Barrett: Joel Klein Overstates Caroline Kennedy’s Role


[Joel, Mike, and Caroline]

It’s certainly unusual that the rationale for a U.S. Senate campaign would be based on the leading candidate’s 22-month volunteer tenure at the city’s Department of Education, but when that’s all Caroline Kennedy and her champion, Mike Bloomberg, have to work with, so be it.

Joel Klein, the schools chancellor who gave Kennedy this dollar-a-year, ostensibly 3-day-a-week, position, went so far in this week’s Times profile of Kennedy as to ascribe to her the millions dumped into city schools by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a claim no one had ever made before, even when the mayor and chancellor were showering praise on her at her farewell in August 2004.

My post yesterday pointed out that the $51 million Gates small school grant that Klein attributed to Kennedy was actually a continuation of a Gates-funded program that began in 2000, long before Kennedy was even working at DOE. But if there was still any question about the accuracy of Klein’s campaign hyperbole, Tom Vander Ark, the education director for the Gates Foundation at the time, has put that to rest. “She didn’t have anything to do with that,” Vander Ark told the Voice today.

When I pointed out that Kennedy did appear at the announcement of the grant — the largest in NYC history — and tour a school with Gates, Vander Ark said: “Everyone tried to share in the excitement of that day.” Asked if that was the first time Kennedy had spoken to Gates, Vander Ark said: “I think so.” Vander Ark noted that most of the Gates interactions in New York were with Michele Cahill, a senior counsel to Klein, and with Klein himself. A head of an education venture capital firm in California now, Vander Ark called Cahill “an important person” in the development of this small school initiative, confirming, as I reported yesterday, that she and he funded and developed it while Cahill was still with the Carnegie Corporation. When Cahill went to the department in 2002, the two collaborated on extending it to many more schools.

In addition to this grant, the foundation went on to donate millions more to a variety of department programs, tallying well over $100 million by 2005. Asked what role Kennedy might have had with any of these grants, Vander Ark said: “None would be an overstatement.” Klein’s office initially said he would get back to us, but he never did, and a spokeswoman for the Klein-chaired Fund for Public Schools, which was associated with the Gates fundraising efforts, took the questions about these grants and got back without any specifics about Kennedy’s claimed role.

Additional research by Jana Kasperkevic.