Rory Lancman: The Sad Fate of District 24

Former Assemblyman Rory Lancman has been avidly seeking a better job for several years.  In early 2012 he announced his intention to run against Bob Turner for Anthony Weiner’s old seat, but was hobbled in his search when the 9th Congressional District was eliminated.  The new district, the 6th CD, had been designed to be New York’s first “Asian seat,” and Lancman annoyed Queens County Dem bosses when he decided to play the spoiler in Grace Meng’s run.  In the end, Meng won an absolute majority of the vote against Lancman and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, and a week after the November election the outgoing Assemblyman announced his intention to run for the 24th Council District, held for three terms by the term limited James Gennaro.

Lancman lucked out when two of his competitors for the nomination dropped out of the race: Isaac Sasson, lottery winner and election perennial, and Martha Taylor, popular district leader and activist, who appeared to have the support of Queens powerbroker Joe Crowley.  Health problems sidelined Taylor, and Sasson has decided to focus on philanthropy, leaving Lancman a virtually clear shot at the Council seat in central Queens.

So who exactly are they getting at the southern end of Utopia Parkway?  As an assemblyman Rory Lancman liked to promote alarming-sounding bills, preferably containing the word “terrorism.”  His most notable piece of legislation is the “Libel Terrorism Protection Act,” which would shield New Yorkers from libel judgments in countries that make it particularly easy to establish defamation, i.e. Britain.  The New York law addressed a legal problem commonly known as “libel tourism,” or the practice of shopping a case to find a favorable jurisdiction.  Changing “tourism” to “terrorism” may have helped Lancman win headlines, but resulted in the meaningless phrase “libel terrorism.”  Why not a bill addressing “arson robbery” or “rape embezzlement?”

Along similar lines we have the “Non-Profit Homeland Security Preparedness Study Act,” which requires the state to examine the “security needs of New York State non-for-profit institutions and what resources and strategies are available to assist with providing security.”  The initial survey of non-profit groups revealed the startling fact that “88% identified funding as a needed resource.”

One week following the allegations that Dominique Strauss-Kahn had raped a maid at the midtown Sofitel, Rory Lancman announced, at a press conference outside the hotel, that he would introduce a bill to ensure that chambermaids be given alarm buttons in case they are set upon.  As Lancman ominously described it, “We send hotel workers into rooms. By themselves. With no security.”  And here we are, several years later, and people are still entering rooms.  By themselves.  With no security.

Rory Lancman’s real work, however, has been in the service of his own guild, trial lawyers.  He agitated vigorously for a bill called the “Institutional Investor Recovery Act.”  This law would supposedly strengthen the unusually robust Martin Act, which gives the New York Attorney General practically unlimited power to prosecute securities fraud, with the terms “security” and “fraud” defined as broadly as imaginable.  The IIRA piggybacked on the anti-bank sentiment of the post-collapse Occupy Era, and promised implicitly to “recover” the moneys lost by large pension funds as the stock market went down.  The real function of the act would be to empower securities fraud lawyers with the authority of the AG to go wildcatting.  Did the fund lose money?  Let’s sue!

Maybe it would have been a great spur for social justice if the bill had passed.  Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann certainly thought so.  BLB&G is one of the largest law firms in securities litigation, and recently negotiated a $730 million settlement out of Citigroup, for which they requested $146 million in fees.  Passage of the IIRA would give BLB&G latitude to pursue settlements of this size with an unprecedented degree of freedom.  In their self-published magazine “The Advocate for Institutional Investors” BLB&G came out strong for Lancman’s bill.  The firm and its employees have also contributed at least $7500 towards Lancman’s campaign.

Rory Lancman has also been a vigorous advocate for worker safety, and chaired the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety.  Some of the contacts he made in that role paid off for him after he left the Assembly: the personal injury and class-action “mass tort” law firm Moretti Ratner (partners of which contributed $10,000 to his campaign) hired Lancman at some point in the last year, it appears.  In what seems to be a theme this electoral season, the candidate does not mention his actual day job in any of his campaign material. 

Just as a piquant endnote to this article, we direct your attention to Alex Adjmi, part of the Adjmi real estate family, which owns a great many high-profile buildings.  Alex Adjmi contributed the maximum $2750 to the Lancman campaign in January of this year.  Some years ago, in an earlier chapter of his life, Mr. Adjmi served 44 months in federal prison for laundering tens of millions of dollars in cash for South American cocaine cartels.  Pecunia non olet and all that, but surely there are some limits!