New York Times Faces Backlash Over Dan Goldman Endorsement Debacle

There are ties between the families of Goldman and Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, who took an interest in the endorsement.

New York's 10th Congressional District candidate Dan Goldman speaks during an environmental policy forum presented by The New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund and The Cooper Union., Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Dan Goldman, a candidate to represent New York’s 10th Congressional District, speaks during an environmental policy forum on July 19, 2022, in New York. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

Over the weekend, the New York Times editorial board unveiled its endorsements for the state’s upcoming congressional primary elections, backing a slate of Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in New York’s 17th District, Rep. Jerry Nadler in the 12th District, and Dan Goldman in the 10th District.

The spectacle of the Times endorsing three white guys was itself enough to draw attention, but capping it off by backing Goldman, a self-funding heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, has brought an unusual amount of attention to the paper’s endorsement process.

The extremely crowded race in a deep-blue district features a current member of Congress, a former member of Congress, two members of the State Assembly, and one City Council member. Goldman, a former counsel in the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump, has not held public office and has thus far given $4 million of his exorbitant personal wealth to his campaign. That type of self-funding has previously been a disqualification for a Times endorsement, but the paper of record made an exception for Goldman.

The paper also skipped the open primary for New York’s 3rd District and missed an easy chance to endorse a nonwhite man in New York’s 16th, which pits incumbent Rep. Jamaal Bowman against Westchester County Legislator Vedat Gashi and County Legislator Catherine Parker.

As important in the context of the Times endorsement, Goldman’s family enjoys ties to members of the Sulzberger family, which has owned and run the New York Times Co. for six generations. The paper’s current publisher and chair of its parent company is Arthur Gregg “A.G.” Sulzberger. One of the rival candidates, Rep. Mondaire Jones, alluded to that relationship in a joint press conference attacking Goldman on Monday alongside another candidate, Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou. “Look, I have no idea whether the generations of close family relationship between the Sulzbergers and the Goldmans had any role at all to play in the endorsement,” Jones said.

The Times editorial board insisted that the decision was based on merit but also disclosed that the board answers to the publisher. A.G. Sulzberger did not recuse himself despite the ties between the Goldman and Sulzberger families and has in the past overruled editorial board preferences. Sulzberger, who lives in the 10th District, expressed an interest in the race internally, according to a political operative not working on behalf of any of the candidates who spoke directly with multiple members of the editorial board, as well as another person close to Sulzberger.

“[O]ur election endorsements are independent decisions that emerge through reporting and discussion by a board of experienced journalists, through individual interviews with candidates. This board reports directly to the opinion editor and, through her, to the publisher,” according to a statement from the Times, which added that Sulzberger and Goldman do not personally know each other. Asked if there were any contacts between Goldman and Sulzberger family members during the endorsement process, Goldman campaign spokesperson Simone Kanter said, “The answer to your question is ‘no.’” He also cited the Times’ statement.

Jones was featured so much in the text of the endorsement that without the headline it could have been seen as backing both men. The two experienced women of color in the race who are at or near the top of the polls, Niou and City Council Member Carlina Rivera, were not mentioned in the endorsement at all. New York Magazine’s Ross Barkan noted that the endorsement was part of a pattern of “the Times’ growing disdain for the progressive left.”

According to conversations with multiple members of the Jones camp, the campaign was under the strong impression that a majority of the editorial board members were in support of his campaign, though no final decision had been made. But the Jones camp also understood the influence of the Sulzberger family on the process, and in particular A.G. Sulzberger’s ability to tip the scales, as Jones alluded to in his comments. There was a broad awareness in Jonesworld that majority support from the board did not always translate to an endorsement, and when the endorsement went to Goldman, a belief that the family’s personal preference factored in.

Perhaps no other newspaper endorsement in the country matters as much as the Times’, particularly in the wealthier enclaves of New York City. It has the demonstrated capacity to move voters who are in its core audience. (The Times’ nod to Jones in 2020 helped him win his open primary in the district now pursued by Maloney.) Normally, the paper doesn’t get this opportunity, because seats come open so rarely. But a late change to redistricting in New York upended districts serving the affluent communities in Manhattan, giving the Times real power to shape certain races with its endorsement.

The ties between the Goldman and Sulzberger families include their mutual membership in elite Washington, D.C., circles. Shortly after announcing an abortive run for New York attorney general, Goldman banked a $1,000 check from Joseph Perpich, Cathy Sulzberger’s husband. It was the 81-year-old Perpich’s one and only contribution to a New York state political race.

Goldman’s mother, Susan Sachs Goldman, and Cathy Perpich (née Sulzberger), the sister of the previous New York Times publisher and aunt of its current one, both sat on the board of trustees of the elite Beltway private school Sidwell Friends, where all three Goldman children and all three Perpich (Sulzberger) children attended school. At Sidwell, Goldman was one year ahead of David Perpich, who sits on the board of directors of the New York Times Co. and is the publisher of Times products The Athletic and Wirecutter. Duke Magazine, the university’s alumni publication, profiled Perpich as the “NYT’s quiet strategist” in 2020.

