Crowning BUFNY's Destroyer

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We seem satisfied to settle for Black faces in lowly high places, where mere “color presence� trumps true “presence of consciousness� to a commitment to empowerment. The choice of State Senator David Paterson for the relatively and historically “meaningless� position, in terms of real power, of Lieutenant Governor symbolizes this situation. The puppeteers feel safe that the status quo is holding, so they sleep well, and without fear.

(Eliot Spitzer).

There is no greater “sin” than betrayal of the great legacy of our forefathers and foremothers to stand as true men and women of honor and integrity, to live and prosper without fear, and to defend, protect and pursue the self-interests of the community.

The balance sheet of history for the Black community speaks loudly of betrayals that we can no longer avoid and, with self-deceiving false blindness and safe blissful ignorance, fail to confront and correct. These ingrained crippling conditions of the mind have, in the arenas of politics and economics, where betrayals come easy, enabled the unchallenged climb to the top by manipulative, deceiving “politicians”, such as Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, masquerading as elected “representatives” of the people.

This success has depended more on self-destructive gullibility, than the worthiness of the vote seekers.  We blindly elect these deceivers repeatedly, without securing any meaningful return or benefit for the Black community, especially in terms of economic empowerment; however, rest assured there are the few who get the “crumbs”, as payoffs for their “endorsements and loyal support of the party”. We seem satisfied to settle for Black faces in lowly high places, where mere “color presence” trumps true “presence of consciousness” to a commitment to empowerment.  

The choice of State Senator David Paterson for the relatively and historically “meaningless” position, in terms of real power, of Lieutenant Governor symbolizes this situation. The puppeteers feel safe that the status quo is holding, so they sleep well, and without fear.

Just as many of the unsuspecting victims of a “serial killer” are beguiled by the convincing “charm”, “friendliness”, and “uprightness” of the deadly perpetrator until too late, so too are the naïve and unvigilant in the Black community tricked by the “closet serial racist”, who knowingly lies and makes false promises of better days, which never seem come, once they are elected to an even greater power position. The game has not changed.  We remain, as Bro. Alton Maddox would say, “on the plantation” and in firm check. 

This will always be the case when you depend on others to fulfill your hopes. It will never happen! If we play by the current rules of the fixed games, the outcomes will always be (fixed) predictable! However, since these are “mind games” of life, we can always decide to change our minds on how to play, and you can bet that the outcomes will also change.  Have you not noticed that when there is even a hint that something in the Black community is successfully “changing” the status quo, e.g., a serious movement based on independence and organized self-help practices at economic empowerment and institution building, the woodwork comes alive with “hand-picked agents” to destroy, co-opt or neutralize it and the leadership –by any means necessary? 

To understand, one needs only revisit historic instances of massacres and acts of  complete destruction: the Ex-slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association; United Negro Improvement Association; Black Wall Street of Tulsa, Oklahoma; Wilmington, North Carolina and Rosewood, Florida; the Black Panther Party; Black United Fund of New York; and more.  History predicts more to come, unless significant internal changes in the Black community are made and its institutions and recognized leadership protected.

Our story of political life here in America is replete with examples of empty quid pro quo promises of power politics. I get mine and you get yours! It is the solicitation lie used by the likes of Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to secure the votes of  Blacks, who once again, rest their hopes on the chance* that promises will be kept and pleas for justice heard. You know the familiar chants: “Give me your vote!” “Together we can build ...!” “Keep hope alive!” “No justice! No peace!” History reveals that when the Black community is involved, the political game turns out to be zero sum “winners take all”– except, of course, for the usual “30 pieces of silver” to the ever-present enemies within that assist in the obvious sham performance called “RepubliCrats” electoral politics –American style.

How many repeat deceivers –just like repeat “offenders”– has the Black community heard these words, only to be betrayed –from without and within– again and again! Lessons still go unlearned, so history repeats itself.  We, again, carry out our assigned subordinate tasks, as expected, like “dead men walking.” Deja vu –the mind speaks briefly alerting you that this has happened before– yet, it does not seem to help.  We fall for the deception of false reciprocity sponsored by false leaders who have long ago crossed over, yet remain like ghosts from the past standing watch, as “selected leaders”.
May 2, 2006 marked the third anniversary of the announced “hostile” seizure of Black United Fund of New York by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to conduct one of his investigations that, based on a faulty complaint misrepresenting the facts, actually began in November 2002, to root out crime and corruption in the non-profit world.

Now after 45 months, and still counting, there have been no charges and no official report of findings issued that would form the basis of an “Assurance of Discontinuance” and official closure.  The Spitzer takeover resulted in the predicted intentional destruction of another Black independent institution. Spitzer, like a fake “crusader”, spoke empty words in his deceitful press release on the appointment of his handpicked board of five Black Republicans: "Our goal here is to help BUFNY flourish. The interim board —comprising talented individuals with proven records of service— will breathe new life into BUFNY, and help shepherd its finances and programs," said Spitzer.  History shows quite the opposite, but with consistent results: more hopes and dreams destroyed and deferred by the deeds of the “RepubliCrats”.

