By Dr. Wilmer Leon, producer/host of the nationally broadcasted call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Leon,” on SiriusXM Satellite radio channel 126.
New York City faces an avalanche of problems. People reportedly moved out of the city in droves. Crime has spiked so much that the NYPD pointed to a decline in the September homicide rate – to a troubling total of 46 from 59 a year earlier – as evidence its “precision policing” is working. And nearly 70 percent of New York City-based CEOs said they lack confidence in city government’s ability to improve business conditions.
So, what is The New York Times response to all this? It’s to unfairly attack an organization that has been working to improve life in New York. At least that is how I felt when I recently read the newspaper’s lengthy “investigation” into CORE Services Group, a minority-founded and minority-run nonprofit whose work I have come to know and respect.
For more than a decade, the nonprofit CORE Services Group has been an effective partner to New York City’s Department of Homeless Services. It runs dozens of emergency or transitional housing centers, where clients receive skills training, substance abuse treatment, shelter and other critical services. Time and again, the city has turned to CORE to help fight the chronic problem of poverty and homelessness.
Despite all of this, The Times published what can be described only as a hit-piece on CORE Services and its chief executive, Jack Brown, attacking him as a “housing boss” with a “troubled past.” They referenced a “fraud” allegation with no evidence or context for the allegation or its disposition.
Some of their attacks are more subtle than direct. The article references “companies tied to Mr. Brown” when in fact they are legal subsidiaries. The subtitle of the article states, “Some executives at nonprofit groups that operate New York City homeless shelters are benefiting from the plight of the people they serve.” There’s nothing wrong with executives of nonprofit groups earning salaries.
The article’s main criticism appears to be that Mr. Brown, a talented African American businessman, is compensated too generously – about $1 million on what CORE says is an annual revenue of $132 million in 2019. Never mind that his salary is in line with those of top executives of organizations of similar size. He routinely has to disclose his salary to the city as he applies for contracts and/or contract renewals, as CORE pointed out.
What the article was not interested in exploring, however, is how Mr. Brown built an organization that has sought to routinely innovate and create new models for delivering its services in a challenging environment – so much so that New York City’s DHS has clearly come to depend on CORE through the years.
For example, CORE points out that after years of relying on often-unreliable vendors for food services, it created a subsidiary called Flavor Foods that provides thousands of nutritional meals to CORE clients every day, according to sources close to the organization. CORE also created an independent security arm called Pro CORE with hundreds of security officers who are trained to handle the unique challenges that arise in a shelter setting. It preferred this approach over relying on outside security firms that in some cases lack the experience and sensitivity to work in such settings. The issue with The Times appears to be that Mr. Brown is constructively innovating in a challenging environment.
CORE’s evolution reflects the vision of Mr. Brown, a highly capable, proven leader who has chosen a life serving a population that is too often forgotten. In fact, CORE has been delivering for the city despite the fact that it hasn’t been paid for months for a significant part of its work. New York’s DHS owes CORE more than $20 million in unpaid bills, according to sources close to the organization.
The Times article paints with a very broad brush in an attempt to color the reader’s perception of Mr. Brown by referencing unnamed landlords who are under criminal investigation or have been charged with wrongdoing. After laying this predicate the article states, “For years, Mr. Brown has personally prospered by running an organization to help the homeless.” Again, as though personally prospering (via salary) is inappropriate.
The attacks on CORE come as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc, forcing the organization’s staff to work long grueling hours as homelessness spiked to a 30-year high in New York. If groups like CORE are going to run into the fight, rather than run away from it, they at least deserve not to have their record distorted and reputation tarnished based upon innuendo and supposition.
The article states, “State and federal laws prohibit nonprofit organizations from engaging in many types of self-dealing” but Mr. Brown has never been accused of self-dealing. The Times defines self-dealing as “the practice of executives benefiting personally from their organizations without proper disclosure.” It appears as though all requisite disclosures have been made. If The Times has an issue with the law, advocate for a change in the law. Do not impugn the character of Mr. Brown.
The New York Times article was unfair, deliberately provocative, and incomplete. It is not what one should expect from the so-called “national paper of record.” Perhaps former Times columnist Bari Weiss hit the nail on the head when, in resigning from the newspaper, she said: “The paper of record is, more and more, the record of those living in a distant galaxy, one whose concerns are profoundly removed from the lives of most people. Nowadays, standing up for principle at the paper does not win plaudits. It puts a target on your back.”
Mr. Brown and his organization do not deserve to have targets on their backs. They deserve our support.