The Board of Trustees of the City University of New York has become a "rubberstamp" panel that will not debate serious matters of higher education, but carry out the will of the mayor and governor, says Edith Everett, who spent 23 years as a trustee.
"They might as well stay home and send in their yes votes on everything that is recommended" by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki, said Everett, a former schoolteacher, now a stockbroker and philanthropist who was appointed by Gov. Hugh Carey. "I think I’m pleased that I will not be there. It’s getting pathetic."
Everett cited the close political affiliation of most board members, including newly appointed chair Herman Badillo, a close Giuliani adviser, and the man who succeeded her two weeks ago, Jeff Wiesenfeld, Patakiís executive assistant.
But Wiesenfeld insists the relationship between members of the board and the two top decision-makers is an asset. "Having access is a legitimate benefit to a member of the board," said Wiesenfeld. "I work for a governor who listens. I am not a rubberstamp person."
Wiesenfeld’s appointment comes at a time when the mayor and governor, who seem to agree on little else, are initiating sweeping changes in the CUNY system, including the abolishment of remediation classes at senior colleges and increasing standards for admission at some campuses. Everett and the only other Jewish member of the board, Richard Stone, who were seen as resistant to those changes, were not reappointed.
A Queens College graduate, Wiesenfeld says he has been studying "volumes and volumes" on higher education since his appointment. At his request, Wiesenfeld will be meeting with Everett next week to discuss ideas.
"I think I can learn a great deal from her," he said. "She is an exceedingly eloquent person and I don’t question her extreme level of dedication. But the board has to take a different direction." Too many students enter the CUNY system on the Tuition Assistance Program, and spend their first semesters in remediation classes, he says, depleting the scholarship funds before they can graduate. "The belief of board members is that there has to be a severing of remedial work from TAP, which should be only for credit-bearing work," said Wiesenfeld.
But Everett says the emphasis on remediation by CUNY critics is out of proportion. "The amount spent on remediation was between 2 and 4 percent of the instructional budget" last year, she says, adding that the trustees voted in 1995 to curtail the number of times students can take remedial classes without passing. "There is an attempt to make it appear that remediation is rampant in the university, and that is absolutely untrue."
With all the focus on the mercurial state of black-Jewish relations, it’s easy to forget about warm relations with the city’s other ethnic groups. Jewish-Dominican relations don’t seem to be on anybody’s radar, probably because they don’t have to be. A large community of Jews and Dominicans has existed side by side for decades in Washington Heights, with none of the tensions that arise between Jews and minorities in such areas as Crown Heights or Williamsburg.
At a City Hall ceremony last week organized by Councilman Kenneth Fisher, those ties were celebrated by some 300 people, including the consuls general of Israel and the Dominican Republic, and the leaders of the Jewish Community Relations Council and its counterpart, Allianza Dominica. The communal agencies co-sponsored the event.
The two city councilmen who represent Washington Heights, Jewish Stanley Michels and Dominican Guillermo Linares, offered mutual praise. "We work interchangeably," said Linares, the first Dominican to be elected to public office in the United States. "Sometimes I’m the Jewish representative, and sometimes Stanley is."
The ties go deeper than New Yorkís gorgeous mosaic. In 1938, the Dominican Republic was the only participant in the Evian Conference to agree to accept Jewish refugees from Europe, as President Rafael Trujillo set aside land for 100,000 at the settlement of Sosua. Visas were issued to about 1,000, but only a few hundred ended up in Sosua. Although forced to endure meager living conditions, the Jews were safe from the Nazis’ grasp.
"Trujillo may have been a dictator, but to us he was God’s savior," said Edith Banks, the daughter of two of the original Sosua settlers.
The Dominican Republic is also one of a few nations to place an embassy in Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the city.
The Dominican ambassador to the United Nations, Christina Aguiar, who traces her ancestry back to Jewish maternal and paternal grandfathers, put a spiritual tint on her country’s economic improvement since its wartime hospitality to the Jews.
"We know that a blessing comes to anyone who blesses a Jew," said Aguiar, "because of what God told Abraham: All who bless you, I will bless; all who forsake you I will forsake."
Democrat Eva Moskowitz, a history professor who ran unsuccessfully against Republican Councilman Andrew Eristoff in 1997, will make another bid for his Upper East Side seat now that Eristoff has been named finance commissioner.
The state Assembly passed a resolution June 24 calling for the immediate release of 13 Iranian Jews arrested on charges of spying. Unanimously approved, the measure was sponsored by Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblymen Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester), David Sidikman (D-Long Island) and Tom DiNapoli (D-Long Island). "The Assembly condemns the arrest of these religious minorities and demands their immediate release from 11 weeks of suffering," said Silver.
The Queens Democratic Party has named Toby Stavisky, widow of the late state Sen. Leonard Stavisky, to run for his seat in a special election next year. Stavisky died June 19 after 16 years in the Senate. His wife has served as a key aide in his office. It would not be the first time a family member has filled a Queens vacancy in the legislature. Mark Weprin succeeded his father, Saul, in 1994.
Steve Israel, majority leader of the Town Board in Huntington, L.I., is eyeing a run for Suffolk Republican Rick Lazio’s House seat, should Lazio run for Senate, as expected.
"It’s in the air, but not at the center of gravity right now," says the Democrat, who insists he’s focusing on re-election to the town board. Israel, who runs an institute at Touro Law School on legal issues related to the Holocaust, was a legislative aide to former Westchester Rep. Richard Ottinger from 1980-83.