I mean Bill de Blasio, the Mayor who can't do anything right. Literally.
The NYCHA scandal, the poisonous staff, his wife travelling first class, Carmen Farina's demise under too many failures, where does this stop?
Many people are talking about Bill de Blasio considering running for President. That would be a big joke, considering his horrible record as Mayor.
However, he seems to be oblivious to criticism and nay-sayers. His latest is the new "Democracy NYC" office, which just botched up up their first assignment, sending 400,000 voters that they were placed on the "inactive" roll. Only they weren't.
Good job Bill!!
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The office run by the city’s new chief democracy officer botched its first assignment by sending out inaccurate letters warning 400,000 voters they might not be able to cast ballots in November because they’ve been placed in the “inactive” roll.
Some people who got the letters immediately took to Twitter to express bewilderment.
“Got a letter in the mail that says I’m currently listed as an inactive voter?” tweeted Nathan Holbert.
“I’ve voted in every election since living in NYC and checking online shows me registered and active. Why am I getting this confusing mail @NYCVotes? Either a BIG error or shady business.”
The city’s Board of Elections tweeted back that it wasn’t responsible for the screw-up.
“You ARE active and have never been in inactive status,” BOE said. “This letter was created by an outside entity not associated with @BOENYC. Not sure where they got their information from.”
The letters were sent Oct. 11 by the mayor’s new “Democracy NYC” office, headed by Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune, a recent $165,000-a-year-appointee.
Councilman Joseph Borelli (R-SI) called on the administration to turn over a list of the voters who were sent the letters.
He said he’s concerned what “matrix was used” and that it potentially targeted voters of a specific age, ethnicity, neighborhood or party affiliation.
“This is about voter suppression,” Borelli said. “An older person could read this letter and be confused and not go to the polls – that effects the elections.”
Eric Phillips, a de Blasio spokesman, defended the taxpayer-funded mass mailing by tweeting: “We mailed 400k(!) people that records show could be at risk of being ‘inactive’ on the rolls.
Because the BOE’s involved, no list is perfect. But we’re cutting a wide universe to ensure people check and fix it if they must. This is a good sign!”
Critics – including Democrats – weren’t buying Phillip’s line.
“Are you seriously throwing the BOE under the bus because your people screwed up?” tweeted Kim Moscaritolo, a Democratic district leader representing parts of Manhattan. “It’s not even about the list, it’s about the language of the letter.
“People in my district were freaking out thinking they’d been mistakenly removed from the rolls. This is unacceptable!”
Phillips insisted that only “a very small group of active voters may have received inaccurate letters …”
He claimed the mailing list used by vendor Civis Analytics originated from the BOE and that the city “is working to get to the bottom of why” it was used.
BOE did not return messages, but a source there said it had received “dozens of complaints” about the letters and that “nearly all of them where from registered voters who are active.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first major attempt to be a national player was a monthslong comedy of errors involving City Hall staffers and some of the biggest political operatives in New York, according to thousands of pages of emails — many of them previously undisclosed — reviewed by POLITICO.
But the more-than-$860,000 effort yielded little in the end — no public debates, a couple of events including one that failed spectacularly, and no political upside for a mayor singularly obsessed with becoming a national liberal leader.
“One important govt mtg or one speaking opportunity or presser,” he emailed. “Something weighty that relates to my immediate governmental duties. The rest can be [Progressive Agenda]-related mtgs.”
He ended up attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a rationale that even at the time struck reporters as suspect.
Publicly, he defended his travel as an essential part of his government duties.
“The federal government used to do a lot for us with mass transit, affordable housing, education, infrastructure,” de Blasio said in a radio interview. “To get that investment back is going to take change in the political dialogue. That’s why I’m talking to groups that are pushing very hard to change the agenda in Washington.”
Although de Blasio’s top aides maintained publicly that the Progressive Agenda was an entity separate and apart from the mayor, the emails tell a different story — City Hall staffers, paid by taxpayers, were integral to the political effort.
De Blasio chief of staff Tom Snyder helped set up meetings for the mayor with other national politicians and players who might endorse the project, and he was copied on nearly every email chain involving the matter. City Hall aide Mahen Gunaratna helped the Progressive Agenda with its research needs.
City Hall staff members were asked to start compiling news clips on the subject of “income inequality” for de Blasio outside adviser John Del Cecato and the mayor, a measure that was supposed to be temporary but ended up lasting for months.
By early October, de Blasio aide Andrea Hagelgans couldn’t contain her frustration: “Our team does not have bandwidth to continue providing,” she wrote.
