« 1976 and all that | Main | Just the facts, Ma'am »

Elena Kagan's crooked dad...

By Michael J. Smith on Wednesday June 16, 2010 02:01 AM

... sued me for libel , almost thirty years ago, for, what, a million dollars? Seven million dollars? I don't quite recall. Hey, a million here, a million there...

Kagan's dad was an Upper West Side lawyer named Robert Kagan. Based on the sketchy bio one finds online, I think this must be the same Robert Kagan -- shown above -- who was exposed as a first-class crook in a little community paper I used to edit, back in the late 70s-early 80s. The paper was called Heights and Valley News (HVN).

HVN was so obscure that it's not even online. We covered the landlord-tenant struggle on the Upper West Side -- a battle which the tenants notoriously lost, and the landlords won, with ample help from high-minded West Side liberals and their institutional excrescence, the Democratic Party.

Robert Kagan had a scam in which he "represented" tenants who were resisting co-op efforts, which were the great engine of gentrification in New York back then. As soon as Robert signed up to represent the tenants, he would form a partnership with other speculators and send the tenants -- his clients -- letters offering to buy out their "insider" rights, under some such soothing name as "Apartment Investors Associates".

Needless to say, the tenants had no idea that "Apartment Investors Associates" included their lawyer, who thus stood to benefit from losing their case -- not to put too fine a point on it.

There were other fiddles, too -- non-resident fictitious "tenants" who were sockpuppets of Kagan's, for example.

No doubt this all sounds very arcane, but it was a big deal at the time. Kagan was the chair of the local community board's "ethics committee" -- you can't make this stuff up. He was either dumped, or had to resign from that position of honor, and he sued me, me personally, for libel, and claimed damages to the amount of a lot of dollars. Millions. I don't remember how many. A few more than I had, anyway.

Of course we laughed the suit off, and it went nowhere -- a very sad and ineffectual attempt at intimidation. After all, we had the documents. There was no surmising about it.

I've scanned some of the old HVN stories and posted them on Tumblr, though the resolution isn't very good on some of them. Will try to find a better alternative.

What of it, you say? Dad is one thing, daughter's another.

But there has been a good deal of speculation on what Kagan's background might tell us about her. The conventional narrative is that she comes from an idealistic high-minded left-wing milieu; so maybe we're not completely fucked. Kagan pere, in particular, is invariably characterized as a "tenant lawyer", a man who fought for the little guy against the rapacious landlords, etc., etc. Here's a particularly gaga example:

Elena Kagan and Family: Best of the Upper Left Side, with a Pro-Union Brother

​It's about time that a child of Manhattan's Upper Left Side was nominated for the Supreme Court. There is no better school for debate than the corridors of upper Broadway and the aisles of Zabar's, where the opinions are stronger than the garlic bagels.

Obama nominee Elena Kagan, 50, has impeccable ULS credentials and genes: Mom Gloria taught public school's best and brightest at Hunter College Elementary School; dad Robert was a lawyer who represented tenants.

This rave comes from the Village Voice -- which was a great supporter of gentrification, back in the day when it could actually claim to be a real newspaper.

Now if Elena is in fact the daughter of my Robert Kagan -- and it seems pretty certain she is -- then this self-flattering West Side story needs to be brought more into line with what we old-timers know to be West Side reality. Elena was raised in comfort, and plied with all the garlic bagels she could eat, on the proceeds of real-estate speculation and a crooked lawyer's fraudulent dealings with his clients.

So if background means anything -- then I guess we're fucked after all.


Update: I was originally somewhat tentative in identifying my Robert Kagan with Elena Kagan's father. It now seems clear that they are in fact one and the same -- see comment #1 -- so I've adjusted the language accordingly. --MJS

Comments (8)

Stuart Lawrence:

Yes, that Robert Kagan was Elena's father. The law firm he founded has a congratulatory message on its website:



Did you send this to Democracy Now?


No. Should I?


They looked into Holder's ties to Chiquita. But I guess this is Kagan's father, not Kagan herself.

So if background means anything -- then I guess we're fucked after all.

Dear Blogfather Smith, did you really have any doubts about the being-fucked outcome -- of this or any other question of moment?

CF Oxtrot:

Robert Kagan sired our first Woman POTUS. Elena Kagan as SCOTUS nominee = Obama speaking at 2004 Donkle Convention. Words = mine, mark them as typed and posted, please. Prediction. That's what it is.

So please, Fr Smiff, do not forget this studly deed Bobby K did in humping his dear wife to produce a manly Elena, and do not cheapen the value of his seed, the quality of his siring, by challenging his credentials or impugning his life's work.

In the American legal system and American society, the mark of a good lawyer is advancing his client's interests while saying FUCK YOU! to substantial objective justice. By these measures, Robert Kagan is a veritable prize stud bull. I'd be surprised if they're not milking his semen for cryogenic preservation and high-dollar sales as we speak. Dude's a mensch, bro-heem!


Wonderful. Here's the best part:

One of the first co-op conversions they [Kagan pere and his partner Bill Lubic] handled was at 320 West End Avenue, a gracious 15-story structure where the Kagans had moved

“Bob and I had an office on Avenue of the Americas at 47th Street, a half block away from the bank’s office, and we walked in there and said, ‘Don’t you want to get rid of this?’ ” Mr. Lubic recalled. With some prodding, they walked the building’s three dozen or so tenants through the complex process of buying their own apartments.

For many, it would turn out to be the investment of a lifetime: the Kagan children sold their family’s 1,700-square-foot apartment, 3B — a “classic 6,” with two bedrooms and a maid’s room — last year for $1.325 million.

There's the recent history of the Upper West Side in a nutshell -- sanctimonious but "realistic" liberals making a killing in real estate.

It would be fun to track down the other "three dozen or so tenants" whom Kagan and Lubic "walked through" their last mile out of their homes. I bet they would have some stories to tell. Don't expect the Times to tell 'em, though.

Post a comment

Note also that comments with three or more links may be held for "moderation" -- a strange term to apply to the ghost in this blog's machine. Seems to be a hard-coded limitation of the blog software, unfortunately.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Wednesday June 16, 2010 02:01 AM.

The previous post in this blog was 1976 and all that.

The next post in this blog is Just the facts, Ma'am.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License

This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.31