My annoying neighbor (and the banality of political corruption)
Greetings! Thanks so much to Cathy for having me in to guest blog for her while she visits Haiti! While neither a math pro nor a babe, I do, on occasion confer with Cathy about her posts and contribute a few thoughts of my own about the world on Twitter at @advisoryA. And I also play bluegrass with her most Tuesday nights – so I guess that qualifies me as a substitute.
To start, I thought I’d share some observations about my new neighbor. West 22nd Street, where my family and I live, is a lovely, tree-lined area with a mix of modest townhouses, apartments and an occasional upscale single-family home mixed in.
In early October my street was lined with pink “No Parking Tuesday” signs. Through neighborhood scuttlebutt I learned the reason: President Obama was attending a fundraiser at a home across the street from me. The location of the fundraiser was at what had been, until recently, a modest townhouse owned by an old Chelsea family for decades. In 2012 the building was bought for $4.6 million. It received a lavish renovation and was put on the market a couple of weeks ago for …. $16.5 million (yes, nearly four times the price paid less than 18 months earlier). It’s being marketed by some real estate broker guy who is a regular on a TV show called Million Dollar Listing – i.e. a home flipping show. http://ny.curbed.com/tags/460-west-22nd-street For fun, check out the comments on Curbed.com (which note that a more “reasonable” flip might be $7 or $8 million, the layout of the narrow home is awkward because the dining room is on a different floor from the kitchen and the master bath that is down the hall from the master bedroom. Plus, there’s a playground pretty much in the backyard and it’s in flood zone A – this area was hit during Hurricane Sandy).
As far as I can tell, the new owners have never lived there – I watched the renovation over the past several months and, since it was put on the market, the only people I’ve noticed inside have come from a stream of of black cars delivering their passengers to apartment viewings.
It didn’t take much effort to discover who was the mastermind behind this audacious exercise in house-flipping: the owners of this lovely home are Bill White and Bryan Eure. White manages to get his name in the paper with some regularity. He’s basically a professional fundraiser. His wiki is…interesting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_White_(administrator) His big claim to fame is raising funds for, and subsequently managing, the Intrepid Museum. In 2010 he also formed a consulting company called Constellation Group for advice on charitable contributions, etc., and, within no time, he somehow got tangled up in the pay-to-play scandals. He was subpoenaed by then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (hmmm?) and ended up paying $1 million to resolve the mess. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-09-16/ex-intrepid-president-said-to-settle-cuomo-pension-probe-for-1-million.html A million dollars sounds like a pretty big check and it came with some loss of status, including a “Disgraced” headline from the Daily News (“disgraced ex-head of the Intrepid” http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bill-white-disgraced-ex-head-intrepid-agrees-pay-1-million-settlement-pay-to-play-deal-article-1.443855 ). The New York pay-to-play scandal was pretty ugly and a few notables, including former New York City Comptroller Alan Hevisi, were convicted and sent to prison. White, however, was undeterred and instead, went about ramping up his political mover-and-shaker career. Within a year, his “disgrace” was fully rehabilitated.
Not one to let a romantic occasion go to waste, in 2011 White threw an elaborate, 700 guest wedding extravaganza at the Plaza to commemorate his wedding Bryan Eure. It wasn’t just any wedding – David Boies officiated! http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/24/nyregion/wedding-of-bill-white-and-bryan-eure-is-extravagant.html http://nypost.com/2011/07/19/my-big-fab-gay-wedding/ And it was filled with luminaries and politicians, including Bill Clinton, both George Bushes, David Patterson, Scott Stringer, Christine Quinn, and, remarkably, White’s former Javert, Andrew Cuomo. Nothing like a wedding to help bury old grudges.
For some reason, White appears to be a bit fickle when it comes to his political affiliation. Despite supposedly being considered for senior military positions in the Obama Administration during Obama’s first term, White presented himself as a Romney supporter in 2012. He was back in the news for withdrawing support, and requesting his contributions back, from Romney in 2012 over Romney’s gay marriage stance http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/14/romney-donor-pulls-support-backs-obama-over-same-sex-marriage/.
White also calls on his political friends to help out the neighborhood sometimes, too. Even though he doesn’t spend much time at his 22nd Street home, White still has strong opinions on the neighborhood. He angrily petitioned Mayor Bloomberg over the CitiBikes station that would be a few feet from his front door. http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20140106/chelsea/mayor-bloombergs-friends-emailed-for-help-with-their-citi-bike-woes In an email to his old buddy, he argued that it was just plain unfair that the ugly bike rack would mess up the character of “his” block.
I’d estimate roughly 200 police officers and at least 50 Secret Service officers arrived on Tuesday, October 7th to prepare for the President’s arrival. Security gates were all over the place, the street was closed off to traffic and eventually the police and Secret Service required ID for anyone entering the block (the NY Times had a little commentary about the visit http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/08/nyregion/before-a-visit-from-obama-a-chelsea-block-goes-on-lockdown.html?_r=0. At one point, the Secret Service came to my door to ask about the open window in the upstairs apartment – apparently it made the snipers (!!) uncomfortable (since my upstairs neighbor was out at the time, I’m not sure how this was resolved). Many thousands of dollars were spent securing this visit. The President showed up, hung out for about an hour and headed out to Greenwich, Connecticut for fundraiser part II. But the good news is Bill White can now say that the President (who he may or may not support, depending on the current tides) broke bread in his house, which should certainly help boost resale value – I bet they don’t have that happen every day on Million Dollar Listing!
The President’s visit was, for me, a rather sad window into the fundraising machine of rich guys and the politicians who need them. As a coda, investigative reporter Roddy Boyd provided an additional glimpse into my millionaire-next-door. As part of his many efforts to help Veterans, White worked as a fundraiser for New York City’s Veteran’s Day parade. Sadly, due to rising costs of throwing a parade, it almost didn’t happen this year. But thanks to the fundraiser with Obama at White’s house, he managed to scrape enough money together to save the parade. As Roddy notes, there’s a little more to this story. http://observer.com/2014/11/stumbling-up-fifth-avenue/ Just ten years ago, the NY Veteran’s Day parade cost about $35,000 to run. Now, a much more elaborate, televised parade costs more than a million dollars to run each year, in part due to the $570,000 fund-raising contract for our old friend Bill White. Roddy has much more on the ugly sausage-making of charitable fund raising and I highly recommend you check out his article. I eagerly await the arrival of the Russian oligarch or Chinese official who’ll buy White’s house and help make the neighborhood a little more respectable.