Ex- Wunderkind Andy Stein Is Back, Pulling Levers for McCall, Hevesi

As State Comptroller H. Carl McCall kicked off his 2002

gubernatorial campaign a few weeks ago, a ghost-like figure emerged from the

crowd of McCall supporters circulating in a ballroom at the Plaza hotel. His

salt-and-pepper mop of synthetic hair brought back memories of the days when he

was a political macher of the first

order, a Mayoral candidate-in-waiting, an ambitious son of privilege whose

dreams knew no limits.

Fifty-six-year-old Andrew Stein was once a contender, all

right–but after withdrawing from a disastrous Mayoral campaign and quitting

politics altogether eight years ago, he quickly became a forgotten man. His

name was seldom, if ever, invoked; his early successes as a brash young

Assemblyman were unknown to today’s political stars on the rise. The very job

he held for years-City Council President-no longer exists. He wasn’t quite 50

when he quit politics in 1993, which is like a promising athlete retiring to

the sidelines before age 30. Not long after his retirement, he and his wife,

Lynn Forester, quietly divorced, and Ms. Forester’s business career took off.

By the late 1990′s, she was being hailed as one of the most powerful women in telecommunications; she is now married to

Sir Evelyn de Rothschild. Her rise to fortune and her new marriage were the

subject of a long profile in the April issue of Talk magazine.

Andrew Stein, in the

meantime, was very much yesterday’s news in a profession-politics-that lives in

the present tense.

But now, as a supporter and key adviser for Mr. McCall, Mr.

Stein is reemerging as a political figure, and people are noticing.

In an interview with The

Observer , Mr. Stein said that he had done some work for Mr. McCall in 1998,

but now his role is “definitely” a good deal larger. And he insisted that

“people come to me for advice all the time.”

But in recent weeks, Mr. Stein’s role as an advice-dispenser

has become more public.

A few weeks after the

McCall event, Mr. Stein joined City Comptroller Alan Hevesi for a photo op on

the steps of City Hall. Mr. Hevesi was speaking about nursing homes, a subject

Mr. Stein knows something about, having made his political name as a

fresh-out-of-college state legislator who investigated nursing-home abuses in

the early 1970′s. Mr. Hevesi said Mr. Stein’s appearance at the press

conference “gave the issue credibility,” a tribute to Mr. Stein’s image as an

advocate for nursing-home residents. Of course, Mr. Stein’s days as a tireless

persecutor of crooked nursing-home operators 30 years ago are not even

yesterday’s news. They qualify as history. “I don’t think people would remember

his role,” Mr. Hevesi said of Mr. Stein. “But they will, if we remind them.”

Mr. Stein is ready to return the compliment. “Every time I

see Andy, he is pushing Hevesi,” said U.S. Representative Charles Rangel of

Harlem. Mr. Rangel is an ally of Mr. McCall.

Mr. Stein’s reemergence in local politics is not, it should

be noted, some exercise in municipal nostalgia. Just ask David Axelrod.

Until March 27, David Axelrod was Carl McCall’s media

consultant, the man who, in 1994, had helped him become the first

African-American to win statewide elective office in New York. Mr. McCall and

Mr. Axelrod enjoyed a close personal relationship, with Mr. Axelrod laying the

groundwork for next year’s gubernatorial race by managing Mr. McCall’s highly

successful reelection campaign in 1998, when Mr. McCall garnered more votes for

Comptroller than George Pataki did in winning reelection as Governor. But on

March 27, Mr. Axelrod quit Mr. McCall’s campaign, shocking the Comptroller’s

supporters.

Most of them, anyway.

According to one faction in the McCall camp, Andrew Stein

and his father, businessman and power broker Jerry Finkelstein, had been

working behind the scenes to replace Mr. Axelrod, who is based in Chicago, with

the better-known Hank Morris, who once worked for Mr. Stein and who is now

trying to get Mr. Hevesi elected Mayor. According to sources familiar with the

McCall campaign, the argument was that Mr. Morris would know how to handle the

New York media, and that his quick-firing instincts would serve Mr. McCall

well. At one point, sources familiar with the New York Post said, somebody in the McCall camp went so far as to

leak an item to the Post ‘s Page Six

saying that Mr. Axelrod had been axed. But Mr. Axelrod said he decided to quit

after waiting two and a half months for Mr. McCall to decide who, in the end,

would serve as his campaign’s media consultant.

Asked if he acted, as some McCall supporters insist, as a

“strong” advocate for Mr. Morris, Mr. Stein said: “Well, ‘strong’ is too strong

a word. I have great respect for Hank; I think he’d be an asset. I did advise

[Mr. McCall] that Hank knows all the players. I don’t know David Axelrod, and I

don’t have anything against him.”

