Former Rangel Foes Join Forces to Criticize Columbia University

By Jeff Mays on November 14, 2011 9:52pm 

A rendering of Columbia University's Manhattanville expansion on West 131st Street and Broadway looking West.
A rendering of Columbia University's Manhattanville expansion on West 131st Street and Broadway looking West.
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Columbia University

HARLEM — Two former campaign foes of Rep. Charlie Rangel have joined forced against Columbia University, saying the school is not doing all it can to help residents as part of its expansion into West Harlem.

Both Vincent Morgan and Adam Clayton Powell IV, who challenged Rangel for the 15th Congressional District seat in 2010, say that Columbia should do more to make sure residents get all that the university promised when it agreed to a $150 million community benefits agreement as part of the $6.4 billion Manhattanville campus expansion.

"This historical expansion will forever change all of Harlem," Powell said in a statement. "Columbia made a legal and moral agreement with the citizens of Harlem in 2009."

The group responsible for distributing Columbia's CBA funds, the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, was subpoenaed by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. DNAinfo reported the WHLDC has spent more on consultants ($400,000) than on programming ($300,000 on a city-run summer jobs program for young people).

The group has also failed to accomplish basic goals such as holding a public meeting, finding a headquarters or hiring an executive director. Columbia University has given the group $3.55 million.

Morgan and others believe the distribution to the jobs program was illegal because the group had not set up as a non-profit. Morgan has also asked asked for an audit of the WHLDC.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has also called on the group to stop distributing funds. Stringer, Rangel, Assemblyman Keith Wright and Councilman Robert Jackson all have staff representatives on the board.

Morgan asked Columbia University to halt bidding on the first phase of their expansion until the WHLDC is capable of ensuring that hiring mandates are met.

Powell said that Columbia has also failed to hire an independent auditor to monitor its compliance with the benefits agreement or an attorney to help Manhattanville residents with landlord and tenant disputes.

In a letter to Morgan, Maxine Griffith, Columbia's executive vice president for community and government affairs and special advisor for campus planning, said that the project will go on without delay.

She said the WHLDC is "legally and operationally independent" of Columbia University. Griffith also said the university is meeting or exceeding its minority hiring goals.

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