Former Democratic Party power broker Steven Schlesinger is making an outrageous accusation as he struggles to regain control of a foundation that rewards him with lucrative fees and political clout.
Schlesinger has blamed Newsday’s investigative reporting as the source of his legal problems. But in a court filing this month he goes even further, targeting the editorial board and the judge who removed him from the case. Schlesinger claims Nassau County Surrogate’s Court Judge Margaret C. Reilly disqualified him from overseeing the Kermit Gitenstein Foundation to fulfill a pledge she made to get the board’s endorsement for that coveted post last fall.
We have a duty to set the record straight.
Candidates seeking our support routinely visit with the editorial board, which is separate from Newsday’s news-gathering operation. Endorsement meetings are on the record, meaning the candidates and the board are free to discuss what takes place. We often videotape the sessions as we did in this contest for this judgeship that has a 10-year term. The full, unedited video destroys Schlesinger’s smear of a respected judge. It can be viewed above.
No pledge or promise was solicited, nor was one made in the interview with Reilly, a Republican, and Angela Iannacci, her Democratic opponent. Schlesinger’s name never came up.
It’s been a year since Newsday first reported about irregularities in Schlesinger’s handling of distributions from the foundation, which was established to fund Jewish organizations and health care causes. The reporting questioned whether disbursements by Schlesinger were aligned with the intent of the deceased, or used, instead, to curry favor or benefit for his business and personal interests. Among the examples in the story was a $250,000 donation to the Elena Melius Foundation, the charity Gary Melius, the owner of Oheka Castle, named after his mother. The donation came the same week as Schlesinger’s wedding for 125 people at the posh venue. His law firm paid $75,000 for the event about five months later.
The editorial board usually doesn’t endorse in judicial races and made an exception this time. The temptation to reward faithful party lawyers with plum estate and trust cases is great. “I don’t want to be the surrogate; I want to be a friend of the surrogate” is an adage that has never gotten stale, we wrote. We asked both candidates whether they could come up with a more open process. The board endorsed Reilly because of her willingness to end the era of the “gentleman’s court,” which she also said meant working a full day and actively reminding the public about the need to prepare wills and power-of-attorney documents.
A few days before our endorsement appeared, the retiring surrogate ordered Schlesinger to provide more details about his oversight of the foundation. We referred to that ruling to support our case for a new approach. Schlesinger recklessly weaves these elements together to charge that Reilly made an “obvious pledge to Newsday to take action against me without regard to the facts.” It’s a desperate move.
Reilly started her meeting with the editorial board by reading the judicial code of ethics and its ban on candidates making pledges or promises in a campaign. She didn’t. — The editorial board