CHELSEA — When a Citi Bike station was set up next to Bill White’s $2 million townhouse shortly before the bicycle-sharing program launched in late May, he vented his disgust to the most powerful man in the city — longtime pal Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The station’s proximity to his home, plus the royal blue Citibank signs, spurred White — the former president of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum — to send an appeal on May 25 to the mayor’s personal email address.
White, 46, described to his buddy of 25 years how the bikes in the racks were “hideous” and completely out of character with his block, which is part of a historic district in Chelsea. He noted that the city’s Landmarks Preservation Committee would never approve the Citibank signs if it had been given a say.
“As a fellow town house owner, you have a good idea what [my husband] and I are going through with our own house with Landmarks,” White wrote, referring to Bloomberg’s home on East 79th Street.
“We can’t change anything on the outside of the house with out lengthy FULL and very strict reviews which this signage commercialization would NEVER EVER pass ever. Can I hang a big blue Citibank sign on my house on that block or could you on 79th?”
White beseeched the mayor to remove a section of the bicycle station that was closest to his townhouse and get rid of the advertising altogether.
“Please help us Mike this would make people very happy and still keep Citi happy with the rest,” White added.
Within an hour, Bloomberg sent a one-sentence reply to White, asking him, “Why do you think Citi is paying for the bikes?” And a minute later the mayor forwarded the complaint to the city’s then-transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan.
The email, like others obtained by DNAinfo New York, highlight how Bloomberg’s personal life and relationships sometimes mingled with his public role as mayor.
This email was part of a set of correspondences DNAinfo New York requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Law. DNAinfo asked for all correspondences between the mayor's personal email address and Sadik-Khan May 1 and June 11, a span covering the weeks before and after Citi Bike’s launch. After seven months, the DOT sent the requested emails, which DNAinfo received on Dec. 30, a day before Bloomberg left office.
Nearly all the correspondences dealt with the widely popular but polarizing program.
Citi Bike has already signed up nearly 100,000 annual members, far surpassing official projections. But it has sparked outcry from block associations and co-op boards upset that stations have taken over coveted street space. At least a half-dozen lawsuits have been filed against the city over the placement of stations.
Another pal of Bloomberg's griped in a May 1 email about a Citi Bike station placed directly outside his daughter’s tony Greenwich Village co-op.
The dad, whose name was redacted in the email, told the mayor that his daughter was aghast at the 39-bike station situated directly outside her apartment at 175 13th St. He noted he had already spoken to the DOT’s policy director, Jon Orcutt, but expressed his disappointment that the city didn’t solicit more community input before picking a location for the station.
“She’s not going to be happy as she loved her apt and street and might choose to sell it now at a much lower value,” the dad wrote.
The email also included his daughter’s written grievances, which noted the station limited the movement of traffic and made it hard for her to tote her guitar and amp in and out of a taxi outside her building.
The email also included photos of the Citi Bike station.
“Here’s some photos below so you could you imagine if you got this from Emma or Georgina?” the dad wrote, referring to Bloomberg’s two daughters.
That same day, Bloomberg forwarded the complaint to Sadik-Khan and said, “Have someone call him.” Sadik-Khan replied that she would.
When DNAinfo asked about the emails, Bloomberg’s post-mayoral spokesman, Stu Loeser, said Bloomberg always forwarded on any request or complaint he received, including ones from “the strangers on the subway or sidewalks to whom he gave business cards.”
Loeser added that emails to Bloomberg’s nyc.gov email were similarly forwarded on to the appropriate agency.
Loeser said a small section of bikes located directly in front of the Greenwich Village co-op’s door were removed at the end of May. However, he said the dad’s comments to the mayor were in lockstep with the co-op board, which filed a lawsuit against the city two weeks after the May 1 email.
White told DNAinfo that his pitch to Bloomberg didn’t lead to any changes.
A Citi Bike station had originally been located on the north side of West 22nd Street, in front of other landmarked homes. After complaints from block residents, the DOT moved the station to the south side of the street, on a section that runs adjacent to Clement Clarke Moore Park.
The new location and the signage drew the ire of White and his husband, Joseph Bryan Eure, whose townhouse was next to the park.
“The bikes themselves seem great but the whole idea has been cheapened with bright Citibank advertisements,” White wrote to Bloomberg.
White said that after the email, he followed up with a phone call to Bloomberg, but the city refused to make his recommended changes.
“I’m fine with it. I just asked the question and I got a response that I understood,” White said.
White, who has ties to several state and federal politicians, resigned from his position at the Intrepid in 2010 after investigators probed his role in a state pension fund pay-to-play scandal. He eventually agreed to pay a $1 million settlement to the state for his role in the scheme. He now runs a nonprofit consulting agency.
White said his friendship with Bloomberg dates back 25 years, noting the mayor has always been a big supporter of his work with the armed forces. The two marched together in a Veterans Day parade, and Bloomberg reportedly planned to attend White and Eure's wedding in 2011.
White said his access to Bloomberg “has always been free-flowing and positive.” Normally Bloomberg responds to his emails within an hour, although his replies are invariably terse.
“If I were to write him a nice love letter, he would respond, ‘tx,'” White said.
White said that because Bloomberg made billions with his company, he had many rich and powerful friends who had access to him as mayor. But those friends didn’t get special treatment, according to White.
“As you saw in the email, you can get access to him, but it doesn't mean he'll be swayed by anything,” White said. “He is a very fair and principled guy.”
Not all of Bloomberg’s buddies emailed to complain about the Citi Bike.
A SoHo friend addressed the mayor as Mike in a June 11 email and asked him to install a traffic light at the intersection of Wooster and Prince streets. A large number of close calls between pedestrians and cars made the light necessary, said the pal, whose name was redacted.
“I can understand why, back in the 1980s, the city didn’t put a light in there, but SoHo has gotten a lot more busy since then,” the friend wrote.
Bloomberg forwarded the message on to Sadik-Khan, who wrote back later that day. However, the DOT redacted her message to Bloomberg.
One of the most eye-opening municipal requests was emailed to Sadik-Khan at 5:51 a.m. on May 9. The sender was Bloomberg, and his message included only the ominous subject line “Potholes 79th & Park."
That intersection is a block away from Bloomberg’s home. At 6:35 a.m., Sadik-Khan responded, “Got it.”
On May 31, Sadik-Khan sent a follow-up.
“We inspected 79th st at park and found several small depressions which we addressed last night,” she wrote.
The DOT redacted the rest of the message.