The Lush Life of a Rudy Appointee

How a Politically Tied Aide Spent a Quarter of a Million Dollars on Food, Fun, and Travel

Harding was in Las Vegas that day, the expense records show, attending a computer conference. The records show Harding and Cusack ran their largest tab ever on that trip, almost $17,000 for airfare, two hotels, restaurants—and a $936 helicopter ride.

Sawyers acknowledges that his decision to seek out the Voice earlier this year came after hearing from Harding that a reporter was seeking his records—and after Harding badly hurt his feelings last summer. A cancer care group in Indianapolis gave Sawyers, who suffers from leukemia, a free trip to New York, a place he said he always wanted to visit. When he shared the good news with Harding, however, his friend became irate, insisting that he not come.

Harding has since accused Sawyers of "stalking" him and warned him in an e-mail that if he talked to the reporter about him it would be considered "extortion." Sawyers denies that he's ever demanded anything of Harding or threatened to pursue him.

Rudy's men: Russell Harding (right) with top aide Luke Cusak. In three and a half years at the city's Housing Development Corporation, they chalked up $250,000 in expenses.
photo courtesy of the New York Housing Development Corporation
Rudy's men: Russell Harding (right) with top aide Luke Cusak. In three and a half years at the city's Housing Development Corporation, they chalked up $250,000 in expenses.


More Voice reporting on Russell Harding:

"More Lush Life of a Rudy Appointee"

"Party Harding"

"Harding's Hustle: Bonuses, Bargains, and Strip Clubs at the Housing Development Corporation"

"Low-Class Act: Russell Harding on Blacks, the Poor, and the Clintons"

"Bonus Baby: A Hefty Something Extra in Russell Harding's Last Paycheck"

"The Private Lives of Russell Harding"

"Where Are the Whistle-Blowers?"

"Harding's Conflict of Interest: After Pledging to Steer Clear of Dad's Law Firm, Son Aided a Client"

"Scandal Repair: As Harding Probe Continues, Cleanup Costs Grow"

"It's kind of hard to stalk someone from Indianapolis," said Sawyers, who returned the free New York ticket to the cancer group unused.

Neither does Sawyers appear to be motivated by publicity. He initially maintained that he did not want to be named in this article and only agreed after the Voice went to Indianapolis to interview him and confirm his identity.

As an administrator at HDC, Harding got mixed grades. He was credited with updating the agency's obsolete computer systems. In a move that he said was designed to improve morale and productivity, he relocated the agency in plush offices on Williams Street, spending millions in the process. He bought expensive Aeron chairs for every worker and spent thousands more installing a shower in the president's office. He also held corporate picnics, spending $15,000 for an outing held last August, and extravagant Christmas parties costing tens of thousands more.

But he showed little patience with his employees, firing at least 14 during his term in office and making other workers so nervous that some began taking home records that documented his spending sprees. "The man was a tyrant," said one longtime staffer.

One executive, Mina McEvoy, 63, was fired from her post as vice president for marketing after running afoul of Harding in 2000. In response to an age discrimination complaint filed by McEvoy, Harding listed McEvoy's shortcomings as failing to get the agency's more than 700 holiday greeting cards out on time and omitting a photograph from the agency's annual report. McEvoy denies those charges, but both parties agree on one thing: The annual report was pulped and destroyed, at a cost of more than $25,000.

Harding knew he was unpopular, according to his online chats with Sawyers. "I found out last week that my whole staff hates me," he typed on October 3, 2000. "It was very upsetting . . . not so much because they hate me but because i actually thought i was very well liked. And bear in mind i have a staff of 110."

At least a year before he resigned, Harding told friends he knew he'd be out of a job once a new mayor was in City Hall. His February 1 departure date was set weeks ahead of time, and Cusack had the agency shell out $665 for a farewell party. But Harding had already made sure he would be going out in style.

Records show he had HDC pre-pay one-year subscriptions to The New York Times, the Daily News, the New York Post, Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, and Vanity Fair, at a cost of more than $2500, to be delivered to his home. He also had the agency pay more than $1000 for a year's service for his handheld computer. On Christmas Eve, he went on an $860 shopping spree at Borders. He used his corporate Diners Club card to buy what appear to be either last-minute presents or a stack of reading material for a long vacation. He purchased a book on old cars, two biographies of Ronald Reagan, Caspar Weinberger's memoirs, and new thrillers by Ken Follett and John Grisham, as well as three $200 gift cards. He also picked up maps and guides to Bali. On his next-to-last day in office, January 31, Harding spent $264 at Staples on office supplies and billed the agency.

His planned trip to Southeast Asia didn't come to light until after the Voice filed its new requests for all travel and expense records. On March 14, HDC president Brass canceled the tickets. It was too late, however, to avoid one more Harding expense: a cancellation penalty of $500.

In his only comment, Harding's attorney said that the agency has been reimbursed for the cancellation penalty, as well as the Borders shopping spree.

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