PALM BEACH, FL – New York in the late 1970s and ’80s was the backyard of my childhood. My mother was a real-life city girl, growing up in Brooklyn as an immigrant from Austria. A Brooklyn college-educated stay-at-home Mom, she was a traditionalist. She considered her activism the defining factor in her politics, labeling her a liberal. She was a freedom fighter, an activist, and an educator. The impact she made on others was a legacy. Her legacy continues as I write this. The deep state swamp is real. It goes beyond the swamps of Palm Beach County, Florida. A location where legal gators thrive. Moving my parents to Florida was a chance to spend more time with them when they didn’t have much time left. I cherished the time, despite the chaos.
My parent’s love of freedom was mutual, both escaping the Nazi occupation in Europe. Later in life, my mother’s freedom was taken a second time. Had my mom [the activist] had her wits about her, she would have crafted a poster board sign. She would have picked up her rotary dial phone, called her friends, and rallied our neighbors. My mother would have fought for her freedom. Instead, she had a #freebritney moment, where a court stripped her constitutional rights. Her guardian nightmare was a nod to the movie “I Care A lot” from Netflix. Her fundamental rights gone. At that moment, my mom was not in a state of mind to know what she would have done. By my mom’s activist voice can still be heard. Because I’m still listening. The legal gators and the guardian that made her just another “ward.” They didn’t even take the time to pronounce her name correctly. Their tactics were a time-tested template of “legal action.” They are far from alone in their methods
The legal strategies that present guardianship to a court are replicated in every state. It’s both legal and profitable to take an “at-risk” person’s rights away. The lawyers and guardians are first in line at the cookie jar. Before Britney Spears, there were scores of others. Older celebrity names like Kasey Kasem and Peter Max. All rowing in the same boat with American families without name recognition. They all deserve the system to change. A few months ago, the news outlet, The Guardian, recently released an article 99% of the world has no idea’: inside the shocking legal guardianship industry. That’s one headline that seems to be incredibly accurate.
At least in the present moment, America and Congress [on both sides of the aisle] are paying attention. Matt Gaetz has asked congress for a hearing, and Elizabeth Warren supports reform. [I have very little faith that the Democrats won’t wade right into the murky corruption that seems to permeate this industry] Regulators and oversight organizations are friendly with their neighbors in the justice system. At best, they are blissfully ignorant to the level of indecency.
Recently, the DOJ took a conference call with a group of advocates. I was on that call. There were the usual pleasantries to kick off the conversation. Then, the “what do you expect us to do” question when it got down to business. I hung up the call with the gut feeling that not much was getting done. I left with the response that I held back, ringing in my head. The answer that I didn’t voice was, “do your f-n job.”
In the mid 1970s, travelers arriving at New York City area airports were given pamphlets, “Until things change, stay away from New York City if you possibly can.” The subtitle was “Welcome to Fear City”, termed a “A Survival Guide for Visitors to the City of New York.” Inside was a list of nine “guidelines” to avoid getting murdered or mugged. Tourists were advised not to take subways or even walk outside their hotels after six in the evening.
In those days, the city that my mother loved, that we ventured into several times a month, was in an utter state of dysfunction. Finally, it got so bad that some New Yorkers stood up. They took action and inspired their friends and neighbors to do the same. One of those New Yorkers fighting on the frontlines for his city was a real-life superhero in my childhood, Curtis Sliwa, the Guardian Angels founder. This group was street-smart crime fighters and justice seekers, and they took to the streets. At 23, the fast-food working Sliwa decided he had seen enough and, with the help of others, spearheaded a volunteer organization that patrolled the subways. The Guardian Angels brought truth and justice to a crime-ridden New York. Curtis stood up and stood out at a time of graffiti-ridden trains and a sinister underbelly crime and disarray. There are so many parallels to the dawn of a new decade in New York and this decade. It’s a forty-year fast forward, and the bright spot of this is that Curtis Sliwa still wears a red beret that makes him stand out and compels him to continue to patrol the streets and tunnels of his city.
Back in the Bronx of my youth, I witnessed the guardian angels take down a mugger at an elevated train station. People were being pushed onto the tracks. Another event recurrence that shouldn’t be. I watched the red berets swoop into action to save an elderly man. Their motivation was neighborly compassion. It was as important as the martial arts tactics they used in defense in a violent city. The Angels were motivated by a love for their neighbor and their neighborhood. They cared about the vulnerable in our society. They were there to protect others.
