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Political theater

Hank Morris, former top political adviser to New

Hank Morris, former top political adviser to New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi, is escorted into Manhattan criminal court on March 19, 2009. Credit: AP/Louis Lanzano

Daily Point

No business like show business

The New York theater and political worlds are about to intersect with the off-Broadway opening of "A Turtle on a Fence Post," a musical comedy starting previews Oct. 26 whose book was written by formerly incarcerated political consultant extraordinaire Hank Morris.

Morris has certainly had a stage-worthy life. A Nassau native who grew up near Eisenhower Park and served as a Newsday paperboy, he got an early start in politics, working for Denis Dillon’s district attorney candidacy as a college student. He also helped Chuck Schumer take down Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato — Schumer has called him "the best in the business" — and he helped guide candidates from Dianne Feinstein to New York State comptroller Alan Hevesi. That last ended up souring, given Morris’ involvement in a kickback scheme involving the state’s pension fund that led to Morris serving more than two years behind bars. His prosecutor was then-state Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo.

That’s the subject of the new play: "a fictionalized version of what happened to me," Morris told The Point on Wednesday. The fiction part is underscored in small print on the production’s website, along with the disclosure, "[t]he author does not deny, either directly or indirectly, any provision or statement of his Plea Agreement or Stipulation of Permanent Injunction with the State of New York."

The comedy "tells the story of Andrew Cuomo investigating me, prosecuting me, the parole board turning me down for parole many, many, many times," Morris says. Songs include "Jewish Guilt" and "There’s Always a Second Act," which the Cuomo character reprises toward the end.

About the real-life Cuomo, who has now joined Morris in scandal after allegations of sexual misconduct resulted in his gubernatorial resignation, Morris said, "I hope he buys a good seat to the play."

The show is scheduled for a limited run at the newly re-christened Theater 555 in Manhattan, and Morris says he’s "full time focused on this" right now as opposed to politics, which he’s "very very unlikely" to get back into. Though he allowed that he’s paying attention to the governor’s race, which he thinks is "interesting."

And ultimately: "It’s not impossible I have one campaign left in me."

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

Schedule of major debates becomes debatable

For the first time in recent memory, neither the Suffolk nor Nassau County League of Women Voters chapters are holding debates for the marquee races. But the reasons for that in each county are very different.

In Suffolk, circumstances circumvented the traditional events. In Nassau, the Republican candidates did.

"For the county executive race the Republican candidate, Bruce Blakeman, wasn’t really responsive to our requests," Nassau County League of Women Voters president Nancy Rosenthal said. "In the district attorney’s race the Republican, Anne Donnelly, originally seemed quite excited to participate, but then told us she had a conflict with the scheduled date, and did offer to reschedule."

Rosenthal also said the League’s Port Washington chapter scheduled a debate between the comptroller candidates, Democrat Ryan Cronin and Republican Elaine Phillips, but Phillips pulled out.

County Republican spokesman Michael Deery cited the packed schedules of his countywide candidates when asked why they were demurring.

But insiders from both parties also pointed to a trend toward divisive, hot-button political questions that put local candidates on the spot but don’t directly pertain to local issues as a concern that may be keeping candidates from participating.

In Suffolk, county chapter president Lisa Reynolds cited a different reason for the lack of League debates. In the DA debate scheduled for this weekend between Democrat Tim Sini and Republican Ray Tierney, Reynolds had a conflict she could not get out of.

The two have already had it out in a forum held at the Suffolk County Bar Association.

In both counties, the county leaders say some local chapters are putting together debates for town candidates and county legislative races.

— Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point

The big lie

For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/nationalcartoons

Final Point

Body camera politics

Sept. 27 was an auspicious day in local police politics, with the beginning of the rollout for Nassau County police body cameras in the 5th and 8th precincts.

That rollout in general has been slow on Long Island. Suffolk has had cameras for county highway officers and promises for more, and both counties are outliers among major departments around the country. But the political debates about these contentious tools are sure to come as more cameras turn on.

For a peek at those issues, The Point requested body camera guidelines from both counties. The documents — an 11-pager for Nassau and six pages for Suffolk — give a sense of where police departments are going for advice on body camera programs: Sources for the Nassau guidelines include a U.S. Department of Justice report, a product training manual, and the NYPD patrol guide’s body-worn camera section.

The guidelines provide a blueprint for when the cameras must be used. In Suffolk, that includes activation for "Any adversarial citizen contact including, but not limited to, field interviews, detentions and arrests," plus traffic stops and vehicle pursuits.

Both counties allow police officers to review body camera footage, a point of contention for police unions and something opposed by some criminal justice reformers who fear the review would allow officers to tailor their statements.

In Suffolk, footage review is allowed by an officer "who is captured on or referenced in the video or audio data, and reviews and uses such data for any purpose relating to his/her employment."

The Nassau guidelines specify that in use-of-force cases, incidents where officers shoot someone, or when a uniformed officer is the subject of an official department investigation, access to recordings can be delayed but "officers will be permitted to review recordings at a time allowed by the supervisor in charge of the investigation prior to making a statement or report."

Then there’s the question of whether or when body camera footage will be released publicly, which is particularly crucial in high-stakes encounters between the police and the public such as shootings.

The Suffolk guidelines stipulate that recordings may be reviewed in a number of situations, including "as may be directed by the Police Commissioner," "by the media through proper process" and "in compliance with a public records request, if permitted, and in accordance with the Records Maintenance and Release Policy."

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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