New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is an establishment Democratic Party politician, who has been in elected office for 15 years. Prior to that, he was a political operative and the manager of Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2000 U.S. Senate campaign.
By LOUIS FLORES
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim and District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. (D-Manhattan) made separate, yet apparently coördinated announcements on Thursday that Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) and his aides would not face criminal charges as a consequence of parallel Federal and Municipal investigations into the mayor's campaign finance activities. Prosecutors were attempting to determine whether Mayor de Blasio solicited donations to his various political committees by promising to deliver, in exchange, official acts.
Acting U.S. Attorney Kim, who became the top Federal prosecutor for New York's southern district last Saturday following the Trump administration's purge of the U.S. Department of Justice of Obama-era holdover appointments, issued a statement on Thursday that read, in relevant part, that Federal prosecutors considered the "high burden of proof" and the "particular difficulty in proving criminal intent in corruption schemes," amongst other factors in making a decision not to press criminal charges. Similar standards of proof were cited in a letter penned by District Attorney Vance in which he wrote, in relevant part, that a person charged with crimes must have "acted knowingly and willfully" ... "with knowledge that [one's] conduct was unlawful." District Attorney Vance's letter took the form of a report back to Risa Sugarman, chief enforcement counsel for the New York State Board of Elections.
Acting U.S. Attorney Kim generally noted about the campaign finance activities in his statement by observing that Mayor de Blasio "made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of" his donors, in an apparently allusion to possible misconduct. Meanwhile, District Attorney Vance described one aspect of Mayor de Blasio's campaign finance activities -- a coördinated effort to funnel large campaign donations through Democratic Party county committees in an effort to flip control of the New York State Senate into the Democratic Party's hands -- as "conduct" that "may have violated the Election Law." However, in District Attorney Vance's legal analysis, Mayor de Blasio and his aides were described to have relied upon the advise and counsel of attorney Laurence Laufer. Because of that reliance, Municipal prosecutors could not establish that Mayor de Blasio or his aides intended to engage in unlawful conduct, according to District Attorney Vance's letter. Mr. Laufer did not answer a request made by Progress Queens for an interview for this report. The press office for Mayor de Blasio, likewise, did not answer a request for an interview for this report.
Federal prosecutors made a public announcement of no charges "in order not to unduly influence the upcoming campaign and Mayoral election"
The statement issued by Acting U.S. Attorney Kim concluded by explaining why Federal prosecutors decided to issue a public statement about the apparent end of their reported criminal investigation into Mayor de Blasio's campaign finance activities : "Although it is rare that we issue a public statement about the status of an investigation, we believe it appropriate in this case at this time, in order not to unduly influence the upcoming campaign and Mayoral election." To some Government reform activists, the ultimate impact of the announcements by prosecutors served to help Mayor de Blasio, the highest-ranking Municipal incumbent in the Democratic Party, to secure his reëlection. Subsequent media reports, including one published by POLITICO New York, speculated that Mayor de Blasio's reëlection campaign was aided by the announcements of no prosecution.
Similar announcements of no-charges were made by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara at the conclusion of the Federal corruption investigation of the premature closure of the anti-corruption fighting panel known as the Moreland Commission and by Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey of the insecure use of a private e-mail server to store, send, and receive classified information by former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. The departures in protocol by Federal investigators in announcing the status of politically-sensitive, criminal investigations had nothing to do with establishing a new precedent of transparency for the U.S. Department of Justice or its investigatory partner agencies, but, rather, were merely an effort to reportedly assist establishment politicians to win elected office, according to some advocates for Government reform.
Despite implied threats made by former U.S. Attorney Bharara for the public to "Stay tuned" and declarations that corruption appeared to be "pervasive," the U.S. Attorney's Office -- the Federal prosecutors' office most celebrated for its political independence -- was unable or unwilling to close the deal on serious investigations of Mayor de Blasio and his aides. The no-charges decision announced on Thursday was the second time that key de Blasio aide, Emma Wolfe, had appeared to escape criminal charges in connection with questionable campaign finance activities. Ms. Wolfe previously escaped criminal charges in a criminal investigation of the campaign finance activities of Data & Field Services, a for-profit arm of the Working Families Party that reportedly provided discount campaign consulting services to party-favoured candidates. Ms. Wolfe is the de Blasio administration's highest-ranking lesbian. According to information shared with Progress Queens by some activist leaders of New York City's LGBT community, Ms. Wolfe's legal troubles represented her self-interested commitment to personal political power over using her office to further champion the causes of LGBT equality.
