By Thomas Hauser :
On June 19th, George Pataki formally designated Bernard Kerik as chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. The following day, a hearing on the nomination was held by the Standing Committee on Finance of the New York State Senate.
The hearing was chaired by Ronald B. Stafford, a Republican whose district includes parts of six counties in upstate New York. Kerik was introduced and made the following remarks:
"Good morning. I thank the committee for the invitation to be here. A few weeks ago, the governor approached me and asked me to chair the athletic commission, and I told him I would. Many years ago, when I had a lot more hair and less pounds, I fought competitively in martial arts. I understand the challenges. I understand the dangers. I'm aware of what the commission is supposed to do. I'm committed and acquainted with the job as well as the fighters, the promoters, the judges, the doctors, the medical personnel. I would make sure that they do their jobs as well. I think my past experience in management would serve me well in doing this, and again I thank you for allowing me to be here."
Stafford then exclaimed, "Excellent statement," and told Kerik, "We can see why you are a success."
That was the entire hearing. No one asked Kerik the most basic questions. No one inquired into his assertion that he was "acquainted with the job as well as the fighters, the promoters, the judges, the doctors, the medical personnel." No one asked how much time, if any, he intended to devote to the job. No one inquired about his philosophy of regulation.
Bernard Kerik might have been a good police commissioner, but he has been a non-presence at the New York State Athletic Commission. As a gesture of noblesse oblige, Kerik waived his salary as chairman. Unfortunately, he has also waived the responsibilities of his chairmanship. At the time of his appointment, he had a lucrative job in the private sector, and he has kept it. Several fulltime commission employees say that they have yet to see him in the NYSAC office.
Kerik is reported to have told commission insiders that he will leave the NYSAC after the November election. He is also reported to have told associates, "I didn't ask for this job." But he accepted the job. And if he intends to resign after the election, he has lent his name to an ongoing shell game that has left a government agency rudderless for another six months.
The New York State Athletic Commission is once again in turmoil. For over a year now, its primary feature has been a revolving door that has seen Kerik replace Ray Kelly as chairman, Hugo Spindola replace Ruby Marin as counsel, and Charles DeRienzo come and go as executive director. Significantly, none of these five individuals evidenced the most rudimentary knowledge of the business of professional boxing.
For much of 2002, the commission relied heavily on Ray Locasio. Locasio came to the NYSAC as a computer specialist with no boxing background, but he worked pretty hard to learn the boxing end of things. In 2000, after Bob Duffy resigned as director of boxing, Locasio took over most of Duffy's duties.
In early September, Locasio said he would leave the NYSAC for a job in private industry unless he was given a raise. In response, he was told that the secretary of state was thinking of doing away with the position of executive director (which has yet to be filled) and dividing the responsibilities of that job between Locasio and Hugo Spindola. Then, on September 13th, Locasio was advised that the powers that be intended to create a new position for him (assistant to the chairman) at a salary of $78,000 a year. Four days later, Jerry Becker (one of three NYSAC commissioners and acting head of the office) told staff members that henceforth all persons were to report to Locasio and that Locasio would report to Becker. In addition to his salary, Locasio was to receive the use of a state car, parking shield, and gas credit card. Then Ralph Petrillo (a Becker loyalist whose primary duties with the commission involve medical paperwork) complained that, unless he got a raise and a car, he was leaving. At that point, Locasio was told that he had to relinquish the car to Petrillo. Locasio refused and left the NYSAC. His workload was initially divided between Petrillo (who now has the use of a state car) and Bob Limerick (who in recent years distinguished himself by supervising professional wrestling for the commission). Then, a week later, amidst fears that even the pretense of effective regulation was going down the drain, Locasio was designated a deputy commissioner. He will perform the duties of that position despite having a fulltime job in the private sector.
Last spring, before Kerik was appointed NYSAC chairman, trainer and ESPN commentator Teddy Atlas voiced concern regarding the future of the commission. "I'm scared right now," Atlas acknowledged. "I really am. I was scared before Kelly was announced and I'm even more scared now because they're going to go back to the political crony game, where they're just going to throw in a political hack that they owe a favor to. I'm scared to death that's going to happen now. It's going to be very damaging; so damaging that we may never overcome it. I'm petrified that they're going to get the wrong person in there. I have a fairly good pulse on it, and I know the echoes out there and the political people that are lobbying to get in there. Now is the time to act and not get any more of these phonies in there. We've had enough of that."
