By Anna Merlan
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When the Times subsequently got an extended interview with Kennedy, the reporters asked about Klein's original claim that "she brought the Gates grant in," wondering: "Do you feel like maybe the people who are fans of yours have been trying to bolster you perhaps a little too much, and maybe giving you too much credit for the fundraising?" Her answer, which the Times published in a transcript but did not cite in its story, was: "I think it was important to Bill Gates that I was there" at the announcement (Vander Ark says he believes it was the first time they ever met). Kennedy still claimed that she should get "some of the credit" for the grant, contending that she only participated "right at the end" because "it coincided with the time I came into the department." In fact, the grant was made in September 2003, a year after she started and more than halfway through her brief tenure.
Both Klein and Kennedy also tried to hype her role at the Fund for Public Schools, a nonprofit set up to receive private donations to the system that is chaired by Klein. Kennedy has stretched her less-than-two-year DOE "job" into six years in her recent media interviews, without mentioning that she's counting the four years since she left the department only because she's continued to serve as one of two vice chairs of the Fund. The other vice chair, Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman, made a $1.5 million grant to the Fund, but Lara Holliday, the Fund's director, told the Voice that Kennedy, personally worth at least $100 million, "has not contributed financially" at all to the city schools.
One of Kennedy's principal assignments when she worked at DOE was to oversee the Fund, yet its 990 forms, which are filed by law with the IRS, indicate that she only worked an hour a week in 2003, and two hours since, a calculation that Holliday dismissed as merely "a reporting procedure." The same forms, however, require the Fund to estimate the worth of Kennedy's "donated service," and, though the Fund typically listed hundreds of thousands in that broad category of non-cash donations, Holliday concedes they never claimed a cent for Kennedy. "We have not placed a dollar on Caroline's service, as her contributions to the Fund and the DOE would be very difficult to value," said Holliday. Both the Voice and Politico.com have cited unnamed DOE sources who say Kennedy was rarely there, consistent with both of these submissions on required federal forms. The Times finding that she was curiously exempted from the financial disclosure requirements that came with her high-level executive post adds to the evidence that she has a less Senate-worthy service record than Klein has suggested.
Kennedy told the Times that the Fund was a mere "pass-through," collecting "an average of $2 million a year" before she got there. "We kind of re-launched it and revitalized it, you know. Now, we've raised $238 million since then," she said. Klein's CNN article said that Caroline "took over an office that previously oversaw donations to PTAs and alumni associations and re-created it around a model of a public/private partnership," claiming that "under her leadership, the Fund has raised more than $240 million." But the Fund's tax forms show that the $11.2 million it raised in Caroline's first fiscal year—which ran from July 1, 2002, to June 30, 2003 (she started the job that October)—was very similar to the $10.7 million raised the year before. The total actually dropped to $10.9 million in 2003-2004, the only full fiscal year that Kennedy was on staff. It grew to $14 million when she left, and then exploded nearly two years after she was gone, to $39.6 million. Kennedy and Klein's figures of $238 million and $240 million credit her for everything the Fund raised for the four years that she was merely a board member, an absurd exaggeration.
Holliday notes that the Fund's IRS filings do not include the $81 million raised separately for the Leadership Academy, which are collected by a related entity. Klein did include those contributions in his $240 million Fund figure and has variously attributed $65 million or $70 million of it to Kennedy personally. That, too, is dubious, since corporate giants like Jack Welch and Richard Parsons led its board, and the Partnership for the City of New York was by far its largest donor ($30 million). Partnership president Kathy Wylde hardly needs Caroline Kennedy to get her organization's bluebloods to give to a venture it helped create, especially with Time Warner's Parsons an officer of both the Partnership and the Academy. (Holliday e-mailed at press time, saying the Fund was "speaking with our auditors and lawyers" to resolve "inaccuracies" in the IRS submissions.)
While Klein has his own relationship with Kennedy, who went to college with his wife, his inflation of the Kennedy bio is unmistakably Bloomberg-sanctioned, since the mayor himself has pointed to her DOE achievements when he salutes her readiness for the Senate. No one, meanwhile, seems to mind that Bloomberg and Kennedy have combined to politicize a chancellor in a way that has not occurred in years, feeding the critics of mayoral control of the schools who regard the office as an anti-democratic concentration of school power.