Gov. Paterson, pardon John O'Hara
by David Kaczynski
Executive Director, New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
November 23, 2010
Outgoing Florida Governor Charlie Crist recently pardoned rock star Jim Morrison, who was convicted of indecent exposure during a concert performance in the 1970′s. For any readers who may have been living in a hole since then, let it be known that Jim Morrison passed away years ago. So I find it hard to imagine why Gov. Crist took the trouble.
Maybe he remembered former CA Gov. Ronald Reagan’s pardon of country music icon Merle Haggard, who had turned his life around after a troubled youth that included various stints in jail and state prison. As an admirer of Haggard’s immense and influential work (and as a believer in the possibility of human redemption), I applauded Reagan’s gesture. However, I wonder if the Gipper would have been quite so merciful if Haggard had penned, say, “Man in Black,” instead of “Okie from Muskogie.”
Pardons say a lot about politics and preferences. They should also say something about values and principles.
Governors and presidents enjoy unlimited power when it comes to issuing pardons. Thus, by examining who gets pardoned, we can learn a lot about the politics, values, and character of the pardoner. In a roundly criticized move at the end of his second term, President Clinton pardoned crooked financier Marc Rich, who had donated a bundle of money to Clinton’s presidential library. I understand that it might be difficult to succeed at politics without “getting your hands dirty” once in a while. But I wonder why any career politician would care to send such a tasteless message at a time when he could be burnishing his legacy.
Governor Paterson, before he leaves office, has a chance to use his pardon power to send a very different kind of message. He should pardon John O’Hara.
O’Hara was convicted of a felony for voting in the district where his girlfriend lived instead on in the district where he officially resided. Technically, he was guilty. However, no one other than O’Hara has been convicted of a similar voting felony in New York State since Susan B. Anthony voted illegally in an act of civil disobedience in the 1870′s - kind of amazing when you consider the kind of voter fraud that once was prevalent in many parts of our state. So, why was O’Hara treated so harshly?
In his role as a political activist and gadfly, O’Hara took on the powerful Brooklyn Democratic machine. His aggressive prosecution by the Brooklyn DA’s office was meant to send a clear message: don’t mess with the machine! For more background on the events that led up to O’Hara’s conviction, and to sign a petition, visit www.freejohnohara.com.
Gov. Paterson should now send an equally clear message: What happened to John O’Hara – his conviction, $20,000 fine, countless hours of community service, and loss of his profession as an attorney as well as his livelihood – is an affront to American values. The powerful should not be permitted to prey upon the weak for partisan political purposes.
Gov. Paterson rightly complained about the many obstacles that were raised against efforts to reform New York State politics. But there is no obstacle that can stop the Governor from pardoning John O’Hara now. It may be a small and mostly symbolic gesture. However, it would mean much to O’Hara and to a majority of New Yorkers who believe that principle ought to trump politics, and it would leave New York’s ship of state pointed toward the truth north of reform.