Jeff Pearlman

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Jeffrey Pearlman

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His name elicits cheers and joy across the globe. But why is New York State's director of the authorities budget office optimistic even as our nation lurches off a cliff? Because he's seen the good ... POSTED July 13, 2018

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I’m a fan of Pearlman.

But not just Pearlman—Jeff Pearlmans. Or Jeffrey Pearlman. Or Jeff Perlmans. Could be all three.

In the past I’ve had a solid handful of Jeff and Jeffrey Pearlmans appear as Quazes. There was Jeff Pearlman, the musician There was Jeff Perlman, the mayor. There will be more Jeff Pearlmans, because we are an inherently fascinating breed of people. Based primarily on name. So, thanks mom(s).

I digress.

The new Quaz stars Jeffrey Pearlman, the director of the authorities budget office under New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. And while the title alone might cause one’s eyes to glass over, the job—and life—is riveting. In an age of political craziness and corruption and dishonesty, Jeffrey’s gig involves  promoting the transparency and accountability of public authorities. Which, again, is uber meaningful right about now.

Also, Jeffrey insists there are “way” more people than bad in politics. Which, well, hopefully is correct.

Anyhow, Jeffrey is a die-hard Jets fan who doesn’t buy into #MAGA, tries to explain Jeanine Pirro and worships at the shrine of Darrelle Revis and Emerson Boozer.

Jeffrey Pearlman, you are The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So we’re both Jeffrey Pearlman, we both have Wikipedia pages, we’re both New Yorkers. Weird as this sounds, how do you feel about our name? Are you good with it? Did you have nicknames as a kid? Did you know I existed? Other Jeff Pearlmans? Do you feel a kinship with Ron and Itzhak?

JEFFREY PEARLMAN: I’m content with our name. I feel like a Jeff. I’ve never met a Jeffrey that I didn’t want to learn something from. Pearlman is a pretty easy name to say and hear so there’s little confusion despite the many spellings, Perelman, Perlman, etc. In middle school my classmate, actor and comedian, Adam Ferrara would sing our last name at the top of his lungs to the Blues Brothers tune of Soul Man. I’m a Pearl Man, nah nah nah nah nah nah, I’m a Pearl Man! When that wore out he moved on to the Allman’s, Ramblin’ Man. Always a treat. In college I was Jeep Jeff because I owned an ‘84 CJ-7. In law school I was Pearl Jam. Also, we live in a Jeffrocentric world.

I learned of your existence after the John Rocker article. A few distant friends that I’d bump into on the LIRR or at a high school reunion would congratulate me on my articles. I would tell them it wasn’t me and they’d appear disappointed. So, I began to read your articles. I would buy your books to give as gifts and autograph them! Because c’mon! Enter social media Twitter and now I’m a sympathetic follower! I think we have a lot in common and you’re someone I’d like to grab a coffee with at any of your favorite haunts. We could both shake our heads at the loud phone talkers. I’d like to help ease your political rage. I need some parental advice from your Mrs. P., too.

Besides you, the only other Jeff Pearlmans I know are the Mayor and the musician from your earlier quaz and the few other dentists and lawyers that pop up on google.

I have friends and former colleagues that have relationships with both Ron and Itzhak. In high school I was an exchange student in Paris and a sibling in my host family studied violin at the Brooklyn Conservatory Of Music under the direction of Itzhak. High school and Gov’s Office colleagues worked for Ron at his company, MacAndrews & Forbes. I have never dissuaded anyone from making a connection.

 J.P.: So in 2017 you were appointed Director of the Authorities Budget Office by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. I say this with 100% respect and admiration—that does not sound like an overly thrilling job. What does it entail? What are your day-to-day tasks?

J.P.: The ABO is the first office of its kind in the nation. It promotes the transparency and accountability of public authorities. In New York there are more than 600 state and local authority boards that use public and private funds to hold ownership of something that serves a public purpose. From the largest — the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its multi-billion dollar train, subway, bus and toll-bridge conglomerate to a small, <$1 million rural upstate garbage removal operation; from 100+ industrial development agencies to the 500+ economic development offices in between , if any of these quasi-governmental businesses receive public funds, odds are they report to the Authorities Budget Office, to which I am the Director. In total, these entities in New York hold more than $270 BILLION of outstanding debt and also may provide BILLIONS in tax exemptions and credits for third parties.

The ABO staff review and analyze the operations, practices and reports of public authorities, assess whether they follow the relevant provisions of state law and make recommendations concerning their reformation and structure. This includes rendering conclusions and opinions about their performance and helping them improve management practices and the procedures by which their activities and financial practices are disclosed to the public. These authorities’ boards’ receive ABO training on their fiduciary responsibilities and they regularly report their financials to the ABO.