These actions against BUFNY by Attorney General Spitzer, a Democrat and wannabe-governor just waiting for his coronation, who, fortunately for some, also just happens to be Jewish, are in stark contrast to his astonishing “kid-gloves” handling of the “investigation” of the World Jewish Congress.  That investigation began in December 2004 based on well-founded charges by sources very knowledgeable on the internal operations of the organization.

The official findings of flagrant irregularities coming out of the 15-month investigation were documented in a gift “get-out-of-jail-free” Assurance of Discontinuance issued by the Attorney General that reflected a gingerly negotiated settlement that closed the case, as a “win-win” quid pro quo for Spitzer and the WJC.  The findings included financial mismanagement; unauthorized transfers of funds ($1.2 million) to foreign banks; secret slush funds for top executives; major deficiencies in administration; absence of proper governance procedures; missing (lost, stolen or destroyed?) critical files and documents; complete absence of any active board and financial oversight (until 2004!); unauthorized ex gratia (i.e., as a favor) payments to board directors; post-retirement compensation for unused sick time; no documented policies or procedures; failure to keep financial records; unauthorized compensation to executives; cash-based payroll transactions; paper-based instead of computerized recordkeeping; fundraising misrepresentation; and more that the “investigation” was especially careful to exclude, like a redacted secret FBI or CIA file.  What were and are they really hiding that Spitzer chose not to include in the official findings?

These irregularities were deceitfully mis-characterized by Spitzer only as “possible improprieties”!  They had far and away exceeded anything that BUFNY was alleged to have committed and able to be stipulated in any official findings.  Yet Attorney General Spitzer, as announced in his trumpeted January 31, 2006 press release, allowed the WJC to make permanent the governance “reforms instituted … during the course of the investigation,” (more actually prompted by them). These generous concession requirements given to the WJC, but not to BUFNY, included:

[] Creation of an audit committee and position of Chief Financial Officer; (BUFNY had a CFO position and a Finance Committee in place, and there were never any Spitzer-initiated discussions about the need of an Audit Committee.)

[] Computerization of all financial records; (BUFNY had instituted computerization of its financial records and databases since the early 1980s; and payroll processing was outsourced to professionals.)

[] Creation of an employment manual outlining official procedures and policies; (BUFNY had formulated personnel policies and procedures also in the early 1980 based, in part, on those used at IBM.)

[] Implementation of travel and reimbursement procedures; (BUFNY also had functioning travel expenses reporting and reimbursement procedures in place.)

[] Creation of a new fund-raising entity to improve solicitation practices. (BUFNY has had a far-reaching impact on the equitable access to the charitable contributions market place, and where access was obtained, made it a consistent practice to truthfully present its supported programs and mission.)

[]Re-assignment of senior executive staff and board personnel at the center of the irregularities, and the setting up of new advisory structures and positions to, in effect, retain that same personnel and establish new relationships to “strengthen oversight” and the carrying out of the WJC mission.  A kind of “now you see them; now you see them again” deception designed to appear to be real change. (All board members at BUFNY were forced to resign and its two top senior management executives terminated.)

Spitzer stated that he “commended the WJC for undertaking these reforms and cooperating.” BUFNY was given no such commendation, even with the full cooperation of its executive management, staff and unfettered access to all records. In an obviously coordinated January 31st press release, the WJC stated that the investigation found that the ‘Practices Did Not “Compromise the Core Mission of the WJC” or Result in “Losses of Charitable Assets”.’  Spitzer did not publicly object to this characterization of his report. This is a brazen instance of not only Jews helping Jews, perhaps as they always have done and gotten away with it, but a case of official dereliction of duty, abuse of office, and possible criminal misconduct –not to mention favoritism AND outright discrimination against Black people, their institutions and leadership. This is another betrayal and violation of the public trust by someone who is virtually assured to be the next governor of New York.  Who says crime and betrayal don’t pay?

Harvy Lipman, director of special projects at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, in the February 23, 2006 issue, characterized Spitzer’s imposed –or, in the eyes of this writer, agreed to– penalties on the [World Jewish Congress] group as “overly lenient”.  For the WJC, unlike the BUFNY case, there was no hostile takeover; wholesale replacement of the entire board of directors; abrupt firing of the executives, with no turnover process for continuity (Founder and former president/CEO, Kermit Eady has not yet gained access to even retrieve his personal belongings since August 29, 2003); loss or dissolution of valuable real estate assets in Harlem and Brooklyn; loss of hard-won access to public and private employee payroll deduction markets long dominated, if not outright monopolized, by United Way (BUFNY’s arch competitor and, no doubt, the  beneficiary of its destruction); and the ultimate dissolution of the non-profit empowerment institution and its for-profit subsidiaries –Harvest Information & Technical Centers (technology and business services) and the BUF Development Corporation (housing and property development and management); and the auctioning of radio station WCKL that the Spitzer board failed to ever utilize as a resource.

