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Keane's statements confused one former penthouse resident. Even before Brown's renovations, the apartment was "fairly lavish," according to Allan Hershfield, who lived there for five years during his term as FIT president. Hershfield, who retired in 1997, said he had heard from former colleagues about Brown's expenditures. "It's hard for me to imagine spending that," he said of the spree. "It's not something I would have done."
Like the rest of the state's community colleges, FIT has been buffeted by budget cuts in the past decade. The school gets about a third of its $97 million budget from the state, a third from the city, and the rest from student tuition.
But FIT officials are on their own when it comes to deciding how much can be spent on the president's residence, according to SUNY officials. "We do not issue guidelines relative to the residences of community college presidents," said SUNY spokesman Dave Henahan.
Teachers say the school itself could use the funds. "There is always a need for more money," said veteran professor Lou Stollar, who teaches psychology and heads FIT's union, the United College Employees. "There is always the need for new technology," said Stollar. "The fashion industry designs with computersand computers are expensive."
Stollar said he was under the impression the penthouse renovations were limited to the living and dining room areas and that the cost was borne by the educational foundation. "That comes as a surprise to me," said Stollar, when told that the bulk of the money was from the school's own operating funds.
Brown herself underscored the school's pressing needs when she announced in August 1999 that FIT had won a crucial new state grant of $300,000, which would enable it to launch new computer graphics and design instruction. She made the announcement nine months after winning board approvals to spend almost double that amount on her own apartment.
Saving state money has been the credo of Comptroller McCall, who is hoping that his progressive politics and fiscally conservative policies will propel him into the governorship next year.
A spokesman for McCall said the comptroller had no involvement in the decision to refurnish the apartment. "Any of the renovation work at the FIT apartment was done by and for the college," said Steven Greenberg. "The comptroller played no role whatever in the changes that were made there. They were approved by the foundation's and the college's boards of trustees."
In addition to the penthouse, McCall and Brown own a $1.2 million home in Dutchess County and condos on Central Park West. Brown, a youthful 54, is the first woman, and the first African American, to head the college. She came to the post with an extensive résumé as an educator and administrator. She served briefly as a deputy mayor for community affairs under former mayor David Dinkins. Her appointment as president of FIT was viewed among Albany political watchers as a temporary cease-fire between McCall and Governor Pataki, who controls a majority of the SUNY board that approved Brown for the job.
If a truce existed, it ended this year when McCall announced his candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination for governor. Despite his wife's post in the SUNY system, McCall blasted Pataki in February for allowing politics to govern the appointments of SUNY and City University trustees.
It has not been smooth sailing for the comptroller since his announcement. Last month, McCall's daughter from his first marriage, Marci, 37, was arrested for writing thousands of dollars in bad checks. She pled not guilty. Brown has had her controversies as well. The FIT president raised the hackles of the school's commercial and residential neighbors with a state-funded plan that would shut West 27th Street at Seventh Avenue, making half the block a leafy campus plaza and creating a narrow cul-de-sac at the western edge (see "Plaza Sweet," Voice, February 20).
FIT officials say all of the penthouse furnishings will remain in the college's possession at the end of the Brown's term. But, of course, Brown may not need them. If McCall is elected governor, he has vowed to live in the Albany mansion provided for that purpose, something Pataki, who lives in Putnam County, has declined to do. And after the long absence of full-time residents, the governor's mansion is also said to be in need of a makeover.
FIT for a Queen
A breakdown of total spending by Dr. Joyce Brown on her West 27th Street penthouse:
Research assistance: James Wong