McKinstry: Politics in Putnam test voter patience

Alexandru Hossu leaves Southeast Town Court on charges Alexandru Hossu leaves Southeast Town Court on charges of raping a girl. (March 26, 2013) Photo Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

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Gerald McKinstry Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Gerald McKinstry

Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board. ...

Judy Scheindlin, better known as "Judge Judy," browbeats knuckleheads, deadbeats and sorry saps for stupid shenanigans that landed them in her TV courtroom.

Judge Judy is at her best when she directs those one-liners -- called Judyisms -- on some defenseless mope who thinks he or she can outsmart the sharp-witted judge.

There's "Dumb ideas come from dumb brains," or "Um is not an answer." My favorite: "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining."

She often reminds those standing before her that they're not as clever as they think.

I'd love to know what she's saying now, if anything, to her son, Adam Levy.

Levy is Putnam County's district attorney, and is somehow connected to a man accused of "forcibly and violently" raping a 12-year-old three years ago. The man, Alexandru Hossu, a 35-year-old Romanian bodybuilder, reportedly lived with Levy in his Southeast mansion -- or at the very least, gave that address when he was arrested and charged with the 2010 sexual assault last week.

Because he knew Hossu, Levy wisely passed the case over to the Westchester County district attorney's office, which is now handling the rape investigation.

But that wasn't the end of it. Since the arrest went public, there's been a war of words between Levy and Putnam Sheriff Donald B. Smith after some allegations by Smith that the district attorney was meddling in the investigation. Levy insists that his office "acted property" and blasted the sheriff for what he said were "unfounded allegations and misstatements."

It's hard to know for sure what's behind the spitting match. But they're lobbing serious accusations that could damage each one of them -- their credibility and careers.

Hossu reportedly told arresting deputies he lived at Levy's Southeast home, and Hossu was carrying a New York State driver's license with Levy's address on it, but the district attorney said the sheriff made a mistake in releasing his address as Hossu's home.

Levy later gave two other addresses for Hossu, but neither were actual residences, and one was an old campaign office of state Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson).

Is that rain I feel on my leg?

Whatever the back-and-forth, there are far too many details missing in the political drama. The stories just don't make sense, and in many ways, have overshadowed the fact that a young girl is believed to be the victim of a heinous crime.

The sideshow has become the show.

Levy owes the public some explanations. He should come clean about his relationship with Hossu -- was he a tenant, live-in personal trainer or simply a friend? Did he knowingly harbor someone who authorities say is an illegal immigrant? If so, why?

And Smith made some serious statements when he said the district attorney was trying to influence the investigation. That sure sounds like it tests criminal and ethical limits.

They've all got some explaining to do.

What the heck is going on?

"Putnam politics," several friends familiar with the county say.

I don't pretend to understand the machinations of Putnam or who is in whose corner. It's always struck me as a special brand of one-party rule and GOP infighting. Both Levy and Smith are Republicans.

In recent years, County Executive Vincent Leibell, the Putnam power broker who spent years in the State Senate, went to jail for tax evasion and obstruction of justice. In 2009, Greg Ball, then an assemblyman, found a dead goat on his front lawn with a Hispanic gang-related message tied around its neck.

More recently, former Philipstown Supervisor William Mazzuca was accused of wrongly collecting thousands in unemployment benefits while earning a salary from the town and a six-figure state pension. And Assemb. Steve Katz (R. Yorktown) is facing marijuana charges after getting busted earlier this month just south of Albany on his way to the state Capitol.

The list of weirdness is long, and growing.

Levy was once considered a contender for higher office. He still might be, though a Republican insider told me this episode isn't helping his political stature -- for the moment, he's considered damaged goods.

But there's another festering matter of dealing with the court of public opinion: The two elected leaders -- Levy and Smith -- may learn that voters aren't as forgiving, as Judge Judy put more bluntly, when their legs are getting wet.

Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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