By LOUIS FLORES
New York City Councilmember Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) was a co-sponsor of $300,000 in discretionary funding awarded to a sensitivity training program that was supported by Jona Rechnitz, one of two men reportedly the subject of a Federal corruption investigation tied to both the New York Police Department and the de Blasio administration.
Mr. Rechnitz’s support for the training program was revealed in a report published by The New York Post. Councilmember Dromm’s co-sponsoring of the funding was identified in the City Council’s Fiscal Year 2015 Schedule C, which details the awarding of discretionary funding.
According to the report in The New York Post, Mr. Rechnitz was introduced to municipal legislators during tours of the Museum of Tolerance New York, where the sensitivity training was reportedly held. The individual, who orchestrated the tours and introductions, was the lobbyist Michael Cohen.
It is not known if Councilmember Dromm took one of those tours or if he met with Mr. Rechnitz or Mr. Cohen.
Councilmember Dromm’s office did not answer several advance questions submitted to him via e-mail by Progress Queens, and a message left with his communications director, Michael Mallon, was not returned.
A message left for Mr. Rechnitz at his real estate firm was also not returned.
It is not known how the Museum of Tolerance described the sensitivity program to Councilmember Dromm or to other municipal lawmakers. A message left with the Museum of Tolerance, where Mr. Cohen is now a director, was not returned.
Because the City Council is funding private sensitivity training, has the City Council found the NYPD's own training insufficient ?
The City Council grant raises several questions.
It is not known whether Councilmember Dromm performed any due diligence on how the sensitivity program would recruit law enforcement officers to participate in the sensitivity training. Notwithstanding, because of the reported self-interest Councilmembers generally have in awarding discretionary funds to nonprofit groups that act as political supporters, Councilmember Dromm should have been personally aware about the program, at least for its potential political benefits.
Since it has been reported that one aspect of the Federal corruption investigation into Mr. Rechnitz has focused on whether he provided gifts to police officers in exchange for receiving police services, it is not known if the participation by NYPD officers in this sensitivity training program was part of any arrangement Mr. Reichnitz had with the police officers allegedly implicated in the Federal corruption investigation.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New York’s southern district, which is reportedly heading up the investigations into each of the NYPD and the de Blasio administration, has a policy of not formally acknowledging, much less commenting about, its investigations.
Since the sensitivity training was described to help NYPD officers exhibit tolerance of religious and cultural minorities, it is not known why the NYPD allowed its officers to receive this training in a museum setting instead of reëvaluating its current curriculum of training either through the Police Academy or through One Police Plaza. Last year, the NYPD began to experiment with how it delivered sensitivity training for its new recruits.
Given that City Councilmembers are funding private sensitivity training for police officers, municipal lawmakers may consider the NYPD’s current programs insufficient. Questions submitted in advance by Progress Queens to the deputy commissioner of public information at the NYPD were not answered.
Additionally, it is not known why the City Council would choose to fund sensitivity programs for law enforcement officials through a museum instead of through the Police Academy or through One Police Plaza, when, in fact, municipal lawmakers can compel the NYPD to improve its training by according a budget increase for the NYPD specifically earmarked for enhanced training programs. It's all the more baffling, because groups are still advocating for police reform, sometimes in excess of the unfulfilled promises made by Mayor de Blasio during his 2013 campaign for mayor, particularly in the wake of startling revelations about the Federal corruption investigation into the NYPD. Questions submitted in advance to Eric Koch, the communications director for Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem), were not immediately answered.
Other municipal legislators, who co-sponsored the Fiscal Year 2015 grant for the sensitivity training, included Councilmembers Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), Elizabeth Crowley (D-Forest Hills), Daniel Garodnick (D-Tudor City), Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge), Mark Levine (D-West Harlem), Ydanis Rodríguez (D-Washington Heights), and Alan Maisel (D-Canarsie).
Councilmember Crowley sponsored a separate, one-time grant of $5,000, also in Fiscal Year 2015.
A third grant of $350,000 was co-sponsored by Councilmembers David Greenfield (D-Borough Park), Levine, and Crowley, along with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem), according to the Fiscal Year 2016 Schedule C.
It is not known why Councilmember Dromm ceased his co-sponsorship for funding the sensitivity training one year after he had initially expressed support for the program.
That Mr. Rechnitz was able to secure sizeable six-figure grants back-to-back again suggested that a significant supporter of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) had received preferential treatment from the City of New York. Mr. Rechnitz and his wife were campaign contributors to Mayor de Blasio’s campaign committee, and Mr. Rechnitz was a member of Mayor de Blasio’s inaugural committee.
Mr. Cohen, the lobbyist who facilitated the introductions, was a former top aide to State Sen. John Sampson (D-Crown Heights), and he was later employed by the lobbying firm Pitta Bishop Del Giorno & Giblin LLC, which has reportedly profited from its close relationship with Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, according to a 2015 report filed by the journalist Amber Jamieson for The New York Post.
A search of the online records of the Lobbying Bureau of the Office of the City Clerk turned up no client information about the Museum of Tolerance or the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is the museum’s sponsor. Records should exist, if Mr. Cohen had been providing paid lobbying services on behalf of the Museum of Tolerance to seek funding from the City Council.
- New York City Council - Discretionary Funding - Fiscal Year 2015 Schedule C [New York City Council]
- New York City Council - Discretionary Funding - Fiscal Year 2016 Schedule C [New York City Council]