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Renaissance Technologies

Peace group now focuses attention on proposed renaming of school of medicine to include Renaissance

Members of the North Country Peace Group plan to continue organizing demonstrations at Renaissance Technologies in E. Setauket despite the announcement that co-CEO Robert Mercer is stepping down. File photo by Rita J. Egan

The end of a co-CEO’s reign won’t stop an activist group from demonstrating outside of his hedge fund’s East Setauket office, especially after members heard a local university school of medicine may be renamed to include the company name.

Robert Mercer, of Renaissance Technologies, announced in a Nov. 2 letter to investors that he will be stepping down as co-CEO and resigning from the firm’s board of directors as of Jan. 1. In the letter, he stated he would remain a member of the technical staff and be involved in research work.

For nearly two years, the North Country Peace Group, a local peace and social justice organization, has often held demonstrations in front of the entrance of Renaissance Technologies. Most recently, the group held an August rally protesting the alleged contributions of millions of dollars to alt-right causes by Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, and the pair’s alignment with the ultraconservative online media company Breitbart News.

“We were shocked [when we heard the news], because we immediately thought look what we’ve accomplished,” said Bill McNulty, a member of the North County Peace Group.

An activist at an Aug. 23 rally in E. Setauket. File photo by Rita J. Egan

He said the sense of accomplishment was short-lived after news reports of companies pulling their investments from the hedge fund, and he said he believes this was the determining factor for Mercer stepping down and not the group’s demonstrations.

“I don’t feel he’s really stepping down,” said Myrna Gordon, a member of the activist group. “In his statement, he said he was still going to be involved with Renaissance, that he would still be doing work there. The only thing that was changed was the word co-CEO. He’s still there. So, we feel that he’s still entrenched in the company.”

Members of North Country Peace Group were alerted to an Oct. 2 Stony Brook Council meeting where it was proposed to rename the Stony Brook School of Medicine to the Renaissance School of Medicine. The council serves as an advisory body to the campus and Stony Brook University’s president and senior officers. In the webcast of the meeting available on SBU’s website, council chairman Kevin Law said a resolution regarding the renaming was approved electronically a few weeks prior and needed to be ratified by the council members at the Oct. 2 meeting.

Dexter Bailey, senior vice president for advancement and executive director of the Stony Brook Foundation, said during a presentation Oct. 2 the reason for the renaming was due to the generosity of 111 of the 300 Renaissance employees over the last few decades. The university received its first donation of $750 from one of the firm’s employees in 1982, and through the years Renaissance employees have donated $508 million to the university. In 2011, Renaissance Technologies founder and former CEO Jim Simons and his wife Marilyn donated a historic $150 million.

“These are individuals who have graduated from the top schools around the world — a lot of Ivy League grads — and to be able to have them adopt Stony Brook as one of their philanthropic priorities has really been a pleasure,” Bailey said.

He said many of the donors like to keep their contributions private, and the university looked for something that the employees could reflect on and take pride in.

Members of the North Country Peace Group will now keep an eye on developments for renaming the Stony Brook School of Medicine to Renaissance School of Medicine. File photo by Rita J. Egan

“We feel that naming the school of medicine will not only recognize the 35 years of history, but it actually sets the stage for future giving.” Bailey said.

During voting for the resolution, only one council member, Karen Wishnia, who represents the graduate student body, opposed the proposal. Wishnia said in a phone interview after the meeting, that even though she recognizes the generosity of the Renaissance employees and Simons, she “couldn’t in good conscience vote yes for this” largely because of the association with Mercer.

The next step for the resolution is for the university to obtain approval from the State University of New York chancellor and board of trustees.

McNulty and Gordon said members of the North County Peace Group strongly believe a state school of medicine doesn’t need to be renamed after a company, even if its employees are generous. They said the group has struggled in the past with how to separate the employees of Renaissance from the CEO.

“It puts the employees in a strange spot,” McNulty said, adding it’s understandable how those making good salaries with the company may be reluctant to admit Renaissance may be involved in negative activities. “We have had people come out of the company’s office who have been supportive of the information that we’ve imparted, and we’ve had others who have given us the [middle] finger.”

The two said the North Country Peace Group plans to continue demonstrations in front of Renaissance and educate the community about the renaming of the medical school. Gordon said when she watched the video of the Stony Brook Council meeting she was surprised there was no discussion after the vote was taken, and she wonders why the university hasn’t been more transparent about the proposal that involves a state school of medicine paid for by taxpayers.

“I would be pleased and honored to have the Stony Brook School of Medicine right up there in the forefront, and once big money corporations start buying landmarks, arenas, stadiums, you’re dealing with a whole other type of situation,” Gordon said. “We should be proud that it’s the State University of New York at Stony Brook. We should be proud that it’s the Stony Brook medical center.”

