A NOTE TO GOVERNOR DAVID PATERSON: PLEASE PARDON MR. JOHN O'HARA.
I am told that one has to officially get in a pardon request before October 1st, 2010; so let me write this column as a formal request to our present governor David Paterson. I want to go on record as another who joined the chorus: PARDON JOHN O'HARA; PLEASE.
By now most readers to these blogs know the story of John O'Hara, but let me do a synopsis for the edification of those who don't know too much about him. John is an attorney and a political activist. There was a time when he was a perennial challenger to the Brooklyn political establishment and status quo: back then he ran hard and often. Some detractors thought he ran too much. Sometimes he ran others as challengers; near all the time he would be challenging some lackluster incumbent representing the powers that be. As a democrat (and insurgent) he stepped on many toes; sometimes he “mashed corns” without apologizing. He even supported challengers for offices as high as Brooklyn District Attorney -despite warnings from some concerned folks, that vendettas and reprisals are likely. What happened to him smells of a reprisal, or a vendetta, or just plain old-fashioned human revenge for something or the other.
One year, John decided to change his voter-registration to his girlfriend's house. After all, he practically lived there: spending mornings, noons and nights with her. If memory serves me right, I was told that they were engaged to be married at some point or the other. Plus, I am told that he had started doing some renovation work on his old place, so there was the element of convenience also. It was ostensibly the practical thing to do.
All this was a matter of blocks from one address to another; I doubt the difference was a mile long in distance. His detractors have suggested that he moved into this voting address in order to challenge the incumbent of that assembly district, and yet they offer no corroborating evidence to support this assumption. Those who have tried to parry the criticisms which came the way of Brooklyn's District Attorney Charles Hynes (for this heavy-handed prosecution of O'Hara), tend to dismiss suggestions that this was a “hit job” done for an elected official who was pissed at O'Hara. We may never know the truth in all this; and as in many political things, we all know that truth is the biggest casualty.
I am trying to be objective here (as best as I can) though John O'Hara is a friend; but speaking as one who during his lifetime has lived with a couple women while still maintaining my own crib, I can see how easily one can be caught in-between two places. The decision to vote from a particular residence can be made for many simple reasons way beyond running for office (although it is one).
I know people who still vote from their parents home despite graduating from college and living elsewhere for years. I also know many people who never switched registration from their old addresses, and often times they have to hustle to the old neighborhood to vote in some primaries (or general elections). I know lots of folks who own one, or two, or three, or more homes: which is the one from where they should vote? The last republican presidential candidate John McCain had seven residences: no kidding. Which one was his true residence? Or can a true residence be discerned?
John O'Hara was charged basically with voting from a residence that wasn't his. This wasn't totally true. And given how contemporary relationships go, this isn't even abnormal. I am told that to prosecute John O'Hara, the DA had to use an archaic law that went way back to to the prosecution of Susan B. Anthony: when the powers that be tried to frustrate her and her movement for female suffrage.
O'Hara faced three trials because the DA (Joe Hynes) refused to drop this great big criminal case. O'Hara lost his law practice behind all this. He was convicted and eventually disbarred. He was temporarily imprisoned. He was humiliated and made to sweep city streets as community service. He lost friends and clients. He brought pain and stress to his loved ones. He angrily fell into a depressive period but was strong enough to overcome it. He is truly a pillar of strength. He is a real fighter.
He fought tenaciously to be reinstated (to practice law) after serving his sentence. A judicial panel eventually did reinstate him. Their words on the issue show the collective ambivalence as to why he was tried three times for this matter in the first place: these were judges on this panel writing-up their justification for reinstating him to practice law. They were very sympathetic; but their sympathy came way after the fact, and too late to change the suffering John experienced.
Beyond this matter, Mr. John O'Hara is a law abiding citizen with no criminal record. His civic activities over the years demonstrate that he is a conscientious citizen who has never missed a vote since he turned 18. The only time he was unable to vote was when he was convicted of these trumped up silly charges. This has been a travesty of justice.
What is even more ironical was the fact that DA Hynes admittedly lived in Breezy Point, Queens, while also claiming a Brooklyn residence, in order to qualify to be Brooklyn's DA. I am told that at one point his voter registration was placed at his office address. If this is true then we need an investigation as to why he went after O'Hara with this apparent vengeance, especially given his own situation residence-wise. Doesn't the adage live and let live still apply?
How many New York judges truly live where the claim to live? We all know the law states that they must live in this state. How many elected officials knowingly hold dual or even triple residences? One Bronx congressman (Engels) has lived in the DC area since he first went to Congress many many moons ago: and he doesn't even try to deny it. Go check and see where his wife and kids have resided (schooled and grown up) all this time. The residency question is pervasive in politics. At some level all involved know this.
I have written at length about the nebulous/ambiguous residency laws as they relate to elections and ballot access. Since elections are the cornerstone of democracy and its ideals, we need to fix residency laws once and for all. Going way back to Susan Anthony days, to prosecute an activist with a track record of opposing those in power is not the American way: it is shameful. It reeks. It never looked good. It still doesn't.
Please governor, pardon John O'Hara.