William Rapfogel, one of New York City’s most powerful Jewish communal executives, issued an apology on Monday for actions that led the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty to abruptly fire him last week from his longtime position as executive director of the organization.
“I deeply regret the mistakes I have made that have led to my departure from the organization,” Rapfogel wrote in a statement issued by his attorney. “I pray that my family and friends and all who care about the Met Council can find it in their heart to forgive me for my actions.”
Just what those “mistakes” are remains unknown, for now, outside of a tight circle of people. Rapfogel, whose resignation was only disclosed Monday, is now the subject of a criminal investigation by the New York State Attorney General and the New York State Comptroller.
A statement from the Met Council said that the allegations against Rapfogel related to the group’s insurance policies; a spokesman for the Met Council would not elaborate. A New York Times report, citing unnamed sources, said that the investigation was connected to political donations to New York City candidates made by employees at an insurance company.
The Met Council’s board decided on August 8 to fire Rapfogel, according to Menachem Lubinsky, a member of the board. The board learned of the investigation into Rapfogel, who has led the group since 1992, earlier that week on a conference call with the board’s executive committee.
“People understood the nature of the allegations,” Lubinsky said. “They felt that there was no choice but to terminate him.”
Lubinsky said that the board members had not held board leadership responsible for Rapfogel’s alleged actions. “I think everybody felt the leadership of the board acted appropriately and certainly had no knowledge of this,” Lubisnky said.
Members of the board’s executive committee include co-chair Merryl Tisch, who is also chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents. Tisch is chair of Bill Thompson’s campaign for New York City mayor.
The office of the New York State Attorney General was informed of the alleged improprieties by the Met Council’s board. The board is continuing its own investigation of the incident through outside counsel.
Rapfogel’s wife, Judy Rapfogel, is the chief of staff to New York State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver.
“I am stunned and deeply saddened by this news,” Silver told the Daily News.
Together with Silver, Rapfogel formed part of a powerful coterie of Lower East Side political heavyweights with its base in the Grand Street co-operative apartment complexes.
“We put in time and effort for the people,” said Heshy Jacob, another member of their influential neighborhood cohort, in an interview with the Forward in March. “It’s not that we simply are despots.”
Contacted on August 12, Jacob stood by Rapfogel. “He is one of the most decent human beings in the world,” Jacob said. “This is a man who has helped the poor his entire life.”
The Met Council is among the New York Jewish community’s largest social service groups, with an annual budget of $27 million. The group receives millions a year in contracts from state and local government, plus millions in grants from the UJA-Federation of New York.
In a statement, the UJA-Federation backed the Met Council’s decision to fire Rapfogel.
“Based on conversations with their leadership, we understand that appropriate steps have been taken to investigate these matters,” said Leslie K. Lichter, UJA-Federation of New York Managing Director, Marketing and Communications. “In light of Met Council’s referring the allegations to the authorities and the ongoing investigation, it would be inappropriate for UJA-Federation to provide any further comment.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.