Official city acts can now be had in exchange for the rendering of a "gift" that eliminates any cost to taxpayers
Third in a series of all-expense paid trips to Israel approved by the Conflicts of Interest Board
By LOUIS FLORES
Two months after Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) fared very poorly in the latest Quinnipiac University public opinion poll, the mayor and his staff depart for Israel on Thursday for an all-expense-paid trip to address a conference of mayors.
In its report of the de Blasio administration's trip to Israel, the journalist Michael Grynbaum of The New York Times wrote in his advance report that Mayor de Blasio was trying to court Jewish voters.
Given Mayor de Blasio's negative opinion poll ratings amongst White voters -- by a margin of 59% to 32%, White voters disapprove of Mayor de Blasio and by a margin of 61% to 29% percent, the same White voters say he does not deserve reëlection in 2017 -- the trip to Israel will undoubtedly augment his standing amongst Jewish voters, an important voting bloc. (In a nod to the important community, Mayor de Blasio recently rescinded a health regulation of the controversial Orthodox Jewish practise that allows rabbis to suckle the blood from infant boys' circumcised penises.)
Whereas the mayoral conference is being sponsored by Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Congress, the expense of the travel for Mayor de Blasio and his staff are being paid for by an Israeli investor, Baruch Eliezer Gross.
Although the de Blasio administration would be traveling to Israel in the face of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement to protest human rights violations by Israel, the de Blasio administration improbably appeared to rationalize the trip on account of there would be no cost to taxpayers.
A request for an interview for this article made by Progress Queens to the press office for City Hall was never answered.
Mayor de Blasio's trip to Israel follow trips by two delegations of municipal leaders, including New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem) and Public Advocate Letitia James (D-New York City). The trip made by the delegation headed by Council Speaker Mark-Viverito was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the UJA Federation of New York, whereas the trip by the delegation headed by Public Advocate James was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council. Both groups lobby government officials in respect of issues and budget allocations.
As reported by Progress Queens, a trip paid for by lobbyists would typically be forbidden by the city’s lobbyist gift rule. Under the charter of the City of New York, elected officials are forbidden from accepting valuable gifts from firms with business before New York City, and, likewise, firms that lobby elected officials are banned from making valuable gifts. However, the trips to Israel were approved after the municipal Conflicts of Interest Board reached secret determinations in the matters.
Following the approval of the trip made by the municipal delegation headed by Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, questions were raised by both Progress Queens and the online news publication, City & State, about Council Speaker Mark-Viverito's decision not to make available to the public the Conflicts of Interest Board's waiver approval determination. The report in City & State, written by Sarina Trangle, questioned Council Speaker Mark-Viverito's lack of transparency.
Perhaps after the complaints were made about lobbyists paying for the travel of elected officials, the de Blasio administration turned to a wealthy businessman to offset the costs. Either way, business interests have now succeeded at gutting the city's ethics laws, allowing special interests to purchase government policy, so long as gifts are arranged to municipal officials so as to offset any costs to taxpayers.
Besides finding ways to shore up political support amongst White New York City voters in the lead-up to the 2017 municipal election cycle, the de Blasio administration may also be motivated to make the trip to further burnish his international political credentials, as evidenced by his numerous trips to Europe under the guise of policy initiatives. This trip to Israel is meant to highlight Mayor de Blasio's fight against anti-Semitism, for example.
Notwithstanding Mayor de Blasio's political machinations for making the trip, many human rights activists see a danger in Mayor de Blasio traveling to Israel following escalating violence by the Israeli government against Palestinians, particularly demonstrated during the 2014 attack on Gaza.
A coälition of groups issued an open letter to Mayor de Blasio, warning him that his trip to Israel may be used as propaganda to support the Israeli policy of violence towards Palestinians.
"We are concerned that the intent and effect of the visit by the mayor of the largest city in America during this time might be read as legitimating the actions of the Israel Defense Forces and border police in their campaign of violence and repression against Palestinians," wrote the coälition, which included the New York City chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Similar concerns expressed in advance of the trips made by delegations headed by Council Speaker Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate James fell on deaf ears.