Four months later, Atlas's words are just as applicable. According to one NYSAC insider, "The game plan is to put everything on hold until after the election. If a job opens up before November 5th, leave it vacant. Then it's back to the good old days."
Meanwhile, the lack of knowledge with regard to professional boxing at the commission is frightening, as is the disdain evidenced for virtually everyone in the industry including the fighters.
What's the solution?
Change starts at the top. When Bernard Kerik leaves the commission, the governor (whether it's George Pataki or Carl McCall) will name a successor. Designating Joe Dwyer as the next chairman of the NYSAC would be a clear signal that positive change is intended.
Dwyer was born and raised in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. His father was a New York City Police Department detective, who fought professionally in the late 1920s but gave up boxing when he married Joe's mother. "My parents separated when I was young," Dwyer remembers. "My father was my idol and he was a great guy in many ways. But he never took responsibility and, because of that, my mother had a rough life. My mother raised us. And believe me; we didn't come from money."
On his sixteenth birthday, Dwyer dropped out of high school and went to work as a mail clerk for American Express. At age seventeen, he joined the U.S. Navy Reserves and went on active duty a year later. While in the Navy, he got his high school graduation equivalency degree and served as a first mechanic for jet fighters onboard the U.S.S. FDR and U.S.S. Intrepid.
It's also worth mentioning that Dwyer was a fighter. In 59 amateur bouts, he had 56 wins, 2 losses, and one no contest with 27 knockouts. Fighting as a middleweight, he won the New York City Metropolitan AAU, New York State AAU, and U.S. Navy championships.
After leaving the Navy, Dwyer worked for two years as a cargo checker on the Brooklyn waterfront. Then, in 1961, he joined the New York City Police Department.
Dwyer served as a cop for 34 years, fifteen of them as financial secretary for the Brooklyn-South sector of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. Along the way, he earned a degree from Regents College and received fourteen citations for bravery. He also spent four years undercover investigating organized crime as a supposed rogue cop on the take from drug dealers. The latter assignment led to one terrifying moment.
"I was in a car with a drug dealer in Bay Ridge," Dwyer remembers. "I was wearing a wire and there was a photo op in progress when the battery in my tape recorder ran down and the machine started beeping. Right away, I grabbed my chest and told the perp, 'Take me to the hospital.'"
"What?" the dealer demanded. "'I've got a pacemaker. Take me to Methodist Hospital now."
Fortunately, the suspect did as instructed. Meanwhile, in 1983, while still a cop, Dwyer became an inspector for the New York State Athletic Commission. A year later, he was elevated to chief inspector. In 1995, ring judging was added to his duties. He left the commission in July 2000 to become chairman of the International Boxing Federation championship committee. In that role, he has earned the respect of the boxing community and helped move the organization beyond the much-publicized criminal proceedings that toppled former IBF president Robert Lee.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission should have a working knowledge of the sport and business of professional boxing. Joe Dwyer meets that requirement. He's also a capable administrator and a straight-shooter with a reputation for integrity and aggressiveness in pursuing what he thinks is right. The fact that he had 59 amateur fights adds to his understanding of what goes on in a boxing ring.
As for his philosophy of regulation, Dwyer declares, "Right now, the commission is driving boxing away from New York. It's part of the problem when it should be part of the solution. There has to be a co-operative effort. It can't be us against them, which is how too many people at the commission view their jobs. Government employees, like everyone else, should treat people with dignity and respect; not just flaunt their authority and yell at them. The commission has to reach out and have a dialogue with all the elements in the sport. It has to have regular meetings with promoters, managers, and fighters to discuss their problems. It has to revamp the rules, which are outdated and too lax in some respects and too oppressive in others."
"What you have at the commission now," Dwyer continues, "is an attitude of indifference. That has to change. The staff at the commission is capable of doing a better job, but they need direction and they need more people who understand boxing to help them. There are a lot of people in this state who have a great feel for boxing because of the time and effort they've put into learning about the sport. But because of the way the selection process works, very few of these people work at the commission."
Unanimity is rare in the conflict-ridden world of professional boxing. One of the few things that virtually everyone seems to agree upon is that Joe Dwyer would be an excellent chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. Like Bernard Kerik and Ray Kelly before him, he isn't asking for the job. But he'd take it; and he'd do it right.
Author Thomas Hauser welcomes feedback at thauser