Interview With Mayor Ernest D. Davis of Mount Vernon Re: “Those Nasty Rumors …”

William O’Shaughnessy

Interview With

Mayor Ernest D. Davis

of Mount Vernon

Re:

“Those Nasty Rumors …”

 

February 14, 2013

WVOX and WVIP Worldwide

William O’Shaughnessy

Mayor Ernie Davis … I am among those who admire you, who respect you and I’m even among those who have great affection for you.  You rode out a storm some years ago and you were re-elected.  A tough battle … but you won.  I was there the night you celebrated.  I spoke a few words for you.  I saw the love in the room.   Ernie Davis … Mr. Mayor of Mt. Vernon … what the hell is going on now?

 

Ernie Davis

Well … let me go over it chronologically.   It started with Sandy, Hurricane Sandy.  As you may know, I got trapped in North Carolina for a few days.  I was running the city through the …

 

WO

You were down there … and couldn’t get back.  All hell broke loose? 

 

ED:

Couldn’t get back.  I got criticized.  To me it was unjust because I had planned just in case I couldn’t get back.  We did better in terms of any other city in terms of handling the hurricane.  But they made a big issue out of it and …

WO:

Who’s they … Mr. Mayor?

 

ED:

The Journal News … and Ned Rauch.  Right after that we had a blowout with Reisman.  I had a blowout with him. 

 

WO:

Phil Reisman … he’s your fellow broadcaster here on WVOX.  And a star feature columnist in the local Gannett paper.

 

ED:

Right … I told him I thought they were a bunch of gangsters. 

 

WO:

That’s not exactly the way to get along with the press!

 

ED:

Well … I wasn’t trying to get along with the press.  I was telling them what I thought.  I found, especially now, that there is a concentrated effort to slander my name.  And they have taken it to a maximum and to make it seem that something untoward is happening.

 

WO:

Who is after you now?

 

ED:

I think everybody seems to be after me!

 

WO:

This is the headline:  The Feds after Mayor Davis. 

 

ED:

OK … you know.  As you remember … it started with HUD.  Jerry Post was the commissioner.  I had asked Andy Spano to come in and help me out with it because I was just getting too many bad vibes from HUD on the Section 8 probe.  I call Andy in and had Andy send a person down …

WO:

He was county executive?

 

ED:

He sent him down and I took the authority from Jerry Post and gave it to the person Andy had sent.

 

WO:

Jerry Post was …?

 

ED:

The commissioner … of planning.   And I put Frank Fraley in charge, my chief of staff at the time, I put him in charge … and let HUD know what I was doing. 

 

WO:

What year was this, Mayor?

 

ED:

2007.  That was the election year … it should have been something that could have administratively been handled.  But it took on different proportions because of the election.  And somehow the Feds came in for a year and a half and I had given them some room …

 

WO:

They were all over city hall …

 

ED:      

No … they had a special place … a special office I gave them because I said … look, if something is happening, I want to know because I’m working too hard for people to be doing something that is against what I’m doing. 

 

WO:

What was the result of that … when the Feds came in?

 

ED:

Nothing … nothing happened.

 

WO:

Now they say it’s the IRS?  Who is involved now?

 

ED:

Now what happens is … I’m in my office and Ravi Batri was there that day and my corporate counsel came in with a subpoena for records.  One was for the Comptroller’s Office and one was for DPW.

 

WO:

The Comptroller ran against you?

 

ED:

Right … Maureen Walker.  Now I think she instigated this new thing we have in there …

 

WO:

What do you mean instigated?  Do you think she’s behind it? 

 

ED:

I think she’s contributed mightily to it.  The reason I say that is if you look at the last election when we had a big conference on city hall, we were going to have a press conference to explain my position on the issues.  A group came with the Katrina money … Ernie Davis:  what did you do with the Katrina money?  And there is no such thing as “Katrina money.”  There’s no Katrina Fund … there’s an Emergency Relief Fund.   But they use Katrina.  Why Katrina?  Because Katrina, as you know, was a big thing.  They had …

 

WO:

Down in New Orleans, we recall … but was it a big thing in Mt. Vernon?

 

ED:

We raised money … not for Katrina.  But that inspired us to raise emergency relief so that we can contribute emergency relief anywhere. 

 

WO:

So you had a fund.  How much did you collect?

 

ED:

$12,000.00.

 

WO:

What happened to that?

 

ED:

It’s still in place.  At the time of the election, nothing had been taken out.  But they used Katrina so that can show people in the water, on top of the houses … to show, to give people the impression something untoward was happening.

 

WO:

Who put the fund together, Mr. Mayor?

 

ED:

We had a concert and we took up money and we put it in the fund.

 

WO:

So … that’s what triggered this current bit of business?  And you’re in the gunsights of what Federal entity?

 

ED:

Yes … the US Attorney.

