Friday, December 14, 2012
Strange rise and fall of Cecilia Chang
From the NY Times:
She was petite. Elegant. Forceful.
“She could walk into a room and dominate a conversation,” said Jonathan Derek, a former assistant of Dr. Chang’s who attended dinners where Dr. Chang entertained potential donors. “Just by being there, she was the center of attention.”
She made her home in Jamaica Estates, Queens, in a $1.7 million Tudor-style house with seven bedrooms, maid quarters, stone fireplaces and soaring ceilings with skylights.
Yet in many ways, Dr. Chang was a woman out of place.
As her legal troubles mounted in recent years, she found friendship among bartenders and casino bus drivers. She would curry favor by lending money to people from Chinese communities in Flushing and to fellow gamblers at the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut, where she was spending more and more time.
And to her embarrassment, she never learned to speak English fluently, writing that she felt isolated from her colleagues, like a “money tree” that was shaken but never nurtured.
Dr. Chang was hired at St. John’s not long after graduating from its master’s program. Three years later, she was named a dean. A big part of her job was to keep the Taiwanese money flowing.
Closer to home, she helped arrange trips to Taiwan for political delegations from Queens that included Donald Manes, the Queens borough president who committed suicide after his role in a far-reaching bribery scandal became public in 1986.
Sid Davidoff, a lawyer, lobbyist and longtime friend of Mr. Manes’s, recalled that Dr. Chang served as the borough president’s political liaison to the Asian community in Queens. Dr. Chang was so close to Mr. Manes that when she renovated her Queens mansion, she asked him to manage the project, according to a former university colleague of hers who was not willing to be named. There was speculation that some of Dr. Chang’s business relationships extended into her personal life.