A Renaissance representative did not respond to requests for comments by press time.

By Rita J. Egan

A local activist group is asking a Long Island billionaire and his daughter to stop funding the alt-right.

According to a press release from the North Country Peace Group, Robert Mercer, billionaire co-CEO of the Setauket-based hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, and his daughter Rebekah have allegedly contributed millions of dollars to alt-right causes due to his alliance with the online media company Breitbart News.

The group held a rally in front of the company’s entrance on Route 25A Aug. 23 because members feel Breitbart News has provided a forum for white supremacist, sexist and other racist voices.

Approximately two dozen protesters were in attendance with signs in tow. During the rally, Charles Perretti of Setauket grabbed a megaphone and addressed the crowd.

“What does [the Mercer family] want?” he asked. “They want to control the public dialogue. They want to advance their attitudes and values at the expense of true representative government and the spirit of one man and one vote.”

Perretti said Mercer supports the current Republican presidential administration, referring to that of President Donald Trump (R).

“What do we want, the people on the corner?” he said. “We want concern for the common good.”

The statement inspired protesters to respond repeatedly: “Concern for the common good.”

In recent months, the local peace group has organized or participated in several rallies covering various topics including Trump’s proposed transgender military ban, climate change, alleged use of force by police and a sister event to the Women’s March on Washington.

Peace group member Rosemary Maffei, of Setauket, has been in attendance for much of the group’s protests. She said attending political demonstrations is something she feels she needs to do for herself personally and for the country, and she appreciates being around like-minded residents.

“I feel it’s important to let people see that there is resistance to Trump and the Republican Party, especially here on ‘red’ Long Island,” she said. “Sitting home and doing nothing while the country is being torn apart is something I don’t understand.”

Mercer did not respond to a request sent through an executive assistant at his company for comments about the rally.

This post was updated Aug. 30.

 

Co-CEO of East Setauket-based investment firm connected to major money behind Trump administration

 

A large group of political protesters paraded along busy Route 25A in East Setauket March 24, aiming their outcry not just at the administration in Washington, D.C., but a reclusive hedge fund billionaire by the name of Robert Mercer residing in their own backyard.

Mercer, the co-CEO of an East Setauket-based investment firm and resident of Head of the Harbor, has been under the spotlight for being the money behind President Donald Trump’s (R) administration, maintaining a major influence on the White House’s agenda, including its strict immigration policies.

Mercer, a major backer of the far-right Breitbart News, reportedly contributed nearly $13.5 million to the Trump campaign and, along with his daughter Rebekah, played a part in securing the leadership positions of chief strategist Steve Bannon and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.

Regarding Mercer as the administration’s puppeteer-in-chief, protesters assembled to bring public attention to the local family’s power in the White House and the influence “dark money” has had in America.

“I think we’ve reached a worrisome point in our history that a single individual can have the kind of influence that Robert Mercer has, simply because he has a huge amount of money,” Setauket resident John Robinson said. “I think he’s an extremely dangerous individual with worrisome views. He just wants government to not be around so people like him and companies like his can plunder to their heart’s content.”

The short march, made up of several protest groups including the North Country Peace Group, began at the CVS shopping center and landed at the bottom of the hill where Mercer’s Renaissance Technologies sits. Leading the march were local residents wearing paper cutout masks of Trump, Bannon and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), each strung up like puppets and controlled by a resident in a grim reaper outfit, representing Mercer.

Equipped with signs reading “Mercer $ Bought Trump We Pay the Price” and “Resist Mercer,” Long Island residents stood in front of the investment firm’s office and participated in a mock debate with the faux-political figures. The topics ranged from Mercer’s denial of climate change to Zeldin’s stance on the now-pulled American Health Care Act.

Sue McMahon, a member of the grassroots coalition Building Bridges in Brookhaven, had only recently learned about Mercer’s heavy involvement in Trump’s presidency and his close proximity and participated in the march to expose him.

“I’m very concerned we have a person like this among us who holds the power of the Republican Party,” McMahon said.

She said she’s particularly troubled by the administration’s overwhelming ignorance of environmental issues, its emphasis on money and the extreme views of Breitbart News.

“This is not the America I grew up with, this is not what I want,”she said. “I’m not normally a protester, but I believe we all have to stand up now.”

Paul Hart, a Stony Brook resident, said he was there to support democracy.

The American people have lost representative government because campaign contributions are now controlled by the rich, he said, and it’s hard to think about the needs of constituents when they don’t contribute in a way that’s beneficial to a politician’s re-election.

“The average person has absolutely no voice in politics anymore,” Hart said. “Bbefore, we had a little bit, but now, we’re being swept aside.

One protester referred to Mercer as one small part of a larger picture, and expressed concern over a growing alt-right movement throughout the country that prefers an authoritarian government that runs like a business.

