[ PART 1 OF A MULTI-PART SERIES ]
$750,000 SETTLEMENT OF JUDGE PHILLIPS’ WRONGFUL DEATH CASE BY JOHN O’HARA IS NOT THE WHOLE STORY — AND IT IS CERTAINLY NOT THE END OF THE STORY
LET'S START AT THE BEGINNING — JOHN O’HARA HAD BEEN CLOSE TO JUDGE JOHN PHILLIPS WHEN HE WAS ALIVE, FOR A LONG TIME
SEE WHAT O'HARA WAS DOING AND HOW IT WAS BUGGING LOTS OF PEOPLE — [IN A LATER PART OF THIS SERIES, WE’LL SHOW HOW THAT LED ALL OF THEM TO GETTING AT PHILLIPS AND ALL HIS ASSETS]
DON’T FORGET — IF THEY CAN DO WHAT WAS DONE TO JOHN KENNEDY O’HARA — A YOUNG ATTORNEY, POLITICALLY ACTIVE REFORMER AND UP-AND-COMING ENTREPRENEUR — WHAT CAN THEY DO TO YOU ?
> First, they looked into his business dealings and personal finances<
>> Then, they looked into his comings and goings <<
>>> Last, they looked into his politics <<<
>>>> And that's where the found crimes<<<<
JOHN KENNEDY OHARA WAS JUDGE JOHN PHILLIPS’ YOUTHFUL PROTÉGÉ — FIRST IN POLITICS, THEN AS A YOUNG LAWYER, AND EVEN AS AN UP-AND-COMING BUSINESSMANJohn Phillips and John O’Hara came from opposite sides of 1970s, 80s, and 90s Brooklyn.
In 1976, America’s Bi-Centennial Year, John Phillips ran as an independent insurgent Democrat for a seat on the NYC Civil Court in Kings County. During some of the procedures and litigation at the NYC Board of Elections involved in his contested candidacy for Civil Court Judge, Phillips met a fifteen-year-old young man from the south edge of Sunset Park with the memorable name, John Kennedy O’Hara. At that time, the soon to become Civil Court Judge learned that the young O’Hara was very interested in politics and was familiar with Phillips’ independent run for a judgeship against the wishes of the Brooklyn Democratic Machine of Meade Esposito. Phillips also listened to O’Hara’s plans for college and law school. Phillips said that no matter what happened in the 1976 elections, O’Hara should stay in touch.
As things turned out, John Phillips was elected in 1976, and in due course, he became Judge John Phillips. O’Hara and Phillips did stay in touch.
O’HARA WAS AN ACTIVIST EVEN AS A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTThe young man, John Kennedy O’Hara, finished his scholastic work at Fort Hamilton H.S. where with others on the staff of the school paper, and some concerned parents and faculty, a scandal involving a faculty member and several students was exposed. O’Hara’s own investigative reporting for his school’s newspaper resulted in the principal being fired for lacking the required licensing for his job at Fort Hamilton H.S.
Without missing a beat, in 1980 O’Hara became the youngest person to run for the District 20 School Board covering most of Southwest Brooklyn and fell just under ten votes short in that hard-fought election. Later that year, the same election team that supported by O’Hara for school board, supported a young lawyer Matthew D’Emic, in his run against the incumbent Republican Member of the Assembly from Bay Ridge, Sunset Park and Dyker Heights. O’Hara loyally spent his summer of 1980 campaigning with D’Emic throughout Bay Ridge and in parts of Dyker Heights and Sunset Park. Alas, as was usually the case in those days in Bay Ridge, all of the Democrats lost to their GOP opponents. ( It’s important to note that John O’Hara had a long-term relationship with Matt D’Emic that began in 1972 and was cultivated long before the 1980 assembly race — there will be more about that in later parts of this series.)
O’Hara went on to do his undergraduate work at the Brooklyn Campus of LIU, while he drove a cab on some nights and weekends. During that time, in 1982, O’Hara was elected to the Area Policy Planning Board for his Sunset Park neighborhood. He also kept in touch with Judge Phillips and used the judge as a source of information both for college papers and other political science projects, and for legal issues arising at the APPB.