Walking and chewing gum
In August of 2015, as the Legionnaires' disease outbreak mushroomed and his administration took fire for its flat-footed response, Del Cecato and City Hall staffers fought over whether the mayor had time to appear on MSNBC with Chris Hayes to discuss his national political agenda.
Del Cecato produced the ads that helped de Blasio win the mayor’s race in 2013, and even in 2015, he exercised outsize influence in City Hall.
“Phil [Walzak] and I do not think this should happen this week given Legionnaires,” Hagelgans wrote to Del Cecato.
Del Cecato thought they were being overly cautious.
“Won’t any press avail cover Legionnaires? And next week it will just be something else?” he wrote.
Del Cecato and Snyder scheduled hourslong blocks during the work week for the mayor to call other mayors, business leaders and members of Congress to ask them to sign on to the Progressive Agenda, or meet with potential donors. When city business intervened, City Hall staffers apologized.
On a Friday morning in February 2016, a fatal crane collapse in lower Manhattan forced de Blasio’s scheduler to postpone a planned round of Progressive Agenda fundraising calls.
“These kinds of emergencies happen — sorry,” de Blasio’s scheduler wrote.
In late June 2015, as the City Council and mayor’s office raced to meet their July 1 budget deadline, de Blasio had to cancel another round of scheduled phone calls for organization.
“So I'm canceled again !?” asked Del Cecato, in apparent disbelief.
De Blasio’s focus on the Progressive Agenda and his national political identity intensified that fall, as he fixated on plans for a presidential forum, and wrestled with whether or not to endorse Hillary Clinton.
“Dom, in your opinion, what should my position be on Glass-Steagall, first as progressive leader and then as mayor of nyc,” the mayor wrote to Dom Williams, chief of staff to Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris, referring to the post-Depression law that separated commercial and investment banking, the repeal of which was often cited in explanations for the 2008 financial crisis. It also had little immediate bearing on workaday city governance.
“I want your undiluted view, then want to bring [Deputy Mayors] Tony [Shorris] and Alicia [Glen] into the discussion. I think I can guess Alicia's view already, and suspect I'll disagree. I've cc'ed JDC and Tom S, who will help make sure we adjudicate this issue internally.”
No venue was inappropriate for Progressive Agenda discussions. De Blasio brought it up with mayors he met with during a trip to Rome and the Vatican in July of 2015.
The effort was troubled from the onset. It took months for the Progressive Agenda to hire its executive director, Geri Prado, who left a job with the AFL-CIO to head up the fledgling group. But the group couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be.
In a planning memo early on, Del Cecato outlined a vision statement for the group that had some grand goals: “move HRC to the left, make income inequality the ‘fiscal collapse of the 2008 election, or the Vietnam War of the 1968 election.’"
But in the intervening months, emails show de Blasio and his aides repeatedly complaining to Del Cecato about the need for the group to have a more coherent vision and raison d’être.
“There is a much deeper problem here besides punking HRC or not,” de Blasio’s then-spokesman Phil Walzak wrote, referring to Hillary Clinton, whom de Blasio had publicly failed to endorse in April of 2015, enraging her campaign and setting off a media frenzy over the fallout between the mayor and the presidential candidate whose U.S. Senate campaign he’d once managed.
Walzak pointed to Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America as an example.
“Newts contract had candidates in races who signed the agenda, then went back to their districts and campaigned on it, then won elections on it, then voted on it in Congress,” Walzak said. “A constant loud sustained drumbeat on message and legislative/political success. We aint got that, and we need something like it stat.”
By the early summer of 2015, Hillary Clinton had already modified much of her platform in a way that conformed to de Blasio’s agenda, so it made little sense for that to be one of the group’s main goals. And income inequality was already a central focus of the presidential campaign.
“If the goal is to have income inequality in conversations, Sanders and now Clinton are doing that,” Prado wrote.
De Blasio dismissed such trivialities.
“I really want to make sure we all get aligned for our vision for the [Progressive Agenda]. Mine is expansive and I believe, correct,” de Blasio wrote on Aug. 1, 2015.
Now playing: The Bill de Blasio show
In early September, the Progressive Agenda planned to screen a film by Brave New Films, a documentary outfit that had produced films on Walmart and the war in Iraq, called, “Hedge Fund Billionaires vs. Kindergarten Teachers: Whose Side Are You On?”
The film was originally envisioned as a screening that would take place in New York and other cities around the country to draw press attention to one of the group’s primary planks — the closure of the carried-interest tax loophole.
It was an unmitigated disaster.
A nebulous plan to have Cynthia Nixon moderate a panel before the film screening fell through. The organizers couldn’t find a prekindergarten teacher to appear as part of an accompanying panel. A week before the film’s screening, aides discovered the film had misspelled the word “kindergarten.”
