News broke last week that the multiple grand juries investigating Mayor de Blasio’s crooked campaigns and shady financing schemes are getting close to voting on indictments. To which many New Yorkers asked, “What took so long?”
In just three years, the mayor has managed to generate more serious scandals than both his predecessors did in the span of two decades, and it’s hard to stay on top of which prosecutor is looking into which violation. So here’s a quick refresher course on the current federal investigation, for those who’ve lost track of the overlapping cast of characters and conspiracies that have turned City Hall into a cistern of corruption and graft.
The next few weeks are likely to result in indictments for senior mayoral staff, and perhaps the mayor himself.
Upon taking office, instead of dismantling his formidable campaign operation or putting it on the back burner as elected officials normally do, the mayor converted it into a nonprofit political fundraising organization on steroids. Called the Campaign for One New York, this entity was ostensibly charged with promoting the mayor’s progressive agenda — eliminating income inequality, gentrification, police brutality, traffic accidents, lack of ID cards, depression, etc.
Managed by his campaign finance director Ross Offinger, CONY was supposedly a stand-alone, nonpartisan issues-advocacy outfit. But strip away all the fancy words and highfalutin ideas, and it becomes clear what CONY really was: a funnel for New York City’s donor class to pour millions of dollars into Team de Blasio’s open pockets.
Virtually all of the money that went into the Campaign for One New York came from Big Labor, developers who needed city approval for their projects or rich advocates like horse-crazy Wendy Neu and Stephen Nislick, who wanted the mayor to make good on his promise to get rid of the Central Park carriages.
And almost all the money that flowed out of the Campaign for One New York — millions of dollars — went to consulting firms such as BerlinRosen, Hilltop Public Solutions and AKPD Message and Media. These powerful consultancies are run by the men whom the mayor notoriously designated “agents of the city,” retroactively shielding their communications with his office from public scrutiny.
These agents of the city effectively turned City Hall into a teller’s cage, where clients could pay tribute and get their tickets punched.
De Blasio has insisted, and continues to insist, that CONY was a necessary counterweight to the power of “landlords, a major multinational corporation, hedge-fund managers,” who were spending millions to destroy his progressive vision.
“And what was the cause we were fighting for?” asked de Blasio back in July. “First it was pre-K, then it was affordable housing. Now, you know there’s a whole lot of money in politics in this country that goes to back up the interest of big business and the wealthy and the powerful. We were trying to help children and people who needed affordable housing.”
Sounds noble — a good fight well fought. Except there was no significant opposition from those well-heeled quarters to either universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) or to the mayor’s affordable-housing plan.
De Blasio continues to distort history on this topic. Friday, on his weekly WNYC radio interview with Brian Lehrer, he doubled down on his lies, insisting that “hedge-fund donors” sponsored a huge rally in Albany in March 2014 to oppose his plan to fund UPK with a tax on the very rich. In fact, that rally was actually in defense of charter schools, which the mayor had declared war upon.
The latest news of the grand-jury investigation into CONY came just a day after the City Council passed a new law that limits the ability of nonprofits run by elected officials to solicit money from people doing business with the city. Yet the loopholes in this new law, which the council hailed as “a model for the nation,” are so specifically delineated that it almost reads like a manual for skirting the rules. The law so carefully targets the unique model of de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York, which went out of existence earlier this year, that it’s hard to imagine that it would have much future relevance to anything else. It is like shutting the barn door when the horse is dead.
The mayor grudgingly says he’ll sign the bill into law, though he predictably grouses, “Anyone who wants to attack a mayor or the City Council or anything with endless amounts of money, there is now no counterbalance in the equation.”
This is the response we have come to expect from de Blasio whenever things don’t go his way: snappish, self-pitying contempt.