New York Daily News
The mayor and the money
Someday in the future, Mayor de Blasio will announce whether his promised Brooklyn-Queens waterfront streetcar will connect with subways and buses for the price of one fare. But another connection may already exist:
A real-estate family with holdings along the planned line, including Williamsburg’s giant Domino project, donated $100,000 last year to a fund that boosts the mayor, called the Campaign for One New York.
With the streetcar dream, as well as with other important issues, the mayor has created an appearance of money-in, decision-out that is ripe for investigation by the city Conflicts of Interest Board.
So, welcome it was that the good government group Common Cause on Monday asked the conflicts board and the Campaign Finance Board to investigate the propriety of fundraising by advocacy groups that are supposed to be independent of the mayor — but appear not to be, if only because they are so intertwined with his agenda.
New York City’s campaign finance laws strictly limit donations to candidates, particularly from those doing business with the city. De Blasio has taken advantage of that system while he or allies have also established funds that are aimed at achieving his objectives.
The mayor said all is well, that all monies are disclosed and that “there’s a long history of coalitions forming to achieve policy goals.” His aides say a 2014 blessing by the conflicts board still clears way for all the fundraising. Still, there’s no harm in looking, is there?
While Common Cause did not pair money and specific mayoral actions, the conflicts board, in particular, has plenty to consider.
The idea for the streetcar line is the darling of developers, including the Walentas family of Two Trees Management Company, which contributed $100,000 via a holding company for one of its properties near the envisioned streetcar route.
At his State of the City address, de Blasio put on a razzle-dazzle show about the streetcar, complete with a $2.5 billion price tag. Yet details remain so fuzzy and complications so potentially vast that City Hall can’t yet say whether or not the project will require construction of two drawbridges — which, by the way, would need to open when boats come through.
In another instance, the yellow taxi industry donated at least $13,500 to de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York (on top of $300,000 to the mayor’s actual election campaign).
Last July, de Blasio suddenly called for placing a hold on the yellow industry’s nemesis, Uber, on the ground that its increasing number of cars was worsening traffic congestion.
Then there’s the $100,000 given to the de Blasio group by anti-horse-carriage fanatics Steve Nislick and Wendy Neu coinciding with Blasio’s relentless drive to shut down the industry.
And the $250,000 donated by a health care union as de Blasio attempted to save members’ jobs at a dying Brooklyn hospital, at high cost to state taxpayers.
The two boards should already have been on the mayor’s case. Adept at punishing little guys like sanitiation workers over $10 gifts, the conflicts panel, especially, must prove it is worth a damn.