By Daniel Massey
An old feud between state Sen. Daniel Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and Jeff Wiesenfeld, an aide to both Democratic and Republican politicians for many years, resurfaced this week after Wiesenfeld claimed he had influenced the redrawing of district lines to pit Hevesi against state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing).
Wiesenfeld, who served as an aide to former Borough President Claire Shulman, former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) and Gov. Pataki before retiring to the private sector, called Hevesi a “lightweight” and said he was working behind the scenes to oust the senator from his seat as the lines are redrawn for new legislative districts.
An angry Hevesi said the suggestion that Wiesenfeld had an impact on the current proposal to combine his district with Stavisky’s was preposterous.
“Mr. Wiesenfeld is a bitter and pathetic man whose total obsession with me is as bizarre as it is scary,” he said. Hevesi added that Wiesenfeld should “seek professional help to treat his uncontrollable anger.”
Weisenfeld’s allegations, first reported in Newsday Friday, were dismissed by members of the state Senate, who said census figures alone determined the drawing of the new senate lines.
“That’s silly,” said John McArdle, a spokesman for state Sen. Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Saratoga Springs), upon hearing of Wiesenfeld’s claim. “[Redistricting] was based on demographic trends over the last 10 years as reflected by the census and the requirements, particularly in Queens, that we draw a seat to reflect the borough’s increasing Hispanic population.”
Noting that the new lines are preliminary and still subject to hearings, McArdle emphasized that Hevesi and Stavisky’s districts were grouped together solely because of demographics.
“That is what went into the lines,” he said. “That is what the process was. That is how redistricting is determined in Queens. There were no other influencing factors.”
In an interview with the Timesledger Monday, Wiesenfeld reiterated comments he made to Newsday last week that he was intent on avenging Hevesi’s 1999 actions against him during confirmation hearings for the City University of New York trusteeship he currently holds.
“He imported a central Queens conflict to Albany,” Wiesenfeld said of the Senate Finance Committee hearing where Hevesi questioned him extensively on reports he called blacks “savages,” made derogatory remarks about women and threatened the head of the state Democratic party. “He tried to defame me. He said I was not suited to be a CUNY trustee.”
Hevesi voted against Gov. George Pataki’s appointment of Wiesenfeld, a Queens College graduate, but was the only senator in the Republican-controlled body to do so. Wiesenfeld was confirmed to a term that expires June 30, 2006.
“I kept quiet. I held my peace. I established a reputation at CUNY with the knowledge that all things come to pass, including redistricting every 10 years,” the CUNY graduate said. “While I didn’t walk down doing street by street allocation, I definitely made my opinions known early on,” he said.
But calls to members of the state Senate, including the head of the redistricting committee and Queens’ two Republican state senators, failed to turn up anyone willing to admit they had heard from Wiesenfeld.
Tom Dunham, a spokesman for state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Long Island), co-chairman of the Legislative Committee on Research and Reapportionment, said the senator “had no contact with Wiesenfeld during the drafting of the lines.”
And John Gallagher, a spokesman for state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), said “the senator has no knowledge of Mr. Wiesenfeld’s role in any redistricting plan.”
State Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) said he read the Newsday story “with some surprise.” Wiesenfeld had made no overtures to him, he said.
“As one of two majority senators in Queens, he never contacted me in any way,” he said. “I don’t know how much the personal opinion of someone outside the legislative process, what kind of effect that can have,” he said.
Harry Giannoulis, a spokesman for Stavisky, who could be directly affected by the proposed redistricting, said “we’re unaware of any of those issues and we have no comment.”
Wiesenfeld refused to say which politicians he had called about the Hevesi redistricting plan.
But he did say he was not the only person working to oust Hevesi. “Let me assure you that I’m by far and away not the only individual who has spoken out against his continued presence up there (Albany),” he said. “Rest assured there are many up there.”
Queens Democratic insiders said Wiesenfeld, who worked for D’Amato from 1991-94 before becoming a senior Pataki aide, still wields some power in Albany. But they could not say whether he was influential enough to sway the redistricting process.
Animosity between Hevesi and Wiesenfeld predates the 1999 CUNY hearings and stretches back to include Hevesi’s father, former Comptroller Alan Hevesi. Daniel Hevesi acknowledged this family feud during the June 1999 CUNY hearing, but said at the time he opposed Wiesenfeld’s nomination because he did not have the character to sit on the board.
Wiesenfeld, a former resident of Rego Park, founded the First New York Conservative Democratic Club of Forest Hills, but later switched over to the Republican Party. There was “always sniping” between his club and the Hevesis’ club, Wiesenfeld said.
Wiesenfeld also once blamed Liberal Democrats such as Alan Hevesi for helping David Dinkins defeat his former boss, Ed Koch, in the 1989 mayoral primary.
Adam Kramer contributed to this story.
Reach reporter Daniel Massey be e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.