American Views Abroad

Thursday, December 16, 2004
Whenever I am asked these days what's happening at home in the aftermath of the election, I comment on how a few New Yorkers were out in the streets holding up signs on the most exclusive part of Fifth Avenue asking drivers to Honk for Hawks. Not the type of hawk in the 1000 bomb category, but the feathery type which only drops chewed up, messy, ugly bits and pieces of pigeons and rats. These bits and pieces were obviously irking sensitive citizens and thus a nest in place for over 10 years, which rested on some nails on an apartment building opposite Central Park, were removed along with the nails. The two hawks have been trying to rebuild it to no avail and so the New York papers were filled with heart rending stories of protest actions to get the board to change its mind before the mating season starts in January. Under normal circumstances this story would have been the start of a conversation here, but these days the reaction is stunned silence.

Wild life in New York City is usually cause for talk. Bernard Kerik, of course, managed to one-up the hawks. I have to hand it to my husband who, back in the week when the worst of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was making headlines, flatly stated that now more than ever Bush was going to be re-elected. He never backed down from his theory and in the end he provoked me to start asking myself some serious questions about history and the myths people create about themselves. Well, he did it again with Kerik. Upon listening to a German radio report of Kerik's life in the car driving home from work, he then asked me who this guy was and that he certainly didn't sound kosher. No, I answered, he's just another colorful New Yorker with impeccable 9/11 credentials. Please, don't be so European. Within a week Kerik is out as head of Homeland Security and it's a sign of the times that the New York media hadn't dug up any of his background during the Republican convention and the campaign.

What Kerik had, of course, were friends in high places. What you never want to have are enemies in high places and most of all not in New York. In this month's Harper's magazine, Christopher Ketcham writes in Meet the New Boss --- Man vs. machine politics in Brooklyn (unavailable on the web) about John O'Hara. He is a felon since 1997 and thus stripped of his law license and in lieu of prison given five years probation and fifteen hundred hours of community service, which means cleaning up garbage in parks. His sin is fighting the system. In truth he was charged with illegal voting. In fact, according to the article, he is the only New Yorker to be convicted of illegal voting since 1873, when Susan B. Anthony was tried and convicted. From Ketcham's article:

'From October 1992 to October 1993, O'Hara lived in two apartments in Brooklyn; O'Hara had registered to vote from the second of these two apartments. This second apartment, unfortunately, appeared not to fit the parameters of what the law defines as a 'fixed permanent and principal home.' In the ridiculous language of New York state election law, a 'fixed' home derives its legitimacy by being the place 'to which (the voter) wherever temporarily located always intends to return.' In essence, the law states that a citizen with no fixed location -- say, someone living in a hotel, or a transient in a shelter, or studying in a dormitory, or someone with two homes (since only one of these can be 'principal and permanent') forfeits the right to vote.
....And if voting was the crime, O'Hara was a model recidivist. He had voted in every election for which he was eligible from age eighteen on. ....Thus began a legal odyssey that has lasted eight years.'

And Fred thought he had problems with Ohio.

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