Week in Review : Against a backdrop of corruption in New York City, de Blasio goes to Albany

Week in Review


Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) traveled to Albany on Wednesday to request allocations from the New York state budget to fund his municipal agenda for the city’s Fiscal 2016 budget cycle.

After Mayor de Blasio was criticised for selling project-based Section 8 apartments to a consortium that included privately-owned real estate developers, Mayor de Blasio used his appearance in Albany to request $300 million in new state funding specifically for the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, for the city’s 2016 Fiscal Year.  Mayor de Blasio promised that New York City would match the $300 million from New York state.

This proposal for a combined, one-time infusion of $600 million would go to fund “health and safety” for NYCHA residents, but that broad description was not specifically dedicated to fund NYCHA’s massive $18 billion in unfunded capital needs, meaning, that the NYCHA could potentially use the infusion of funding at its discretion, including for its operating budget and not necessarily for its capital budget.

The press office of NYCHA would not make available the chair of NYCHA, Shola Olatoye, for an interview with Progress Queens.

Some government reform activists have expressed skepticism about Mayor de Blasio’s promise to save affordable housing.  He had once made a 2013 campaign promise to save Long Island College Hospital from closure, but he betrayed that campaign promise in 2014 after the hospital closed on his watch.  Mayor de Blasio had also campaigned to end race-based policing by the New York Police Department, or NYPD, but he appointed a chief advocate for race-based policing, William Bratton, to serve as commissioner of the NYPD.  Based on Mayor de Blasio’s inability to make good on these two highly-visible promises, his latest promises to save affordable housing has rung hallow to some activists.

Overshadowing Mayor de Blasio’s appearance in Albany was a hastily arranged cabinet meeting by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-New York).  The governor's cabinet meeting was followed by a rare press conference by the governor.

Seemingly parsing what the legal definition of is is, Governor Cuomo denied that any employee of the Executive Chamber had been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors investigating charges of wrong-doing by the Cuomo administration, according to a report published by The Associated Press.

While technically true, two officials from the Executive Chamber had voluntarily agreed to meet with federal prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New York’s southern district.  The former secretary to the governor, Lawrence Schwartz, and former counsel to the governor, Mylan Denerstein, agreed to meet with federal prosecutors, according to a report published by The Wall Street Journal.  A third person, Heather Green, did receive a subpoena from federal prosecutors, but she was employed as an administrative assistant to former Moreland Commission executive director, Regina Calcaterra, a distinction that allowed Governor Cuomo to narrowly assert that no official in the Executive Chamber had received a subpoena.

On the same day when Governor Cuomo was answering questions about corruption investigations and ethics controversies in Albany, a special prosecutor unsealed indictments in the campaign corruption case against the Working Families Party.  Mayor de Blasio’s 2009 campaign for New York City Public Advocate was at one time a focus of the investigation.  As recently as 2014, investigators had sought to interview one of Mayor de Blasio’s chief aides, Emma Wolfe, as part of that investigation, but Ms. Wolfe had eluded attempts for her to meet with investigators.  Mayor de Blasio’s press office did not answer a request made by Progress Queens to interview Ms. Wolfe.

At the press conference following Governor Cuomo’s cabinet meeting, Governor Cuomo was forced to defend the book deal for his autobiography in the wake of questions about the appearance of a quid pro quo between the large advance Governor Cuomo secured from a publisher within the News Corporation’s media conglomerate and tax breaks sought by companies within the News Corporation’s media conglomerate, a charge which Governor Cuomo denied.

In spite of Governor Cuomo’s denial, Governor Cuomo refused to release the complete details of his book deal.

The increase scrutiny of ethics in New York City and in Albany is taking place against a backdrop of a growing number of federal corruption cases against public officials.  The week before Governor Cuomo’s press conference, for example, federal prosecutors had filed a grand jury indictment in the criminal corruption case against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side), a case that has caused political reverberations throughout the state capital.

The four indictments in the campaign corruption case tied to Data and Field Services, Inc., a now-defunct unit of the Working Families Party, reveals that public officials from City Hall to Albany are in the legal crosshairs of prosecutors.  Amongst those indicted was the campaign committee of City Councilmember Deborah Rose (D-Staten Island).

In the face of the heightened prosecutorial scrutiny on public corruption, the Cuomo administration began large scale purging of the emails of state employees.  Meanwhile, it was reported early in the administration of Mayor de Blasio that two of his top aides, including Ms. Wolfe, were using personal e-mail accounts to conduct city business, a similar practise that had long been adopted by the Cuomo administration, moves that sought to destroy or cloak public business from the reach of voters and the media.