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I Sit and Look Out

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The latest series of disclosures about mismanagement and other scandalous activities in the city Department of Buildings is nothing new. Of course, malfeasance is not limited to government agencies. Religious organizations and nonprofits are hardly clean of problems.

Bribery is apparently a way of doing business, and I had a personal experience concerning this years ago.

The city Air Pollution Control Department, now a unit of the city Department of Environmental Protection, started as the DOB's Smoke Control Bureau.

When it became a separate department, Leonard Greenburg, a medical doctor and an engineer, was named commissioner and Sylvan Hanauer, a distinguished engineer and Citizens Union member, as deputy commissioner. The third appointed position was department secretary, which I filled.

I was in my late 20s. I had worked as a copy boy and clerk on the city desk of The New York Times, edited a weekly newspaper at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, edited the weekly Forest Hills newspaper and earned a bachelor's and master's in English. Most importantly, I had begun to take an active interest in politics. That led to my appointment.

Greenburg was firm about corruption. Any irregularity was to be reported immediately to the city Department of Investigation. Our department would not investigate itself.

Many of those who worked in the new department had worked in the DOB. Our chief engineer, Leo Flood, was a fine engineer from Middle Village. He told me how engineers and architects filing plans with city agencies on occasion would put bills of large denominations in their rolled-up applications.

Then I encountered my own bit of chicanery. We were fighting very hard to reduce air pollution from automobile junk yards, which spewed out heavy smoke. Many were in Queens.

One day, a politician I knew well and whom I liked called to ask if he could see me about a matter in which he had an interest concerning such a yard. We spent a few minutes together, during which I outlined the need for our aggressive activities. He seemed to get the message.

I accompanied him to the elevator and when I returned to my office, I found the summons we had issued had been left on my desk. I put it in a plain envelope, addressed it to his office, put my own stamp on it and sent it off.

We saw each other a number of times after that. The meeting and its aftermath were never mentioned. The summons resulted in a fine, which was paid.

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