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SUNY leader donated $6K to King campaign amid search

John King has been named the chancellor of the State University of New York system.
NY Now
John King has been named the chancellor of the State University of New York system.

ALBANY — While the SUNY system was moving ahead with what officials called a global search for a new chancellor, Merryl Tisch, the chairwoman of the SUNY trustees, donated $6,000 to the Maryland gubernatorial campaign of John B. King Jr., CNHI has determined.

King, 47, was named this week as the next chancellor of the 64-campus SUNY system, a job that will pay him $750,000 per year, plus a generous compensation package.

Tisch, a major donor to the campaigns of Democratic politicians, leads the SUNY trustees who hired him.

Her donation to the King campaign was located by CNHI in a search of a Maryland campaign finance database.

Tisch had previously worked closely with King when she was the chairwoman of the state Board of Regents, overseeing K-12 education in New York, while King served the regents as the state education commissioner. King later served under then-President Barack Obama as U.S. Secretary of Education.

It's not known precisely when King became a candidate for the SUNY chancellor post or whether he and Tisch had conversations about the opening while an academic recruitment firm, retained by SUNY, was vetting candidates for the same position.

But the Maryland primary election was conducted July 19, suggesting King's focus then may have been on his political ambitions instead of returning to Albany. He was defeated by the front runner Wes Moore, who is now Maryland's governor-elect.

On April 8, SUNY announced the appointment of a search committee for the chancellor position. Tisch and Cesar Perales, vice chairman of the SUNY trustees, were named co-chairs of the search committee.

On April 19, Merryl Tisch used a credit card to make her $6,000 donation to the King campaign, according to the Maryland campaign finance database.

A SUNY spokeswoman, Holly Liapis, did not respond to CNHI queries about whether Tisch and King had conversations about the chancellor position while the national search was ongoing.

For a multi-millionaire such as Tisch, a $6,000 campaign contribution to a candidate in a race outside of New York is "just a gesture of support and friendship," said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group that has advocated for greater transparency in state government.

King, given his background in New York's education bureaucracy, likely had advantages that other candidates without such connections lacked, Kaehny suggested.

"I just simply believed they were never going to do a global search when they said they would," Kaehny said. The SUNY trustees, he suggested, would have been more credible had they said: "'We're going to look for someone we are comfortable with,' instead of all the grandiose language about doing a global search because, let's be real, everybody knows they are not, and all it does is create cynicism about their intentions, and that makes you wonder about how sincere they are about other things."

King's first day of work as chancellor is slated to be Jan. 17.

His compensation package was criticized Tuesday by Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, R-Niagara County.

"At a time when New York families and students are struggling and being forced to take out massive loans simply to afford higher education, the inflated compensation package offered to John King for the position of SUNY Chancellor by the Board of Trustees is simply absurd," Ortt said.

He called on the university trustees to reconsider what he called a "grossly inflated compensation package."

The package envisions King will divide his time between three residences: one in Maryland, one near Albany and one in New York City.

SUNY is providing King with a monthly housing allowance of $12,500 to maintain a home in New York City. King will also be getting up to $4,000 each month to defray travel expenses for trips between Maryland and New York. He will also receive $1,000 per month for vehicle expenses.

SUNY defended the compensation package in a statement released by Liapis: "Our priority throughout the search for a new chancellor was to attract top talent who can deliver on the foundational promise of a high-quality, accessible, and affordable education. The compensation package provided to Chancellor Elect King is competitive based on a recent market analysis of several higher education systems, which are reasonable comparisons to the State University of New York."

King is expected to field questions from state lawmakers on the proposed SUNY budget for the state's next fiscal year after Gov. Kathy Hochul releases the state government spending blueprint in January.

Story provided through AP StoryShare.