Academic Outrage

Under Reform Guise, Giuliani Turns CUNY Into Patronage Mill

Within the last couple of weeks, Wiscovitch and Ohrenstein were cut from the payroll. Neither consultant had ever been required to submit detailed billings, and it is unclear what either did. Both Badillo and Wiscovitch told the Voice Wiscovitch was hired to get stories about CUNY in Hispanic media, but Gerson Borrero, the editor of El Diario and a leading commentator on Latino radio, said Wiscovitch never pitched any CUNY story to him. "I talk to Joe all the time; he sends me releases from his clients frequently. I just had a two-hour breakfast with him a few months ago, and I never even knew he represented CUNY," Borrero said.

Not only was Wiscovitch paid as a consultant to Giuliani's 1997 reelection committee, he was slated to be hired by the senate campaign last year. "I was planning to be part of his team. I was with Rudy the night before he decided to pull out of the race," he said. Wiscovitch, who specializes in appeals to Latino voters, recalls going to Giuliani's final senate appearance with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell and sitting between Joe Lhota and Tony Coles, another deputy mayor. After Giuliani pulled out, Wiscovitch was retained by Rick Lazio.

Stan Altman, the head of the Baruch School of Public Affairs, praised Ohrenstein for helping him put together a critical funding proposal, but said the ex-senator only worked with him for two weeks. He has been paid approximately $70,000. A longtime West Side liberal, Ohrenstein now frequents Republican fundraisers, including the recent South Street Seaport extravaganza for Pataki.

Badillo, who began fundraising for a mayoral race a couple of months after he assumed his CUNY position, appears to have already violated a state ethics ruling. The ethics commission issued an advisory opinion in 1998 that it said "should be viewed as a guide to those State officers and employees who choose to participate in political activities." The decision said state officers "may not solicit funds from subordinates" or "any individual or business entity" that does business with the university, according to this ruling. The statute this opinion rests on does not technically apply to CUNY, which had to adopt its own code of conduct for trustees. But the CUNY code is largely indistinguishable from the requirements of the statute.

While Badillo has only been able to raise $100,000—all of which he's already spent—his committee did report contributions from several CUNY employees, including the president of Hostos College. Badillo now says that he will return employee contributions, which the ethics opinion says are "strictly forbidden" under civil service law. An earlier ethics decision—issued in July 1992—prohibited a state employee from running for city council, saying his campaign "would create at least an appearance of a conflict of interest." Unlike Badillo, the employee, who negotiated leases for a state agency, was not even in a policy-making position.

Ironically, Badillo wound up embroiled in a legal issue with the city's Campaign Finance Board over his mayoral committee's deficient filings and was denied any matching money. Mandelker, who represented Badillo when he ran for comptroller on Giuliani's ticket in 1993, wrote a letter on Badillo's behalf to the CFB opposing the penalty. Mandelker, who is also counsel to the State Republican Committee, has represented CUNY in three major lawsuits and continues to serve as a special counsel.

Badillo, who may challenge billionaire Michael Bloomberg for the GOP nomination, may also have been on the CUNY board longer than the legal limit. The CUNY statute sets a two-term limit, and Badillo is in his fourth term, just reappointed last summer. He has twice been named to serve out the partial terms of members who stepped down, but under the public officers' law, those abbreviated terms would still count. Other members have also sidestepped this barrier over the years, but Badillo is the first to attempt to run for a major public office while chairing the board.


Research: Robbie Chaplick, Jesse Goldstein, Anna Lemond, Laurence Pantin, Theodore Ross

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