By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Bloomberg has been anything but a champion of inclusion at the top levels of his own government. As Councilwoman James observes: "But for Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, what other person of black or Hispanic ancestry is there on the executive level?"
In 2006 (the latest full year for which statistics are available), only 8 percent of the 203 administrators and managers in the mayor's office—the two top ranks in the city's Equal Employment Opportunity filings—were black. Even Rudy Giuliani managed 10 percent. (Bloomberg's Hispanic hires, however, are slightly ahead of Giuliani's.)
Ironically, SBS was the only black- majority Giuliani agency (59 percent) when Bloomberg and Walsh took over; by 2006, it had dropped to 39 percent. Black administrators and managers at SBS have dipped from 37 percent at the end of Giuliani's term to 26 percent in 2006. Merged in 2004 with the Department of Employment—a Hispanic-run agency under Giuliani—SBS had only four Hispanics among its 68 top-tier employees in 2006, and half as many as Asians. (Walsh has recently hired an MWBE deputy who is half-Mexican.)
Research Assistants: Samuel Breidbart, Sarah Lavery, Shaunna Murphy, Shea O'Rourke, and John Wilwol
Several current and former black staffers have told the Voice about Walsh's insensitivity, as well as his "exclusive comfort level with highly educated white professionals." Donald Jackson, a 20-year city professional with a deep human-resources résumé, was hired by Walsh in 2004 as his HR director. He says that the merger with DOE—a very unionized city agency—forced Walsh to look for someone familiar with civil-service and union rules. Jackson left in 2007, after suffering through what he called "a daily torment of comments and innuendo—a demeaning, horrible atmosphere." He says that Walsh "wasn't comfortable with me as the face of the agency," and that another top minority manager told him that Walsh referred to him as his "whipping boy"—a charge that Walsh adamantly denies, though a half-dozen sources at the agency told the Voice they'd heard about the alleged comment. SBS acknowledges that Walsh "leaned heavily on his human-resources department" and "pushed his staff hard," but insisted this had "nothing to do with race."
Jackson listed one black employee after another who left the agency, dismayed by "an environment so hostile, they couldn't take it any longer." SBS calls this charge "preposterous," insisting that four black managers who were at the agency when Walsh arrived are still there, though the Voice reached out to 11 others who had come and gone (and even some who are still there) and repeatedly found echoes of Jackson's complaint. Jackson recounted the story—as did many others—of the departure of onetime assistant commissioner Michael Smith, who was berated by Walsh for hanging African-American art in the headquarters lobby for Black History Month. "He totally annihilated the man and told him to go home," recalled Jackson. "He was screaming and yelling that he didn't want more nails in the wall. [Smith] didn't get fired that day, but that was the beginning of the end." Reached by the Voice and asked about the Black History Month art controversy, Smith said: "You guys have really been talking to people." Then he refused to answer any questions.
Smith stayed at the agency for more than a year after the incident, resigning after Walsh identified apparent shortcomings in his handling of the BID program. Councilwoman James was so outraged in 2006 about the simultaneous departure of Smith and another top black manager that she raised the issue at a budget hearing, calling it "alarming" and demanding that Walsh explain why "your two highest- ranking African-Americans are no longer there." (James has since made peace with Walsh.) "Alarming" was also the word that Alfred Milton, an associate director of the MWBE program at SBS, used in a 2007 EEO complaint to describe "the lack of mobility" for black men "under Commissioner Walsh's leadership." (Milton's complaint is now pending before the State Division of Human Rights.) Another leading black official at SBS, Tim Johnson, went to see Deputy Commissioner Schwartz at one point, according to several sources at the agency, and complained that he'd been bypassed for a promotion—and that the job had gone to a younger white employee with far less experience. SBS ultimately agreed to raise his salary to equal that of the white applicant it had hired, but Johnson, too, would soon be gone. Johnson, who is now with the United Way, declined to comment, but SBS didn't deny this chronology, saying only that Johnson did receive other promotions.
For his part, Donald Jackson, the former HR director, was replaced by Spencer Cronk, a 28-year-old white policy analyst without any human-resources experience, as well as a black outside consultant. The consultant was given a six-figure contract but soon departed herself, leaving the entire job to Cronk, who was given a nearly $30,000 raise. Minorities are rankled by the salaries and promotions given to Walsh insiders like Cronk and Michael Borden, a former campaign aide to Andrew Cuomo who jogs with Walsh, house-sits for him, and plays on the softball team. Borden has received $58,000 in salary hikes since joining the agency three years ago, and now is paid $108,414.
Borden and Blackmon aren't the only politically connected hires. David Margalit, a Harvard Business School grad who worked in the Bloomberg campaign, was referred by the mayor's office, Walsh acknowledges, as was Chris Dorrian, the brother-in-law of Tony Carbonetti, Giuliani's mayoral chief of staff, current business partner, and the manager of his recent presidential campaign. Dorrian, whose family owns bars connected to two of the most explosive murder cases in recent decades (the so-called "preppie murder" of Jennifer Levin in 1986 and the slaying of Imette St. Guillen in 2006), is a Walsh favorite who manages the softball team and hosts it occasionally at a family pub. It's this "frat-boy" crew, as some call it, that irritates outsiders—many of them minorities—at the agency.