Altschuler, Bishop spar over family hiring

Congressman Tim Bishop speaks during a debate with Congressman Tim Bishop speaks during a debate with his opponent, congressional candidate Randy Altschuler, at the Riverhead Baptist Church. (Sept. 23, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

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Republican challenger Randy Altschuler is stepping up attacks on Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), citing a 2005 report of Bishop family members who were on the payroll of the college where the congressman once was provost.

But Bishop, a five-term incumbent who narrowly beat Altschuler in the 1st District in 2010, forcefully defends his tenure as Southampton College provost, denying Altschuler's charge that he oversaw a failing campus while 10 extended family members were employed there. He said a handful of relatives did work for the college over nearly three decades -- as Bishop worked his way up to provost -- but that he had no direct role in hiring them.

Altschuler's campaign manager Diana Weir first raised the issue in a news release in August: "It's long past time that he [Bishop] came clean and was held accountable for this rampant nepotism and abuse of power."

In a recent online editorial, Altschuler, a St. James businessman, accused Bishop of "never creating a job in his life -- unless it was for members of his own family."

The criticism is based on a clause from an April 15, 2005, Newsday story about members of Congress who hired family members, said Altschuler campaign spokesman Chris Russell.

That story noted that Bishop's campaign had hired his daughter Molly as finance director. The story contained the passage: " 'She's skilled, hardworking, dependable and trustworthy -- all of these are nice things to have in a finance director,' said Bishop, who as former provost of Southampton College employed a total of 10 members of his extended family at the East End campus, including his wife."

A July 18, 2004, Newsday story chronicling fiscal problems at Southampton College described the situation somewhat differently. The story mentioned a new library that was to be called the Bishop-Burke Library Learning Center after the congressman and his father-in-law, former dean Bill Burke. " . . . In all, 10 members of Bishop's extended family have been employed at the college . . . " the story noted.

The private, not-for-profit campus of Long Island University closed in 2005. It was purchased by the State University of New York for $35 million in 2006 and is now part of Stony Brook University.

Bishop, who began as a college admissions counselor in 1972 and was promoted to provost in 1986, branded the Altschuler attacks as "unscrupulous."

"I think this is a really ugly campaign, but even in the context of ugly campaigns, family ought to be off-limits," Bishop said. "Absolutely every single person that was, in some way, connected to my family and who worked there was completely and totally qualified for the job that they had."

But Russell said, "There seems to be a major problem when someone is engaging in rampant nepotism while the school he's running is careening toward fiscal ruin."

In an interview this week, Bishop gave several examples of family members working at Southampton, including his wife, sister and brother-in-law, but said he could only account for seven.

Bill Burke became Southampton's dean in 1972, the same year Bishop married Burke's daughter Kathy. Tim Bishop was hired in 1973. In 1978, Kathy Bishop, then a master's student, turned her thesis on early childhood education into a new preschool program at the college.

That became The Children's School, which Tim Bishop and a current LIU official described as an academic program within Southampton College. Kathy Bishop later hired the congressman's sister, Rachel, as a certified part-time teacher.

Bishop said at other points his sister-in-law's husband was hired as a carpenter (later becoming an assistant director of the physical plant); his wife's cousin was hired for a co-op program, and Bishop's two daughters held minor jobs as charity concert organizers and summer camp counselors.

"None of them were people that I hired directly in any of the positions I was in," Bishop said, adding many of the jobs his family held were part-time or seasonal, and there never were 10 of them working under him at one time.

Altschuler also has taken aim at Kathy Bishop's preschool program, criticizing the school for operating rent-free at the college.

However, Tim Bishop said the Children's School was a nonprofit operation associated with Southampton College, and didn't pay rent because it was a student "on-campus learning laboratory."

"It was an academic program," he said. "Did the athletic department pay rent for the gym? Did the marine science program have to rent their boats? No. This is a woman who has built a program for kids from the ground up over 35 years and she's being attacked because I happened to run for Congress."

Rob Altholz, LIU's vice president of finance, confirmed that the Children's School was a not-for-profit business. He called it an "operating division of the university, like the English department is an operating division."

Kathy Bishop "was an employee of LIU and ran the camps because LIU wanted the [program] . . . to be operated," Altholz said.The hard-fought House race is a rematch of 2010, when Bishop won by 593 votes after attacking Altschuler relentlessly for once running OfficeTiger, which helped companies outsource job functions, largely to overseas employees.

"In a very close race, everything gets thrown against the wall by both sides, to see what sticks," said Lawrence Levy, dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. "This is an effort by Altschuler in the same way that Bishop is recycling the charges of outsourcing jobs."

Michael Dawidziak, a campaign consultant who works mostly with Republicans, doubted the impact of the Southampton College attack, since the school wasn't a public institution while Bishop ran it.

"If it's not taxpayer money, and it's 10 years old, I think it becomes far less relevant," he said. "It makes a difference."

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