Wayne Barrett: Why Bloomie is Campaigning for Caroline Kennedy

Wayne Barrett: Why Bloomie is Campaigning for Caroline Kennedy

Joel, Mike and Caroline

It would be an oversimplification to say that Mike Bloomberg is the main man behind the Caroline Kennedy tsunami that's hit in the last two days. There are others behind the wave of support, as well. Some, for example, say that Rahm Emanuel has such a need to fill senate seats he's now calling David Paterson instead of Rod Blagojevich.

While Emanuel's call remains well-informed rumor for the moment, there's no doubt that Harry Reid dialed our governor, presumably at the urging of Teddy Kennedy but, undoubtedly, with at least the acquiescence of Chuck Schumer. They are all trying to box in a broke governor with both hands extended toward Washington who needs to fill the seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton.

As large as these forces are, however, the ground war in New York is being waged out of City Hall. The same bluebloods who brought us Mike Bloomberg's term-limit extension have now joined the campaign for Senator Caroline Kennedy, and not just because they love Sweet Caroline.

If Paterson bows to the Kennedy surge, he may end whatever chance his Harlem neighbor Bill Thompson has of becoming the city's second black mayor.

How is that the case? Well...

Bloomberg's 2009 campaign and Kennedy's 2010 campaign will be run out of the same offices at Knickerbocker SKD, where consultant Josh Isay already helped orchestrate the term limits coup for clients Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and where he is now trying to help pull off his second coup in three months by securing the Clinton seat with a resume-reinvention for Ms. Kennedy.

Imagine it's a few months from now, with the New York mayoral race approaching. Senator Caroline Kennedy endorses Bloomberg and wraps her arm around him at event after event. The endorsement of New York's newest Democratic senator--and the slightly less explicit support of Chuck Schumer (whose wife was a Bloomberg commissioner)--combine to neutralize an attempt by President Obama to campaign for a serious Democratic challenger to Bloomberg, who didn't endorse Obama in the presidential election.

With Quinn and the rest of the Democrats compromised by Bloomberg, and perhaps neither Thompson nor Congressman Anthony Weiner, who has already publicly assailed a possible Kennedy appointment, even bothers to run.

Kennedy has so far outdone Sarah Palin by enjoying media adulation virtually without talking to reporters. If anyone ever gets a chance to ask Kennedy real questions, the one that will be tough to answer is the one about which Democratic mayoral candidate she's supporting after being appointed to a Democratic seat in the Senate by a Democratic governor.

She didn't support a Democrat in 2005. Fernando Ferrer, the Democratic candidate and first Latino ever nominated for citywide office, says she didn't support him. And one source recalls seeing her at a Women for Bloomberg event, though Stu Loeser, the mayor's press secretary, says she was not a member of the group.

Isay runs a consulting firm that literally feasts on its ties to Bloomberg. His clients include the Partnership for New York City, the NYC Cultural Institutions Group, NYC & Co., Forest City Ratner, Primary Care Development Corporation, and the Building Trades Employers Association, all of which do business with Bloomberg City Hall. He's got a metal bat company out of California that lists itself as having lobbied the mayor against a council ban, and a taxi company that's approved by the Taxi & Limousine Commission to put driver and passenger information monitors in cabs. He did the television ads for PlaNYC 2030, the premier initiative of the Bloomberg administration, paid for by the Real Estate Board of New York and others.

The opening page of Knickerbocker's website consists solely of a Schumer blurb, and both he and the newly hired campaign manager for Bloomberg 2009, Bradley Tusk, cut their teeth with Schumer. Knickerbocker's last great senate campaign was Joe Lieberman in 2006, and Bloomberg granted unusual leaves to three of his City Hall aides to join Isay in turning that campaign around. Isay's company is a subsidiary of Squier Knapp Dunn (SKD), the major Washington-based consultant that handled Bloomberg's media in 2001 and 2005. SKD's last big winner was Blagojevich, handling his 2002 and 2006 campaigns. Coincidentally, Tusk went from a stint in Bloomberg City Hall to become Blagojevich's Deputy Governor from 2003 to 2007.

While Bloomberg is trying to maintain the public fiction that he's not backing Kennedy, Liz Benjamin reported Wednesday in her Daily News blog that Kevin Sheekey, who is Bloomberg's political alter-ego at City Hall, has been making calls on her behalf. This morning, Mike Barbaro in the Times laid out a host of other Sheekey efforts on Kennedy's behalf, and the Voice has learned he's been holding meetings in his City Hall office about her campaign. Sheekey, whose sister Megan worked with Kennedy in helping to organize a Central Park concert for the city schools in 2003, is also behind the hiring of Tusk and works very closely with Isay.

