By Melvyn Kohn
March 5, 2010
For all of my life, a guy named Morgenthau has been a top prosecutor in New York; Robert Morgenthau, probably the best DA America ever had. He served the city since 1961, when he was picked by JFK to be Manhattan U.S. Attorney. In 1975 he moved his office a few doors down to be the Manhattan DA. He has just retired, as he is 90 years old. Morgenthau, to those of us not from NY, brings to mind Henry and Henry, his grandfather and father (respectively....). The former is famous for blowing the whistle on the Armenian Holocaust at the hands of the Turks, a fact they still are in denial about. His father was a member of Roosevelt's cabinet who championed wartime aid to Britain.
Young Robert did his bit in the war aboard the U.S.S. Lansdale, which was sunk by a nazi aerial torpedo in the Mediteranean in 1941. "I made a lot of promises to the Almighty without a hell of a lot of bargaining position," he noted of his near death experience. He went on to join the crew of the U.S.S. Henry F. Bauer, which shot down 17 Japanese suicide bombers. The crew got the Presidential Citation for Okinawa.
Robert's battles did not end in 1945. He was quick to take on the mob in NY, turning the first mafia defector, Joe Valachi. But his fight against tax evasion may be an ongoing epic with no end; it involves no less than NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who seems to avoid Morgenthau as much as he can. Whenever Robert brought up the subject, the mayor would look at him blankly. The subject of tax evasion was evaded for years. And now Mike may be sighing in relief; Cyrus Vance, the new DA, does not have the record of his predecessor, and quite likely will let go wickedness in high places. The mayor ought to be doing teshuva, but instead he is doing golf, leaving the city most Friday mornings on his personal jet to get down to the Caribbean where he has a house. The city he is mayor of has more problems than ever, with homelessness now at an all-time high and desperate, unemployed people without much hope. One thing they did have, a relentless prosecutor, is now retired. And each week the tabloids proclaim a new scandal among the NY politicians and public servants.
Morgenthau is a rare breed. We were lucky to have him, and may he spend many more blessed years on this earth in his retirement.