We are the brainchild of the New York State Legislature, at the direction Ira Millstein, a Manhattan lawyer emeritus to fortune 500 corporate boards. Mr. Millstein is a proponent of board-centered governance – or — the notion that the board members run a corporation. He just wrote a book, The Activist Director.

My former political colleagues, many years my junior, call me a bureaucrat (to insult me). But I’m a policy wonk in a busy office, that receives daily inquiries and complaints, trains hundreds of board members annually, has subpoena and other enforcement powers, reviews board activities and comments on legislation affecting economic development and public debt in NewYork State. Maybe not thrilling work, but it’s cutting edge legal work that will hopefully ensure the public gets results on our investments.

Day to day tasks include working to grow the office budget to meet demands. The ABO has litigation pending at every level of the state’s courts — trial, mid-office counsel. The ABO is generally represented by the Attorney General’s Office. I also provide legal support to the staff that review public authority compliance activities.

In a nutshell, the ABO gathers the facts and applies the law in a niche of government that is not customarily open, but it should be. Asleep yet? Drink more coffee.

Circa 1988

Circa 1988

J.P.: In your past life you were the chief of staff to Kathy Hochul, New York’s lieutenant governor. And I think “chief of staff” is one of those positions we’ve all heard of—but have no real idea what it entails. So, Jeffrey, what does a chief of staff do?

J.P.: A chief of staff is a behind the scenes job. For example, in your previous question you used the word, “thrilling” and it reminded me of my time with LG Kathy Hochul, which might help to explain. One day in Albany I was with the LG and we were reviewing a briefing that recommended that she be “thrilled” about being at an event. I was then schooled on how Kathy Hochul doesn’t get thrilled at a work event! She may get thrilled white water kayaking or on a roller coaster, but not at, for example, a ribbon cutting. We laughed. At the following day’s 9:00am call, when all offices, Buffalo, Albany and NYC/LI called in to walk through the events of the day, critique the day before and discuss future items and assignments, I instructed the staff that the LG does not get ‘thrilled!’ Don’t use that word anymore. That’s what a COS does. I’ll add that it became a running office joke.

As Governor Hochul’s COS, I was permitted to bring together and manage a uniquely qualified 3-city office for an active, 6-event per day (3 public) statewide elected official in the best state in the nation. It was a 24/7 job with the usual ups and downs of a political life.

J.P.: I want to love politics, but the closer I get the more disgusted I become. It just all seems really scuzzy and nasty and lacking genuine integrity. So … tell me why I’m wrong.

J.P.: I have had the privilege of having a second row seat for the past 30 years in New York State’s punch-you-in-the-mouth partisan politics. I’ve had tremendous mentors every step of the way that I would be lost without. I tell interns starting in Albany politics that they will either love it and consider a career in public service or they will hate it. Jeff, I love your true New York liberal passion. I sincerely would like to help you with your political and government angst. Trust me when I tell you that there are WAY more good people in public service than bad people. My career as a policy maker has been to help the politicians build the coalitions to make change. When I worked in the state legislature I used to love when someone would say something was not legal, thinking, ‘well then let’s change the law.’ Ghandi persisted within the system to change the system; MLK, too. You can, too.

Me, I like to help people and solve problems. Period. It’s that simple. Gimme some facts and I’ll find and apply the law to provide you counsel. I’m coming at it from my long-island-jewish-middle-child upbringing by a democratic mother and a republican father. I’m a skilled cat herder, coalition builder and nice guy, but don’t make the mistake of equating being nice with being weak. As a player I want to win. As a NY lawyer I understand the power of law. Everything is a compromise, but it’s what you compromise that matters.

In my tenure here in Albany I’ve observed many who come into this business of governing as self-servers rather than holding that ideology of service to others. We’re all humans, fundamentally flawed. It is often publicly scuzzy, nasty and lacking integrity as you mention, especially most recently. There’s no utopia and there’s no better process than a NY/US republic. It’s far from perfect. It was intended to be deliberative and you shouldn’t let the politics of a 21stcentury technological world that includes nonstop attention to the flavor of the moment stop you from engaging for the long haul of consensus in some way. Enjoy it and laugh at the absurdity.

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J.P.: Among others, you worked for David Paterson before he became New York’s governor—then became his counsel. The two things I remember about Paterson—because they were big news stories–is he was legally blind and he had an affair. So, those aside, what was he like?

