On Friday, news emerged that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration wound up in the crosshairs of the crusading U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. De Blasio–aka Hizzoner–is not in this situation because Bharara is engaging in some sort of partisan witch-hunt. Bharara is fulfilling his duty to investigate and prosecute corruption and violations of the public trust. Whether or not de Blasio or any of his top associates are indicted remains to be seen. However, it is the biggest crisis facing this mayor. Surely, de Blasio is looking for somebody to blame, but the reality is that he has only himself to blame.
Since day one, de Blasio has made City Hall a place where pay-to-play reigns, and if you wanted to have his ear, you needed to donate to his now-shuttered Campaign for One New York, mayoral campaign or inaugural committee. If you really wanted the mayor’s attention, you needed to donate to all three. The anti-horse carriage crowd realized this and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into de Blasio’s pockets. So did Bruce Ratner, the mega-wealthy developer who was gifted a nearly $100 million tax-exempt bond by the de Blasio-controlled Build NYC Resource Corp. So did the clients of the lobbyist Harold Ickes who seemingly was given walk-in privileges to the mayor’s office (Remember the countless times de Blasio has decried the undue influence of lobbyists and money in politics?). There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.
De Blasio could claim naïveté. After all, he has a lengthy record of ineptitude dating back to his time in the Dinkins administration. Yet, that rings hollow when one considers his appointment of Mark Peters as his commissioner of the Department of Investigation. It was a move designed to insulate de Blasio and his administration from scrutiny. Before taking on this vital position within city government, Peters served as the treasurer of de Blasio’s mayoral campaign. His ability to be objective and independent was non-existent.
Good government groups rightfully cried foul whenever de Blasio and company would engage in suspect governance. Predictably, when confronted with questions surrounding his actions on whatever matter had raised eyebrows, de Blasio would follow the same playbook: first, deny any wrongdoing on his part. Next, lecture the press about how it was a “non-story.” This was followed by admitting an error was made, but that he was not personally responsible. Finally, the mayor would vow that it would never happen again. Spoiler alert: it would and did.
With de Blasio, the buck seems to stop somewhere way over there.
Continuing his mismanagement of staff, last year de Blasio fired his deputy mayor for health and human services, Lilliam Barrios-Paoli. Of course, the official explanation was that she was stepping down for personal reasons, but one source within the administration informed me that she was relieved of her duties. Why? Because during a meeting over the late summer, Barrios-Paoli politely told First Lady Chirlane McCray that she had no idea what she was doing in trying to manage the city’s mental health services. McCray, in turn, went to her husband who had her shown the door.
The message was loud and clear: if you do anything to upset us–even if it is to present the mayor and first lady with reality–you will be severely punished. It created an environment where city workers, be they political appointee or career city employee, knew their livelihoods would be threatened if they delivered news or opinions that de Blasio found objectionable.
Now, de Blasio is staring into the abyss as someone he cannot control is taking a magnifying glass to his countless shady dealings. We would be wise to remember the warnings of Joe Lhota (whom I worked for), the GOP mayoral candidate who opposed de Blasio in 2013. He highlighted not only de Blasio’s policy inadequacies but his history of doing favors for his well-connected donors. Today, Bharara is making many New Yorkers realize they wish they could say, “don’t blame me, I voted for Joe Lhota” and that Ed Koch’s famous quote, “the people have spoken… and they must be punished,” easily pertains to de Blasio’s election.
At the end of the day, this investigation could wind up being all smoke and no fire. However, it does not mean that our mayor has not sinned. The very fact that he is being investigated by one of the most important arms of the federal justice system signals that de Blasio’s transgressions could be very severe.
As more and more information emerges about de Blasio’s alleged pay-to-play dealings, he will deny allegations and obfuscate the truth. Yet, he could have avoided this situation entirely had he shown what is required of true leaders and appointed people with the backbone to tell him when he is wrong. Mayor de Blasio brought this on himself.
Photo by @vicenews
Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist and columnist, is president of Somm Consulting. You can follow him on Twitter at @evansiegfried