Marilyn Mode: Asking for Help

11/26/2012 10:39 am ET | Updated Jan 26, 2013

Some might view the job of the NYPD's deputy commissioner of Public Information as a stepping stone to fame and fortune.

Alice T. McGillion who served as DCPI under Police Commissioners Robert McGuire and Ben Ward, is now a senior executive with Howard Rubenstein Associates, a top city public relations firms.

John Miller, who served as DCPI under Bill Bratton, became a spokesman for the FBI and more recently landed a big bucks television job with CBS.

Then, there is Marilyn Mode.

Mode, who served as DCPI from 1996 to 2000 under Howard Safir, now lives in Montpelier, Vermont. She recently appeared in an advertisement for LIHEAP, a federal low-Income energy assistance program.

The reason: she can't pay her heating bills.

She's is asking for help.

"When I first moved up to Vermont, which was about a little over four years ago I was fine," she says in the ad, seated at a desk in what appears to be an office, wearing a black sweater over a white pullover, hair still blonde, her upscale accent impeccable.

"Also, the price of heating oil was around $2.30," she says. "The past year and a half fuel has gone up to almost $4... And I just can't swing it. It was really hard for me finally to say, OK, I've got to seek assistance.

"I've never been on any public assistance before," she continues. "In fact, I have been on the other end providing it. In the past I have managed programs and been a spokesperson for public safety departments.

"Working with elders, I know how important this program is... Problems like this for older people -- It's stressful for me -- but for older people it is sometimes almost paralyzing. It has made me realize what is important. And God knows, keeping your house warm is important."

Although Mode comes from a privileged background in Washington D.C., where her father was a Republican party poobah, she has not had an easy time of it.

After graduating from elite Connecticut College for Women, she met Safir at the Justice Department's Marshal's Service, where she served as his gal Friday, then followed him to New York as his spokesperson, first at the fire department, then at the NYPD.

Lacking formal journalistic training, she seemed as out of place at Police Plaza as Dorothy and her dog Toto in Oz. In fact, Mode had a dog, a small white terrier named Lil, that she brought with her every day to headquarters, sweeping through the halls, tugging Lil on a leash.

After a police officer wrote to this column -- which then appeared in Newsday -- that Lil was cadging officers' lunches and had bitten a sergeant in the foot, Safir defended Mode, saying, "We don't have a policy on bringing dogs. There is no prohibition in the city health code."

After Daily News reporter Mike Claffey then brought his dog -- a Wheaton terrier mix named Mugsy -- the department announced that in future, visiting dogs would be treated on a case-b y-case basis.

"We won't allow pit bulls or Dobermans," an officer explained. "We will allow small dogs like poodles or Chihuahuas." [See NYPD Confidential Aug 24, 1998.]

Mode, in turn, tried to defend Safir. As DCPI, she had to put the best face on perhaps the most unpleasant man ever to enter Police Plaza. Coupled with the draconian policies of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, it was like putting lipstick on a pig.

Following the fatal police shooting of Amadou Diallo, Safir decided to skip a City Council meeting to attend the Oscars in Hollywood. Poor Mode. It was left to her to explain that Safir's absence was due to a "scheduling conflict."

After Safir retired in 2000, Mode struggled to find herself. She suffered more than one serious illness, was forced to sell her Manhattan apartment. Eventually, she moved to Vermont.
"I have had some rough periods here but am doing well now," she said in a telephone interview.

Mode said she "did the video at the request of a very dedicated social worker in an effort to secure additional funding for the state fuel assistance program."

"I ran into some rather serious health issues, which laid me up for several years during which I needed a bit of help -- and fortunately it was there. As a former member of the 47 percent, I want to ensure that that assistance is there for others when they need it."

Unbowed and feisty as ever, she refused this reporter's offer of financial help. Referring to this column's recent request for contributions, she said, "You're the one putting out an ad for help. I think you need the money more than I do."

JOE, TIME TO GO. [Con't] The Daily News is the latest newspaper to realize that after serving as Brooklyn district attorney since 1989, it may be time for Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes to go.

"Investigate the DA," the News headlined its editorial last Saturday, citing Hynes' handling of the case of Jabbar Collins, who spent 16 years on a wrongful murder conviction before revelations of prosecutorial misconduct by Hynes' top aide Mike Vecchione led federal judge Doris Irizarry to order Collins' release two years ago.

Last week, a second federal judge, Frederick Bloch, criticized Hynes for continuing to praise Vecchione.

Granted, it's difficult to take seriously anything that appears in the News' editorial pages these days, what with its tortured endorsement of Mitt Romney for President or its full-throttled praise of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, even as cops arrested the News' own reporter while covering last year's Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

Still, the News' call to investigate Hynes follows revelations about him in the NY Times and the Jewish Week about his coziness with Orthodox Hasidic leaders, the result of which have allowed Hasidic predators to sexually abuse Hasidic women with virtual impunity.

It also follows the Wall Street Journal's report on Collins' case nearly two years ago. Reporter Sean Gardiner disclosed on Dec.24, 2010, that Collins himself, while in prison, had discovered that Vecchione had knowingly relied on false testimony, knowingly suppressed evidence and covered it all up for 15 years. [See NYPD Confidential, Feb. 21, 2011]

Beginning at Newsday, this reporter, too, has been on Hynes' and Vecchione's case after learning that in 1995, Vecchione had traveled to Puerto Rico with a female assistant district attorney with whom he was having an affair, supposedly on office business.

Instead of answering questions, Hynes threatened a lawsuit. "In the event Newsday chooses to publish any of the contents or allegations," his press secretary, Kevin Davitt, wrote to Newsday's editor Tony Marro, "we will be forced to pursue the matter with legal action." [See NYPD Confidential May 29, 2000.]

After Newsday took Hynes to court, Vecchione admitted the affair but claimed his trip with the female assistant to Puerto Rico was for legitimate -- to subpoena a witness.

Well, guess what? The witness turned out to be one Adrian Diaz -- a key witnesses against of Jabbar Collins.

With editing from Donald Forst