By LOUIS FLORES
Large campaign contributors, lobbyists doubling as bundlers, lawyers, and real estate developers were listed on a spreadsheet that totaled 97 names from which top officials in the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) were said to have selected key appointments during his first months in office.
Ultimately, at least 43 of the 97 individuals appearing on the spreadsheet accepted at least one appointment.
The existence of the spreadsheet and some of its details were revealed in a bombshell report published Tuesday by The New York Daily News.
The spreadsheet "shows how the mayor uses the power of his office to reward those who have sent checks his way," wrote the journalists Jennifer Fermino and Greg Smith, adding, in part, later in the report that, the spreadsheet "makes clear the very top of City Hall was involved in coördinating appointments for VIPs."
The news report noted that some individuals listed on the spreadsheet eventually were appointed to government agencies and quasi-government bodies, such as the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, and the Queens Borough Public Library.
That Mayor de Blasio was reportedly selecting political supporters for positions on the Civilian Complaint Review Board may help explain, in part, why the agency primarily tasked with oversight of the New York Police Department has been rocked with controversy, including the resignation of CCRB Chair Richard Emery and CCRB's overall failure to hold NYPD officers unaccountable for misconduct. The ramifications of the failures by CCRB to carryout its primary mission are all the more relevant in light of the explosive revelation that Federal anti-corruption prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office have had to reportedly launch their own independent investigation to examine allegations of misconduct and corruption at the troubled police department. The existence of the Federal investigation into the NYPD is an indication, according to government reform activists, of the failures of municipal or state oversight.
Separately, the government agency overseeing the Brooklyn Navy Yard has historically had a problem with corruption. Commerce Labor Industry Corporation of Kings, the agency that formerly managed the Brooklyn Navy Yard before the creation of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, was headed by various officials with close political ties to former Brooklyn County Democratic Committee chair Meade Esposito, according to the 1988 muckraking book, "City For Sale" by Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett. Mr. Esposito reportedly profited from the business he received from Coastal Dry Dock, a large tenant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Conflicts of interests in appointments to the government body overseeing the Brooklyn Navy Yard and sweetheart deals with contractors of the Brooklyn Navy Yard were hallmarks of the administration of Mayor Ed Koch (D-New York City), according to "City For Sale." Moreover, Mr. Esposito reportedly received preferential treatment as a result of his political support for Mayor Koch, according to "City For Sale."
Allegations that Mayor de Blasio may be reïntroducing (or continuing) some pattern at the Brooklyn Navy Yard that appears to exchange economic interest for political support may color some of the recent economic development at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Under the de Blasio administration, a significant new occupant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard is the project Dock 72, an office building being developed in part by Rudin Management Company for eventual use by WeWork, a company that leases shared office space to tenants. Rudin Management Company is led by William Rudin, a political supporter of Mayor de Balsio's. Mr. Rudin is also the real estate developer principally responsible for converting the campus of the former St. Vincent's Hospital into a $1 billion complex of luxury condominiums and townhouses in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan.
Also named in the The New York Daily News report as appearing on the spreadsheet of appointment candidates were the lobbyists James Capalino and George Fontas. In the past, Mr. Capalino has lobbied on behalf of the controversial proposal to convert the campus of the former Long Island College Hospital into luxury condominiums, according to The New York Daily News report. At the same time when the lobbying of behalf of the LICH conversion project was taking place, Mayor de Blasio's chief aide, Emma Wolfe, had approved the granting of some administration role to each of Mr. Capalino and Mr. Fontas, according to The New York Daily News report. (Mr. Capalino's firm also represented Rudin Management Company in respect of its land use application to convert St. Vincent's.)
Although neither Mr. Capalino nor Mr. Fontas received an administration appointment, Mayor de Blasio's nonprofit lobbying arm, the Campaign for One New York, sent a mailer to Brooklyn residents supporting the luxury condominium conversion of LICH, according to The New York Daily News. In the time since, Mr. Capalino's lobbying business has skyrocketed under Mayor de Blasio, propelling his firm into the top spot of the league table of municipal lobbying firms.
One aspect of a reported, wide-ranging Federal corruption investigation into the de Blasio administration are efforts by prosecutors to determine whether Mayor de Blasio has been granting preferential treatment to his campaign contributors, according to various news reports. Accordingly, the report in The New York Daily News noted that the spreadsheet "may be of interest to Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr., both of whom are now investigating allegations that big donors received favorable treatment from City Hall."
Mayor de Blasio reportedly made appointments to the Queens Library from a spreadsheet of his political supporters, in contravention to recent efforts to introduce accountability to library leadership
The awarding of positions within the public library system for Queens may undermine recent efforts at instituting reform at the Queens Borough Public Library.
In 2014, the Queens Borough Public Library was beset by questions of possible financial mismanagement. In a series of reports published by The New York Daily News, allegations were made that Thomas Galante, the president and CEO of the Queens Borough Public Library, may have been mismanaged the finances of the library system. After President Galante resisted efforts at greater oversight, it eventually took special legislation passed in Albany that allowed Mayor de Blasio and Borough President Melinda Katz (D-Queens) to remove enough members of the Board of Trustees before Mr. Galante was fired. According to a report published at that time then by The New York Times, eight Trustees were removed. Mr. Gallante subsequently sued the library system for wrongful termination.
After Mr. Galante was removed from office, Borough President Katz marked the event by issuing a statement at that time then that read, in part, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and the dark days of this saga are finally behind us."
However, the office of Borough President Katz would not comment when asked by Progress Queens about the possibility that Mayor de Blasio was selecting political supporters to serve as Trustees of the Queens Borough Public Library during a time when the public has been demanding more accountability from the library system's leadership.
Under rules applicable to the appointment of Trustees of the library system, Borough President Katz appoints nine Trustees, whereas Mayor de Blasio has authority to appoint ten. The report in The New York Daily News did not raise any questions about any appointments made by Borough President Katz.
Separately, in response to a request made by Progress Queens, the Queens Borough Public Library identified the members of its Board of Trustees, who owe their appointment to Mayor de Balsio : Vice Chair Judith Bergtraum, Treasurer Michael Rodriguez, Martha Baker, Maria Concolino, Matthew Gorton, Julissa Gutierrez, James Haddad, Jukay Hsu, Haeda Mihaltses, and Jonathan Sleeper-O’Connell. Some of the appointments presently designated by Mayor de Blasio appear to represent ratification of existing appointments at the time he came into office.
In 2014, Mayor de Blasio appointed Ms. Baker, Mr. Haddad, and Mr. Hsu to the Board of Trustees after the purge necessary to fire President Galante. Whilst it is not clear if any of these officials appeared on the spreadsheet, Ms. Baker and Mr. Hsu previously served on Mayor de Blasio's transition team, which was announced after he won the general election in 2013.
A top Queens Borough Public Library official asserted that the political appointments made by Mayor de Blasio are serving with honest intentions.
In a statement made to Progress Queens about its Board of Trustees, Joanne King, director of communications for the Queens Borough Public Library, wrote, "The library does not select any of the appointees, although we are always prefer engaged trustees who are interested in the library’s mission. The Board of Trustees are not paid for their service and are volunteers. While I can’t speak for the Mayor or the Borough President about how they choose trustees, I can tell that it is an awful lot of work for no money and very, very little glory so I speculate that it takes a very community-minded and generous individual to agree to serve on Queens Library’s board. Their only reward is a great public library system and the satisfaction of doing community good. "