But perhaps the biggest problem with the screening was finding people who wanted to go.
“I'm worried no one is going to show for this,” Carla Matero, a City Hall staffer, wrote to outside adviser Hayley Prim the day of the screening. “Who else can we get to come? How many staff members will be there?”
At the same time, de Blasio’s movie plans began to conflict with hometown political realities. City agency heads worried about potential fallout from people in the business community whose firms the film attacked. Conceived as an event to draw attention to the carried interest loophole issue, the City Hall press shop began actively trying to distance the mayor from the film.
“We have done nothing in comms to draw attention,” Karen Hinton wrote. In another email, she said, “I would prefer not to email anything to reporters about the event."
Hinton had told a reporter that “No taxpayer funds have been used to pay for the film or the event,” even though City Hall and the Mayor's Office of Special Projects had been extensively involved in its setup and had used the mayor’s email list to send out invitations.
“The obviously messy part is taxpayers,” Prado privately acknowledged.
The film was critical of hedge fund firms like Blackstone, even though the firm’s executive vice president, Tony James, had provided one of the few favorable quotes praising the mayor in a Vanity Fair profile that had just been published about his administration.
Deputy Mayor Glen was not amused.
“Not optimal considering Tony James and John gray have been amongst our most reliable folks in private equity/asset mgmt,” she wrote.
De Blasio’s head of special projects Gabrielle Fialkoff — effectively in charge of fundraising from some of those hedge fund executives to support City Hall’s outside initiatives — wasn’t happy, either. “The timing is just very tough here between wanting to build support for ed vision and other priorities,” Fialkoff wrote. “I would [recommend] pulling back as much as possible.”
De Blasio was apparently unaware of the conflict until it was brought to him right before the film’s screening.
“Guys from now on we have to talk as a team in advance about things like this,” the mayor wrote on Sept. 9, 2015, despite the fact more than a half-dozen of his senior aides had been copied on planning emails about the film for months.
“[Del Cecato], love you, but you have to think about the larger ramifications of things like this before you commit us to them," the mayor wrote.
“Sorry that actual government (as opposed to the freedom of campaigns) involves having to get the whole team in the discussion, but that's reality,” de Blasio wrote to Del Cecato, chiding him.
“I didn't focus on this in time. But brother, you're smart enough to know that attacking a Wall Street firm comes with ramifications,” de Blasio said.
Del Cecato proceeded to lay out the problem that had bedeviled the mayor since the group’s inception: However much he might protest, de Blasio simply didn’t have the time to simultaneously micromanage a national political campaign and govern as mayor.
“I don’t have a great idea for resolving this, but it’s really tough for [the Progressive Agenda] to get anything done unless and until you personally weigh in directly with the players involved,” he wrote to the mayor. “You shouldn’t have to do that — and cannot sustain — that as mayor.”
Almost no one showed up, and afterward, the mayor’s aides were pointing fingers.
“I need to know how we ended up with such an inadequate number of people at today’s Pace University event,” Snyder emailed Prado and other City Hall aides after the film screening.
“It was not worthy of the Mayor’s attendance. I want to understand everything about what steps were taken to build a crowd with an eye on preventing this in the future,” Snyder wrote.
“Turnout was really, really rough,” Del Cecato wrote in an email to nearly a dozen City Hall aides and TPAC staffers.
“Not sure what happened there. Maybe the rain, maybe the time of event. Bummer. But the real audience for this was press — so hopefully we’ll get a story or two.”
De Blasio’s idea for a presidential forum, which Del Cecato said from the outset was risky, seemed doomed from its inception.
The mayor wanted the forum to be bipartisan, but a potential media sponsor, CNN, told Del Cecato it strongly preferred a partisan one.
As crises mounted back in New York City, Prado and Del Cecato struggled to get major presidential candidates to sign on.
And at least one City Hall official was hoping the event would die, as the mayor’s plans and the lack of committed attendees increasingly made de Blasio look foolish.
“In my mind, the forum is a mistake. I want it to go away,” Hinton, the press secretary, wrote to Del Cecato in the fall of 2015.
When POLITICO broke the story in September 2015 that de Blasio planned to host the forum, the wheels came off.
“So fucking annoying...dunno what you want to do here but we are prolly fucked.really goddamn wish this hadn’t leaked out yest...fiasco,” Walzak wrote.
Prado’s frustration with the process boiled over in an email chain a few days later, as the mayor and his aides demanded the forum be locked down and she struggled to get groups on either side of the aisle to commit to going.
“For the record- it was hard before last week,” she said of the difficulty in getting people to commit.
