Behind Closed Doors ... Who's Trying to Save New York?



Behind Closed Doors ... Who's Trying to Save New York?

 The Dim Bulb

The Occasional Musings of an Educator

by Michael Keany

The brain is capable of performing 10 quadrillion (that’s 10 to the 16th) “calculations,” or synaptic events, per second using only about 15 watts of power. At this rate, a computer as powerful as the human brain would require 1 gigawatt of power. Maybe a dim bulb isn't really as dim as it seems.

The photo above is the Livermore Centennial bulb, the world's longest burning electric bulb. 

Number 4

March 15, 2011



The Dim Bulb


Behind closed doors ... Indeed!


I sorted through my mail recently and found a closed door.  In a very professionally polished color brochure, I saw a picture of closed School Superintendent’s door with the following wording, “Behind closed doors, school superintendents and administrators are taking money out of classrooms - but putting hundreds of thousands of dollars in their own pockets.”  Wow!


I went back to my days as a school administrator.  I admit that I found a penny every once in a while on a classroom floor.  I also admit I kept it if it was heads up.  But I never   took money out of a classroom.  I earned my salary.  Often getting to work an hour before anyone else and leaving at 11 PM after a meeting or an event.  On average as a HS Principal, I probably did that three days a week.  Some of those late nights and long days were on weekends.


I could feel the blood rushing to my face as I read more of this brochure which hinted strongly that we bureaucrats (I never thought of myself as one of “those people”) were taking (intended with a wink I suppose, to mean “stealing”) from classrooms.  I read on to find out who could possibly be so poorly educated.   The Committee to Save New York, Inc. proudly claims authorship, in small print, in a corner box on the mailing page.  Who are these people?


I went looking for their “closed door.”  Behind it I found an interesting group of people who have, it seems, a very interesting agenda.


The Committee to Save New York is listed as a non-profit entity and, under state law, does not have to reveal its donor roll. Bill Cunningham, the managing director of DKC, a public relations firm hired by the committee, said the group’s website,, will post a list of directors soon. The group has no plans to make its donor list public, however, he said.  Gee, that seems like a closed door to me.  I opened that door just bit and I found the following in a NY Times story written on January 17, 2011.  (see footnote 1 below.)

“Yet for Mr. Cuomo, who has pledged to seek radically stricter campaign finance laws and deeper financial disclosure in Albany, the effort poses quandaries. The new group is expected to spend at least $10 million in support of him, and, because it is organized as a nonprofit group, it is not required to disclose its donors or budget.

Meanwhile, some of those who have voluntarily disclosed their involvement in the group, like the Real Estate Board of New York and the state Business Council, collectively have billions of dollars at stake in the decisions that Mr. Cuomo will make in the coming year, on issues including insurance and banking regulations and rent control.

“It appears that they are coordinating with the governor and they are doing this to help the governor and maybe even at the request of the governor,” said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, a nonpartisan watchdog organization. “We don’t know everyone who’s involved in this. But the ones who have crowed the loudest about it have critically important public policy issues in play this year.”

“... after news media inquiries, the committee added to its Web site a list of 16 board members. The group includes Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of New York; Kevin S. Law, president of the Long Island Association; Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City; Rob Speyer, president of the real estate firm Tishman Speyer; and Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York.

I peeked behind the closed door a little further, and learned a bit more.  Mr. Speyer, pictured below, seems like a decent looking fellow, full of concern for children.  pastedGraphic.pdf

Lars Klove for The New York Times

Rob Speyer, president of the real estate firm Tishman Speyer, is also on the board.



Kathryn Wylde, (pictured below) president of the Partnership for New York City, seems like a nice sweet lady, full of love for good education.


Ruby Washington/The New York Times

Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, is a board member of the Committee to Save New York, a state business lobby.


What could these nice people hope to gain by accusing bureaucratic school administrators of unsavory practices?  I looked further.

LittleSis is an online open-content collaborative project, that is, a voluntary association of individuals and groups who are developing a common resource of human knowledge. They specialize in profiling “the powers that be.”  LittleSis is a project of Public Accountability Initiative, a 501(c)3 organization focused on corporate and government accountability.


In a piece dated January 20, 2011, (see footnote 2 below) Little Sis author, Kevin Connor, stated the following, “Who, exactly, is behind the Committee to Save New York? To find out, LittleSis’s Cuomo Watch research group will be investigating over the course of the next month. The Committee has refused to disclose its donor list, but it has released its board list, and we have already added that info to the Committee’s page on LittleSis. We will be using that and other public record information to shed light on who, exactly, is behind these efforts, and what their true agendas and interests are.”


“It is already clear that one of the main forces behind the Committee is the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), an industry association comprised of wealthy real estate and financial interests. REBNY’s president, Steven Spinola, and chair, Mary Ann Tighe, are on the board of the Committee, and Committee co-chair Rob Speyer is on REBNY’s executive committee. Speyer’s real estate firm, Tishman Speyer, has reportedly donated $1 million to the Committee, and other members of REBNY’s board have also donated to the Committee, including chair emeritus Stephen Ross (a billionaire) and the Durst Organization (Douglas Durst is on REBNY’s board).”

“REBNY’s board boasts many super-wealthy real estate investors and bankers, including billionaires Richard LeFrakStephen RossLeonard SternSheldon Solow, and Jerry Speyer. Large real estate management firms like CB Richard Ellis, conglomerates such as Vornado Realty Trust, law firms such as Weil Gotshal Manges, and financial firms such as Barclays gain a voice in government through REBNY.”

“REBNY’s annual reports do not exactly paint a picture of an organization intent on tackling the state’s budget problems or easing the tax burden of the middle class. The reports detail a range of lobbying activities intended to lower the tax burden of big business and the super-rich, including advocating for equal income tax rates for billionaires and bus drivers, a continued “carried interest” tax break for hedge funds and real estate investment firms, and a continued tax abatement for condo owners in Manhattan. “Fiscal discipline,” in REBNY’s world, appears to mean helping wealthy, big business interests avoid paying taxes.”


Now, I was really in a real quandary.  Where did the Board members of the Committee to Save New York get their wealth?  Could it be from real estate?  Could some of their wealth come from tax-relief deals past, and to come?  Could some of that tax money have gone to the classrooms we’ve been talking about? Gee, I said to myself, could these people who want to save New York have their own motives?  I wish I could answer that for you, dear reader, but they seem to be behind closed doors. 


By the way, for the record, my office door was always open.







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Comment by David Wicks on March 15, 2011 at 1:45pm
Great detective work!  Forgive my ignorance in the field of economics, but how do these initiatives help the REBNY?  The effects that Gov. Cuomo's proposed changes will have on the public education system in New York will be monumental...and not for the better.  One of the main reasons that New York State residents, especially on Long Island, put up with the cost of living here is the superior quality of our schools.  I would ask the REBNY, who will want to buy a house here if the schools suffer as much as they will?





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