J.P.: Governor David A. Paterson is my hero. I believe he was maligned by NY’s tabloids as your question would infer. He’s my hero not because he is some larger than life figure. It’s the opposite. It’s not because he comes from a very strong and well-groomed, Harlem political pedigree. It’s not because in spite of his visual impairment GDAP was taught in regular LI public schools, then Columbia U and Hofstra Law. He is my hero because… he listens. David Paterson would not only hear my words, he would use them in his public remarks. He’s just constantly amazing and always fun to be with. I was with him as staff in Israel and was tasked to “body” him along the tour in Jerusalem’s stages of the cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was crucified and laid to rest. I was not able to guide him as well as I had hoped as Jerusalem is not a very level place. Nonetheless, he was so gracious and included me with his experience at a very holy Christian site that was important to him. He has a tremendous and biting sense of humor. I loved to see him laugh. He’s engaging; shares his views and listens to whomever he’s near. He relies on his staff and would let us know his appreciation in many tangible and intangible ways. It’s not commonly known that Governor David Paterson also used to do a mean standing backflip!!

I was honored to work for him in the State Senate and to be his counsel when he was Lieutenant Governor to Eliot Spitzer. I was humbled to participate in his transition to Governor. I am tremendously proud of what he accomplished in his short 3-year term. Just ascending to the position of Governor after the resignation of his running mate, it should have been sufficient (Dayenu!). But Governor David A. Paterson solved the perennial Albany riddle and finally exerted sufficient Executive Power to end over two decades of consistently late state budgets, brought together the divergent views of criminal justice reform to end the draconian Rockefeller drug law sentences, appointed a lieutenant governor and ended a legislative stalemate, permitted no-fault divorce, forced the first vote on gay marriage (which failed and was adopted the following year) and also gave unmarried gays the right to use family court in domestic violence situations, made the truly difficult decisions to close a $10+billion multi-year deficit during the great recession after years of over spending by prior administrations, established clemency procedures for immigrants to help families avoid harmful deportation, turned the crumbling rail-bridge over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie into a cool-ass state park, collected and delivered tons and tons of support to Haiti after its devastating earthquake, brought Rex Ryan and the Jets to SUNY Cortland for training camp and HBO’s Hard Knocks and created the independent ABO where I am today. Unfortunately for now David Paterson will, until a future generation looks at the record without bias, be considered a bumbling, blind and adulterous Governor rather than one of the greatest. I’ve drank the Paterson Kool-Aid; I am on the bus.

J.P.: I ask this of every Democrat I know, and I’ll ask you: How are you staying sane during the Trump years? I really mean that, because I’m losing my shit and feel like our nation is crumbling into the abyss.

J.P.: I don’t buy into the hype and think long term despite us being at like Defcon 4 three times in the past year. If I could help the President I would, but sorry, I still have three years left on my term at the ABO. I am expecting he’s nearing lame duck status.

I think the current administration is the high water mark of political incivility and divisiveness. If you weren’t sure what that meant before, you definitely know it now. It sucks. Twenty five years ago you’d hear from foreigners about how they knew american politics was sensational and the President’s absurd views were not a reflection on its people – America was still what many nations aspired to have. Today I think that’s no more and we’ve got a lot of explaining to do. But I have faith in the strength of the process and the rule of law. It’s all about the process.

Pearlman (far right) with Duffy Palmer and Governor David Paterson at Leaders' meeting on RTTT in NYC.

Pearlman (far right) with Duffy Palmer and Governor David Paterson at Leaders’ meeting on RTTT in NYC.

J.P.: According to your bio, you “prepared and organized a ballot protection effort that uncovered attempts by the opposition to suppress the vote on Election Day.” Serious question—why do people seek to suppress the vote? And I know that sounds overly simplistic, but what I mean is … it’s so preposterously wrong and sinister. How do people not see that? Or not realize what they’re trying to do is downright un-American?

J.P.: Why does anyone cheat? I am happy, again here, to feel like I’m on the side of the angels. Let’s make elections fair, right? In the case you mention, I worked for months to put a trained lawyer in every poll site (80) in Yonkers from 6 am to 9 pm. Then we waited in the “war room” at HQ with a bank of phones for the shenanigans to begin to be called-in by these Election Day poll watchers. It worked and we caught them and were able to handle the nefarious activities to permit voters to vote and for our challenger to fairly beat the incumbent.

In politics, those who are in positions of power often don’t want to give it up without a fight. There are patronage jobs or pet projects that risk being changed should a challenger win. There are demographic issues –which is code for racism. There’s always one in the group willing to go rogue and attempt to win at any cost.

