Thursday, June 10, 2010

Top Queens Republican - John Haggerty - Mired in Inquiry by David W. Chen -

Read original...

John F. Haggerty Jr. has endeared himself to many top Republicans over the last two decades, working for a mayor named Bloomberg and a governor named Pataki, as well as an attorney general, a comptroller and an Assembly minority leader.

But if Mr. Haggerty’s résumé is deep, his public profile has been almost nonexistent. He is said to be so discreet that few people even know that he got married last year — and to a state commissioner, no less.

Soon, however, Mr. Haggerty, the veteran Queens political operative, could find his name in the worst sort of headline.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is investigating what became of a $750,000 campaign payment from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg that went to a company Mr. Haggerty set up. And within the next week or two, according to lawyers and political officials familiar with the matter, the investigation could be coming to a conclusion, perhaps with an indictment, perhaps with a plea agreement.

The investigation, which has been going on for months, has already raised questions about the unusual way Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign directed the payment, using personal checks from the mayor rather than the campaign’s official account. And while people close to the case say neither the mayor nor the campaign is a target of the investigation, an indictment could be embarrassing for Mr. Bloomberg, who is said to have trusted Mr. Haggerty as a key liaison to the city’s Republicans.

Mr. Bloomberg paid the state Independence Party, whose endorsement he had won, $1.2 million last year. The party then paid $750,000 of that money to Special Election Operations L.L.C., a company established by Mr. Haggerty, to bankroll an Election Day operation in northern Queens, with up to 300 workers reportedly paid $500 each.

But the party and the Bloomberg campaign believe that operation fell considerably short of $750,000, and they say that if Mr. Haggerty kept any extra money, he was not entitled to do so.

“I doubt that the mayor had any idea any of this was happening,” said an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the investigation.

Mr. Haggerty, 41, comes from a family steeped in politics, one whose members were longtime fixtures in Forest Hills Gardens. His father, John F. Haggerty, was an Albany insider and lawyer who worked for the former Senate majority leader Warren M. Anderson. Mr. Haggerty, according to those who know him and his family, intended to follow in his father’s footsteps. He attended Archbishop Molloy High School and Fordham University, a solid athlete and a devoted Catholic from his time as an altar boy.

He worked for the campaign of Ronald S. Lauder in the 1989 Republican primary for mayor against Rudolph W. Giuliani, and for a former Assembly minority leader, Clarence D. Rappleyea. In 1994, Mr. Haggerty was a candidate, coming in a distant third to Melinda R. Katz in a special election for an Assembly seat.

Later, Mr. Haggerty worked as a close aide and driver for Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco; Mr. Vacco is now Mr. Haggerty’s lawyer, and he declined to comment for this article.

Efforts to reach Mr. Haggerty through intermediaries were not successful.

Mr. Haggerty was later the head of Gov. George E. Pataki’s legislative affairs office, making just under $100,000 a year, but he also found time to help on two notable campaigns — in 2004, the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in Nevada; and in 2006, Jeanine F. Pirro’s campaign for attorney general.

Thanks to his deep network of Republican power brokers throughout the state, Mr. Haggerty developed a reputation as an expert at the arcane business of the signatures on petitions required to qualify for a ballot — both how to get them and how to deprive his opponents of them. “He lives, breathes and dies politics,” one longtime friend said.

He also cut a very serious figure as a diehard conservative, according to Republican colleagues.

Closer to home, Mr. Haggerty was quite active, together with his brother, Bart, in a long-brewing internecine battle over control of the Queens Republican Party. Suffice it to say, the battle continues.

“I always respected his father, but I’m disappointed in the way he turned out,” said Phil Ragusa, the chairman of the Queens party and Mr. Haggerty’s rival in the borough.

Mr. Haggerty was married last summer to Noreen Healey, a commissioner of the State Liquor Authority, who had been appointed by Governor Pataki. Ms. Pirro was among those who attended.

“After he got married, people wanted to congratulate him, and he’d say he didn’t get married,” one Republican said. “He’s got this thing about keeping everything secret.”

Mr. Haggerty has been described as deferential to his political mentors. He is now working on the insurgent campaign for governor of Carl Paladino.

Mr. Haggerty has also become close to Mr. Bloomberg, who came to like and trust Mr. Haggerty. The feeling was mutual, and was evident as recently as January. Mr. Bloomberg was the host of a breakfast at Gracie Mansion welcoming Republican City Council members. And there, with Mr. Bloomberg, was Mr. Haggerty.