 

WO:

US Attorney … and what are they saying? What are they looking for?  You must know.

 

ED:

I’m going to tell you.  What happened is they came with this Katrina money … there’s no such thing.  I showed them bank statements.  I said here it is, disaster relief.  We wrote a check for $1,500.00 for this lady. They interviewed the lady.  The lady was happy … she told them.  There was nothing hidden. And the money is still there.

 

WO:

Who got the $1,500.00?

 

ED:

The lady … she had moved from Louisiana up to Mt. Vernon.  Somebody told her I had the fund.  She comes to me and applies for the fund.  I interviewed her twice.  I had someone else interview.  She was behind in her rent.  That was basically it.  And so we gave her $1,500.00.  So the fund exists, $12,000.00 minus the $1,500.00.

 

WO:

So the US Attorney now is snooping around Mt. Vernon … and they’re after you.

 

ED:

Oh … absolutely!

 

WO:

Have you hired counsel?  Do you have lawyers?

 

ED:

Yes … they have not stopped.

 

WO:

What do your lawyers tell you?

 

ED:

Not to talk to the press!

 

WO:

Ernie Davis … I had a thought this morning and I’ll lose two friends, guys I admire, but is it possible to be successful in politics – at least around here – that you’ve got to be charismatically challenged?  In other words, I regard Noam Bramson highly … I regard Paul Feiner highly … but nobody is shooting at those guys!  You’re a high-profile, fairly (if you’ll excuse me) glamorous guy.  There’s magic in the air when your friends gather to fete you and celebrate you.  But these other two guys are kind of like “nerdy” … always at the People’s Business stuff, minutiae, process, numbing detail.  Is it possible that the Adam Bradleys and Ernie Davis’s get in trouble because you are who you are? 

 

ED:

I think that contributes to it, but moreover, I was talking to this lawyer … I’ve talked to other lawyers too – this was a Black lawyer.   This is over and above – I mean you would think I had killed somebody they way they’ve gone through my properties in New York.  I’ve had this property since 1974. 

 

WO:

I just heard on the radio – so it must be true – that you own properties all up and down the Eastern seaboard.  Is that true?

 

ED:

No … let me tell you exactly.  I own my house – in Mount Vernon.  I bought the building – an office building on Fifth Avenue where I used to have my architecture firm.

 

WO:

How about your house … is it in the Bronxville section … is it a big, beautiful mansion?

 

ED:

It’s a nice house … but it would be worth a lot more if it were not in Mount Vernon.  And then in 1974 I bought a house in Harlem when it was really down.  I fixed it up and I still own it.  I also own a townhouse on Sylvan Terrace – that’s near the Jamaal Mansion

 

WO:

What town is that?

 

ED:

New York City … I own two pieces of property in New York City.  And I own a piece of property in Yonkers, a condo.  Now, I have paid for this.  Nobody has given me money.  I haven’t stolen people’s money.

 

WO:

You are an architect … your profession.  Is that how you make your money?

 

ED:

Yes … that’s principally how I made my money. 

WO:

And the investment in real estate …

 

ED:

Yes … investment in real estate.

 

WO:

Don’t you have property down in the Carolinas and in Florida?

 

ED:

Yes … I do. My mother died and left me the house.  So I have that house.

 

WO:

Where is that, Mr. Mayor?

 

ED:

In Charlotte … my aunt died and I took over her house.  And that’s in Charlotte.

 

WO:

I ain’t leaving you anything!  You’ve got enough, my friend!

 

ED:

And then in Florida I have a condo.  And that’s it.

 

WO:

Do you use the condo?

 

ED:

No.

 

WO:

It’s an investment …

 

ED:

And I’m losing money on all of them except one.

 

WO:

How does it feel when you read the headlines … and you see the stories questioning your honesty, and they question your integrity.  Are you an honest man?

 

ED:

Oh … absolutely.  Nobody can tell you I ever stole anything from them.  Nobody can tell you they paid me for all of this.  But the other thing that is paramount … I am a Black man.  And I am popular in New York State among mayors.  People who are in those positions like to bring down politicians because that elevates them.

 

WO:

You mean the investigators … the US Attorney types?

 

ED:

Yes … now they have gone to each one of my tenants and they called me and they say:  How do you pay your rent?  Now they know everything I do has a paper trail.  That’s ironic.  I show the paper, my statements, they balance.  There is no mystery.  I have a Scholarship Fund which I haven’t touched since 2007 because I wasn’t in office.  I don’t sign any of these things.

 

WO:

So … you’re a landlord.  I would say you’re not the worst landlord I’ve ever heard of. 

