By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
The request was renewed last month and new agency officials released records that show Harding went on an auto-buying binge during his term at the agency, spending $213,000 on seven cars, including three Mercury Grand Marquis autos, three sport utility vehicles, and a van.
Unlike officials in other city agencies, who are obligated under city rules to buy their cars under bulk-purchase deals arranged with area dealers, Harding went shopping wherever he wanted, and paid top dollar.
All of HDC's cars came fully loaded. A 2000 Chevrolet Tahoe bought for $38,160 had custom leather trim, an electric sunroof, and nine speakers. An "onyx black" 2000 GMC Yukon purchased for $38,664 came with "pewter ultrasoft leather" seating and the "ultimate luxury package" as well as a computerized communications and map system.
The Grand Marquis were also all-leather with special dealer installations and six-disc CD changers. Harding made sure the cars were equipped with lights and sirens, which he used liberally, according to former drivers.
In signing check requisitions for the purchase of the autos, Harding stated simply, "Additional car for agency fleet." But current and former staffers said the cars weren't needed and were kept for use by Harding, Roberts, and former HDC senior vice president Luke Cusack, who was fired in March. One of the cars, the 2000 Yukon SUV, was in such limited usage that it had only 2200 miles on its odometer when Harding sold it in January, just days before his resignation. The lucky purchaser was HDC general counsel David Boccio, who paid $20,000 for the vehicle, well below the listed book value of approximately $31,000.
Since Harding's departure, new HDC president Charles Brass has shed three more of the luxury autos, recouping about $45,000 of the agency's expenditures in resales to auto dealers. Since last year, when he served as a deputy to Harding, Brass has taken an economy approach to his own business driving needs, leasing a Chevy Prizm for $239 a month.
Related Stories by Tom Robbins:
"Low-Class Act: Russell Harding on Blacks, the Poor, and the Clintons"