By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
When Rudy Giuliani appointed Russell Hardingson of Ray Harding, the then mayor's political mentorto take charge of a multi-million-dollar housing agency in the spring of 1998, the new official brought with him all the math skills of a seventh grader, according to doctors who have examined him.
The younger Harding also brought a penchant for excessive spending that began as a teenager, a history of extreme mood swings marked by manic highs and suicidal lows, and a behavior that is "grandiose, arrogant, self-indulgent and hedonistic," medical authorities hired by his attorneys wrote.
All of those traitspoor arithmetic ability, trouble coping with everyday society, a swollen sense of self-importanceare the hallmarks of someone suffering from a malady known as Bipolar II Disorder, a condition complicated by a "nonverbal learning disability," stated the team of two psychiatrists and a neuropsychologist who subjected Harding to a battery of tests. This is a toxic cocktail of mental ailments, the doctors said, which rendered the former Giuliani aide unable to tell right from wrong when he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds on high living while serving as president of the city's Housing Development Corporation from 1998 to 2002.
"The Lush Life of a Rudy Appointee: How a Politically Tied Aide Spent $250,000 on Food, Fun, and Travel"
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"Low-Class Act: Russell Harding on Blacks, the Poor, and the Clintons"
"Bonus Baby: A Hefty Something Extra in Russell Harding's Last Paycheck"
"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"
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The bipolar disorder, wrote one doctor, "accounts for much, perhaps all, of his financial wrongdoing." That was the argument made Monday in Manhattan federal district court before Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is scheduled to try Harding this fall on four charges of fraud and conspiracy relating to his expense account and other scams and two counts of possessing child pornography.
Invoking the diagnosis of the medical professionals, Harding's attorney, Gerald Shargel, told Kaplan that Harding should be allowed to claim mental incapacity as a defense. "Very simply, Mr. Harding thought he was allowed to do what he was doing," Shargel told the judge. "And the reason he thought he was allowed to do it was because of the mental defect."
Harding, looking pale and unfocused, sat listlessly at the defense table, writing an occasional note to his lawyers. In their evaluations, the three doctors said they have already spent more than 100 hours examining him. In addition, they subjected him to 25 separate tests, ranging from Rorschach inkblots to card sorting to "memory malingering" probes. The results and the medical diagnoses of his afflictions were filed last month by Shargel with the court as part of his motion to allow the doctors' testimony to be presented to jurors at trial. When a reporter asked to see the records, Shargel quickly moved to place them under seal. Judge Kaplan denied that request. The records provide a delicate, if detailed, description of a long and anguished history of psychiatric problems.
As early as elementary school, wrote Dr. Mark Mills, a Washington, D.C.-based specialist, Harding was aware of feeling "odd, special, different and isolated." Harding told another of his psychiatrists, Dr. Allen Collins, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital, that he recalled in the sixth grade being "depressed for most of the entire academic year, precipitated by a falling out with a friend."
As a junior and senior at Bronx High School of Science, he bounced back and forth between feeling "socially isolated" and engaging in "excessive partying," when he cut classes to snort cocaine with friends and did so little class work that he needed to attend summer school in order to graduate.
There were brief periods of euphoria, the doctors reported, marked by "hyperactivity" and "increased goal-directed behavior," when, for example, he slimmed down his sometimes bulky frame. These were inevitably followed by a depression familiar to millions of Americans: He would stay in bed all day watching TV, bingeing on food and gaining 20 to 30 pounds at a time.
At the darkest moments, there was talk of suicide. Harding gave "serious consideration . . . to attempting to take his own life on several occasions," Collins said in his report.
He did well his first two years at Clark University, a liberal arts school in Massachusetts, the doctors stated, only to fall back into his downbeat ways again, leading to "deteriorating academic performance, depression and social/interpersonal withdrawal." Harding dropped out his senior year, just four courses short of a degree. The same mood swings followed him into jobs his influential father helped him obtain, first with the Washington office of then U.S. senator Alfonse D'Amato, later with a Manhattan public relations firm, and finally with Giuliani's administration.
Even in 1993, the year when Ray Harding piloted Rudy Giuliani into a triumphant mayoral win and when Russell Harding was working as a paid staffer on the campaign and poised for important things in the new administration, he reported that he was again beset by deep depression. He embarked on another round of "excessive spending"no details are providedand was so disturbed that he sought out the same psychiatrist he had seen as a teenager. That doctor prescribed the mood elevator Prozac. "He did not respond well to that medication," wrote Dr. Mills. A few years later, in 1999, after he had been named president of HDC by Giuliani, a still troubled Harding switched to a new doctor who tried a variety of powerful antidepressant medications, including Wellbutrin and Effexor.