THE BROOKLYN DEMOCRATIC ESTABLISHMENT WAS AGAINST JUDGE PHILLIPS IN 1986, 1990, 1991 AND 1992In 1986, it was the independent-insurgent Judge John Phillips that was up against a mixed bag of regulars and so-called reformers, led by Assemblymen Al Vann and Roger Green. In a series of technical challenges, with O’Hara present at some of the key moments, Phillips succeeded in removing both men from the Democratic Party ballot in 1986. Unfortunately, the candidate for Civil Court Judge against Judge Phillips, running on a ticket supported by Vann and Green, defeated Judge Phillips in that primary. It was on Primary Night 1986 at Phillips’ Bedford-Stuyvesant Democratic Club, well-known locally as "The Go-Rilla Lounge," that John O’Hara first heard John Phillips say to the crowd of his supporters, “Don't ever confuse a loss with defeat....” ( Once or twice in the intervening years, Phillips would repeat that line referring to this, that or the other of John O’Hara losses, political and/or legal.)
As proof of that, Phillips immediately set about trying to get his seat on the civil court bench back — with independent Democratic Party runs in 1990, 1991 and 1992. In those years, Phillips was up against a Democrat establishment run by Assemblyman, and the Democratic Party’s County Leader, Clarence Norman. The establishment insiders knocked John Phillips off the ballot in 1990 and 1991. In 1992 though, with some extra assistance by O’Hara and others, Phillips withstood the technical challenges of the establishment insiders, won the Democratic Party Primary and was back as a judge on the Brooklyn Civil Court bench.
Shortly after that O’Hara and Phillips got together on a Federal challenge to the New York State law requiring mandatory retirement for some judges upon reaching seventy years of age (70 y/o/a). That case failed; and Phillips was retired from the Civil Court bench only two years after his election in 1992.
O’HARA BECAME MORE ACTIVE IN THE COMMUNITY IN THE 1980s AND IN POLITICS DURING THE 1990sYears afterward, John Kennedy O’Hara’s enemies and opponents in the Brooklyn Democratic establishment complained that he was interfering with all of their plans and programs “to make things better” in the Sunset Park, South Brooklyn, Windsor Terrace and Kensington communities. However, the reality was that O’Hara’s community activism wasn’t all about independent political campaigns in the hyper-aggressive internal political contests inside the Brooklyn Democratic Party.
As was mentioned above, in 1980 John O’Hara ran in the non-partisan election for the Southwest Brooklyn District 20 School Board.
In 1982, John O’Hara put his name forward and was selected to represent his Sunset Park neighborhood on the Area Policy Board for District 15 in a non-partisan community election. He served in that position until 1991.
In 1990, Mr. O’Hara was asked to take a seat on the Community Planning Board for District 15; and he accepted that position. Soon he was selected to be Chairman of the Youth Services & Economic development Committees of the District 15 CPB. John O’Hara served on the District 15 CPB from 1990 through 1997.
During his tenure on the Community Planning Board and the Area Policy Planning Board, John O’Hara more than doubled the number of community-based after school & summer programs receiving funds through those boards, restructured the budgeting of existing groups and obtained funding increases into Sunset Park and neighboring communities.
Yes, and there was political activity, as well. Typically, the many existing stories about the John O’Hara saga contain a passage like this: “John Kennedy O'Hara, who ran in and lost several elections to incumbents, was originally prosecuted by Hynes in 1997. That year, O'Hara was convicted of charges that he lied about where he lived, ostensibly so that he could run in a Sunset Park City Council race....” (See eg., “A MACHINE GROWS IN BROOKLYN” by “Spartacus,” 12/19/02, Spartacus Blogs
Very little detail is given about those “several” - “lost” - “elections” mentioned by “Spartacus” and most of the other coverage of O’Hara.
O’HARA RAN FOR THE NYS ASSEMBLY AND NYC CITY COUNCIL SEVERAL TIMES OVER EIGHT YEARSBetween 1988 and 1996, John O’Hara ran for the NYS Assembly four (4) times and for the NYC Council two (2) times.
