Last Week, Republican state chairman Stephen Minarik called on Attorney General Elliot Spitzer to investigate the nonprofit, tax-exempt Drum Major Institute for being too friendly with Freddy Ferrer. Exhibit A, according to Minarik’s letter, was a July 5 press conference condemning English-only report cards in city schools, where Ferrer was joined by Andrew Friedman. Aha!
“On February 10, 2005, the DMI announced that Andrew Friedman joined their staff as a Drum Major Institute Fellow,” Minarik wrote. “On June 28, 2005, Mr. Friedman—identified as a Fellow of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy—published an opinion piece in Newsday entitled ‘Help immigrant parents: Speak their language,’ which laid out the arguments Mr. Ferrer is repeating at today’s event. This pattern of events alone would appear to be sufficient prima facie evidence for an investigation by [Spitzer’s] office, although there are other questionable links.”
Among those other links, Minarik says, is the fact the William Wachtel, the force behind the Drum Major Institute, has raised a ton of cash (at least $75,000 in this cycle) for Ferrer’s mayoral run. Minarik also points to earlier DMI criticisms of Bloomberg policies on schools. After stepping down as Bronx borough president in 2002, Ferrer was president of the Drum Major Institute until December 2004, earning $130,000 in his last year there, according to tax records.
Is there a “vast left-wing conspiracy” afoot? DMI says Minarik is stretching the connections between DMI and Ferrer: Friedman, the institute says, gets only a stipend from DMI (although that didn’t stop DMI from featuring Friedman on their web site’s home page Tuesday); his day job is with the nonprofit Make the Road by Walking, and it’s that group that sponsored the July 5 event with Ferrer.
Plus, what’s the big deal if DMI did? Mike Bloomberg recently got an endorsement from the Vaad Harabbonim of Flatbush, an influential board of Orthodox rabbis (Religious organizations are tax exempt, too). Last month he appeared with reps from nonprofits like ACORN to promote the Atlantic Yards deal in Brooklyn. In May, the Children’s Defense Fund hosted a presser with Betsy Gotbaum. Do those activities break the law?
Perhaps Minarik doth protest too much. DMI, which aims to be the left’s answer to powerhouse conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, has earned little recognition in the New York press for its policy papers and speakers series. That might be the press’s fault, but DMI’s mission as defined to the IRS—”hosting forums with representatives from the government, academic & business communities to discuss current problems facing society”—hardly sounds earth-shattering. Nor does Ferrer’s current position in the polls seem threatening to Bloomberg. Perhaps Minarik knows something we don’t know.
Finally, the ploy of writing to Spitzer was an ironic move on Minarik’s part: The AG has a testimonial displayed on the Drum Major website: “DMI really is what we need more of in this country—a think tank dedicated to creativity when it comes to progressive politics.”