 

ED:

People haven’t paid me money in five years.  Now the reason that happened, I had my daughter running it and wasn’t collecting rent.  But I couldn’t make a stink because I didn’t want to be in the headlines as a slumlord and all that.  So I’m trapped.  So what I’ve had to do is take my money to pay the taxes, to pay the heat and all that.  And they know that.  There’s a paper trail. For instance, they asked my secretaries if they put money in the bank for me.  Occasionally they would.  A tenant would come over, give her a check, she stamps it.

 

WO:

They have your two secretaries in the gunsight, right?

 

ED:

Yes … five years ago.  There has to be something illegal about this.  I have been harassed and just because they can.  Something has to be illegal about this.  Every time I turn around and this guy Ned Rauch …

 

WO:

He’s the reporter for The Journal News

 

ED:

I don’t talk to them anymore. 

 

WO:

Ernie Davis, can you ride this out? 

 

ED:

Oh yeah … I have to.  I’m a Black man. 

 

WO:

What do you mean?

 

ED:

When you are a Black man and you are acquainted with the history of Black people in this country, this is nothing.  There is no leader you know of – no Black leader – who has not gone through our kind of stuff.  None.  You can’t name one.

 

WO:

I wish Ossie Davis was still around, I’d ask him about this.  He liked you.

 

ED:

Yes … the ironic thing is, I tell you what I’ve had to do … Reverend Wilson, he took me to Psalms 32 and 76 about your enemies and how you don’t have to worry about them.

 

WO:

What did the Bible say?

 

ED:

They predict there will be enemies to knock you down, but you believe in the Lord and all that. 

 

WO:

Do you believe in the Lord, and all that?

 

ED:

You have to.  They make you believe in the Lord.  If you don’t believe in the Lord now … But look at what happened to me.  Here I am minding my business and here come people who want to hurt me.  And they could not do it.  So now they are trying to go through the IRS

 

WO:

Who are the people who are trying to hurt you?

 

ED:

The US Attorney.  I’ve been under intense pressure since I left office.

 

WO:

But you got back into office.

 

ED:

Yes … I got back in.  I did not plan to run but this is how long this has been going on.  And there’s a new guy – Carbone.  There was the woman.  She left.  And he has taken this on.

 

WO:

These are assistant US attorneys?  Have you met Mr. Carbone?

 

ED:

No …

 

WO:

What would you say to him?  Right now?

 

ED:

I would not want to meet him. 

 

WO:

But he’s shooting at you … he’s “interested” in you.

 

ED:

I would not want to meet him because what I would say would not be good and it probably would not help me.  I consider them evil people.  I mean just the way they’ve done it … they’ve gone to my tenants.  They’ve taken pictures of my buildings as if I stole the buildings.  I’ve had these buildings since 1974.  And they want to give the illusion that somehow this fat-cat politician has amassed this money and he’s bought this building with dirty money.  No … I wouldn’t want to see him.

 

WO:

What does your wife say?  What do your friends say? 

 

ED:

If you’ve got friends … I’ve had calls saying I know you’re going through a tough time.  But I’m not really because the first thing you do is get angry.  But the things that keeps you sane is that you know you didn’t do anything. 

 

WO:

The second part of that is … then you get even?

 

Ed:

Well … that time will come. Because every action has an opposite and equal reaction.  And if your motives are not good – and his motives can’t be good – there is no way.  I did my taxes … and it shows.  The only building that is keeping me solvent is the one on Sylvan I’ve had for about a year and a half.  Previous to that, a guy owed me $31,000.00.  For instance, I had my architecture practice.  This guy owed me $31,000.00.  And now I’m the mayor … so I can’t work at it anymore.  So now he comes in for a loan. The first thing I do – I know this guy – he owes me money … I’m just putting this on the table so let’s get this straight.  It merited a loan, so he got the loan.  About a year later this guy Bandler, he comes and he gave a big article that I gave the money because I wanted him to pay me my money back, so that’s why I gave the loan. 

 

WO:

Mr. Mayor … Ernie Davis … I remember the night at a New Rochelle shore club you were honored, I was supposed to say a few words.  I could hardly get in the place myself.  I think I had to get a police escort.  You were surrounded.  Charlie Rangel was there … Keith Wright … and you didn’t address yourself to the politicians and the big shots.  You spoke to the young.  Do you remember what you said that night? 

 

ED:

No … I have been very privileged in my life.  But things happen.  I owe people.  Not the politicians. 

 

WO:

I see you sitting here at the station often talking to young people, you always bring them and try and encourage them.  You think they understand what this is all about?

 

ED:

They do.  And they are the reason I got elected.  People in the street.  I come from a good stock. 

 

WO:

How so?

 

ED:

Hard-working people.  I was taught to work hard and that’s what I do.   I try to do that.  And what is resentful is that you have so many evil people in high places and even when you show them the truth, they are not interested in the truth. 

 

WO:

But you have some good people too … and I am persuaded, nay I’m convinced, I’m sure … that you are among them.  The good ones.

