Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A SHOUT FROM COPENHAGEN: Rudy G. & the Scent of Corruption

by Thomas E. Kennedy

Recently I was surprised to receive an email from a Newsweek journalist, saying she wanted to phone me in Copenhagen to interview me for an article about one of my high school classmates, Rudy Giuliani. I had no idea that Giuliani had been in my class.

So I mailed back to the journalist saying that to the best of my knowledge I had not known Rudy, never even knew that he existed other than as the Mayor of New York. But she still wanted to talk to me to get some background about life at Bishop Loughlin High School, 1957-61. She mentioned that she had read an article I wrote about Loughlin in those years, that she found it "fascinating" and hoped I would be available to speak with her. We made an appointment for her to telephone me next evening.

I spent some time trying to prepare myself by thinking back on my time in Loughlin. They had not been particularly happy years. The atmosphere had been oppressive, anti-intellectual, jingoistic, and brutal. The only truth was Catholic truth. Questions were not encouraged, but memorization was, and sex – in general – was wrong. I recall our religion teacher telling us that once we were married we could do whatever we wanted with our wives as long as the seed found the womb, but that we shouldn't be pigs about it. Everything was dictated – from the length of our hair to the cut of our pants. Ties and jackets were mandatory. As for violence, one Brother told us that any boy who had not had five good fistfights by the age of 15 was on the wrong track; he liked to threaten to crack our jaws. So much for Christian love.

As I waited for the phone call, I got to thinking that my article on Loughlin that the journalist referred to contained an account of a senior year student- president election that had what I remembered as a certain scent of corruption. I learned years later that the father of the winning candidate – who had seemed to come out of nowhere and to have the support of everybody, including the school administration – had raised a very large sum of money for a building project for the order of brothers who ran the school.

Possibly I was mistaken about all this, but at the least a case could be made for it. And it occurred to me to wonder whether the Newsweek journalist suspected that Giuliani might have been involved.

I googled Rudy Giuliani and Loughlin 1961, and a good deal of information came up. It seems that there were in fact three parties in that high school election, and that Rudy Giuliani served as campaign manager for one of the candidates. Could it be? I dug deeper for the smoking gun. But there was neither smoke nor a gun. Rudy's candidate in that election lost. Quite possibly Rudy didn't even know about the fix – if indeed there really had been a fix. But when you consider that a slush fund of a million dollars was enough to undo the President of the United States in 1972-73, how much could that equivalent contribution to a building fund have done to help win a student-president election in a Brooklyn high school in 1961?

It occurred to me that the Newsweek journalist might have been following that scent of corruption, possibly had not realized that Rudy had not been on the possibly corrupt side in that high school election.

I waited for her call, curious to see if I might learn something from her, but she didn't call. At the last moment, she emailed an apology; she was stuck in a meeting and asked if she could call the next day, but no further calls or emails came until several days later when she let me know she'd spoken with a couple of others and got the background information she needed and politely noted that since I hadn't actually known Giuliani and lived so many time zones away and her deadline was close upon her….

I emailed saying that was fine, but wondering with whom she had spoken. She told the names of three persons – two classmates I vaguely remember as being prominent in the school and the Vice Principal, now in his 80s. I remember that Vice Principal as sarcastic and cold. The journalist told me it was fun speaking with them, that they were "very nice."

And it occurred to me that there might be people who go through high school happily, go on to happy college years, good foundations for happy lives. It took me ten years to get over my Catholic school experiences, the whole oppressing effect of 12 years of stunted men and women having authority over me.
Perhaps I have a strain of conspiracy-nut in me -- it is also tempting to suspect that the journalist made the same discovery I had about that possibly corrupt election. If that distant, 45-year-old high school election really had been tainted, the taint had NOT been on Rudy G. He was cleared. Which, presumably, might make this bit of gossip journalistically less interesting.

However, in the course of all this, I discovered that I did remember Rudy from back then. At least I think I did. A google source reminded me that he had been the guy who started the Opera Club – a pudgy guy who wore dark suits, white shirts, gleaming black shoes.

Among the members of the Opera Club was as close friend of Rudy Giuliani's, a boy named Alan Placa, whom I don't remember either. However, some readers may be familiar with the name of Alan Placa; he would become a wealthy Long Island Monsignor and would later be accused in a Grand Jury hearing of the sexual abuse of adolescent boys and of protecting priests who were guilty of such abuse and ultimately relieved by the Church of all priestly duties and deprived of the right to administer the sacraments – whereupon Rudy Giuliani hired him in his law firm.

According to a New York Times article from February 2003, Msgr. Placa denied the allegations and remembered the adolescent he was alleged to have molested "as a 'troubled boy' who was always 'singling himself out.'" Perhaps that is another way of saying that the boy was unreliable, hungry for attention. Such a boy, no doubt, would be easy prey. Msgr. Placa also pointed out, able lawyer that he is, that the statute of limitations had already been exceeded on all the allegations.

This past weekend the Newsweek article appeared in print and on-line. The portrait of my school was of "a fortress-like high school run with an iron hand by the Christian Brothers." But I was surprised to find that Alan Placa was mentioned only with a fleeting reference – that allegations of sexual abuse had been made, that he had denied them, and was never formally charged. There was no mention of the fact that he had also been accused of protecting other priests against whom such allegations had been made and of concealing his law degree in dealing with boys who had spoken out about having been abused. Nor were the facts mentioned that Alan Placa had been relieved by the Church of all priestly duties or that Rudy Giuliani hired Placa to work for his law firm afterwards.

I sent an email to the journalist congratulating her on having captured the atmosphere of the school, but wondering about the Placa omissions. Was the press distancing itself from this connection in deference to the Republican candidate in a much higher-level election? Her response was forthcoming: "Thanks for writing - we should have included that about Placa. I appreciate you reading the story. All best…"Actually, although I did not have a very good time in high school, maybe others did – Rudy and Alan, for example.

Greetings from this ancient capital!
Thomas E. Kennedy

See also http://www.copenhagenquartet.com/ for information on four independent novels about the souls and seasons of Copenhagen, each written in a different style and set in a different season and which can be read independently of one another or together in any order desired: Kerrigan's Copenhagen, A Love Story, which is a novel disguised as a guide to the bars of Copenhagen, each chapter unfolding in a different serving house; Bluett's Blue Hours, a noir tale about the deep dark of Copenhagen winter and the seamier sides of life in this beautiful capital; Greene's Summer, about a Chilean torture survivor who comes to Copenhagen to be treated in a torture rehabilitation center and meets a Danish woman who has herself survived a violent marriage; and Danish Fall, a satire about 12 people connected to a Danish firm which is being downsized.

No comments: