Pretend you’re Reshma Saujani, 34, dazzling, born to an Indian family expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin, a Harvard and Yale Law School grad who returned to Africa to help build Nelson Mandela’s post-apartheid government.
It’s late 2009 and everything you’ve done in your professional life since its idealistic launch has become so embarrassing you’ve taken to hiding long stretches of your resumé, which now reads more like blight than beacon, a six-figure career path as an obscure accomplice on the dark side of American finance in the worst of times. You might want to examine how you lost your way, rediscover your promise, put values ahead of ambition, and set yourself on a meaningful, perhaps even modest, new course.
Instead, Saujani decided she was ready to become “the youngest woman in Congress,” as her campaign literature in the September 14 Democratic primary race against Carolyn Maloney proclaims she will be. Having spent the last five years at three hedge funds that blew up in scandal or speculative overdrive, Saujani insists she should represent Manhattan’s eastside and parts of Queens in the House on the strength of a bio that features felons and foreclosures.
“It’s our time” used to be the demand of the Jesse Jackson campaign in the 80s, shorthand for saying that the 80s were the moment for a black awakening in national politics. “It’s my time” is the only rationale for the Saujani youth campaign, though none of the 17 city representatives in the House went straight there without prior public service, almost all elected first, like Maloney, to the assembly, state senate or city council.
These are the Saujani themes, as she has expressed them herself if quoted directly. If not quoted, I’ve inferred them from her half dozen negative mailers and the zeitgeist of her campaign, having discussed her message with several of her donors and allies. I’ve put it all in her voice:
I network — spectacularly, in fact, i.e. with Clinton queen bee Maureen White and Bloomberg queen Diana Taylor — therefore I qualify. Impressions transcend performance.
She is 64, I am very definitely not. I am Yale, she is Greensboro College. I am global, she is country.
I “respect the strong women who opened doors for me,” except the one standing in my way.
Maloney was just two years older than I am now when she challenged the Barons of El Barrio, the notorious Del Toro and Rodriguez families who ruled East Harlem like a patronage and nepotism fiefdom, winning a council seat and ultimately driving them out of power. I know nothing about the racebaiting and threats she faced, or the groundbreaking work she did on corrupt contracts as chair of the council subcommittee, or the grit it took for her to take the Gold Coast congressional district away from the Republicans in 1992. Ten years of elected public service before going to the House is just so ancient. And what has she done recently in the House? Whenever I go to an ATM, Maloney’s law requires the bank to disclose the fees I’m being charged. She thinks that’s a big deal. Obama kissed her on the cheek when he signed her Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights, and USA Today says that will save consumers $5 billion in fees this year. But all of that is history. This is about “new leadership.” I’m destined.
I was “shocked to learn that a majority of pro-choice Democrats in the House had voted to take away my reproductive rights” in the fight over the Stupak amendment, and believe that “women in New York deserve better” than the “silence” we got in that debate, but “support the passage of the recent health care reform law.” This means I have already mastered the Washington art of attacking someone else for a compromise I would have made myself.
I come from Wall Street, got half of my hundreds of thousands in campaign cash from Wall Street, but nonetheless point the finger at my opponent, chief sponsor of a law Wall Street hates, as its captive. Maloney “sides with the special interests she’s supposed to regulate.” Who cares that the Washington Post called Maloney “one of the Capitol’s leading advocates for tough new restrictions on the banking and credit card industries”?
She’s “taken $2.5 million in special interest corporate PAC money,” with “huge sums from Wall Street,” while I have taken only from individual bankers and their spouses and coterie in amounts unprecedented for a New York congressional challenger. Did I forget to mention that the $2.5 million is a total for 18 years, or that Maloney’s current list of biggest political action committee givers includes bricklayers, plumbers, teaching hospitals, postal supervisors, federal employees, letter carriers, machinists, teachers and trial lawyers? Did I also forget to mention that she’s received a paltry Wall Street PAC total in this campaign and, in fact, returned thousands in contributions from banks until they repaid TARP?
My own favorite big donors are Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn and wife; Steve Rattner, who’s still under investigation by Andrew Cuomo in the state pension fraud case even after his firm paid $12 million in fines; the wife of JP Morgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon; and Morgan Stanley honcho John Mack and wife, who maxed out at $2,400 apiece and also hosted a private fundraising party in March for me. Morgan Stanley brass, at $38,100, have given more than any other donor, with Goldman Sachs, at $36,700, a close second.
I started my finance career in 2005 at Carret Asset Management, whose co-owner, Hassan Nemazee, pled guilty this year to swindling $292 million from banks, some of it while I was the chief operating officer of the small company’s India Fund subsidiary. Then I became assistant general counsel at Blue Wave Partners, a risk-intense spinoff of the Carlyle Group, which, like Rattner’s Quadrangle, paid $20 million in fines as part of Cuomo’s pension fraud case. Like Carret, Blue Wave collapsed, “hurt by investments in residential mortgage backed securities shortly before record U.S. subprime-mortgage defaults sparked a global credit crisis,” according to Bloomberg.
When I started this campaign last fall, I was deputy general counsel for Fortress Investment Group’s “Liquid Markets business.”