People see it. Take a look at what happened that day after I called a reputable editorial board member of a local daily paper…

It's not every day someone gets to meet Christian Hackenberg.

It’s not every day someone gets to meet Christian Hackenberg.

J.P.: My mom used to deal with Jeanine Pirro when she was a judge, and she found her to be a smart, level-headed human being. I’ve actually heard that from multiple people. Not that they agreed with her, but that she was … OK. Now she’s on Fox News and she seems bat-shit insane. And I wonder … what do you think happened?

J.P.: I’d say Ms. Pirro transformed herself from being a smart jurist into being a successful sensationalist entertainer. It’s trending.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career?

J.P.: Greatest: St. Patrick’s Day 2008, State Capitol.

Five minutes before David Paterson is sworn in as Governor and I am shepherding the Judges of the Court of Appeals to their front row seats, my legal idol, Chief Judge Judith Kaye looks me straight in the eye and says, “Jeff, with all this chaos swirling around us right now, you seem to be totally calm.” “Judge Kaye, I said. “I am in my element.”

Lowest: Election Day 1992, Queens County.

My first real boss, State Senator Jeremy S. Weinstein, lost his election after being redistricted out of his political base. I was the campaign field director and we lost by 10 points. The TV was showing Bill Clinton celebrate his presidential victory. I wanted to be happy, but I wasn’t.

J.P.: You attended Albany Law School. I very nearly attended SUNY Albany before realizing, “Shit—it’s so cold.” Wise move?

J.P.: You probably would still be here in Albany if you decided on UAlbany. It’s true, you must embrace the winter here (ski/skate) to endure the steel-gray skies of the long, half a year of winter in upstate NY. You live in sunny California. Wise? Probably, though I’m sure you’ve been softened by the easy weather and are now somehow less of a NYer.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JEFFREY PEARLMAN:

• You’re a die-hard Jets fan. Five all-time favorite members of the team: 1. Jerry Philbin: Family lore is he’s the reason behind my dad getting season tickets. My first memory of a Jets game was taking a bus from his restaurant in Massapequa and collecting tips for the driver. I was 3; 2. Emerson Boozer: drafted my birth year, ’66, and a fellow Town of Huntington resident; 3. Darrelle Revis: Loved Revis Island; 4. Joe Namath: I had the opportunity once to tell Joe Namath that I was a Jets fan before I was a Democrat!; 5. Brett Favre: My honey is from Wisconsin and landing Brett even if it was a short-lived 10 game success, it was an exciting time for me.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): William Shatner, Dennis Hopson, Ed Koch, Happy Feet, pears, blue hair, David Crosby, Operation (a Milton Bradley Game), Detroit Tigers, “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad.”: 1. Pears; 2. Shatner; 3. Koch; 4. Crosby; 5. Tigers; 6. Operation; 7. Hopson; 8. 2/3; 9. Happy Feet; 10. Blue hair

• Three memories from your Bar Mitzvah: 1. The money to buy a component stereo setup; 2. Trying to convince the bartender to serve me a drink now that I had become an adult; 3. Making my family proud

• One question you would ask Harry Carson were he here right now: Man, I hate the Super Bowl Giants. I’m Jets fan. OK. ‘Hey Harry, you can’t drop your helmet in today’s NFL the way you used to. Does it piss you off, you fucking tackling and interception legend?’

• Celine Dion calls. She’s looking for a kick-ass attorney. She’ll pay $10 million next year to represent her, but you have to sing “Safety Dance” to her for three hours every night—wearing a diaper, with deer antlers glued to your skull. You in?: Absolutely. Safety Dance, no problem. Deer? Only three hours? No question.

• Five greatest Pearlmans/Perlmans of our lifetime?: 1. My grandfather, Hyman; 2. My pops, Ira; 3. My brother, Eric; 4. My brother, Aaron; 5. You.

• In 25 words or less, make an argument why Blair Thomas was better than Emmitt Smith …: Blair Thomas was better than Emmitt Smith because he was drafted as a New York Jet.

• Five favorite books: 1. Yankee Lawyer: The Autobiography of Ephraim Tutt; 2. The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War. Roy Morris, Jr.; 3. Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Tom Wolfe; 4. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. Hunter S. Thompson; 5. The Stranger. Albert Camus

This is one of my absolute all-time favorite songs. Being serious—what do you think?: I like hip hop’s beat. This one’s more like a ballad though. I like it, has a righteous message but it ain’t Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince!

• What happens after we die? And how much worry does that bring you?: When we die, it’s over. We remain in the memories of others. I don’t worry about it and am prepared as best as I can be for when it comes.

Showtime Book
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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life