Look who just donated $100 million to the New York Public Library: Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of private equity giant the Blackstone Group. That would be the same Stephen Schwarzman made to look cheap in the Feb. 11 New Yorker, where someone on the library board said of him, "He has given, but not remotely what he could." The magazine questioned the value of Schwarzman's donations to Yale and the Kennedy Center, as well. Worth an estimated $8 billion, Schwarzman has a bit of an image problem after a Wall Street Journal profile revealed that, when at home, he often eats $3,000 in food over the course of a weekend and complains about things like a servant's squeaky shoes. He also took flack for a $3 million birthday party featuring comedian Martin Short and singers Rod Stewart and Patti LaBelle. Schwarzman said he's now donating the $100 million not to fix his nouveau riche image but because "the library helps... immigrants get their shot at the American dream," but really it sounds like the library people stopped waiting for the billionaire to take their hints and just cut a deal with the plutocrat:
Mr. Schwarzman said it was the library that proposed renaming the landmark building. "They said, ‘We'd like you to be the lead gift and give us $100 million and we'd like to rename the main branch after you,' " he said. "I said, ‘That sounds pretty good.' "
Of course the Times didn't mention the New Yorker article, because what could all this possibly have to do with anything:
A board member is expected to make contributions that roughly correlate to the size of his personal fortune. In Schwarzman's case, this aspect of the pact has generated considerable controversy and ill will, especially given his overt displays of wealth.
Schwarzman pledged ten million dollars to the Kennedy Center, but the pledge was to be fulfilled over ten years, which gave it a present value significantly lower than ten million. According to a fellow member of the library board, "He has given, but not remotely what he could. A big capital campaign is coming up. We hope that he'll give very generously."
One of Schwarzman's most controversial proposed gifts was to Yale, his alma mater, which, during the late nineties, agreed to name the freshman dining commons after Schwarzman in return for $17 million. Some people at Yale thought the commitment was in hand, but it emerged that Schwarzman's gift would actually be a contribution to one of Blackstone's investment partnerships on Yale's behalf. No money would change hands until the fund was liquidated, and there was a risk that the investment might be worth far less than $17 million (although there was also the possibility that it would be worth more). Yale balked at trading a significant naming opportunity for what it considered a speculative commitment, and Schwarzman did not give the money. (The naming opportunity remains.)
...Schwarzman himself says, "I'm thinking through how I want to approach that area of philanthropy. Assuming that Blackstone does well over time, and the credit markets recover, I'll have significant resources for charitable activities."
(Photo: Getty Images)