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In Albany, a jailed pol snarls back.

For eight of James Coyne Jr.'s 16 years as the county executive of Albany, New York, the daily Times Union was not kind. In a barrage of editorials and front page articles, the newspaper detailed Coyne's repeated abuses of power. Subsequent federal investigations led to the Democrat's conviction on corruption charges, and the Associated Press lauded the newspaper for its diligence.

Coyne did not. Instead, he accused the Times Union of undertaking a mission "to destroy me no matter what it took." Last fall, shortly before he began a four-year prison sentence, the flamboyant politician took a few final pot shots in a self-published book that blamed a tangled government conspiracy and "silly looking" Times Union Editor Harry Rosenfeld for his downfall. Among other charges, Coyne claimed the editor is "detested" by most of his reporters; that Managing Editor/News Daniel Lynch threatened to "get nasty with my personal life" unless Coyne stopped criticizing Rosenfeld (a charge Lynch calls a "stunning distortion"); and that Rosenfeld could be compared to a "major leaguer being sent to the minors, rather than retired" because he left the Washington Post for Albany in 1978.

Rosenfeld responds that the convict is "picking up whatever rock he can find" to throw at those who exposed his crimes. "To this day, he doesn't understand what's wrong with what he did."

The Times Union began questioning Coyne's management in 1983 when it reported that county officials had manipulated the bidding process to provide supplies to a nursing home and that Coyne was making a large number of patronage hires. In 1988, the paper revealed that Coyne's get-rich-quick ventures included selling partnerships in racehorses, some to businessmen who also won lucrative contracts to build a new civic arena. (The paper also detailed suspicious bidding arrangements that eventually nearly doubled the arena's construction costs.) A year later, the Times Union reported that Coyne's daughter had received a $10,000 "private scholarship" from a part-owner of a minor league basketball team negotiating to use the arena. The paper also noted the expensive cars and homes the former school teacher had acquired on an annual salary of $60,000 to $70,000.

During his trial, Coyne admitted accepting a $30,000 "loan" from an architect who received a $5 million arena contract, as well as a free car from an auto dealer who supplied vehicles to the county. In addition, Coyne pleaded guilty to three counts of lying on bank loan applications (he defaulted on $77,400) and was ordered to get treatment for alcohol and gambling addictions.

Despite the Times Union's damning coverage, the 49-year-old Coyne had a knack for maintaining a positive image, says reporter Michael McKeon, who covered county government for more than two years but was rarely allowed access to Coyne. "He was very charismatic, and he used the local TV news to bypass us and respond [to allegations] unfiltered."

Nevertheless, Coyne is "not as smart as he thinks he is," Rosenfeld says. "He's got a certain street smarts but he's not even a heavyweight there. Now he's got no family, he's got no money, and he's spending 46 months in a Pennsylvania prison. That's real clever."
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Title Annotation:James Coyne Jr.
Author:Vlahou, Toula
Publication:American Journalism Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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