Wyclef Jean’s recent announcement that he will seek the presidency of Haiti had little direct impact on the lives of most New Yorkers. But for the workers at the midtown offices of his charity, the Yéle Haiti Foundation, it constituted the loss of an enthusastic and closely involved founder.
Like everyone else, the 10 or so staffers had heard rumblings about the campaign, said spokesman Derek Johnson, but only officially learned of Mr. Jean’s decision yesterday, in a warm email from the former Fugee sent to employees. It was bittersweet news: Mr. Jean’s new role as a candidate necessitates a swift severance of ties to the charity, which is legally known as the Wyclef Jean Foundation.
“We’re quite proud of ‘Clef, as you’d expect, and we certainly wish him well but we are a not-for-profit organization and an NGO in Haiti so we are not participating in the campaign or the campaign activity in any way,” Mr. Johnson told The Observer. “Said differently, that activity is a big no-no for us.”
Mr. Johnson reiterated Yéle Haiti’s newfound independence many times, most likely in light of the negative press it and Mr. Jean received earlier this year over accusations that Mr. Jean misappropriated funds flagged for earthquake relief efforts. But before the candidacy announcement, he said, Mr. Jean was “deeply active” in the organization, a frequent visior to the office who will be missed in the weeks to come.
“It will certainly be a loss. Because a person of his energy, visibility and relentless commitment cannot go unmissed,” Mr. Johnson said. “I think it’s a double-edged sword. People are understandably excited and at the same time people are understandably drained by the absence of his efficacy, his energy, his vision and his determinedness. So it was a mixed blessing if you will. But we’re hoping to capitalize on who it is he was and how it is he energized what we’re after in terms of our goals.”
Mr. Jean confirmed his candidacy gradually, but it was essentially taken as fact following his video interview with Time editor Rick Stengel on Monday.
And the fact that Yéle Haiti’s offices are directly across the street from the Time-Life Building? “Pure coincidence,” Mr. Johnson said.