I went to Fortress even though the New Orleans Times-Picayune had reported in 2005 that its affiliate had tried to hold a 67-year-old Katrina victim in default on a subprime loan two months after her home was flooded out. I went even though its association with John Edwards made major national news months before I took the job, with the Washington Post linking it to predatory and subprime lending, as well as Cayman Island tax avoidance, and the Wall Street Journal identifying 34 New Orleans homes suffering through Fortress foreclosure. I stayed there two years, “personally unaware” of the firm’s well-publicized problems. Fortress and Blue Wave executives have combined to give $35,300 in contributions to my campaign. That’s what friends are for, though I did forget to mention Carret and Blue Wave in my official bio.
My policy paper condemns “the property owners and financiers” of the Stuy Town deal that put one of the city’s “biggest providers of affordable housing at risk,”, but I never mention that my most recent employer, Fortress, managed and partly owned Newcastle, an investor in the mezzanine mortgage debt that financed the disastrous purchase of the residential complex. Neither do I say that the wife of Jerry Speyer, the owner that put together the purchase that was predicated on mass evictions and rent escalations, threw a $2,400-a-head fundraiser for me at his townhouse.
I hate “the shadowy practices of derivative trading” but didn’t say so while I took home paychecks from Carret’s Global India Fund, whose Dubai joint venture partner had its own Capital Semi-Exotic Equity Derivatives business, or from Carlyle, which says it “specializes” in derivatives.
I also now hate the kind of “mortgage-backed securities bundled, packaged, and hidden through complex financial instruments and unclear practices” that Blue Wave and Fortress peddled.
I am running against those who are “demonizing Wall Street” and simultaneously using a 2000 news clip to prove that Maloney was once accused of doing its bidding. That decade-old clip suggests that she “advocated for risky subprime mortgages” at a time when most of America thought they were a door-opener for low and moderate income families. I, on the other hand, worked for a firm like Fortress that marketed them when they were already a scandal.
I actually wrote that the Wall Street collapse is “not about corporate transgressions and greed,” and assailed Congress for “implying” that it was “by threatening to tax executive compensation.” I say we “need to extend a hand rather a fist to Wall Street.” Save the fist for Maloney, who’s a moving target, having just been called “the most active” member of Congress by U.S. News & World Report, which cited the 70 bills she’s introduced this session.
“I spoke at an event recently on job creation” and “someone asked me if I was really a Republican,” as if “job creation is the territory of the GOP.” I am not “pro Wall Street, I am pro-jobs.”
I posted a web ad blasting Maloney for ducking debates, charging that she’s “not talking to New York,” and my spokesman told the Post it was because “she doesn’t want to discuss her questionable fundraising.” But when Chris Matthews asked me why I was attacking Maloney’s donors when all “the gold plate” firms are “giving you money,” all I could say was that “the business community” had lost faith in her, a tongue-tied contradiction of my claim that she was a corporate PAC queen. That’s why I turned down a subsequent Voice request to discuss “the irony that Matthews pointed out.” My press guy Jimmy Allen came up with the genius idea that anyone straightforward enough to express interest in my flip-flop must be biased, so we emailed the Voice that, since it “indicated from the outset” that it would “be writing a piece about how Reshma’s criticisms of Maloney are hypocritical,” we didn’t “see any reason to provide you with an interview.” So much for talking to New York.
The Voice may think that asking questions about an irony isn’t the same as announcing one’s intent to write a piece about hypocrisy. But I will only talk to those parts of New York who appreciate the audacity of entitlement and evasion, packaged by consultants who once plowed Iowa for Obama. Besides that, doesn’t this piece prove I was right to duck questions I can’t answer?
When the Voice asked for copies of my solicitation letters to potential donors or invitations to fundraisers, I made sure they couldn’t see what I actually have been saying to attract all that banker loot. I instead sent them an invite to a Johnnie Legend fundraiser that didn’t target my corporate donors and copies of a Maloney invitation to a Carole King fundraiser that I continue to use as a weapon against her, even after Factcheck.org gave my misuse of the issue the only “F” I’ve ever gotten.
Factcheck noticed such piddling discrepancies — like I’d already raised twice as much from the financial sector as Maloney, including PAC money, when I made the charge, and that I’d implied that Maloney was one of eight House members under investigation for hosting fundraisers while financial reform legislation was under consideration when she wasn’t one of the eight. I am still just ignoring Maloney’s contention that the fundraiser was announced months before the conference committee was created or Maloney was named to it. It still happened while Maloney was sitting in the catbird’s seat. Wink, wink, I would have shelved it.
Since no one really expects me to beat Maloney, and I’m running now to lay the groundwork for either a second shot or an alternative “star” candidate, as Steve Rattner’s eastside provincial princess Maureen White so delightfully put it, I was especially happy with a prediction recently offered by City Hall Magazine. “If Saujani can win at least 40 percent of the vote against Maloney,” the logic went, “then it will unleash a flurry of interest in her kind of insurgent candidate: young, tech-friendly and no enemy of Wall Street.” I will be back to my trailblazer days.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 23, 2010