As a 16-year-old student at Sidwell in 1993, “Danny” Goldman was quoted in the Times reacting to Chelsea Clinton’s entry into the private school. Days later, the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz criticized the Times for running the story without disclosing Cathy Sulzberger’s presence on the Sidwell board.

“It’s not infrequent that the board might want somebody and the publisher wants someone else.”

Both the Times’ official statement and a tweet thread from the company’s PR feed are carefully worded. In the tweet thread, the paper states that there are “no members of the Sulzberger family who have anything to do with candidate endorsements other than our publisher,” who is, of course, a Sulzberger. The thread stresses that the endorsements are “independent decisions” but adds that the board reports to the publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, through the opinion editor.

Daniel Okrent, the former public editor of the Times, had no knowledge of the specific endorsement in question but explained that similar situations have happened before. “The publisher of the paper is the authority over the editorial page,” Okrent said. “It’s not infrequent that the board might want somebody and the publisher wants someone else.”

Okrent didn’t find this instance particularly worthy of condemnation; after all, the publisher is ultimately responsible for what goes out under the paper’s name. In this case, he wasn’t sure whether it merited disclosure within the endorsement. “I can see how [the editorial board] would think, ‘If we say he’s a family friend, that would weaken our determination that he’s the best person for the job,’” he noted.

The endorsement itself is unusually weak. It leads by saying that Goldman and Jones stand out from the mostly unnamed rest of the field. (Former Watergate-era Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman and Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon, along with Niou and Rivera, round out the top six candidates.) It highlights Goldman’s work on the Trump impeachment and says that “those who have worked with Mr. Goldman behind the scenes describe him as diligent and prepared and a person of integrity.” Longtime local reporter Errol Louis translated that to mean: “Queries within the alumni networks of Sidwell Friends, Yale, and Stanford Law, from which Goldman graduated, turned up good reports and no scandals.”

The endorsement celebrates Goldman “bring[ing] serious policy ideas to the race” but only mentions his support for a “ban on stock trading by members of Congress,” which has already been widely embraced by a majority of Democrats. The endorsement lauds Goldman for assisting with some research while in law school on the book “The New Jim Crow” but does not linger on Goldman’s immediate decision to become a prosecutor in the same criminal justice system the book had just lacerated.

Jones, by contrast, is described as a “prolific legislator” and a “bridge builder between the progressive wing of his party and its more moderate leadership.” The only mark against him is that he lacks experience working in the community he seeks to represent; Jones was elbowed out of his home district when Maloney, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, moved to a more favorable seat. But of course Goldman similarly lacks that experience; the endorsement points out that “Goldman would need to use his first term to convince the large numbers of lower-income and middle-class Americans he would represent that he understands the issues facing those constituents.”

The Times editorial board is also known to harbor ill will in general toward candidates who self-fund their campaigns, a vestige of the anti-corruption piety that harkens to its mugwump roots. Goldman held off self-funding for much of the campaign, presumably fearful of losing the coveted endorsement. But on July 13, facing a cash shortfall, he dropped $1.24 million of his own money into his campaign coffers and another $750,000 a week later. Goldman later donated an additional $2 million of his own money.

Goldman won the prize without so much as a mention that he had broken the Times’ cardinal rule.

His opponents assumed that the move had cost him the endorsement. In the past, when the Times has endorsed a wealthy candidate funding their own campaign, it’s lashed itself for it in the process. “This page cares deeply about making elections fair and open, and if Mr. [Michael] Bloomberg’s administration had been anything less than distinguished, his insistence on undermining the campaign finance system would disqualify him from our support,” the Times wrote in the past. “As it is, with that one caveat in mind, we enthusiastically endorse Michael Bloomberg for mayor.”

“Mr. Bloomberg’s current campaign approach reveals more about America’s broken system than his likelihood of fixing it,” the Times observed in declining to endorse Bloomberg for president. “Rather than build support through his ideas and experience, Mr. Bloomberg has spent at least $217 million to date to circumvent the hard, uncomfortable work of actual campaigning.”

But Goldman won the prize without so much as a mention that he had broken the Times’ cardinal rule.

Goldman had already leapt to the top of an Emerson College poll even before the Times endorsement was released. Though he took only 22 percent of the vote in the poll, the unsettled field of candidates with similar ideologies could allow that small share to take the seat.

A similar progressive split vote led former Republican Jake Auchincloss to win a congressional seat in the Boston area in 2020. There were also rumors in that race that a close relationship between the Auchincloss family and the owners of the Boston Globe, John and Linda Henry, led to Auchincloss winning that paper’s endorsement.

The Times editorial board’s endorsement process has embarrassed the paper in the past. The 2020 Democratic presidential co-endorsement of Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren was roundly derided two and a half years ago.

On Wednesday night, the 10th District candidates debate at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. Goldman, Jones, Niou, Rivera, and Simon will be on the stage.

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