When the voice on the other end of my cellphone said, "You have a collect call from Mr. Mammori," it took a few seconds for me to realize that my friend on the inside, Fausto "Fuzzy" Mammori, had decided that after four-plus months of silence once the Federal Bureau of Prisons ended visits to its guests because of the coronavirus, he had some things he wanted to say.
"I accept," I told the operator. There was a brief silence, and then I spoke his name but he interrupted in mid-stream to say, "You better take notes fast, because we only got 15 minutes."
"I tend to slow down when I've got the phone in one hand," I said.
"Well, if we're not through by then, you're gonna have to wait a day or two, and I'm pretty sure you're gonna get sticker shock when you see your bill for these calls. There's a rumor that Bernie Kerik's got a piece of the phone provider, although you can't believe everything you hear on the grapevine."
"Does that mean you're going to be limited in what you can say about a certain person who deals in pardons?" I asked.
Just When He Thought He Was Out
"Let's just say that if I make references to The Pied Piper, I'm not going to translate," Fuzzy replied. "Everyone's a little spooked about a certain lawyer getting sent back to prison because he went out to eat with his family after getting cut loose early because of the virus."
"Maybe someone thought he could keep Shelly Silver company when he gets to Otisville."
"If he gets to Otisville," Fuzzy said.
"You think Shelly's got another appeal delay in him?"
"If he can pay for it, he'll get it. I hear he got a bit maudlin when the judge gave him 6 1/2 years."
"He said he didn't want to die in prison," I replied.
"Well there's an original thought," Fuzzy said, his voice crackling. "When I read that, I could hear Frankie DePaula's voice from the grave: 'If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.'"
"That line gave Frankie an immortality his boxing career never would have provided," I said. "He's was shot dead dead 50 years ago, but we still remember him."
"Let's not wax too sentimental, shall we?" he replied. "Frankie proves that it isn't only the good who die young. But let's move this conversation along. I hear the cops finally got around to closing down Squatter's Alley this morning."
"I would've figured on that happening a week earlier, right after that crazy woman with the cane took some early batting practice using a couple of cops' heads for baseballs, then got turned loose and was welcomed into the tent behind City Hall like a conquering hero," I told him.
"You're expecting logic from the Mayor?" Fuzzy replied. "He was probably too preoccupied with why people kept pouring paint onto that mural outside the corporate headquarters of the Pied Piper to focus on whether it was a good look to have an emotionally disturbed person who somehow got out on bail ensconced midway between his office and Police Headquarters until her next court appearance. If I knew they were going to loosen the criminal laws regarding mayhem that much, I wouldn't have stayed in school long enough to assure that I could make a dishonest living as a white-collar offender."
"Before you start feeling too sorry for yourself, Fuzzy," I said, "what do you think finally got the Mayor to authorize the raid on the encampment?"
"I doubt it was the threat of the Border Patrol," he replied. "Keep in mind this guy thought it was a good idea to wave a red flag in front of a bull with that mural. It's possible he thought sending in the Feds could produce a transcendent court ruling on constitutional powers before any of those guys shot somebody."
"You don't think the Governor got in the Mayor's ear about that risk?" I asked.
"Considering that Cuomo's already gnawed on a few of his body parts and yet de Blasio keeps going back for one more bite every time the old wounds have healed, that might not have helped."
"So then what—a potential mutiny by police brass if he didn't let them break it up?"
"That's possible," Fuzzy said, "considering that deranged woman with the weed-killer swing covered all the bases of things they hate: unbalanced individuals who like to assault cops, the reluctance lately of judges to deny bail to violent people, and no remorse whatsoever. But geez, Louise, a full week passed between that incident and the cops' raid. I gotta figure the Police Commissioner let the Mayor know how unhappy everyone at Police Plaza was long before that."
"OK," I said, "then what's your theory on why, a month after the protesters set up shop, the city finally acted?"
"I've gotta tell you," Fuzzy replied, "especially when there was no baseball to watch—and by the way, those unkind people who say the Federal prison system is easy time probably don't realize we can't see Yankee and Met games except when they're on ESPN—"
"Tick-tock, Fuzzy," I interjected.
"You're right. What I was getting to is that most of my cable-TV viewing revolves around 'Inside City Hall,' so Monday night Errol Louis is asking de Blasio how he can allow all this anti-police graffiti and foul language to stay up, defacing the landmark buildings surrounding City Hall, including the one he named after Dave Dinkins, and the Mayor's talking about the hassle of removing spray paint from fancy surfaces being why the city can't move quickly. And Errol's too polite to say this, but his tone of voice is practically screaming, 'Are you bleeping kidding me?' By the following morning, someone tweeted photos of the graffiti and Errol's first response on Twitter was 'A disgrace' and his second was to wonder if the Mayor realized some of the nastier artistic expressions were aimed at him."