 

ED:

You know … that’s the thing that – I can’t do this in public – but I think I was put here for a purpose.  A 74-year-old man.   And I try to be instructive to people.  And we’ve made good progress already.  We’ve taken people who are almost throw-aways with no money … we’ve gotten grants and we’re able to keep them working.  And give them hope.  And I don’t think anyone else can do that because they are in it for themselves.  This job …

 

WO:

The mayor of Mt. Vernon?

 

ED:

Yes … this job is the only one I’m interested in because it allows you – like I have the AIDS people – you touch them.  And the criminals, you touch them.  So therefore, I can go into gang places and I can talk to them because I’ve given them something.  You see, I try to give them hope and nobody else does.  They want to lock them up … kill them. 

 

WO:

So with it all .. with it all, Mayor Ernie Davis, you feel pretty good about your life and yourself.

 

ED:

Oh yes.  I’m not perfect.  There’s just some things I just don’t do.  There are people who live here and don’t pay any rent.  I’ve had to keep the taxes going.  That’s why I fall behind.  People say you make this … you make this.  Yes, but you see what’s coming in, but you don’t see what’s going out.

 

WO:

Do you have a good lawyer and a good accountant?

 

ED:

Now I do.  Sometimes you save money in the wrong places.  It’s like … for instance, the building I have on Fifth Avenue, I have only two tenants.  That doesn’t pay the lights or anything.  So now I have to get money from my pocket, because I mismanaged.  I don’t make any excuses for myself.  The one on Sylvan … I just found a couple, they pay $2,700.00 a month.  And they are wondering why I don’t charge them more. 

 

WO:

Ernie Davis … we’ve gone over a lot of this.  We’ll leave this to the accountants.

 

ED:

I’m working on them now.  This is what they are trying to do, and it is very obvious.  They are trying to, first of all, tear my reputation down so whatever else comes up, they let the public into thinking I’m a crook.  I’ve seen this and I’ve been around this too long.  Once they do that to you, they figure they can turn any support you might have.  And that’s what they’re trying to do.  For instance, they know exactly what I own.  They know exactly where the money came from.  If you researched all this … you’ve researched that, right?  It’s no ambiguity about it.  They look at those scholarships.  I don’t sign those scholarships. You’d think I was taking money from them.  I don’t have signing power for any of that.  Even the Disaster Relief … I don’t sign that.  And no money has been taken, so why is that an issue?  Except to demonize me.

 

WO:

Are they going to be successful at demonizing you? 

 

ED:

Ultimately, no, because … for instance, they’ve been at this for a while, they’ve done the IRS and Loretta Lynch, who is the US Attorney in New York, was my lawyer.  She wouldn’t take a crooked case.  She’s not that type.  She might be … if it goes, she’ll recall.  So you have a US Attorney judging all this.  And so what they want to do is find something that says I got money from them for something.  There’s a guy from Connecticut. I appointed him to a board, and they said: How much did you have to pay him for that?  See … what they don’t know is people come back and tell me what they do. 

 

WO:

Do you consider yourself an honest man?

 

ED:

Oh, absolutely. 

 

WO:

So what have you got to worry about?

 

ED:

I don’t.  They write all this stuff.  All of it is a lie.  Do I own the property?  Yes, I own the property.  Is there a law against that.  They can’t believe … I’m a southerner.  My grandparents, doing their time, bought land, built their house.  I don’t come from poverty.  My mama always told me to save your money.  When I bought the building on Fifth Avenue, I bought it from Grace Baptist.  I went to get a loan, they wouldn’t give me a loan.  I looked in the bank account, I had $80,000.00 in the bank.  I paid $76,000.00 for it, I believe.  It was torn up and all of that.  So I took the money out of the bank, paid Grace and then every commission I got, I paid my people and I put it into the building.  I kept doing this for two years.  And eventually I got it done.  Down in Harlem, I was going to have my office down there.  I paid $20,000.00.  But the mortgage was $20,000.00.  Eventually I paid that off.  I worked.  Sweat equity.  Got that done.  And so I’ve worked for every penny I have.  I don’t need to steal people’s money.

 

WO:

Mr. Mayor, we’ll leave it at that. Thank you.  I think you’ve been very candid with us. 

 

ED:

I have nothing to hide.  And I told them … why are you writing this.  I told you what it was.  You’ve got a paper trail.  If I’ve got all this money … where is it?  Every bank account, they’ve gone to the bank.  They’ve looked at my stuff.  I appreciate you giving me this time, Bill.

 

# # #

 

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues, and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America.  He operates two of the last independent stations in the New York area: WVOX and WVIP.

 

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files” was released in January, 2011.  He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, an anthology which will include this interview with Mayor Davis.

 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher

Whitney Media

914-235-3279 … cindy@wvox.com

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