'SECRET' ASSEMBLY OFFICE LIFTS VEIL

Section: MAIN,  Page: 1A

Date: Tuesday, October 20, 1987

Let the truth be told, for there is indeed a sauna and shower in the downtown Albany office of Assembly House Operations Committee staff director Richard Farfaglia.


"It doesn't work," Farfaglia said Monday, ushering a visitor into a Holiday Inn-style health spa that now has stacked office supplies where executives once sweated off their frustrations. Finished with a WRGB-TV, Channel 6, camera crew, Farfaglia was in the midst of yet another tour of an Assembly committee that had emerged as the latest quarry of reporters sniffing out political corruption.


Questions about the reputed sauna were on the lips of New York Post reporter Frederic Dicker last week when he was pushed by Norman Adler, a top aide to Speaker Mel Miller, and ended up on his back in a House Operations corridor on the top floor of One Commerce Plaza, also known as the Twin Towers office building.


To many, the incident - which prompted Adler's resignation - summed up the peculiar circumstances and tension surrounding the still- unfolding allegations of corruption in the state Legislature.


Because of the allegations, Farfaglia is reticent when asked about aspects of House Operations activities that he suggests were considered commonplace just months ago.


"I thought that I understood the rules, and so did everybody else around here," Farfaglia said a few minutes after showing the sauna Monday. "But now those rules are being challenged."


"As long as there's legal challenges out there to some of the politics that goes on around here," he continued, "I can't talk to you about them the way you obviously would like me to talk to you about them."


But could he say unequivocally that no House Operations staffers worked on political campaigns while still collecting state paychecks?


"Phantom employees? ... There are none," Farfaglia said.


And what does Farfaglia think of the perception around Albany that House Operations is staffed by crooks engaged in illegal activities?


"It's hurtful, plain and simple," a downcast Farfaglia said.


Such is life nowadays for the staff director of the House Operations Committee, a secretive legislative panel widely acknowledged to be the political arm of Assembly Democrats.


News accounts have been filled with reports that committee staffers have worked on Democratic campaigns while continuing to collect state paychecks.


In one instance, Ottaway News Service, citing an unnamed source, has reported that House Operations staffers were even assigned to work on Anthony Genovesi's 1984 bid to be Democratic leader in Brooklyn.


Genovesi, now said to be the target of a new investigation, was a top Assembly Democratic political operative before being elected a Brooklyn Assemblyman last year.


The Knickerbocker News has reported over the past year that Genovesi, using numerous Assembly employees, masterminded a 1986 special election campaign in a Plattsburgh Assembly district.


Faced with the potential investigations, Farfaglia will talk about Genovesi and the role he played in House Operations administration only in the most general terms.


"Did I talk to Tony about stuff? Yeah, Tony was a friend. I talked to him about a lot of things," said Farfaglia, who has worked at House Operations since 1975, serving as director since 1981.


As for the Plattsburgh special election, "I'd love to get into that with you because I think there's a story to be told there," Farfaglia said. "But I can't."


Assembly Democrats insist that campaigns are not run out of the committee's 20th-floor offices in Albany, but its link to political activities are obvious.


Like a similar unit run by Assembly Republicans, House Operations collects data on voters in each of the state's 150 Assembly districts.


Newspapers are clipped for relevant articles, and everything from district office space to publications are decided inside the committee's premises.


Charges of scandal and threat of investigations have made life difficult for everyone at House Operations, Farfaglia said.


"Until the challenge is satisfied and those issues are resolved, I don't know where the line is," he said, referring to what kind of political activity was acceptable in the absence of clear-cut rules.


"I think that there is a general misunderstanding about us and what we do and how hard people work here and about the importance of our function," Farfaglia said.


House Operations has always been a secretive agency, Farfaglia said. "I tend to recruit people who come from the school of thought ... that staff people should have a passion for anonymity," he said.