“I guess that’s what Trump is all about,” said Port Jefferson resident Jordan Helin. “But we’re seeing what the country looks like when it’s being run like a business, [and it’s scary].”

Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson resident and member, said her organization has held previous actions against Renaissance Technologies, and was among the first grassroots groups on Long island to take notice of how entrenched in the White House Mercer and his family are. According to her, Rebekah Mercer is in many ways more powerful than her father.

“We cannot take the focus off [Rebekah Mercer] right now, because she’s become a powerful force in this whole issue of money in politics, buying candidates, everything we see in our government,” she said.

Since Robert Mercer is local and lives in our community, she added, it’s time that we showed our strength and our voice regarding what this money is doing to our country.

Setauket residents continue a Renaissance Technologies tradition

Stony Brook Cancer Center. File photo

Generosity, particularly towards Stony Brook University, runs in the family at Renaissance Technologies.

Lalit Bahl, a veteran of the hedge fund, and his wife Kavita, who are Setauket residents, recently agreed to donate $10 million to a new translational research program that will complement Stony Brook’s effort to understand and conquer cancer. The financial gift, which will support a metabolomics and imaging center that will provide individualized cancer care, comes two years after the Bahls donated $3.5 million to a similar effort.

Bahl said he was following a long-established tradition.

“Many of my colleagues at Renaissance have donated significant amounts to Stony Brook and in particular the medical side over the years,” Bahl said. “I’ve heard from some of them about some of the projects that they have been involved in. I’m sure that played some part in my decision to make this donation.”

Another compelling factor in that decision, Bahl said, was the prevalence of cancer in his family.

Jim Simons, former chairman of the Mathematics Department at Stony Brook, founded Renaissance Technologies, bringing in a range of expertise to understand and predict movements in the stock market. Simons and his wife Marilyn have made significant contributions to Stony Brook that have helped bring in talented staff.

Indeed, in 2012 the school recruited distinguished scientists Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Cancer Center and Lina Obeid, the dean for research and professor of medicine. Hannun and Obeid, with the support of other senior faculty in the Cancer Center, will help oversee the creation of an advanced metabolomics and imaging center in the new Medical and Research Translation building when it opens in 2018.

Lalit and Kavita Bahl pledge $10 million to new cancer research program. Photo from Stony Brook University
Lalit and Kavita Bahl pledge $10 million to new cancer research program. Photo from Stony Brook University

“We have high-powered, brilliant investigations in cancer medicine,” Hannun said. “This creates the capability that will allow them to take their work to the next level, in developing new therapeutics as well as in imaging studies.”

The new facilities include a cyclotron, which is used to create novel tracer molecules for PET scanning, hot labs that produce radioactive tracers for the cyclotron, two PET scanners and research labs.

Imaging will enable doctors to monitor patients, in some cases without excising a tissue sample or performing surgery.

The imaging will “distinguish between a tumor [that] is necrotic and dying [and one] that’s metabolically active,” said Obeid. That will help track and monitor the patient’s response to various medicines and chemotherapy in a noninvasive way.

Metabolomics is the study of the small molecules or metabolites that help cells function. Some of those metabolites provide energy while others could act as signaling molecules, and still others could be involved in other structural or functional effects.

In addition to new equipment, Stony Brook will add new scientists to its fight against cancer. During the first phase, the school will recruit an oncological imaging researcher, a matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization researcher and a magnetic resonance spectroscopy researcher. In the second phase, Stony Brook will hire a new scientist in experimental therapeutics.

Ken Kaushansky, the dean of the School of Medicine, appreciates the progress the school is making in cancer research and is energized by the combination of philanthropic gifts and investments from the university.

“There’s something remarkably catalytic about a brand new building,” Kaushansky said. He said he’s had regular discussions with people who want an opportunity to work in the new facility.

While the broader goal is, and continues to be, to make important discoveries that will help in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, Kaushansky reiterated the school’s desire to earn a National Cancer Institute designation. This designation, which has been given to 69 institutions throughout the United States, raises its visibility and increases the opportunities to become part of research initiatives, while it also improves the chances that an individual scientist will obtain research funding from the National Cancer Institute, according to that organization’s web site.

“We have far surpassed the threshold of cancer research needed to acquire an NCI designation,” Kaushanksy said, which he attributes to Hannun’s efforts. Stony Brook is “now focusing on building up our clinical research prowess. That’s the second major component. I like our chances.”

The next area Stony Brook hopes to build is cardiovascular imaging, Kaushansky said.

“We have some remarkable cardiovascular surgeons and some terrific cardiovascular biologists,” Kaushansky said. “We need some outstanding cardiovascular imagers to work with [them]. We can use the incredible tools that we are building to do to cardiovascular medicine what we are doing to cancer.”

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