Feared Losing Respect?
"So you think this decisive police action came about because a political talk-show host was indicating he'd lost respect for the Mayor?" I said.
"Given how much de Blasio obsesses over his image, it wouldn't surprise me one bit."
"Speaking of losing face, it seems like Corey Johnson went into the Witness Protection Program since his apology right after the budget deal for not cutting the NYPD more," I said.
"He probably needed a rest," Fuzzy replied. "I mean, from what I read, some of the protesters vandalized the building his boyfriend lives in when it looked like they weren't gonna get anything close to abolition of the NYPD and there'd still be some police hiring later this year. If I was in his job, I'd have been outraged by their behavior; he just seemed worn out."
"Disillusioned, maybe," I said.
"It made me think of that scene in 'Gimme Shelter' where the Jefferson Airplane is performing and Marty Balin sees the Hells Angels beating the crap out of some guy who got too close to the stage and he jumps into the crowd to break it up and gets punched out himself," Fuzzy said. "Right before that, Grace Slick is trying to explain to the audience why the Rolling Stones decided to hire the Angels to provide security and that it was important to have tough guys to keep things under control. And next thing her bandmate is getting his head handed to him and you see the look on her face like, 'Oh my God, I can't believe this.'"
"Say goodnight, Gracie," I replied.
"We'll see whether this is 'say goodnight, Corey' for his mayoral chances," Fuzzy replied.
"So then explain to me why de Blasio signed that bill a couple of weeks after the Council passed it holding cops criminally liable for chest compressions when they're subduing a suspect," I said.
'They Don't Have a Clue'
"Besides that the Mayor finds it as tough to support cops as the Pied Piper does to tell his base to wear masks during a pandemic so they can live long enough to vote for him? Because the people who signed off on this bill, including de Blasio, don't have a clue about what cops have to do to get a suspect under control after a struggle. When we were kids, if you got in a street-fight and you got on top of the other guy and pinned his arms with your knees, typically he'd know enough to say 'I give' or risk being punched in the face until he finally did. You don't have that kind of adherence to the rules when you're dealing with a mug who's serious enough to fight cops. And they've gotta get the guy's hands cuffed behind his back, and that's a lot easier to do if he's face down on the pavement. And to get the cuffs on, you need to use another part of your body—or your partner does—to get the guy under control. And while you're doing that, you've gotta worry about him making a grab for your gun. So it's not hard to understand why if cops know they can be charged with a crime for compression that takes place before the guy is in cuffs, maybe they're going to avoid those kinds of confrontations in the first place."
"So why did de Blasio not understand that?" I asked.
"There were other things that worried him more," Fuzzy said. "Like being considered cool again by the Beautiful Loser wing of the Democratic Party.
"You mean the wing The Pied Piper is trying to run against?"
"It's been done before," he replied. "That's how we got Nixon, twice."
"Yeah, but this guy tends to scare people more, and they can see through him by now."
"You may be right," Fuzzy said, "But politics is a lot like horse-racing: nobody gets paid halfway into the race just because their horse has a nice lead."
"You don't think people are turned off by the pardons of Michael Flynn and Roger Stone?" I asked.
"This guy will provide footage of people looting and ask who looks like more of a threat."
"And that bounty Russia was paying to members of the Taliban who killed American soldiers in Afghanistan?"
"Nobody's talking about that right now," Fuzzy said. "That's what all the commercials about domestic terrorists taking over the Democratic Party while secretly conspiring with Biden to dismantle police forces were designed to do: shift people's attention away from something that was real. Keep them from asking about why the Piper didn't have a single cross word for Putin about it and claimed it was more Fake News, or why so many of the states whose Governors took their cues from him about reopening before they were ready have turned into hot spots for the virus. Did you notice that the ruling about him having to turn over his tax returns to the Manhattan DA fell off the radar as soon as it became clear that it wouldn't happen until after the election? And his firings of U.S. Attorneys who prosecuted his friends or didn't charge his enemies?"
Too Much to Take In
"You think the sheer weight of all his negatives buries some of the important ones under the shinier objects?" I asked.
"He sure does," Fuzzy replied. "How else could he turn his campaign into a crusade to restore law and order at the same time that he's spent the past four years acting as if the law doesn't apply to him?"
"Geez, Fuzz, I could see a future for you as an MSNBC commentator if you ever get out of here."
"I'm pretty sure a pardon with my name on it isn't coming out of the White House anytime soon. But yeah, I might be a balance to the Fox cavalcade of former felons like Kerik and Flynn, not to mention the future ones like Rudy."
"We're almost out of time on this call, Fuzzy, but if it's any consolation to you, Henry David Thoreau wrote that "in an unjust society, the only place for a just man is in prison."
"If that's the way he feels," Fuzzy said, "why don't you ask him whether he'd like to serve the rest of my term for me?"
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.