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The Old Man and the She

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Now back in New York, Vance relied on his old D.A.’s-office comrades to navigate the city’s legal landscape. Morgenthau helped secure a cushy partnership for him at the prestigious firm Morvillo, Abramowitz. “Morgenthau said [Vance] was the best assistant,” says Elkan Abramowitz, who worked for Morgenthau and is one of his closest friends. Morgenthau’s son-in-law Paul Grand is also a partner. Vance handled tax security and other white-collar cases before deciding to run. But his problem was his benefactor. Was Morgy resigning? Or running again?

Then Troopergate happened and Ashley Dupré happened and the landscape shifted. With Governor David Paterson now holding the power to make an appointment, Vance might have hoped that the first strategic consultant he hired, Bill Lynch, could have pressured his old protégé Paterson to cut a deal. But Morgenthau wouldn’t budge.

“He didn’t want to get out,” Lynch says. “He wanted to finish his term.”

Or run for another one. Morgenthau kept the guessing game going by holding fund-raisers and taking in nearly $800,000 in donations.

As Morgenthau wrestled with the decision of whom to support—Castleman? Vance?—a third office alum, Richard Aborn, tossed his hat in the ring. Like Vance, Aborn was deferential to the Boss, seeking his blessing over lunch at the Odeon. But unlike Vance, Aborn had a different pedigree.

His father didn’t know any presidents; he sold stocks, commodities, precious gems. Growing up, Richard was into school clubs and sports and did things other kids do (“Yes, I’ve used a bong”). He went to the University of Dubuque on scholarship and worked as a bartender and caddie for pocket money. At the D.A.’s office, he often went for beers with the Legal Aid attorneys after long days in court. Aborn’s pet issue was guns: He couldn’t understand why the wrong people had such easy access to firearms. At cocktail parties, he and his young lawyer friends would talk about how weird it was to feel so powerful over such a helpless group of people moving through the justice system.

“Rich was always looking for the gray area,” says attorney Joe Ortego, who worked with and was close friends with him.

“You got to understand, they are all like Morgenthau’s children,” one former prosecutor says of some of the candidates for D.A.

In his trial bureau, Aborn was teased as “the Dickster,” a nickname colleagues say he earned because of a tendency to not be around when others needed him. “The Dickster” may have stuck, but Aborn did help out on cases, Ortego says.

At the time, Aborn was dating, and then married, Ingrid Rossellini, the twin sister of Isabella Rossellini and daughter of Ingrid Bergman. A literature scholar, Bergman’s daughter met Aborn after filing a report. Her husband had beaten her, she claimed. After the case was resolved, Ingrid needed documents from the case to help with her immigration situation, and Aborn asked her out to lunch. “She was Italian,” he says. “I’m always fascinated by these other worlds.”

He later immersed himself in the gun-control movement, becoming allies with former police commissioner Bill Bratton and former public advocate Mark Green. Over the years, his political friends encouraged him to run for office. The D.A.’s office never seemed like a natural fit. But in a crowded field, many advised, anything can happen. He wrote his own campaign a check for $100,000, his wife chipped in $25,000, and he took up residence in a diner booth to court donors.

“Richard is very well spoken and very smooth,” says Katharine Cobb, Aborn’s old supervisor from the D.A.’s office. But like many office alumni, Cobb is supporting Vance. Among many things, she says the job “requires depth of character.“

With Aborn and Vance now staffing up and raising money, Morgenthau was nervous about such a crowded field. “Three guys and a horse, and the horse wins,” he would say to Castleman.

Castleman wondered if he himself was a viable candidate. In January, he and Morgenthau commissioned a poll to see how Castleman stacked up.

The poll had three notable findings. First, as Morgy’s top lieutenant, Castleman, given equivalent information for each candidate, was the favored choice. Second, despite his historic tenure, Morgenthau’s endorsement meant little. Third, nobody really knew who any of the candidates were. The Boss and his right hand went back and forth for days.

Finally, Castleman had had enough of the Boss’s dithering.

“You need to tell me if you are going to support me or not,” Castleman said.

“I’m afraid I wont be able to do that,” Morgenthau said.

“Does that mean you are going to support Cy?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I think you just guaranteed Leslie will be the next D.A.” Castleman said, then resigned.

“You got to understand, they are all like Morgenthau’s children,” one former prosecutor says. “This was a case where Morgenthau overlooked the older son [Castleman] and chose the younger [Vance].”


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