The Chronicle article suggested that the importance of the Jewish community in New York politics, with Spitzer running for governor, “might have played a role in his decision.”  Like a true politician edging closer to the big prize, Spitzer denied that the decision was based on anything other that the “facts of the case.”   This denial or lie, if to be believed, assumes a naïveté or the outright stupidity of the public and depends on a “cooperative media” to not investigate and uncover the “truth”. The system readily accepts the promotion, by media, of the self-serving words of this new breed of the consummate politician –our own Don Quixote, with feet of clay!

Who would dare accuse the Attorney General of showing blatant favoritism for such a powerful Jewish organization on the eve of a milestone election, let alone the meting out such harsh and contrastingly unequal treatment for a Black organization?  If the shoes, as it goes, were on the other feet, and the pattern of destruction was against multiple Jewish organizations and leaders, it would no doubt be called “Anti-Semitism” –the infamous “kiss of death” label that has neutralized so many for even speaking on any issue designated as “off limits” by powerful Jewish lobbyists.  But since the boots of destruction are worn by Spitzer, the pattern fits well with acts of “racism”, notwithstanding the fact that we are all members of the same human race. Does not one “ism” deserve another, depending on your perspective? 

There were no serious questions raised when Spitzer awarded the Anti-Defamation League with a $100,000 grant in 2003 out of the Philip Anschultz payment of $4.4 million settlement with Quest Communications,  even though the ADL was charged and convicted in the past of “domestic spying” on multiple organizations of color, which included BUFNY. Likewise, there was no outrage or investigation launched for Attorney General Spitzer paying $51,768 in Internal Revenue Service penalties levied against the family’s Bernard and Anne Spitzer Charitable Trust for not disbursing the minimum required level of funds for 2001.  This is eerily similar to Spitzer’s accusation against BUFNY of “falling behind on payments to its grantees!”  Spitzer is a trustee on the Board of the family trust and is also, as Attorney General, the top regulator of the Trust.  There is a clear violation of “conflict of interest” laws and regulations, which Spitzer vehemently denies, yet the law clearly defines it as such.  Spitzer refuses to ask the Ethics Commission for an opinion. Why is there a lower ethical standard for Attorney General Spitzer and his role with the family charity? So much for complying with law by the top cop!  Is this yet another instance of Jews protecting their own?

Spitzer’s discriminatory or racist treatment of the Black United Fund of New York, other Black institutions and active leadership with blatant arrogance, disdain and disrespect, is also quite different from how he has treated his Hispanic/Latino (political) supporters and at least three non-profit organizations, which received $100,000 each from the Quest settlement, while Black-controlled organizations did not receive a dime!  There is even a Freedom of Information Law request to the New York State Charities Bureau and Office of the Attorney General (#06079  outstanding since March 22, 2006) for the identification of the more than 175 organizations that have received millions in Spitzer-directed grants (voting influence payola?), through the Office of the Attorney General,  over the last seven years.  There is no more telling way to understand the inner attitudes and social intentions of someone than to follow the distribution of the money they control.

It is crucial to understand that the “hostile takeover” and “killing” by Spitzer of a working economic development and empowerment organization, with a positive 25-year track record and enormous potential for the future, needs to be investigated and the true roles of those involved ?actively or in silent passivity? be understood and exposed.  We need to know what really happened to BUFNY (destroyed), Urban League of Northeastern New York (destroyed), Apollo Theatre Foundation (takeover), and Hale House (takeover). Who stood to gain by these criminal acts of discrimination, favoritism and political payoffs?  No civil liberties, constitutional rights, or social justice organization or academic institution that was solicited for support would even consider investigating the actions of the Attorney General.  It is very curious that United Way, in June 2003, after the May 2003 Spitzer takeover, announced a strategic shift of its mission from “funneling donations to its nonprofit member groups” to one designed to “create and fund its own social welfare programs”, i.e., direct services, and very much like the BUFNY model.

We know with certainty that it is the killing and/or takeover of independent institutions and dynamic leadership that enables the control of any Black agenda established to change the status quo.   History clearly shows that the offices of the highest law enforcement agencies from the local to the national levels have been engaged to ensure the stability of status quo conditions. Their task is made easier by the Black community’s not having the required organized “sanctioning mechanisms and enforcement infrastructure” to effect the needed protections or to make offers that can’t be refused. As Black people, we are too forgiving and forget that “Smiling faces sometimes pretend to be your friend” and “Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within”, another enduring Temptations classic.

Black communities across the nation must first take immediate steps to re-evaluate and address its internal relationships and then those with all other communities to determine the existence –if any– of genuine and measurable “reciprocity”; and also put itself in a firm position to establish, enforce and maintain mutually beneficial conditions –a new status quo. Half measures have not and will never suffice!

* CHANCE has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people. Action, self-reliance, the vision of self and the future have been the only means by which the oppressed have seen and realized the light of their own freedom.—Marcus Mosiah Garvey, August 17, 1897 – June 10, 1940.

Larry A Barton is an IBM retiree and former vice president and general manager at the Black United Fund of New York. He is a contributing writer to the Black Star News column, The New Freedom’s Journal. You can contact him via email at: lbperf@juno.com. 

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