Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn't try to hide that he was financing a poll-monitoring operation during his 2009 re-election campaign, a former top aide testified yesterday at the trial of a political operative charged with bilking the mayor out of more than $1 million.
Bloomberg paid for the "ballot security" initiative indirectly, through a $1.2 million personal donation to the state Independence Party. The party then hired veteran Republican consultant John Haggerty, who had outlined an extensive ballot security plan for Bloomberg campaign leaders. Prosecutors say the operation never materialized, and Haggerty used most of the money instead to buy a house.
Haggerty denies the allegations, and his lawyers are striving to raise questions about Bloomberg's campaign finances -- questions they posed yesterday to former Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey.
Haggerty's attorneys say Bloomberg's campaign wanted to distance itself from ballot security because some see the practice as a way to suppress votes, often from minority voters. Others say it is merely about keeping an eye on the polls and any voter-eligibility problems or other difficulties that may arise.
"Your ultimate goal was to get ballot security without having the campaign's fingerprints on it, isn't that so?" Haggerty lawyer Dennis Vacco asked Sheekey.
Sheekey said the donation appeared on the Independence Party's finance reports, which came out after the election, and that it quickly became public that the money was for ballot security.
"I don't think that rises to your 'no fingerprints' " concept, Sheekey said.
He also rebuffed defense suggestions that the arrangement disguised a campaign expense as a political gift, saying it was indeed a donation that was meant to do more than help the mayor.
"The mayor made a personal contribution to the state party for the party to undertake activities on Election Day that would benefit that candidate [himself] and all candidates," Sheekey said.
Vacco said Bloomberg previously had encountered criticism regarding ballot security. His 2005 Democratic opponent, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, complained publicly that the practice was a tool for suppressing votes.
Sheekey called the complaint "hogwash."
"A lot of Democrats often try to inject race into a campaign," he said. "It's not uncommon for candidates, more often Democratic candidates than Republicans in New York, to allege that ballot security is something that it's not," he added.
First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris, another longtime member of Bloomberg's circle, also took the stand Tuesday. She testified that she had the permission to authorize use of the mayor's personal funds and had required that Haggerty give her a detailed breakdown of his budget and plans for ballot security -- including his plan to hire more than 1,300 poll watchers -- before she approved the donation.