By Josh Rogers
Governor Eliot Spitzer has turned to a Villager whose children use Pier 40 to serve on the Hudson River Park Trust’s board, but the appointee’s connections to a local group could prevent him from weighing in on the Trust’s next big decision.
Paul Ullman, 49, a founding partner of the Highland Financial Holdings Group hedge fund, said Monday that he knows many members of the Pier 40 Partnership, which is working on a new plan for the pier, but that he did not have a conflict of interest because he has not given the group money and is not a member.
“I think the Trust board and the Pier 40 Partnership are on the same side,” he said in a telephone interview. “They’re both trying to do something great for Pier 40.”
Although he was asked generally about his wife, Donna Zaccaro, he did not mention that she is a member of the Partnership. Rich Caccappolo, one of the Partnership’s leaders, said Zaccaro is one of about a dozen Partnership members who meet regularly to discuss the pier, but that she has not given any money to the group.
The Partnership, made up of local parents, is trying to maintain the pier’s current athletic uses while finding low-impact revenue sources to maintain it. The group plans to submit its plan to the Trust on Monday, and the state-city authority hopes to make a decision on the pier at the end of January. Two other development teams have also submitted plans to the Trust.
Partnership members have said they can privately raise between $10 million and $30 million to cover the pier’s short-term repair costs. Ullman said the Partnership did not ask him for money and that he did not find that odd even though he knows many members, has an interest in the park and has a well-paying job.
It’s possible his marriage will not constitute a legal conflict of interest since Zaccaro is not likely to profit if the Trust’s board picks the Partnership plan. A Trust spokesperson said it will take some time for Trust lawyers to evaluate the legal questions involved.
Ullman did not return a call for comment Tuesday to discuss his wife’s connection to the Partnership.
Ullman said Diana Taylor, the Trust’s chairperson, has sent him plenty of documents to review for the Pier 40 decision.
“I’ve got a lot of homework to do,” he said.
He did say Monday that his appointment to the Trust was in the works for some time and that it was finalized last Friday during a meeting with Spitzer. Ullman said the governor told him: “Congratulations. Good luck.’”
Pier 40 Partnership members praised Ullman’s appointment because he is a local person who uses the park.
“Paul is a great, great choice,” said the group’s Fred Wilson. “He is a member of the community, a parent and a smart businessman who is caring.”
Ullman currently lives in the central Village and said he has lived in various sections of the neighborhood for the better part of the last 23 years. His children, ages 11 and 13, attend schools in the neighborhood that he declined to name for privacy reasons.
Ullman said his family has used the park for many years: In addition to his children playing sports on Pier 40, he runs along the river. He has taken more of an interest in the policy issues connected to the park in the last few years. He declined to discuss specifics.
Ullman replaces Trip Dorkey, the Trust’s former chairperson and an appointee of former Governor George Pataki. Taylor was a Pataki appointee whom Spitzer moved into the chairperson slot after Dorkey left this summer.
Julie Nadel, a Trust board member, said she did not know if Ullman has a conflict of interest that would prevent him from voting on the Pier 40 issue, but if it is determined that he does, his nonvote is unlikely to affect the final outcome on the pier, since it will probably be a consensus decision by the board. The governor and mayor share effective control of the Trust.
If there is a conflict, it will not be the first time a spouse’s activities have affected a Zaccaro family member’s public life. Zaccaro is the daughter of Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee, and John Zaccaro, a real estate broker who pleaded guilty to a defrauding scheme in 1985. His business dealings were issues in Ferraro’s national and statewide campaigns. One important distinction for Donna Zaccaro is that she is not accused of any wrongdoing.