"Stay tuned" turned into "Tuned out"
Despite the non-stop press reports about the multiple, reported investigations into Mayor de Blasio's campaign finance activities, Mayor de Blasio appeared to be gambling that the voting public did not consider issues about corruption when they cast their ballots. Speaking generally during a press conference on Thursday about the media reports of the corruption investigations, Mayor de Blasio said, in relevant part, that, "I think you think this is on the minds of everyday people and I think it is not on the minds of everyday people," adding that, "They saw a whole year play out where nothing was proven — lots of allegations and no charges brought," according to a report filed by the journalist Jill Jorgensen for The New York Daily News. The exchange was not included in transcripts of media statements posted on the City Hall press office Web site. Mayor de Blasio's supposition that corruption was not an important issue to voters contradicted a recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University. According to the news release announcing the poll, Mayor de Blasio received "his lowest grades for handling political corruption as voters disapprove 52 - 28 percent of the way he is handling this issue," adding that, "A total of 82 percent of voters say political corruption is a 'very serious' or 'somewhat serious' problem."
The inability of Federal prosecutors to press criminal charges against Mayor de Blasio represented a worrisome, perceived weakening of the U.S. Attorney's Office under the new leadership of Acting U.S. Attorney Kim of its expressed public commitment to fight corruption at the highest levels of Government. However, the decisions to press criminal charges against significant Government officials are made by Federal prosecutors in consultation with the Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice. It is not known whether decisions made not to prosecute Mayor de Blasio were influenced by the types of campaign contributors that were involved in reported aspects of the investigations. Controversies of the de Blasio administration, some of which were reported to be under investigation, involved the sale of a former AIDS nursing home in the Lower East Side, the sale of a public library branch in Brooklyn, and the approval of construction projects in parks ; these controversies reportedly involved real estate developers. Because President Donald Trump is a real estate developer and because he has sought to exert more control over the U.S. Department of Justice, it is not known if the hands-off approach to Mayor de Blasio and his aides was in deference to President Trump and his involvement in real estate development. For his part, District Attorney Vance, and New York's other four District Attorney's Offices, have historically not prosecuted significant cases of Government corruption.
As advocates for Government reform are spreading an increased political awareness about the institutional corruption that besets the two, establishment political parties, some writers have proposed that, in the political left, the Democratic Party's officials "have no genuine idea" why a growing chorus of grassroots activists have become disaffected with neoliberal Democratic Party leaders. Such an analysis of cluelessness has been made by several writers, including by Shaun King, an editorial columnist for The New York Daily News. Countering this establishment talking point (that the Democratic Party "doesn't get it") are new grassroots leaders, such as political commentator Debbie Lusignan, who asserted that Democratic Party officials do, indeed, know that the party has become unpopular with Government reform activists -- and that these officials "Don't give a shit." In an example of how top political leaders are intrinsically indistinguishable between the two main political parties in terms of violating the public trust on issues of transparency, Harry Siegel, an editorial columnist for The New York Daily News, said on Thursday evening's edition of NY1's "The Road to City Hall" that President Trump's refusal to honor his promise to disclose his income tax returns was no different than Mayor de Blasio's unfulfilled promise to disclose a list of campaign donors for whom no official acts were given.
Against the increased expectations for reform by the broader electorate, Mayor de Blasio's challengers in the 2017 mayoral race are seizing on corruption as an issue with which to weaken the mayor's reëlection chances. After the announcements of no prosecution were made, former New York City Councilmember Sal Albanese described Mayor de Blasio as "unethical" and promised to hold him accountable in the court of public opinion. Republican Party mayoral candidate Paul Massey, a realty executive, issued a statement that, in part, described Mayor de Blasio's "numerous pay-to-play scandals" as "highly unethical and disqualifying."
In 2013, after then Councilmember de Blasio won the mayorship, The Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker questioned in a report "whether an anti-establishment activist can effectively manage a sprawling municipal government and lessen growing inequality between the rich and poor." Nearly four years later, Mayor de Blasio has come to represent the establishment, relying on the real estate industry for millions of dollars in political donations, so much so that grassroots activists for Government reform say he has fallen short of his campaign promises, including on police reform. This month, Mayor de Blasio reportedly asked his political allies in the New York City Council to delay police reform legislation until after the reëlection year due to his political sensitivities. As repeatedly reported by Progress Queens, dangerous living conditions at the New York City Housing Authority have been allowed to exist by the de Blasio administration due to political priorities that priortise privatising NYCHA over improving the habitability of public housing apartments for the City's largest group of economically-disadvantaged constituents.
- Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim Statement On The Investigation Into City Hall Fundraising [U.S. Attorney's Office - SDNY]
- DA Cy Vance, Jr. - de Blasio Investigation Letter [Archive.org]