Harding's Can of Worms Could Harm Rudy's Run

When I was a kid, sometimes I went fishing with my grandfather. We got up early to collect night crawlers and put them in a can.

By mid-morning, the worms were clumped together, intertwined. That image is in my mind, when I consider the state of politics and law enforcement in New York.

It's a depressing picture.

Ray Harding, the former chairman of the Liberal Party, has just been indicted, charged with receiving huge payoffs to steer investments by the government employee pension funds to two financial firms. Allegedly Harding got $800,000 in the pension-fund scheme.

Four years ago, his son, Russell, who served as president of the New York City Housing Development Corporation under Mayor Giuliani, was convicted of embezzling more than $400,000 from that agency. This followed an expose by the Village Voice.

Rudy Giuliani and Ray Harding were close buddies. Indeed, Harding, by giving Giuliani the Liberal Party nomination in 1993, enabled him to get elected Mayor. He was a close political confidant of Giuliani. He exercised great influence over City Hall's policies and actions.

Nepotism is apparently a contagious disease in New York politics. According to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, former City Comptroller Alan Hevesi asked Ray Harding to intervene so Hevesi's son, Andrew, could take the seat his father once occupied in the State Assembly. According to Cuomo, Harding managed to get a six-figure job for Assemblyman Michael Cohen, who then resigned so Andrew Hevesi could take his seat.

Cuomo seems to be the Sir Galahad of New York politics right now. He appears to be indicting every alleged wrong-doer in sight. Yet Cuomo got Harding's Liberal Party to endorse him in his attempt to win the Democratic nomination for Governor in 2002. Cuomo dropped out of that race. But, for a short time, he and Ray Harding were buddies back then. Probably it's not a serious flaw. We can all make mistakes.

So, as Yul Brynner said in "The King and I," "It's a puzzlement." The relationahips in New York politics can be strange. If indeed Ray Harding is proved guilty of the crimes charged, if the associates of Hevesi who have also been indicted -- Hank Morris and David Loglisci -- are adjudged guilty, too, Cuomo's recent work will prove valuable indeed. As for Harding, his attorney says the charges are "baseless" and that his client is looking forward to defending himself.

So far, Rudy Giuliani, who seems to have already started his campaign for governor next year, is barely mentioned in the Harding saga. Yet he certainly was deeply involved in Harding's stunning rise to power.

Giuliani told Republicans the other night that Gov. Paterson's budget was "irrational." At the same Republican dinner, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he hoped Rudy Giuliani would run for Governor. Since both Gingrich and Giuliani are known to nurture ambitions to seek the Republican nomination for President in 2012, political pundits can wonder whether Gingrich truly thinks the world will be better off if Giuliani becomes governor. Or is there an ulterior motive? The way the political game is played here it's difficult to know for sure.

The metaphor of a can of worms certainly applies in the case of the Hardings, Rudy and the Hevesis. You have to scratch your head and recall what that old TV actor used to say: "You can't make this stuff up."

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