Almost immediately after hitting publish on a round-up of the latest hubbub over plans to build an engineering campus in New York, Betabeat got an intriguing tip from an interested party. Apparently Cornell isn’t the only school tapping power players to help their campaign.
“About two weeks ago Stanford hired City Hall ‘fixer’ Bradley Tusk and his consulting firm Tusk Strategies to seal the deal on this Tech Campus bid,” wrote the source. We confirmed the tip with Tusk Strategies, but we needn’t have. The Stanford Daily actually reported the hire in a small item in late September, along with the news that the school had also signed up Edelman, the global public relations firm that also represents Wal-Mart.
Mr. Tusk, the man The Observer called Bloomberg’s “secret weapon,” back in 2010, engineered the mayor’s third term reelection in 2009. Coincidentally, Mr. Tusk was also hired by Wal-Mart earlier this year to the lead the corporation’s push into New York. The New York Times reported that Mr. Tusk, “is still close to the mayor, a strong supporter of Wal-Mart’s campaign.”
As Betabeat has previously noted, Mayor Bloomberg also happens to be a fan of Stanford’s. In a speech in Palo Alto in March, he said, “We’re particularly pleased that Stanford–which has a top-flight engineering school–is considering the idea,” of applying to build on city-owned land in New York. Naturally, Mr. Tusk’s ties to the current administration will only exacerbate feelings that Stanford has an advantage going into the RFP process.
(For its campaign, Cornell is working with the PR agency BerlinRosen, as well as Suri Kasirer, a former aide to Governor Cuomo and the head of the city’s highest-grossing lobbying firm.)
The tipster, who asked to be anonymous, compared Mr. Tusk’s capabilities to that of Harvey Keitel’s character in a seminal Quentin Tarratino film. “People basically think of him like “The Wolf” from Pulp Fiction,” wrote the source. In the movie, the character introduces himself by saying, “I’m Winston Wolf. I solve problems.” This morning Stanford announced it would be solving the problem of being perceived as an outsider by partnering with both CUNY and City College.
We’re still waiting for Stanford to call back, but spokeswoman Lisa Lapin told the Stanford Daily that Mr. Tusk and his agency were serving as strategic consultants, not lobbyists, as per the NYC EDC’s instructions. “There’s a big difference,” a representative for Tusk Strategies told Betabeat over the phone. According to the rules of the RFP process, universities must limit their contact with the city. As we reported last month, however, Stanford reached out to senior staffers at the DOE in a “unprecedented” act of helpfulness to see if they could assist on things like college readiness programs. The DOE declined the offer.
UPDATE: Ms. Lapin called from Stanford and offered some clarification on Mr. Tusk’s role, as well as Stanford’s partnership with City College, a senior college within CUNY, usually referred to as CCNY.
Ms. Lapin said Tusk Strategies was hired in September and that Mr. Tusk, “came recommended by people who are in New York who are interested in our partnership.” As for whether his connection with the administration would sweeten Stanford’s proposal, “I couldn’t speculate,” she said with a laugh.
According to Ms. Lapin, Mr. Tusk was not involved with the decision to work with CCNY. “He had nothing to do with it. Those were truly academic conversations and the person who was point on that collaboration was our dean of engineering, Jim Plummer.”
Tusk Strategies was hired because Stanford is at a disadvantage as a non-native. “What we’re looking for assistance with is different communities in New York with which we’re less familiar,” said Ms. Lapin, citing constituencies in labor, education, and business.
Ms. Lapin stressed that that Stanford’s partnership with CCNY was entirely unrelated to the potential Roosevelt Island campus. “Our applied science campus proposal is just a Stanford proposal. We’re partnering with them on programs, but they’re not a partner in the proposal itself,” she said. “We’re not financing the project with anyone else. We’re not building it with anyone else.”
She also emphasized that the decision to work with a local institution was related to the demands of the RFP, not getting a leg up in the process. “New York asks us what our involvement will be in the community, it’s not in response to anything competitive.”
The joint programs with CCNY will “hopefully [include] a very robust one,” she said, namely a joint degree “where their best and brightest students could be enrolled in a co-term program where they get their bachelors of science at CCNY and masters of science at Stanford.”
Regardless of whether Stanford wins the bid, Ms. Lapin said CCNY and Stanford will be moving forward on an entrepreneurship and innovation program based on a National Science Foundation grant Stanford received this summer. “Our dean and academic officers at CNNY and CUNY realized there were all kinds of things we could do together,” she said. “It was far preferable to us than looking for space to rent, say, in an office building somewhere.”
Bonus clip: The Wolf in action.