Mr. Finkelstein said he played no role in Mr. Axelrod’s

departure, and he said he hasn’t seen Hank Morris in eight years. He never

brought up Mr. Morris’ name with Mr. McCall, he said, although he conceded that

“I do think [Mr. Morris] is very good.” Nevertheless, several McCall advisors

said Mr. McCall invoked Mr. Finkelstein’s name in discussions about the

campaign.

A Defining Moment?

The departure of Mr. Axelrod may prove to be a defining

issue for Mr. McCall. Most of his supporters liked Mr. Axelrod and appreciated

his history with the Comptroller. 

“David leaving is bad for Carl,” one McCall supporter said. Privately,

some supporters say they’re disturbed that Mr. Stein and Mr. Finkelstein seem

to have such power in the campaign. “Carl talks to [Mr. Finkelstein] all the

time,” said a source.

It is Mr. Stein’s involvement with Mr. McCall that has

political insiders taking note. While his father, who runs a string of weekly

newspapers in the city and The Hill

in Washington, D.C., has always been a power behind the scenes, Mr. Stein has

been relatively absent from the political scene since 1993. Not only is he

starting to exert backroom influence again, but he is doing so for an unlikely

candidate. Mr. Stein, after all, is the man who introduced Mr. McCall’s

Democratic rival, Andrew Cuomo, to Kerry Kennedy, who is now Mr. Cuomo’s wife.

Mr. Stein is close to some members of the Kennedy clan, and the Kennedys will

be out in force to support their relative by marriage next year. Ethel Kennedy,

Kerry Kennedy’s mother, was a financial supporter of Mr. Stein back in the old

days.

Mr. Stein said at first that he hadn’t spoken to Mr. Cuomo

in seven years, but then recalled a conversation he’d had with Mr. McCall’s

rival six months ago. “I told him it was a mistake to run [for Governor],” Mr.

Stein said. “Carl McCall has earned the right.”

“Andrew and I have become friends,” Mr. McCall said of Mr.

Stein. The Comptroller recalled that Mr. Stein and his father “helped me back

in 1994, and they’ve helped me now. They’ve helped a number of people; they do

raise money and every now and then maybe [offer] advice.”

Mr. Finkelstein downplayed his role with the Comptroller’s

campaign. Asked if he was raising money for Mr. McCall, he said, “Not really,

no.” He said he contributed to Mr. McCall’s reelection campaign in 1998, and

records show he hasn’t made a donation since. He also donated to Governor

Pataki’s reelection campaign in ’98. “Would I like Carl to be Governor over

Andrew [Cuomo]? Yes,” Mr. Finkelstein said. “Do I also like Mr. Pataki? Yes.”

Mr. Finkelstein’s newspapers tend to feature pro-McCall and anti-Cuomo stories,

a trend Mr. Finkelstein acknowledged without trying to argue that it is merely

a coincidence.

Mr. Stein, who ran for

Assembly straight out of college with an estimated $250,000 of his father’s

money, had been in politics for a quarter of a century. His signal achievement

came at the beginning of his career-exposing fraud in the nursing-home

industry, which led to indictments, shake-ups and reforms. After leaving the

state legislature, he was twice elected Manhattan Borough President, then City

Council President. In 1993, he was ready to challenge incumbent Mayor David

Dinkins, who had been weakened considerably by spiraling crime rates and a poor

economy. To the astonishment of political insiders, the vaunted Stein

machine-fueled by Mr. Finkelstein’s fortune-seized up after just a few months.

Mr. Stein not only quit the Mayoral race, he declined to run for the newly

created office of Public Advocate, the successor to his old job of City Council

President.

“There is more to life

than politics, and more to public service than being an elected official,” Mr.

Stein said at the time. Stein loyalists insist he has remained involved,

setting up fund-raisers for elected official who are his protégés, especially

Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. But to all but the most careful

observers, he seemed to have dropped out of public life completely. Even his

former close aides seem to have no idea what he does now. “He works with a man

named Kelly,” said one. (Mr. Kelly’s first name is James, and with Mr. Stein,

he is a fund administrator for hedge funds.) Before going into business with

Mr. Kelly, Mr. Stein-like any number of former politicians-worked briefly for

Ronald Perelman’s empire.

Now, however, Mr. Stein seems ready for something of a

comeback, even if only as a behind-the-scenes power broker. Mr. Finkelstein may

have summed up his son’s attitude when Mr. Stein left elected office eight

years ago: “Politics,” he said, “is never out of anybody’s blood forever.”