A hotly contested primary race for a local judgeship looks like it will hinge on which candidate is less tarnished by the Kings County Democratic machine’s legendary corruption.
Both candidates — lawyers Devin Cohen and Roger Adler — are simultaneously trying to distance themselves from the disgraced party machine, while also linking their opponents to the unscrupulous and outright criminal methods of past party leaders.
This week, Adler blanketed voters in Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and other Brownstone Brooklyn barrios that make up the Civil Court’s first district with an attack ad that painted Cohen as (cue the horror movie music) “president [of] a Democratic Political Club.”
“Will political clubs control the judicial election process or can a nonpolitically experienced lawyer with deep bar association experience succeed?” Adler told The Brooklyn Paper. “I come out of a nonpolitical milieu.”
Adler might not have been affiliated with a club like Cohen’s reform-oriented Independent Neighborhood Democrats, but he was the lawyer for jailed former Democratic county boss Clarence Norman, who has been convicted of embezzling campaign funds and accused of extorting kickbacks from judicial candidates.
Adler told The Brooklyn Paper he merely represented the Crown Heights power broker during his frequent court appearances, and was not a soldier in his political feuds.
“I was his lawyer, not his political confidante,” Adler said.
Adler’s legal advice came in handy when Norman and an ally were charged in 2004 with demanding $100,000 from two incumbent judges to retain the Democratic party’s support of their campaigns.
Those candidates didn’t pay — and they weren’t re-elected. But Adler maintained that the entire case against Norman boiled down to “a bunch of sore losers who wanted to blame someone,” he told the New York Post back then.
No wonder Cohen is talking up Adler’s link to Norman.
“If you look at the grassroots reform clubs and reform-oriented politicians that endorse me, it’s impossible to view that I’m the political hack in the race,” Cohen told The Brooklyn Paper.
Cohen’s bid for the 10-year judgeship is backed by many elected officials and neighborhood Democratic clubs — a liability in Adler’s eyes — but a stamp of approval for Cohen.
“For me, Devin has more roots in the community,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene). “I’ve known through his involvement in a number of community organizations. That’s why I support him — not because he’s an ‘insider.’”
And Adler’s claim to being “nonpolitical” can not be objectively propped up. The former Norman barrister has not only done legal work for some conservative causes, but he has also made thousands of dollars in donations to incumbents such as Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens) and state Sen. Marty Connor (D–Brooklyn Heights) — two politicians who endorsed Cohen.
Adler has also opened his checkbook to state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) and gave the state Conservative Party about $10,000 in donations.
Adler says this makes him a true-blue independent.
“I gave to people that I thought were producing for Brooklyn or the state,” Adler said.
Adler also donated his legal services in drafting an amicus brief on behalf of the Conservative Party in its fight against gay marriage.
That controversial stance, coupled his ties to Norman, has earned him the enmity of some lesbian and gay voters.
“Mr. Adler is tarnished with the corrupt party boss and the affiliation with the Conservative Party and his efforts to make same-sex marriage permanently illegal,” said Dan Willson, co-president of Lambda Independent Democrats, the gay and bisexual club for Dems.
Cohen also enjoys the support of a far more influential political arbiter: the Pintchik Oracle.
Yes, the digital sign atop the hardware store on Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope, which usually flashes information about sales and, sometimes, advice from its anonymous Delphi, has even sought to sway the outcome by flashing pro-Cohen messages for weeks.
The first civil court district includes all of Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and Gowanus and part of Park Slope.
The primary is on Sept. 9.