The most tawdry part of the Bloomberg cheerleading, however, has been the exaggeration of the Kennedy resume. Aside from Caroline's books--some of which have been collections of her mother's favorite poems and other people's essays--the only significant career accomplishment is the two months she worked part-time at Bloomberg's Department of Education. Volunteering, like the mayor, for a dollar a year, she is said to have worked three days a week fundraising for city schools. But what few seem to have noticed is that Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein announced her appointment in October 2002, Klein said it would become a fulltime position in 2003, but it never did. When she left halfway through 2004, education reporter David Herszenhorn from the Times wrote:

"But while Ms. Kennedy generated excitement among donors and often met personally with them, several school officials and acquaintances said she was never entirely comfortable within the bureaucracy of the nation's largest school system. For months after she started, even some high-level education officials said they were not quite sure what she did. In an interview about eight months into her tenure, she would not say how often she worked at the department headquarters or how many hours she spent on the job, saying only, 'I put in as much time as I can.'"

In fact, one of Kennedy's main jobs as chief executive of the Office of Strategic Partnerships was to oversee the Fund for Public Schools, the public/private partnership that raised hundreds of millions under Bloomberg. The Fund's tax-exempt filings with the Internal Revenue Service listed her as working one hour a week for the Fund in 2003 and two hours in 2004, the years she was at DOE. She has remained a vice chair of the Fund, which is also represented by Isay and is chaired by Klein, and has more recently continued to do two hours a week of service, according to the filing. Lara Holliday, a spokeswoman for the Fund, said that the hourly estimate was "a reporting procedure" that "doesn't reflect" Kennedy's far more extensive efforts while she was on staff and since. Mort Zuckerman, the owner of the Daily News, and Wendi Murdoch, the wife of Rupert Murdoch, sit on this small board with her.

Klein "credited her with bringing in a $51 million gift from Bill Gates's foundation," according to a Times piece yesterday, but a top former Klein aide told the Voice that the Gates grant "was totally put together" by Michele Cahill, senior counsel to Klein who came to DOE from the Carnegie Corporation and has returned there. Though Klein has praised Kennedy in the past for raising $65 million for an entirely different initiative--the Leadership Academy--he's never attributed this Gates grant to her, the largest ever for the school system. In fact, Cahill's bio at Carnegie says she "created the New York City school reform effort known as New Century High Schools, a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation." Cahill launched this small-schools program at Carnegie with the aid of millions from Gates in 2000, and, according to the ex-DOE source, "started from day one of the Klein administration in 2002," which is several months before Kennedy's arrival, "to get Gates to expand it." It was Cahill who spoke at the Bloomberg press conference announcing the grant, and Kennedy who was described in the clips as adding "aura" to the occasion."

In addition, the mayor himself has described Gates has one of his closest friends and the two are now privately financing a $375 million anti-smoking campaign together, suggesting that he hardly needed Kennedy to act as a go-between. Gates had already donated $590 million to small-schools programs across the country, including New York, before this grant. The Fund's Holliday said Kennedy played a "facilitation" role with Gates, and could not name any other time Klein had attributed the grant to Kennedy or any more specifics about what she actually did. 

The frequently-cited $65 million for the Academy, which trains principals, is also hype. The Partnership for New York City raised $30 million of it from its own members, and hardly needed any heavy lifting from Kennedy to do so. When Caroline left, Kathy Wylde, the Partnership's president, tried to depict Kennedy's role delicately. "Her stature was absolutely critical," said Wylde, a prophetic anticipation of the argument that is now being used to pave her way to the Senate. Klein has become so effusive about Kennedy in her new candidate role that the Times this week attributed $70 million of the Academy funding to her, five million more than the official claims when she left the department.

But General Electric's Jack Welch chaired the Academy board, and Time Warner's Richard Parsons was vice chair, so it's hard to imagine they didn't raise some of the finding, and Eli Broad, whose foundation kicked in $2 million, was quoted as saying that it was Klein who solicited him for school contributions. In fact, one of Klein's claims to fame has been his own hands-on reputation for fundraising, and when Leslie Koch, the executive director of the Fund for Public Schools when Kennedy was at DOE, was named by Bloomberg and Governor Pataki to head a new development authority, the city press release credited her with raising $150 million in private aid for the schools. Koch was said to have done it "along with Caroline Kennedy."

The former Klein aide who would only talk to the Voice anonymously said that he sat near Kennedy's cubicle and that when she came in, she would "only stay a couple of hours or so." He said she was brought into meetings with potential donors and added to the fundraising effort by her quiet presence and charm. Klein, whose wife went to Radcliffe with Kennedy and was a bridesmaid at her wedding, recruited her at a social gathering in Martha's Vineyard.

Research assistance: Ana Barbu, Beethoven Bong, Sara Dover, and Jana Kasperkevic

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