Would Hank Morris Have Been So Influential If He Hadn't Been Corrupt?

hank morris

In the eyes of alleged pension fund crook Hank Morris’ friends, his massive pay-to-play scheme was motivated less by greed and corruption than “smartest guy in the room” syndrome.

“This wasn’t about Hank being greedy,” one friend tells New York. “It was about him trying to outsmart everyone again.”

The magazine interviews one guy who openly admits to having been outsmarted by Morris, a hedge fund manager named Orin Kramer who says he ran into Morris at the gym in 2004 while he was in the middle of drafting regulations to limit political influence on pension investments in New Jersey.

“Those rules are really stupid,” he told Kramer. “Under your rules, which are the most restrictive in the country, I could actually still be doing business and they wouldn’t apply to me, because I never wrote a political check.”

Kramer walked away thinking that Morris was, unfortunately, probably correct; no one could ever construct a perfectly corruptionproof regulation. He had no idea why Morris, long one of New York’s premier political strategists, cared about the arcana of state pension-fund regulations.

Well, that’s no longer a mystery.

Morris’ combination of brains and balls impressed and even intimidated some of New York’s Least Likely To Respect Anyone Ever.  Former Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne, who holds the public sector in famously low regard, personally directed the investment bank’s printing business to a firm Morris owned. Erstwhile car czar and fund manager Steve Rattner was so awed by Morris’s connections he tried to hire him a few years back.

If only Morris had used his superior intellect and clout to, say, make better investments on behalf of state pensioners! (Like Nassim Taleb, Morris apparently lost no money in the crash of 1987.) But would anyone in that world have taken him seriously if he hadn’t been corrupt and self-serving? After all, people who dealt with him were impressed–rather than repulsed–by his greed.

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