Furor Over Mta Chief's Club Ties

Bill Perkins

October 24, 2007

Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV is criticizing the newly confirmed Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman, Dale Hemmerdinger, over his ties to the Harmonie Club, a private social group that has been accused of discrimination.

Mr. Powell is demanding that Mr. Hemmerdinger back up his claim that he actively recruited minority members while president of the organization 20 years ago. "In fact, the Harmonie Club had no minority members at the time," Mr. Powell wrote in a letter sent Monday to State Senator Owen Johnson.

"Hemmerdinger had to know there were no minorities," he added yesterday. "He lied at the Senate committee hearing unless he can show one person who was a member at the time, as he claimed."

Other state lawmakers, including Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and state Senator Bill Perkins, raised concerns about the club last week. After releasing a statement defending the club, Mr. Hemmerdinger announced he was resigning his membership on Friday. Mr. Jeffries then said Monday that Mr. Hemmerdinger "did the right thing," but Mr. Powell's new letter threatens to keep the issue alive.

Mr. Perkins said yesterday that he was not aware of Mr. Powell's position until now, but that Mr. Hemmerdinger had indicated to him that there were minority members when he was the club's president and that he had recruited the club's first female member. "If however, this is not true," Mr. Perkins said, "then we have an additional problem."

The Harmonie Club has been a source of political controversy in the past. Mayor Bloomberg quit the club in 2001 while running for office, and said that he had unsuccessfully urged the group to diversify its membership. Senator Obama canceled a fund-raising event at the club earlier this year, reportedly due to Mr. Bloomberg's concerns.