Yesterday, I was moved to tears over a video online posted by Curtis Sliwa, currently running for Mayor of New York City. The video shows a disturbed man lashing out at Curtis and his group.
The Caption for the video: Another Day in #NYC & Another Person Not Getting the Help They Need. This will change when I’m Mayor. Sliwa’s response to dealing with the situation at hand was non-verbal. He defused the situation by wrapping his arm around the man and walking side by side with him down the city street. [If Curtis were a democrat, this act of kindness would be a headline on every single New York paper]
A New York Post article details the altercation. It highlights that Curtis Sliwa prevented an attack in the Bronx involving an emotionally disturbed man verbally assaulting random people passing by. One woman reacted by pulling a knife. As no surprise in DeBlasio’s New York, the defunded NYPD did not respond to the call, nor did the EMS show up to assist this man. Thrive NYC, which is supposed to support mental health challenged New Yorkers. They didn’t show up either, despite 1.25 billion dollars in taxpayer funding. The Mayoral candidate responded,
“The abandonment of these people in such dire need of assistance will not continue when I am Mayor of New York City. Helping those who can’t help themselves is at the core of humanity and our responsibility to mankind.”
Decades ago, during my childhood in the shadow of Manhattan, psychedelic renderings were on the cover of Time Magazine, the White House lawn, and even a postage stamp. The artist who created those works was Peter Max, another New York City icon. A 1980’s pop artist with a colorful flair and a colorful story as a German immigrant. My parents were Austrian immigrants. He was relatable. Their generation is termed as being “the greatest.” Historic memories fading with time. In 2019, the New York Times ran a headline about what had become of the talented Max. The headline: “Dementia Stopped Peter Max From Painting. For Some, That Spelled a Lucrative Opportunity“. Max received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, as so many do. During the writing process of that article, he didn’t know what year it was. For some of the characters in the story, Mr. Max’s decline spelled opportunity. His estranged son and three business associates took over Mr. Max’s studio. They increased production for art auctions on cruise ships. The artist himself could hardly paint. The downhill spiral began when Peter’s second wife asked a New York court to appoint a guardian to oversee her husband’s business. Shortly after her request, Mr. Max was removed from his home. Then shuffled around to various locations. Finally, there was a lawsuit where the artist’s family, friends traded lurid courtroom allegations of kidnapping, hired goons, attempted murder, and schemes to wring even more money out of what was already one of the most profitable art franchises of modern times. It might sound like a crazy conspiracy if you don’t know the reality of how guardianship can work. Unfortunately, there are scores of New Yorkers meeting a similar fate.
Two years before the Peter Max story made headlines in the New York Times, another story was covered by the outlet. A caseworker from Adult Protective Services clipped a security chain because Phyllis Funke did not answer the door; she was unraveling. Funke had no idea that the court would appoint a guardian after the caseworker entered her apartment. Phyllis was a nostalgic person, and every item in her apartment had a purpose. Lots of things in her collection had a story. APS labeled this “hoarding.” Phyllis told the New York Times: “I’ve been bullied, blackmailed and stripped of the things I need to live, including my money,” The writer of the article John Leland, had this to say, “In New York, anyone can petition to have someone declared incapacitated. Critics of guardianship say these strangers have open license to raid their wards’ estates.” I’m a first-hand critic, I saw what can happen, my mother died at the hands of a system and profiteers who didn’t care to pronounce her name.
New York City is riddled with crime. Court corruption may not be front and center, but it should be. The emotionally disturbed man in the video with Curtis Sliwa needs help. But… who will help him? Unfortunately, a guardianship system focused on profitable estates generally doesn’t have room for the indigent.
In the 1990’s New York City finally woke up to change and voted in Rudy Giuliani. A republican who proved he was tough on crime and corruption. Back then, he took on dangerous streets. The other problem that he stamped out was the Mafia. In Giuliani’s, New York, the city underwent a renaissance. Back into the now, in 2021, the Mafia is replaced by an incestuous legal system that puts profits ahead of compassion.
Today, New Yorkers face an opportunity at the polls. A candidate who has a forty-year track record of fighting for his neighbors. I hope that Curtis Sliwa will have a reoccurring moment as the future mayor of a great city in peril. A moment like he had on video yesterday, where he wraps his arm around his neighbors being trafficked by a legal mafia. A moment like this could be a new shining moment in New York City history. The next mayor of New York could be an authentic guardian angel taking on the guardianship system. It sounds as good as it could be.