New York in History and Anecdote
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Requiescat L.D. Knox

On May 29, 2009, The New York Times published the obituary of L. D. “None of the Above” Knox, 80, a farmer and politician from Winnsboro, Louisiana who had crusaded for over forty years to make “None of the Above” an option on the Pelican State’s ballots.

In 1979, he went so far as to make “None of the Above” his additional middle name and used it thereafter whenever he ran for office.  The Times states:

His aim—allowing voters to call for a new election with new candidates by voting for “none of the above”—remained his main plank in subsequent elections.

“The people of this country have never had a free election,” he said in 1991.  “We don’t have a right to reject candidates.  We have to take the lesser of the evils.”

From his notices in papers across Louisiana, Mr. Knox seems to have been well-liked and respected, although most of his electoral defeats were one-sided blowouts.

Yet, as I argued in 2004, the “None of the Above” option has increasing appeal when many elections are effectively uncontested—as in the case of the upcoming New York City mayoralty, where billionaire incumbent Michael Bloomberg’s unlimited funds effectively push his opponents completely out of the public eye.

June 7, 2009   No Comments

Aurelia Greene, Evergreen

Last week, a special election was held for Bronx Borough President, a job which, since the Charter reforms of the early 1990s, is largely ceremonial. The marvelously named incumbent, Adolfo Carrion, had resigned office to accept appointment as Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs.

Even before State Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. had won the Borough Presidency, he had announced that he would appoint State Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene his Deputy Borough President. She will be the deputy to a public official who doesn’t have much to do. Her duties are unlikely to be taxing.

The Assemblywoman’s name rang a chime in memory. She had been involved with Bronx Community School Board #9. Both she and her late husband, the Honorable Reverend Dr. Jerome Greene, who favored using all his titles at once, had been elected to the Board repeatedly. The Honorable Reverend Doctor had been its president from time to time, and by coincidence, Board #9 had employed several of Assemblywoman Greene’s relatives while she was serving on the Board.

Pastor of the Bronx Charismatic Prayer Fellowship, a church that met in his family manse, and Founder and President of the Bronx Unity Democratic Club, Dr. Greene had pled guilty in 1991 to larceny when he admitted using City money to pay for cameras, television equipment, and other merchandise purchased for his personal use. He also admitted using Board of Education employees to print political campaign literature at Board of Education expense.

The Greenes had previously been indicted for stealing a piano from Intermediate School 145. They beat the rap on that one, although the piano had ended up in their house, where it was supposedly used in his religious services. Dr. Greene was re-indicted on misdemeanor theft of services charges for using school employees to transport the piano to his house. However, that charge was apparently resolved when Dr. Greene pled to the larceny charge.

Both Greenes were serving on Board #9 when, in 1988, the late Chancellor Richard Green suspended them and the rest of the board amid charges of drug use and drug trafficking, extorting money from teachers, and stealing school equipment. The investigations leading to the Board’s suspension had stemmed from the arrest and subsequent conviction of a Board #9 principal, Matthew Barnwell of P.S. 53, for buying crack.

In addition to Dr. Greene and Mr. Barnwell, eight other people from Board #9 were convicted of crimes that included signing phony invoices, bribery, and defrauding the government. The Chancellor removed the district superintendent, Dr. Annie Wolinsky, for mismanagement. Dr. Wolinsky was unable to explain how, while schools went without basics like chalk and paper, thousands of dollars of uncatalogued supplies were stacked in the district warehouse, or why eight district employees worked only at videotaping the board members. She also couldn’t explain her failure to discipline Mr. Barnwell for, among other things, 142 instances of lateness or absence in the course of a 184-day school year.

However, death pays all debts. Despite his criminal record, Dr. Greene has been immortalized by the New York City Council which, by enacting Local Law 131 in 2005, renamed part of Teller Avenue in The Bronx as Reverend Jerome A. Greene Place. In his remarks at a December 29, 2005 public hearing before he signed the bill, Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated that the individuals commemorated that day-Dr. Greene among them-were being honored for their lifetime accomplishments.

I gather that one commentator has suggested that Assemblywoman Greene wanted a job that wouldn’t require a commute to Albany. As she trades the State Capitol for Bronx Borough Hall, everything looks pleasant for her: she is trading one well-paid job for another equally remunerative, and as she journeys toward the sunset of life, the downhill road is comfortably paved with city paychecks.

April 26, 2009   No Comments