NYC mayor de Blasio’s ethics called into question over allegations of pay-for-play

NYC mayor de Blasio’s ethics called into question over allegations of pay-for-play
Two allies of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have been forced to pay fines. Both were accused of donating money to a pro-de Blasio nonprofit to garner face time and political favors from the mayor. (Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ethics are under scrutiny after two of his allies have been forced to pay fines. Both were accused of donating money to a pro-de Blasio nonprofit to garner face time and political favors from the mayor.

What happened?

The New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics announced on Monday that it had “reached settlement agreements” with two lobbyists who were accused of violating the Lobbying Act. Both lobbyists donated to Campaign for One New York (CONY), a pro-de Blasio nonprofit run by his former campaign officials.

The commission accused de Blasio and CONY’s treasurer (who was also a fundraiser for de Blasio’s re-election campaign) of asking these lobbyists to donate to CONY in return for favors from de Blasio.

In 2015, de Blasio attended a meeting in the basement of the City Hall restaurant in the Tribeca neighborhood in Manhattan with lobbyist James Capalino and nine of Capalino’s clients. A spot where both Bill Clinton (after his presidency) and Barack Obama (before his presidency) stopped to eat, City Hall closed its doors at the end of 2015.

According to the commission’s report, Capalino paid $10,000 and his nine clients paid a total of $90,000 to CONY before the meeting took place. Capalino paid $40,000 to settle this investigation by the State Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

What about the other lobbyist?

In addition to Capalino, there are also accusations that de Blasio may have tried to get a second lobbyist to pay CONY for political favors. According to the commission’s report, de Blasio personally asked animal rights activists Steve Nislick and Wendy Neu to donate to CONY. They gave a combined $50,000 to the nonprofit in 2014, and doubled that amount in 2015, but failed to register as lobbyists. At the time, Nislick and Neu, through their organization New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS), were advocating for a bill that would have banned the use of horse-drawn carriages in New York City.

NJ.com reported that in June 2015, Nislick emailed de Blasio, angry that the bill banning carriage horses was not going to pass the City Council despite how much money he had invested in the issue:

“Mayor, we just got off the phone with Marco who said they have not been to get [sic] any additional votes and he does not know if it is going to happen. I don’t get it!! To tell this now after we just spent 500k is totally ridiculous and puts us in an impossible situation. We are very very upset!! Steve.”

That email was released in 2017 under a Freedom of Information Act request. De Blasio stopped pushing the ban in November 2015, when it was clear that there was not enough support for it in the city council.