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
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
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
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
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
“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.”