Mayor’s Top Choice At Hunter College Gets Third Degree

When Mayor Rudolph Giuliani chose Jennifer Raab, a lawyer and onetime issues director for his campaign, to chair the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1994, the city’s vocal preservation community was outraged because Ms. Raab had no experience in the field. They accused Mr. Giuliani of using the Commission’s chairmanship as a political patronage post.

Now, with Mr. Giuliani’s administration entering its final year, Ms. Raab is looking for a new job, and once again critics are complaining about her lack of credentials. Despite some faculty opposition, however, Ms. Raab has emerged as one of four finalists to become the new president of Hunter College, a branch of the publicly funded City University of New York.

Ms. Raab emerged as a top contender for the post after a 12-member presidential search committee-headed by public education entrepreneur and CUNY trustee Benno Schmidt and aided by executive headhunter Korn/Ferry International-spent the summer sifting through more than 50 applications and came up with 10 candidates to interview. Ms. Raab wasn’t among the 10, according to Gregory Johnson, chair of Hunter’s anthropology department, who has followed the search closely. One source close to the process said, “She didn’t make the original cut for Korn/Ferry for a few reasons. Among other things, she didn’t have a Ph.D.” Mr. Johnson said he doesn’t know how Ms. Raab emerged as one of the final four contenders, saying that she “has absolutely no qualifications whatsoever.” But Mr. Schmidt said there was no impropriety. “She was in the group of people we decided to interview, just like the others,” he said. “She was nominated and we collected recommendations.”

Apparently, she came highly recommended. Barbara Welter, chair of Hunter’s history department, noted that Ms. Raab “is-allegedly, mind you-the Mayor’s and Benno Schmidt’s and [Governor George] Pataki’s choice.”

The Mayor’s office wouldn’t comment on Ms. Raab’s candidacy. Ms. Raab declined to speak to The Transom.

Mr. Schmidt, for his part, says he doesn’t have a top choice yet-though he did say of Ms. Raab, “I know that the Mayor thinks very highly of her.” Mr. Schmidt said Ms. Raab had “a record of distinguished achievement-her academic record is very strong. And her record in government has been outstanding.” Mathew Goldstein, who was Mr. Giuliani’s choice to be chancellor of City University, will recommend a candidate to CUNY’s board of trustees, which will make the final decision on Hunter’s presidency. Mr. Goldstein, who had served as president of Baruch College before a short tenure at Adelphi University, was brought in to head CUNY after the Mayor virtually ran then-Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds out of town. Ms. Reynolds was perceived to be insufficiently enthusiastic about the Mayor’s CUNY reform package, which included the scaling back of remedial education.

If Ms. Raab is selected, she will not be the only non-academic guiding a Manhattan-based institution of higher learning. Beginning in 2001, retiring Senator Bob Kerrey will move from Nebraska to Manhattan to take over the presidency of the New School in Greenwich Village. Like Ms. Raab, Mr. Kerrey’s background is in politics, not in academia.

Sy Fliegel, president of the Center for Educational Innovation–Public Education Association and a nationally known education reformer, is a big fan of Ms. Raab, and believes the Mayor ought to push her candidacy. “The Mayor should be involved,” he said, “so you can hold somebody accountable.” Describing Ms. Raab as “a very intelligent lady,” Mr. Fliegel said he didn’t “buy into” the argument that only an academic should be considered for the Hunter post.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Hunter’s academics disagree. In a report to the presidential search committee, the college’s department chairs praised Ms. Raab as a “bright and energetic person, admired by her colleagues, public-spirited and hard-working.” But they were put off by her lack of academic credentials and experience, her lack of “organizational and managerial experience in large and complex institutions,” and her lack of fund-raising experience. In a poll of department chairs, 27 voted against recommending her candidacy; four voted in favor. Ms. Raab got the fewest yes votes of any of the four finalists.

Ms. Raab, 44, lives in the Bronx with her two children and her husband, Michael Goodwin, senior executive editor of the Daily News. She received a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, a master’s in public affairs from Princeton University, and a law degree from Harvard. In recent years, her name has been floated for Deputy Mayor for Economic Development; head of NYC & Company (formerly the Convention and Visitors Bureau); head of the Times Square Business Improvement District; and head of Lincoln Center. For various reasons, none of those jobs panned out.

On Sept. 6, Ms. Raab wrote a letter to John Kuhnle, a managing director at Korn/Ferry International, to express her “great interest in applying for the position of President of Hunter College.”

“In the last few years,” she wrote, “I have successfully transformed an agency that had been highly criticized for its inefficiency and bias into a respected regulatory institution. Our work has won the praise of both preservationists and real estate interests-no small feat in this town! I would feel fortunate to be able to devote the public management skills I have honed as a City Commissioner, as well as the substantial advocacy talents I developed as a litigation associate in two of the city’s top law firms, to contribute to the rejuvenation of the CUNY system. … As a graduate of Hunter High School (a place that changed my life), I would find it immensely rewarding to guide Hunter through this exciting transition.” Hunter High School, a highly selective public secondary school, is affiliated with Hunter College.

