitted from Ketcham's account is that the New York State Board of Elections opened an investigation of O'Hara in 1995 because he had run for office five years in a row from a different address each year. The board moved in Brooklyn Supreme Court to open court records of a 1994 civil trial at which O'Hara had consented to withdraw his candidacy after his petition and residency fraud had been established. This led to O'Hara's indictment and conviction in two jury trials, at which the facts of the 1994 case were re-proven.

Ketcham ignores that O'Hara's misdeeds included defrauding New York City's publicly funded campaign-finance program. Although Ketcham mentions that O'Hara was fined $20,000 following his conviction, he does not mention that this included a court-ordered restitution of over $9,000 in public funds that O'Hara received from the Campaign Finance Board in 1993 based on a false address he had certified with the board.

Ketcham writes that Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes prosecuted O'Hara for residency fraud "as a favor," when in fact Assemblyman James Brennan has never endorsed or contributed to Hynes. When Hynes ran for state attorney general in 1994 and governor in 1998, Brennan did not support him. Hynes should simply be credited with doing his job, which is prosecuting criminals.

Ketcham also mischaracterizes an incident involving John Keefe, a member of Brennan's staff, on Primary Day, September 1996. As he was going to vote, Keefe tore one of O'Hara's posters, which was illegally hanging within a poll site's "No Electioneering" boundaries. He did not attack O'Hara's girlfriend. Nonetheless, later that day, she filed a police complaint alleging that he had assaulted her. Keefe admitted to ripping a poster, but he never assaulted O'Hara's girlfriend or threw her to the ground, nor did he miss any court hearings. Furthermore, the statement that Brennan "piloted" a getaway car is both ridiculous and completely false. O'Hara's girlfriend added this allegation more than a year later in a civil suit.

In the discovery phase of the civil suit, the depositions of two police officers on duty at the polling site established that O'Hara's girlfriend changed her version of the incident. three times during the course of the afternoon, escalating her charges each time. During a hearing before a federal arbitrator, O'Hara's girlfriend admitted that her sworn police complaint contained false assertions about a medical examination. Ketcham never asked Keefe or Brennan about the poster-ripping incident or the subsequent civil suit.

Keefe met with Ketcham twice and, at Ketcham's request, provided a 1988 trial transcript at which a judge ruled that O'Hara had witnessed petition signatures collected by another person. Despite being aware of this, Ketcham failed to include it in his article, instead choosing to portray O'Hara's repeated legal losses as having been decided on picayune technicalities, rather than on issues of fact and character. The jurors and judges who heard O'Hara's testimony on his false witness statements on the nominating petitions and false voter-registration cards-both of which are essentially sworn affidavits -- were making judgments about the evidence presented to them, as well as about his honesty.

"Meet the New Boss" is an exercise of political jujitsu and a malicious fantasy. Even though Harper's Magazine did not speak to us on most of these matters, a cursory examination of the court records -- or a brief conversation with the independent witnesses who testified in the civil suit and at the trials concerning O'Hara's residency fraud and questionable petition practices -- would have established this. We are shocked that neither Ketcham nor Harper's Magazine undertook such a review of the alleged facts.

James F. Brennan
John Keefe

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