“Last week made it close to impossible.”
The mayor’s role in the event seemed the biggest hurdle in getting others to sign on.
“It’s not a big deal that he’s founder, prominent, etc. It’s that he’s the only one out front... Second, I’m having a hard time pushing forward w/the forum in iowa as is with the damage this is doing to him politically,” Prado wrote, adding that it was "almost malpractice" for her not to consider the toll the forum was taking on the mayor's reputation.
Prado tried to organize a conference call with “influencers” who had signed on to the Progressive Agenda. Only one "influencer," Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, participated, and during the call he could be heard ordering his lunch.
By late October, de Blasio finally got one presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, to commit to attending the forum. The mayor's aides blamed Hillary Clinton for Martin O’Malley’s radio silence on whether or not he would attend.
One strategy memo outlined two urgent agenda items: “HOW DO WE GET HRC THERE?” and “WHAT IF SHE DOES NOT COME?”
Walzak’s September comment proved prescient. The forum was ultimately canceled.
A lack of progress
After the failure of the forum, de Blasio and his aides drafted plans to reorganize TPAC as a new organization called “Progress America,” which was broadly conceived of as a coalition of mayors across the country.
Prado incorporated a new nonprofit in the group’s name and planned to raise money to help with “awareness and education.” The project was scheduled to launch in the first week of March 2016.
“Everything above may be the mad ramblings of a lunatic progressive... OR they may be creative and visionary,” de Blasio wrote. “But pls really try these ideas on for size and let's discuss tmrw night, and lock down a plan of action. And once we do, let's go on a relentless offensive! Thanks.”
De Blasio proceeded to make a round of calls to political figures like climate change activist and billionaire Tom Steyer, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Jeff Furman, the chairman of the board of Ben and Jerry’s, asking them to join the retooled group as part of a “Progressive America Advisory Council.”
Furman signed on.
De Blasio tried to raise money from New Republic owner and publisher Win McCormack and even from basketball player Magic Johnson during a planned meeting.
But the mayor’s more local problems continued to intervene.
“Things will be a bit fluid today, as mayor was at hospital this am with two cops shot,” de Blasio aide Kevin O’Brien told Prado and others on an email in late February of 2016, explaining why a planning meeting for the group had to be delayed. “Likely to be about 30 mins late, but will circle back as it solidifies.”
As the launch date for Progressive America approached, the Progressive Agenda confronted a different problem: It was running out of money. It had just four donors, and the majority of its funding came in the form of transfers from yet another de Blasio nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York.
In the spring, Prado worked with a group of accountants to prep for a possible audit of the Agenda. But the accountants realized the group had never gotten its tax-exempt status approved by the IRS, which meant it could be taxed on the money it raised, adding another debt to the ledger.
In scheduled fundraising calls, de Blasio and Prado laid out plans to convince business leaders and leading political figures to “become a co-chair of The Progressive Agenda with Founding Chair, Mayor Bill de Blasio,” an agreement that would require each person to raise at least $250,000 over the next two years, lend their names to the organization’s operations and act as surrogates for the Progressive Agenda in the press.
De Blasio targeted billionaires like Warren Buffett, Nick Hanauer and Bill and Melinda Gates; labor leaders like Randi Weingarten and Maria Elena Durazo; economist Robert Reich; and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Only Reich, Weingarten and Durazo agreed to sign on.
By mid-March, the mayor’s legal problems were mounting. De Blasio asked City Hall counsel Henry Berger to be copied on emails and to set out a more rigid set of rules for how the formative Progress America would interact with City Hall. By the next month, news broke that state and federal law enforcement officials were examining the mayor’s fundraising practices.
Later that month, de Blasio summoned Prado to Gracie Mansion for a meeting, after which she stepped down as the Progressive Agenda’s leader.
By early April 2016, de Blasio was still deeply invested in efforts to raise money for his fledgling side project. In a series of emails, he rattled off a list of potential donors and targets of between $10,000 and $25,000.
“All this is my stream-of-consciousness way of saying we need a single memo simply stating where we stand with all donors and potential donors, and next steps,” de Blasio wrote.
By late April, though, the Agenda’s funds had dwindled too much to continue paying its small stable of consultants.
Prado told accountants the Agenda had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of it on consulting fees for Hilltop and Del Cecato’s firm, and compensation for herself.
“All consultant compensations ... were done directly by John Del Cecato and or Mayor de Blasio,” Prado wrote.
The group’s meetings were never contemporaneously documented, because “there was never a board or a governing body meeting,” Prado continued.
Accountants pressed to provide a list of the group’s accomplishments, in order to “justify the money raised and spent by the organization.”