The transition Ms. Raab has in mind is the plan outlined in Mr. Schmidt’s controversial report on CUNY, issued in 1999 and entitled An Institution Adrift. The report was highly critical of CUNY, attacking its decades-old policy of open admissions and calling its “academic standards … loose and confused.” Mr. Giuliani, a vocal critic of City University, praised the report at the time, saying it was “telling and comprehensive.” Ms. Raab apparently agrees. In her letter to Mr. Kuhnle, she wrote, “It is clear that the Schmidt report has set out a blueprint for reform that warrants strong leadership at the college level.” Although she applied for the job well after the search committee had begun its work, her letter obviously had an impact. By November, Ms. Raab was a finalist.

The department chairs, in their report to the search committee, endorsed two finalists overwhelmingly: Gregory Williams, dean of Ohio State’s law school, and Jo Ann Gora, provost at Old Dominion University. And according to Ken Sherrill, chair of political science and a member of the search committee, “My sense is there’s agreement, verging on unanimity, on the top candidate.” The proceedings are confidential, and Mr. Sherrill wouldn’t say who that top candidate was. Most insiders agree, however, that he was talking about Mr. Williams, about whom the chairs wrote, “It was felt that his overall professional record and personal history best prepare him for the variety of tasks we do here at Hunter. Of all the candidates, he was most able to articulate the twin goals of diversity and excellence.”

Despite the faculty’s disapproval, Ms. Raab’s chances are considered good. According to Mr. Johnson, Mr. Sherrill told faculty that Ms. Raab has a 50-50 chance to win the presidency.

Zvi Rosenman, Free at Last

If you scan the credits for the holiday redemption flick The Family Man, you might notice an unfamiliar name. Where the producer credit would have once read “Howard Rosenman,” it now reads “Zvi Howard Rosenman.”

“I myself have become a different person from the Howard Rosenman who existed years ago,” Mr. Rosenman good- naturedly explained to The Transom. The Hollywood producer formerly known as Howard Rosenman was the man behind Father of the Bride, Gross Anatomy and the unforgettable Melanie Griffith-goes-undercover-as-a-Hassid movie, A Stranger Among Us. Zvi Rosenman is the producer behind The Family Man, the Nic Cage–Téa Leoni movie whose tag line reads, “What if … you made different choices? What if … you got a second chance?” It seems that Mr. Rosenman is making different choices and taking second chances with his own name.

Zvi Rosenman was born in 1945 to fifth- and sixth-generation Israeli immigrants. Zvi, which means “deer” in Hebrew, is especially significant because Israel is “the land of Zvi,” with the dashing national symbol appearing on postage stamps, etc. Unfortunately, this didn’t carry much water in the Long Island playgrounds where Mr. Rosenman grew up. “People made fun of it. They couldn’t pronounce it. They called me ‘Twee,'” he recalled. His concerned mother decided to give him an Americanized moniker. “In Yiddish, a deer was a Hirsch … so my mother decided to change it … but then gave me the American version, Howard.” However, as Mr. Rosenman pointed out, “There’s no such thing as Howard [Rosenman]. It’s not on the birth certificate.”

His family and close friends have continued to call him Zvi, while the rest of the world got to know him as Howard Rosenman, big-shot producer and onetime lover of composer Leonard Bernstein. But now, with a renewed interest in family, religion and his genealogy, which he’s been tracing for five years, Mr. Rosenman has decided that it’s time to bring back Zvi. “My parents are elderly … I want to go by my real name. I want my parents to see it on the screen at least once.”

And so it rolls by in the The Family Man, a film that Mr. Rosenman said he wanted to do because he’d “always wanted to make a Christmas film in the spirit of It’s a Wonderful Life.” The Transom ventured that the Christmas movie, the re-Yiddification … it might be a shtikl ironic? Mr. Rosenman quickly pointed out that “Family Man was made by five people that went to yeshiva”: director Brett Ratner, screenwriters David Diamond and David Weissman, and producer Jonathan Shestack, to whom Mr. Rosenman originally sold the project. Then Mr. Rosenman paused for a moment. “It is ironic, yes.”

Unfortunately, it will be a while before Zvi Rosenman will be credited with producing a non-Yuletide flick. His next film, My First Mister, which will premiere at Sundance, credits him as “Howard” and cannot be changed now. “I’m really upset about it,” said Mr. Rosenman, but quickly reaffirmed that “henceforth, Zvi is going to be my name.”

And friends-of-Howard in Hollywood are going to have to get used to it, even if playground politics persist in grown-up celebrity circles. “People are always cruel,” Mr. Rosenman said sagely. “Calvin Klein saw me the other day at the Bruce Weber opening and he was running around shouting, ‘Zvi, Zvi!’ But you know, I don’t give a rat’s ass. It was a mistake not to use [Zvi] from the beginning.”

-Rebecca Traister

THE TRANSOM ALSO HEARS …

This Sunday, Dec. 24, Arthur Loeb will retire from the Madison Avenue Bookshop, the business he started in 1975. The shop has been a beacon for readers and writers alike, a place with a distinctive personality and a rare combination of a literary and ermined clientele. The good news is that the business will be continued by manager Perry Haberman, who inherits both the bookshop and the building housing it.

-Michael M. Thomas