De Blasio asked developers for money, defying conflict council

Jeffrey Levine of Douglas Development, David Von Spreckelsen of Toll Brothers and Mayor Bill de Blasio (Getty, Toll Brothers)

Recently published letters from the Conflict of Interest Council detail Mayor Bill de Blasio’s contact with two prominent developers and a real estate lobbyist – and that he defied the council’s warning to stop.

The letters show that the mayor asked executives of Toll Brothers and Douglas Development and lobbyist James Capalino to donate to his nonprofit Campaign for One New York in 2015, a year after the board of directors told him that such calls were unethical, The New York Times reported.

The two firms and Capalino have all dealt with the Blasio administration, which brought in lawyers in the city to fight the Times’ freedom of information request for the letters. The state’s highest court ruled in favor of the newspaper, which now has the right to recover its own legal costs from the city’s taxpayers.

The revelation adds to a litany of findings that de Blasio’s fundraising from the real estate industry violated ethical standards.

The city’s conflict council sent the mayor a private letter in July 2014 saying he had violated ethics laws by calling developers who needed his administration’s support for their projects. But the following year he continued to do so.

In February 2015, de Blasio called Douglaston Development president Jeffrey Levine shortly after the company won $ 12 million in municipal funding for an affordable housing project. A month later, the mayor called Toll Brothers’ David Von Spreckelsen after the developer’s Brooklyn Bridge Park project had a stop work order lifted by the city.

The two men ultimately donated $ 25,000 to the association. The organization, which campaigned for a universal pre-K before moving towards strengthening de Blasio’s political agenda, was shut down in 2016 amid an investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance , which ended in 2017 without laying charges, although its findings were critical of the mayor.

A two-year investigation by the city’s investigation department found in 2018 that de Blasio had ethical rules broken by soliciting developers, including Toll Brothers and George Klein’s Park Towers, which raised more than $ 50,000.

The mayor fired the department’s commissioner, Mark Peters, four weeks later after finding out Peters had berated his staff. Peters argued that de Blasio was looking for an excuse to get rid of him.

The second Conflict of Interest Council letter unearthed by The Times berated de Blasio in September 2018 for continuing to make fundraising appeals to real estate interests in need of his help. This conclusion appears to come from the Investigation Department’s investigation. The letters were leaked this week after the state appeals court ruled that the mayor’s office could not block their release, according to the Times.

A spokesperson for de Blasio told The Times that the mayor “has always acted in good faith and followed the process given to him. The board closed these cases and determined that no enforcement action was necessary. “

But the board has said it refuses to punish de Blasio for his ethical lapses just because they are unlikely to happen again, given he had shut down his nonprofit. The mayor has since come under fire for defending the interests of the Hotel Trades Council, which has backed his short-lived presidential campaign and could help his expected gubernatorial candidacy next year.

Several developers, including Toll Brothers, have previously been fined for improper donations to the mayor while pursuing city business. Brookfield Financial Properties was fined $ 30,000 for a donation of $ 50,000 in 2015. Greenpoint Landing Developers was fined $ 20,000 for a donation of the same size.

Toll Brothers was fined $ 15,000 for its $ 25,000 donation, according to a settlement reached in the case. It is not known if Douglaston was fined.

[NYT] – Holden Walter Warner


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