O’HARA’S TWO RUNS AGAINST ASSEMBLYMAN JAMES BRENNANJohn Kennedy O’Hara’s first run for partisan elected office was in 1988, when he bolted from the so-called “independent” Democratic Club covering Sunset Park, South Brooklyn, the South Slope, Windsor Terrace and Kensington, CBID and ran against its endorsed incumbent Assemblyman James Brennan. Although O’Hara had submitted plenty of “good signatures” by properly enrolled Democrats, problems with affidavits of the signature gatherers caused enough of O’Hara’s signatures to be eliminated by the Court, that the petition had to be withdrawn during the election case in court. Even though Brennan personally chided O’Hara outside of the courtroom in 1988, saying, “...You have no support and you’ll never get on the ballot....”; John Kennedy O’Hara as an independent and insurgent Democrat in 1990.did make the ballot, but he lost to Brennan in the Democratic Primary by a ratio of 2-to-1. However, O’Hara did better than hold his own in his home area in the southern part of the district in Sunset Park and a sliver of Bay Ridge.
FIRST RUN FOR CITY COUNCILIn 1991, O’Hara ran in a 9-candidate primary for an open City Council seat that covered large parts of the Brennan Assembly District. Again, O’Hara lost to the CBID-Brennan-endorsed candidate, Joan Griffin McCabe. However, in finishing fourth and nearer to the top of the candidates running than a local Democratic District Leader, Ann English, O’Hara got the attention and then the support of English.
O’HARA’S STRONGEST RUN GOES DOWN TO A BRENNAN “DRAIN...”Once the new lines of the NYS Assembly were announced for the 1992 elections, O’Hara saw an opportunity. Brennan’s home, and most of his base and CBID support, were moved into the adjoining 44th Assembly District that connected Brennan’s base to large parts of Parkville and other neighborhoods south of Prospect Park, which is where Brennan announced he would be running. As a result, O’hara saw that his strongest area was in a now-open 51st Assembly District, which still included his base in Sunset Park, along with almost all of South Brooklyn, and slivers of South Park Slope and Gowanus. With a promise of support from Ann English, John O’Hara decided it was time to “run to win.”
In 1992, O’Hara ran a pretty well-funded and broadly supported independent campaign. He even garnered the NY Times endorsement, which wrote, “...the determined Mr. O'Hara [is endorsed] because of his feel for the district and keen interest in stimulating the local economy.” However, his principal opponent in the 5-candidate race for the open seat, Javier Nieves was able to consolidate the Latino vote in the largely Latino-American district; O’Hara lost to Mr. Nieves by about 300 votes. The largest single factor contributing to the election loss of John O’Hara in 1992 was the a strategic placement as a “drain candidate” ( >>> remember that term <<<) on the 51st A.D. ballot. — That 1992 candidate was Ms. Marilyn Kneeland; she was a member of CBID, and she also was a legislative aide on the paid staff of Assemblyman Jim Brennan. — CBID’s very targeted Kneeland campaign succeeded in obtaining over nine hundred (900) “drain...” votes, which blunted the efforts of O'Hara and his supporters in the 51st A.D.
O’HARA WAS REDUCED TO AN “ALSO-RAN” — BUT DID HE NEED TO BE BURIED DEEPER THAN THAT ?John O’Hara ran in three other primaries in the early to mid-1990s — 1993 for the NYC Council; 1994 for the NYS Assembly; and 1996 also for the NYS Assembly.
In 1993, John O’Hara came in as the third place finisher in a three-way race involving Joan Griffin McCabe and Migdalia Rivera. Clearly, O’Hara had experienced significant slippage with his poor third place finish in a three person race, after his strong fourth place finish in a nine person race, just two years earlier in basically the same district.
In 1994, O’Hara withdrew his petition after again filing for the Democratic Party Primary in the 51st A.D. Had he remained in that race, he would have run against the incumbent Assemblyman Javier Nieves and the challenger Felix Ortiz. Ortiz won that primary and went on to become the Assemblyman in place of Mr. Nieves.
The 1996 primary was a very interesting race involving the same three candidates that had entered the race in 1994 — O’Hara, Nieves and Ortiz. O'Hara ran hard all the way to Primary Day 1996. Although the election results again put O’Hara in the position of looking like an “also-ran,” there was a lot more involved in that election than meets the casual eye.
Almost half of the election machines in the 51st Assembly District did not arrive until well into midday voting. According to O’Hara, the pattern of those late-arriving machines disfavored his likely voters, thus weighing the primary in favor of his opponents. O'Hara's and other Brooklyn candidates' arguments were strong enough to have a Federal Judge order a new primary election in Brooklyn for 1996. When a Federal Appellate Court set aside the first federal court order and let the results of 1996 primary stand, O’Hara and other named petitioner’s went to the Supreme Court of the United States.